The “do’s” and “don’ts” while travelling on an overnight train

Imagine that you are in Europe – France, in fact (you have always wanted to travel to France) – and you are visiting all the major cities. You have your notebook or camera in one hand and luggage in the other, and you have chosen your next destination. France is famous for its high-speed trains, and you are well acquainted with the routine: watch the countryside sail by while sipping espresso.

The ride can be pretty long between some cities, however. Cannes to Bordeaux ranges from nine to 13 hours. The ultimate question remains: Spend the entire day travelling on the tracks, or book an overnight train?

I chose the overnighter. The experience left me with newfound appreciation for bunk beds and a few tips and tricks for the next time I venture out. As a student, there is an urge to explore and get the “travel bug” out of the system. Travelling by train is one of the most cost-effective options in Europe, it’s easy to do when you’re alone or with a friend and overall, it’s fun.  I will take you through a three-step journey – the beginning, duration, and end – and highlight the “do’s” and “don’ts” while travelling on an overnight train from Cannes to Bordeaux, France.

The beginning

First, let’s discuss the beginning of your trip. Cannes is a charming French Riviera city situated along the Mediterranean.

Cannes, France. By Christianne Klaudt, 2007.

Be sure to wear sunscreen for protection from those rays. You do NOT want your skin to redden like the burnt bare chests of the topless French sunbathers.

Dress in designer clothes and wear cool shades. You will be mistaken for a celebrity attending the international film festival. As Rail Europe puts it, Cannes is “Sleek, sunny, and celebrity-studded.” Or, if the student budget is tight, rock your own look.

Vogue quotes Frenchwoman, Coco Chanel, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

Coco Chanel. From “Inspirational Fashion Quotes,” by Vogue, n.d., image source.

I suggest grabbing a bite to eat before boarding your train. According to The Journiest, try the coastline oysters, champagne and gelato.

Or, you can do what I did and bring your own picnic onboard. You’re led to your train car, and at that point there’s only cramped sleeping quarters or the corner floor where bicycles are kept. So there I was, sitting on the floor as I wrapped baguette around gorgonzola among the red bicycles on one side and la toilette on the other. A true five-star dining experience.

The duration

Now that we’re onboard, let’s chat about what happens during your trip.

Once you enter the compartment of your couchette, you will be presented with six bunks: upper, middle and lower on each side. Seat 61 states that first class has four bunks. We’re students. We’re not travelling first class. So let’s move on over to second class: six bunks.

Train couchette. From “The comfort of Paris-Venice night trains,” by Thello, n.d., image source.

You’re supplied with a fresh pillow, reading lamp and lightweight sleeping bag.

Choose – I repeat – choose the top bunk. 1. you get more space and privacy, and 2. you won’t feel like you’re about to fly out the middle-bunk window every time the train jostles. You will swelter in the summer heat, and the single roof lightbulbs seem disconcerting, but trust me. It’s better than flying out the window.

Brush. Your. Teeth. Although the bathrooms are confined (think: airplanes), you will spend the next nine to 13 hours in a tiny compartment with five other individuals. So be a normal human being and brush those chops. I won’t go into detail about how many people I witnessed hit the hay without so much as removing their shoes.

Lastly, don’t forget that you are locked in your train car during the night. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a safety approach, but accept captivity and take comfort in the sound of the wind whistling through the open window.

The end

Finally, the morning arrives and you come to the end of your trip.

If you made the tremendous mistake of slipping into some pajamas the night before, and you wake to the sound of the last passenger departing the train, don’t panic. Panic only slows your ability to locate your clothes, and – you lost a shoe. Where’s your shoe? It must have flown out the window during the night. You were on the top bunk, so this wasn’t supposed to happen – ah, there it is. You found it. Next time, forget the pajamas.

Croissant and coffee. From “Unsplash,” by Katka Pavlickova, 2016, image source.  

When you step off the train in Bordeaux, grab the nearest croissant and café au lait. You just journeyed for nine hours on a train that travels 300 kilometres per hour, and you slept like royalty.

Speaking of royalty, according to The Telegraph, The Queen concluded that Bordeaux is, “The very essence of elegance.”

Bordeaux, France. From “Unsplash,” by Juan Di Nella, 2017, image source.    

The Vancouver Sunnotes that, “Life simply seems richer and deeper in Bordeaux.” The city is the capital of the world’s wine industry, after all.

You just experienced the magic of another city within 24 hours, made possibly by France’s TVG high-speed train.

Summary

There are many life hacks that can be used while travelling overnight in France. Whether it is before, during or after your journey, enjoy each moment to its fullest.

Experiences like these are educational, adventurous, and prepare you with some fantastic stories. After all, not many students return back to Calgary with the tale of a bicycle picnic, six-bunker cabin and onset of panic because they didn’t sleep in their skinny jeans. 

I can almost see the stations now, with their domed glass roofs and the familiar chime of arriving trains.

May that sound of an incoming train be someday present on the back of your brain.

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