— travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams —

travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams


There’s nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Oh, there’s romance in the notion of stepping from a wooden platform onto a steel carriage, from solid ground to motion, to adventure, to the dark.

There’s nothing romantic about not knowing where, exactly, in the designated platform of a rather long train, two people with a ticket that says “CNL 1319, 2 Liegeplätze, Wg. 186, Pl. 55 56, 2 Oben, Abteil, Nichtraucher, inkl. Zuschlag” should stand to wait for their car; nothing romantic about expecting the cars to be ordered numerically all throughout, then finding out they’re not, then having to decide — fast! — whether to go forward or back; nothing romantic about deciding, at the last minute, to board a random car and searching from car to car for the right car and the right compartment; nothing romantic about dragging your luggage along narrow corridors and having to wait for rowdy groups of people to settle themselves into their compartments so that you can pass by to get to yours.

There is, I suppose, something romantic about the thought of going to sleep in Paris and waking up in Venice, as if transported by dreams in a drizzle of pixie dust.

In unromantic reality, you wake up when the authorities need to see your ticket and your passport, and again when they are returned to you. Or if the air conditioning is wonky, you wake up every 30 minutes or so: when it becomes too hot, and again when it becomes too cold. That is if you can sleep at all, in your cramped berth, your 1 couchette in a crowded car of 6.

And yes, it might be romantic: the idea of 6 strangers seemingly thrown together by fate, their life’s journeys interconnected for a time altogether too brief.

What’s not so romantic? Not being able to sit up in bed, having to creep into it, and staring at the roof of the train just a few inches from your nose, because a 6-couchette compartment in a 12-compartment 26-meter car does not a penthouse suite make.

So honestly?

There is nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Just the idea of them.

And yet…

I still love them.

I love that the experience is raw and real, not a smooth ride contrived for my paying convenience.

I love that they remind me of why I travel: to experience the unfamiliar, even when it’s uncomfortable.

And I love that they remind me of my favorite stories, the ones with happy endings. They give me hope that, someday, after the curveballs and the uncertainty and the discomfort and the pain, in the end I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

(In Venice, sipping a latte.)

Caledonian Sleeper_15


She took the midnight train going anywhere | Identity
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. An earlier version of this post was published here last June 2015.




12 Responses

  1. What a lovely post. And I agree about midnight trains. We got one once from Byron Bay to Sydney. Even though we had our own private cabin I didn’t sleep at all because I was on the top bunk with no railing to stop me falling out. I think we were meant to use the ladder as a railing but we didn’t figure that out. I remember I ended up moving my mattress onto the skinny strip of floor next to the lower bunk where Don was sleeping away. Still didn’t sleep. We’ve done a few overnight train trips, the most recent being from Izmir to Konya in Turkey. I think I slept a little on that trip, and at least we weren’t interrupted by people wanting to see out passports.

    1. Awww. I can imagine you resignedly lying down on the floor…and still not being able to sleep! Must have been tough the next morning. I am always excited at the thought of taking a sleeper train but it’s almost always not a pleasant experience. 😀 The only one I loved and was truly rested in was the sleeper between London and Scotland.

      1. Oooh! That’s relatively near where I live, will look that up. Thanks Alison!

  2. I’ve slept in many trains – Germany, France, Italy and Vietnam included. I’m planning on doing the trans-mongolian railway in 2017 (hopefully). There is nothing ‘romantic’ about overnight train travel, but like you, I still love it! (I do get a 4-bed berth though, not 6)

    1. Will do that next time too, I think the space is worth the price difference! I hope your plans for the trans-Mongolian railway push through, it sounds like an adventure!

  3. I was just wondering when and where is your next travel. Can I tag along like an apprentice? I really need to learn the ins and outs of solo traveling. Please?!

    1. Hi Aessa! Actually, I just have a quick trip to El Nido in a couple of weeks, and then for the rest of the year kay magpuyo sah ko and mag-save for trips that I’m planning to take this 2017 with my family. But I would love to help you with anything you want to learn about traveling. Is there anything specific that you would like to know about? Or would a step-by-step guide be helpful? I’m actually planning on doing a step-by-step guide for DIY travels — because some people are intimidated by planning, that’s why they resort to taking package tours — as soon as maka-lugar ko. But if you have a specific question or topic that you want to know about, just ask away. 🙂

      1. Hi Ms. Ligaya! I’m sure you had a great time in El Nido. I’ve only been to Puerto Princesa but I can tell Palawan is so beautiful. And yes, I’m so all up for the DIY guide you will be posting. It will be a great help for us who are just starting out to this adventure. I’ve been to many backpacking trips na here in Philippines and after my trip to Batanes this coming September, I’m moving on to bigger trips and it really scares me sa tinuod lang. I haven’t been out of the country, never applied for a visa before so basin maglisod ko on that part. I’m from Cebu by the way and nalipay jud ko pagkakita sa imo blog kay at least I know na it’s possible and I take comfort in thinking na Cebu is the starting point of your travels. I’ve got loads of questions in mind pero I won’t take much of your time sa karon kay dugay pa pud kaayo to akong planned trip. For now, basa-basa sa lang ko and learn from the experts 🙂

  4. I have always dreamt of doing connected travels by bus. And then I read this article and made me think that maybe… it’d be awesome to try trains as well. And waking up in Paris and Venice would be awesom.

    1. Try nya puhon! I think you’ll love it. Well…in a way, trains are just like a more comfortable version of a bus or even a jeepney, just something that gets you from place to place, nice lang kay wala’y traffic and naa’y schedule gyud kung kanus-a mo-depart and mo-arrive at a certain place. But for some reason I get such a sense of adventure when I go on a train. And sleeper trains are especially nice because it can be a magical feeling nga matulog lang ka, and then inig-mata nimo, naa na ka somewhere you’ve always dreamed of visiting. 🙂

Share your thoughts!