What You Need to Know Before Booking a Cross-country Train Ride

Thinking about taking a cross-country train trip? Here's what you need to know.

If you're an avid traveler, you've probably read stories about people taking trains across the United States, passing some of the nation's famous cities and national parks along the way. Maybe you've even thought about embarking on the same journey to take in America's great landscapes from the car of an Amtrak train.

Although planes are speedier and cars offer independence, there's something special about a slow-paced train ride that you just can't find on other types of transportation. A cross-country Amtrak train ride is a leisurely, scenic way to explore the United States, but before you embark on your multiday adventure, there are a few things you should know.

From picking the best seats to packing everything you'll need, there's a lot to consider before booking your trip. We asked the experts at Amtrak for their best tips for cross-country train rides — here's what you should keep in mind.

Amtrak Cheap Train
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What to Know About Taking a Cross-country Train Ride

When it comes to picking the best seat for an overnight journey, you can't beat the seclusion and comfort of a private room. The sleeping car offers the best layout for getting a good night's sleep, so you can arrive at your next stop refreshed and ready to go. Plus, it comes with perks like complimentary meals, lounge access at major stations, and help from the car attendant. Travelers in all fare classes should brief themselves on the dining options before they depart, too, as there's a variety of snack, drink, and meal services on Amtrak trains.

Another benefit of train travel is Amtrak's generous luggage policy — you can bring up to two checked bags, two carry-ons, and two personal items (we recommend keeping a personal item stocked with all your travel essentials, including masks, which are currently required at all times on the trains and in stations, within reach during your trip).

Download the Amtrak app before you go for easy, contactless travel. In the app, you can book tickets, find your eTicket, get information about the trains, stations, and routes, and more. And don't forget to bring your charger to keep your batteries full — there are outlets in private rooms and at the seats (you may want to invest in an extra-long charging cord for added convenience). While you cruise along, you're bound to pass some picture-perfect views, so bring a camera to document your trip and binoculars to get a better look.

Finally, you'll want to pick an excellent route — and thankfully, there are plenty to choose from.

Cross-country Train Routes

People stand as an Amtrak train is stopped at a station on November 9, 2021 in Oceanside, California.
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If you're ready to book your cross-country journey, there are a few route options. Pick the route with the stops you're most interested in — cross-country train travel can't be rushed, so you might as well stop for a day or two between legs to make the most of your journey. We're highlighting a few of the main destinations, but we recommend researching where each train stops to see which places are most appealing to you. (Amtrak Vacations also sells cross-country trip packages for those seeking a more robust itinerary.)

New York City to San Francisco is one of the classic cross-country routes. From New York, you'll travel to Chicago via the Lake Shore Limited, then you'll take the California Zephyr to San Francisco via Denver. You could opt for a more southerly route from Washington, D.C. to Los Angles via New Orleans and San Antonio, Texas, on the Crescent and Sunset Limited routes. A northerly option from New York City to Seattle on the Lake Shore Limited and Empire Builder includes stops in Chicago and Glacier National Park. Of course, you can extend or shorten your journey to best fit your start and end locations and desired excursions, so this really is a DIY travel adventure.

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