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11 Travel Essentials That Make Train Rides Comfier



All aboard for the rail renaissance. Train travel is back in a big way, and according to Travel + Leisure editors; it’s one of 2024’s top travel trends. Given that the cost of flights is outpacing inflation these days, it’s not surprising that more travelers are trading the friendly skies for the trusty tracks. I should know; I’m one of them. In fact, I just got back from crisscrossing New Zealand via KiwiRail’s scenic passenger service: Great Journeys New Zealand

Although I’ve yet to check Japan’s bullet train off my bucket list, I’m no stranger to train travel. When I lived in New York City, Amtrak ate up a big part of my monthly budget. And in 2010, my best friend and I bought Eurail passes and spent all summer in Europe getting our money’s worth. As a 21-year-old, I had no clue what to pack. For that reason, I didn’t catch much shut-eye on sleeper trains, my Blackberry was perpetually on life support, and I definitely didn’t arrive at my destination feeling refreshed and ready for sightseeing. I looked like a zombie at worst and hungover at best. 

Nearly 15 years later, I’m a travel writer specializing in products and gear, so I knew exactly what to pack for my week of touring with Great Journeys NZ. Whether I was all aboard the Coastal Pacific Train, traveling from the wildlife-rich beaches of Kaikoura to the stunning wineries of Blenheim, or on the TranzAlpine train traversing the Southern Alps from cosmopolitan Christchurch to small town Hokitika, I was cozy, comfortable, and always prepared for the next adventure when I stepped onto the platform.

That said, you don’t need to travel all the way to the land of “The Lord of the Rings” to benefit from the product suggestions below. Even if you’re just taking a quick trip upstate, these items can be all the difference between a journey that gets you from point A to point B and a journey you want to play on repeat. 

Travel + Leisure / Katie Jackson


Comfy Two-piece Outfit 

Amazon


A comfort connoisseur, I dressed to impress my least stressed self, especially on the Great Journeys NZ rides that were longer than five hours. Personally, I opted for this Cozy Earth Bamboo Jogger Set ($222), which I love because it’s soft enough to sleep in and stylish enough to wear in public — especially if you pair it with cute accessories. But if that’s out of your budget, no worries. Consider the similar PrettyGarden Two-piece Set from Amazon, which also has a drawstring waist and pockets. It’s not made of sustainable bamboo, but it comes in more than 30 colors and has 12,400 five-star ratings, landing it on Amazon’s list of Best-sellers in Women’s Tracksuits. “Lightweight, comfortable, and flattering,” wrote one happy traveler who describes themselves as a curvy girl, “quite picky about fit.”

Lightweight Jacket

REI


Great Journeys NZ is one of few passenger train companies boasting an open-air viewing carriage, a value-add other scenic trains around the world are scrambling to build. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in one, keep in mind that you’re basically outdoors, and when you’re moving at the speed of rail, it can get quite chilly. For that reason, I recommend packing this lightweight Fjallraven Abisko Midsummer jacket, the same brand behind the hiking pants I’ve worn all around the world. It features fast-drying wind-resistant fabric, an adjustable hood, and zippered pockets with a mesh lining for ventilation. Plus, it’s packable. “Super light!” is the name of a review left by a shopper, who finds it easy to stash in their bag. They also love the sleek look and flattering fit.

Sleep Eye Mask

Amazon


Qantas, which I flew from New York to New Zealand, gave me a sleep mask. But it was quite flimsy and paled in comparison to this 3-D contoured memory foam mask from Mzoo that doesn’t put any pressure on my eyes. I used it to catch up on Z’s during the less scenic stretches (which are few and far between on New Zealand’s South Island). Unlike cheaper masks, it blocks out 100 percent of light and features an adjustable strap. With more than 30,000 masks sold in the last month alone, it’s no. 1 on Amazon’s list of Best-sellers in Sleep Masks. And many of its nearly 72,000 five-star ratings come from shoppers who ride the rails. “The light blockage is amazing,” wrote one traveler, who also said that, when combined with earbuds, it’s about “as close as you can get to a deprivation tank while riding on a train.”

Travel Blanket and Pillow  

Amazon


Great Journeys NZ keeps its train cars at a very comfortable temperature. However, if you’re sitting near your train car’s doors, or if you’re like me and you swam with wild dolphins in 50-degree water prior to hopping aboard (New Zealand’s Dolphin Encounter is a bucket list must), I highly recommend packing this micro plush blanket. It doubles as a travel pillow when packed away in its equally cozy, compact carrying case. The case even has a sleeve and carabiner to attach it to your luggage. This Eversnug travel blanket/pillow combo is a flight attendant favorite, and it has more than 5,200 five-star ratings. One review, titled “Great Investment for Travel” reads: “I traveled from Las Vegas to Spain and back 27 hours of travel time in the air and on train total, and this travel blanket/pillow added so much comfort for me.”

Security Cable Lock

Amazon


I really could have used this cable lock on my 90-day European sojourn to give me peace of mind when I couldn’t see where my luggage was stored from my seat. Fortunately, I think my hand-me-down derelict Kelty backpack deterred most thieves. Flexible and 3 feet long, this cable is easy to lock to any luggage rack, and it works with pretty much every type of lock. Plus, because it’s made of braided steel, it’s nearly impossible to cut. Remember your lock’s combination or don’t forget the key! One shopper, who left a five-star rating, said they appreciated being able to “just nap and enjoy the ride” while traveling by rail for three weeks.

Portable Charger

Amazon


Like planes, you can’t (yet) count on trains to have USB ports or outlets, which is why a power bank like my Anker Portable Power Bank should be the first thing you pack if you want to be able to listen to podcasts, take photos, play on your iPad, etc. during long rides. With a 20,000mAH cell capacity, this best-selling IV for electronics kept my devices alive and well. It has a USB-C port and two USB-A ports (which allow for simultaneous charging) as well as the brand’s “VoltageBoost” technology.

I haven’t done a speed test, but I swear this little guy, who is slightly larger than my iPhone 14, charges devices way faster than traditional wall outlets. That’s just one reason why more than 80 percent of this power bank’s 86,000 ratings are perfect five-star ratings. One review left by a traveler, who purchased it for six weeks of traveling around Europe by train, reads: “We were able to charge three cellphones, and a couple [of] iPads with one charge, and there was still enough charge for a second and maybe a third round.”

Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds

Amazon


The ever-so-scenic Great Journeys NZ features GPS-activated audio commentary that guests can listen to with headphones. Of course, earbuds are also train essentials if you want to binge the new Taylor Swift album or let your favorite true crime podcast lull you to sleep. These new Bluetooth-compatible earbuds are the latest from JLab, the same company behind these best-selling, $25 earbuds with more than 31,000 five-star ratings. Their battery lasts up to 24 hours, they’re sweatproof, and they already have more than 12,500 ratings. “Best Buds Yet” is the title of one rave review left by a rail commuter, who appreciates their noise-canceling feature and compact charging case. They also come with extra ear tips for the perfect fit.

Carry-on Weekender Bag

Calpak


Because they’re hard to store at your feet, wheeled carry-ons weren’t allowed in the passenger cars I rode in. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker. I loved the excuse to break in this new duffel from Calpak, which makes my beloved Calpak Hue hard-sided mini carry-on. The perfect weekender bag, the Luka Large Duffel has a removable crossbody strap, padded shoulder strap, and shoe compartment with an exterior zipper for easy access. Choose from four classic colors, including a matte black that goes with everything, and 11 limited looks (I’m obsessed with the gorgeous metallic gold). Relatively new, the Luka Large Duffel already has a very impressive 4.9-star average rating so far from more than 300 ratings. “It’s the perfect size. It’s so lightweight, which is a major plus and the inside and outside pockets are a huge bonus,” wrote one traveler.

Portable Soft Cooler 

Amazon


I was in the Scenic Plus class, so dishes and drinks from the regions we were traveling through were included with my fare. But for my counterparts in coach (which I’m normally in), I recommend investing in the holy grail of portable soft coolers: the Yeti Hopper Flip 12-can cooler. I wasn’t in mathletes, but I don’t need a TI-84 calculator to determine that bringing my own snacks and drinks on board is a lot cheaper than buying them from the cafe car. A great option if you’re traveling regionally and can transport it, this cooler holds up to 12 cans, plus ice, and there’s also an eight-can option that’s $200.

Both sizes are made of a puncture-resistant fabric and feature a waterproof shell. That said, Yeti’s heavy-duty signature zippers are leakproof, just one reason nearly 90 percent of the Hopper Flip’s 2,000-plus ratings are perfect five-star ratings. “My liquid gold was still frozen. It also fits nicely in the overhead compartment,” gushed one shopper, who used it to keep breastmilk for her infant frozen during a 21-hour travel day.  

Dry Shampoo 

Amazon


Despite traveling in Great Journeys NZ’s equivalent of first class, there was no shower on board. Fortunately, my toiletries arsenal included a can of Verb Dry Shampoo. With just a spray or two, it left my hair looking, feeling, and smelling like I’d just come from the salon. The secret ingredient? Rice starch. It naturally absorbs grease and other impurities. Plus, unlike other dry shampoos I’ve tried, this one doesn’t leave white spritzes all over your hair. At 1.7 ounces, it’s TSA-approved for your carry-on, and it currently comes in two formulas: one for light hair and one for dark hair. Nearly 70 percent of shoppers give it a perfect five-star rating. “This is a great product to use if your [SIC] traveling or you’re just having one of those days. It smells delightful and looks really nice in my hair,” wrote one satisfied shopper.

Sunglasses Strap

Amazon


Meanwhile, this handy glasses strap kept my Ray-Bans from going overboard. I also used this Amazon best-seller (it has more than 9,500 five-star ratings) in between trains while soaring down New Zealand’s longest zipline, hiking in the rainforest with Hokitaka Scenic Tours, and cycling along the West Coast with Kiwi Journeys. It’s not the sexiest accessory, but it does come in 22 different styles and colors, all designed to fit any pair of glasses. Despite being super secure, the strap is easy to put on and remove, and the length is adjustable.

One traveler, who praised the straps’ versatility in their review, said, “I used the strap to keep my glasses secure while also wearing a face mask on the plane. I can think of many times when I will use these straps to keep my glasses in place, e.g. gardening, doing things that require a lot of bending over, walking/jogging, etc.”  

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