10 Best Tips How to Pack for an Amtrak Train Trip

These 10 best tips will help you to pack for your Amtrak train trip.  Whether you’re onboard for one overnight or even four, there really are things to pack to help make your long distance train journey even more memorable.

Imagine yourself all cozy in your little roomette or tad larger bedroom (with an ensuite bathroom) heading out for an overnight train trip.  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.

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 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 a change of clothes.

10 best packing tips for an Amtrak overnight train trip

1.  Mostly tops/shirts

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.

2.  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)

3.  Ditty bag

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.

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 ask your room attendant for ice.

Amtrak deluxe bedroom sleeping car with a 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.  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.

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.  It’s complimentary and will get you through the journey.

8.  Luggage tip

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”.

9.  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.

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 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.

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.

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10 thoughts on “10 Best Tips How to Pack for an Amtrak 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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