I love train travel. I think it’s in my blood. My grandfather was a depot agent in the small town of Douglass, Kansas, so my father grew up around trains. While I did not, the sound of a train whistle in the distance still stirs a sense of excitement in me.
Years ago, I played a game at a family reunion where we took turns splitting into two groups according to various preferences. One of the questions was, Are you a plane person or a train person? The plane group was definitely larger – but the train enthusiasts were definitely more passionate!
Those who favored travel by airplane highlighted convenience in getting places faster. Can’t argue with that; if you have to go far or get there fast, you can’t beat stepping on an airplane.
But beyond getting somewhere far or fast, the “plane people” were hard pressed to come up with things to like about airline travel. The “train people”? They waxed eloquent about all the things they loved about train travel.
With all the time it takes to get to and from an airport (typically located outside city limits) and then all the security mazes, domestic airline travel can take longer than you think, and is often fraught with various kinds of headaches. Then there’s the comfort – or lack of it – once you enter the plane, as seating is notoriously cramped. (At least sardines get some oil to ease things a bit!)
So here, in no particular order, are the top five things I like about train travel, especially when traveling with grandchildren on a “skip-gen” trip. These are all true whether you travel with a grandchild or not, but traveling with a grandchild is more fun. Kids love trains!
Ease of Departure
No long lines, no patdowns, no X-ray machines. No removing shoes, belts, electronic devices. Want to bring your own drinks on the train? Or little bottles of liquids in various sizes? Go ahead!
This lack of security may worry some, but think about it: when was the last time you heard of a US train being taken over or blown up by terrorists? Or any other serious violent incident? Exactly. Even without all the security checks, train travel is extremely safe.
As in, lots of it. Seated on a train, I can fully extend my legs, with toes pointing forward, before touching the seat in front of me. And this is in coach! Now, I admit that I am on the short side, but even my six-foot husband finds plenty of room to stretch his legs.
I can have my rather large carry-on bag right beside me on the floor, not wedged under a seat or in an overhead compartment. My entire suitcase is also readily accessible, if need be. This is so helpful with kids. Games, snacks, whatever you need – it’s easily accessible.
One spring break, I took my three daughters, including two newly adopted teens from Russia, on a cross-country trip to visit my retired father in New Mexico. Now, we could have flown there from Michigan, but I wanted the girls to really see our country – the endless corn and wheat fields, the wide-open prairies, the canyons, mountains, interesting rock formations, and deserts.
I have also taken the California Zephyr from Michigan to northern California by way of the Rockies, considered one of the loveliest train trips in the US. These trains have observation cars with large floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the sights.
Better than flying, where all you see are clouds. Better than driving, where you have to worry about traffic, road construction, and driver fatigue. Or potty breaks. Need to use the bathroom? It’s right onboard! No need to look for a rest stop.
Freedom of Movement
Children are far less restrained than with either plane or car travel, which makes for a happier kid. More space, and they can get up and walk around (with supervision). It’s good for your physical and mental health.
It’s important to get up and stretch while traveling and train travel makes that so easy. I love to get up and stroll down to the snack car, on to the observation car, and then back to my seat. Or maybe linger in the observation car.
Adults are freer to point out interesting sights along the way, as they are not distracted by driving or keeping kids as quiet as possible on a plane. A train ride is a more out-of-the-ordinary experience and keeps their interest longer. Definitely a case where the journey can be just as interesting as the destination!
Train travel is just friendlier than travel by plane. And more relaxed. Even with Covid, people chat and converse with each other more.
On my most recent trip, I interviewed my attendant, curious about how long she had worked for Amtrak (38 years!), and asked for interesting stories she could share with me. I can’t imagine doing that with a flight attendant as she rolls the drink cart up and down the narrow aisle.
Do you like to travel by train? Have you ever taken a grandchild on a train trip? How was the experience and where did you go?