Unlike the U.S., Europe got it right with trains and kept it right. Train tracks lay from Dublin to Athens, from Oslo to Barcelona and everywhere in between. Train stations are everywhere and provide a hub of food, shelter and useful services, often late into the night. As a backpacker, this means one thing, free accommodations. While most train stations close for a few hours at night, some larger stations are even open 24 hours a day and although using anti theft backpacks as a pillow may not sound comfortable—many are open air—they do provide some sense of shelter and comfort. Knowing how to utilize these oasis’ of value may even extend how long you can continue traveling.
Tickets will help assure others of your legitimacy, from station agents to security guards. Eurail passes are great because they are good for almost all trains and you won’t have to worry about having tickets for the specific train you are supposedly waiting for. If you don’t have tickets, you can argue that you plan on buying tickets once on board.
Most train stations will have a security force. Whether that force is represented by a group of armed men with walkie-talkies, or an old woman who sweeps at night will depend on the size and location of the station. In most cases, you won’t get hassled by security. In fact, these security personnel are more likely to keep an eye out for your safety if they see you are a mere tourist. If you do, explain to them that you are waiting for the next train—even if you do not know when the next train is or where it goes.
Places that attract tourists also attract those who want to take advantage of tourists. As such, train stations may encourage a seedier set of folks looking to cash in when you doze off or find yourself alone. To stay safe, always remain in the most public and well-lit areas. If you are going to rest, do so with your back to the wall so no one can sneak up behind you. For those traveling alone, avoid sleeping because it leaves you extremely vulnerable. If you are traveling with a partner, sleep in shifts.
Many stations have baggage check areas where backpackers can deposit their bags while they explore the city. This is a great option if you want to get rid of larger backpacks while your rest, but you should never hand over your most valuable items to anyone, namely your passport and credit cards. Keep these stored in a secure bag worn close to your body, like the VentureSafe 150. It has a slash proof strap and an eXomesh system—essentially a chainlink fence embedded in the bag’s fabric.