What to pack for long train trips

Regardless of where you are heading, you will want to be as comfortable as possible for the duration of your train trip. Small to medium-sized luggage is easily stored in bedrooms and roomettes in the sleeper car on racks up by the top bunk so that you can move easily throughout the cabin, however this storage is up quite high, and it is not so easy to get down suitcases without assistance from the attendant.  For items you will need to access regularly during your trip, I recommend bringing a tote as your carry on.

Keep everything you need for your train trip close at hand by packing a tote
Keep everything you need for your train trip close at hand by packing a tote

To organize and find items you need quickly, separate and store in small and large plastic freezer bags. I do this for every trip to sort and protect my phone charger, headphones, toiletries, snacks, socks, undergarments, etc. The bags are transparent, so if I need my toothbrush, toothpaste, and facial soap to get ready for bed, I just have to reach in my tote and pull out my toiletries bag instead of rifling around for each small item. Train temperature varies throughout your trip, depending on the climates you are traveling through. While there are temperature controls for heat and cooling, as well as adjustable air vents in your cabin, I strongly suggest dressing in comfortable layers so you do not have to access your suitcase frequently. Because you will be sitting for long periods of time, wear loose and stylish separates. I recommend pants or jeans, a t-shirt, and a buttoned or zip up sweater. Also remember to pack a pair of shorts or lighter clothes for your destination (there’s nothing relaxing about hopping off the train in hot, humid Orlando in your jeans and New York Winter Parka). Jackets can be hung in a small coat closet in the bedroom or roomette. If you are sensitive to temperature, bring along your jacket  for meals in the dining car, particularly on the Silver Star or Silver Meteor routes. It can be very chilly in there during dinner! Shoes should have soles that grip, because your balance will be off at times as you walk through the cars on the train to access other areas. You will also want shoes that come off, and can be slipped on, easily. Take them off at night for bed, but you will want them on the floor next to your sleeping area in case you need to get up and use the lavatory. In the bedroom cabins, your commode doubles as a shower. In my experience, the shower head at times may drip slightly, leaving a small bit of water on the floor, which is not fun to walk onto at 2:00 AM in your socks or bare feet. Amtrak attendants work hard to maintain the cars on every line. In general, the bedrooms and roomettes are clean and stocked with new soap and towels and clean sheets and blankets for your stay before you board. However, I find it nice to spruce the place up for long train trips. I bring a travel pack of clorox wipes and a small travel lysol spray with me. As soon as the luggage is stored away, I go over all of the communal surfaces like the door handles, sink area, storage latches, light switches and table with the wipes to ready it for our stay and then I spray the lavatory with the lysol. It makes the room homey and fresh, gives me peace of mind, and it goes a long way to ensuring that we won’t have the sniffles at our destination.

Here is a brief packing list for your carry-on tote for train travel:

1. A sweater or wrap to help you adjust for air-conditioned areas and drafts

2. Cleaning wipes, travel Lysol spray, & travel hand sanitizer

3. Headphones and digital device for music (listening to music as I watch the scenery fly by for hours  is my favorite thing to do on a train trip! Give your trip a personal soundtrack.)

4. Pajamas or sleepwear (stored in a carry on tote, not in your luggage)

5. Reading materials, tablet with saved movies (no streaming is available at this time on the New York to Florida route!) travel games, or other hobby items

6. Toothbrush (Colgate wisps work great), small toothpaste, facial cleansing cloths, hairbrush

7. Medicine (over the counter and prescription) and eyeglasses/sunglasses. Do not leave these in your luggage. Carry them with you.

8. Chargers for phone and other digital devices

9. Snacks

10. Your Amtrak e-tickets and a pen

On the subject of number 8, I usually bring a few snacks in my carry on tote. There will be times when you want a snack, particularly late at night or very early in the morning. Often, my husband and I do not go to the dining car for a big breakfast (sadly we forgo the Railroad French Toast) and instead have a granola bar to tide us over. Dry items are best to bring, including trail mix, crackers, dried fruit, pretzels, breakfast bars etc. Coffee, water, juice and ice can be found at the attendant’s station at the end of the sleeper car. You are permitted to access this when you need it, and in my experience, it is kept stocked during the trip.

If you prepare well by packing your train travel tote, you will have the most relaxing trip and want for nothing. When you pull into your destination station, take a quick look around. I find the majority of passengers look well-rested and groomed as they hop off the train. If you’re prepared, it really is a civilized way to travel!


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