I boarded the train from Budapest to Prague without hesitation. My friend and I had taken public transportation around Russia, Egypt, Turkey, and other parts of Eastern Europe. By that time, it was something I did without thinking. We always opted for the night train or bus because we saved money by not having to pay for a night in a hostel. So here we were in the position of taking the night train from Budapest to Prague.
Little did we know, the Budapest-Prague route is not your typical train ride.
photo credit: adam_sporka
Taking the Night Train from Budapest to Prague
We got to our compartment and hunkered down for the night, determined to be well rested for our first day in the Czech Republic. I locked the door and closed the curtains. Exhausted after a day of exploring Hungary’s most well-known city, my friend quickly drifted off to sleep. I stayed up reading our travel bible of the moment, Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring, in preparation for the next day’s adventures.
The train paused twice not far from Prague to pick up more passengers. After the second stop, I heard the door handle to our compartment jiggle. I reached for our tickets, assuming it was the conductor coming by to do his routine check.
But the conductor had a key and whoever was on the other side of the door didn’t. Someone was trying to pick our lock. I reached for the curtain and moved it slightly to alert the intruder that I was aware of his presence. He scurried away.
Shaken, I sat back down on my bench. What would I have done if he had persisted? Five minutes passed and I felt like someone was watching me. I looked at the window to the hall and saw a man’s eye peering in. He caught my eye and disappeared. I pulled out the scotch tape we used for scrapbooking our travels and taped the curtains to the walls so there were no cracks.
I pulled our backpacks down from the top rack and told my friend to sleep on hers in case the intruder came back. But that was the last I saw of the persistent prowler.
Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.
At our hostel in Prague the next day, my friend and I joined in a conversation in the communal kitchen. It went something like this:
Traveler 1: Whatever you do, don’t take the night train from Budapest back here.
Traveler 2: Oh yeah, that’s an awful idea. Don’t do it.
Traveler 3: Why not? I’ve taken lots of night trains in Europe.
Traveler 1: It’s dangerous. People break into compartments and rob travelers.
Traveler 4: It’s notorious for being unsafe.
[Chorus of agreement.]
At this point, I broke in and shared our experience. I said I had been scared, but the door had been locked so I wasn’t too afraid of being robbed. Traveler 1 looked at me pityingly. Traveler 2 informed me that the keys that open the doors to train compartments are incredibly common in Europe; they’re WC keys and anyone can get one.
The Moral(s) of the Story
- Even experienced travelers can walk into dangerous situations, so keep your guard up (within reason — don’t let fear guide your travels).
- When in doubt about a night train route, ask your fellow travelers for advice. If we had asked in Hungary about taking a night train to Prague, we wouldn’t have had to learn its dangers the hard way.
- No matter how careful you are when you’re traveling, you’ll find yourself in a sticky situation. When that happens, use your best judgment and hope for the best.
- Use a money belt and secure your belongings at all times.
Taking the night train from Budapest to Prague was a great reminder about using common sense while traveling and staying safe while traveling. While we all like to save and manage money while traveling, nothing is more important than your safety.