With hotel prices and airfare costs skyrocketing this summer, now may be the perfect time to consider a train trip with your family.
Train travel is often more comfortable and less stressful than air travel. Prices, comfort levels and train trips themselves vary greatly — an Amtrak ride through the Rocky Mountains is very different than zipping through the Italian countryside on the Frecciarosa, speeding through Japan on a bullet train or taking the Eurostar from London to Paris — but chances are there's a train trip to fit your vacation budget and needs.
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Here's why your next family trip should be by train.
Train travel can be more comfortable and relaxing
Rushing through TSA security at the airport with your family can often be stressful, especially if you're tight on time or you haven't packed wisely and it takes a few attempts to get through.
Any type of security you encounter at a train station will almost certainly be less stringent than at an airport. You needn't worry about packing small liquids in your carry-on bag or if your backpack is a few inches larger than the maximum size — luggage weight, size and contents aren't heavily restricted. Trains also tend to have fewer rules related to bikes, bikes, strollers and other family-friendly items.
More relaxed rules lead to a more relaxing trip in general. In most cases, train stations are located in the city center, not on the outskirts like airports, meaning departure and arrival — especially for city residents — can be simpler and more cost-effective. Seats are more spacious and recline more. You may have four seats that face each other, and you'll almost always be seated next to your family and friends with no extra charges incurred for seat selection.
Plus, with no takeoff, landing or turbulence, the whole family can board the train, sit down and stand up when needed, and avoid any child (or adult) tears due to uncomfortable, small seats or earache from cabin pressure.
Train travel can be more affordable
Rates for train rides vary worldwide but, in some cases, they can be more affordable. Sometimes they take less time than flying door-to-door (this is often the case with high-speed rail services in Asia and Europe). Occasionally, they take much longer. You have to weigh the comfort level with the experience and the price for each trip to see what's right for your family.
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For example, here's a sample summer Amtrak fare from Atlanta to New Orleans for a family of four compared to a sample airfare for a two-week vacation on the same dates. Even the base airfare on Spirit ($1,173, not including any extras like baggage or seat selection) is much higher than the round trip coach train fare ($274). But the train takes almost 13 hours versus less than two when flying.
But private room train prices for this trip start at $1,400 round trip, which is much less than domestic business class roundtrip ($2,469 on Delta). And remember, private rooms on Delta's domestic business class aren't a thing.
Assuming you don't mind spending a full day on the train (remember, you can get up a move around, and there's a bar car), this might be a more luxurious, comfortable and affordable option for your family.
If you are on a budget, it's best to research your desired route, comparing the price, journey time and cabin or train car class to see what option affords the best value and comfort for your family.
Train travel can be entertaining
Train travel isn't just a means of transport to reach your destination. Taking the train is often part of the vacation itself. Many children love trains, so a train trip might be exciting for them as they pass by incredible landscapes in the U.S. or worldwide. And if your teens get bored looking out the window, remember, they won't have to put their phones in airplane mode — they can connect as normal.
Train travel can also encourage family interaction, as some trains accommodate four people around a table or even offer private rooms. Families can hang out in the dining car for a meal or the bar car over drinks. Plus, kids (and adults) have space to move about the aisles and stretch their legs. Some routes even allow travelers to get on and off the train during stops.
Some scenic train trips allow families to experience one-of-a-kind landscapes in exotic places. For example, Peru's Vistadome train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu, has panoramic windows that allow the whole family to admire the impressive backdrop of the Andes. Amtrak's Coast Starlight West Coast route offers incredible views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean and verdant forests. Ride the rails around Switzerland on a myriad of routes to soak in the snow-capped Swiss Alps, or lean out of the train window in Sri Lanka to feel the cool breeze and see the lush tea plantations on the route between Ella and Kandy.
But a train trip doesn't necessarily have to have epic scenery to be memorable. Children enjoy looking out the window at pretty much anything, and family bonding will happen even when the views aren't as spectacular.
Train travel can mean slow travel or fast travel
Some train trips, namely Amtrak journeys around the U.S., take a long time. But this fits right in with the concept of slow travel.
Slow travel is about taking time to smell the roses. It's about physically moving slowly and allowing the time to connect with local people and immerse yourself in local art, cuisine, music and culture. Train travel is a way to do just that with family, with an emphasis on focusing on the moment and enjoying the beauty of the destinations and cultures around you, whether it be the southern U.S. or Southeast Asia.
Other train travel is about speed, and modern, high-speed railway machines are truly magnificent. If you want to experience some of the world's speediest trains, head to China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, France and Spain. Some of these trains can reach nearly 200 mph.
Trains are a more sustainable way to travel
A study by The Guardian showed that trains are responsible for less than 2% of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, versus aircraft at 12% and road vehicles at more than 70%. Just by choosing train travel, you're making the most sustainable choice possible out of those three. And as countries begin to work on zero-emission trains, taking the train may become an even more eco-conscious choice as time goes on.
Amtrak (and other rail providers) have loyalty programs
Earning and redeeming points isn't just for airfares and hotels. You can earn and redeem on train fares with Amtrak's Guest Rewards program. Frequent Amtrak travelers may also want to consider getting the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard, which offers perks like upgrades, lounge passes, bonus points and a companion coupon.
Frequent train travelers in Europe may benefit from joining frequent train traveler programs there such as Club Eurostar in the U.K., Mas Renfe in Spain, CartaFreccia in Italy or Grand Voyageur in France.
New and exciting train routes worldwide
Want to feel a little trainspiration? Here are some new and unique routes to inspire your next railway adventure:
Rocky Mountaineer U.S. Route
Launched in 2021, this route takes you from the red rocks of Utah to the Colorado Rockies. As you ride from Moab to Glenwood Springs to Denver, you'll cross the Continental Divide, descend through deep canyons and roll past the Colorado River, all while viewing majestic scenery from glass-domed train cars.
Egypt's first high-speed train
Using a German train line, you'll be able to cruise from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean in Egypt on more than 600 miles of tracks with this new high-speed Siemens train, which will hopefully be ready for passengers by 2023.
Al-Andalus train in southern Spain
If you're in the market for something a bit more special than the typical Madrid-Seville RENFE high-velocity trains, consider taking a luxury train journey on the Al-Andalus, which traverses Andalusian destinations like Seville, Granada, Jerez, Ronda, Córdoba and Cádiz. The train even features living room and game room cars. Seven-day itineraries (from $6,999 person, including meals and excursions) are currently available for June or October 2022.
For more epic train routes to fuel your wanderlust, see this related post: 14 of the most scenic train rides on earth
(Feature image by Alexander Sorokopud/Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.