Solo Travel by Train: Tips from a novice Amtrak Passenger

As many of you know, I recently moved to North Carolina- just earlier this Spring. My hubby is stationed at Ft. Bragg, and we live in nearby Southern Pines, a small town of 13,000 people located within easy driving distance of both Fayetteville and Raleigh.

When I first began visiting Southern Pines, I realized how much it reminded me of another one of my favorite Southern towns, Thomasville, GA.

Growing up by the GA/FL line, I spent a lot of time in Thomasville and always loved the quaint and walkable downtown filled with great shops and restaurants….something that my beloved hometown of Tallahassee lacked. Much like Thomasville, Southern Pines has a main road through the historic town center (also named Broad St.). As soon as I began visiting the SoPines area, I fell in love with it. Our home is in perfect walking distance from downtown, and I love being able to bike or stroll to the post office, book shop, park, and restaurants. Southern Pines has a train that runs right through the middle of broad street and stops at a historic station in the middle of town. The small train station is a focal point in the small town and is connected to a welcome center. Further down the street, a station that was formerly used for loading freight has been turned into a fabulous, refurbished event space.

As soon as I moved to the area, I put it on my bucket list that I would travel by train one day. And today is that day.

My opportunity to travel by Amtrak was the result of an impromptu decision. I realized that my holiday trunk show schedule starts next week, and that I’m already entering the season a bit low on raw materials. (Thanks to what a great turnout we had at our August Pop-Up Market!) Usually, I would visit a wholesale show, but there just isn’t time in my holiday schedule for that this year. I had a few days open, my mom happened to be free, and we decided we would head to NYC to shop the diamond district to replenish our inventory before the busy season! It’ll be fabulous to have a few days back in the city to get my shopping done all at once- and even better since it’ll be my mom’s first time in the diamond district:)


The means of getting there is certainly an added perk. The idea of packing up my suitcase and walking to my small-town train station to embark on an adventure seemed so much more nostalgic, old-school, and romantic than other means of travel. Not to mention… i love travel, but I HATE flying. For starters, I’m terrified of heights. I also don't have enough patience for airports or their patrons. Air travel always seem to bring out the absolute worst, most uncivilized behavior in people. Traveling by train meant arriving 20 mintues early, not 2 hours early. There was no waiting in lines and being herded through security. No spatially-unaware imbeciles crowding around the boarding gate, even though the speaker distinctly called for preboarding & Zone A only. The train has complementary wifi. I packed all my belongings without worrying that my shampoo and aerosol cans were a national security threat. The leg room on the train is luxuriously abundant. My seat came with two outlets- perfect for working on my laptop and charging my phone… not to mention how plush and comfortable it was. I’ve had a beautiful view of the outside landscapes… (without the irrational nagging anxiety of plummeting to my death that I experience when I travel by air).

 

Point is that the whole experience was so relaxed and easy. PLUS- I’ve had an uninterrupted work day while traveling. And I love the feeling of successful multitasking :)

^ Husband being reprimanded as he snaps my "first train ride" photo :)


I am a planner. I like to know what I’m getting into and I usually over prepare in a borderline-OCD fashion. That being said, I scoured the Amtrak website, blogs, and travel guides so that I would be ready for my first adventure my rail. I realized that my research neurosis may be useful to others, and I’ve compiled a list of travel tips for your next adventure my train!


What to pack ON the train:

  1. Headphones (I like these because I can listen to podcasts while also looking unapproachable, therefore avoiding any unnecessary converstaion with any crazies onboard).
  2. Sweater or blanket. I brought both so I could roll one up to use as a pillow.
  3. Phone charger. Make use of the outlets and keep your phone juiced up.
  4. Insulated bag with packed lunch. If you’re frugal, or if your tastes are too elevated for offerings of the dining car, you may want to pack a meal. I packed a Trader Joe’s Salad, Sparkling Water, Almonds, Jerky, Applesauce in mine.
  5. A water bottle. Unlike flying by air, you can bring liquids onto the plane. I love having a water bottle at all times- plus the trains don’t have beverage cart service!
  6. A sleep mask or noise canceling headphones if you need to block out light & sound to sleep.
  7. Toiletries for freshening up. Unlike planes, the bathrooms on Amtrak are numerous (about 4 per car) and spacious, with large mirrors. So you can use them without worrying about a line forming. I bring deodorant wipes, oil absorbing sheets, mints, dry shampoo, and my makeup bag to freshen up.
  8. Entertainment. Bring a book and download your podcasts, shows, or movies at home while your internet connection is fast! The wifi can be slow on board and isn't available on all routes. 


Preparing to get on the train:

  1. Check the Amtrak schedule. The trains sometimes run late, as mine did this morning. I was at the station at 6:30, but if I had checked the app, I would have known it was delayed until 8:00. I got breakfast at a local cafe out of it though, so all is good in the world.
  2. Arrive early. I arrived 30 minutes early (which was too early for my sleepy, small town station). But at other stations 30 minutes is the recommended time and 45 minutes ahead if you plan on checking bags.
  3. Prior to boarding, check your train and station for baggage rules. This one surprised me. I had read ALL the luggage rules and was planning on checking a big bag and bringing about my carry ons. Well, Southern Pines is not a station that allows checked luggage. Better to know beforehand than when you arrive at the station.
  4. Amtrak allows two carryons and two personal items. Can't speak to checked baggage, since my station wouldn't allow it. Personal items have a max length of 14” and weight of 25lbs (Can be a purse or backpack). Carryons are actually the size of normal “checked” luggage on planes and can be 50lbs each. There is tons more overhead storage space on amtrak than on a plane

    Additional Tips for Train Travel

    • Despite the fact that Amtrak is reasonably safe, I recommend not leaving valuables at your seat to venture to the bathroom or dining car. Any nice jewelry, laptops, etc should be taken with you, particularly if you are traveling solo.
    • I had both seats to myself for my entire trip, but if you end up on a crowded train for an overnight trip, I would recommend seating yourself next to a fellow female traveler.
    • There are quiet cars available if you don't want to hear other people's phone conversations. Though I don't have an appetite for talking to strangers (see the headphone tip earlier), I DO have an appetite for listening in on strangers' conversations (lol), so it didn't bother me.
    • Snag a selfie in that good window seat light! :P I, of course, made sure I had Sea+Stone tassels on for my train adventure!


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