Train travel tends to be more eco-friendly and comfortable than traveling by air. But the slowed-down pace of most lines in North America can be admittedly off-putting. Sure, it’s more scenic and can be much more affordable, but can you really handle spending hours stationary while staring out the window?
Here’s the thing, though: Train travel can actually be a pretty luxurious experience if you plan your moves properly. Most passenger trains — even in the general economy cabin — offer a much more comfortable seat than airlines. That’s because on most trains, you’ll find extended leg room, better lumbar support and usually even a dining car or bar car that allows you to get up, stretch your legs and make the journey part of your vacation.
In order to make the best out of your train travel, and, dare we say, transport yourself into a first-class-worthy experience, we’ve pulled together a handful of packing essentials that’ll totally transform the way you see train travel. Here’s what you’ll want to put in your carry-on bag in order to ensure a surprisingly luxurious experience between stations.
Choose your clothing wisely
When it comes to a comfortable train vacation, you’ll want to think about what you wear.
“First you’ll want to invest in comfortable clothing that you can wear during the journey,” says Balaram Thapa, director and travel advisor at Nepal Hiking Team. “Soft layers of breathable fabrics can help keep you warm while also allowing for easy movement when you need to access your bags or get up and move around. You’ll also want to make sure the clothing you choose is machine-washable for added convenience while on the go.”
Linen is a great option on travel days — it’s lightweight, breathable and moisture-wicking. Plus, it looks a whole lot more professional and put together compared to activewear or traditional loungewear. The Amazon Essentials Women's Classic-Fit Long-Sleeve Linen Shirt is designed to be loose-fitting and comfy so it won’t get in your way during your travels. The fast-drying material is also super easy to wash and hang dry while on the go. Pair this top with your favorite pair of travel pants and add it to your travel wardrobe in one of the nine colors and designs available.
Moisture-wicking polyester is another really good option to wear on travel days. The Cutter & Buck Men's Moisture-Wicking Drytec Pullover is loose-fitting and warm, but the Drytec material means you won’t have to worry about getting sweaty and uncomfortable while traveling by rail. The half-zip design and forward shoulder seams make this option look instantly put together, while the machine-washable material won’t leave you with a big hotel dry cleaning bill.
Create a sleep hygiene kit
When it comes to travel of any kind, sleep is crucial. Thapa suggests investing in comfortable accessories that can help you sleep better during the train journey. Think about your sleep gear like a DIY amenity kit that you’d get on a business-class flight. Make sure to include items like a quality eye mask, ear plugs and a neck pillow, which are all essential items to bring on a train ride — especially at night.
The Ostrichpillow Eye Mask is one of our favorite sleep masks of 2023, thanks to the ultra-soft cups and blackout design. The 3D-ergonomic eye mask is super comfortable and doesn’t put a strain on the eyes, while the no-snag strap won’t get caught in your hair or put pressure on the back of your head while sleeping.
Between the train whistle and clunky track noises, train travel tends to be louder than airplane travel. So if you’re easily bothered by background noise, you’ll want to make sure you pack a pair of high-quality earplugs for noise reduction. The Loop Quiet Ear Plugs are designed for comfort and don’t feel tight or irritating even when lying on your side. They’re made from hypoallergenic silicone and are designed to sit in the ear in a way that blocks out most noise and fosters a sense of relaxation.
The best part of a first- or business-class flight is arguably the lie-flat bed and knowledge that you’re not going to have any issues getting comfortable and falling asleep. Here’s where the Cabeau Travel Pillow comes in. This neck pillow is designed to provide adequate support for your head and neck so you can dose off without worrying about falling asleep on your neighbor. It also compresses down to half its size when not in use so you don’t have to worry about toting around a full-size pillow with you.
Carriers like Amtrak and Via Rail tend to offer a fair bit more legroom than the average economy flight. Knowing that you'll have more room to stretch out also means you have a bit more wiggle room for something like the Basic Concepts Airplane Footrest. As long as your train seat has a tray table, you’ll be able to attach this foot hammock to the back of the chair in front of you and create the perfect elevated footrest.
Don’t overlook entertainment
Journeys by rail can be long, and the seats don’t tend to be equipped with the same in-flight entertainment screens you’ll find on many airplanes. So, you’ll want to consider bringing a few extra handy items to make your journey more entertaining.
“A laptop or tablet for movies to watch, an e-reader for books to read, a portable wireless speaker (if you have a private cabin) or noise-canceling headphones can all help pass the time in style and comfort,” says Thapa.
Sure, you could bring a book with you, but if you’re a particularly fast reader or you have a multi-day train trip on your hands, you’ll want to consider opting for an e-reader like the Amazon Kindle Oasis. The Oasis is our pick for the best overall e-reader, thanks to its light weight, dim background lighting that is easy on the eyes (even during long periods of reading) and ability to hold thousands of books and short stories without weighing you down.
If you prefer to spend your travel bingeing the latest in entertainment, you’ll want to plan ahead before hopping on the train. The Google Android 11 Tablet will serve as a pretty decent alternative to an in-flight entertainment system and won’t break the bank. You’ll want to be sure to download any movies or TV series you’re hoping to stream just in case the Wi-Fi on board is questionable.
The Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones 700 are our top pick for noise-canceling over-ear headphones. Not only are they super comfortable to wear for hours on end, but they’re also extremely efficient at blocking out unwanted background noise.
If you've got your own cabin on your train journey, consider bringing a small speaker along to fill your space with the sounds you want to hear. The Sony XB13 is our pick for the best travel speaker, thanks to its quality sound, long battery life, durability and the fact that you can find room for it in just about any travel backpack or carry-on bag.
Bring high-quality snacks
Snacks are an essential part of any long journey, whether you’re on a road trip or traveling by rail. The best travel snacks will help to keep you full throughout the night — especially if the railway food is questionable.
Protein bars, trail mix and other healthy snacks can provide sustenance without making you feel too full or bloated. Or, if you’re susceptible to an upset stomach or nausea on long journeys, consider bringing along aids that will help keep those feelings at bay.
You can bring your own snacks onto a train much easier than you could a plane, which means it’s easy to ensure you have a healthy and delicious arsenal of snacks to keep you going. We love the Sabra Classic Hummus Snacker With Pretzels, as it comes with its own durable carrying case so your pretzels won’t break or squish in your bag and your hummus will stay fresh for hours.
Ginger chews are a favorite among frequent travelers, as they help to fend off feelings of nausea. They're a chewy bite made of 10% fresh ginger and little else, so they're also gluten-free, vegan and non-GMO.
These protein-packed overnight oats will keep you feeling full for longer without having to feel guilty about your snack. Available in flavors like Peanut Butter Blossom, Cinnamon Oat Crunch and Berry Pancakes, among others, you can pack in a 20-gram protein snack just by adding milk.
Planning to take some food from home on your train journey? We're huge fans of these reusable silicone storage bags. Available in a variety of sizes and colors, you can use them to bring fresh fruit, vegetables or other snacks from home without fear of leakage. Then, when you've arrived at your destination, wash them out and reuse them for your journey back home — they're also dishwasher-, freezer-, oven- and microwave-safe.
Keeping your toiletry essentials on hand will make it easy to ensure you feel your best — even if you’re spending multiple nights on the train.
“Make sure you pack a few toiletry items in case your train has limited rest stop facilities,” Thapa says. “This includes toothpaste, body wash, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant and anything else you might need.”
The Calpak Clear Cosmetics Case is one of our favorite cosmetic cases for a number of reasons. First, we love that the case is totally see-through and water-resistant, which makes it ultra convenient when grabbing something on the go or going through security at the airport. It has two zippered compartments to better organize your gear and it also has a convenient top handle for easy transport. Plus, it comes in eight tones to match the rest of your travel gear.
The Philips One by Sonicare is our pick for the best electric toothbrush for travel, thanks to its compact design yet long-lasting battery life in between each charge. It's small enough to fit into a cosmetic bag like a regular plastic travel toothbrush, but the vibrating electric head provides a more comprehensive clean.
Native Deodorant is an all-natural, gender-neutral alternative to deodorant and antiperspirant that offers much more subtle and sophisticated scents like Cucumber Mint, Lavender Rose or even unscented. It’s made without aluminum, parabens, phthalates and talc, and instead uses only natural ingredients to keep you smelling fresh throughout the day.
Cadence Capsules are one of our favorite tools for travelers for good reason. They're totally customizable so you can add any label to the top Tile of each Capsule. Plus, you can mix and match the colors to create a hive of Capsules that is totally your own. What truly sets them apart is their magnetic ability to cling onto one another, and they're totally leakproof, so you don't have to worry about spills on your train journey.
Keep your essentials easily accessible
As with many journeys, you’ll want to always make sure you have your important documents and items on you on the train. Things like your driver’s license, passport, credit cards and cash are good to keep within arm’s reach. Consider securing an all-in-one bag that you can easily pack, grab and go rather than keeping them in your suitcase, which will most likely be packed away for most of the trip.
It doesn’t take much to keep your documents all in one sp