An Honest Guide to Night Trains

by Reagan Payne

Sometimes as travelers we work too hard to keep up a facade of comfort with every new experience. Cheers to those moments of humility when we can gather around and honestly admit: night trains can be no fun at all.

Yes, night trains save you a night paying for accommodation. Yes, they save daylight for exploring. Yes, night trains can be incredibly uncomfortable, quite dangerous and are not always the ideal transportation experience. Whether you're backpacking or doing an internship in Europe, riding a night train at least once can definitely be one for the books. But when you opt for a night train, keep these following steps (geared towards the solo backpacker) in mind. 

1. Just pretend money belts are in style when you step onto the train. 

You rock that money belt! Zip your valuables up inside the money belt, and be sure to tuck part of the belt inside your waistband. Don’t risk losing your money, passport, Eurrail pass – securing these items are worth the temporary discomfort and shameful fashion statement. 

2. If you have valuable items that are too large to fit into you money belt, carabineers are another great option to connect your belongings to your body. 

The smartest way to secure your valuables is to just avoid bringing valuables in the first place and definitely avoid flashing around valuables. For example, if you usually read books on your iPad, keep your iPad tucked away in your luggage and instead opt for a paperback book for the overnight train. It is also a good idea to avoid traveling on the night train with excessive amounts of cash. 

3. While securing all your belongings with these techniques might give you peace of mind…never have peace of mind. 

Always be alert. Sleeping is fine (it is a night train after all) but don’t ever inhibit yourself further by dosing up on sleeping pills or drinking excessively on the train. 

Train station

4. Pack your own snacks and drinks for the ride. 

First off, it is way cheaper. But more importantly, it means you don't need to leave your luggage to have a meal. If you are in Western Europe, realistically it is probably safe to venture to the bar and food car. It is ok to do this, but still be cognizant that you are leaving all your belongings behind with strangers and people roaming around.

5. Pack extra snacks and drinks for people in your compartment. 

If you are traveling alone, offering a fellow rider a piece of chocolate or a beer is a great way to strike up conversation to make the ride a little more fun. You are all stuck on the train together for at least six hours, so night trains are a really great opportunity to connect with locals and fellow travelers. Honestly you won’t get a decent night’s sleep, so try and push yourself to take advantage of the opportunity to connect and talk with those around you. It will make the journey seem shorter and can often lead to meaningful conversations. 

6. Be respectful of those around you. 

If you do strike up a conversation, be sure to acknowledge and act accordingly when others are trying to sleep. Step immediately outside your compartment (but try not to stray too far from it and your belongings) to continue talking. Try to keep conversation tame because you are in close quarters and no child or elderly rider should ever hear the entire truth what happened last night at a Budapest ruin bar.

7. Be willing to splurge more than you’d like on your overnight ticket. 

The thirty euros between a second-class seat and a first class bed might make all the difference. If you are a single traveler, especially a female backpacking alone, don’t immediately exclude first class ticket. Depending where you are traveling in the world, the costlier ticket is necessary. Consider the price an investment in your safety. It might be an adventure to stay up all night, but if you’ve had a bad experience learn from this “adventure” and just be willing to spend more to not put yourself in a jeopardizing situation again. 

8. Make the best of the situation that you are in. 

Sometimes, buying the first class ticket might not matter because a giant, smelly man ends up on the bunk next to you. Don’t let this ruin your night. Go with the flow, and remember that you only have to endure the situation for a few hours. The train feels like it isn’t moving (and if you’re in some parts of the world, it really does stop for hours with no explanation) just continue telling yourself that you will arrive in the morning. Arrive at a new, fantastic city with an entire day for adventures and new experiences. Look forward to the next morning; stay positive – it will turn out to be a fun travel story you can share with new friends and your next hostel. 

Train station

9. Try and buy tickets with a familiar person. 

Are people from your hostel taking the same train? Ask around – it is worth the effort to have a mate on the train with you. If you arrive to the train station early, check out the café or surrounding benches and look for the ever-present backpack and rugged traveler combination. These strangers can be friends and comfort during the ride. Watch each other’s back, share food, stories, and use each other as a crutch to make the ride a little more pleasant. 

10. The journey is just as important as the destination, so take night trains for what they are. 

Learn from those around you. Innovate on board if there is a problem. Journal about your experience. On one night train you might make friends with a fellow rider then end up with a travel mate for the next week. Another train might have a vomit filled public toilet. Travel is a cycle of opportunities, experiences and challenges. No matter which category your night train experience falls into, just keep riding the adventure.