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Safety, eating, sitting up vs couchettes, etc, solo, on SE Europe trains

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I've read the posts here about trains, and on seat61, and elsewhere, and I'll review them again, but I also value feedback from travelers who have either done what I'm contemplating or have enough sense to tell me I'm a complete idiot!

I'd like to get max value out of a one-month Eurail Global Pass I plan to use next April by starting somewhere near Berlin and going through as much of southeastern Europe as I can, incl maybe all the way to Istanbul via Bucharest, etc.

I'd like opinions and experiences on sleeping in couchettes, coping with border crossings at 3 am, sitting up in a coach seat instead of using a couchette, eating on trains that don't have a "dining" car, and anything else anyone has to offer to, as I said, help protect me from myself!

I love trains enough that riding them for the sake of riding them is an end unto itself for me, so the time I'd spend on a train is not an issue. In fact, if anyone says "but you'll spend **** hours on trains!", I'm likely to respond, saying, "yeah, what's your point?"

Mostly I'm asking about the safety issues of solo travel, having my bag stolen while I'm using the john at the end of the car, getting locked out of a couchette compartment at 3 am on one of my all-too-frequent late night trips to the john again, etc.

Am I being as stupid here as I'm beginning to think I am, as I type this?

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    Tom - a a fellow traveler who don't mind sitting on trains a lot - every train ride I take and I've taken zillions over decades now, is an adventure.

    I've taken literally hundreds of night trains - from sleeping in regular seats (often no longer even possible with the advent of 'hotel trains' to Pullman seats (reclining seats that at times barely recline to couchettes - 4 or more commonly 6 persons in a compartment.

    Border crossings are only a problem in non-Schengen countries and even then in a couchette the conductor will typically take your passport and railpass (or ticket) and keep them overnight and often fulfill any border formalities for you - rarely are you waken up anymore - but I have had exceptions to this like in Germany in the middle of the night being roused by Nazi-like goon squads who checked every little thing in my bags and strip searched me in the baggage car and then finding nothing just left me with a pile of belongings with not even a 'we sorry' - but that train was coming from Amsterdamned, dope capital of Europe and even on amsterdam to paris trains in Paris you may be snagged and searched!

    But cocuhettes are always an adventure - usually really fine upstanding folks but at times like once in Spain a French guy who stank so much the conductor found him a place somewhere by himself!

    Theft - never happened to me but I am careful to keep my money belt on my person at all times and my day pack with me in the bunk - I always request the uppermost berth because there you have lots of room for luggage storage in the part that sticks out over the ceiling of the corridor.

    But i have indeed seen and heard of thefts from couchettes and certainly in regular seating - at least in a couchette car there is an attendant that monitors who comes and goes but not so in regular cars.

    Food - you can eat or drink anything but be kind of fellow passengers that it don't stink up the car - leave that stinking French gourmet cheese out!

    Again I would caution against sitting up in a coach as I have seen personally several thefts as anyone can come and go - my last ride at night in regular car saw a guy who had stolen a purse from someone else rapelling out the train car window as it approached a station - now I always pay the $20-30 or so for a couchette - a bunk with a pillow and blanket and doors that lock from the inside

    conductors always stress to keep the doors locked but yes some folk do not re-lock after going to the loo in middle of night, etc.

    Oh well - check out my favorite European train sites for lots of great info - www.seat61.com like you already have and www.budgeteuropetravel.com (call them with any questions IME - one of few agents where you talk to real experts IME - and www.ricksteves.com. For schedules I always use www.bahn.de - the German rail site that has schedules for all European trains it seems and IME is the easiest to use.

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    If you're traveling in east and southeast Europe a rail pass is unlikely to be worth the money. Trains are cheap, and the pass doesn't cover couchettes or sleepers.

    I have done a number of night trains in Europe, and Asia (see http://wilhelmswords.com/rtw2004/ for my 17,000 mile trip), and would definitely recommend couchettes. I travel with a cable lock for my main pack (although I rarely use it), wear a money belt, and keep my day pack with the good stuff (electronics, pharma) with me at all times.

    In addition to the sites above, I recommend buying a Thomas Cook Rail Map of Europe (see amazon). Boarding with your own food and drink is always a good idea.

    There's nothing you can do about border crossings except be polite and remember that the toilets will probably be locked for the duration. Be thankful that it's extremely unlikely to take the six hours it took me to get out of Russia and into Mongolia.

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    I can only provide info from a friend who like to travel on a very strict budget and did some of the above.

    First of all, some overnight trains don't have seats - but cabins only.

    If you sit in a chair all night you have to stay awake or risk having belongings stolen. She did this once and her camera was stolen even though she had it shoved between herself and the seat and the strap wrapped around her arm (the strap was slit and the camera removed without waking her).

    After that she took only couchettes (which is an extra charge - often a high one - on top of the cost of pass. She did this several times, with people who were fine - friendly and honest. Then she met a couple of careless young people who left the door unlocked and - someone got in and got her purse - including cash, wallet etc and camera again. She had her passport and one credit card in a neck pouch and had to replace other things.

    If you are traveling in a group and can watch out for each other - this may be an option. IMHO too risky for one person alone (not personal danger, but petyt theft).

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    Sorry, but I disagree that it's too risky. Everything in the way of passport, tickets, ATM/credit cards and most of your money should be in a money belt under your clothes. (Although I have been known to put it under my pillow if I feel good about the situation. Use a cable lock on the big bag. I sleep with the day bag in the berth with me. If you're paranoid about that, reserve the top berth.

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    If you're traveling in east and southeast Europe a rail pass is unlikely to be worth the money. Trains are cheap, and the pass doesn't cover couchettes or sleepers.>

    Well the Eastern European Railpass is rather cheap, especially the more days you use it and in countries it covers, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary would be cheaper by far per day than a traditional Eurailpass - so it depends on what 'railpass' you are talking about.

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    I'm female and used to take trains throughout Europe, almost every summer for 20 years of summers. For 10 of those years of summers, I was in Europe for 11 weeks straight. So, a lot of train rides and traveling solo 99% of the time.

    Sometimes I would get a couchette. The couchettes were mixed sex. There were two upper couchettes and two lower ones. I never got locked out of a couchette while going to the restroom.

    I was always coming from Danmark, where I rented a place the entire summer, and when heading south, was going to Germany, France, Monaco, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. If heading north, I was going to Sweden,Norway, or Finland which was a very safe and easy trip.

    There were many times that I didn't get a couchette and would just sit up and sleep. I'd go on long trips from, for example, Danmark to Paris like that and also from Danmark to Rome like that and then back up to Danmark. I always took late afternoon trains out of Danmark and then would arrive to my destination the next morning or afternoon. I didn't like arriving into a place a night. Plus, if the train compartment wasn't crowded, I could pull two seats out, across from each other, and a pull them together to make a bed and rest that way.

    Nowadays, I would only book a couchette as things have changed a bit I've heard. I have friends who still take the trains and they are the same friends who were taking them back when I was taking them.

    There were also things happening back when I used to take them. And for women, traveling alone, we had to be more cautious whether couchette or not. I always knew where the conductors room was on the train in case I needed him.

    We were always warned not to accept drinks from other passengers in the same compartment as they could be drugged and then the person could be robbed. And there were thefts. But, I always had a cable and a lock and would lock my suitcase or other items to the rack in the train compartment, and especially when there was a situation of the train pulling onto a ferry and the whole train being transported to the next country that way. In those situations, passengers would get off the train, that's on the ferry, and go on board the ferry, leaving their belongings behind. Then when the ferry was about to pull into the other country a horn would sound and everyone would go back to the train and back into their compartments. The train, in the ferry, would then be connected to the train waiting on the other side and would continue on its journey.

    I would also lock my suitcase and items, with a cable, in situations where there was a dining car on the train and I wanted to leave my compartment to go to it.

    Now, there are those lightweight Eagle Creek cables with a lock that I travel with, around the world, although I don't take a lot of trains these days. But, I use them for securing luggage in other situations. I had a friend, who's lived in Europe since the 70s, get her luggage stolen at the train station in the city where she lives. She stopped in the train station to get something to eat, before departing, and put her luggage next to her and someone stole it. She was furious as she then had to go home and repack and thus missed her originally scheduled train.

    As for the train system, back before the borders were so open, the conductor would come into the couchette and collect one's passport. He would then lock it in his safe and pass it out the next morning. There was usually not a problem. But, if I weren't going to the last stop, then I would use a travel alarm clock to wake me about half an hour before the train pulled into the station, so that I could make sure to get my passport back. Happy Travels!

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    Mostly I'm asking about the safety issues of solo travel, having my bag stolen while I'm using the john at the end of the car, getting locked out of a couchette compartment at 3 am on one of my all-too-frequent late night trips to the john again, etc>

    I am a shoestring traveler trying to cut costs at every turn and I have taken hundreds of overnight trains - gone to the loo late at night, etc and in 40 years of such travel have never ever been victimized - 1- I carry my valuables in a money belt on me at all times - talking about money, passport, c cards, etc. and I even take the few valuable things I may have like a camera with me to the loo in a day bag rather than leaving in the compartment with strangers.

    Act smart and be wise and you won't have a problem!

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