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7 reasons why your next family vacation should be a train trip

May 05, 2022
9 min read
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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.

Traveling by train can get you into the heart of scenic mountain ranges in the western U.S. (Photo by Chanokporn Sudthinon/EyeEm/Getty Images)

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.

Luggage rules on trains are usually more lax. (Photo by Maskot/Getty Images)

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.

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.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)
(Screenshot from Amtrak.com)

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.

(Screenshot from Google Flights)

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.

Four-seaters can make train travel fun for families. (Photo by Photo and Co/Getty Images)

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.

Kids will love looking out the train window. (Photo by Silvia Eder/EyeEm/Getty)

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.

Visit the Andalusian city of Ronda by train. (Photo by Sky Sajjaphot/Getty)

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)

Featured image by 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.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases