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A complete guide to train travel
With over a million routes connecting more than 7,600 cities by train, searching for a train ticket on Wanderu is a great way to plan your next trip. You could even take a train around the entire continental United States! Check out our guide on train travel for answers to frequently asked questions about trains, as well as tips on how to snag great deals on train tickets. You can use our convenient search tool to find and compare different train tickets from Amtrak (including Acela), Deutsche Bahn, VIA Rail and more.
Please note: per CDC guidelines, we encourage passengers to minimize non-essential travel during the coronavirus outbreak. To learn more about travel restrictions and the safety measures train companies are taking, check out our COVID-19 travel guide.
Why take the train?
Over 30 million passengers took a train in the United States in 2019, according to Amtrak. Train travel is even more prevalent in Europe, with the European Union reporting 8 times as many passengers traveling by rail than air. Traveling by train is a popular choice for both short commutes and longer journeys, and for good reason.
Trains are fast and comfortable, allowing travelers to skip the hassle of going through airports. Train seats are generally much more spacious than seats on airplanes. The journeys are relaxing and often very scenic: perfect for reading, napping, or just looking out the window. Most train stations are conveniently located in the middle of the city, which makes it easy to get around once you arrive at your destination. It’s also much better for the environment, as train CO2 emissions are only a quarter of airplane CO2 emissions.
Perhaps most importantly, taking a train is usually much cheaper than flying; it’s simply a better deal. The combination of price, convenience, and speed makes train travel a sweet spot for discerning travelers.
Train travel tips
As you embark on your train journey, here are some recommended tips to keep in mind. We hope this advice will help you have a more enjoyable trip, especially for first time train passengers.
- Remember to bring your essential items with you in a carry-on bag. This includes your personal ID, train ticket (of course), any medicine, and hygiene items: toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, face mask. It doesn’t hurt to make a checklist.
- Check the luggage policy ahead of time, and be strategic with your carry-ons and checked baggage. Traveling light makes for a stress-free experience and means you can keep your baggage with you at all times. Unlike airplanes, trains tend to have a good amount of room to stow suitcases, so even large bags can be carried onto the train. You can often bypass the need to check your luggage altogether, which simplifies the process.
- Bring water and snacks. Snacks and beverages sold on trains are usually more costly than what you can find in stores, so it’s worth stocking up beforehand. Many train stations will even have delis or mini-marts, so you can make last-minute purchases before you get on the train.
- Make sure you know where to get off. Keep in mind that many cities have more than one station and the train might make multiple stops in the same city. It’s worth double-checking which stop is closest to your final destination, to avoid disembarking too early or too late.
- Bring a blanket with you. In addition to comfortable clothes, a blanket can make all the difference when you settle in for a nap during the train ride, especially for overnight journeys.
Is it cheaper to book train tickets online?
Yes, it is often cheaper to buy train tickets online. In fact, Saver Fares—the most discounted Amtrak fares—almost always require that you purchase in advance, which is easiest to do online.
In general, prices fluctuate based on availability and demand, but tend to spike as you get closer to your departure date. We recommend that you buy train tickets at least two weeks prior to your departure.
How do you find the cheapest train tickets?
Employ the following tips to find the best deals on train tickets:
Use an online booking platform. Sites like Wanderu allow you to easily compare routes, schedules, and prices to your top destinations at-a-glance, making it easier than ever to spot a good deal. You can also buy train and bus tickets as a single journey to get to more remote destinations that might not be accessible via Amtrak.
Travel during less-busy times. The busiest windows for train travel are Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, when the majority of passengers are departing or returning from weekend getaways. Weekday mornings tend to be crowded as well, with commuters in transit to work. To avoid high fares, plan to leave in the afternoon or evening during the work week, or for a weekend trip, mid-morning or early afternoon on Thursday, Friday or Sunday.
Book to nearby stations. In some bigger cities, Amtrak operates out of multiple stations. Use Wanderu to snag a deal to your next destination by checking “Include nearby locations” on your next search: You may find a cheaper fare if you board or disembark just outside of the city instead of downtown. From there you can snag a ride share, taxi, or take public transit into the city for a better price.
Follow along for special deals. If you’re interested in regular updates about low fares and deals on tickets from train companies like Amtrak, follow Wanderu on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We post regular updates that include cheap train tickets to hundreds of destinations.
Discounts on train tickets
In addition to saver fares, major train companies also offer discounts for some travelers. For example, Amtrak offers a 10% discount for seniors, active military personnel, and passengers with disabilities. Amtrak tickets are also discounted for children from ages 2 to 12, while infants under 24 months may ride for free.
Train companies also often have rewards programs which you can enroll in to earn points towards future travel. For instance, Amtrak Guest Rewards and DB's BahnBonus programs are worth signing up for if you are a frequent traveler.