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I booked the cheapest sleeper accommodation on an overnight train in Europe. I got zero rest and wouldn’t do it again.

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Joey HaddenDec 25, 2022, 17:48 IST

I booked the cheapest sleeper accommodation on an overnight train in Europe. I got zero rest and wouldn't do it again.

  • I spent 12 hours in a shared cabin on an overnight train from Vienna, Austria, to Venice, Italy.
  • For less than $50, I got a reclining seat in a seating carriage cabin with five other people.

I recently spent 12 hours traveling in a sleeper carriage on an overnight train from Berlin, Germany, to Vienna, Austria, during a two-week trip through four European countries.

I recently spent 12 hours traveling in a sleeper carriage on an overnight train from Berlin, Germany, to Vienna, Austria, during a two-week trip through four European countries.

The author rode a Nightjet through Europe.Nightjet – © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger/Joey Hadden/Insider

In Europe, I took Austrian Federal Railway’s OBB Nightjet train, which is a rail line that operates overnight routes between Austria, Italy, France, and the Netherlands. It can go as fast as 143 miles per hour, according to its website.

In Europe, I took Austrian Federal Railway's OBB Nightjet train, which is a rail line that operates overnight routes between Austria, Italy, France, and the Netherlands. It can go as fast as 143 miles per hour, according to its website.

A Nightjet train stopped at a station.Joey Hadden/Insider

I thought an overnight train would be the best way to travel through Europe and maximize my time exploring during the day. But for me, the ride was too cramped and bumpy to sleep, and I arrived in Vienna feeling exhausted.

I thought an overnight train would be the best way to travel through Europe and maximize my time exploring during the day. But for me, the ride was too cramped and bumpy to sleep, and I arrived in Vienna feeling exhausted.

A sleeper car on a Nightjet train.Joey Hadden/Insider

Nightjet trains have sleeper cars with bunks of three, four, or six, as well as seating carriages. The latter is what I booked; they’re cabins of six regular assigned seats that deeply recline. Some routes have private cabins, but mine didn’t.

Nightjet trains have sleeper cars with bunks of three, four, or six, as well as seating carriages. The latter is what I booked; they're cabins of six regular assigned seats that deeply recline. Some routes have private cabins, but mine didn't.

A seating carriage on a Nightjet train.Nightjet – © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger

“The quality of travel depends not only on the carriages, but also on the route,” OBB Nightjet wrote in a statement to Insider. “We recommend the sleeper or couchette car for night travel. There is enough space to stretch out. Seated carriages are recommended for shorter journeys.”

"The quality of travel depends not only on the carriages, but also on the route," OBB Nightjet wrote in a statement to Insider. "We recommend the sleeper or couchette car for night travel. There is enough space to stretch out. Seated carriages are recommended for shorter journeys."

A sleeper cabin on an OBB Nightjet train.Nightjet – © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger

To travel by train, 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 to ride, while others, including overnight trains, incur an additional discounted price.

To travel by train, 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 to ride, while others, including overnight trains, incur an additional discounted price.

The author’s Eurail pass on a European train.Joey Hadden/Insider

This overnight leg of my European train trip cost $14 with my seven-day Eurail pass. It was the cheapest accommodation for overnight travel. Without the pass, the ticket would have been about $40.

This overnight leg of my European train trip cost $14 with my seven-day Eurail pass. It was the cheapest accommodation for overnight travel. Without the pass, the ticket would have been about $40.

The author’s ticket to ride.Joey Hadden/Insider

My journey began at Germany’s Berlin Ostbahnhof train station. I arrived about an hour and a half before my 6:53 p.m. train so I’d have ample time to find the platform.

My journey began at Germany's Berlin Ostbahnhof train station. I arrived about an hour and a half before my 6:53 p.m. train so I'd have ample time to find the platform.

The train station in Berlin.Joey Hadden/Insider

Since my ticket didn’t include a meal, I grabbed food from the McDonald’s inside the station.

Since my ticket didn't include a meal, I grabbed food from the McDonald's inside the station.

The author gets McDonald’s in the train station.Joey Hadden/Insider

Then I went to platform three after viewing on a screen that it was where my train would be arriving.

Then I went to platform three after viewing on a screen that it was where my train would be arriving.

The author’s train platform.Joey Hadden/Insider

The train arrived on time and I found and boarded my assigned car, number 254.

The train arrived on time and I found and boarded my assigned car, number 254.

The author enters her car on the train.Joey Hadden/Insider

Inside the seating carriage sleeper cars, I saw narrow, dimly lit corridors that opened to small enclosed cabins with six seats in each.

Inside the seating carriage sleeper cars, I saw narrow, dimly lit corridors that opened to small enclosed cabins with six seats in each.

Corridors on the train lead to the author’s room and seat.Joey Hadden/Insider

I made my way to my assigned seat in one of these cabins. During my leg of the journey, three travelers were already there when I boarded, and two others arrived within the first few hours.

I made my way to my assigned seat in one of these cabins. During my leg of the journey, three travelers were already there when I boarded, and two others arrived within the first few hours.

The seats recline deeply.Joey Hadden/Insider

I thought the seat was slightly wider than a typical train coach seat. It had two cushions and reclined far enough to almost lay flat, but not fully.

I thought the seat was slightly wider than a typical train coach seat. It had two cushions and reclined far enough to almost lay flat, but not fully.

The author’s seat in the reclined position.Joey Hadden/Insider

Each seat came with a small table that slid out from the armrest. It was large enough to fit my ticket and phone, but not much else.

Each seat came with a small table that slid out from the armrest. It was large enough to fit my ticket and phone, but not much else.

My side table.Joey Hadden/Insider

Right away, I thought the room was cramped and lacked enough legroom for each traveler. But I was surprised to find ample luggage space on two rows of storage racks above the seats.

Right away, I thought the room was cramped and lacked enough legroom for each traveler. But I was surprised to find ample luggage space on two rows of storage racks above the seats.

Arrows point to luggage space in a seating carriage. The author’s carriage is not pictured.Nightjet – © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger

I wanted to charge my phone, but I only saw two outlets next to the window in my carriage. I had to communicate with other passengers to take turns using them. An OBB Nightjet rep told Insider that its new cars coming in 2023 will have more outlets.

I wanted to charge my phone, but I only saw two outlets next to the window in my carriage. I had to communicate with other passengers to take turns using them. An OBB Nightjet rep told Insider that its new cars coming in 2023 will have more outlets.

Outlets in use in the train car.Joey Hadden/Insider

Even though my ticket didn’t come with a meal, I checked out the menu to see what was available for purchase. I thought it had a wide selection with snacks, pasta, and wraps.

Even though my ticket didn't come with a meal, I checked out the menu to see what was available for purchase. I thought it had a wide selection with snacks, pasta, and wraps.

The OBB Nightjet menu.Joey Hadden/Insider

Since I already ate, I skipped the food and used one of two shared bathrooms in the car to brush my teeth.

Since I already ate, I skipped the food and used one of two shared bathrooms in the car to brush my teeth.

The author inside a bathroom on the train.Joey Hadden/Insider

I thought the bathroom looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while. “Toilets are always cleaned when the trip starts,” OBB Nightjet said in a statement to Insider. “In addition, our staff is doing regular checks during the night.”

I thought the bathroom looked like it hadn't been cleaned in a while. "Toilets are always cleaned when the trip starts," OBB Nightjet said in a statement to Insider. "In addition, our staff is doing regular checks during the night."

A bathroom in the author’s train car.Joey Hadden/Insider

Back in my room, someone had turned the lights off. So I tried to fall asleep but found it impossible with the constant bumps on the ride and so many people around me. I had hardly any personal space.

Back in my room, someone had turned the lights off. So I tried to fall asleep but found it impossible with the constant bumps on the ride and so many people around me. I had hardly any personal space.

The author stays awake on her journey to Vienna.Joey Hadden/Insider

I reclined my seat all the way, but I thought the gap between the seat back and the bottom of the seat made it tough to get comfortable. I didn’t see any pillows or sheets provided for guests, either.

I reclined my seat all the way, but I thought the gap between the seat back and the bottom of the seat made it tough to get comfortable. I didn't see any pillows or sheets provided for guests, either.

The author’s seat at bedtime.Joey Hadden/Insider

The rep for OBB Nightjet told Insider that pillows and sheets are only provided for guests in the bunk-style sleeping cars because the seating carriage is not recommended for long-haul trips.

The rep for OBB Nightjet told Insider that pillows and sheets are only provided for guests in the bunk-style sleeping cars because the seating carriage is not recommended for long-haul trips.

Bed sheets provided in a sleeper car.Joey Hadden/Insider

Although seats were assigned, I quickly caught on that other passengers were moving around the car to find less-crowded rooms. I followed suit and ended up switching to a different cabin with only two other people.

Although seats were assigned, I quickly caught on that other passengers were moving around the car to find less-crowded rooms. I followed suit and ended up switching to a different cabin with only two other people.

The author finds a less crowded room on the train.Joey Hadden/Insider

But I knew that someone boarding at one of the many overnight stops could kick me out at any time if the seat I switched to was assigned to someone else.

But I knew that someone boarding at one of the many overnight stops could kick me out at any time if the seat I switched to was assigned to someone else.

The door to the cabin the author switched to.Joey Hadden/Insider

Even in a less-crowded cabin, I couldn’t get comfortable on such a bumpy journey, or with the knowledge that someone might wake me up to move. I ended up staying awake until the morning.

Even in a less-crowded cabin, I couldn't get comfortable on such a bumpy journey, or with the knowledge that someone might wake me up to move. I ended up staying awake until the morning.

Views out the window in the early hours of the morning.Joey Hadden/Insider

My train arrived in Vienna at 7 a.m., and I was so exhausted that I ran around town looking for any hotel that would take me in so early in the morning.

My train arrived in Vienna at 7 a.m., and I was so exhausted that I ran around town looking for any hotel that would take me in so early in the morning.

The author arrives in Vienna feeling exhausted.Joey Hadden/Insider

Splurging on a hotel room upon arrival for a few hours of sleep made me feel like the cheapest ticket on an overnight train ultimately wasn’t worth it. Next time, I’ll book a flight or take a train with private cabins.

Splurging on a hotel room upon arrival for a few hours of sleep made me feel like the cheapest ticket on an overnight train ultimately wasn't worth it. Next time, I'll book a flight or take a train with private cabins.

An OBB Nightjet train.Nightjet – © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger