Night trains

All aboard the night train! Here's how to do sleeper trains properly (without catching scabies).

boy on night train

Expect some dribble on the seats

A sleeper train can save you time and money, but doesn’t guarantee you a good night’s kip. Read our tips to make sure you get the best out of your moving bed.

Book your spot on a night train

You don’t want to be asked to move – especially if it’s in a language you don’t speak. And you definitely don’t want to spend the night in the train corridors. Surprise, surprise, sleeping on top of your rucksack is not comfortable. If you’re taking a one-off night train then you usually get a seat allocated with your ticket. But if you have an all-inclusive ticket, like the InterRail pass, you’ll need to book your seat or bed separately.

Pay extra for a bed

Yes, it’s cheaper to sleep upright, but it’s also much less comfortable. And booking a bed isn’t as expensive as you’d expect. Plus, in some of the nicer trains it means you have a proper area for your luggage. If you’re only booking a seat, make sure you avoid one in the middle. Otherwise you’ll be stuck between two grumpy dribbling old men. All night.

Keep your stuff safe

Methods depend a lot on what country you’re in. In Europe, everyone happily shoves as much stuff as humanly possible into the overhead shelving and it’s pretty safe. In India, however, you may find yourself sleeping in the foetal position around your bag. Either way, keep a good eye on your luggage, and keep your really valuable stuff close. Padlocks are always a good idea, too.

Get off when the train stops

If you’re still awake it’s worth occasionally jumping out to get some fresh air. The trains often stop for longer than you think. But keep an eye on when the other passengers get back on so you don’t get left behind – no one wants to be stuck on a platform in a remote Slovakian village at midnight.

Plan what to do when you get there

If you’ve spent all night attempting to sleep next to a bloke who smells of rotten cabbages the last thing you want is to arrive at your destination and have nowhere to go. Hostels rarely let you check in until 10am at the earliest. Ask before you arrive if your hostel will let you lounge around in their foyers until they have a bed ready, or at least let you leave your bags there. If not, you can always put your stuff in a locker at the train station and go off and explore.

DO NOT miss your sleeper train

It sounds obvious, but missing a night train is not like missing an East Midlands Train from Nottingham to London. There won’t be another one coming in 20 minutes.

DO NOT miss your stop

Set an alarm. Even if you’re getting off at the last stop, you don’t want to be woken up by the guard and forced to stumble out onto the platform bleary-eyed, still in your superman PJs.

What to pack:

  • Toothbrush and flannel – it’s worth freshening up before and after you sleep, although you’ll probably feel pretty grim anyway.
  • Travelling outfit – a quick change may be the difference between a good night’s sleep and a bad one, so try and take some pyjamas. It also saves you from being clothed in sweat and train dirt the next day.
  • Sleeping bag – keep this accessible in case the air con decides it wants you to be cooler than The Mix on ice, but be prepared to get overheated as well.
  • Food and water – there’s nothing worse than trying to sleep if you’re hungry and/or de-hydrated. Take plenty of supplies; don’t assume you’ll be able to get food on the train. If you can get food on the train you’ll probably pay through the nose for it.
  • Something to do – if you find it impossible to sleep you’ll want something to occupy you, but the lack of light rules out books and sudoku. Put in your earphones and listen to some music instead.

Photo of man asleep by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015