I used Amtrak to explore 4 states with my family for $22 per person. Here's what it was like and why it beat flying or driving.
My family traveled exclusively by Amtrak train on our trip through four Northeastern states.
It was less stressful and expensive than flying or driving. In total, we paid $22 per person.
Though the coach cars weren't glamorous, our seats were comfortable and wider than expected.
My family traveled through four Northeastern states by train, and our total transportation costs came out to just $22 per person.
When I was researching transportation options for my family's vacation through the Northeast, I wanted to find a painless way to travel to and from several populous cities.
We could rely on public transportation once we arrived at the locales, so I just needed a way to travel easily between them.
Because many of these places are hard to explore by car, I ended up booking tickets on two Amtrak trains: the Keystone Service, which we rode from New York to Philadelphia, and the Northeast Regional, which we rode from Philadelphia to Wilmington.
Our journey included several multiday stops and spanned New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Taking Amtrak trains proved to be a compelling and cost-effective option, as our transportation expenses came out to $22 per person. Here's what our trip was like.
Most of the train stations were centrally located in cities, making them easy to access on foot.
One of the many perks of train travel is that Amtrak stations are usually centrally located in big cities, making them incredibly convenient to access.
In most cities, I was able to book accommodations that were within walking distance of the station, which saved us money on rideshares and spared us the stress that comes with potential traffic delays.
I was impressed by the various train stations' beauty and architecture.
When I picture people boarding a train, I envision well-dressed explorers making their way to lavish sleeping cars as they set off for a scenic journey.
Today's Amtrak service is less glamorous than these aspirational images, but many of the train stations date back to a bygone era of train travel, and each waypoint's architecture is as varied as it is stunning.
Philadelphia's William H. Gray III 30th Street Station is a towering, awe-inspiring building adorned with massive columns. Inside, we were greeted by soaring ceilings and beautiful works of art that set the scene for our grand adventure.
After an 18-minute ride down the track, we arrived at Wilmington's Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station, which stands in stark contrast to the Philadelphia station.
A small, unassuming brick building that dates back to the early 20th century, the station offers a completely different type of beauty. It boasts colorful, detailed tile and exposed steel beams studded with rivets.
The stations I visited are far more spectacular than I ever dreamed they'd be, and I could go on an entire vacation just to explore and admire these historic buildings.
The boarding process was a breeze compared to airport check-in and security.
I've become so used to the cumbersome processes required to get through airports that I was shocked by how easy it was to navigate railroad stations and board our trains.
There were no long waits or exhausting security procedures. The Amtrak staff also communicated clearly with passengers using digital boards and loudspeaker announcements.
On most of the trains I rode, attendants didn't check my ticket until after I boarded, when the train was already in motion. This system significantly expedited the boarding process, and I enjoyed its efficiency.
Those who get on the train without tickets can typically buy one on board, but they usually have to pay higher fares.
The Amtrak interiors weren't nearly as nice as the stations, but our seats in coach were surprisingly comfortable.
For this trip, we traveled strictly in coach-class cabins.
Each one's interior had a utilitarian design that lacked big, scenic windows and plush seating. It was practical for our purposes, but having previously traveled on much nicer trains, like the Amtrak Coast Starlight and trains throughout Europe, I had to manage my expectations for this journey.
I saw some pretty worn-down carpeting and upholstery, and the bathrooms left much to be desired. However, I did find the seats to be pretty comfortable and a lot wider than the coach seats on many planes.
Large tray tables made it easy to work, eat, play games, or just prop up a tablet for movie-watching, and I could easily get up to stretch my legs as needed.
On one train, we sat in the Quiet Car, where conversations are limited to a low volume. It made that leg of the trip even more peaceful, and it was a great option for those looking for a safe space away from crying babies and other noisy seatmates.
No food or drinks were available for purchase on the Keystone Service, so I was grateful that I brought my own snacks.
Upon boarding the first leg of our journey on the Keystone Service, a voice came over the loudspeaker to inform us that there was no food or drink available for purchase.
Thankfully, New York's Moynihan Train Hall, the station where we boarded, offers ample dining options. I'd already grabbed some pastries and coffee from Magnolia Bakery to enjoy during my journey.
I also noted that I should always have snacks on hand for future trips or, at the very least, research the onboard dining situation in advance.
Traveling by train made the trip inexpensive and efficient.
Amtrak proved to be an easy choice for our family based on cost alone, as we paid $22 per person to travel through four states. It didn't hurt that my child's tickets were cheaper than ours, driving the overall cost down.
The trains we took were also an efficient way to travel between congested cities, like Manhattan and Philadelphia.
Driving the same route would've taken us twice as much time, and that's without taking into account the inevitable traffic delays that come with such a journey.
Though trains have their own share of punctuality problems, each leg of my family's trip was on schedule.
However, last-minute ticket prices can be exorbitantly high.
Although my family's trip was a steal, Amtrak isn't always the most economical option, which I found out when I came down with a nasty cold in Delaware.
My family was supposed to continue by train to Baltimore, Maryland, a one-hour trip that can cost as little as $15 per person if passengers purchase tickets in advance.
Because I didn't want to spread my germs to other train passengers, we opted to stay in Delaware longer than anticipated.
Once I was feeling better, I shopped for new train tickets to Baltimore and found prices had skyrocketed to more than $300 for the same journey. To be fair, the higher ticket prices may have been a uniquely extreme case due to the fact that it was so close to Thanksgiving.
We found that renting a car was significantly cheaper, so we completed our journey on wheels. Still, I made a mental note to always book tickets in advance to ensure I get the best prices possible.
Overall, we had an easy, stress-free experience that sold me on doing more train travel in the future.
Though trains aren't the most glamorous way to travel, I loved how easy the whole journey was and am eager to book more rail-based trips in the future.
The ability to accomplish work and other tasks, especially ones that I can't do while driving or navigating airports, is appealing, as is the ability to sit back and unwind while someone else does the steering.
The benefits of train travel became especially evident as we drove to Baltimore on the final leg of our trip. During a heavy rainstorm, I got stuck in a traffic jam while navigating unfamiliar roads.
At that moment, I longed instead to be sitting back in my train seat, effortlessly cruising to my next destination.
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