The Real Cost of an Overnight Train

When Andy and I were planning our recent trip to Budapest, I found a train route that would save us about 100 euros each. Unfortunately it involved two switches at night on the return journey. The schedule looked roughly like this: Budapest to Munich 3:10pm to 10:25pm, Munich to Karlsruhe 11:50pm to 3:30am, and Karlsruhe to Freiburg 4:45am to 5:55am. I knew I wouldn’t like it but, at the time, the drastic difference in the ticket price convinced me to buy it. It’ll be an adventure, I thought. (In hindsight, what the hell what I thinking? I didn’t even like the night train from Paris to Nice, and we were in a sleeper car on that one.)

train travel

The journey started off well

The Budapest to Munich leg went perfectly fine. We had to switch seats a few times because the seat reservations weren’t showing when we first boarded, so we had to get out of someone’s reserved seats. A little while later, we found ourselves surrounded by about 10 loud kids, so we found seats in another car. The train arrived a little late in Munich, but not by much.

Munich to Karlsruhe was a bit rough simply because of the time. The hours after midnight just seemed to stretch on forever. I read a book to stay awake because sleeping while sitting up in a chair, and with the lights on, sounded worse than just trying to stay awake. The train was surprisingly full for such a torturous time, especially given that it wasn’t a true night train with sleeper cars.

The worst time of day for a delay

After arriving in Karlsruhe, paying 50 cents to use the bathroom and changing out of jeans and into my comfy pants, Andy and I went to wait on the platform for our final train. Andy got up to walk around and stretch his legs a bit and, when he came back, he reported that the screen was showing a two hour delay. What?! I was horrified.

Over the next 20 minutes, the screen and the notes in the Deutsche Bahn app changed from two hours delayed to five minutes delayed to 50 minutes delayed. When the app said 50 minutes delayed it also showed that we would only arrive five minutes late in Freiburg. The journey only takes a little over an hour, so it’s impossible for the train to make up that much time in transit.

The missing train cars

Finally the train we were expecting pulled on to the track. But the train employees denied us entry. Apparently this train only had sleeper cars. The cars with seats, where we were supposed to be, never got connected. The man didn’t know when that train would actually show up, but no one was allowed to board the one in front of us. It was like putting a plate of food in front of a hungry person and then saying, sorry, you can’t eat that.

We never did see the train we were scheduled to take. But there was another train leaving at 5:50am and arriving in Freiburg at 7am. Luckily we were allowed to board this one due to the delay of the train we held tickets for. I was finally able to collapse into bed around 8am.

Ali needs her sleep

I’m not a fun person to be around when I’m extremely tired. (Or extremely hungry, for that matter.) I was having mini meltdowns throughout the early hours of the morning. By the time we were waiting for the tram to take us home, I could barely form intelligible sentences. My knees hurt from sitting on trains for so long. My ears were buzzing from exhaustion. I thought I was going to cry a few times, except I didn’t even have the energy for crying.

I slept for four hours when we got home, and then after lunch I wasted two hours playing Super Mario Brothers 3. I wrote the draft for this post and one other, mostly so I could purge the details from my brain, but I was nowhere near as productive as I normally am. And I struggled all day to stay awake. It was like being jet lagged, only we didn’t even change time zones. The next day wasn’t much better, with both of us still exhausted and not very productive.

We may have saved a nice chunk of money on those tickets, but I’ll never travel like that again unless it’s completely unavoidable.