I've spent more than 80 hours on overnight trains. My biggest tip is to plan for no sleep.

Left: The author on a train in a blue shirt and a green hat sits in a blue seat. Right: A train platform with a red train arriving in the background and a person sitting on a bench in the center of the image.
Insider's reporter recommends having an alternate plan following overnight train trips.Joey Hadden/Insider
  • I got zero sleep on a European overnight train ride in a shared cabin last October.

  • I was so exhausted when I arrived that I frantically searched for a hotel room at 7 a.m.

  • Next time I'm on a sleeper train, I'll have an alternative day plan in case I can't fall asleep.

I've only had one sleepless night on a train, but it sucked so much that it changed the way I'll travel on overnight trains forever.

To date, I've spent 80 hours on overnight trains in the US and Europe. On some of these rides, I've booked private cabins where I had an enclosed room to myself. For others, I booked shared sleeper cabins.

In October 2022, during a two-week trip through four European countries by rail, I booked a $40 overnight ride from Berlin, Germany, to Vienna, Austria — the cheapest accommodation on the sleeper train operated by Austrian Federal Railway's OBB Nightjet train.

The author exits a Nightjet train in Venice.
The author exits a Nightjet train in October 2022.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.

A representative for OBB Nightjet told Insider that the seating carriage is not recommended for long-haul trips. And once I boarded, it was easy to see why.

I got zero sleep in a shared cabin on an overnight train

On the train, there were small enclosed cabins with two sets of three seats facing each other inside. Right away, I thought the room was cramped and lacked enough legroom for each traveler.

My seat had two cushions that could recline, but not far enough to be totally flat. When reclining it all the way, I found that the gap between the seat back and the bottom of the seat made it tough to get comfortable. There were no sheets or pillows provided for guests in the seating carriage either.

A seating carriage onboard a Nightjet train traveling from Berlin to Vienna in October 2022.
A seating carriage onboard a Nightjet train traveling from Berlin to Vienna in October 2022.Joey Hadden/Insider

I spent the entire 12-hour ride trying to fall asleep, and I failed.

I searched for hotels near the station when I arrived

My train arrived in Vienna at 7 a.m., and I was exhausted after my unintentional all-nighter. But I knew I couldn't check into my Airbnb until 3 p.m., so once I left the station, I started going into random hotels to book a room. By the third hotel, I got one. I had to pay for the whole night even though I was only taking a nap, but I thought it was worth the price for a safe, comfortable place to doze.

In Vienna, that last-minute hotel booking changed everything. When I first got to the city, I didn't even pay attention to how it looked or felt, because I was too tired and just wanted to go home. If I hadn't found a hotel, I imagine I would have spent the day trudging through the streets without being present enough to enjoy exploring them.

But after some much-needed rest, I was able to appreciate where I was and take in the unique architecture surrounding me. Walking to my Airbnb after my nap, I remembered why I was there and felt a new wave of excitement about my travels.

Next time, I'll scope the hotel scene before I board a sleeper train

After that experience, I'll never take an overnight train again without an alternative plan for the next day. I'll search for hotels near my arrival station so that if I don't sleep, I will have an idea of my options. That way, I won't find myself frantically searching Google Maps with an exhausted brain at 7 a.m.

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