Seren Phillips talks us through her experience of taking Interrail night trains on her Interrail trip. She loves to travel, inspired by a 6-week trip to Thailand in 2016, and is a keen writer.
Overnight trains are what I would describe as bittersweet; you get the joy of not wasting valuable day time hours travelling, but if you’re anything like me and value your sleep you’ll waste the following day moping around because you’re tired.
Back in the summer of 2016, I took the midnight train from Prague to Budapest. We’d booked well in advanced and got our third-preferred option of a 4 carriage couchette, which cost us around 20 Euros.
It was almost a 9 hour journey that left at just-gone-midnight and had a scheduled arrival of around 8.30am. We booked this thinking that we’d have plenty of sleep (8 hours at least) hoping that we’d be able to function properly the following day – how wrong were we… Here’s a summary of my experience which should give you a taste of what to expect.
My experience of the Prague to Budapest night train
We arrived at the train station in Prague to find lots of people waiting to get on this train to Budapest. The platform was chaotic as it was full of backpackers looking for their carriage and carrying their luggage around trying their best to get on the train before it left the station.
Once we found our carriage, we had to find our ‘room’. The room was tiny, with 4 beds in the form of bunk beds and 2 luggage holders. We were provided with a cushion, a thin blanket and some bottled water. We were sharing a room with two other women, with whom we spoke briefly but we were all keen to settle and get to sleep.
The conductor for our carriage came and introduced himself to us before asking for our train booking reservation, Interrail pass and passport. They all had to be handed over and were given back to us before we arrived at Budapest. He was very nice, helpful and informed us of where he’d be if we needed him. He was also polite in waking us up an hour before our arrival time.
I had previously spoken to others who had been interrailing and experienced night trains and they advised that the night train journey would be cold and that we needed to dress quite warm for the journey. I took this advice on board and picked my warm, cosy clothing (joggers and a hoody) to wear for the night. Within half an hour of being on the train I had changed into PJ shorts and a vest top! My advice here would be to have a change of clothing in an easily accessible place, such as at the top of your rucksack, or in your smaller backpack if you have one, just in case you get warm (or cold) during the journey. I also used ear plugs and an eye mask, which helped to cut out noise and light.
I didn’t sleep well on this journey as I kept waking up each time the train was coming to a stop and broken sleep is worse than no sleep. 8am soon came and we were woken by the conductor. It was time to sort ourselves out and get off the train. Luckily for us we didn’t have an action packed day planned and, after finding our hostel, we headed to one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths and relaxed for the day.
Overnight trains are a fantastic way to save on accommodation and not waste time travelling long distances during the day. One major disadvantage is lack of sleep, although this won’t be an issue if you’re a heavy sleeper that can sleep anywhere!
What you need to know before getting on a night train for Interrailers
- Sleepers – these are compartments that usually include 1, 2 or 3 beds. They are the most comfortable way to travel as the beds are good quality
- Couchettes – these offer a place to lie down with a pillow, a blanket and a sheet. They usually sleep 4 or 6 people and washrooms and toilets are located at the end of the cart
- Reclining Seats – best value for money, aeroplane-style seats
Interrail-specific night train rules
If you use your Interrail pass for a night train, you only need to use one travel day, for the day the night train departs. Read more about night train rules.
A reservation for night train is mandatory and you should do it ASAP for the best accommodation option.
Here’s my best advice for overnight trains
- Book well in advance and try and go as private as possible
- Have a change of clothes in an accessible place
- Take an eye mask and ear plugs to shut out any unfamiliar noises and light
- Schedule a ‘chill day’ for your arrival day – time to recharge
Although I found the experience tiring, I would definitely recommend it purely for the fact that you save time and money that can go towards experiencing something else.