I rode two overnight trains in Europe. It was great: board in Kobenhavn, wake up in Frankfurt; board in Hannover, wake up in Paris… If you have a rail pass, it’s not that much more.
What’s it actually like? On the first train, I was in a compartment with one other person; on the second train, I was in a compartment by myself.
The compartment in the first train was fairly new; things such as the bed folded into the walls. The compartments were staggered above and below the hallway, so that access was up or down steps from the hall. It was a tight fit, especially with a full pack.
The second train was older, all dark wood and brass fittings. There was much more room in this compartment.
The train staff helps you find your compartment when you board, and wakes you by a knock on the door when you’re about an hour form your destination. On the European night trains, they took my passport as ID and returned it at the end of the journey; I’m not sure whether this was due to border crossings or what, because I was travelling within the Shengen zone that has no internal border controls. No idea whether they’d do something like this on a domestic US trip.
I’ve seen it recommended that you never sleep in a compartment by yourself; if you do, you’re vulnerable to robbery. This makes sense, but I didn’t have a problem. Maybe I was lucky.
I’ve never overnighted in the ‘couchette’/ tilting seat type of accommodations… that sounds more like an overnight bus ride.
Washrooms were separate from the sleeping compartments. I showered before and after the train trip; it was easier to only wash on board.
On the first train, I had dinner in the dining car, sharing a table with another traveler. On the second train, I boarded at 23:30 and arrived at the destination fairly early, so I only slept.
Get the upper bunk if possible.
Bring earplugs in case your travelling companion snores. He or she may not know this.
Smelly socks/feet can be a killer in a small compartment.
Of course, that’s Europe. YM will definitely V.
<waking up and checking cellphone’s builtin clock> It’s four in the morning. This must be Belgium…