In May 2023, I solo traveled from California to New York on Amtrak for 72 hours on the California Zephyr and Lake Shoreline Limited. My blog post on the experience can be found here. Before going on my first Amtrak trip, I had so many questions, and I hope to help others who were just as curious as me! Here are some Amtrak tips that will help you on your upcoming Amtrak trips!
Is there water on the train?
Yes, there will be water on the train, but I would recommend bringing your own water supply for the duration of your ride. During my Amtrak trip, there were water dispensers and tiny 8 fl ounces available for passengers in the observation cart, but having my own personal gallon of water made me not worry about running out of water or the quality of water.
Can I bring outside food?
Yes! Bring any snacks and drinks that you like! The snack cart on the train has a lot of different selections but if you like a certain brand, it’s safer to bring it with you since there will be really no other way to buy snacks/drinks. On my trip, I brought a few packs of caprisun, a bunch of snacks, 2 flavors of beef jerky, and crackers for the long ride.
Can I bring take-out food into the trains?
Technically, you can! I brought in a box of pizza from when I had a brief stop in Chicago since I wanted to try a Chicago Style pizza no matter what and ate it on the train. Just be sure not to bring anything that smells too strong and be courteous to your fellow passengers.
What food options are available?
Many amtrak trains have one or more options for onboard dining. The most common carts are the traditional dining cart and the cafe cart. If you are in the Roomettes, the meals are already in the price. If you are in coach, food in the dining cart can be purchased. $20 for breakfast, $25 for 2-course lunch, and $45 for a 3-course dinner. The dinner meal includes 1 complimentary alcoholic drink, and all meals include unlimited complimentary non-alcoholic drinks. If you are alone in the trip, they will put you with other guests who are riding alone.
Amtrak tips: Be sure to make use of the cafe carts. The cafe cart has many options for food, beverages, and snacks. They even have hot foods like hot dogs and hamburgers.
Do I need cash?
Payment on the trains is card friendly, but in some areas, service may be down when going through mountainous areas.
Any Amtrak tips for an overnight Amtrak Trip?
If you are going to be overnight on Amtrak, I recommend bringing a blanket and pillow for more comfort and coziness. It also adds a level of security for when you sleep and allows you to cover your belongings when you leave your seat. This is the blanket I used and was the perfect size. Make sure to have a little bag so you can always have your essentials like wallets and keys on you at all times. Amtrak is generally safe and I always left my bigger back by my seat when going to the observation cart, but keep your valuables on with you the whole time!
For overnight coach trips, there is a good chance that people will snore during the night. Make sure to either bring earplugs or noise-canceling headphones if snoring bothers you! My airpod pros did a great job on
I would also really recommend bringing a phone stool/holder that you can place on the tray for an easy way to watch shows on your phone. Remember to download your favorite shows before heading on the train!
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes that you can take off when you are at your seat. Please be sure to wear shoes when you are getting up from your seat to go to other carts/bathrooms.
Be prepared for delays. The delays happen because passenger trains are the lowest priority when prioritizing the rails. During my California Zephyr train, there was a delay of 5 hours and 44 mins.
Can I go off the train during stops?
Take all opportunities to get off the train. There are limited times in which we can go outside the train. Rest stops are stops where we are at the station for about 5 mins in which you can step out of the train to stretch your legs or have a smoke break, but not enough time to go off the platform. Once the train is ready to take off, they blow the horn and the train attendants yell “All abroad” and make sure that everyone on the platform is back on the train. Crew changes are much longer and less frequent. They may let you go off the platform during crew changes.
Do coach passengers have access to a shower?
Nope, showers are only for roomette passengers. Amtrak tips: Bring some dry shampoo or perfume to cover up some stench if you are on for a few days.
Is there WiFi on the trains?
Some trains have WiFi, but some do not. Make sure to research beforehand to see if your train has or not. On my California Zephyr, there was no WiFi so I had brought my nintendo switch console that kept me entertained at night when I couldn’t see outside the window. There is also phone
service, but service may be down when going through mountainous areas.
Are there outlets at our seats?
There are two outlets per seat, but the outlet is on the wall, so if you are sitting in the aisle, it may be hard to charge as you don’t want to have the wire be over the person next to you. If you know you will need more outlets, get Multi-Plug Outlet Extender to have an extra outlet!
Will I be able to pick my seats?
Yes! Amtrak seating is first come first serve. You can choose which seat you want to seat at, however, in most cases, they tell you which cart you have to board and stay in. If they pick the cart for you, and there are no good seats you want to sit in and you are the last on boarding or getting on mid-journey, you might not have many options.
Is there check luggages?
On some long haul stations, depending on your boarding and deboarding station, you can check in your luggage! The Amtrak baggage policy is that each traveler can check up to 4 Checked bags (2 free and 2 at $20 per bag) up to 50 lbs, and 75 linear inches and 2 carry-on items up to 50 lbs. and 28 x 22 x 14 inches each with an additional 2 personal items up to 25 lbs. and 14 x 11 x 7 inches each. Amtrak tips: This totals into 6 bags for free! Checked baggage is only available on certain stations. To read more about the bag policy, read here.
Can I bring on Skis on board?
Yes! I checked in my suitcase and my ski bag (as long as it is under 76cm, ski bags can be checked in for free). This is the ski bag that I used from Amazon and it was the perfect size! I put other heavy items with my skis to save more space when packing, and as long as the bag doesn’t go over 50 lbs, you can stuff it to the fullest!