I've spent over 80 hours on overnight trains and made 7 big mistakes, from choosing the wrong bunk to not bringing a pillow

·7-min read
I've spent over 80 hours on overnight trains and made 7 big mistakes, from choosing the wrong bunk to not bringing a pillow
  • I've taken four overnight train rides — Amtrak in the US, and Nightjet in Europe.

  • I made mistakes on these rides that kept me from getting comfortable or making the most of my trips.

  • I wish I brought my own pillow and regret not splurging for a comfier accommodation on two rides.

I've spent more than 80 hours traveling 2,800 miles on overnight trains in the US and in Europe.

The author lays in the train bed looking out the window on the left side
The author lays in the top bunk of a roomette on an Amtrak train.Joey Hadden/Insider
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It all started in October 2021, when I took two 30-hour Amtrak rides between Miami and NYC.

The author exits a train in Miami after a 30-hour ride.
The author exits a train in Miami after a 30-hour ride.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: 14 things that surprised me the most about overnight Amtrak rides after spending 60 hours in sleeper cars

A year later, I spent a total of 24 hours on two overnight trains while traveling from Berlin to Vienna, and Vienna to Venice on OBB Austrian Federal Railway's Nightjet trains.

The author exits a Nightjet train in Venice.
The author exits a Nightjet train in Venice.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I've traveled over 950 miles on business-class trains in the US, Canada, and Europe. Here's how they rank from best to worst.

Looking back, I could have been more comfortable and gotten more out of all these rides if I avoided a few big mistakes.

The author wakes up to morning light in the train bed.
The author wakes up in an Amtrak bedroomJoey Hadden/Insider

For one thing, when I booked my Amtrak rides, I could have saved money for future rides had I joined Amtrak's rewards program.

An Amtrak sleeper train stopped on Miami.
An Amtrak sleeper train stopped in Miami.Joey Hadden/Insider

After my trip, I learned that Amtrak has a loyalty program that rewards passengers with two points for every $1 spent. Points may be used for tickets, hotels, shopping, and dining, and it's free to join.

A screenshot of the rewards program on the Amtrak website
A screenshot of the rewards program on the Amtrak website.Joey Hadden/Insider

Source: Amtrak

If I signed up, I would have earned 3,000 points toward my next Amtrak adventure. I missed out this time, but next time I book, I'll be sure to take advantage of this opportunity.

The author takes a selfie outside of (L) and inside of (R) Amtrak trains
The author in front of an Amtrak sleeper train.Joey Hadden/Insider

Source: Upgraded Points

And once on my first overnight train from Miami to NYC, I messed up by forgetting medicine for motion sickness. The ride was very bumpy, and I found myself feeling sick for the majority of it.

Inside an Amtrak bedroom with blue seats and a big window showing nature outside
A view out the train window gives an idea of its motion.Joey Hadden/Insider

For all my overnight rides since, which have been similarly bumpy, I haven't forgotten to pack my medicine.

The authors medicine for motion sickness in Europe.
The author's medicine for motion sickness in Europe.Joey Hadden/Insider

Another mistake I made on that first trip was choosing to sleep in the top bunk. I thought it made the ride feel even bumpier.

The author sits in the top bunk in a roomette.
The author sits in the top bunk in a roomette.Joey Hadden/Insider

When I tried sleeping in the bottom bunk on my way home from Miami, it felt less bumpy, which made it easier to sleep. So when I later traveled to Europe, I made sure to select a bottom bunk.

The author lies on the bed looking up with the table on the left in the foreground. The curtains are closed.
The author relaxes on the bottom bunk in an Amtrak bedroom.Joey Hadden/Insider

Another mistake I made was not always splurging on the most comfortable space available. On Amtrak, for example, sleeper trains typically have a variety of accommodations, from regular seats to private rooms.

The author plays video games (L) and listens to podcasts (R) on Amtrak trains
The author in an Amtrak bedroom (L) and roomette (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

I traveled from NYC to Miami in a $500 roomette, which is a 20-square-foot enclosed private space with a fold-out table, two chairs that fold out into a bed, and an additional bed that pulls down from the ceiling.

The author stays in a roomette on an Amtrak train traveling from NYC to Miami.
The author stays in a roomette on an Amtrak train traveling from NYC to Miami.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I spent $500 for a 20-square-foot room on a 30-hour Amtrak ride, where no space was left unused. Take a look inside.

On my way back to NYC, I spent 30 hours in the next level up, a bedroom accommodation. It cost $1,000 for twice as much space as the roomette, with a private bathroom.

The author relaxes in an Amtrak bedroom traveling from Miami to NYC.
The author relaxes in an Amtrak bedroom traveling from Miami to NYC.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I spent $1,000 for a 30-hour Amtrak ride in a private bedroom. Take a look inside the 45-square-foot space with its own bathroom.

After these rides, I thought that the roomette felt more cramped and realized spending twice as much money for double the space in the bedroom was totally worth it.

The author feels cramped in a roomette.
The author felt cramped in a roomette.Joey Hadden/Insider

I made a similar mistake on my first overnight ride in Europe. My sleeper trains did not have private accommodations like Amtrak, but rather, shared cabins. I learned some are more comfortable than others.

A private roomette accommodation on an Amtrak train.
A private roomette accommodation on an Amtrak train.Joey Hadden/Insider

The Nightjet routes I booked had a choice of regular assigned seats in enclosed seating carriages of six, or shared sleeper cars with bunks of four or six. I tried both.

A seating carriage (L) and a shared cabin (R) and Nightjet trains in Europe.
A seating carriage (L) and a shared cabin (R) and Nightjet trains in Europe.Joey Hadden/Insider

Source: Nightjet

For my ride from Berlin to Vienna, I booked a $40 regular seat inside a seating carriage with six seats facing each other.

A full couchette accommodation on a Nightjet train.
A seating accommodation on a Nightjet train.Nightjet - © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger

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

Though the seats reclined, they didn't lay fully flat, and the small space felt like a tight squeeze for six people with limited legroom. I didn't sleep at all.

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

"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."

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

A few days later, I slept in a bunk inside a shared sleeping cabin for up to six people when traveling from Vienna to Venice for $84.

Inside a shared sleeper cabin on a Nightjet train.
Inside a shared sleeper cabin on a Nightjet train.Nightjet - © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger

Read more: I bunked with 3 strangers in a shared cabin on an overnight train in Europe. It was bumpy, cramped, and I wouldn't do it again.

I still felt cramped in the 74-square-foot space, but having a lay-flat bed made it a bit easier to sleep. I thought it was worth the higher price tag.

The author in her bunk in a shared cabin on a Nightjet train traveling from Vienna to Venice.
The author in her bunk in a shared cabin on a Nightjet train traveling from Vienna to Venice.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I spent 11 hours with 3 strangers in a shared cabin on a sleeper train in Europe. 6 surprises made me regret my choice.

Another mistake I made was when I traveled on Amtrak and didn't check if my ticket included access to the Metropolitan Lounge at NYC's Penn Station, where I departed.

Entrance to Amtrak Lounge
The entrance to the Metropolitan Lounge at NYC's Penn Station.Joey Hadden/Insider

The Metropolitan Lounge is a quiet waiting area that is free for first-class and sleeper cabin Amtrak customers. It has comfortable seats and free snacks and drinks.

A view of the seating at the Metropolitan Lounge
Inside the Metropolitan Lounge.Joey Hadden/Insider

Source: Insider

Since I didn't realize my ticket included access to the lounge, I waited in the seating area for all passengers and was less comfortable than I could have been.

Amtrak waiting area Penn Station
The Amtrak waiting area at Penn Station in NYC.Joey Hadden/Insider

I also made the mistake of not bringing my own pillow. No pillows were given in the seating carriage as an OBB Nightjet representative told Insider this cabin is not recommended for overnight rides. The other rides included pillows, but I thought they felt too thin.

Pillows in sleeper accommodations on Amtrak (L) and Nightjet (R) trains.
Pillows in sleeper accommodations on Amtrak (L) and Nightjet (R) trains.Joey Hadden/Insider

Next time I travel by overnight train, I'll pack one of my fluffy, dense pillows from home in a vacuum-sealed bag to make my trip more comfortable.

Vacuum sealed clothes, duvets, blankets, sheets save space on a white shelf
Vacuum-sealed clothes, duvets, blankets, and sheets save space.Giacinto Canini/Getty Images

Overnight train rides can feel exhausting, but I think avoiding these mistakes in the future will make me feel cozier and get more rest on my next sleeper train adventure.

The author is seen outside the train on a platform
The author at a train station during her Amtrak trip.Joey Hadden/Insider

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