Traveling Europe By Train

One of my absolute, hands down, favorite parts of our European vacation this summer was traveling all over Eastern Europe by train.

European trains

It’s been on my Life List as long as I can remember to travel across Europe on a sleeper train, so even though it’s the more expensive travel option, we sucked it up and did it anyway.

train stations

Did you know it’s really REALLY cheap to fly between countries in Europe?  For us to have flown to the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary instead of taking the train, it would have been in the neighborhood of $30 a person per flight.

The train wasn’t quite so cheap.

prague train station

But we decided that instead of wasting entire days of travel at airports, we’d do everything by train and actually see the countries we were traveling through.

And we used the trains like a hotel.  Someplace to sleep, eat, & refresh before seeing the next country.  We slept at night in-between countries and woke up in a new city each morning.

It was awesome.

Krakow, Poland

Even if we didn’t smell so great.

In fact, we smelled pretty bad.  These trains didn’t have showers.  And some of the bathrooms were downright amusing.

train station czech republic

One of the trains on our way back from somewhere had an old Russian train car attached to the sleeper car we were staying in for the night.  I went to use the bathroom in the Russian car and came back laughing hysterically. The kids were asleep and I didn’t want to rouse them, so Viktor and I had a muffled, giggly conversation about the fact that the soap dispenser in the bathroom dispensed a handful of insects. Really.  Viktor had to go check for himself because he didn’t believe me.  And he noticed something I’d missed while being distracted by the live ants in my hand.

It gets better.

The toilet lever dumped the contents of the toilet straight out onto the railroad tracks.  When you flushed the toilet, there it was, the ground flashing by at 100 km/hour.

Viktor is still SO sad he didn’t get a picture of that.

european train

I don’t want to scare you though, most of the trains we slept in were perfectly lovely.

We purchased our regular train passes, a Eurail pass, which allows unlimited train travel within a certain time period, and then on top of that we got a sleeper “couchette” or cabin, which slept four.  When we got to our couchette there was enough clean bedding for our family, and the next morning the car conductor came around to gather up the dirty laundry.

sleeper trains

It was tight in the couchettes, really tight, but we loved every second of it.  If you were to ask my kids right this second what they loved most about Europe it would go in this order:

  1. The playgrounds
  2. The trains
  3. The pastries
  4. The trains

We had a little routine down to help us get in and out of every train, to maximize every minute of sleep time available, because we were so, so, SO BONE tired.

sleeper trains

Here’s how it went down:

At the top of the backpacking pack there was a little plastic bag full of all the things we needed for sleeping overnight on the train: flip flops, toiletries, bottled water, sleeping masks, ear plugs, the Nook, and pajamas.  While Viktor made up the beds {think two bunk beds attached to walls on either side with about 2 feet in between), I got the kids jammied, faces and hands washed and teeth brushed, and into bed.

sleeper train

It took the kids approximately 12 seconds to fall asleep every night.  I had to prop them up long enough to get shoes off and into bed; we were all so beat from the walking, walking, non-stop walking, with the more walking.

The flip flops gave everyone’s feet a break from daily walking shoes, and kept feet clean on the train floors.  Once everyone was asleep I’d assess what was clean enough to wear the next day, grab a sweatshirt for each kid, and lay it all out at the foot of their bed.

train station

Everything had to be completely ready so that when the conductor came to wake us up the next morning before our stop, we were all packed up and ready to go.  All the kids had to do was get dressed, eat a croissant, and brush their teeth.

Once the train gets to the stop you have 3 minutes to get your stuff and get off.


There’s no room for error, so we had to get it down to the minute with sleep.

sunset in Krakow

The conductor woke us up about 30 minutes before our stop, so we spent a blissful half hour every morning coming out of the countryside and into the city with our noses pressed up against the train windows.

It was marvelous.

I felt like a small child at Christmas EVERY. single. day.

traveling kids

Sure my kids didn’t have a normal bedtime the whole time we traveled, but if they had I would have missed this special scene.  Wherein they reenacted “The Gypsies: A Czarnecki Family Story”.


And we wouldn’t have had the panic-attack-inducing-night with the whole of the Czech Republic SWAT team at the train station in Prague, wherein I realized, ‘I’m not in America anymore’.  In fact where I realized, ‘Holy crap, this is the Czech Republic and these 400 non-smiling SWAT team guys with their tear gas masks and AK-47’s are 4 feet away from me and my children.’

Remind me to tell you that story sometime.

room with a view

Mostly though, the trains were all about spending amazing time with my 3 favorite people on the planet, in tight quarters.  Checking an item off my life list, something I’ve wanted to do since childhood.  Looking out the windows at a whole new world, feeling like the first people to ever discover Europe.






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Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!


  1. Deb :

    How dreamy!! This makes me want to pack my bags and take the kids to Europe ASAP. I love all your pictures and appreciate the little escape. I really needed that today. Thank you! xo

    • Allison :

      You should do it Deb, you should absolutely do it!

  2. aimee @ smilingmama :

    Love this!! When I was 13 I visited my friend in Germany for 3 weeks and we took an overnight train into E. Berlin (with her family, of course!). It was so, so cool. But, I remember being so disappointed that my photos out the window of the speeding train came out totally blurry!

    • Allison :

      Oh man, that sounds kind of scary to me! It really did feel like the iron curtain hasn’t been down that long. It really hasn’t.

  3. Alicia W. :

    That sounds amazing! I think I just added sleeper train travel to my life list, too!

    • Allison :

      Seriously, put it at the top of your list.

  4. Jen M :

    I’ve always thought riding a train sounded so cool. Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope one day to be able to experience Europe myself.

    • Allison :

      Jen, I hope so too! It’s an absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience you must have.

  5. the emily :

    So I’m curious…how long did you actually have to go without a shower? I don’t now how I would like that.

    When I went to France in April we took a high speed train from Paris to Normandy for the day. We accidentally boarded the first class train and didn’t know until about 30 minutes before our stop–the conductor was nice enough to let us stay. It was so fancy, I loved it! I could travel by first class train through Europe any day.

    • Allison :

      Well, probably the longest we actually went was 3 days because we stayed at hotels inbetween. But. We were walking/hiking about 10-12 hours a day, so we spelled awesome. And it was really warm or hot the whole time we were there, so you have to factor that in too.

      I WISH we’d been in 1st class and someone had let us stay! Wow.

  6. Sarah :

    Seriously, could you make it sound more romantic? Beautiful post and beautiful photos. Has been on my life list for longer than I have had a list :). I used to dream of just my husband and I on the train, now I see that obviously the kids must come too. Thanks for sealing the deal.

    • Allison :

      I didn’t mean to make it sound TOO perfect. It really was magical, mostly because I’ve wanted to do it for so long. But the kids absolutely adored it, it was so much fun for them. You have to take the kids!

  7. Carina :


    So many MEMORIES.

    You just did a blog post of my childhood.

    I can fall asleep faster on a train than just about any place else. The random noises, clinking, squeaking, and that rhythmic white noise. AAaaahhhh. Snooooozzze.

    • Michal :

      Yeah, but you got Hawaii. So there.

  8. Cheree :

    Love that you did this with your family. I did it in college (our couchette slept 6 instead of 4) and we had a blast. Would love to do it some day with my family!

    • Allison :

      I think it’s possible ours could have slept six {some of them anyway} but we just squished our 4 in there. I really can’t imagine 6 college kids in one. Crazy! So fun though.

  9. Aubree :

    I was lucky enough the summer I was 13 to visit my dad, who was in the Air Force, when he was stationed in Germany. I spent a month there with a Eurail Pass (though no sleeper cars) and we traveled through Europe. It was fabulous, though I wish I had been a bit older. My favorite memory? Falling asleep on the train on our way to Rome, and being woken up by the conductor at 3am in Milan, which was as far as that train went. We took a bit too long getting our stuff gathered, and as we were making our way down the hallway to the door, the train started moving. I quickly made it to the door and jumped out. As my dad jumped, the door closed on his backpack and he got stuck! All I could see was my dad moving further away from me. I was scared! Finally he pulled free and rolled to the ground, hopping up and running down to me. It was scary, but we laugh about it til this day. What an adventure!

    That, and sleeping on trains with other travelers from all over world in those little cars where the seats pulled out across from each other to make a bed. We would sometimes end up sharing 3 “beds” with 3 or 4 other travelers, all in the same stinky (often much stinkier!) state we were in. Or going to Amsterdam, seeing all the really happy, mellow people smoking things I’d never smelled before. Walking through the red-light district (my dad didn’t always think things through)… Things got interesting! But that’s a time that I can look back on and smile.

    • Allison :

      Oh. My. GOSH. What a crazy story! Isn’t it amazing? My daughter’s backpack got stuck in one of the doors exiting and all the passengers shoved and pulled to make sure she got out but I was sufficiently freaked. It’s amazing that there’s no room for error, you just have to jump!

      Wow. What a story. Thanks for sharing!

  10. liz a. :

    that sounds so fabulous. i was in europe (paris, etc.) two summers ago and we loved those trains. i even take the amtrak here in central california up to northern idaho to visit one of my sons and his family; i love that trip! people think you are crazy to take a train, and it is more expensive, but you get to really see so much more, meet interesting people, and just relax. yay for train people! lol!

    • Allison :

      Oh man, I love that you do that. I took an Amtrak from SLC to Buffalo NY when I was a teenager, just sleeping in my seat, and it’s one of the best memories of my entire life. What a way to see the country! I wish trains were a more affordable mode of transportation because I’m obsessed with them.

  11. Katrina :

    best. post. ever. {well till you tell us about the SWAT team!}

    • Allison :

      Oh my gosh, the SWAT team! I’ve got to gear up for that one!

  12. Maria :

    What an adventure! I’ve been to Europe, but we rented a car. I will have to do the train route someday:)

    • Allison :

      Oh Maria, next time we want to do it by car! How funny. But you have to do the train route, it’s the best.

  13. RachelSD :

    Allison, that is such a cool way to travel! What incredible memories for your family. We just got back from a driving tour of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France yesterday (and don’t get me wrong, it was great!), but the European train travel trips I’ve had with my husband were just… better in some ways. I guess less stressful (as long as you get on board and off board correctly!!) and more focused on the countryside. But, even in Lyon, France, I had to squat over a hole in the ground posing as a bathroom, so I guess you can never really escape the bathroom issues in Europe! :)

    • Allison :

      Oh those bathrooms. Hilarious, which is why we kept hand sanitizer and wet wipes by the gallon with us at all times! Next time we really want to rent a little RV and just drive all over, but maybe that’s not a good idea! It would certainly be cheaper, but now I’m kind of freaked out a little.

  14. TidyMom :

    oh how I envy you! We are not a “travel family” and I didn’t grow up with parents who traveled either………there SO much I’ve never seen and my kids have seen even less. What a fun trip and beautiful memories!!

    • Allison :

      Oh man, travel is the one thing I couldn’t give up in life! We traveled a little as a family growing up, just to the states that border Utah + a little beyond, but I got the bug early! It’s so much fun, and my kids absolutely love it.

  15. Amy @ Living Locurto :

    Oh how fun! I can’t wait until my kids are a little older to do this! I’m taking them places… oh yes:-) Maybe we can join you sometime!

    • Allison :

      Amy, we’d LOVE to have you with us! Seriously I’m glad my youngest was at least 7 when we went, it couldn’t hurt if the kids were a little older to appreciate it.

  16. Damaris @KitchenCorners :

    My 5 year old would love this because he si a trainiac. My 2 year old may be too small. Thanks for all the tips.

    • Allison :

      Oh for little boys train travel is a dream come true! You should totally do it.