Choo-Choo Adventures: A Family Guide to Train Travel

Making Memories One Adventure at a Time

By Sara Yaniga June 19, 2024

Here's a list of things to know before traveling with younger kids on Amtrak:

  1. Ticketing: Children under 2 years old ride for free when sitting on an adult's lap. Children ages 2-12 qualify for a 50% discount on the lowest available adult rail fare.
  2. Baggage: Each fare-paying adult can bring up to 4 children (ages 2-12) with them. Kids are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item for free. Bicycles are also allowed on many routes if you are hoping to pedal your way through your destination.
  3. Seating: Consider reserving seats together in advance, especially if you're traveling with multiple children. Amtrak trains have spacious seating, but it's helpful to have everyone together. When traveling solo with my children when younger we easily shared two seats, even for sleeping (but not overnight travel). For longer, overnight travel, you can book a roomette or bedroom for a private space to sleep. **Many routes will have a "Quiet Car" and porters & staff will help you avoid sitting there when traveling with kids.
  4. Strollers and Car Seats: Amtrak allows collapsible strollers and car seats on board. Strollers must be folded and stored in designated areas, while car seats can be placed in a window seat, but remember that trains do not have seatbelts, so you cannot secure them in place. I have found that larger convertible seats are best to store in the luggage areas, but infant carriers can be placed on the seat to put babies down to free up your hands. Some may even fit on the floor space by your seats.  If you have a child who rides in a backless booster seat, you can easily place that on the seat by the window to give them a better view and then stash away if needed. 
  5. Food and Snacks: Pack plenty of snacks and drinks, as well as entertainment like books, toys, and games to keep kids occupied during the journey. Longer routes often feature a dining car where passengers can enjoy meals, snacks, and beverages for purchase. Some trains also offer a café car with similar options.
  6. Restrooms: Familiarize yourself with the location of restrooms on the train, especially if you're traveling with kids who may need frequent bathroom breaks. Amtrak trains are generally accessible to passengers with disabilities, with features like wheelchair-accessible restrooms and seating areas. If you have booked a Bedroom for your journey you will have a small private bathroom.
  7. Entertainment: Bring some headphones and consider downloading movies, games, or shows onto a tablet or phone before the trip to keep kids entertained. Many long-distance trains offer free WiFi for passengers, allowing you to stay connected during your journey and most seats on long-distance trains are equipped with power outlets so you can charge your devices along the way. Otherwise, the same activities you would bring for a car or plane trip are great for train travel as well! Many routes will have an observation car in addition to a cafe/dining car to visit and being able to get up and walk from car to car is one of the perks train travel has over car travel. Not having to delay progress to make pit stops to stretch, use the restroom, or eat is wonderful. 
  8. Comfort: Dress your kids in comfortable clothing for the journey, and bring layers in case the temperature on the train varies.
  9. Safety: Talk to your kids about safety on the train, including staying seated while the train is moving, not wandering off alone and how to identify an Amtrak employee if needed. 
  10. Patience: Traveling with kids can be unpredictable, so try to stay patient and flexible if things don't go as planned.

Remember to check Amtrak's website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information and any specific guidelines they may have for traveling with children. Also, check out these great online activities and resources from Amtrak for train fans of all ages.

Exploring by Amtrak

Some of you may know that our family has a deep love for the game of baseball, so these favorite Amtrak adventures won't be too much of a surprise! All of these destinations offer great cities to explore and ballparks to visit if you wanted to catch a game:

  • Chicago to Milwaukee: Hop aboard Amtrak's Hiawatha Service and embark on a delightful day trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Enjoy the scenic journey along Lake Michigan's shoreline as you travel approximately 90 miles north from Chicago. In Milwaukee, explore the historic Third Ward, visit the Milwaukee Art Museum, sample local craft beers at renowned breweries, and indulge in the city's famous cheese curds.
  • Chicago to St. Louis: Experience the charm of the Midwest by taking the Amtrak Lincoln Service or Texas Eagle route from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri. Traveling approximately 300 miles southwest, you'll discover iconic landmarks like the Gateway Arch, explore the vibrant Delmar Loop district, and immerse yourself in the rich history of the city. Don't forget to try the St. Louis-style barbecue and enjoy a stroll along the Mississippi Riverfront.
  • Chicago to Detroit: Embark on a captivating journey from Chicago to Detroit on the Amtrak Wolverine Service. This approximately 280-mile trip takes you through the picturesque landscapes of Michigan. Once in Detroit, explore the revitalized downtown area, visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, and learn about the city's musical legacy at the Motown Museum. Indulge in the city's burgeoning culinary scene, including its famous Coney dogs and Detroit-style pizza
  • Chicago to Kansas City: BBQ and baseball await at the end of this journey aboard the Southwest Chief or Lincoln Service Missouri River Runner lines. A longer trip of about 11.5 hours, this one starts and ends in two of the best cities the midwest has to offer! Live music, great food, museums and of course, baseball!