If you’re planning a packed itinerary in Europe, one of the best ways to maximize your time and save money is by taking an overnight train. Why waste six or more daylight hours traveling between cities when you can pass the time blissfully asleep? Most overnight trains cost about the same as a night in an inexpensive hotel, so you may actually end up saving money by traveling at night as well.
Night trains generally leave after 7pm and arrive between 5am and 7am. Anything over 6 hours makes for an ideal night journey. If you are traveling on a rail pass, you’ll only need to use one day of your pass unless your trip requires a train change after midnight. Sleeper compartments need to be reserved in advance and offer varying levels of comfort and privacy.
For no extra cost, you can book a regular seat on an overnight train. If you can sleep in any position and aren’t bothered by noise, this is the most economical option. However, most people will find it to be quite uncomfortable.
Traveling on an overnight train
A couchette is the cheapest option for a private berth. It seats six people and offers no amenities. Bathrooms are down the hall. When you board the train, look on the window of each compartment. There will be a little piece of paper with a person’s name on it if a seat has been reserved. If all six slots are filled with names, that compartment is full. A common trick of budget travelers looking for more privacy is to scout out a berth that has no reserved seats in it. Extend all the reclining seats to create a makeshift bed, lie down and turn off the lights. Most people will not want to disturb you and you’ll end up with the compartment all to yourself.
For more guaranteed privacy opt for a T2 or a T4. Both include a lock for the door, electrical outlet, washbasin and luggage storage area. A T4 is generally for four people traveling together and consists of two upper bunks and two lower. The T2 is similar, but with only two bunks (one upper and one lower). For the ultimate in privacy, and of course the most expense, reserve a 1st class single or double sleeper. These have the same amenities (often with the addition of a small bathroom) and sleep only one (single) or two (double) people. All compartments are always unisex, so if you are traveling solo be aware that unless you book a single, you may end up traveling with a member of the opposite sex.
Couchettes, doubles and singles all require additional fees in addition to your basic ticket or your rail pass.
If you’ve chosen a sleeper car, once you get on the overnight train, select your berth. The top bunks are usually shorter and hotter, but have the advantage of allowing you to be closest to the luggage storage space for extra security.
Security can be a concern on overnight train trips, but if you use common sense you will be fine. A conductor will usually take your passports at the beginning of the trip, so that each person does not have to be awakened at the border crossing. If not, they’ll let you know what time they’ll come around the check passports. Don’t open the door to your compartment for anyone other than the conductor and be sure to lock it behind you anytime you leave. If you are traveling with strangers, be sure they know to do the same.
Don’t travel with too many valuables, and if you have any be sure to keep them out of sight at all times. Keep any money and credit cards on your person when you go to sleep. Many people lock their luggage to the overhead rack so that would-be thieves can’t simply grab it and run. And don’t ever accept an open beverage from a stranger. It’s very rare, but people have reported waking up after being drugged to find all of their belongings gone. A common tactic of females traveling solo is to look for a compartment full of nuns and stay with them to feel a little more secure.
You’ll want to bring supplies to make it through your overnight train trip. Many trains have bistro and bar cars, but not all. Food and drinks can be expensive so it’s wise to bring your own snacks and plenty of bottled water. Pillows and a light blanket are provided but for added comfort, bring a small travel pillow. And unless you are springing for a single, you might be stuck next to a snorer. Bring earplugs to drown out the noise, just in case.
For the price of a hotel room, you can enjoy a good night’s sleep on an overnight train and cut down on travel time too. If you follow these tips, you’ll arrive in your new Europe destination rested and ready to explore.
Written by Katie Hammel for EuropeUpClose.com