4 mistakes I made, 3 things I’m glad I did

  • I took my first sleeper train, traveling about 12 hours from Brussels to Berlin and back.
  • I made a few mistakes, like traveling in skinny jeans and booking a cheaper seat instead of a bed.
  • But I’m glad I brought an eye mask, ear plugs, and plenty of food and water.

Last month I took a sleeper train for the first time.

I’ve traveled all over the UK by train, taken countless six-hour coach journeys and taken red-eye flights. But I had never taken a sleeper train before.

I used European Sleeper’s new service to get from Brussels to Berlin and back. Each ride took me about 12 hours.

I prepared as best I could, but there are some things I should have done differently.

I should have booked a bed

It may seem obvious, but I would have had a much better night’s sleep if I had booked a bed. I decided to book the cheapest ticket available, a seat in a six-person compartment for 119 euros (about $130), one way, and one of the most expensive options, a bed in a compartment. of three people, for the return trip, allowing me to compare the two. But technical issues also made me downgrade to a seat on the way back.

The interior of a European sleeping car, showing the seats

European Sleeper operated the train from Brussels to Berlin.

Grace Dean/Initiate

It seemed impossible to settle comfortably on the rigid seats of the train. We were packed in like sardines, meaning we woke up every time we left the compartment because we had to jump over each other’s legs. On the way out, someone in my compartment preferred to sleep in the hallway rather than in his seat. On the way back, someone ended up sleeping on the floor in our compartment.

Depends on your budget – the seats were considerably more affordable than the beds, but I certainly would have enjoyed my first day of vacation more had I been better rested.

My bag was too big

I brought a large backpack with me which was about 24 inches tall and quite bulky. It was too heavy to put on racks and didn’t fit completely under my seat. In the end I slept with about half of it sticking out from under my seat and had to press my feet uncomfortably on it.


I didn’t feel safe putting my big backpack on the rack.

Grace Dean/Initiate

Different pants would have been more comfortable

I made the mistake of wearing skinny jeans on the way out. It was my bulkiest item of clothing and I wanted to free up space in my bag, but it was not comfortable to sleep in. Wearing pajamas would have been weird—no one else in my compartment was wearing them—but I should have changed into more comfortable pants before boarding the train.

I wish I could charge my phone

Many trains and coaches in the UK are fitted with sockets or USB sockets as standard, particularly for longer journeys. I thought that would also be the case for the sleeper train.

Alas, that was not the case. When I boarded the outbound train to Brussels, I had less than 20% charge on my phone for the 12.5 hour journey. I was very glad I brought my book and made sure to charge my phone for the return trip.

The exterior of a European sleeper train

I was glad I brought my book for the 12 hour trip.

Grace Dean/Initiate

Glad I packed my hostel essentials

I stay in hostels a lot and have identified the essentials I need to sleep well: an eye mask, earplugs and sleeping pills (just in case). I knew I would need them on the train as well as in my hostel in Berlin, and I stowed them at the top of my backpack, along with my toothbrush, making them easy to access. The eye mask was especially helpful as the people I shared my compartment with on the way back wanted to sleep with the hallway curtains open.

I brought plenty of food and water

I packed two reusable bottles for my trip. But a member of staff at Brussels station told me that there were no water fountains and that I knew the toilets on the train would not have drinking water, so I bought one disposable bottle before boarding.

During the trip we were not given any information about buying food and drink, but a staff member on board kindly refilled my water bottles for me from larger disposable bottles. Although the train left Brussels at 6.01pm, the website only mentioned “snacks” available for purchase, so I took some food with me.

I made sure I had enough leeway

A platform in Berlin H

My sleeper train traveled between Brussels Midi/Zuid station and Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

Grace Dean/Initiate

I made sure to allow enough free time in case of delay. I felt that with such a long trip, the risk of being delayed was much higher. While I had nothing to do when I arrived in Berlin, I had a second train – the Eurostar – to catch in Brussels on the way back, and I made sure I had a few free hours that I could otherwise use to explore the city.

In the end, both trains actually arrived a bit earlier than expected.

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