Despite competition from low cost airlines, there are still a large number of night trains operating around the world, particularly in Europe — and for good reason! While it may take around 8 hours to travel overnight, taking a night train is a very time-efficient mode of transport. Why waste time travelling during the day when you can be whisked to your next destination while you sleep? In this post, we’ll discuss how to make the most of your trip by night train, while ensuring you stay safe in the process.
Always book a sleeper compartment or couchette, never a seat
Night train accommodations typically come in three variants: sleeper cabin, couchette, or a seat. A sleeper cabin is the best way to travel, giving you a private cabin to share with a friend — or a stranger if you’re going solo — plus a washbasin and the most personal space you can get on a sleeper train.
Moving down the ranks, the next best is a couchette, where you’ll find four to six bunks in each compartment. The bunks aren’t quite as good as the beds you get in a cabin, and there’s no washbasin. However, you will at least be able to lie down.
That sounds like a downright luxury when compared to what you get in a standard seat. This is the most basic form of accommodation, and usually consists of a carriage with reclining seats. In the worst cases in certain European countries, this carriage may just be a standard daytime carriage, in which case you’d be lucky to get any sleep at all.
The reclining seat option may save you some money, however it comes at a different type of cost. Do you really want to turn up in a new city feeling incredibly tired after an uncomfortable all-nighter? Because of this, it’s always best to opt for one of the slightly pricier options.
Secure your belongings
Security should be your number one concern on a night train. While robberies are rare, you’re a prime target when you’re asleep, especially on routes with intermediate stops.
If you have your own private cabin, security is tight, as your compartment can only be unlocked from the inside. Each carriage has its own attendant who will recommend you keep your door locked at all times, and this is well worth doing.
If you’re sleeping with others in a cabin or couchette, then politely ask everyone to keep the door locked once everyone’s inside. However, it’s a good idea to take extra precautions if you’re travelling solo, as you won’t know how reliable your companions will be.
Your best bet is to grab a top bunk and keep your valuables on you in a money belt. Sleeping on top means you’ll be out of reach of any unwelcome visitors. If you’re in a reclining seat, keep your money belt below a layer or two of clothing so they’re safe.
Next, think about where you put your backpack. Many night trains will have a shelf inside the compartments above the corridor. This is an ideal place to keep your luggage, as it is harder to get at and more noticeable if someone tries to remove your things. There’s also likely to be a bar to stop bags from falling down, which makes for a handy point to attach your bag to. If your backpack has a waist strap, attach this around the bar, making it harder for anyone to take the bag. You can even take it a step further by locking your bag to the bar.
If you’ve chosen to travel in a reclining seat, then locking your bag to your chair or the luggage rack is a good idea, as it will be within easier reach of any thieves than if you were in a compartment or couchette car.
Prepare your bag for bedtime
There’s nothing worse than having to unpack your entire bag in your cramped couchette cabin to get your toothbrush while everyone else is trying to get into their beds and go to sleep. Avoid annoying your companions and plan ahead. Put everything you need for the train in an outside pocket before you reach the station so you can access it with ease.
Not only will you want to access your toothbrush and towel, it’s also a good idea to bring a sleeping mask and earplugs. These are really worthwhile if you’re in a carriage with strangers who may be leaving the train at an earlier stop or have a tendency to get up regularly to use the loo.
Night trains are usually quiet as they speed through the night, however you can get woken up when your carriage is uncoupled, shunted around, and recouped to a different train to get you to your destination, as night trains tend to be split up as carriages are taken to different destinations. If you’re a light sleeper, this is likely to wake you up, so earplugs really do make a difference.