10 Things You Need to Know About Riding Amtrak

10 Things You Need to Know About Riding Amtrak

I recently had to take the Amtrak from Chicago, Illinois to Northern California. I took the California Zephyr train for my trip. Since my husband is a manager of over 60 people, he had to stay home for work! I had to return home for a family emergency. With that, we decided that I had to take our son with me. Our son has Autism, so we chose Amtrak to travel. We stayed in a sleeper car that has a bathroom/shower, sink and a seat that folds out into a bed.

I wanted to share some awesome tips if you plan on taking Amtrak. My tips are based on long-distance travel and I highly advise getting a sleeper car because meals are included and you have an attendant to help with anything you need.

Here is a video tour I made of our sleeper car:

10 Things You Need to Know About Riding Amtrak:

1. The air is dry on the train.
Bring lip balm, petroleum jelly, lotion and moisturizer. I would also recommend bringing coconut oil, jojoba oil, or argan oil. My hair was frizzy and dry, so it was all over the place and sticking to my neck! You can use the oil as an all over body moisturizer, lip balm and hair conditioner.

2. The A/C is always blasting.
Bring a sweater, jacket and/or a blanket! If you are in a sleeper car, you can ask your attendant for a blanket too.

3. Again, if you are traveling long distance, get a sleeper car.

You have your own little space to sit in. If you don’t like talking to people, you can even ask your attendant to have your meals brought to you!

Bonus: If you booked a sleeper car, there is a special lounge area for you to wait in at the train station. There is coffee, tea, soda, and snacks. You also have your own bathrooms! There are TVs and you can use your electronics such as laptops and phones. You can also charge your phone if you spot an outlet!

Union Station Chicago

4. If you are in a sleeper car, bring your own shampoo, conditioner, and shower shoes. Shampoo and conditioner are not provided. Think flip-flops or even Crocs to use in the shower. They dry quickly. There are soap and towels.

5. Your sleeper car will have outlets to charge your phones and electronics. I had 3 outlets in my room. I mainly charged my phone and my son’s hand-held game system.

6. There is no wifi on the train, at least on our train. I am very surprised by this considering we traveled a long distance. Most of the time, I was unable to use my phone data to even check emails, social media, text or make calls! If planes can have wifi, why can’t trains?

7. Bring a book, magazine, or Kindle to read! You will have plenty of time to read or just sit and think. You can also enjoy the view. It is so peaceful and beautiful to observe nature. There is an observation car with bigger windows. It is comfortable in there as well. However, since we had a sleeper car, we stayed in our room.

8. The sleeper car has a lock from the inside and a privacy curtain. As for security, I never worried about our stuff while we were away from our room. We only really left to eat our meals. There are attendants always around. Of course, do not depend on the attendant to keep your things safe. Use your own judgment.

I kept the door locked because of my son’s special needs but I realized he seems fine when the door is open. I close and lock the door at night when we’re sleeping or if I have to use the bathroom.

9. Bring snacks. You may get hungry between meals. If not, there is a store to buy food and drinks. If you are in a sleeper car, you have bottled water, coffee, and juice.

10. Be prepared to be social. The Amtrak staff are very nice, friendly and helpful. We did run into a rude employee at the Chicago Union Station, he worked in the luggage storage room in the lounge. Other than that, the Amtrak people on the train are very nice. Fellow passengers are great to talk to as well. Honestly, I am not that social, especially when I am with my son because I want to give him my full attention (special needs). You will have to sit with other passengers in the meal car. They have booths that sit 4 people, so if you have less than 4 people in your party, you will sit with strangers. I guess it is a great way to get to meet new people.

Amtrak View Down the Hallway

Our California Zephyr train ride was a full two and a half days of travel.  For us, that is a long-distance travel trip, especially to take my son with me without help.

Overall, I enjoyed the Amtrak. If you are planning a long-distance travel trip, Amtrak is a great alternative. It is clean, safe and pleasant. The food is pretty good too. They have a vegetarian option for each meal. However, if you are vegan or gluten-free or have a special request, you do have to make the reservation in advance.

About Admin

Stephanie is a full time single mom to a teen with Autism. She is a homeowner and starting a new chapter! Feel free to contact Stephanie for more information on how she can help your company.


  1. Sandra McFadden says

    Thank you so much for sharing, you know I forget about the Amtrak system when planning a trip. The next long distance trip I take I am going to check them out and use your helpful information.

  2. Sydney Hall-Richards says

    Last year was my first long distance trip on Amtrak. Loved it. I agree with you if you are going across country get a sleeper. Sometimes it’s great to fly to where you want and then take the train back. I met so many nice people and the food wasn’t half bad. Hope you and your family decide to take a train trip this summer.

  3. Gman says

    Give the porter and the maitre’d a 20 $ bill right off the bat and tell them you like to sleep and eat alone and away from others. Problem solved.

  4. June S. says

    (10 Things You Need to Know About Riding Amtrak) Wow! I found that all of these things were really interesting to read about Amtrak. I have never traveled by train here in the US, but I did years ago in 1970 when my Mother took myself and my little brother to her homeland of Germany.

  5. Vanessa W. says

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I am also a mother of a child with special needs and love to travel. I am glad to know that this would be an option to consider and travel with my child.

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