- For an overnight train in Europe, I booked the cheapest accommodation: a seat in a seating carriage.
- Operated by OBB Nightjet, the carriage seat cost $40 for a 12-hour ride from Berlin to Vienna.
Sleeping on a train is no small feat.
Take it from me — I’ve spent 80 hours on overnight trains from the US to Europe. On some of these rides, I’ve booked private cabins where I had an enclosed room to myself. More recently, I’ve traveled between Germany, Vienna, and Italy in shared sleeper cabins.
With bumpy tracks and stiff beds, I think it’s hard enough to sleep on a train in a private room. But those nights were a breeze compared to my experience in a sleeper carriage for six.
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 rail line operates overnight routes between Austria, Italy, France, and the Netherlands and can go as fast as 143 miles per hour, according to its website.
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.
The cabin felt too crowded for comfort
When I boarded the train in Berlin, dimly lit corridors opened to these 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.
During my 12-hour leg of the journey, three travelers were already there when I boarded, and two others arrived within the first few hours.
I thought the seat looked slightly wider than a typical train coach seat. It had two cushions and 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. I didn’t see any pillows or sheets provided for guests, either.
A representative 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 room lacked some key amenities
While there were no pillows or blankets, the seats had some amenities. Each 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. There were also outlets in the carriage, but not enough for everyone. Passengers had to take turns charging their phones with the two outlets available.
An OBB Nightjet rep told Insider that its new 2023 cars have more outlets.
I couldn’t sleep at all
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. 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.
Even in a less-crowded cabin, I couldn’t get comfortable in the seat — especially with the knowledge that someone might wake me up to move. So I ended up staying awake until 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. 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. And my exhaustion from lack of sleep made my time in the Austrian city less enjoyable.
“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.”
Luckily, Nightjet’s new trains in 2023 have upgraded private cabins, and I can’t wait to try them out on my next European adventure.