All Aboard! Train Travel with Asthma

Unlike many Americans when I plan a vacation my first order of business is booking a train ticket. I've spent anywhere from 5 to 30 hours on a train getting from home to my destination. Train travel is probably right for you if you're good at going with the flow and enjoy a quiet hobby and/or looking out the window and watching America (or wherever) go by. It's not the quickest way to get places but affords some luxuries not found on other modes of travel. I've enjoyed seeing the places along the way out the window, stretching my legs by walking the train, taking a mid-afternoon nap, and relatively minimal restrictions on luggage. Much of the usual travel advice applies: hydrate, think about how time zone changes affect medication timings, and plan ahead.

Some considerations unique to traveling by train:

  • If you use a nebulizer consider bringing along a power strip. Most Amtrak trains have 1 outlet per seat. With a power strip, you don't have to choose between charging your electronics and doing a treatment.
  • Pack all your medications and anything else you want with your at your seat in a bag you can shove under the seat (backpack, messenger, or tote bag). Amtrak allows fairly large and multiple suitcases as carry-ons. It is often easier to leave most of your luggage on the racks on the ends of cars or lower level on bilevel trains. It's also nice to get to the station and check my bag through to my final destination and not have to carry it the length of the train (a city block or so).
  • Depending on how big the station is the boarding process varies greatly. At small stations you may simply have a building next to a single track where a dozen people will line up when the train arrives. In larger cities with busy hubs the process is formal with announced boarding calls, grouping by destination, and controls to make sure the line of passengers heads to the correct track. I've always found station personnel to be helpful and friendly. Let them know when you arrive you need assistance or early boarding. They should be able to direct you to the right place for that station.
  • "Fresh air" breaks are your chance to get off the train for 10 or more minutes while they restock supplies, add or subtract cars from the train, or switch crews.  Depending on state/local regulations this is also a time where people may smoke on the platform. When these are announced they will usually mention where smoking is permitted, on the platform, a certain number of feet from the train, or only after exiting the station building. I take this into consideration when deciding whether or not to get off the train.
  • When riding coach on a crowded train choose your seat mate wisely. If you are chemically sensitive or have other triggers you worry about your seat mate bringing along with them speak up. Generally the train is open seating, raise concerns to the train personnel if you have special seating needs. Usually seating can be reassigned but they may be keeping track of which destinations are in a specific section of the train.
  • If you go with a sleeping car accommodations your car attendant is there to help you out. Let them know if there are simple changes that will help you (like putting that can of air freshener away that is sitting out in the restroom). While eating in the dining car is quite a fun social experience, you can also arrange with the sleeping car attendant to have your meals brought to your compartment. Sleeping car compartments do give you privacy and retreat from many of the asthma triggers you might find in coach class other than perhaps dust mites.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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