Experiences are what turn our travels into something meaningful. While our memories of sightseeing can become jumbled and hazy – too many museums, too little time – the things we’ve done remain fresh in our mind. Sometimes an unforgettable experience might involve learning new skills; other times it’s more about the friends we made along the way. It can even be about the journey itself, as is the case with long distance rail travel. Want to know more? Let’s find out what it’s like to sleep on a train.
European night trains
Overnight rail travel in Europe is enjoying a resurgence. If you’re keen to sleep on a train, you’ll be excited to learn that over the last couple of years many new services have been introduced. Maximise your time on the continent with many enticing routes. Consider Amsterdam to Vienna, Milan to Palermo or Brussels to Berlin.
Note that if you travel within the Schengen zone, you won’t be interrupted for border formalities. But, if you’re keen not to be woken in the middle of the night by a newly-boarded fellow passenger, book a complete compartment for you and your party. Sleeper cars are more comfortable than couchettes; some even have a private bathroom. However, they’re still very affordable. As a consequence they sell out fast, so you’ll need to be quick to secure one in peak season.
Across the USA on Amtrak
Long distance train travel in the USA gives you the opportunity to understand just what a vast country this is. Ride the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco and you’ll have covered almost 2500 miles. For scenery, try a Pacific-bound Southwest Chief, which cuts through breathtaking New Mexico and Arizona, or the Empire Builder, which calls into Glacier National Park on the way to Seattle.
Overnight travel on Amtrak services tends to be more expensive than in Europe, so book as far ahead as you can to get the best deal. Roomettes are cheapest and ideal for solo travellers seeking privacy. However, they are a tight squeeze for two occupants with luggage. Upgrade to a bedroom suite or family room for more space. Passenger trains can be delayed as freight has priority, so go with the flow and allow plenty of time to make connections.
Dedicated tourist services
In some parts of the world, you’ll find dedicated tourist services. They offer a level of comfort far above regular trains. They focus on service as well as style, making them more like a five star hotel on rails than simply a means of getting from A to B. Expect comfortable double beds, ensuite facilities and fine dining.
Probably the most famous option if you want to sleep on a train is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. This storied service carried its first passengers in 1883 and its allure remains as powerful as ever. Ensconced in one of its sumptuous compartments, this train is one of the most glamorous and elegant you can experience anywhere on the planet.
In South Africa, the Blue Train is synonymous with luxury. Generally speaking, it shuttles back and forth between Cape Town and Pretoria, taking three days to complete the journey. Meanwhile, at certain times of year it’s possible to take a rail safari and witness the wildlife of Kruger National Park.
Australia’s vast size lends itself to long train trips and several of its iconic services now operate as tourist routes. The Ghan, for instance, links Adelaide to Darwin, with off-train sightseeing at places such as Katherine Gorge and Alice Springs. Alternatively, travel east-west on the Indian Pacific, spending three nights on board as you travel between Perth and Sydney.
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India’s Maharajas’ Express redefines rail travel on the subcontinent. Four itineraries feature some of the country’s most famous sights including forts, palaces and world-renowned sights such as the Taj Mahal. Sleep on a train as you experience India’s rich cultural heritage. Watch the scenery unfold beyond the window of your luxury suite.
VIA Rail takes the effort out of a trans-Canada adventure leaving you free to enjoy the scenery. A seven-day trip from Toronto to Vancouver reminds you of the country’s extreme diversity – the Prairies and the Rockies couldn’t be more different. If you have the time and the budget, try not to rush. 12 and 16 day trips provide more opportunities for sightseeing. You might add on a visit to Niagara Falls, for example, or sign up for a golf tour to play Canada’s greatest courses.
Mundana’s tips for overnight train travel
- Don’t overpack
Storage isn’t unlimited in train compartments so the more you take, the less room you’ll leave for yourselves. Remember too that you’ll often need to load your own luggage onto the train and so make sure the bag you take isn’t too heavy for you to manage. Aisles can be narrow and you’ll also want to factor in how bulky your bags are.
- Consider sleeping arrangements
If you opt for a couchette then six of you may be sharing a compartment. Some travellers prefer the bottom bunk but this can be cramped if you are not lying flat. Others like to be on the top bunk as it has more headroom, though access is via a ladder which could be challenging for some. Think about your personal preferences and needs before booking a place.
- Take an eye mask
Unless you’re an exceptionally heavy sleeper, it can be difficult not to wake through the night. The light from stations can be intrusive as you pass through and if you’re travelling in the far north in summer, long days equate to perpetual daylight. Wearing an eye mask might do the trick. Some seasoned travellers find sleeping with their back to the window can also help.
- Make the most of the camaraderie of the dining car
Most overnight trains have a dining car. It’s not only a good place to eat, but you’ll also have the chance to get to know your fellow passengers. Rather than hide away in your compartment, venture out and be sociable. Who knows, you might be rewarded with an insider tip or recommendation about your destination as you chat to a local.
- Think about how you’ll freshen up
Bathroom facilities on these trains vary considerably. Depending on the class of train and compartment you book, you might have an ensuite shower or none at all. Some stations offer showers but you could also consider enquiring about early check-in at your destination.
Need more tips on how to get the most out of an overnight train trip? Check out this article from Mundana’s magazine. If you’re keen to enjoy a rail adventure of your own, our experts can walk you through each step of the process. From figuring out an itinerary to assisting with ticketing, we can be by your side every step of the way. Why not give us a call today?