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Let the Train take the Strain

Updated on October 25, 2019

There is something quite romantic and maybe a little thrilling about travelling overnight in a sleeper car on a train. You feel a bit like an extra in a good Agatha Christie novel. Sleeping while journeying between cities is economical of time and money: for every night you spend on a train you gain a day sight-seeing and save money on the cost of a hotel. There follows some information on how you might choose to do that.

Couchettes are the standard sleeping accommodation on an overnight train, preferred by those on a tighter budget. They offer a reasonably comfortable place to lie down and a pillow, blanket and sheet which you use to make up your own bed. Couchette compartments can be for 4 or 6 people and sleeping is on bunks, which fold down to create seating during the day. The compartments are generally single sex and shared, but there is nothing to stop you buying the extra bed spaces if you want to travel in the compartment without strangers. The cheapest way to book a private compartment is to add an extra child passenger, this is known as the 'phantom child' technique. There is usually a socket outlet in the compartment, and each bed has its own reading light. Washrooms and toilets are shared and located at the end of each car.

A reasonably comfortable place to lie down

Sleeper compartments, although not a Holiday Inn, are a more comfortable way to travel and include 1,2 or 3 beds which have already been made up for you. There is usually a private washbasin, complete with soap and towel. Generally, like the couchettes, there are shared toilet facilities at the end of the carriage, but there are some overnight trains which have compartments that do include a private toilet. Again, each bed has its own reading light and there is a socket outlet in the compartment. Some might also have air conditioning, complimentary water and a small breakfast may even be provided, with tea or coffee.

There is very little noise carried into the compartment from the corridor or neighbouring sleepers

In all compartments, luggage can be stored under the seats or in the recess above the door over the ceiling of the corridor outside your couchette or sleeper. All compartments also have a security lock and chain system which cannot be opened from outside. Remarkably and quite unexpectedly, there is very little noise carried into the compartment from the corridor or neighbouring sleepers, so a good night’s sleep is guaranteed.

Some tips for travel on the sleeper trains:

  • Grab a couple of snacks before you get on the train
  • If you’re sharing a compartment, try to avoid egg & onion sandwiches and crunchy crisps
  • Take flip flops, especially if you are a bit OCD about your feet
  • Take trainers, especially if you think you might need the toilet
  • Have hygiene washlets, just in case
  • Baby wipes and hand sanitizer are useful, especially if you’re a bit OCD about your hands
  • You might want to have ear plugs, in case you are sharing with a snorer


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    • Teszra profile image


      5 months ago from Hawaii

      Wow, I didn't know this was an option for trains. I'd like to try this out sometime. I love that you added in not bringing egg or onion based meals. Nothing worse than being trapped in a small compartment with someone smelling up the place with onions.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      The photos of couchettes look much nicer than the one I travelled in from Moscow to Kiev and back a few weeks later many years ago. But it was definitely an experience. You give good tips.

    • L.M. Hosler profile image

      L.M. Hosler 

      5 months ago

      Quite interesting. I hope to travel by train in the future rather than fly. Those were some good tips about taking hand sanitizer or baby wipes.


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