How to Budget & Plan a Train Trip

How to Budget & Plan a Train Trip
Amtrak trains and buses can get you to most areas of the United States more cheaply than flying. In 2009, a cross-country train trip with no stopovers or discounts, booked two weeks in advance, cost $200-250 one way or $400-500 round trip. Amtrak has a trip planning tool and offers many discounts to help you plan and budget your trip.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Computer with Internet access
Step 1
Decide where you want to go. Amtrak's website has a list of all the stations in the United States and a complete set of route maps. Amtrak also runs buses from many train station stops to nearby towns. Trips with multiple destinations are also fairly easy to plan on the Internet.
Step 2
Decide when you want to travel.
Step 3
Go to amtrak.com to create your itinerary; the trip planning tool is accessible on the main page. For multiple stops, click "Multi-City Trip."
Step 4
If needed, after you've created your itinerary, change the type of seating or sleeping car arrangement. Click "View Upgrade Options" next to each leg of your trip to see what's available and how much it costs.
Step 5
At the bottom of the itinerary screen, enter any discounts you are eligible for. Amtrak offers discounts for AAA members, children, students, veterans and seniors.
Step 6
If the cost is too high for your preferred itinerary, try adjusting the departure or return dates to avoid holidays, eliminating stops or working any current specials or coupons into your itinerary. Click on "Hot Deals" on the navigation bar near the top of the screen for more information on specials and coupons.

Tips & Warnings

 
Signing up for the Amtrak Guest Rewards program can save you money. It's free to join, and every trip you take earns you points toward free travel. Click on "Earn Rewards" on the navigation bar near the top of the screen for more information. Sleeping car accommodations can double the cost of your trip. Bicycles can be taken on some Amtrak routes unboxed! You may need to call Amtrak to verify if this applies to your route. You can book a bicycle spot on such trains by clicking "View Upgrade Options" and choosing Bicycle. Otherwise, bicycles must be boxed. You can buy a box at the train station or bring your own -- a local bike shop may have a box they will give you. Bicycles travel in the baggage car on most routes. Be aware of baggage limitations. As of 2009, Amtrak allows three checked bags and two carry-ons. Many travelers will find that they do not need to check a bag; however, if you are traveling with skis, a snowboard, bicycle or other bulky equipment, you will need to check them. There is a $5 handling charge for such items.
 
Signing up for the Amtrak Guest Rewards program can save you money. It's free to join, and every trip you take earns you points toward free travel. Click on "Earn Rewards" on the navigation bar near the top of the screen for more information.
 
Sleeping car accommodations can double the cost of your trip.
 
Bicycles can be taken on some Amtrak routes unboxed! You may need to call Amtrak to verify if this applies to your route. You can book a bicycle spot on such trains by clicking "View Upgrade Options" and choosing Bicycle. Otherwise, bicycles must be boxed. You can buy a box at the train station or bring your own -- a local bike shop may have a box they will give you. Bicycles travel in the baggage car on most routes.
 
Be aware of baggage limitations. As of 2009, Amtrak allows three checked bags and two carry-ons. Many travelers will find that they do not need to check a bag; however, if you are traveling with skis, a snowboard, bicycle or other bulky equipment, you will need to check them. There is a $5 handling charge for such items.
 
Prices may spike about two weeks before the departure date. Buying well in advance will usually save you money.
 
Prices may spike about two weeks before the departure date. Buying well in advance will usually save you money.

Article Written By Erica Leigh

Erica Leigh has been writing and editing professionally since 2005, contributing to an education nonprofit, renewable energy companies and various websites. She is also a volunteer mechanic for a community bike workshop. Leigh holds bachelor's degrees in both anthropology and linguistics from the University of Washington.

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