- I booked a shared sleeper cabin on an overnight train while traveling from Austria to Italy.
- I thought a sleeper train would be the best way to maximize my days while exploring Europe.
- A few surprises along the way changed my mind, from a lack of privacy to a restless night.
I recently traveled on an overnight train from Vienna, Austria, to Venice, Italy, during a two-week trip through four European countries.
When I decided to visit Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland for the first time in just two weeks, I wanted to maximize my time exploring each country.
When I realized that my ride from Vienna, Austria, to Venice, Italy, would be 11 hours long, traveling by train through the night seemed like the best way to leave my days totally free, and sharing a sleeper cabin with strangers was the cheapest way to do it.
I bought a Eurail pass for $477, which gives access to most European trains for a set number of days. Some trains only require a Eurail pass, while others, including overnight trains, incur an additional discounted price.
My ticket cost $44 with my Eurail pass, and included breakfast. Without it, it would have been about $84.
I traveled with OBB Nightjet, a train that operates overnight routes between Austria, Italy, France, and the Netherlands.
OBB Nightjet trains travel overnight to more than 25 European cities, from Rome to Amsterdam, and can go as fast as 143 miles per hour, according to their website.
I decided to book with OBB Nightjet because it’s known for having some of Europe’s newest and best sleeper routes, according to Lonely Planet.
Nightjet trains have seating carriages as well as sleeper cars with bunks of three, four, or six. The latter of which is what I booked.
Some routes have private cabins, according to OBB Nightjet, but mine didn’t. So I booked a six-passenger sleeper bunk-style cabin to be shared with up to five other people.
Two nights before my trip to Venice, I traveled on another OBB Nightjet train from Berlin to Vienna in a seating carriage cabin, which are cabins of six regular assigned seats that deeply recline.
I found the seating carriage to be too uncomfortable to get any sleep, so I was hoping the bunk cabin would provide me with a more restful experience.
My ride from Vienna to Venice wasn’t my first experience on a sleeper train, but it was my first time traveling in a shared bunk-style cabin.
While this was my first time traveling in a sleeper car in Europe, it wasn’t my first time on an overnight train.
I spent 60 hours on overnight Amtrak trains in October 2021. I stayed in their 20-square-foot roomette and 45-square-foot bedroom accommodations, where I had private rooms to myself. I enjoyed both experiences, and appreciated it as a sustainable way to get around the world with unparalleled views along the way.
Because of those positive experiences, I was excited to try out sleeper trains again while in Europe, especially since traveling at night would free my days.
But a few surprises along the way made me think that ultimately, this ride wasn’t worth the time saved.
When I arrived at the Vienna train station, I paid $10 to access the OBB Lounge. I was surprised that aside from me, it was completely empty, which was a stark contrast to the crowded station where I couldn’t find a seat.
My journey began in Austria’s Wien Meidling train station. I arrived 90 minutes before my 9:35 p.m. train, and the waiting areas were so crowded that I couldn’t find one empty seat. Then I noticed a lounge for OBB guests.
The lounge is free for first-class OBB passengers traveling during the day, and costs about $10 for all other OBB passengers who would like to pay to access it, which is what I did.
Since I thought the fee was inexpensive and the station was so packed, I was surprised to find there was not one other traveler inside.
The lounge had plenty of tables and chairs, as well as complimentary refreshments from coffee to nuts and seeds. It was a smaller selection than I’ve seen at Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge, which I’ve visited in New York, but I wasn’t hungry so I just got a water bottle and settled into a chair to wait until it was time to board my train.
When I went to the platform, I was surprised by how confusing it was to board the correct train.
I went to the platform about 20 minutes before my train’s scheduled 9:35 p.m. departure, and was shocked to see a screen that said my train was going to Zürich. This made me worry that I booked the wrong sleeper train.
But at the information desk, I learned that unlike Amtrak, the train’s cars detach at various stations to go to different locations. I had to board my assigned train car in order to reach my ticketed final destination; each has a number.
When my train arrived, I didn’t have time to check the train car number before boarding. I just went to the closest car and asked an attendant to guide me to my car and room.
I knew that my cabin was going to be small but once onboard, I was still shocked when I saw it for the first time.
According to OBB Nightjet, my cabin was built to fit six people inside a 74-square-foot space.
I expected it would be small, but seeing it in person made me realize that 74 square feet is smaller than I thought.
One traveler was already there when I boarded and two others arrived within an hour. Two got off around 5 a.m., and the other stayed past my stop. We said hello to each other upon arrival, but other than that, the room was quiet. Some of us watched devices, while others went to sleep.
I was surprised by how little personal space I had even when it was still just one other passenger and me. I couldn’t imagine six people squeezing in there, and was grateful that we weren’t booked to the max.
But I still felt cramped when there was four of us, especially with everyone’s luggage around.
I expected each bunk to have a curtain for privacy, but the beds were completely exposed. This made me feel less comfortable.
Since the space was shared with strangers, I was expecting to find curtains at the front of each bunk to ensure privacy, but there was nothing to block the space between myself and other passengers.
This made me feel more uncomfortable than I expected. While another traveler changed their clothes in front of me inside the room, I prefer to change in private, and chose to instead go to the shared bathroom at the end of the sleeper car.
I didn’t think I’d have to wake up other passengers to use the bathroom. But the room’s lock was only accessible from a top bunk where someone was sleeping.
When I first entered the cabin, I learned the bunks were first-come, first-served. I opted for a bottom bunk since I’ve previously found top bunks on Amtrak trains to feel bumpier through the night.
But I didn’t realize that the person on the top bunk would be the unofficial controller of the door lock since it was only accessible from their bed.
When I went to the bathroom to wash up and change around 10:30 p.m., the top-bunk passenger had just arrived and was still awake. But at around 2 a.m., I found myself laying awake with a full bladder because I didn’t want to disturb her. Eventually, I couldn’t hold it anymore and reluctantly woke her up.
It was a little awkward, and I felt bad for disrupting her sleep. The whole experience made me think I may have preferred the top bunk anyway. I’d rather have someone wake me than wake someone else up.
I thought I’d get a decent amount of rest in the sleeper cabin with a lie-flat bed, but the ride was so bumpy and uncomfortable that I struggled to fall asleep.
Since I had a lie-flat bed in the cabin, as well as bed sheets and a pillow provided by the train, I thought I’d get a decent amount of sleep.
But when bedtime came around, I was surprised to find the bed and bedding didn’t matter much.
I only got a couple hours of sleep and woke up several times during the night due to other travelers entering and exiting the room or the bumpiness of the train, and found the bed to be uncomfortable. For most of the night, I watched TV on my iPad since I had such a hard time sleeping.
“Offering our passengers a high level of travel comfort is an important concern for us, “a representative for OBB Nightjet told Insider.
The statement continued, “We are constantly working on improvements to our product and also take into account the requirements of our customers.”
Next year, the rail line is upgrading its overnight trains, according to a press release from OBB Nightjet, with new, more spacious sleeper cabins that will include a seating area in addition to beds, according to the press release.
When I got to Venice, I realized I was wrong about my expectations around a shared sleeper cabin. I didn’t feel rested, which was the entire reason why I booked it.
When I got off the train in Venice, I was exhausted from the lack of sleep. I thought it made my first day in the city less enjoyable, which was perhaps the most surprising element of my ride since the entire reason why I booked this train was to feel rested.
Through these surprises, I learned that a shared cabin on an overnight train wasn’t the right choice for me.
While sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination, in this case, I’d rather arrive feeling refreshed so I can enjoy where I’m going. So next time I’m in Europe, I’ll either travel during the day or book a private sleeper cabin.
Read the original article on Insider