What to Pack for an Overnight Train Trip: A Complete Checklist


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May 01, 2024

What to Pack for an Overnight Train Trip: A Complete Checklist

Our checklist has items to help you get comfy, stay entertained, sleep well, and more. Katherine Alex Beaven is a Los Angeles-based travel, food and drink, and culture writer. Jump to a Section We

Our checklist has items to help you get comfy, stay entertained, sleep well, and more.

Katherine Alex Beaven is a Los Angeles-based travel, food and drink, and culture writer.

Jump to a Section

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Travel + Leisure / Brian Kopinski

During my travels around the world, I’ve taken overnight trains in England, all over Europe, in the U.S. and Canada, plus throughout Asia. These trips have been some of the most memorable travel experiences of my life — the unique point-of-view, unexpected social interactions between fellow travelers, and overall holistic experience offered by train trips definitely make the journey itself part of the destination.

When you book an overnight train, it might take longer to get where you’re going, but you’ll have a literal window into your destination that takes you by places a car, bike, and plane can’t reach. Your overnight train will vary depending on where you are and where you’re going, mainly hinging on if the train is private or government-owned, and the type of onboard accommodation in your budget. The cheap seats are your standard airplane-like rows of semi-reclinable seats, but there are also shared sleeper cars with bunks, and a handful of completely private room types.

No matter where you rest your head, this essential checklist of what to pack for an overnight train trip suggests everything you need to stay comfortable, entertained, and on track for a great trip.

Even on the most scenic and luxe of trains, you’re likely to encounter times along the way when the view isn’t much to look at, fellow travelers get annoying, and you feel a bit stir crazy. This packing checklist will keep your bases covered when it comes to comfy clothing, convenient and functional bags, and all the necessary gear and accessories you’ll be thankful you brought along for the ride.

Even though you can get up and walk around on most trains (or post up in your own private room), you’ll want to make sure you are in comfortable clothing for the duration of the ride. Consider that most overnight train trips are slightly more comfortable than an overnight flight in coach where you’ve got the whole row to yourself. The key here is lightweight, loose, breathable, and presentable clothing items (plus, wrinkle-resistant, if possible).

For starters, you’re going to want to have a separate outfit to sleep in, as well as fresh clothes (or at least tops) for each day. Also key is a pair of shoes that easily slips on and off for when you want to stretch your legs, grab a snack or meal, check out the observation car (if there is one), or get some fresh air at a stop. Unless you’re on a fancy luxury train, your seat or bench will likely have seen better days, so I always opt to bring clothing with a full back, some sleeves, and bottoms with some length so I’m not touching too much with my bare skin.


Whether you’ve got your own private cabin or you’re spending the night in a standard seat, being comfortable is going to be key. This PrettyGarden 2-Piece pullover and drawstring loungewear set works double duty as a comfy full-coverage outfit to sleep in comfortably and a casual pant-and-top set that can pass as daywear so you don’t have to feel like you’re on display in pajamas in front of strangers. It comes in 34 vibrant solid colors and color blocks making it a cinch to find your perfect shade, or to buy a few and mix and match.

Price at time of publish: $46


After a few days in your suitcase, you’ll be glad you packed some wrinkle-free shirts. This L.L.Bean Wrinkle-free Everyday Shirt is comfortable against the skin and doesn’t require an iron. It is also designed to be worn untucked, so you can be presentable without feeling restricted. The limited patterns on these long-sleeved poplin cotton button-ups leave a bit to be desired, but they check the boxes for moisture-wicking breathability and are easy for almost anyone to pull off. Plus, you can roll up the sleeves!

Price at time of publish: $60


This wrinkle-resistant tank is a go-to when you’re looking for a bit of style coupled with sustainability and comfort. This is something I’d wear during the daytime, and it pairs perfectly with dress pants, leggings, jeans, and shorts. Since it’s odor-resistant, breezy, and can be worn a few different ways (tied up, tied back, and all down), you can get away with wearing it a couple of times no problem. The slightly cropped, open waist design means you’ll stay cozy and covered while seated, too — and I love the neutral color choices and inclusive sizing.

Price at time of publish: $69


Think compression socks are just for plane travel? Think again! You’ll be doing your fair share of sitting on an overnight train, so I recommend packing a few pairs of compression socks to keep your legs comfy during the trip. These Bombas Everyday Compression Socks are easy to get on and off, and provide a low level of compression (15-20mmHg) so they are loose enough to wear all day. Women’s sizes range from 4-13 and men’s sizes range from 6-16. I particularly like that they are in attractive, “normal” sock colors so your neighbor won’t even know you’re wearing compression socks. And, for every pair purchased, Bombas will donate a pair.

Price at time of publish: $28


This classic slip-on shoe from Vans gives you style, tons of color and pattern options (43 to be exact), and has good traction on the bottoms to help you while climbing stairs on the train, getting on and off the platform, and, ahem, in the bathroom. (Shoes with good traction are clutch in the swaying, jolting small spaces of the toilet on a train so you don’t have to brace yourself by touching the walls.) I also find these shoes really easy to wiggle on in a snap, and you don’t need to touch them to pop them off your heels. Plus, depending on the color, they can work with a variety of dress styles.

Price at time of publish: $60


If your train has a shower, even a private shower, packing a decent and dependable pair of shower flip-flops is an absolute must. Aside from the world’s most luxurious trains, you should treat your train shower like a shower at the YMCA, as in, there’s a lot of foot traffic. The Showaflop Sandal gets the job done in this small space, and I particularly like how the soles have small holes in them, which not only help your feet breathe and prevent slipping on your flops in the shower but also help the shoes to dry quicker once you’re out. The soft-velcro closure keeps the shoes snug for wide and narrow feet alike.

Price at time of publish: $32

When I travel by plane, I avoid checking a bag if at all possible — and even more so on a train. When backpacking through Europe and Asia, my 80-liter pack came with me in my room, and I stored it with me on my bunk. With the multiple stops trains make, sometimes at all hours of the night, it feels more secure to have my luggage on board with me and that's why I suggest bringing a regular backpack plus a carry-on suitcase. Even if you’re sitting in coach at a proper seat (versus a cabin), you can often stuff your luggage and/or backpack above your head and your valuables under the seat in front of you.

For extra security, get a suitcase with obvious locks, and buy a small lock for your backpack if you plan on leaving it unattended. Packing your electronics in their own travel pouch, separating your toiletries out for easy access, and keeping anything you can’t live without in a hip bag are highly recommended. If you’re in a private room or on a luxury train, you don’t have to be as worried about security, but I’d still recommend using a carry-on size suitcase so you have access to everything you need whenever you need it.

Sea to Summit

The Sea to Summit Hanging Toiletry Bag has four breathable mesh compartments and a built-in hook, giving you easy access to your items and allowing you to better maneuver in any small space. Easy-grip zippers can be opened with wet fingers, and there’s also a detachable shatterproof mirror (though, unless the bag is hung high enough, it doesn’t do much).

What I like about this small bag is that it’s only about 16 inches long when hung up, unlike other hanging toiletry bags that can dangle several feet down. (This bag also comes in large which extends to be about 21 inches.) Each can stand on its own, if you prefer, and the whole thing is water-resistant with four colors to choose.

Price at time of publish: $45 for small


I always like to travel with a packing cube mentality, especially when it comes to keeping the things I need close at hand. The Cotopaxi Nido Accessory Bag has a four-liter capacity across three zippered pouches with interior organization sleeves and pockets to please even the most particular compartmentalizer. Think of it as a pencil case-meets-electronics bag where you can put your charger, eReader, cables, train ticket, pens, and more. The colorful Del Dia option is bright and easy to spot, even in dim light, but there’s a Rust or Spruce color, too. The side carry handle is also convenient for pulling out of your backpack or seat front pocket and toting it where you need to go.

Price at time of publish: $45


Measuring 9.5 by 8.5 by 4 inches, the small size of this insulated cooler makes it perfect for packing in your backpack without taking up too much real estate — and the leak-proof interior means you won’t have to worry too much about spills. The exterior is slash-proof, and the insulation can keep your food hot or cold for several hours. (You can also stuff the interior mesh pouch with cold or hot packets to extend the temperature insulation inside.) The exterior side pocket works for holding a 12-ounce can or water bottle, and there’s a front pocket for cutlery or napkins. You can use this to bring your own food on board, or to store food from the train’s snack shop, too.

Price at time of publish: $19


If you’ve been sleeping on the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack, now’s the perfect time to get on board. This colorful and durable bag is an organizational dream come true, with pockets, zips, and stash spots galore. What I love about this bag is that it has a clamshell design for quick access, plus mesh pockets to easily locate whatever you need. There’s also a back-access pocket if you need to grab something packed at the bottom of either side, and the laptop sleeve fits up to a 15-inch laptop (with a separate slip pocket for a tablet or eReader). It’s big enough to use for a weeklong trip, streamlined enough to easily store away, and can be carried on your shoulders or via the side handles.

Price at time of publish: $200


This hardside carry-on suitcase earned a perfect score from T+L testers who put it to the test in various conditions over six months. The thermoplastic outer shell took a beating both in our lab and in the real world, and any scuffs were easily buffed out. It also has a wide selection of 14 colors and rolls smoothly on its four spinner wheels across several surface types, making it great for the train platform and aisles. Depending on your train, this case may not fit above your seat, but the sleek, modern design fits easily onto the luggage rack with a double TSA lock for extra peace of mind. Inside, you’ll have two compartments, including one fully-zippered side where you can separate out your shoes or delicate items.

Price at time of publish: $200

Whether you’re overnighting with swagger on a luxury train or swaying down the rails on a regular train, this is the gear you’ll want to be sure to pack. A refillable water bottle ensures you’ll always have hydration on hand, while including a versatile, reliable power bank will keep your tech from running low on juice. Even the best of train rides have their lulls, which is exactly why you’ll want to pack along some entertainment like an eReader and some good noise-canceling headphones so you can zone out that noisy passenger or the rattle of the rails.

These items are the essential minimum so, if you’ve got extra space, I’d recommend some other forms of entertainment like a deck of cards, a coloring book, a retro disposable camera for snapping scenery, and luggage trackers if you’ve checked suitcases or are worried about your carry-on belongings.


The Thermoflask Double Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle is a go-to for keeping your favorite drink on hand, whether that’s cold water or hot coffee. During our tests, the double-wall insulation kept our drink cool for six hours, only raising the beverage temperature by three degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your train, you may experience a whole lotta shakin’ going on as you rumble down the tracks, so having a bonafide leak-proof water bottle that can hold up even after a few drops, rolls, and shakes, is crucial. This water bottle comes in six colors and with two lids, a chug and straw, so you can personalize it to your preferences. We’ve priced out the 40-ounce size, but it’s also available in 18, 24, 32, and 64-ounce alternatives.

Price at time of publish: $35 for 40-ounce


I know there are more expensive, possibly higher quality earbuds out there, but it’s hard to beat the quality, and battery life, of the Skullcandy Jib True 2 Wireless Earbuds. If you pack these noise-isolating earbuds on a full charge you’ll get 33 hours of playback, nine hours in the earbuds and 24 in the carrying case. The IPX4 and sweatproof earbuds come with three different-sized silicone tips so you can find your best fit, and once they’re in, they’re comfortable to wear for hours. They’ve also got built-in Tile locators, in case you lose or leave them somewhere on the train. Sound quality is clear and crisp, and you can listen in one or both ears. I like that they are noise-isolating (good at blocking out distracting background noise), but not fully noise-canceling so you can stay alert for announcements and communication. Plus, they come in four colors instead of just black or white.

Price at time of publish: $39


Unfortunately, your tech is no good if it runs out of juice on your trip. Fortunately, the Anker Portable Charger 325 Power Bank packs enough power to charge up your stuff, even two things at once. Having both a USB-C and USB-A port (and accompanying cords) means it’ll pretty much charge up any device on the market right now — and it will do so quickly.

The 20000AmH battery takes about 24 hours to fully charge, so you’ll definitely want to pack it fully charged and recharge it as much as possible every night. The power bank itself is slim and lightweight and can easily slip into your pocket, making it easy to add juice without being tethered to your seat or room.

Price at time of publish: $43


The latest Amazon Paperwhite has a 6.8-inch display with an adjustable light for easy reading in a range of settings. The six-week battery life means you likely won’t have to charge the device at all during your trip, saving your power bank for other pieces of gear. The screen for this device is easy on the eyes, reading like paper and without glare, but unlike a book you can adjust the size of the font as needed. In addition to countless titles to purchase or rent, you can also download audiobooks to the Kindle Paperwhite and listen to them on headphones via Bluetooth. We’ve priced out the 8GB version, but there’s also a 16GB version available.

Price at time of publish: $140 for 8GB

When you’re packing for your train trip, consider this list your army of accessories in the battle to stay comfortable. Sitting for hours and sleeping on a train can get cramped, even on a luxury line. These accessories are comfort must-haves to keep you feeling good and sleeping well, especially since many older trains have a central air conditioning system that leaves passengers up to the staff’s mercy, even in private rooms.

When I rode overnight on Amtrak during the pandemic, I had limited control over the air vent in my private room. I could only change the direction of the airflow, but not the temperature (which always seemed freezing or not cold enough). In Thailand, my VIP private room didn’t even have air conditioning (but it did have several cockroaches, so you may want to pack some insect repellant). In Canada, on the Rocky Mountaineer, I was comfortable the entire time. All this to say, it’s a crapshoot, so packing some kind of travel blanket is a must. You’ll also want to stash a travel pillow, sleep mask (especially if you’re not in a private room), and a good, comfortable set of earplugs to block out rail noise and any station announcements through the night.

Loop Earplugs

In addition to noise-isolating earbuds, I also like to travel with noise-canceling earplugs that I can pop in my ears when it’s time to sleep. Loop Quiet Earplugs have a soft silicone ear tip (each pair comes with eight tip sizes to try out) and a flexible silicone loop that fits inside your outer ear. This makes them extremely comfortable to wear overnight since there isn’t any part of the earplug sticking out, which could cause them to dig into your ear if you sleep on your side. These earplugs will reduce sound up to 27 decibels and have a noise reduction rating of 14. There are nine colors to choose from, making them a stylish accessory, too. If you’re a light sleeper, these will block out snores and rattling rails to help you snooze.

Price at time of publish: $25


Blocking out nearby and background light is also key when it comes to catching a good night’s sleep on a train. Sometimes the window curtains are thin or broken, your neighbor is reading with a light on, or you want to take a nap during the daytime. The Manta Sleep Mask blocks out 100 percent of surrounding light to give you a truly pitch black environment. The sleep mask has two adjustable padded rings that fit over your eye sockets (but don’t push on your eyes themselves) to create a light-proof seal around your eyes. The thick band has a velcro closure at the back of your head so you can get the right fit, and the mask is comfortable enough to wear for side sleepers.

Price at time of publish: $39


This general-use travel blanket unfolds to 65 by 40 inches which is long enough to cover someone who is 5-foot 7-inches from tip to toe. The material is made from polyester and cotton, making it soft, lightweight, and breathable. When not in use, the blanket easily folds up to fit inside of a 6-by-9-inch carrying pouch, which also allows the blanket to function as a backup pillow in a pinch. There’s a trolley strap on the back of the pouch so you can easily slip it onto the handle of your suitcase (or just slide it into a pocket in your backpack). This blanket comes in five colors, giving it a bit more personality than your average travel blanket (that seems to almost always be blue). At the end of your trip, all you have to do to clean is toss it in the washing machine and dry on low and it’s ready for round two (or three or four or more!).

Price at time of publish: $30


The Dot and Dot Adjustable Travel Pillow is a game changer. We love how easy it is to shape the flexible center rod, making it superbly functional in a variety of situations and positions (and, no, you can’t feel the rod). The bendable memory foam pillow gives you a versatile spot to lay your head when it’s time to nap or sleep, but also works as lumbar support while you’re passing time in your seat. I like that it can be bent to use against the window or formed into a “U” shape for upright sleeping or as extra lift under the pillow on your train bed. The outer cover is soft against your skin, but still breathable, and it can be taken off to wash. This pick comes in seven solid color options, making it easier to match your travel style.

Price at time of publish: $40

Where you store your belongings will depend on the exact train, but you can usually expect to have some kind of overhead bin or rack space to store a backpack and/or carry-on luggage. Trains that don’t have a lot of overhead space will usually have a luggage area at the end of each car, but beware they’re not usually monitored by anyone. If you’re on a sleeper train and have a room, there will be space to store a couple of bags. Any checked luggage will be stored in the hold.

Don’t bring anything extremely valuable (or at least keep it with you at all times, if you do), and don’t bring anything that needs to stay a certain temperature for more than a few hours. Unless you’ve got your own cabin on board, leave the Bluetooth speakers or anything else that will disrupt your fellow passengers’ trip. Do not bring any hazardous materials or banned items on your train trip either which can vary from country to country.

Unless you book a private room that lists a personal bathroom with a shower (the highest category room on North American trains), expect to share a bathroom and possibly a shower room with your fellow travelers. On many overnight trains in Southeast Asia, shared facilities are the only option and showers are not common.

Sleeping quarters will vary by train and country. Some trains have semi-private rooms with bench seating that converts into two to four single beds (often shared with other travelers), while other trains may have completely private rooms available. If you book a regular-class fare, you’ll be expected to sleep in your seat.

Katherine Alex Beaven is a veteran traveler who has had the pleasure to travel through several countries on overnight train trips. She knows there’s something special about traveling by train and has used her many experiences on overnight trains of all types — all good, bad, and in between — to create this ultimate packing list.

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Best Loungewear Set for Women: PrettyGarden Women’s Two Piece OutfitBest Wrinkle-free Shirt for Men: L.L.Bean’s Wrinkle-free Everyday ShirtBest Wrinkle-free Shirt for Women: Wayre Shift and Snap TankBest Socks: Bombas Everyday Compression SockBest Slip-on Shoes: Vans Classic Slip-onBest Shower Shoes: Showaflop SandalBest Toiletry Bag: Sea to Summit Hanging Toiletry BagBest Accessories Pouch: Cotopaxi Nido Accessories BagBest Insulated Cooler: Tirrinia Small Insulated Lunch BagBest Backpack: Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel PackBest Carry-on Suitcase: Samsonite Freeform Carry-on SpinnerBest Travel Water Bottle: Thermoflask Double Stainless Steel Insulated Water BottleBest Noise-isolating Earbuds: Skullcandy Jib 2 True Wireless EarbudsBest Power Bank: Anker Portable Charger 325 Power Bank at AmazonBest eReader: Amazon Paperwhite at Best BuyBest Earplugs: Loop Quiet EarplugsBest Sleep Mask: Manta Sleep MaskBest Travel Blanket: Sagefinds PGI Traders Soft Travel Blanket with BagBest Travel Pillow: Dot and Dot Adjustable Travel PillowPrice at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: Price at time of publish: