Baggage questions on California Zephyr

Old Oct 12, 17, 9:04 pm
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Baggage questions on California Zephyr

Hello Amtrak veterans... I'm a first-timer looking forward to my trip later this month from Emeryville to Denver via the California Zephyr. I have a roomette and am traveling alone.

My question is about baggage. I'll be away about a week, and for a trip of this length, when traveling by air, I'd usually bring my usual suitcase, which is a rolling 26" zipper bag (that's larger than roll-aboard size but not immense) and a backpack containing stuff I might need in-flight. I was thinking to adopt a similar strategy for the train trip, and put my suitcase in the downstairs storage rack I've read about, but that only works if the bag will be accessible during the journey (I'll be on the train for 36 hours, so I'll presumably want to access it to get toiletries, change of clothes, etc.)

Is it practical to go down and get stuff out of the larger bag a couple of times during the trip? Or will it likely be so crammed in or covered by other bags that this isn't workable? Or would there be room to store the big bag in the roomette, given that there is only one of me? I'm unclear on how cramped it will be but I'm thinking there probably isn't room for a suitcase.

Maybe it's better to bring a small third bag (shoulder bag or something) for change of clothes and toiletries kit and avoid any need to get into the large bag?

Sorry for the mundane question, but I'm starting to think about how the packing will work and I figure if I think it out first, I'll have a more comfortable journey. I'm probably overthinking it, but I know how annoying it is to get on a long plane flight without the right "stuff" accessible, and so it feels even more important to get that right on a 36 hour trip!

Thanks for your help.
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Old Oct 12, 17, 9:41 pm
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Your strategy of keeping a large bag downstairs and a small one in your roomette is viable. That's what I do. You will be able to access your large bag several times during the trip if needed.

Daze
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Old Oct 13, 17, 9:16 am
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Originally Posted by daviator View Post
Is it practical to go down and get stuff out of the larger bag a couple of times during the trip? Or will it likely be so crammed in or covered by other bags that this isn't workable? Or would there be room to store the big bag in the roomette, given that there is only one of me? I'm unclear on how cramped it will be but I'm thinking there probably isn't room for a suitcase.
Some people do access the larger bag in the downstairs storage area during the trip. I would find that onerous.

There is one toilet upstairs in a Superliner (the type of car used on the California Zephyr and three downstairs. If the upstairs facility is occupied, another passenger (or a downstairs passenger) might want to use a downstairs toilet. Depending on the peoples' sizes and the working space for the luggage, this could be a minor issue or not. A possibly worst case scenario is when you are in your luggage, there is not enough room for the bag to rest on the storage shelf (so it is balanced against you), and a plus-size person needs to get by in a hurry. This is an unlikely but definitely possible situation.

I take a 30 inch Load Warrior (semi-soft-sided rolling bag from Eagle Creek) on the train and put it under the seat without difficulty. There is some variation in the seating configuration, and sometimes it sticks out a few inches. I find this preferable to storing it downstairs. The critical dimension is likely to be the vertical clearance required. The Load Warrior is almost 12 inches at one end (near the center of the room) and about eight or nine inches away from the tall end after I remove stuff that I keep in the room.

Alternatively, there is a shelf in some Superliner roomettes where I can stand the Load Warrior up. (There is a retaining strap to help hold it in place. Amtrak believes the retaining strap is to hold articles of clothing hanging in this area.) I prefer to put the Load Warrior on the floor because I find things shift less in that configuration.

Originally Posted by daviator View Post
Maybe it's better to bring a small third bag (shoulder bag or something) for change of clothes and toiletries kit and avoid any need to get into the large bag?
This might be the best solution for a first-time ride. In your place, I would do this and try to store the main bag under the seat, so I'd have some experience for next time. Keep in mind that the vertical clearance under the seat can vary by an inch or two, and sometimes there is something rigid attached to the floor under one of the seats.

Enjoy your trip. Some people consider the route from Sacramento to Denver to have the best scenery on Amtrak. I'd suggest you download a route guide before you go.
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Old Oct 13, 17, 11:58 am
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I have been riding Superliner sleepers since they were introduced around 1980, and I ALWAYS have a bigger bag I leave downstairs, and a smaller with me. My strategy is once a day when I shower I pull new clothes out of the downstairs suitcase, and shove the dirty clothes back. I never bring the bag upstairs (the showers are downstairs). If I can't handle the suitcase in the rack without blocking the aisle or because the rack is really full, I just haul it a couple of feet to the vestibule area where there is lots of floor space and open it there. Time it so you are not near a stop if you are going to do this.

The rack is right at the foot of the stairs going up to the second level.

There is no place to put a big bag inside a roomette. I am leary about putting a bag under the seat and I don't do that, as there is the mechanism to lower the seat into a bed. I'd only do that if I knew the bag had lots of clearance (like 2 or 3 inches). My "upstairs" bag is usually a backpack that I hang from one of the hooks in thr room, out of the way.

You can use any restroom. Personally, when it is open, I only use the upstairs for a quick #1 . For #2 I always go downstairs. I think it is more courteous, but that is just me, and the restrooms are there to be used.
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Last edited by zephyr17; Oct 13, 17 at 12:16 pm
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Old Oct 13, 17, 12:08 pm
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Thanks for the feedback. I didn't really consider that there might be enough room in the roomette for my larger bag, but it seems like there might be, since it's only me in there. Maybe it can even go on the top berth (I don't really want to put it down since that will impact my headroom, i think, but maybe the bag would fit up there even with the berth in the 45 position.)

So maybe I'll try to put it in the room. Worst case, I could put it on one of the seats and use the upper berth for sleeping. I realized there's a small closet in the room, so I can probably unpack the things I might need and put them there, and not really need to access the suitcase again until it's time to put things away and disembark.

Again, thanks for the feedback. I think I'm really going to enjoy the trip.
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Old Oct 13, 17, 12:14 pm
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A second thanks to zephyr17, I appreciate the restroom tips. Do people usually trek to the shower in shorts and a t-shirt or something? I assume there's room to change there. I'll bring some throwaway hotel slippers to use for that purpose I guess. Is the shower hard to get into in the morning? Do people wait in line, or ??

On second thought, I think I'll use a small third bag that I can put inside the big bag and take out when I board, that'll probably be the easiest way to do things.

Thanks to serpens for the route guide suggestion, I will definitely do that. The scenery is a big part of the motivation for making the trip by train.
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Old Oct 13, 17, 12:36 pm
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I either wear a t-shirt and pajama bottoms (what I sleep in) or the previous day's clothes to the shower. That depends on whether I am showering before or after breakfast. There's room to change, and it is where I get into that day's clothes.

There tends to be demand for the shower early in the morning. I've never seen a line form when it is occupied, I just go back every so often and recheck. When I eat breakfast first and shower later (like around 9 am), I usually don't have to wait.

I'd be a little careful about putting a smaller bag in your suitcase then pulling it out when you board. That is when everyone is trying to put things in the rack and it is crowded and busy there, and there is not a whole lot of room. If you were to do that, I would go back and pull it out later between stops when things have settled down.

Don't use the upper berth for sleeping in a Superliner if you don't have to. It has very little headroom and no window (it is sometimes called "the coffin" and that name is apt). Something that accomplishes the same thing is to keep the upper down and put your luggage on it. I find keeping the upper down kind of interfers with air circulation, which I really don't like, so I don't do that. Viewliners back east are another story, the uppers in those have lots of headroom and their own window.
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Last edited by zephyr17; Oct 13, 17 at 12:51 pm
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Old Oct 13, 17, 9:50 pm
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A dissenting viewpoint

Over the years, I've traveled dozens of times in the Superliner sleeping cars' so-called "roomettes" (a misnomer, since the term "roomette" originally meant a quite different type of room for one person only, its recent application to the small two-bed Superliner and Viewliner rooms being an arbitrary and senseless act by the usual Amtrak clods; the older term "Economy Bedroom" was better). My experience has been that even a small suitcase or a backpack is usually excessively awkward to keep in there, and a gym bag is just barely tolerable. So my recommendation would be to (1) bring a garment bag (there's space to hang it) and a small shoulder bag into the room; (2) if necessary, keep a small suitcase of additional items you'll need during the trip in the downstairs storage area (not highly valuable items, though, since the storage area is unsecured, though I should add that I've never actually heard of anything being stolen from there); and (3) check the rest of your things from Emeryville to Denver (free for the first two bags).

By the way, since I've broached the subject of terminology above, let me take the liberty of suggesting that, in discussing features of a so-called "roomette" or other sleeping car room, it makes the most sense to simply talk about "beds" or "bunks", not "berths". "Berth" strictly speaking means "a bed in a special small enclosure made for it". The term makes sense in connection with the "section" accommodations that were common in old-fashioned sleeping cars (Amtrak has no such sleeping cars, though VIA Rail Canada has a few), but it doesn't logically apply to the beds in sleeping car rooms, since those beds are not in individual enclosures of any kind.
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Old Oct 14, 17, 8:27 am
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Originally Posted by daviator View Post
Maybe it can even go on the top berth (I don't really want to put it down since that will impact my headroom, i think, but maybe the bag would fit up there even with the berth in the 45 position.)
It depends on the bag and on how the attendant stored the mattress for the lower bunk. I have stored a bag up there and returned the bunk to the fully closed position.

Originally Posted by daviator View Post
Worst case, I could put it on one of the seats and use the upper berth for sleeping.
Bad idea, for the reasons zephyr17 gave. If anything, zephyr17 was not emphatic enough.
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Old Oct 14, 17, 6:57 pm
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Hahaha, thanks. I get, loud and clear: "the top berth, aka the coffin, is not the place you want to sleep." I won't!

Sounds like it's at least worth a try to keep the larger bag in the room. If it's unworkable, I can always move it back down into the baggage area.

Thanks again for the great info and advice. I hope to enjoy my short stay in Roomette 7.
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Old Oct 17, 17, 4:25 pm
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I'll echo zephyr17's comments on all counts. I'll also say that I really don't like traipsing around in public in sleepwear, but I have no trouble going downstairs to the shower in my t-shirt and sleeping shorts in the morning. It's not at all a formal atmosphere, and most of the time you won't run into anyone anyway.

It's also worth noting that most sleeper car attendants frustratingly use the changing space next to the shower to store the giant bag with fresh towels, so it's actually very cramped and difficult to get dressed in the shower area. I once had an attendant that kept the bag of towels in the luggage rack outside the shower, and it wasn't until that happened that I realized what the original Superliner car designers intended for the space to be. It was wonderful. (On the next trip, I actually moved the bag of towels out to the luggage rack, but the attendant put it back before the next morning. ) But given the space constraints in the shower/changing room, it's almost easier for a solo traveler to put the pajamas back on after the shower and then change into your regular clothes back in your room.

I might also mention that showering and walking around barefoot afterwards generally doesn't bother me (except at maybe the grossest of hostels), but given the issues with changing in the shower room and of course walking barefoot around a train car (not recommended), I really should remember to bring flip-flops with me on the train. I always forget, though, and dealing with socks and shoes in the small shower changing area when a giant bag of towels is occupying the seat or the floor makes for an exercise in gymnastics...

Also, for anyone with normal mobility, going up and down the stairs to access luggage is not at all onerous. The luggage rack can get a little full sometimes, but it's usually not difficult to access your bag. At most you might have to move another bag that was put on the rack in front of yours out of the way.

And not to cast aspersions on my fellow FlyerTalkers, but anyone who is a halfway frequent traveler should be able to travel with nothing more than a 22" rollaboard. I've done three-month trips with a 22" bag. Just sayin'.
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Old Oct 17, 17, 4:58 pm
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Appreciate the additional information, it really helps me to get a mental picture of what to expect and thus plan how to pack things, etc.

I absolutely COULD travel with a smaller bag, but appreciate the flexibility the slightly larger 26” bag gives me. I can bring more than I actually need to bring (giving me some choice in what to wear), I can bring another pair of shoes, I can throw a nice bottle of wine in there to drink while I’m away, etc. And if I buy or am given anything to bring back, I have extra room to pack it.

I can, and have, traveled extensively with a smaller bag, but why limit myself if I don’t have to? (I never, ever, ever carry my bag on the plane when traveling by air, though I used to back when I was doing lots of crazy business travel.) I similarly make disparaging mental comments about fellow travelers checking huge bags that probably contain their entire wardrobe, but I am happy with my “not huge but not small” bag.

So I acknowledge and accept your aspersions, but will (usually) stick with my 26” bag, it a trade off I choose to accept, a small luxury, perhaps.

Thanks again for the insights!
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Old Oct 18, 17, 8:18 am
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
Also, for anyone with normal mobility, going up and down the stairs to access luggage is not at all onerous. The luggage rack can get a little full sometimes, but it's usually not difficult to access your bag. At most you might have to move another bag that was put on the rack in front of yours out of the way.
I agree with the mobility comment, but that isn't what makes it onerous. Unpacking and repacking a bag in the hallway or moving someone else's bag or blocking someone else's access are things I'd rather avoid.

Originally Posted by jackal View Post
And not to cast aspersions on my fellow FlyerTalkers, but anyone who is a halfway frequent traveler should be able to travel with nothing more than a 22" rollaboard. I've done three-month trips with a 22" bag.
Yes, my first overseas trip (nine weeks) was with a backpack that I believe is smaller than a 22 inch bag. But now I usually have a companion and always have too many years and habits. Sigh.
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Old Oct 18, 17, 6:22 pm
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I don't have an issue with moving a bag or having mine moved to access luggage in a public rack. It is a common practice. If someone has a problem with it, it's their problem not mine, and I'll politely refer the issue to the car attendant or conductor is someone is really bent out of shape about it (never has happened, btw).
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