(With a 3 and 6 year old)
(for 3 days and 2 nights)
We had a ton of fun on our train trip to San Francisco last week! If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter (@madebyrae) you probably saw a few pictures from our trip already! We spent one day traveling to Chicago from Ann Arbor, one night in Chicago, three more days (and two nights) on the train, four nights in San Francisco and then flew home. It’s important, I think, to think of your train trip not in comparison to flying (it’s not cheaper, or faster, for sure), but more as a portion of the trip. It’s a great way to spend time with your family and enjoy travel at a slower pace. Here are a few tips from me should you ever decide to take a family train trip.
Take a bag of snacks along. Pull them out at intervals. If your kids don’t usually have pre-packaged snacks at home, this will be even more novel.
Get a sleeping car, or two if you can.
Coaching it cross-country is definitely cheaper, but is far less comfortable and fun. Our two cars had a door between them that opened, so it was a suite (see our suite on the Amtrak website) . Each room had a fold down bunk bed and a “couch” that converted to a lower bunk, plus a sink, and shower/toilet (very small, but very nice when littles need to go).
Explore the train.
Exploring your sleeping car alone should take you NO LESS THAN ONE HOUR. There are nightlights, a bathroom, a fold-down bunkbed, and pop-up tables. Make it last. If you burn though that in a half hour you are in trouble. If you can save the rest of the train for day 2, even better.
Bring small, portable games
These will buy you less time than you think. But if they’re new, and you pull one out each day as a surprise after breakfast, you will thank yourself when the time comes. We had travel bingo and a magnetic story game.
If I have to tell you this, you really are a novice. Tin-Tin books are light, thin, and take a long time to read. Bonus: the 6 year old will love it.
The route that our train, the California Zephyr, took was really stunning. Even the parts of America that are relatively flat were pretty awesome. We crossed the Mississippi the first evening, and there were many canyons, rivers, and mountains along the way. My favorite part (which I should have taken more pictures of!!!) was going through California between the mountains and Sacramento. This is just about the only time of year when northern California is green and not brown, so it was a real treat to go this time of year!
There are lots of pillows in your room. Hello, pillow pile!
The dining car is pretty cool. Eat your meals in the dining car. You make reservations for dinner, and breakfast and lunch are first come, first served, with a waiting list when they get full. Bring coloring stuff along here too, as there may be a bit of a wait between ordering and food. The food is not superb. You will manage for a couple of days.
Wait until Day 3 to let them know that this even exists, if possible. Bring coloring along.
I asked for an Instax mini for Christmas and the kids really loved taking pictures with it when they pointed out something interesting that they had seen. You can burn through film pretty fast though, so saying “If you see something really interesting, tell me so you can take a picture!” as a requirement to use the camera may be wise.
I think everyone should travel on a train at some point. The cross-country routes here in the US are a really beautiful way to see the country, no matter which route you take.
Any tips that I missed here that I should know about? Do tell!!!