Train travel is one of the best ways to see the United States. Unlike flying, you actually get to see the country as you pass it, and unlike bus travel, it's actually comfortable to do so. Train travel also helps to give you an idea of just how big the United States actually is.
The only downside to train travel in the U.S. is the price. Seats on Amtrak can often rack up to be more expensive than flying, which is a huge disadvantage. Fortunately, as a student, there's an easy way to save money on all of your Amtrak travel. All you need to do is get an ISIC card!
An ISIC Card entitles you to 15% off your Amtrak ticket, as well as plenty of other discounts and treats for travel-related activities.
How to Get an ISIC Card
If you're in full-time education and are other the age of 12, you're entitled to apply for an ISIC (International Student Identity Card), which is the ticket to discounts on travel rates, accommodations, shopping, entertainment and, now, Amtrak train travel. The card costs $22-$25 and is good through to the December 31st of each year.
Amtrak ISIC Rules and Train Schedules
From the Amtrak / ISIC discount rules: "The ISIC discount may not be applied if:
- You're booking a ticket on a weekday Metroliner or Acela Express Service train.
- Your journey will connect with another train that's a non-Amtrak carrier, including the Canadian portions of joint Amtrak/VIA Rail Canada service.
- You want to upgrade accommodation on your train ticket (although the cardholder may upgrade his or her accommodations at the standard rate)
- You've also booked any multi-ride fares, or want to use the discount in conjunction with any other discounts and promotions, except as may be specifically provided.
That said, check the Amtrak schedule before you make reservations with your ISIC card, and also don't forget to look into Amtrak's weekly deals as you may be able to do better than the ISIC card's 15% student discount.
How to Buy a Discounted Amtrak Student Ticket
Once you've ordered your ISIC card, it's time to make your first booking and get good use out of that student discount! Once you've chosen your route and have clicked to make the booking, you'll see a box for you to enter in your ISIC number to receive the discount. That should immediately work and you'll see the new price with 15% off.
- Further reading: the "secret" Amtrak promotional codes that sometimes work to offer discounts for certain routes. Definitely worth checking before you book!
Tips and Tricks for Traveling by Amtrak in the United States
In general, train travel in the United States is very safe. You'll just need to take normal precautions that you would in any other situation to ensure your safety.
I do recommend keeping your luggage close to you at all times, especially if you'll be traveling overnight. You also should try to keep your luggage above your head or under your seat rather than on the racks in between the cars, because it's far harder for thieves to steal it when it's within your eyesight.
While Amtrak has food options on board, and often a restaurant car, the quality is usually poor and the prices extortionate. Opt to bring some snacks with you for your journey so that you won't have to resort to microwavable meals on your trip.
And, of course, if you'll be taking the train across the border into Canada, don't forget to pack your passport with you!
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.