Over the decades, I’ve taken dozens of cross-country Amtrak trips. It took time but 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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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.
Here’s what I always pack for every overnight Amtrak trip.
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. Wear 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. Buy a Ditty Bag and What to Put in it
Whether you have a roomette and use the shower room down the hall (deluxe bedrooms have a private shower) or a coach seat and a public bathroom, it’s helpful to keep all your toiletries together.
Here’s the hanging toiletry bag that I use. It has a convenient curved hanger, fits all my cosmetics, dental supplies, plus small bottles of shampoo, conditioner…everything in one place.
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.
Plus, when in a roomette or coach public bathroom, it hangs from the inside door hook.
4. Bring Shower or Relaxing Shoes
I pack flip-flops (and a quart-size ziplock bag to store them) for the public shower if I am in a roomette. Or even for relaxing in my roomette or bedroom. They take up so little room, too.
5. Spend a Couple of Minutes Cleaning Your Space
I always bring a travel-size pack of Clorox or Lysol wipes. I use these to wipe all the surfaces in my sleeper, including the tray table and door handles.
If I’m in coach or roomette and use a public bathroom, the first thing I do upon entry is to wipe off the countertop, the faucet handles and even the door handle and lock.
6. Take a Shower
Wearing your flip-flops and carrying your ditty bag, head to the public shower. The car attendant keeps a fresh supply of little bars of soap and fresh towels for each person.
7. Choose Your Train Shoes
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
8. Pack Some 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 lay flat in your suitcase. You can ask your room attendant for ice and keep everything cold with 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. Train food can be expensive.
9. 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 I’ve used folded paper cups to stuff between the cracks in the sliding door between bedrooms.
10. Drink Your Water
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.
Bottled water is complimentary for sleeping car passengers and will get you through a long journey. So why ask for water 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.
11. Luggage Storage on Amtrak
If you’ve reserved a roomette, don’t crowd your space with luggage. But if you’d rather not check your suitcase, here’s an idea.
Instead of hoisting 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 (the double-decker trains), 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.
No matter what class of service you purchase, there’s always the option to check your luggage for free, up to 50 lbs for each of two pieces of luggage.
It will be stored in the baggage car, then unloaded and waiting for you at your destination.
12. 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.
13. 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.
Check and compare the prices if you reserve two roomettes across from each other.
This way 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, these overnight Amtrak train packing tips and you’ll be prepared for a wonderfully relaxing and memorable journey.
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.