The hidden cost of night trains

Night train

Though we booked almost everything in advance of our trip to get a better value, all train routes from Krakow to Bratislava were for some reason only available for purchase in person from a train station in Poland, not online.

So we had no transportation, but we did have a hotel booked in Bratislava so we knew the day we needed to arrive there. We carefully considered our options, which included 5-hour trains during the day with multiple connections and one night train leaving at 10 pm and arriving at 5:30 am with no connections. You could only see timetables online, not prices; so we made our choice based solely on the schedule and we chose the night train.

We took the opportunity to buy our ticket in Warsaw central station, and the lady who helped us was acting like she was booking us into jail instead of booking us a train ticket. She immediately said she didn’t speak English with a disgusted look on her face. Then she passed us a piece of paper so we could write down what we needed. Thankfully we had the exact schedule and train number. God forbid we had been less prepared. She didn’t even quote us a price, just printed the tickets. We didn’t dare ask what the price difference would have been between a sleeper and a seat. Mainly we were just praying this mystery ticket wouldn’t be 100 Euro. But it wasn’t. It was around $25. We cancelled one night of hotel in Bratislava and patted ourselves on the back for all the money we saved ourselves.

However, what we failed to consider when we were thinking only about saving money is that a night train through Eastern Europe is basically a moving hostel with no secured luggage storage. And after hearing horror stories about money and passports being stolen from unsuspecting travelers on trains like these, I realized that while I had saved myself some cash, I had just cost myself an entire night of sleep.

We shared a train car with a Spanish couple who immediately moved to an empty compartment as soon as the train started moving and an attractive young guy from Quebec that was supposed to get a bed but got bumped to a regular seat. He was friendly, and asked us about home, and for our help to set up the WiFi. I became convinced that he was being purposefully dim in order to lull us into a false sense of security so we would feel more comfortable falling asleep and he could rob us. Yes, I am that neurotic.

So I took out my laptop and wrote for about 2 hours until it died. The charger was too big to fit in the plug between the seats so I had 5 more hours to kill in the middle of the night on this extremely slow train. At random points throughout the night, train security would barge into the compartments, probably looking for the kind of people I was scared of running into on my night train adventure. They also came in to check our tickets.

If I was a different person, I would probably see the night train as having many advantages: The train was nearly empty. We paid only $25 for transportation and one night of accommodation combined. And we avoided having to transfer in the dingy middle-of-nowhere stations of Slovakia. We also got basically an entire extra day in Krakow since the train left at 10 pm. All of those were major advantages. But none of them outweigh losing a night of sleep. Maybe I should have spent the money I saved on some Xanax and slept peacefully like the other people on the train. But all things considered, I rather lose sleep than risk losing my passport in the middle of the night in Slovakia.

In the end, our Canadian friend was totally harmless and asleep the entire night. And I was robbed of nothing except 8 hours of sleep. I arrived in Bratislava feeling like a half-drunk zombie person, which actually is not that different from the kind of people you’ll see at the Bratislava train station at 5 in the morning. Trust me, you do not want to arrive in Bratislava at 5 am on no sleep. It makes for a weird experience.