AmtrakAmtrak Tips

9 Essential Items You Need On Your First Amtrak Vacation

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We took our first Amtrak Vacation this year and loved it so much that we took 3 more in the months that followed. Along the way we realized there were some things that were essential to having a great experience on an Amtrak Vacation.

Amtrak Vacation Baggage Allowances
You Can Bring A Generous Amount of Bags On Your Amtrak Vacation

Flip Flops

You’ll want these anytime you go to the bathroom in the night on an Amtrak train. If you are asleep with you shoes off, you won’t want to spend the time putting on shoes. It isn’t a good idea to venture to the bathroom in bare feet in the middle of the night!

We bought comfortable flip flops and put them right by the door in our roomette.

USB Power Pack

Power outlets are limited in the roomette’s, at only one per room so charging electronics overnight can be tricky. With one of these adapters, you’ll be able to charge you camera, phone and tablets overnight while you sleep. There are additional outlets in the observation car if you need to charge a bunch of things quickly.

Snacks

You are allowed to bring food on the train and you should really consider doing it. Even if you are in a roomette with free meals, the dining service isn’t open late and may not be open when you are hungry. On one of our trains the cafe was closed most of the day because of a cash register malfunction. The food is generally very good and reliable, but it can turn into a big deal if there is ever a problem.

Suction Mount Camera Holder

GoPro Gooseneck Suction Cup Mount Holder on an Amtrak Train
The Easiest Way To Take Photos and Videos on the Train

The number one thing we got asked about on our Amtrak Vacation was our mount for our GoPro and phone. Even the staff of the train was asking where they could get one.

We saw plenty of people struggling to get good video or pictures on a bouncing train. There are plenty of window in your roomette or the observation car where you can attach a suction cup mount and take smooth videos or good pictures.

Good Toiletries Bag

You’ll be venturing to the bathroom often on your trip and sometimes the best bathroom may be on another level or in another car. You don’t want to carry everything you need by hand and there isn’t counter space in the bathroom to set everything down. A hook on the back of the door is provided to help you in this process.

Headphones

If you are in coach you’ll have people getting on and off the train most of the night so you’ll want something to block out the sound. If you are sleeping in a roomette it is less of an issue unless you just want to drown out the sound of the train.

We generally travel with wireless headphones so our phones can be tucked away safely while we are sleeping.

Downloaded Entertainment

Many Amtrak trains don’t have Wifi and on some of them you’ll be in remote parts of the country away from the highway and cell service. It’s a good idea to download any movies or shows and music you want to listen to before you start the trip. We were surprised at how much of the trip we had no service at all.

Cash

Cash may not be accepted on the train to buy food, as of this writing it isn’t, but it is still accepted by the staff for a tip. You may want to tip the room steward, dining car steward or cafe attendant if they are helpful to you. Cash is the only way you’ll be able to tip them. Tips are not mandatory like on a cruise ship, but from what we saw about half of the people in the roomettes tipped.

Blanket

Depending on your train and the time of year it can get cold on an Amtrak train, think Empire Builder in December! A small blanket would be great to bring with you to the observation car or curl up with in your seat as you watch the world pass by.

Do you have any other items that you find essential on an Amtrak Vacation? Let us know in the comments what you need each time you board the train.

If you are having trouble deciding between coach and a roomette you may find our Amtrak Sunset Limited coach review helpful.

If it is your first time riding Amtrak you should also check out our Amtrak beginners guide.

5 Comments

  1. I enjoy watching your videos and reading your blog post. Did you book your vacations through Amtrak Vacations and how do you keep your clothes so neat from day to day on a train?

    1. Hello, we booked them directly on Amtrak.com and just used our own hotel choices. There are some hangers in the Roomettes and Bedrooms that help to keep clothes neat when you are going overnight.

  2. My family took the train California Zephyr to Chicago and back at Christmas about 4 years ago. We didn’t have sleeper berths–just the regular seats. Here are a few suggestions I have. 1) Meals aren’t included if you don’t have a sleeper berth so you have a choice of going to the dining car, picking up some simple food options in the snack bar or eating food you brought with you. We did some of each. 2) We met super nice people sitting near us one direction and had happy hour with them. I wished we brought more wine and noshing food to share. 3) Because the foot rests are so far from your seat, you may be more comfortable have a bag or a cooler to put under your feet when you are sleeping. 4) The bags you “check,” i.e. don’t have with you at your seat, are stored in a place accessible to all passengers so make sure anything valuable is in the bags you are keeping with you at your seat. 4) Seats are in pairs so if you have an odd number of travelers most likely one of you will be sleeping next to a complete stranger. It is really nice to have a blanket you can kind of hide under at night. 5) Think about having clothes that will be comfortable to sleep in but be in public. Sweats? Flannel pants? 6) I also second you video comment about bringing wet wipes. The shared bathrooms are kind of gross. Do yourself and others a favor and do a good cleaning on the one you will most early in your trip so you can enjoy a cleaner bathroom then wipe surfaces as needed for the rest of the trip.

  3. My first experience on the Empire Builder, I brought a transistor radio with ear plugs. It was nice to hear the news of the world. I could always find a station. It might not have been the clearest at all times but it was a nice diversion from always feeling like I had to look at my phone. I plan to take a radio again on my next trip in mid December on the Builder.

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Robert Marmion
Rob is married to Allie and together they have been traveling the world for the past 2 years. Rob is one of the most published photographers in the world, having published over 750,000 images in the last 15 years. He enjoys doing landscape and astrophotography while on the road.