10 Best Tips How to Pack for an Amtrak Overnight Train Trip

After dozens of cross-country Amtrak trips, I’ve put together a list to help you to pack for your Amtrak overnight train trip. 

Whether you’re onboard for one overnight or even four, here’s what to pack to help make your long distance train journey even more memorable.

How to pack for an Amtrak overnight trip if you have this deluxe bedroom sleeping accommodation
Deluxe bedroom sleeping accommodation – with private bath and shower, too.

10 best packing tips for an Amtrak overnight train trip

Imagine yourself all cozy in your little roomette or tad larger bedroom (with an ensuite bathroom) heading out for an overnight train trip.   Or you choose to travel in coach.  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, your train will slowly cross up and over towering mountain ranges, race across high desert plains and stop at iconic train stations.  Remember, weather changes will also affect what to pack.

Packing for a cross-country Amtrak train

Long-haul Amtrak trains with nostalgic names like the Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and California Zephyr offer some of the most beautiful, off-the-beaten-path scenery in the USA.

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 for an overnight train trip.

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.

View of Glacier National Park aboard Amtrak Empire Builder
Last glimpse of Glacier National Park aboard Amtrak Empire Builder.

1.  You’ll need tops and shirts

For a three-night cross-country trip, I suggest three tops to change into, plus one to wear on departure day.  No matter what season you travel, one of these should be some kind of sweater or sweatshirt-type top.  Whether in coach, a sleeping room or dining car, you never know how cold it could be in there.  

2.  Comfy 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 (in case you spill something on one pair)

3.  Ditty bag

For the 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 plus a pack of Clorox or Lysol wipes for the bathroom countertop, faucet and door handle/lock.

4.  Shoes

Easy-on shoes (slip-ons) and pack the sneakers / flip flops(for the shower, see above) / slippers for your room.

Read next: Cross-country aboard Amtrak Southwest Chief

5.  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 munchies and ask your room attendant for ice.

Amtrak overnight train deluxe bedroom with towel duct-taped to cover a broken air vent.
Never set out on an Amtrak overnight train trip without packing a roll of duct tape and scissors.

6.  ALWAYS Pack Duct tape and kid-scissors

I never travel on an Amtrak overnight train trip 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.

READ NEXT:  Follow my California Zephyr journey across America

7.  Water

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 or order a meal.  It’s complimentary and will get you through the journey.

8.  Luggage tip

You’ve reserved a roomette, traveling with a little too much luggage and 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.  

9.  Keeping 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.

Amtrak overnight train trip in a roomette
You can see the two lower seats that convert into a bed at night. There’s a pullout little table between them.

If it’s within your budget, try to reserve two roomettes across from each other.  This was no one feels crunched and gives you a view from both sides of the train, too.  

Enjoy your 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.

READ MORE:  29 Onboard Tips for Your Amtrak Overnight Train Trip


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10 thoughts on “10 Best Tips How to Pack for an Amtrak Overnight Train Trip”

  • Hi Anna,
    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!
    Sherry

  • 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.

  • Hi Sylvia,
    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!

    Sherry

  • I am traveling from LA to Seattle. Is it possible to go from Seattle back to North Carolina by Amtrack?

  • Hi Kate,
    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).
    Sherry

  • 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.

  • Hi Tom,
    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.
    Sherry

  • 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.

    Tom

  • Hi Stephanie,
    Thank you! I’m so glad you had a wonderful train ride. The scenery on your trip is gorgeous! Thanks for writing.
    Sherry

  • 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.

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