what to know before you travel on the American Amtrak

It became clear to me that a ticket from Washington D.C. in the peak travel months of summer to Charleston would be outrageous. In truth, flights within the United States are so ridiculously overpriced that I often opt for international travel simply because I can fly to Europe round trip for what I would pay to fly from the East coast to Seattle return. Unbelievable. 

I began looking at other options, knowing that renting a car one-way can be as pricey as a plane ticket when you factor in petrol expenses and that I wasn't sure how I felt about busing. Instead, I checked on a form of transportation I never think to use within the U.S.-- the Amtrak train!

I'd ridden the train in college from Montana to Oregon with my teammates for a cross country meet, and knew that it was reasonably clean and comfortable. The train service {which I caught in D.C., but started in New York} ran all the way to Miami, stopping in a town 40-minutes away from where my mother currently lives in South Carolina and was a 5th of the price! 

For those looking to travel domestically but within the restraints of a budget, I thought I would outline my experience in full detail so that you might consider riding Amtrak! 

Cost //

My ticket from Washington D.C. to South Carolina was $81. I took the night service, which was cheaper than the morning train so that I could have the day to get my visa sorted and do a bit of sightseeing. My ticket was the most basic seat on offer, but it rang up 5x less expensive than a one-way flight and was much less than a one-way car rental. 

Line availability //

I was shocked at the number of stops and routes that Amtrak offers! There are routes from Charleston all the way to Oregon! 

Included services //

As you board the Amtrak, one of the...train workers??...will assign you a seat based on your final destination. As they come around the cabin, the employee will place a card with your destination above your seat. This is so whoever is on duty can wake you when the train gets to your stop! I thought this was especially nice since I was terrified I'd fall asleep and miss my station. 

WiFi is free on the train, but it is a bit slow. I managed to stream some Netflix, though there was a lot of buffering involved. I eventually worked on blogging and e-mails instead. I would download some Netflix shows ahead of time if I had to do it all over. 

Plugs are handy in every seat so that you are able to keep your phone or laptop charged the entire journey! 

Extras to pay for //

If you upgrade your ticket, you may receive included meal service and a private carriage. There are also trains that have sleeper seats to make your overnight journey the most comfortable it can be on a moving train. I had ridden on an overnight train with a sleeper carriage while in Thailand and would have loved to have seen the comparison of American and Thai sleeper trains. Next time! 

If you buy a basic seat like I did, you will not receive meal service, but there is a cafe and bar where you can go to purchase a la carte items {think sodas, bags of chips, and candy bars, etc}.

Things you should pack //

I had been travelling with only a carry-on roller bag and a backpack, and had kind of ran out of basic items I typically travel with. Looking back, I would have ensured I restocked hand sanitizer, facial wipes, and had filled my reusable water bottle. Things get a bit grimy whenever and however you are travelling-- the train is no exception to this. Were I to ride overnight again, I would pack my own pillow and a blanket, and I am perpetually cold when I'm en route. Headphones or ear plugs are also recommended by me, since you never know who your seat buddy will be or how chatty they are...

Cons to consider //

Time. Honestly, this is what gives flying such an advantage. You can hop on a plane and be on vacation in hours. A train journey takes time. I could have flown from the capital to Charleston in under 2 hours. My train took 7 hours. You have to remember, I rode during the night, so I was travelling while I was asleep. Sure, it took 7 hours, but I'd just be laying down in my bed during those hours anyway, ya know?

Safety. Okay, real talk: the train is similar to a long bus journey. You'll be sleeping and others will be awake. Strangers. You're all on a budget, which means the clientele is varied from individuals on business trips to backpackers and students. There were a few rowdy drunks on my trip that "forget which black backpack was theirs" made me thankful I had TSA locks on my luggage {always, always, always}. You can't trust anyone these days, especially while you are sleeping. Keep your baggage locked and your valuables on your person. It's a generally obvious rule, but it's something to consider. 

You can book your Amtrak journey here!  Please note, the photo above is from the British National Rail system and not the Amtrak.