I’ve taken dozens of cross-country Amtrak trips over the years and I finally figured out what and how to pack for an Amtrak overnight train trip.
And yes, I’ve done a few overnights in an Amtrak coach seat, too.
No matter how you choose to travel overnight on Amtrak, in coach or in a sleeper, you really need to be prepared.
Here’s my list to help you to successfully pack for your Amtrak overnight train trip. Whether you’re in coach or a sleeping accommodation, for one overnight or even four, here’s what to pack to help make your long distance train journey relaxing and memorable.
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10 Best Packing Tips for an Amtrak Overnight Train Trip
Imagine yourself all cozy in your little roomette or a larger Amtrak bedroom (with an ensuite bathroom) on an overnight train trip. Maybe you choose to sleep in an Amtrak coach seat (much larger than on an airplane). How you pack for your trip could mean the difference between a restless night or a good night’s sleep.
Whether your cross-country train trip goes east or west, in any season, the train will crosses towering mountain ranges, races across high desert plains and stops at iconic train stations. Weather can dramatically vary along the route. This affects what you should pack.
Say for example, you’re on an overnight trip aboard the Empire Builder route that runs between Chicago and Seattle. Want to step off the train for “fresh air” breaks? It’s going to be really cold by the time you get to Wolf Point, Montana in winter even though the weather was much milder in Seattle or Chicago.
Pack for a Multi-Night Cross-Country Amtrak Train Trip
Long-haul Amtrak trains with nostalgic names like the Texas Eagle, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and California Zephyr offer some of the most beautiful, off-the-beaten-path scenery in the USA. You’ll see parts of the country not visible from any highways or country roads.
Maybe you’d like to stay for 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 for an overnight train trip. Especially if it involves more than one night.
Let’s say you’ve planned a cross-country train trip from New York City to Los Angeles. That’s a total of almost four days and three nights on the train. You’ll need more than just a change of clothes.
1. Pack Extra Tops or Shirts
For a three-night cross-country trip, I suggest packing three tops to change into, not including the one you wear on departure day. No matter what season you travel, one of these three should be some kind of sweater or sweatshirt-type top.
Whether in coach, a sleeping room, dining car or observation car, you never know how cold it could be in there. If you’re freezing because the air-conditioning is way too cold, you’ll be happy to have packed a sweater or sweatshirt.
2. Comfy Train Pants
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, café or observation car. So, three pants is good: one comfy, two for daytime (just in case you spill something on one pair)
3. Ditty Bag
Those who have a roomette (deluxe bedrooms have a private shower) also have access to the shower room down the hall. I always pack a hanging toiletry bag with a hook or a curved hanger that has my shampoo, conditioner, tooth brush, tooth paste.
I pack a flip-flops (and a quart-size ziplock bag to store them) for the public shower if I am in a roomette. A travel-size pack of Clorox or Lysol wipes for the public bathroom countertop, the faucet and even the door handle and lock.
This is the hanging toiletry bag that I use on every trip. It lays flat in my suitcase and fits on the inside back of the public restroom door on both Superliner and Viewliner trains.
The top smaller compartments I’ll put earrings, necklace, dental floss, small packets of antiseptic alcohol wipes, contact lens case and little things like that.
The car attendant keeps a fresh supply of little bars of soap for each person. If you’re in a roomette, the shower room will have a stack of new terry bath towels and wash cloths.
Easy-on shoes (slip-ons) and sneakers plus those flip-flops for the shower. From previous hotel stays, I pack my unused bedroom slippers to wear in my room.
On Amtrak I wear my trusty slip-on Skechers Go-Walk comfy shoes. They’re super-easy to put on in the dark for a walk to the bathroom, whether I’m in coach or a sleeper.
Read next: Chicago to LA Aboard Amtrak Southwest Chief
5. Snacks and Beverages
You’re allowed to bring alcohol onboard only if you have a sleeping compartment. Want a pre-dinner cocktail? Pack a small fabric cooler with a jar of olives and munchies. When it’s empty and you’re ready to leave the train, it will lays flat in your suitcase.You can ask your room attendant for ice or just bring one of those freezer ice packs.
If you’re in a coach seat, pack soda or sparkling water, some snacks or sandwiches so you don’t have to go to the snack bar all the time.
6. ALWAYS Pack Duct Tape and Kid-Scissors
I never travel on an Amtrak overnight train trip without duct tape and a pair of Fisker’s kid scissors. You’ll find that there are rattles and clanking sounds that can drive you nuts, even in the new cars. Plus, your car attendant will think you’re an extremely experienced Amtrak passenger!
Occasionally I’ve had to use a wash cloth to cover the ceiling vent when the control slider doesn’t work held in place with said Duck Brand duct tape. And used folded paper cups to stuff between the cracks in the sliding door between bedrooms
READ NEXT: Follow my California Zephyr Journey Across America
If you’re like me and drink up to 2 liters of water a day, ask for a bottle of water every time you’re in the dining car for a meal.
It’s complimentary for sleeping car passengers and will get you through a long journey. Why in the dining car?
Sometimes your car attendant’s bottled water supply can nearly be depleted, so pick up extra water when dining.
Of course you can always bring your own water, too. Especially if you plan to overnight in a coach seat.
8. Luggage Storage on Amtrak
You’ve reserved a roomette, traveling with a little too much luggage but prefer to not check a bag. Rather than hoist your luggage onto the top bunk, sleep on the upper bunk and keep your luggage on the lower bunk at night.
If you’re on a Superliner, there’s a storage rack downstairs for the biggest pieces of luggage. Make sure you don’t need to get anything out of whatever you store on the luggage rack. If your coach seat happens to be on the lower level, you might be able to find a small space near your seat.
Keep in mind this storage area is not secured, but I’ve never had a bag stolen.
9. Keep your space clean
Last but not least, long before the pandemic hit, I always packed Clorox wipes, hand wipes and sanitizer. As soon as I’m in my roomette, out pop the Clorox wipes.
I clean everything, from the metal 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.
10. Stretch out
Unless you’re lucky enough to afford to travel in a deluxe bedroom, it’s important to remember that roomettes are tiny. An Amtrak overnight train trip with two grown-up people in one roomette can be a challenge.
If two adults are traveling and if it’s within your budget, check the price if you reserve two roomettes across from each other.
This was no one feels crunched in an upper bunk at night. And you’ll have views from both sides of the train, too. Sometimes, two roomettes are less expensive than a bedroom.
Now You Know How to Pack for Your Amtrak Overnight Train Ride!
Whatever Amtrak cross-country train you choose, follow these overnight train packing tips and you’ll be prepared for a wonderfully relaxing and memorable journey.
RELATED: 29 Onboard Tips for Your Amtrak Overnight Train Trip
I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the world on waves and wheels, collecting recipes along the way. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Take a breath…stop for a local meal and a glass of wine along the way.
Sherry Laskin says
I’m excited for you and your son for taking your first Amtrak train ride! Yes, I’ve been on Amtrak overnight trains last December, October and July, so the content should all be up-to-date. Your luggage is not x-rayed so feel comfortable with a pair of kid’s scissors. They’ve come in handy for me more times than not! The most scenic part of the Empire Builder is of course going through Glacier National Park. At the Wolfpoint, Montana stop, if there is time (don’t miss your train), take your son into the train station. It’s almost like a museum with a lot of old train memorabilia, furnishings and more. If the train is on time, there’s usually about 20 minutes to stretch your legs and walk around. But always never stray too far from the nearest open train door, lol, just in case. As you step off the train, ask your car attendant how much time you have to get fresh air.
Thank you very much for your comment and I hope you both have a wonderful time onboard Amtrak!
Shelly Kav says
Hi Sherry… Okay, I am getting ready to take my first ever Amtrak ride (from Washington the state to Chicago, and then from Chicago to Oklahoma City), with my 12 year old!! We will, have a roomette for both legs of the journey!!! We leave in about a month!! It will be a first train ride for him as well!! I see this is an older article, but I also see that you updated it in August of last year. I assume you took an overnight trip around the time of the update? I am asking, because I am wondering…maybe even worried..about bringing scissors in my carry on luggage!! Yes, I see that you say Kids scissors, and I do think that could be a good idea to have them, just in case they are needed. That still worries me though. Lol. Do they check/look inside carry on baggage? I don’t want to tackled to the ground for *trying* to bring (kids) scissors on board!!! LOL!!! Well, whether I bring (kids) scissors in my carry on baggage or not, I am still looking forward to me and my sons first train ride, And it being an overnight train ride!! Thanks for all the tips about what to pack!!
Sherry Laskin says
Thanks for your question! The Coast Starlight is a gorgeous ride the entire way. Going in Business Class vs. Coach was a good idea. I see no reason for any concern (I’m a senior, too!) other than it’s a long ride to be in a seat rather than a roomette. Be sure to get up and walk if possible.
I always want a window seat so I can prop my head on my pillow and face away from the aisle or another passenger. On this train, you’d want to be on the water side of the train (right side as you face forward). You might be able to confirm this arrangement when you check in at Seattle. If you don’t like the assigned seat, ask what is available.
Maybe do the Business Class one way and see if a roomette is affordable for your return (assuming you’re not flying home to Seattle).
Be sure to bring a comfy pillow, light blanket (like a cozy throw), a toiletry case, extra water and some snacks. There’s the Café car to purchase meals (the dining car is only for sleeping car passengers at this time). With a little luck, the seat next to you might be empty.
For me, when I’m not in a roomette or bedroom, when I leave my seat I take my backpack or purse with me. As long as there’s a long ride between stations, if someone were to try and steal something, there’s no where to run, so to speak. When I sleep, I tuck my purse around me, put my fleece blanket around me and that’s about all.
Thank you very much for reading my article and taking the time to ask your question! It’s very much appreciated. Have a wonderful train ride and a nice Thanksgiving.
P.S. Sometimes Amtrak runs late. Always have a couple of extra bottles of water and good snacks just in case.
P.S.S. With your late arrival into LAX Union Station, I’m guessing someone in your family will be there for you. If not, you can all ahead for Uber or Lyft to meet you upon arrival. Check Train Status on the Amtrak App for up-to-date arrival time. There’s also a taxi rank right out in front of the main entrance. You should be able to arrange for a Red Cap to drive you (golf cart style) to the door to the taxi stand. Ask the conductor, if you need assistance upon arrival.
Sheila Pocknett says
I’m so glad i found you. I just read a number of your replies and they are all very helpful. I am booked on a train, business class, from Seattle to Los Angeles for the Thanksgiving Holiday. I’m going solo and a bit apprehensive – should I do this vs of course take the chance!!! I’ve read a lot of articles, all the do’s and dont’s, other than what to wear on the overnight train ride, I think I’m ready. Any tips for a Senior who like to travel but unsures as to whether I could hang for a 34 hr train ride? Thanks Sherry.
Sherry Laskin says
Thank you for reading my article and your very kind words! Much appreciated. I’m glad that you found some helpful tips in my article for traveling on Amtrak. Have a wonderful train ride! I also have an article for those who are traveling by coach that may be helpful to your family: https://cruisemaven.com/amtrak-advice-coach-passengers/
Thank you again and happy travels!
Gwendolyn Boykin says
I thoroughly have enjoyed the advice given here. I’m planning a trip from Raleigh, NC to Orlando, FL by sleeper car. The younger ones of the family are traveling by coach. Wish this were more available to those boarding the train.
Sherry Laskin says
Thank you for your comment. I hope that by the time that when (and if) dining cars are back on the trains, that you can safely walk through the cars to get there! The main issue could be if a high heeled shoe gets caught in the transom between cars. Happy travels and thank you again for reading the Amtrak article.
Pamela Boyd says
Thank you for the 10 tips. They are much appreciated. I will be saving them for my next Antrak journey. Let me share that I am a “heels gal”. Therefore, I’ll probably be wearing sneakets with wedge heels or maybe a heeled boot/pump, at least fo dinner. What can I say, I like attention.
Let me say that riding first class in the northeast corridor between Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC is wonderful. The Acela and other high speed trains give you great service and respectful treatment.
Again, your efforts are appreciated.
Sherry Laskin says
Congratulations on your first Amtrak trip. Since you will have to book your ticket in segments, San Francisco (Emeryville) to Chicago then onto NYC and Vermont, why not spend a couple of days in Chicago? Since your train goes through Glenwood Springs, Colorado, that is also a good and convenient place to spend a couple of days. And it will break up your trip into smaller pieces. I don’t know if you have a sleeper or are going coach, but if in coach then I’d definitely recommend stopovers.
Thank you for writing and have a wonderful adventure!
Anna Olivo says
First time traveling by train in the US. will be departing from San Francisco to Point River Junction in Vermont any advise , recommended stops? will be appreciated.
Sherry Laskin says
You’re in for a beautiful train ride up to Seattle. From there, you can take the Empire Builder across to Chicago. Spend a day or two there then hop on either the Capitol Limited or Cardinal to the east coast. Then, depending on which city in NC you want, there are two southbound trains – the Silver Star (no dining car) and the Silver Meteor – to get you to NC. Call Amtrak for details. Reply to every question by automated “Julie” by saying “Agent” (there’ll be three times) and you’ll get a live person to help you plan your trip. They’re pretty good, too.
Have a great trip!
I am traveling from LA to Seattle. Is it possible to go from Seattle back to North Carolina by Amtrack?
Sherry Laskin says
I’m not sure what you mean. When you purchase a coach seat, you’re not reserving a specific seat. I’ve never heard of overselling coach seats but maybe that happens now. It’s a shame that you encountered some issues. If it’s offered, for day trips I always choose a business class ticket. Have a nice ride on the Coast Starlight. When you check in at Seattle, if there is a seat assignment, ask for a seat on the water side (the right-hand side).
Kate Desl says
TY for sharing this detailed account. Whenever I get the opportunity I prefer train travel. I usually travel alone. Not all my Amtrak experiences have been the same. I no longer travel in coach if I will be traveling overnight, and try to avoid popular times. What does one do when your coach seat has been sold to another person who boards before you and you are left standing until you can make your way to the dome car?….and where do you sleep at night in this situation. This dilemma went to the conductors deaf ears…This is not way to treat an elderly woman who purchased her ticket months in advance. Apparently when you purchase a coach seat there is no guarantee of a seat. Amtrak oversells seats just like the airlines do. So, my advice is to spend the extra $ for a sleeper car or a seat in business class and make sure you board early. I plan to be taking the Starlight from Seattle to Emeryville soon and am looking forward to the spectacular views and conversations with fellow travelers.
Sherry Laskin says
Wow…you’ve pieced all three legs together. The scenery between Seattle and Everett is beautiful and the water is on your left. It’s all amazing. Thanks for your note. Have a wonderful trip.
Tom D'Alessandro says
Thank you for the great tips! I’m flying out to Seattle Friday, then returning to Philadelphia via the Empire Builder, Capitol Limited, and Northeast Regional. My first time on this journey, looking forward to the quiet time and vistas.
Sherry Laskin says
Thank you! I’m so glad you had a wonderful train ride. The scenery on your trip is gorgeous! Thanks for writing.
Stephenie Lawton says
What a great post. Thanks for the helpful advice. I took Amtrak from LA to Lebanon, OR. It was fabulous! I loved having a sleeper. It was perfect for knitting, reading, and watching the world whiz by from the window.