I recently took my first overnight trip on Amtrak. Since I was only spending one night on the train I decided to try out Coach instead of a sleeper car to see how it went. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from reading other passengers’ accounts of their trips, but have a few things from my experience to add. I think it helps to set your expectations and do some good planning before jumping into a long haul trip like this, and hopefully I can provide some helpful information!
Some departure/arrival city combinations along certain routes will allow passengers to check 2 bags for free as long as they are under 50 pounds and 75 linear inches. Since I was traveling between two major stations (New York Penn Station and Chicago Union Station) I did have the checked bag option. Since I had packed three bags but could only carry on two, the checked bag option came in handy. Dropping my bag off was very simple. I arrived at the desk to check my bag where I was immediately helped. I showed my ticket, my bag was weighed & tagged and I was given a stub with my bag locator number. KEEP THIS TAG. Unlike airlines, the railroad does check this tag to confirm you are leaving with your bag. The entire process took…maybe a minute? Simple. The other important note about drop off is that the bag must arrive at least 45 minutes before departure.
Pick-up of my checked bag was also quite straightforward. The bags in Chicago come out on a carousel just like at the airport, the bags in NYC are brought into a holding area and you just grab and go. As mentioned above, however, you need your claim ticket in order to leave with your bag. My bag arrived on the carousel about 15 minutes after I arrived at baggage claim.
As I do when flying, I carried on my important items and those things I would want access to during the trip like entertainment and food items. Since this was an overnight trip I also wanted to make sure I had items available to freshen up and change clothes on Day 2. Most of the items I carried on in a backpack are pictured below. My second carry on bag held a big blanket, a pillow and snacks. My carry on items can be put in three categories: entertainment, snacks, and personal items.
I figured I would be spending quite a bit of time awake on this trip – the train departed at 3:40PM and didn’t arrive until around 10:30AM the following morning. I packed my technology essentials including my laptop & charger (there are outlets at each set of seats onboard), phone & charger and Kindle & charger. I also threw in my iPad & charger for this trip as well as some puzzle books. I love to do logic puzzle or fill-ins when traveling – they really help me pass the time by giving me something to concentrate on besides the clock. The last entertainment piece I packed specifically for this trip was a portable hard drive. The train does not have Wi-Fi and even the cell signal is weak/sparse, so I downloaded a bunch videos to watch in case I was totally disconnected and bored. To make sure my phone battery didn’t die I packed a portable charger, and what good would all this technology be without headphones?
OVERKILL. So I ended up taking WAY too much food, but I had tons of snacks during my stay and had some left for my return trip. I’d rather have too much than starve for 20 hours (although this isn’t a likely scenario given the food options available on the train). I’ve got a picture of my snack haul below, but what I actually took varied a bit. I ended up with:
- half a bag of carrots
- one each apple, banana, pear
- string cheese
- 3 peanut butter sandwiches
- cookies, candy
- 1 L water bottle
- 20 oz soda
I will start with the most important personal item I packed: a pillow. And I’m not talking about a wimpy travel pillow. I brought a full on pillow straight off of my bed. I’m a finnicky sleeper even under the best circumstances, so having this pillow with me really made a difference in the comfort of my trip. I also packed an eye mask and a big, soft blanket. Unfortunately the blanket was a bit of a bust. Every passenger experience I read about before my trip stated that the train cars are cold, no matter the climate or season. My car was the opposite – it was practically a sauna going both ways. Kind of annoyed I carried that blanket everywhere, but better safe than sorry in this situation, I suppose.
Besides items for helping me sleep, I packed a change of clothes and some hygiene items. I didn’t notice anyone else change clothes on Day 2, but I sure was happy to have something fresh to slip into in the morning. Even if I didn’t have a change of clothes, I had more than enough to ensure I would feel a little refreshed in the morning, including: a package of makeup remover towelettes, deodorant, dry shampoo (I tried to grab one with as little scent as possible since I’m sharing the space with so many people and many are sensitive to scents), toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss (handy when you can’t get to water/a sink), lip moisturizer, hand lotion, fuzzy socks, slippers, an extra pair of underwear (hey – you never know) and some extra feminine products. Most of these items are pictured above, and you can see they really don’t take up too much space. I think this could cover pretty much any need or discomfort I might have during the 20 hour trip.
I had more than enough entertainment and familiar comforts on the train, with a minimal amount of luggage. Checking a bag through to my destination was extremely easy and convenient. I especially liked that I didn’t have to drag my suitcase around and get it onto the train or worry about watching it while sleeping or getting off the train at designated stops. With a few snacks, a good book and a pillow you can absolutely have a comfortable and fun trip in coach!
Have you ever taken an overnight train trip? Did I miss any must-have items?