One of the most romantic ways to travel while abroad is by train. It is also the best way to get around quickly for a reasonable price.
You can even use the train like you would use a hotel. Nighttime train trips, or sleeper trains, can help you make the most of your time away.
So why use a sleeper train instead of just staying in a hotel?
- You want to make the most of your visit. Long train trips during the day eat up your sightseeing hours. So, hop on a 7+ hour sleeper train and wake up in your new destination. All the time you spend sleeping doubles as travel time, and therefore you have more time to play.
- Using a sleeper train overnight can be cheaper than the cost of a hotel room. Each sleeper train has different levels of accommodations, and economizing can be really easy by booking ahead. Some of the cheapest accommodations are less than half the price you would pay at a hotel.
- It’s definitely worth the experience of being on a night train. Not only can you meet a lot of interesting people on a sleeper train, but there’s a definite romantic sense of adventure while traveling through unknown territory under the cover of darkness.
To make the best of your sleeper train experience, however, you need to know the inside scoop before jumping on that midnight train.
Level of accommodations: On a sleeper train, accommodations range from reclining seats all the way up to a rather posh private room, depending upon the train. Of course, each level comes with a price tag that reflects what you’re purchasing.
What they don’t tell you is what to expect with each level.
Reclining Seat — This term is fairly self-explanatory. Since these are the cheapest seats on a sleeper train, be prepared for cramped cars filled with sleeping passengers and their luggage.
4-6 Sleeper Compartment — Usually this accommodation costs slightly more than a reclining seat, but the term compartment is misleading. For those who’ve never been on a train, imagine movies you’ve seen with trains — like Harry Potter. The compartment you see the kids sitting in when there’re riding the train to school—that is the standard compartment size with three seats on each side for a total of six seats.
In a sleeper train, those seats transform into beds. On both sides near the ceiling will be two permanent beds, which tend to be sturdier and slightly more comfortable. The middle and bottom bunks are created by the chairs separating and folding out into two beds. In regards to comfort, the middle bunk tends to be the hardest bunk, while the bottom bunk is somewhat softer.
Now if you purchase only one of these beds you will be sleeping next to strangers, which can be off-putting to some. Also, depending upon the train, the space between bunks can be rather claustrophobic, especially if the entire cabin is full of people and their luggage.
Private Compartment — These accommodations are usually the most expensive, but can definitely be worth the price. For one thing, you and your luggage will be secure in your own private room. Sometimes these accommodations come with a private bathroom and shower. Also, the food for dinner and breakfast tends to be a higher-quality when you pay for a private compartment.
Since most trains have to maximize their space, many private compartments have bunk beds instead of a large Double or Queen sized bed. Couples may find it a little strange to be sleeping in separate beds.
Luggage: Unlike preconceived notions of trains with entire cars dedicated to luggage, this is simply not the case with most European and UK trains. Due to their level of efficiency, trains are only in a particular station for a brief window of time. Thus, handling your luggage is your sole responsibility.
When you can, travel as light as possible. Remember that you will have to haul your luggage everywhere you go, and most places in Europe and the UK are full of hills and narrow stairwells without an accessible elevator in sight! Additionally, you will have to consider storing your luggage when you are not in a hotel but not yet on the train.
Luggage Vestibules — These are storage areas at the end of each train car. They do store a lot of bags, but it’s on a first come basis. Additionally, not all sleeper train cars come equipped with vestibules, but may have closets or open areas suitable for leaving luggage. No matter what you do, if your luggage is out of your sight, even briefly, it is best to make sure that your luggage zippers are securely locked. For multiple bags, you may wish to bring a chain lock to link your luggage bags together making them less likely to be stolen.
Compartment storage — If you are riding in a private compartment, storing your luggage with you will be rather simple. If, however, you are sharing a compartment, storing your luggage can be tricky.
Generally, the only room for storage in a compartment is under the bottom bunks, and occasionally on designated shelves high up near the ceiling. For four to six people, storage space gets used up quickly. To make matters worse, if you are the last to arrive in a compartment there will probably not be any space left, and you will be forced to seek out other places to store your bags.
Overall, a sleeper train is a great way to travel long distances on your vacation. You will have to reserve your place ahead of time, and pay the initial fees for your preferred level of accommodation. Arriving early can make it easier to find places to store your luggage and set up your bed for the night. Then all you have to do is drift off into dreamland while the train takes you to your next location.