I love trains for many reasons. In some ways, they’re rather a romantic way to travel (though, of course, that depends on the train…). Perhaps it’s nostalgia, both for one of my favorite historical eras when trains were the pinnacle of travel and for one of my first grand travel adventures Eurailing around Europe with my family at age eleven. But it’s more than that. And it’s why trains are one of my favorite places to sleep. Not just my favorite mode of overnight travel, my favorite place to sleep.
Overnight travel, by any transport, can be a great way to see more places in less time and to save money on accommodation. But most people, including me, usually find it less than conducive to a good night’s sleep. Not so the train! I’ve slept on many a train. Over short and long distances, crowded and practically empty, in a seat, on a bunk, in a cabin, in extreme heat and overzealous air conditioning… I will say, I haven’t always gotten a good night’s sleep on a train, but some of my best nights’ sleep have been on trains. Generally speaking, I love to nod off as I ride the rails. But why?
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There’s something about the movement of a train that’s different from other vehicles. It’s smooth and straight and swaying. It’s like the train is rocking you in a cradle, lulling you into slumber. While a train may make stops along the way, for the most part, its path is steady. You don’t get the disruptive turns and red lights you get traveling by car or bus. This fairly constant speed along a mostly straight path provides a regularity to the forces of motion that is relaxing and conducive to sleep.
Besides the consistent movement of trains, you also get a uniformity of sound. On some trains you can still hear that clickity-clack of the wheels over the track. But even on more modern trains, there is a steady background hum. Consistent white noise is also very peaceful for many people. White noise machines and apps are popular ways people create some sort of comforting sound in their own bedrooms to help them sleep. The train does this for you. Actually, many such machines and apps actually have “Train” as one of their relaxing sounds to choose from, which goes to show how nice it can be!
Besides the environmental factors of traveling on a train, I do think part of my enjoyment of them as a sleeping place is the anticipation. How exciting to close your eyes in one town, city, country, and open them in another! I can watch the world fly by the windows and nod off knowing new adventures await me when I wake. When you combine this anticipation with the rhythmic movement and sound of a train journey, you can’t help but feel positive, comforted, and eager – a recipe for good dreams.
Opportunity for Amenities
Trains are also different from many modes of transportation in that they often offer options for a more comfortable travel experience. In airplanes, buses, and cars, you are stuck in a seat, strapped in with a seatbelt. This can also be true for trains. I once spent 2 nights in a train seat crossing the Nullarbor from Perth to Sydney, Australia and back to Alice Springs. But that was because it was the cheapest option, not the only one. And I still slept pretty well!
Compared to other vehicles, there are greater options for comfort and amenities on trains. You can get up and walk around on a train, sit in different areas. Some trains let you transform seats and pull down bunks in order to lie flat while you sleep. Or you can even get a full cabin with a wider bed and sometimes a private bathroom. Having the room to stretch out and lie flat makes a big difference in the comfort of overnight travel and is another reason why trains are a great place to sleep.
Trains are definitely my favorite mode of transport to sleep on but, for very similar reasons, they are closely followed by boats. I did a Semester at Sea during university, sailing literally around the world for 100 days in a cruise-style ship. I slept so well during those three and a half months in my dark interior cabin with the gentle rocking of the boat and the hum of the engine a soothing constant. Plus, I also had the anticipation of docking every few days in a new country. But any boat, from a small sailboat to a large ferry, has these qualities to some extent – the movement, big or small, and the sound, even of lapping waves. I still have a soft spot for trains, though ?
- Train Travel: The Romance & The Reality
- Rail Passes: Pros & Cons
- Tips for Overnight Travel
- 5 Iconic Movie Trails You Can Actually Ride
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