Before my first overnight train and bus trip, I was told horrific stories about thieving crackheads and gropers. These stories might have well been sung to me from Rapunzel’s mother in Tangled.

Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand!

It felt inevitable that these were exaggerations, but what’s a 19-year-old to think? I saw every bus and train journey as an experience to survive.

Every form of travel comes with necessary precautions, but being gutted by a rusty hand-hook on the overnight train isn’t a realistic one.

Learn from my overnight train and bus experiences: this advice is drawn from taking overnight train and bus rides in North and South America and Europe. A few packing items will improve your experience tenfold.

An overnight bus driving down a road in Peru
Hanging out the side of the bus as it wove its way through switchbacks. Peru, 2018

If you’re taking a train in the US, I suggest you also read this Amtrak-specific blog post where I chucked all of my Amtrak experience: What To Expect Traveling On Amtrak.

Love traveling and wish you could do it more? Become a digital nomad and travel full-time while working from your laptop!

Overnight Train Packing Items For Security

Since security is likely one of my greatest anxieties, let’s start with security on an overnight train or bus.

If you’re considering taking an overnight trip on a bus or train and you’re feeling nervous about crime, these packing tips are for you. I’ve taken many overnight trips, and as a female in my 20s traveling solo, packing these items made me feel more comfortable.

These packing items help me be prepared and feel relaxed and I hope they’ll reassure you too. 

Read on to see what to pack if you’re nervous about taking an overnight bus or Amtrak train ride.

1. Double-Sided Cable Lock

A double-sided lock should be an item that you never travel without because of its 2 great services.

The first: You can lock your bag shut so no one can go through it. The loop is flexible, so if your bag doesn’t have those luggage pulls with the lock holes in it, it’s still likely that you’ll be able to fit this small bit through.

Double-sided cable lock, showing how to secure a backpack to a stationary object for travel security

The second: You can lock the longer loop through something else, like your seat or the overhead luggage rack, making it impossible to swipe.

With this overnight train packing item, no one can rummage through your bag or walk off with it while you’re sleeping or in the bathroom.

With enough time and tools, a thief could still cut your bag, but this is a great deterrence for opportunists. The element of surprise

Learn even more best practices to help you avoid being robbed while traveling here: How To Avoid Theft While Traveling.

Double-Sided Cable Lock on Amazon

2. Jacket With Pockets On The Inside

Despite your bag being locked up, it’s wise to never leave your valuables unattended. The risk of your possessions being stolen aside, it’s completely panic-inducing to be hopping off at your overnight train stop and be searching for your phone/passport/wallet before the train rolls on.

Avoid this by keeping your belongings on your body at all times. Some options for this are wearing a coat with inner pockets or wearing a

Things to keep on your body at all times:

  • Phone
  • Overnight train or bus ticket: you might need this to claim your backpack if it’s stowed, so be sure not to lose it
  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Keys / personal sound alarm (next item)

A slim cross-body bag under you sweater or jacket will disguise your items well, or consider a jacket with inside pockets.

Slim Crossbody Bag on Amazon

When I take an overnight train or bus, I wear my rain jacket because it has deep inner pockets. I may look a little lumpy, but it’s worth it to never lose track of anything important!

3. A Keychain Alarm

This small keychain device is a sound alarm, sort of like a personal car alarm that makes a loud noise and attracts attention to you.

Never on a single overnight train ride have I felt the need to pull this alarm to quickly get help, but it does provide peace of mind.

diagram showing how a sound grenade works

When you pull the bottom of the keychain, it starts blaring an alarm sound that won’t stop until you reconnect the pieces.

The alarm blares at 130dB, which is loud outdoors and ear-piercing indoors.

It would draw a LOT of attention if pulled in a small space such as a bus or train.

Personal Sound Alarm on Amazon

Never in my years of travel have I needed this personal sound alarm to deter a human, but I have almost pulled this to scare off a pack of dogs in Guatemala. It’s just one of those handy just in case travel items.

Dog standing on boat dock
This sweet pooch posing on the dock of San Pedro Lake Atitl├ín followed me all morning. Her friends, all ganged up at night, were less friendly. Guatemala 2017

4. A Hat

There’s a quick lesson you learn when you become a digital nomad. A little discretion is your friend when traveling by night, or traveling in general. Flying under the radar is a valuable trouble deterrence when traveling in foreign countries where you stand out.

A baseball cap specifically can help women be mistaken for men at a glance. I’m not a part of the women-should-always-be-scared thought group, but this will make some women more comfortable traveling.

A thick beanie (a real winter hat, not a paper-thin one just for style) can also make sleeping more comfortable and keep you warm on cold rides.

Empty overnight train seats with scenery passing by

Overnight Train Packing Items For Comfort

5. Sleeping Bag

A quick Google search will flash dozens of fancy travel blankets across your eyes, but what about the OG travel blanket? A sleeping bag.

Depending on your overnight train or bus schedule, you may end up sleeping in some terminals.

For example, the Amtrak Capitol Limited line, which runs from Chicago to Washington, DC, departs Chicago around dinnertime and arrives in Pittsburgh around breakfast. But, if you’re departing at an earlier stop, such as Cleveland, Ohio, you may be camping out there until morning.

This all depends on your destination and your arrival plans. Is someone picking you up? Are you waiting until the morning and catching other public transit? Cycling away?

Pack a cool foldable mountain bike and you can pop right off the bus or train and continue the next leg of your journey with no wait time.

Additionally, many overnight trains and buses are freezing cold and you should always pack a sleeping bag for warmth.

Waterproof, Compact Sleeping Bag on Amazon

Sleeping bags are built for overnight train travel. They’re small, lightweight, keep you warm and also give you full-body coverage.

Two people in sleeping bags sleeping on the airport floor
After arriving on an 11 p.m. flight in Lima, Peru, we camped out in the airport for the night. This is a common occurrence when backpacking. 2017

6. Sustenance: Snacks And Fluids

If going to the bathroom on a moving train or bus makes you uncomfortable, limit your fluid intake and instead have a Liquid I.V.

Liquid I.V. is a powder drink mixture that you stir or shake into your water for 3 times the hydration. It’s fantastic for the overnight train, bus, long flights, etc. Beyond the comforts of being well hydrated, this is also a must-pack item in your travel first aid kit (more suggestions for your travel packing list can be found here).

Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier Electrolyte Powder on Amazon

Liquid I.V. and a bottle will have your water intake covered, but what about food? Planning out snacks for any trip is an important part of travel preparation, and the overnight train is no different.

Pack a mixture of healthy foods and foods that are just satisfying to eat to keep morale up. My favorite healthy snacks include tuna packets

If you’re looking for ideas, you can borrow all my favorite travel snacks.

On top of physically feeling better, you will also save money and be better equipped to hit the ground running at your arrival destination!

7. Vomit Bag

just in case travel kit_Writing From Nowhere_Kayla Ihrig

Traveling throws the digestive system through a loop: you’re exposed to different foods and are out of your routine. Add digestive unfamiliarity with a moving vehicle and some people are bound to become sick.

Becoming sick is unpleasant, but even worse, it becomes panicky when you’re away from home and can’t easily run to the bathroom.

A vomit plan is something that no one wants to think about, so just tuck a small bag into your travel bag and forget about it. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do, you’ll be grateful to have it on hand.

Bring any old brown paper bag, or snag a *legit* vomit bag from the plane seat-back pocket next time you fly.

Don’t let the motion of the overnight train or bus get the best of your stomach!

Woman wearing backpack standing in front of a blurry overnight train

Final Thoughts On Overnight Train And Bus Travel Packing

If you’re nervous about taking an overnight train ride, I hope these train travel tips will help you feel more confident and comfortable. 

Do you have any packing tips you’d add? I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you pack to feel safe when traveling!