A couple years ago, my dear friend Jen and her family took a trip – from Anchorage, Alaska where they currently live – to the Southeast to visit friends and family in Tennessee and Mississippi. After spending several days with us here in Nashville, they drove to Memphis and boarded a train to New Orleans. I am enamored by trains and train travel and can’t wait to take my kids on a similar trip. I’m excited to share Jen’s sweet family and their experience on the rails – all aboard!
We are a busy family of 4 living, working and playing in Anchorage, Alaska. Our boy/girl twins turned 10 earlier this month. In regards to travel with kids, my spouse, Schlee, and I generally have a philosophy that our kids are capable of more than we think. They are little citizens of the world and so we believe there is no place where they are not welcome. Kids live everywhere so kids can go anywhere! For example, we took them to New Orleans for Mardi Gras – not into the French Quarter – but to the parades and historical parts of the city. It was important for us that they be a part of the excitement, the community, the tradition and the celebration that I grew up experiencing. Generally, we believe when it comes to travel with family, we like to experience a place – to do and be as the locals. We also love trying new things and adventures.
Schlee has always loved train travel and he had wanted to take a train trip with our kids for years. We were hoping there was a train from Nashville to New Orleans, but learned that Amtrak only went through Memphis. I used the Amtrak website for all of my research. We looked into getting a sleeper car and doing an overnight ride, but the sleepers only sleep 2 people so we would have had to split-up with kids. We plan to do it in the future when the kids are a little older and can have their own space.
Once we arrived in Memphis we went to the train station so we would know where it was and the procedures for the next morning. Once there, we were informed that we could check our luggage the night before so we packed small carry-on/overnight bags and checked our luggage right away. We had a lot (too much) luggage so this made the early morning get up and cab ride to the terminal easier for everyone.
The train ride was an all-day trip with several stops – usually we stayed on the train during stops, but once in Jackson we got off to stretch our legs. Ultimately, we felt we had lots of room, plenty of stops and opportunities to get outside, a meal car with a full menu and options for a hot meal – like eating in a restaurant (it was expensive, but money well spent) – and the train tickets were significantly cheaper than a plane tickets.
The train staff was also amazing. In fact, after boarding, while having breakfast, the servers learned that we were heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras to celebrate the twins birthday. When we went back for lunch, they had decorated birthday placemats and an employee working in the meal car had pulled a few things from her purse: a pen and some other swag and wrapped it up for my kids. When we sat down they sang to them and gave them complimentary ice cream too. The staff was professional and friendly and genuinely interested in our story. Many were New Orleans natives and on their way home so we talked about Mardi Gras and parades and the city. Many of them were also long time Amtrak employees – that is a value-add in my book – I love that the employees feel a dedication and commitment to the company.
We traveled one way, but I think round trip would be fun. I recommend U.S. train travel as a way to regroup during a longer trip. For us it was a little vacation from the vacation – a way to reset after being with friends and on our way to see family. The kids really loved being able to move around – more than in an airplane – and, as opposed to a car, they had the attention of both or either parent. They liked exploring the different cars, reading, and watching the world go by outside their window. We also liked going to a different location/train car to eat and sit down at a table and enjoy a hot meal served.
The only major challenge we had was the drop off and pick-up at the train station. There was no rental car drop off at the station, so we took a cab from our hotel and then had a family member pick us up in New Orleans. Also, the train didn’t have Wi-Fi (but we were able to charge our devices), but this forced us to slow down for the day and focus on each other.
A highlight for me was watching the scenery go by. I think it was especially nice for me to watch how it changed as we went south and got closer to my hometown and the scenery I knew as a child. It was very nostalgic for me.
I love the fact that the train that runs from Memphis to New Orleans is called The City of New Orleans made famous by the Willie Nelson song. It just added to the authenticity of the trip. And maybe that is it – train travel feels authentic, like you are part of some throwback to an easier, simpler time. Almost a celebration of history! While I feel the train was very punctual, the pace at which it moves gives you time to reflect and adjust to the terrain you are traversing. There is a romance to train travel that a cramped, stuffy airplane lacks. And, again, being somewhat disconnected (without Wi-Fi) was a surprising relief – there was something liberating about being out of communication for a few hours on a travel day and focusing on family and our surroundings.
I was not prepared for the beauty of the Memphis train station. I really did feel transported back to a time when train travel was the norm and travel in and of itself was something to be celebrated. The whole experience was a surprising breath of fresh air. We will definitely do it again. We have talked about taking the train from Seattle to Chicago and then Chicago to New Orleans. We have also begun talking about taking the train from New Mexico to New Orleans … or down the California coast.
Also, sometimes I struggle with being more exhausted when I return to work because of all the hustling and bustling from a vacation. I feel that train travel relieves some of this because of the slower pace. We loved the experience all around and highly recommend for families to explore U.S. train travel too! We can’t wait to do it again.
Thanks for sharing this incredible adventure, Jen. I love how you say “train travel feels authentic, like you are part of some throwback to an easier, simpler time.” I also love the idea of being disconnected for a day and focusing on family and the experience.
Have you taken a train trip in the U.S.? What about abroad? What service did you use? How was it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
P.S. – Have you taken a trip with your kids that you’d like to share? Are you interested in sharing your experience with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired to travel and take new adventures and share others adventures too! Also, please share this with friends and family and encourage them to reach out!