While these tips for traveling on an Amtrak overnight train are aimed at those who have a roomette or bedroom, almost all of these tips will apply to overnight coach passengers as well.

Best Tips for Overnight Travel on Amtrak
For two or more nights and if the price is right, I’ll book a deluxe bedroom.

Make the most of your next Amtrak overnight train trip.

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.  Especially if you have to use communal bathrooms down the hall or down the stairs.

8. Bring Clorox wipes

If you’re in a sleeper, use these to wipe the tray table, door handles, toilet seats (if you have a deluxe bedroom), sink countertop whether in your own compartment or communal bathroom, 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.

Amtrak Roomette with upper bunk
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.

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READ NEXT:  Your Guide to Amtrak Sleeping Accommodations

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.

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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!

Amtrak roomette room service
After a long journey, Amtrak room service in your sleeping compartment is wonderful. No more Hagen-Daaz, though.

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

The best we can do is to head up to the observation car or find a booth in the other half of the café car, where you can play cards or board games.

19.  Etiquette in 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.  Unfortunately, the electric outlets in compartments are no longer able to handle hair dryers or flat irons.

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.  I bring a pair of hotel slippers (still in the cellophane). 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.

29.  BONUS TIP!

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 Papa John’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!

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43 Comments on 29 Best Tips for Your Amtrak Overnight Train

  1. Hi Pat,
    That’s so funny…and so common. I’m really glad that your attendant had the supplies to fix the vent. Thank you for your comment and for reading my article. Much appreciated.
    Sherry

  2. Our sleeper porter used duct tape and a piece of lightweight cardboard to block the vent when the sleeper became too cold.

  3. Hi Russ,
    Thank you for your nice comment. I’m glad the list is helpful. Have a fabulous train ride.
    Sherry

  4. Thanks for your insight on what to pack, I am planning my first train trip on the California Zephyr and having been searching for a list like yours. Thanks

  5. Hi John,
    You’re right. After last month’s trip in a refurbished bedroom, I noticed a sticker above the electric outlet that said, “No hair dryers or flat irons.” This was the first time I’ve ever seen that notice. In the past, I’ve used my hair dryer with no issues. This time I did not use it. Thank you for your comment.
    Sherry

  6. One caution: the 120V system might not be up to powering a hair dryer. The plugs in the Superliner roomette emphatically are NOT.

  7. Hi David,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment and taking the time to read my article. Have a wonderful time aboard the train! The views are spectacular and it’s so interesting to meet new people in the dining car. If you have a chance when you return, please drop me a note and let me know about the journey.
    Happy ‘rails!
    Sherry

  8. Fantastic list of tips and I read through all the comments and replies gathering other little nuggets tossed out there. My wife and I are traveling across the US starting in Texas, going to Chicago and ending in San Fran. We have always wanted to do this and are finally getting the chance to do it this year. We booked a sleeper car for our 4 day journey and we can’t wait!!! Thanks again for the tips! Looking forward to the adventure ahead!

  9. Hi Joe,
    Thank you for your train story. The fabulous routes, for sure, especially the Sunset Limited. I was on the Silver Meteor in April and there was no longer wifi available. One of the new budget cuts, I was told. The new Amtrak president is only keeping wifi on Amtrak commuter and Acela trains. I agree…I’ve never had to wait for breakfast or lunch. Good idea to get two roomettes, too. And thanks for mentioning to remember to tip the dining car staff. On my last three long-hauls trains from Chicago going to the west coast and back, passengers are reminded that a gratuity is greatly appreciated.

    Happy Travel to you and your wife.

    Sherry

  10. We have traveled on 3 Amtrak long distance trains: The Silver Meteor, The Crescent, and The Sunset Limited. My wife and I are in our mid-70s, and always get 2 roomettes. These cost less than a “bedroom” (which still has upper and lower bunk beds). Our 3 trains all had wifi. We did take some duct tape, but never had to use it. It was nice having the private “sleeping car” waiting rooms in Philadelphia and New Orleans, especially if the train is late. The only dining car reservation we had to have was dinner. We never had to wait in line for the other 2 meals. Although your “sleeper” meals are pre-paid, don’t forget to tip.

  11. Hi Shawn,
    There is very little room for luggage and two people in a roomette. However, in addition to the option of checking your luggage at the station, the main level of the Superliner has shelves for stowing luggage en route. But once tucked away on a shelf, it can be a challenge to get into the contents. So be sure to pack overnight bags for each of you. I recommend packing a small toiletry case (with a hanging loop or something like that) to take to the public bathrooms or shower room.

    Could you also pack just enough medical needs for each leg of the trip to keep in the room with you? There is no option for refrigeration, however, if you pack a little cooler, then your room attendant can supply the ice.

    The roomettes are small for two people, but definitely do-able for two-night trips per train. Again, pack separate overnight and toiletry cases plus your medical supplies and stow or check the big bags.

    Have a great train ride! Thanks again for writing.

    Sherry

  12. How much luggage room is in a roomette? Traveling from Chicago to Seattle, then on to San Francisco, and back to Chicago. We will be checking a bag or two. Granddaughter is a type 1 diabetic and we will need supplies and insulin for 2 weeks. We must have these items in the room with us and really cannot pack the spares in our checked bags.

  13. Hi Robin,
    Thanks for your suggestion. For my trips last month, I bought a 3-outlet plug at the Dollar Store and works great, and is easier to pack. But definitely a good idea to increase charging items. Thanks, again.

    Sherry

  14. Hi MaryKaye,
    There really isn’t much that Amtrak can do in the way of providing special meals. You might want to call and ask if there are any packages meals that could be ordered. Other than picking and choosing from the menu, I’m thinking that packing some of your own food is the way to go. Be aware, though, that they cannot heat up anything that a passenger would bring onboard. They do have salads and Newman’s Own dressings. You might be able to have someone send you an ingredients list, too. Good luck. Enjoy your train trip and thanks for writing.

    Sherry

  15. Great ideas…one thing I would add to your list is a power strip. There is only one plug in the roomette. Happy Rails!

  16. Hi, this is a great list as we prepare for our first Empire Builder train from Seattle to Chicago. We have a roomette, but couldn’t swing the nearly double price for the one with private bath. Questions – any relevant updates we should know about for our current trip, and can they accommodate dietary restrictions? One of us is Type 1 diabetic allergic to dairy, the other is full blown Celiac with additional soy allergy. We were honestly contemplating just packing all of our meals.

  17. Hi Debbie,
    Please don’t expect anything like the Orient Express! Our trains are noisy, rattle-y and quirky. But I love them anyway. With a roomette or bedroom sleeper, you receive complimentary bottled water. But of course that doesn’t solve your very considerate effort to avoid a plastic mountain. No, I would advise not to drink the sink water. You could buy water before your train ride. If you’re looking for glass bottles, the most common is either Aqua Panna or Voss found in most grocery stores. That said, I always drink the coffee or iced tea on the train…but not the sink water.
    Have a wonderful train ride!
    Sherry

  18. We are coming from Nz to do a rail journey in june. This is our first time on the american trains. We will be in a roomette for 2 nights and during the trip we are booked in the coach on 2 days. Please can you tell me if you can refill your water bottle on board the train? Is the water safe to drink? I don’t really want to add to the plastic mountain so was going to travel with a light metal refillable drinking container.Thanks for tip about asking for extra blanket and duct tape. Sounds very sensible

  19. Hi Bibi,
    Thanks for contacting me. It’s hard to say what’s comfortable and what’s not – it’s so subjective. A deluxe bedroom is definitely more comfortable, for sleeping and spending time in your room. In a roomette, the bed is very narrow but not horribly narrow. The mattresses are about three inched thick. Pillows are comfy, I think, and I always ask for a third one and an extra blanket. It’s comfortable enough to sleep for one or two consecutive nights, and again, in a bedroom I could do a couple more nights. It’s the movement of the train that will either lull you to sleep or jar you awake until you get used to it! Either way, it’s a great adventure and the ride from Florida to NYC is easy. Keep in mind that the Silver Star does not have a dining car anymore.

    I hope this is helpful. Have a wonderful train ride.
    Sherry

  20. Hi Sherry, I would like to take a vacation to Florida from New York NY with the Amtrak train,my first time and would like to know a little more about the rooms to sleep if it’s comfortable. I am not a flyer. Thanks Bibi

  21. Hi James,
    Thank you very much for your comment and reminding me I need to update the article. First it was no more wine and cheese party. Then the movie theatre was closed. Then the Parlour Car itself. So sad.
    Sherry

  22. Thanks for the information. #18 regarding socializing in the Parlour Car….
    The Pacific Parlour Cars were permanently removed from the Coast Starlight in February 2018. Unfortunately, there is no replacement for them.

  23. Hi Cookie,
    Happy early birthday! Thank you for your nice comment. Yes, you can for sure shower in your car’s community shower room. It does have more space because it’s a “real” shower, not a marine-type over-the-toilet shower. There will be fresh bars of soap, towels and a small changing area, too. These are on the lower level. You might want to wait until a longer station stop so you don’t have to hang on to a handrail while showering!

    Have a fun birthday trip! If you love trains, Sacramento has the California State Railway Museum about 1 1/2 blocks from the Amtrak station. Definitely worth it.

    Sherr

  24. Hi Barbara,

    Thank you for your wonderful comment. It’s pretty incredible to go cross-country on the train. You mentioned some terrific points. I’ll also add to wait for the train to stop to put contact lens in or remove them! Chicago’s Metropolitan Lounge is fabulous, I agree.

    Thanks again and have a wonderful train ride next time, too!
    Sherry

  25. I recently went from Boston’s South Station business class on the Lake Shore Limited to Albany where I switched to a Viewliner Roomette to go to Chicago’s Union Station. After a 4+hour layover there, I got on the Empire Builder and had a Superliner Roomette to Seattle. What an experience! I’ve always wanted to go around the country via train, and I plan to do it again. I’ll be taking the train all the way back to Boston, but this time with just one stop, again in Chicago.

    What I’ve learned:

    1.) The Viewliner Roomette has a private toilet but the Superliner Roomette does not.
    2.) If you have back problems, do not attempt to use the upper bunk.
    3.) Bring binoculars to view the countryside even better.
    4.) Pack a few snacks for those late night munchies.
    5.) Wait for a train stop to do your makeup unless you want a good laugh.
    6.) Take advantage of the Amtrak lounges at the various stations. I loved the Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station in Chicago. It even has a children’s area and a Candy Bar upstairs – yes, it has two floors. They offer beverages, snacks, fruit and cheese, and keep the place immaculate. You can check your luggage in, and they announce the trains for you, as well. And, best of all, there’s a shower!

  26. Great information. Taking a trip for my 70th birthday in June from Chicago to Sacramento. I got the bedroom only because my bathroom trips seems to be at night when I’m trying to sleep…:( My question I hear that the community bathroom is larger – is it ok to take a shower in the community bathroom – although I have a sleeper. Thanks

  27. 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!
    Sherry

  28. 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.
    Sherry

  29. 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!
    Sherry

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

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

  34. 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.
    Sherry

  35. 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!

  36. 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.
    Sherry

  37. 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?

  38. 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!
    Sherry

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