When you should book a train ticket instead of flying or driving

Aug 18, 2021

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Trains are an underrated method of transportation in the U.S.

When thinking about transportation, most people’s minds go first to driving or flying. This is in part due to accessibility — the U.S. is far behind many other countries when it comes to train route options and frequency. But traveling by train can be an excellent way to get around, whether you’re looking for a scenic view along the way or want to avoid driving or flying between point A and point B.

Train travel is often cheaper than flying (especially since you can take more with you before paying extra baggage fees). And it can be more convenient than driving — especially if you’d be driving in an unfamiliar place or having to drive for hours and hours nonstop to get to your destination.

When you are planning your next trip, don’t discount train rides in your transportation strategy. There are times when it might make sense to look into traveling by rail instead of plane or car.

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Cheaper fares than flying

Flying might be faster, but it frequently comes with a steeper price tag.

Recently, I was looking into a quick trip up to Boston to see family and friends over a long weekend. Looking at fares on Amtrak, a round-trip coach fare between New York City and Boston starts as low as $29, while a business-class ticket starts at $77. For the same dates in September, I’d be paying at least $117 for a flight in basic economy.

I could take a train from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, for just $27 in coach or as low as $56 in business on those same dates. I’d pay at least $97 to fly basic economy.

(Photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images)

Now, a transcon train ride might take too long for what your trip (and possibly your patience for being on any mode of transportation) allows. But on shorter routes with Amtrak service, you can save a significant amount by opting for a train ticket instead of flying.

More allowances for luggage

When you fly in the U.S., you’re generally allowed one carry-on and one personal item as part of an economy ticket. You can then pay extra for checked baggage (usually at least $30 per additional bag, unless you have elite status or a credit card that offers free checked bags as a benefit). If your trip requires more luggage, flying can get even more expensive.

Traveling by train means more baggage allowances for less money. In the U.S., Amtrak allows each traveler to bring two personal items, two carry-on items and two checked bags — all included in your fare. You can then check up to two additional bags for $20 each.

(Photo by FG Trade/Getty Images)

Scenic train rides instead of road trips

Of course, if you’re looking for the cheapest traveling option, driving is usually the go-to. And while there’s something to be said about blasting music with the windows down on a road trip, don’t discount the beauty of scenic train rides.

There are plenty of scenic train rides you can take rather than strapping in for a long car drive in the U.S. and abroad. If you’re planning a trip to the Rocky Mountains, there’s a beautiful train ride you can book from Denver to Moab, Utah, called Rockies to the Red Rocks. If you’re traveling across Europe, you can take a EuroCity train from Geneva to Milan and see snowcapped mountains across the lake as you go.

Related: 6 epic train trips to take this summer

Train rides give you more room than a car, and you’ll be able to see the views as you pass rather than having to keep your eyes on the road. Plus, they are a great alternative when abroad if you’re hesitant to drive long distances in countries where you’ve never been before.

Bottom line

Not only can it save you money to travel by train, but you can end up seeing some incredible views along the way.

Of course, it doesn’t always make sense to pick a train instead of driving or flying. Large families who own a car may be better off on a road trip where you have more flexibility to stop along the way. Alternatively, longer distances (especially in the U.S., where train routes are more limited than other parts of the world) will likely be better by plane.

But for those who live in or are traveling to cities where Amtrak or other train services operate, traveling by rail can be a great alternative that saves you money, is better for the environment and allows you more space and comfort on your journey.

Featured photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images. 

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