29 Best Tips for Taking an Amtrak Overnight Train

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Make the most of your next Amtrak overnight train trip.

Not everyone can afford to spend their train journey in a private sleeping compartment. While these tips are aimed at those in a sleeper, almost all of these tips will apply to overnight coach passengers as well.

I just completed a circle America Amtrak train journey that included seven overnight trains. From my experience, here’s my list of what I hope will help you on your Amtrak overnight train trip.

1. Pack a roll of tearable duct tape.

Let’s face it, unless the train is moving at a snail’s pace as it climbs up and over mountains, there are bound to be some bone-rattling moments. Old equipment plus freight line maintained tracks can cause sliding doors and various in-room mechanics to loudly clank.  Using a wash-cloth or towel plus duct tape can help ensure a better night’s sleep.

Duct tape and a towel helped redirect the continual blast of cold air.

2. Bring rubber flip-flops

Whether it’s for the public bathroom and shower room or your en suite bathroom shower, you’ll be glad to have them.

3. Bring fives and ones for tipping in the dining car.

Suggestion per person: $2 breakfast, $3 lunch and $5 dinner

4. Have one bag as a designated overnight bag

In here you’ll pack only what you’ll need for your overnight journey; toiletries, meds, clothes, computer/iPad etc.  It will make searching for items so much simpler.

5. Clothes

For a two-night train trip, bring at least two extra tops. Only one extra pants, really – depending upon length of trip.  Leaving on an Amtrak overnight train from Montana to sunny Florida in the winter? You’ll want to put a change of summer clothes in your overnight bag.

6. Contact lens wearers

If you will need to remove or insert contact lenses, do it at a station stop. Don’t poke your eye while going 80 mph.

7. Washing/make up removal before bed

Again, plan ahead and do this at a station stop. It’s much easier than trying to get ready for bed while the train is in motion and your bed has been turned down.

8. Bring Clorox wipes

For wiping down tray table, door handles, toilet seats etc.

9.  Download any videos before you leave home

Internet on a moving Amtrak train isn’t always possible.  Besides, most long-haul trains don’t even have wifi. You will travel through No Service areas quite a bit. Tethering to your mobile network isn’t speedy enough to download videos.  Even if it was, you’d probably exceed your hotspot roaming plan.

10. Try to plan your meal times not to conflict with longer station stops

The conductor will announce “Fresh Air Stops”.  These are longer station stops  so you can step off and walk a bit outside. Read your timetable carefully.  Check to see if any long station stops coincide with your dining time.  The dining car manager will hand out reservations for dinner.  If you know when you want to detrain for air, request a non-conflicting dinner time.

11. Keep a sweater or light fleece handy

In case the A/C is blasting in the dining car. Temperatures fluctuate between train cars as well as in geographic areas.  Freezing at dinner isn’t fun.

If you're not sharing the roomette, the upper bunk in is a great spot to put extra baggage.

12.  Understand accommodation size

Two large-size people may be uncomfortable in a small roomette with an upper and lower narrow bed. If you can book your accommodation way in advance, you might be able to snag a deluxe bedroom at a lower rate.

13.  Know the dining car seating procedure

It’s community seating in the dining car.  Wait at the entrance for the dining car attendant to seat you.
Be ready to sit backwards.  Don’t bring your backpack or large purse…there may be very little room between you and your table mate.

14.  Remember to tip your room attendant

Depending on your needs, $10 – $20 per night is thoughtful.


15.  Take lots of photos

Turn off the camera/smart phone flash.  I see people shooting photos through the window and have the camera flash turned on.  Photos are a great way to share your cross-country photo with friends and family and spread the word.  It’s the only train system we have…let’s keep ridership on Amtrak overnight train trips growing!

16.  Order room service in your sleeper

Sleeping car passengers can order room service. It’s complimentary, too! Simply ask your room attendant. He or she will deliver your meal direct from the galley. When you place your order, try to include everything you want so your attendant doesn’t have to run back and forth.

17.  Reservations are taken for lunch and dinner in the dining car

The good news is that sleeping car passengers get first dibs on dining times. Be sure to leave your compartment door and curtain open. The dining car manager doesn’t knock in case someone is sleeping. If you miss getting a reservation, a wait list will be announced for sign-up.

18.  Social gatherings

Aboard the Coast Starlight, complimentary wine tastings aren’t offered any more. Instead, for $7.50 you can join fellow travelers in the refurbished Parlor Car for a fee-based wine and cheese party.

19.  See the scenery from the observation car

If you have an observation car on your train – Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle – know that seats are first come, first served. Sometimes coach passengers will try to spend the day in the Observation car…but it’s not the place to bring a pillow and sleep. The conductor will ask loiterers to return to their seats. And similarly, since seats are at a premium, be sure not to overstay too long and give others a chance to experience this window to the world.

20.  Yes, you can take a shower

Sleeping cars are equipped with a communal shower at the end of the car and are remarkably well maintained. Deluxe bedrooms feature an en suite combination toilet and shower stall. Towels and soap are furnished but there isn’t a hair dryer, so B.Y.O. if needed.

21.  Pack an extra pair of socks

You might want to bring a pair of running socks to wear in your room. More cozy and you may not want to walk barefoot in your compartment or in your “good” socks.  Shoes are required to be worn when walking through the cars.

22.  Dietary or medical needs

You will need to bring your own cooler. Amtrak cannot heat or store personal items. Your room attendant can get ice for you to replenish as needed.

23.  Mobility limitations

Amtrak has lifts for wheelchairs or if you are unable to climb the steps onto the train. Make sure Amtrak is notified that you’ll need lift assistance. Lower level accommodations include roomettes and a wheelchair accessible room with en suite facilities.

24.  Staying charged

There are electric outlets in every room so you can keep your phone etc. charged.

25. Waiting in line for dining in the dining car

If you’re waiting in line to be seated in the dining room and the line is too long, do not stand in the vestibule. It’s way too dangerous. Just wait in the previous car until you can safely cross into the dining room.

26.  B.Y.O.B. – Yes, you can

If you’d like a cocktail before dinner in the comfort of your room, you can bring your own booze. Just ask your room attendant for a cup with ice. Or you can buy beer, wine and spirits in the café car.  You can’t bring your own alcohol into the dining car, but you can order it.

27. Ask your attendant for a second blanket

You never know how cold or drafty it might get during the night. The new blankets are thinner and each one is cleaned and sealed in plastic.  Don’t open the second blanket unless you need it. Keep it clean for the next passenger. If you’re in coach, it’s wise to bring a small, warm throw blanket.

28. Take advantage of the longer train stops

What used to be called “cigarette stops” are now called “fresh air breaks.” You can get exercise walking the length of the train. For me, a train car length is about 35 steps. If an average Amtrak overnight train is 10 cars (not including the engine or baggage car) then I can walk about 1500 steps in a 10 to 15-minute stop (dodging other passengers and smokers slows you down). To make the most of your Fresh Air Break, be ready to detrain as soon as departing passengers have stepped outside.


If there happens to be a long stop that coincides with meal time, call ahead and order train delivery! Yes, you can! For example, in Havre, MT, you can order a Domino’s Pizza and they’ll deliver it when your train arrives. Just quickly hop off the train and look for the delivery person.

Sit back, take a nap, read or gaze for hours at the changing scenery. You’re finally off the grid…enjoy it!

I hope that I’ve covered everything you need to know for a fabulous Amtrak overnight train trip. If you think of something I’ve missed, please let me know. I’ll share it with others.

More:  Overnight on Amtrak from Florida to New York

All Aboard!



  1. Sherry Laskin
    October 12, 2018 / 10:11 pm

    Hi Todd,
    I hope your Empire Builder trip was good and with some colorful leaves in Glacier Park, too. GREAT idea to bring window cleaner…especially on the Viewliners. I just went from Montreal to Florida and I wish I had brought a small bottle of Windex and paper towels with me. The window was covered in dirty rain splotches and being a Viewliner, it would have been a cinch to clean. Next time I’m packing a travel spray bottle with a little Windex and some paper towels. Thank you again for the suggestion!

  2. Sherry Laskin
    October 10, 2018 / 9:29 pm

    Hi Angela,
    Good point about the recycling. On the western cross-country trains, there is usually a separate cardboard trash bin for recyclables. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much being done and many of us would like to see. But at least there’s an attempt. And Amtrak’s carbon footprint is sure a lot less than airplanes and automobiles. Wrapping the blankets in plastic, for me, is reassuring that it’s clean. I can’t tell you how many times in the past I was sure the blanket was being reused without cleaning. Interesting, though…on my last three Amtrak trips this month and last, the blanket was machine-like folded and not in a plastic bag. I did examine it pretty closely and felt confident that it wasn’t the last passenger’s blanket, too. Happy travels and thank you for your comment.

  3. Sherry Laskin
    October 10, 2018 / 9:21 pm

    Hi Jean,
    I DO remember our dinner and the woman you mentioned. Great idea to use one of those thin string backpacks. And it can go right onto any of those little hooks and down the hall to the community bathrooms. Thanks for your suggestion. I happen to have one of those string-type backpacks and will try it on my next train adventure. Thank you for remembering me and for reading my Amtrak articles. Much appreciated!

  4. Jean Lucas
    October 9, 2018 / 4:57 pm

    Hi Sherry: We met a few years ago on a DC-Chicago train. (We had dinner with a woman returning to Chicago from a funeral in New York state – she had to go to DC to get a Chicago-bound train) Anyway, here’s my tip for traveling in a roomette: I bring a small string backpack to hang on one of the roomette hooks. In it, I put soap, shampoo, today’s pills, lip gloss, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant. Little stuff I don’t need in my purse but will need in the compartment or toilet area. Easy to take this bag to the toilet and hang on the door there.

  5. Angela
    October 8, 2018 / 2:41 am

    Thanks for the tips. I didn’t know that room service was included, definitely excited about that. It’s sad that there has to be more plastic (around the blankets) that becomes garbage. On the trains you have been on, Have you noticed any efforts on Amtrak’s part in regards to recycling? I found a small area by the cafe car when I was traveling coach, but not much else.

  6. Todd
    October 2, 2018 / 9:36 pm

    A great list and right on the money from my past trips on the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr. Tomorrow, i am taking the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, and reading your article made me more eager for the trip.

    There is more tip i would add to your list. i take a small bottle of window cleaner and some paper towels along to clean my window so i can have the clearest view possible as a gaze out during the trip. So far, my paper towels have turned black each time so it is well worth the effort. If you are in a room on the lower lever, you can even clean the outside.

  7. Sherry Laskin
    October 1, 2018 / 6:00 pm

    Hi Kristi, I’m glad you found some helpful tips in the article. Have a wonderful time. Thanks for writing!

  8. September 29, 2018 / 11:25 pm

    This is so helpful—thank you! Getting ready to travel from SFO to NYC via Amtrak, and super excited. Now, I’ll feel more prepared. 🙂

  9. Sherry Kennedy
    April 5, 2018 / 6:24 am

    Hi Margaret,
    Aboard Silver Star, meals are not included and you will pay for food in the Café car. Complimentary bottled water is still provided with your compartment. Only on Silver Meteor is there a dining car with meals included in the fare.

  10. Sherry Kennedy
    March 23, 2018 / 9:52 am

    Hi Greg,
    Thanks so much. Have a wonderful time aboard the train.

  11. Greg
    March 21, 2018 / 8:45 pm

    I’ve enjoyed all your posts., I’ll be taking my first Amtrak trip from Pittsburgh to Tampa in may. All your info is great!

  12. Sherry Kennedy
    October 1, 2017 / 11:56 am

    Hi Diane,
    Thanks for you comment…great question. Unfortunately, there are really no discount rates for Amtrak. The best thing to do is to book as far ahead as possible to get the lowest rates. As space becomes unavailable, prices go up. I can’t imagine three people in a two-person roomette, unless one or two are infants. Usually, if you book far enough out, you can get two roomettes for less than a deluxe bedroom.

    Also, and I’m sure you’ve done this already, apply for the Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card. For Guest Reward points, whenever there’s a Buy Points promotion, I always max out and buy the most amount and receive the most percentage in bonus points. You can do this once a year. If you don’t have the Amtrak Mastercard, login to your Guest Rewards account for online shopping, and go through their portal to get as many points as possible through their list of merchants that you use. Even Walmart is listed.

    Last but not least, if you qualify for any discounts (AAA, AARP, Student etc) it will deduct a small amount from your rail fare portion (not sleeping accommodation.) But for me, every penny saved helps.

    Happy ‘rails to you and thank you again for your email.

  13. Diane
    September 30, 2017 / 11:00 pm

    How can you score discount Amtrak rates, I don’t fly at all and need to travel back and forth across the US to travel. We are a family of three (3) so they force us to get two roomettes or a deluxe room which can be upwards of $2000 one way!!!! Any hints or tips on how to reduce that cost?

  14. Sherry Kennedy
    September 28, 2017 / 3:37 pm

    Hi Kelly,
    Thanks for reading my Amtrak article. You can find a travel agent who books Amtrak (not everyone does) or call Amtrak yourself at 1-800-USA-RAIL. When “Julie” answers, you say, “Agent”. Say “Agent” again for the next two or three questions. That will put you through to an agent as quickly as possible. Accommodations are lower priced and have better availability the further out that you make your reservation. Remember, on the NYC-Florida route, only the Silver Meteor has a dining car.
    Have a wonderful train experience…Happy ‘Rails to you!

  15. KELLY
    September 28, 2017 / 3:11 pm

    How do we go about looking at train trip from Florida to New York and a returning as well?

  16. Sherry Kennedy
    September 24, 2017 / 2:53 pm

    Hi Pam,
    Thanks for your comment!

  17. Pam
    September 20, 2017 / 5:23 pm

    Great list!!! Thanks so much????

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