I booked shared and private sleeper cabins on overnight trains in Europe. Only one was worth the price.

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I booked shared and private sleeper cabins on overnight trains in Europe. Only one was worth the price.
  • I traveled by overnight train during two European backpacking trips.
  • For my first trip, I booked a bunk in a sleeper cabin shared with three strangers for $84.

I explored by day and traveled by night during my two backpacking trips through Europe.

In 2022 and 2023, I traversed the continent on sleeper trains operated by OBB Nightjet, an Austrian rail line that operates in more than 25 European cities.

Nightjet has three tiers of sleeping accommodations, from reclining seats to bunks in shared and private cabins.

During my first European train trip, I booked an $84 ride from Vienna to Venice in a shared cabin with six bunks. A year later, I booked a private cabin from Venice to Vienna with the same train line for $200.

Both trips were roughly 12 hours long, but the accommodations provided completely different experiences in terms of comfort and amenities. And there's only one I'd take again.

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During my first European train trip in 2022, I slept in a cabin shared with strangers.

During my first European train trip in 2022, I slept in a cabin shared with strangers.
Inside a shared sleeper cabin on a Nightjet train.Nightjet - © ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger

A step above a seating carriage, the 74-square-foot shared cabin had six bunks, a pullout table, and not much else. At $84 for one bunk, this is the cheapest Nighjet accommodation with a lie-flat bed.

The second time, I booked a private cabin.

The second time, I booked a private cabin.
Inside a private cabin on a Nightjet train.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

For my second train trip through Europe in November 2023, I traveled from Venice to Vienna in a private cabin for $200 — Nightjet's highest tier of accommodation.

The 30-square-foot space had three bunks inside — one on the bottom and two up top. Across from the bottom bunk was a vanity and wash basin — a perk only included in private cabins.

On the bottom bunk, there was also a goodie bag of complimentary amenities such as a sleep mask, earplugs, and slippers.

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The shared cabin felt cramped and lacked privacy for each traveler.

The shared cabin felt cramped and lacked privacy for each traveler.
The author lays in her bunk in the shared cabin.Joey Hadden/Insider

There were only three other travelers in the shared cabin for six during my leg of the trip. Aside from brief hellos, we all kept to ourselves, and the room was quiet.

But I never forgot I was in the presence of others. The space felt so cramped I couldn't imagine squeezing six people and their luggage inside. There was hardly any room to stand up, and I didn't have enough privacy to relax without curtains or dividers between bunks.

"Offering our passengers a high level of travel comfort is an important concern for us," a representative for OBB Nightjet told Business Insider in a statement. "We are constantly working on improvements to our product and also take into account the requirements of our customers."

But the private cabin felt more spacious.

But the private cabin felt more spacious.
The author travels from Italy to Austria in a private cabin on an overnight train.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Although smaller than the shared cabin, the private cabin packed less inside, leaving more floor space to move around in. With luggage storage next to one of the top bunks, the room didn't feel crowded.

But the best part was having complete privacy with a door that could lock and no one to share the space with.

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During the first ride, I washed up in one of the sleeping car's shared bathrooms.

During the first ride, I washed up in one of the sleeping car's shared bathrooms.
The shared bathroom in the sleeping car.Joey Hadden/Insider

There was no toilet, sink, or vanity inside the cabin. So before bed, I changed and brushed my teeth in one of the two bathrooms shared with every passenger in the sleeping car.

After standing in a short line of travelers, I rushed through my nighttime routine in the small restroom to keep others from waiting too long.

In the private accommodation, I brushed my teeth from the comfort of my cabin.

In the private accommodation, I brushed my teeth from the comfort of my cabin.
The author washes up in her cabin.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

The private cabin didn't have a toilet inside either, but the vanity and sink made washing up before bed more relaxing since I didn't have to rush through my routine.

As I brushed my teeth and washed my face, I noticed that, unlike the shared bathroom, my vanity had bright, white lights and toilet storage shelves on the inner doors.

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In the shared cabin, my bunk wasn't comfortable.

In the shared cabin, my bunk wasn't comfortable.
The author sits in her bunk.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

The bunk was situated like a couch when I arrived in the cabin. And before bed, an attendant came by to pull it out.

The futon felt like a carpet and was stiffer than a seat in a car. While I appreciated being able to lie flat and the sheets and pillow provided, I had difficulty falling and staying asleep in a relaxing position. And I woke up each time another passenger in my room got up to use the bathroom.

But the private cabin's cot was cozy.

But the private cabin's cot was cozy.
The author's bunk on the overnight train.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

In the private cabin, I was surprised that the bunk was more comfortable than those in the shared accommodation.

The cot was as cushy as it was firm, making it easy on my back. And in addition to sheets and a pillow, there was a thick comforter that made me feel more cozy. It reminded me of my bed at home. I had an easy time dozing off and slept for six hours straight.

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Both rides included a complimentary breakfast.

Both rides included a complimentary breakfast.
Complimentary breakfast on the Nightjet train.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

I received the same complimentary breakfast in both cabins — two bread rolls with butter, Nutella, and fruit preserves on the side, yogurt, and a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea.

In the future, I'll only book private cabins on Nightjet trains.

In the future, I'll only book private cabins on Nightjet trains.
A Nightjet train travels from Venice, Italy, to Vienna, Austria.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

After a night in the shared cabin, I was exhausted. I didn't enjoy my first day in Venice as much as I hoped. As beautiful as it was, I couldn't help thinking about how nice it would be to nap.

But following my ride in the private cabin, I felt refreshed and well-rested, making my day in Vienna more fulfilling as I explored streets lined with vibrantly colored buildings and murals.

These contrasting experiences made me realize that booking a shared cabin on an overnight train wasn't worth the money I saved.

However, the comforts of the private cabin made me feel like I was in a hotel room. And $200 for one night in my own space while traveling from one destination to the next felt like a fair price to me.

Europe is so vast that I'm certain I'll backpack through the continent again. And when I do, I know I'll book private rooms on overnight trains.

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