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teen daughter traveling alone

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Anxious Mother

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We are considering allowing our 16 year old daughter to travel alone via Amtrack to visit her sister's family. We haven't traveled on Amtrack in many years so I simply don't have a sense of how safe or unsafe she might be in this situation. What are some steps we can take to protect her? Thank you for any tips or insights, no matter how small.
 

neroden

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She'll be fine. Drop her off at the origin station, have her picked up at the destination station, and let the conductors know (they tag unaccompanied minors with a special "take care of them" badge). We could tell you more if we knew what cities she was travelling between.
 

Devil's Advocate

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I don't consider Amtrak to be unsafe in and of itself, but bad things can happen on Amtrak just like anywhere else. If you've discussed keeping valuables hidden, how to deal with unwanted attention, and avoiding risky behavior then I'd consider Amtrak to be reasonably safe. Most of what I've seen in person on Amtrak would best be termed as rude or obnoxious rather than dangerous or violent. Some stations are in sketchy areas with late calling times, so having someone waiting with her on departure and/or waiting for her on arrival might be a good idea. One thing to keep in mind is that Amtrak does not have dividers between coach seats. This means single travelers can end up brushing against a random seatmate if they take a nap or something. I really dislike this design but if it becomes an issue you can explain the problem to the conductor and request a seat change or move to the lounge car.
 

the_traveler

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My own opinion is if she is able to handle herself in public (and many 16 year olds are), she will be fine. I for one enjoyed traveling around and meeting new people during the trip.

Contrary to popular belief, many other passengers enjoy talking to other passengers. They may talk about such things like “Where are you from?” or “Have you been to ___?” or “Do you want to join us for dinner?” She may meet people from around the US and Canada or around the world! And with meals, she may be seated at the table with 1 to 3 others. To me, this is one of the enjoyable highlights of traveling by rail! (Getting a chance to meet and talk to other passengers!)
 

mlanoue

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Over the years I've seen what appears to be college-aged women traveling home for the holidays or a weekend or whatever. They usually are reading a book or listening to something on their phones and nobody seems to bother them at all. I think my 15 year-old daughter could probably pass for that age at times.

If I'm not mistaken there is some kind of age restriction for overnight trains, so depending on what train and when she's getting on or off may be an issue.
 

basketmaker

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My own opinion is if she is able to handle herself in public (and many 16 year olds are), she will be fine. I for one enjoyed traveling around and meeting new people during the trip.

Contrary to popular belief, many other passengers enjoy talking to other passengers. They may talk about such things like “Where are you from?” or “Have you been to ___?” or “Do you want to join us for dinner?” She may meet people from around the US and Canada or around the world! And with meals, she may be seated at the table with 1 to 3 others. To me, this is one of the enjoyable highlights of traveling by rail! (Getting a chance to meet and talk to other passengers!)
I agree with meeting people. That is one of the best thing about train travel. I've meet folks from all over the world on Amtrak. Including a few celebs including Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli (she was in the bedroom next to mine) and a National Geographic photojournalist doing an article on Amtrak back in the early 90's. People of all ages (college kids to grandmas) and all walks of life. I always get a roomette but never stay in it. Spend 99% of the time in the lounge. Particularly enjoy dining and chatting with table-mates. Super interesting! Grew up and worked in airline/aviation for my whole life (67 years). And I would take a train any day over flying. Nothing worse that being crammed in a seat for a few hours rubbing elbows with the person next to you and never saying a word!
 

MARC Rider

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Time for me to repeat the old curmudgeonly rant about how we're infantalizing kids these days:

I started riding the NEC by myself when I was 10. My parents dropped me off at 30th St. and my grandparents picked me up in Baltimore. On one trip, I was dropped off at Baltimore by my parents, but I had to transfer upstairs at 30th St. to the Paoli Local to go to a family friend's house, where my parents, who drove up after me, picked me up. I also had my first meal in a dining car on that trip -- ordered and paid for it myself, with no adults to help me. I mean, learning how to spend US money was something I had figured out by 3rd grade.

At age 12, my parents put me on the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore line to ride to Atlantic City to spend time with my grandparents. By the time I was in high school, I was joyriding on NEC trains to Trenton or Wilmington, and on the PRR main line to Paoli. My parents were OK with this, but said If I wanted to go to New York, I would need to go with a friend, which I did a couple of times, but I also disobeyed and rode up myself a couple of times for the hell of it.

I would get off in Penn Station (which seemed like a gleaming, glamorous terminal of a science-fictiony future back in, say 1970), ride the subway up to Times Square, go upstairs, look around at the flashing lights and billboards, go back down, ride back to Penn Station, and ride home. Keep in mind, this was circa 1970, when urban crime rates were as high as they've ever been, and Times Square as a sleazy mess, although possibly of interest to an adolescent boy, certain not a suitable place for him. But I never had any problems with crime or sleazy people or whatnot. Of course, my regular commute to school every day was on the Broad St. Subway in Philadelphia, which went through the worst slums in town, and I guess I had learned techniques for dealing with potential trouble, like, don't make eye contact, look like you know where you're going, etc.

Of course, the PRR/Penn Central NEC trains had a much better class of clientele on average than the subways, plus there were conductors always passing through. I never heard of personal security being an issue on those lines.

I think it would be an excellent experience for your daughter to travel alone to learn how to take care of herself, and an Amtrak day trip is as safe as anything can be with that. (And I'm speaking as the father of a daughter who rode Amtrak alone to and from college.)
 
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I would make sure that someone sees her off at the train station and that someone picks her up at the station at the other end. Again, it depends where she is traveling from and to--some stations are fine, but some (Trenton, NJ comes to mind) are very unpleasant. Even if she is traveling from/to nice stations, another person with her will help confirm she is getting on the right train.

The train itself should be fine. The one instruction I would give her is, if she feels uncomfortable in any way, or even just wants a question answered, to see the conductor.
 

RichieRich

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We are considering allowing our 16 year old daughter to travel alone....
Maybe you're a "helicopter Mom"?!?!? My neighbors kid is eight years old and he fly's alone. He has more d**m frequent flyer miles then I do!!! I would hope your 16 yo is maybe a bit more mature then the 8 yo!
 

crescent-zephyr

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I would recommend paying the difference for a sleeper or business class. (I’m an adult male and that’s what I do most of the time.)

I used to always ride coach on corridor trains, but once I was riding the Carbondale to Chicago train and my coach was boarded by 6 or more guys who were literally just let out of prison. I was a bit uncomfortable with that and honestly... the extra money for Business class is well worth it.

I'll still go coach on the NEC although I usually ride Acela just for the novelty of it.
 
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MARC Rider

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...but once I was riding the Carbondale to Chicago train and my coach was boarded by 6 or more guys who were literally just let out of prison.
I would suspect that those guys would be the best-behaved passengers on the train. If they just got out, they certainly don't want to go right back in! :)
 
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Thank you all for your replies!
Definately not a helicopter mom, but have done work for missions rescuing kids from sex traffickers and had my own bad experience as a teen on Greyhound. Kidnappers are getting bolder every year taking kids/teens/adults right in public. I prefer to know exactly what I'm sending my children into, however mature she may be.

I wasn't clear exactly how accessible conducters/attendants would be; is there always an attendent on every car?
Is there zero chance she could end up alone on a car in less traveled times or routes; are they open to each other?
She would be traveling from MN or ND to Whitefish, MT and it leaves out before dawn. So, we were trying to understand if her car could be a ghost town (with people in their sleepers) when she first gets on at 4 a.m?

What would be the advantage of sending her business class as Crescent-Zephyr suggested?

Thanks again for humoring this mother.
 

v v

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I would suspect that those guys would be the best-behaved passengers on the train. If they just got out, they certainly don't want to go right back in! :)
That is my experience too although on Greyhound, surrounded by 6 newly released ex prisoners for 24 hours. Learnt a lot about the US prison system too...
 

the_traveler

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There is no business class on the Empire Builder. You may want to consider getting a roomette for her.

Besides having a private room with a flat bed, there is an attendant for that car who can assist her and also all meals in the dining car are included! The conductor is easily reached, and there are attendants in every 1-2 cars on the Empire Builder.
 

v v

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Thank you all for your replies!
Definately not a helicopter mom, but have done work for missions rescuing kids from sex traffickers and had my own bad experience as a teen on Greyhound. Kidnappers are getting bolder every year taking kids/teens/adults right in public. I prefer to know exactly what I'm sending my children into, however mature she may be.

I wasn't clear exactly how accessible conducters/attendants would be; is there always an attendent on every car?
Is there zero chance she could end up alone on a car in less traveled times or routes; are they open to each other?
She would be traveling from MN or ND to Whitefish, MT and it leaves out before dawn. So, we were trying to understand if her car could be a ghost town (with people in their sleepers) when she first gets on at 4 a.m?

What would be the advantage of sending her business class as Crescent-Zephyr suggested?

Thanks again for humoring this mother.
My guess is that from your own experiences and the common sense way you are going about this that your daughter will be fully aware of what to look out for, but do hope she has the presence of mind to enjoy the journey too. The very best American experiences we have had is riding Amtrak trains and meeting every imaginable type of person you could think of, just tell her to go with her instincts about people and enjoy herself.
 
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I agree with the Traveler that a roomette is a good idea and would be a nice treat.

However, on the Empire Builder, even coach would be completely safe. I met wonderful people both in the sleeper and in coach when I rode it cross-country a few years ago.

I would still suggest having someone see her off and someone pick her up at both ends of the trip, because it looks like she will be starting early in the morning and ending the trip late at night?

Does she like mountains? The scariest thing I saw on the Empire Builder was those towering Rockies out the window! But if she likes mountains, that will be a treat, too!
 

Devil's Advocate

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Qapla

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Is there zero chance she could end up alone on a car in less traveled times or routes; are they open to each other?
She would be traveling from MN or ND to Whitefish, MT and it leaves out before dawn. So, we were trying to understand if her car could be a ghost town (with people in their sleepers) when she first gets on at 4 a.m?
It should be noted that:
  • all the coach cars are connected and passengers can move from one car through another
  • those in coach are not those in sleepers - so, the number of people in sleepers will have no bearing on how full/empty the coach cars are
  • seldom do those in coach and sleepers sit in the same car during travel
  • a sleeper turns into a cabin during the day with a place to sit and look out the window
 

the_traveler

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seldom do those in coach and sleepers sit in the same car during travel
The only times that those in sleepers and coach sitin the same car is when those in the sleepers go to the Dining Car or the Sightseer Lounge Car. Those in sleepers can go to any car, but those in coach can not go to the Sleeping Cars. (The Dining Car is between the Sleepers and Coaches, and the Dining Car staff has a good idea and notices who comes from which direction - thus if you don’t first come from the sleepers, you may be questioned why you are going into them.)
 
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