How to Plan a Vacation by Train
Traveling by train is a wonderful way to take a relaxing vacation, where you can see the sights in relative comfort. Amtrak provides vacation options by rail, as do many railway companies in Europe, Australia, Japan and other destinations. If you are feeling adventurous, then train travel is a great choice. In order to take advantage of your destinations, you will need to research the area you plan to visit, consider train tickets or passes and book overnight stays. If done ahead of time, it can also be less expensive than airplane travel. Learn how to plan a vacation by train.
Setting your Travel Guidelines
Decide who will be traveling in your party.The ages of the people traveling with you will determine the type of train vacation and the budget level.
- For example, if you are traveling with seniors, you may want to ensure that they have couchettes for easy sleeping and relaxing. These are more expensive than first or second class train seats. If you have small children, you may want to minimize the number of train legs you book, to lessen their discomfort about unfamiliar territory.
Calculate your budget.In many ways, your budget will determine your destination. Decide what you are willing to spend per person, and then research possible destinations that fall into that budget.
- One way to determine the overall cost of a train trip and to see if it falls into your budget, is to research tours with all the amenities already accounted. These trips may be more expensive than the cost of booking travel for a few people with train specials; however, you will get an idea about the budget range of Europe, Japan, the United States and other countries. Try vacationsbyrail.com and amtrakvacations.com/to look at pre-made train tours.
Decide where you want to go.After you have researched prospective areas, choose the countries you want to visit. The number of countries you visit will determine the cost and the type of rail pass you will need.
Decide how long your trip will be and when you want to go.The longer you travel, the more expensive the trip will be. Traveling during peak times, like the summer or the early winter in hot areas may mean more expensive ticket prices.
- If you plan to do a lot of train travel in a short amount of time, you may want to book a shorter vacation. Constant train travel can be exhausting. If you plan to take a train to an area and stay there for a while, you may be able to book a longer overall trip.
Choosing your Destinations
Research the country to which you will be traveling.Borrow traveler's guides from your local library so that you can find the cities you want to visit. Today, much of this research can also be done online.
Choose your overnights.For most people, train vacations will entail traveling in legs between different destinations. Print out a map and highlight the places and number of nights where you will be staying for an extended amount of time.
Find a rail map of the area.If you are traveling in the United States or Canada, use the Amtrak Route Atlas, at amtrak.com/interactive-route-atlas. If you will be traveling in Europe, browse the Inter Rail map at interrailnet.com/planning.
- If you are going to a different area of the world, search online using the search terms "country" "rail" and "map." Most large railway providers list their maps and schedules. You can also try ACP Rail International and East Japan Railway Company for Japan tours and ACP Rail International and Rail Australia for Australian train schedules.
Number the legs of your journey.A leg is a day spent in transit to another destination. This will tell you the number of train tickets you will need to buy for you and your friends or family.
Search the train sites for potential deals.For example, visit independenttraveler.com/travel-deals/train and amtrak.com/deals for the latest offers from providers. If you find a good special, you may need to change your itinerary slightly to make sure you receive the offer.
Booking your Vacation
Book your train tickets or passes.The best prices are often available a few months before the trip and a few weeks before you would be scheduled to leave. If you need to book a train vacation for more than 2 people, it is a good idea to book a couple of months in advance.
- If you are planning on visiting 1 to 3 towns, buying separate tickets may be more cost effective than buying a railway pass.
- Book a train pass with 1 provider, if you plan on staying in 1 country. Look at Amtrak, BritRail, BahnCard and other individual country passes. Check their maps to ensure that they service the towns where you will be staying. In some cases, you may want to arrange a transfer by taxi or rental car to a town that is nearby. If you are resident or student, consider booking an Inter Rail pass for 1 country for a month.
- Book a Eurail Select pass if you plan to travel to 3 or more countries in Europe. This pass allows you to pick, 5, 10 or 15 days of train travel from 1 destination to another within a 2 month period.
- Buy an Amtrak Rail pass if you plan to travel within the United States for 15, 30 or 45 days. The pass will cover train travel within that time period. You can also book a California-based Amtrak pass, where you receive 7 days of train travel within California over a 21-day period.
- Buy a Eurailpass or an Inter Rail pass if you plan to live or stay in Europe for a long period of time. A Eurail pass is fairly expensive, but would pay for train travel to 18 countries. An Inter Rail pass works in zones and is only available to residents and students. You buy your pass for 1 of the zones and get to use it to buy second class rail fares for a month.
Make your train reservations after you buy your pass.If you know which days you will be traveling, then it is a good idea to book immediately in order to ensure your seat. If you plan to play it by ear, you can show up at a kiosk or train station the morning you want to leave. Occasionally, you may find the train is booked and you will have to wait for the following day.
Book your overnight stays.Do a combination of travel guide and Internet research to find hotels, hostels, cabins or camping that fit your style of travel. Do this at least a month in advance, or up to 6 months out for high season travel.
Arrange supplemental travel arrangements.Depending upon your plans, this could include tickets to attractions, city passes, rental cars, guided tours, transfers, cruises or even plane tickets.
Check online to find out the baggage policy for each train leg.Many train companies have higher limits on baggage than airlines; however, the sizes may be different.
Prepare your money, baggage and entertainment for your trip.Arrive at the train station 1 to 2 hours before your trip, depending upon your baggage and the age of your travelers.
- You will need a credit card to book many of the train and travel arrangements. It is a good idea to use a credit card for travel expenses, in case of bankruptcy or theft. Some companies, such as Amtrak, allow you to book a pass with a debit card.
- Most rail passes do not allow you to book couchettes, or sleeper cars. If you want to stay on overnight trains, you will need to book each ticket separately.
- Beware that train travel, especially through Amtrak, is often fraught with delays. Freight trains have priority over passenger trains in America. Train travel is best for people who can deal with delays and make changes, if needed, en route.
Video: How to Plan the Ultimate Vacation by Train - TEL #019
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