When people find out I enjoy riding Amtrak trains, they often follow up with what you do to prevent boredom? That is a fair question. Unlike flying, you may travel for days instead of hours, and unlike driving, you can’t pull over on a whim. A well-prepared traveler comes with the tools they need to make the best of their adventure, including a positive outlook and realistic expectations.
A bulk of this article also works well for bus travel and flying. If you are a new traveler, you still may benefit from this article even if you are not planning a train adventure.
There are several things that I pack or do to make my travels enjoyable. You may find a few ideas from this list that may improve your next trip; you might even have an opinion or two that I didn’t think of listing. Leave a comment below or send me a message; I would love to hear your idea.
Amtrak does not provide entertainment outside of windows for you to see the vistas.
At times there are informational announcements, conversations with other passengers or staff, and stops to get out and stretch your legs (mostly on long-distance routes). Whatever else you want or need for entertainment is up to you.
TWhen packing entertainment, the biggest thing to consider is how much room you have in your luggage and how much you want to carry.
You may need to experiment with what works for you. For me, most of my entertainment is digital. I pack my laptop mainly to work on this site; if I did not have to work, I would leave that at home. On the other hand, my dad needs a neck pillow, and his phone with old radio shows, Beatles, and polkas are more than enough for him.
Experiment, find out what works for you. You may find out you have too much when you start or binging too many books get heavy. Find what makes you happy.
Free entertainment on the train
The train does provide a form of entertainment that seems lost in society.
The train offers you the opportunity to talk to people you don’t know. I know this is not for everyone but an option for those who choose to participate.
I have met several new friends on the train; some were just for the trip, and others for a lifetime.
One of my favorite forms of entertainment that only rail travel allows is watching the scenery.
I know you can see some incredible views when you drive or from a bus, and there is some neat view from the skies, but the trains sometimes offer stunning vistas that you can only see on the rails.
When I embark on road trips, I am often the driver, So I see some things, but I miss a lot because I am focused on the road. For me, being on the train (or other transportation) is relaxing, not having to pay attention.
These route guides can add a little education to the route if you are interested in history. It is fun to learn about what made each stop and town along the famous route back “in the day.” While they are a little outdated, they are still cool.
When I arrive at my stop, I am ready to go and refreshed because I rarely am “jetlagged.” Although I could be rail legged, that is like sea legs but from riding the rails.
Life On The Train
One of my favorite train routes is the Califonia Zephyr. Traveling from Chicago to California takes about 52 hours.
Out of the 52 hours, you naturally do things that will take up chunks of that time.
For example, you will need to sleep. So, you will spend about sixteen hours during the journey.
On the bright side, you are allowed to take naps on the train!
Depending on how much you sleep and how much you nap, you have thirty-six hours left to account for on your adventure.
Besides sleeping, you need to do another activity to sustain life, eat! For this example, there are seven meals during this ride, which takes up some more time. If you are staying in a sleeper, you can use the shower.
Plus, train travel gives you plenty of time to relax; oh wait, that is the next section!
The best part of train life is sitting back and relaxing.
While on your journey, there are only two things you need to worry about when on a train; meal reservations and getting off at the right station. So, you have time to sleep in or even a nap.
With long-distance trains, in coach class, you have more legroom than you ever will have on buses, planes, and a lot more room than the back seat of your BFF’s car.
So, even in coach, you can stretch out. I am about 6’2″ and find I have ample room to stretch my legs, plus long-distance trains have leg and footrests, and the seats lean back comfortably without being in someone’s lap.
The best thing, for me, trains offer the chance to decompress.
Cards and other travel-friendly games work well for train travel because they are light. Plus, they are a great way to meet new people. If you are looking for new card games, check this page out, or if you are looking for the actual rules for the games you do play!
Amtrak often sells cards in the cafe car, but I leave a pack of cards in my luggage because they do come in handy, they are light, and don’t take up much space,
Other lightweight and easy-to-learn games work for meeting new friends. Some suggested games include:
- Apples to Apples
- and more
Cards Against Humanity may be fun but may not be the best game for the train’s public areas unless you have a family-friendly one.
Activites for the kiddos
I have a little experience traveling with a toddler, but this is not my strong point.
Each kiddo and grownup combo may have a unique entertainment idea and needs. Recently I took my niece on her first train trip. Her mom brought activities and electronics.
For her, we included several things in her entertainment arsenal. One trick that worked well, everything she had was new and a surprise. But they were based on things she loves. She loves stickers, coloring books, and magic ink books.
Often for some of the little ones, a stuffed travel companion helps the little ones be brave and comfortable.
Her support stuffed alligator was a big hit and comfort to her. Not only did it give her comfort, but she liked that people would talk to her about her critter.
We did pack an iPad for her. While she had it with her, she did not use it much. Some parents talked about limited screen time or using it as a reward for kids. It would be best to do what you think is best for you and your child.
Some kiddos enjoy going for a walk through the train. Sometimes going to a different car resets that boredom sensor.
Amtrak has a webpage of activities you can print out for the little ones. Crayons or colored pencils work great for adults and kids. Also, a few freight railroads have things if you want a railroad theme. Here are a few I have found.
I found this site that puts activities together for your kids in a bundle; this option could work well for some.
Fresh Air Stops
Fresh air stops are mainly on long-distance routes, but some regions have them if the train arrives early.
These stops allow you to get off the train, stretch your legs, get some fresh air or smoke.
Here is an important point, if you get off the train, listen for the toot of whistle and ALL ABOARD from conductors. Never walk too far away from the train. It is your responsibility to step back on the train before its departure. The train will leave without you if you are not on board when it is ready to go.
Most stops are not fresh air stops, so don’t get off the train unless they announce you can or at your final stop.
Amtrak will not leave before their scheduled time except for flag or departure only stops, but those are never fresh air stops. So, if you are on a train and wondering why you are not moving, check the schedule and see if the train is running early.
Walking Around The Train
If you are either a coach passenger or a sleeper passenger, there are a few places for you to walk to and stretch your legs.
Anyone on the train can walk to the cafe car for snacks, meals, and beverages.
You can hang out in the Sightseer Lounge on a Superliner Train (two stories) or in the cafe car on other trains.
Many people want to use the Sightseer or cafe area that can cause passengers to wait, be mindful of others, so they get some time in the car too because many people want to use these cars.
When this article was published, dining and sleeper passenger lounges were only available to sleeping car passengers.
Eating On The Train
Everyone needs to eat, right?
Whether I am in coach or sleeper. one activity I enjoy is walking to the cafe car to grab a snack or beverage.
It is a fun way to stretch the ‘ol legs or get fancy and get wine and cheese while rolling along (or whatever special treat that could make your day).
Also, if you are in coach, the cafe car is the only place on the train to buy meals. At least at the time of publication.
You can hang out in the cafe car but be aware of other passengers that may want to use that space as well. If you are on a Superliner train, you can eat downstairs and go upstairs for more views.
For more about eating on Amtrak trains, check out this article. The article will help you find more and list the current menus.
Review Your Destination Plans
One advantage of train travel is that it allows you to review your destination plans before you arrive at your destination.
By that, I mean you can go over what you thought you wanted to do and see if that still is what you want to do on this adventure.
Also, you have time to ensure the places you want to see are open when you want, and the times have not changed since you initially planned your trip. Doing this can help to avoid those last-minute disappointments and a chance to pivot.
The weather predictions might help you decide that you no longer wish to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge when you planned. Or maybe you might decide at the last minute that you want to go to different beignets shops every morning during a New Orleans visit. If you have a beignet every morning, I understand and will not judge; send me a pic, though!
Smartphones are a must for the modern traveler. I am sure a few of you out there can prove me wrong.
These phones can hold your schedule, reservations, and more like music, podcast, and ebooks. Plus, for the average traveler, a smartphone works well as a camera.
Downloading a few games might help you with downtime or waiting at the station.
Amtrak has outlets on the wall at every seat; an extension cord does come in handy.
Remember, if your electronics make a sound, you need headphones. Not everyone wants to hear your music, movie, or phone call. Silent is a fantastic ringtone for on the train.
Track your train
There are a few ways to track your trains; one uses a map app on your electronic device or GPS equipment. Doing so will help you determine where you are along your route.
You can also use the Amtrak app or website to ensure your train is on time. There are a few third-party sites like the one I often use or this other one.
A speedometer app can be fun to see how fast you are going down the rails.
Wifi is not necessarily itself, but for some of us, it is an accessory for our entertainment.
For me, I assume trains, planes, and busses don’t have wifi even if they say they do. That way, when they do, and it works, my day gets a little brighter.
I try to be realistic; if my router messes up at home, there is no reason why technical issues can’t happen on my transportation.
I remind myself wifi is not a right but a convenience offered, no matter what speed. Unless you have to pay for it, that is a different case.
Wifi on trains, buses, and planes is often limited to emails and browsing the interwebs, and often does not allow you to stream sites such as YouTube and Netflix or download big files.
If you need wifi for your devices while traveling, see if your phone can work as a hotspot or purchase an independent one. Be aware that streaming video can burn through data faster than you think.
For more info on Amtrak wifi, check out this page.
Most regional trains have wifi, along with Viewliner long-distance trains. Superliner trains do not, but for the Auto Train.
Tablets: a great travel investment
A tablet can be a great multifunctional tool for travelers because it can be an entertainment center, jukebox, e-reader, audiobook library, learning center, and more.
A tablet can be an excellent substitute for a computer if you need to do light work while on your adventure. These days tablets are reasonably powerful for many tasks, and you can even get a keyboard if required.
There are many brands, and I suggest you get the best one you can afford. If you are thinking of getting a tablet, check out this article to get you started.
My biggest suggestion is to buy a tablet with the most memory you can afford. I recommend sixty-four or more gigs of memory and do not suggest anything below 32 gigs. Some tablets do allow you to add memory.
Tips for getting movies & TV Shows
Services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and more allow you to temporarily download movies and shows to your phone or tablet without streaming them (aka no wifi). Sometimes these files are smaller than those you purchase from places like iTunes.
To save space, try and download standard definition videos instead of high definition or 4K. The better the quality, the more space they take. For me, I would rather have variety over high quality, but you may be different than me. Just be aware of that compromise.
You could also buy movies to download from several sources. One trick is when you buy the DVD or Bluray, spend the extra money to get the digital download.
Music & Podcast
Music can add to the enjoyment of watching the world go by or help while you wait to board your train.
Like movies, there are music streaming services for you to load temporarily or can still purchase songs for your phone or tablet. Or you can buy music to download or rip some CDs into your computer and upload those to your phone.
I suggest creating a travel playlist; the right playlist can aid in your enjoyment of a trip.
Podcasts can also add to your entertainment, or you could even learn from them. Here are my favorite podcasts for this year.
Digital downloads are much more manageable than bringing CDs, cassette tapes, eight tracks, or records.
Travel tip: For me, to get the most of my electronic devices, anything that is audio goes on my phone, and anything video goes on my iPad.
Necessary Electronic Accessories
Don’t forget chargers, cables, a power pack, and an extension cord if you bring any electronics. Before packing, make sure you have the correct wire for every device and that each cable and charger work every time without question.
If you pack anything that makes noise, make sure you have wireless or wired headphones, and you know how to put your device on silent.
It is cool to go old school!
If so inclined, train time offers you time to journal and reflect. At the same time, I have this under a paper activity; digital works well if that media is better for you. It is also a great time to catch up on those books you have put off.
Some travelers still like to trade books with other travelers or swap books at Little Lending Libraries. Others want to donate the book they read somewhere and then buy a new book at a non-chain book store at their destination.
There are some excellent coloring books out there for adults, and colored pencils do not weigh that much. Coloring is one of those activities that can help pass the time without even realizing how much time has passed.
By all means, magazines, gamebooks, journals, sketch pads, or whatever else you can think of are great ways to pass the time. Train Magazine is always a great suggestion, haha. I see people of all ages with books.
Now that you have some suggestions figure out what ones work best for you. Let me know in the comments what you might bring. Are there things that work well for you that I missed?
I find riding on trains relaxes me even if I write or edit. The train’s motion, the sounds, and just being in motion are therapeutic for me, and I hope for you.
The best advice that I can say is this, don’t just sit there, get up and move. Strike up a conversation with someone. Step off the train, or do something to make your trip a little better, or even better, something to make someone else’s trip better.
Plan your trip and bring things to do, leave that negative at home, and assume positive intentions when trying to help you.
If you start your Amtrak adventure, thinking I am stuck here for hours, and you will be miserable if you don’t plan for the experience. Enjoy your time and use it to its fullest.