A comfortable cross-country trip aboard Amtrak simply requires a little planning and careful packing.
Imagine yourself ensconced in your cozy roomette or tad larger bedroom (with an ensuite bathroom) as your train rolls along on its overland journey. You’ll slowly cross up and over towering mountain ranges aboard trains bearing nostalgic names like the Empire Builder, Southwest Chief or California Zephyr.
Most likely, you’d stay a couple of days at either end of your trip, or even break up the trip with a night or two at a station stop along the way. Either way, one of the most important aspects to a great train ride is to know what and how to pack.
Let’s say you’ve got a complete cross-country trip planned, from New York City to Los Angeles. That’s a total of almost four days and three nights on the train.
Here’s what I’d pack for an overnight Amtrak train trip
For a three-night cross-country trip, I’d have three tops to change into, plus the one that I wore on boarding day. No matter what season you travel, always have some kind of sweater or sweatshirt-type top to wear to the dining car. You never know how cold it could be in there.
Comfy pants and more
Since you’ll be sitting most of the day, be sure to pack one pair of comfy pants like sweat pants, yoga pants (you know…stretchy!) then pants or jeans for the dining car. So, three pants is good: one comfy, two for daytime (in case you spill something on one pair)
For shower room down the hall if you don’t have a deluxe bedroom – pack a little bag with your shampoo, conditioner, tooth brush, tooth paste and flip-flops for the shower.
Easy-on shoes (slip-ons) and pack the sneakers / flip flops(for the shower, see above) / slippers for your room.
Snacks and beverages
You’re allowed to bring alcohol onboard for your sleeping compartment. Want a pre-dinner cocktail? Pack a small cooler with a jar of olives and ask your room attendant for ice.
Duct tape and kid-scissors
I never travel on Amtrak without these two items. You’ll find that there are rattles and clanking sounds that can drive you nuts. Occasionally I’ll use a wash cloth to cover the ceiling vent when the control slider doesn’t work.
Some trains are trying to limit the amount of bottled water per compartment. If you’re like me and drink up to 2L a day, ask for a bottle of water every time you’re in the dining car. It’s complimentary and will get you through the journey.
If you’ve reserved a roomette and you’re traveling with a little too much luggage and prefer to not check a bag, you can sleep on the top bunk and keep your luggage “downstairs”.
Keeping it clean
Last but not least, I pack Clorox wipes, hand wipes and sanitizer. As soon as I’m in my roomette, out pop the Clorox wipes. I clean everything, from the flip-over door locks to the slide-out tray table and the flat surfaces and everything around the sink area. This includes the toilet area whether in my room or the public ones.
Unless you’re lucky enough to afford to travel in a deluxe bedroom, it’s important to remember that roomettes are tiny. An overnight Amtrak train trip with two grown-up people in one roomette can be a challenge. If it’s within budget, try to reserve two roomettes across from each other. For a solo, though, it’s fine.
Read next: Cross-country aboard Amtrak Southwest Chief
Whatever cross-country train you choose, follow these overnight train packing tips and you’ll be prepared for a wonderfully relaxing and memorable journey.