Night Trains Are Awesome – This Is Why!
Chugging through Europe on night trains is the stuff of novels. At least in my book it is! That slightly nervous excitement of getting on a train as evening draws in, full of anticipation of the adventure ahead. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it, even after having done it many times.
During the last year I have traveled across Europe on night trains extensively. I’ve tried most of the options available, from the budget conscious couchette to the more private experience of a double and single sleeper. Couchettes are 4-6 berth compartments and the 6-berth version can get a little crowded, but it’s totally manageable if you’re prepared for night trains. As far as comfort goes, a single sleeper is of course the superior option. But saying that, you do miss out on the social element of a couchette, an exciting part of the night train Eurail experience.
Adventure on night trains
Traveling in a multi-person couchette, your journey really is, in the words of Forrest Gump, like box of chocolates. You never know what (or who, to be more precise) you’re going to get. Generally people are considerate as you’re all in the same boat (or train rather!) and being polite and friendly goes a long way towards a better journey. I have been very lucky so far with good compartment companions. It is however luck of the draw. But even if you don’t want to chat you can retire to your bunk with a book or some music, or perhaps take a stroll to the dining car for a nightcap or a bite to eat.
Optimize your time and money
This is a big one! You can save considerable time and money by using night trains. Not only do you save a day you can spend sightseeing or perhaps just chilling on a beach somewhere, you also don’t have to pay for accommodation for that night, except for the train reservation.
This does come with a caveat though. Unless you’re one of those lucky beings, able to sleep like a rock almost anywhere, you shouldn’t count on night trains being your alternative accommodation for more than a night here and there during your travels. If you’re like me, who take a while to drift off and wake up easily, chances are your sleep will be broken, either by a jolt when train carriages are split or by customs as you enter a new country.
However, the prospect of waking up in a new city, full of promise as dawn breaks, makes it all so very worth it. Who cares if you’re a little tired for a day? You can always have a sneaky nap once you’ve settled into your hostel or hotel.
A unique travel experience
Night trains often depart as one long convoy bound for multiple destinations. It’s a modern day European relative to caravans of camels crossing the desert if you like. Throughout the night, sections gradually thread off and shoot off towards their various targets like arrows in the dark.
After settling in, I adore taking a walk, reflecting on the different styles of train carriages and how this reveals the culture of their origin. Most thrilling however is soaking up the ample array of nationalities, languages, smells, clothes, ways of behaving, and the forever unknown mystery of where all these people are headed to and what their story might be, let alone what is ahead of you on your own journey.
Like in any aspect of travel, you should always stay aware of your surroundings. Night trains are no different. Just make sure you know where your valuables are and lock the compartment when you go to sleep. There is a train guard on each carriage who keeps a close eye on everything, so don’t let a worry of safety put you off from what is essentially a fantastic way to explore Europe by Eurail.