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Summer Vacation: Great Train Adventure

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Last summer, my 4.5 year old son and I took a Great Train adventure. As he had spent the summer busy learning all of the U.S. states and their capitals, he was eager to start checking off states off of his list. I personally abhor driving and the idea of a roadtrip didn't quite appeal to me. Instead, we checked out the Amtrak list and was able to decide on the Cardinal route that ran from Chicago, Union Station, all the way up to New York City, NY. We opted to make our destination Philadelphia, PA, where my sister resided instead.

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This was amazingly affordable as kids are 50% off and roundtrip cost us a little over $200 for one adult and one child riding coach. We fit everything we needed in two backpacks (full of activities and food/snacks) and one duffel (change of clothes, pillow and blankets). Here are some tips on what to bring/expect:

  1. Layer up - we both wore t-shirts with zipup hoodies over. I have this amazing Burton zipup that has a built-in inflatable neck pillow. My son used a Snuggie (blanket with sleeves) as his nighttime blanket.
  2. Bring your chargers! Some trains even have complimentary Wi-Fi, as well. My son had his Kindle and I had my iPad where I was able to do work and grad school papers, as well. We stored those in our backpacks which we carried everywhere, as well. There are chargers in each row. My son had his Kindle loaded with ebooks, activities, games, and I even pre-loaded a season of his favorite show as a surprise for him.
  3. Bring other activities. I brought a pack of colored pencils for him, blank notepad, activity books, and a travel sized Trouble board game. Looking back, I wish that we had a deck of cards, as well. For me, I had a set of my knitting needles and an audiobook to listen to, as well.
  4. For food - there are a couple options on the train. There is a sit down dining cart where you can order food with napkin service and real silverware (keep in mind that if it's warm food, it's been heated up in a microwave) or a cafe cart where you can purchase food and sit down to nosh. We stocked up on food/snacks so we didn't spend much there although we did sit in the cafe dining cart to eat. My son wasn't terribly impressed with the dining cart. I stocked up on sandwiches, cereal bars, pringles (bc they're in a can), freeze-dried fruit (from our dehydrator), apples, oranges (the hardier fruits), and we also brought rollable water bottles.
  5. For sanitary purposes, I also had a thing of baby wipes with me and hand sanitizing gel, as well.
  6. And enjoy the nature! There were so many teachable moments there with my son and myself. Since I wasn't having to focus on driving, we were able to stretch our legs and walk down the aisles together. We had so many wonderful one-on-one quality conversations and stories to share together. We would look out the window and I had preloaded this book on USA states so we could read about each state and fun facts about it as we traveled through it. Even though the trip there was slightly delayed and took us a little over 30 hours and the way back was about 27 hours, we weren't in a rush or stressed because of traffic. We were able to just enjoy spending time together.

Even though this was last summer, my son is eagerly awaiting his next great train adventure. I'm considering splurging and possibly getting a sleeping car next time, because those also include vouchers for the dining car although bringing our own food and snacks was cheap and healthier! Our next trip may either be heading West or South! It's a great way to travel and a wonderful way to spend time with the family.

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