AmtrakAmtrak Tips

Guide To Riding Amtrak For Beginners

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Guide to riding Amtrak for beginners
Excited about our first ride

Guide To Riding Amtrak For Beginners

We have put together our guide to riding Amtrak for beginners. In this guide we will share some tips and tricks to make your first ride smooth and fun. There are lots of things we didn’t know before we hopped on our first train in Atlanta, Georgia. Our first train was the Crescent which came in from NYC. We rode it from Atlanta to New Orleans. There were not very many people on the train. We had a great ride. Here’s what we learned.

Guide To Riding Amtrak For Beginners
At the Atlanta train station
Guide To Riding Amtrak For Beginners
Not many other passengers on this train

Luggage Lessons

They are very strict on weight limit for your bag. For some reason I thought it wouldn’t matter as much like on airplanes but it was a big deal. I ended up taking a couple heavy things out of my bag and putting them in my carry on. Just like on a plane be sure your valuables are in your carry on. You don’t want to have too much on the train with you because you will end up having to carry it with you when you leave your seat, if you are traveling solo.

Guide To Riding Amtrak For Beginners
Thankful for this snack:-)

Food Lessons

We learned a lot about food on our first train ride. We left our hotel early in the morning and did not eat breakfast, we planned to grab some food on the train for breakfast. When we got on the train, however, we found out they could not sell food because the card machine was not working and they were not accepting cash. I was thankful our hotel in Atlanta gave us to go breakfasts to keep us going,lol. They ended up giving us boxed snacks which consisted of a cheese and meat tray with crackers and cookies. They also gave us bottled water.

I noticed on the first train that a few people had coolers with them. It was something we did not know you could do. On our next train ride we brought Subway sandwiches with us. We also brought snacks with us like chips and candy. Don’t forget to bring a refillable water bottle with you to refill on the train. Do not refill your bottle in the bathroom. There are water stations in the train, use them to fill your bottle.

Guide To Riding Amtrak For Beginners
Is it possible to have too much leg room?

Enjoy The Ride

I found the train ride to be similar to a plane ride but more comfortable. There was much more leg room in the seats. The seats were comfortable and wider than on an airplane. You can also recline the seats back to almost laying flat. They also have foot rest extension, which was nice for someone with short legs like me. If you are on a train with an observation car be sure to spend some time there to enjoy the views. This is also a great place to enjoy your meals away from your seat. All in all we loved our Amtrak experience. We learned a lot from that first ride. Tell about your first journey. Do you enjoy it?

Guide To Riding Amtrak For Beginners
Lake Pontchatrain from the train as we approached New Orleans


  1. Hi Allie and Rob! I recently took my first ride on Amtrak on the Crescent from Charlotte to Picayune, MS to get back home to Biloxi. This was a bit of a discovery trip to see if I wanted to take an actual Amtrak vacation. Due to cost, I envision most of my travel to be Coach. I encountered only one issue, but it has made me rethink any future train travel. The bathrooms were overwhelmingly disgusting. I stopped eating or drinking after my one and only visit during my 18 hours on the train. Other passengers were talking about it and those who thought to have wet wipes with them were sharing. I was warned by a friend who has taken this train several times, so I know it wasn’t this one trip. I mentioned it in my trip review requested by Amtrak. Do you have any tips or suggestions? I haven’t run across this in any of your videos that I’ve watched. Love your site! Very helpful!

    1. Yes, they can get fairly bad on a long overnight trip. We’ve only done 1 overnight in coach and it was on a pretty empty train, so our experience wasn’t as bad as you describe. A few tips we picked up on that ride though were to checkout the bathrooms in different cars, they aren’t all as bad as the worst one, and you might find a better one if you go to the next car. Otherwise, the main thing we did was to use the bathroom on the lower level of the observation car, most people don’t know it is there. On our last few trips though we’ve seen that bathroom roped off and not in use for some reason that we don’t understand, but check that area.

  2. My husband and I and two pairs of friends will be riding Amtrak for the first time and we’ll be doing the Coast Starlight from LAX, then the Empire Builder to CHI then the Southwest Chief back to LAX. on the 30 day rail pass. We want to break the long trip with overnight stays in some cities for a shower and a good night’s sleep on a bed
    Can you recommend the cities and hotels we can do this?

    1. Yes, awesome trip! You should do it in Seattle and Chicago as then you wouldn’t use an extra segment of your pass. If you wanted to stop during the trip, you could stop in Emeryville, which is San Francisco, but hotels are expensive there. On the Chief Kansas City is an awesome stop as the station is in a great historic area with the WWI museum next door. All of our hotel choices are at the bottom of the route guide for each route.

  3. First of all love this website and your posts. Longtime fan of public transportation and especially trains. I’m actually sitting on the Texas Eagle at this very minute and am here from that article. I had to add that the Chicago Union Station can be reached from the airport by the El. As can the St. Louis Union station via Metrolink. I can’t speak for other cities. We departed the Eagle at Longview to board the Amtrak connecting bus down to Galveston and can attest the small station there was adorable.

  4. Thank you Allie and Rob ! My first overnighter a few days away. When traveling I really enjoy preparing a ton then looking forward to the unexpected. Traveling Maine to San Diego via Boston-Chicago-Los Angeles-San Diego.
    Your information has been very helpful and I feel fairly well prepared. I let you know how it goes when I return.

  5. I love your website an YouTube videos. I have subscribed and used your affiliate links to pick up some of the essentials you recommend.

    I am planning on traveling on Amtrak in March via the Rail Pass. It will be my first ride on Amtrak and my first cross-country trip by rail. I am riding the Texas Eagle from Little Rock to Chicago, then the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland. I then have a further stop in Sacramento (via Starlight) before returning via the California Zephyr / from Reno to Little Rock.

    How reliable is their on-time performance? The reason I ask is that once I arrive in Chicago, I have 1hr 19 min before the Empire Builder departs. Is this too close of a time for transfers. What is your past experience with transfers? What will Amtrak do if the train arrives late? Just curious on how I should plan and if I should reserve a room in Chicago just in case ahead of time.

    Thanks for all the tips and look forward to future content on the website and YouTube.

    1. Hello, the trains that go long distances are almost always late. You probably have about a 40-50 percent chance of making that connection. What they will do for you depends on the situation and how they can get you moving the quickest, but we don’t recommend using connections that tight. Likely you’ll end up on the Empire Builder the next day.

  6. Greetings Allie and Rob

    First and foremost I have to say you have inspired me to travel and see the world. I have a planned trip on the SW Chief (Bedroom) in April from Chicago to LA. My question, I fully understand traditional and flex dining, is it possible to take my meals in my bedroom when it comes to traditional dining? I’d rather eat alone, I’m sure you Understand….

  7. Hi Guys
    I’ve recently taken your advice and signed both myself and my wife up for the Amtrak Guest Rewards cards.
    My question is if it makes more sense to book all travel on one card as opposed to each of us earning our own points?

  8. Hi Allie and Rob,

    Thanks for all the thoughtful information about Train Travel. My wife and I are in the process of booking our first Amtrak trip for 2024 and found that we wanted your suggestions about Travel insurance. Do you have any posts or videos covering this subject?

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Allie Marmion
Allie is married to Rob and has been traveling with him across the world for the last two years. She is an accomplished personal trainer, speaker and author.