Last Minute Family Travel
Riding the Sunset Limited to New Orleans on a cool autumn Friday with my girlfriend and our three children felt like a miracle. Just a few weeks prior, we had lamented that the beach, city and camping outings of the summer were long behind us, and we didn’t know how to make time for travel.
Those summer trips had been such a sweet escape — time to focus on the blended family we were beginning to craft as two single moms in the early stage of a relationship. As lovely as our summer trips were, the hectic pace of the school year had made it impossible to plan a fall excursion. There is nothing like a long weekend to help people get to know each other while creating family memories. For blended families travel is very important, because in the absence of years in a shared home, trips create the bonds so desperately needed, while still offering everyone their own space upon return.
At the start of the school year, we condensed five individual calendars of soccer tournaments, dances, projects, rehearsals, exams, deadlines and a blistering list of social obligations onto one behemoth of a color-coded master grid. Not one weekend was clear. No getaway was on the horizon for us until winter break.
Yet, there we were, cozy in our seats in the height of beautiful autumn, pulled along by the Sunset Limited engine toward a gorgeous weekend in the Big Easy. Talk about easy, and as a plus, New Orleans celebrates diversity and is super-welcoming to LGBT families! All we had to do was board and then look forward to baskets full of beignets, strolls in the French Quarter, fancy hotel beds and, very appropriately, a visit to City Park and the fantastic miniature train garden there.
Our family trip was possible because last-minute train travel for a family is so easy. After two event cancelations at the last moment, we were left with a rare long weekend opening. We didn’t fret about not having plans in place. We pounced with an elegant solution: train travel to a fabulous city. Fortunately, Amtrak serves tons of appealing locations, even if New Orleans isn’t in your region. When the clouds part and the sun breaks through, shining its heaven-sent beam to illuminate a relatively open weekend on your calendar, you need to be ready to act!
Train travel is the hero of the impromptu weekend trip. No need to scramble to get the car serviced — and for two busy moms at the end of a week, not having to drive is glorious. There’s no way we would take on an airport for a weekend family jaunt, either, even in the highly unlikely event that affordable tickets are available to last-minute travelers. Train getaways are perfect: Efficient, accessible travel to city hubs where you are likely to find last-minute hotel deals, and the journey for the whole crew is as fun as the destination. It’s the best solution to a suddenly free situation.
As in other cities, the Amtrak station in New Orleans is just around the corner from business district hotels and the historic French Quarter. My little family easily maneuvered with our backpacks to a grand hotel that served as home base for our city adventures and our temporary shared home. We ended the trip when we returned to the station exhausted and napped on the way home, lulled by the rhythm of the tracks. Sleeping on trains surrounded by the people you love the most after a trip together might be my favorite thing ever.
Busy life puts parents in a bind when it comes to school year getaways, because it can be impossible to plan a trip, but getting out of town might be the only way to truly enjoy each others’ company without competition from all of those activities and social lives. Travel is easier than ever to arrange with Amtrak’s smartphone app and with social media discounts and inspiration.
Of course, planning ahead is always ideal for your budget, to ensure that seats at your preferred time are available, and to block off a weekend that you can count on for travel. If that isn’t realistic, however, don’t despair. Last-minute train travel with your sweet family, however you’re forming it, can save the day.
LGBT family travel is very accessible on Amtrak, with a 50% discount available for children under 12.
About the Author: Deb Rox is a writer and entertainment editor for BlogHer.