Night trains are usually an awesome way to travel: you can walk around, stretch your legs, get a bite to eat, and you get a freakin’ bed to sleep away all your travel time. The Budapest Belgrade night train is a bit… different.
If you’ve done any research you know that the going overland via the Budapest Belgrade night train is arguably the most infamous and notoriously sketchy and shady journeys a tourist in Europe can take.
People told me, “Take the day train, it’s so much safer and nicer.” I heard stories of missing luggage, stolen passports, scams, corrupt officials, train robbers, and strangers coming into your room and watching you sleep. But I didn’t want to waste 8 hours of daylight, so I took the night train anyway.
I survived with all my valuables in tact. Here’s what I learned:
1) Book your own room
You must specifically request your own “room” or you will be put with another random person. While on most trains, this is a great way to meet people… on this one maybe not. Book a sleeping car and select “own compartment.” This is even better if you pick up a travel buddy along the way to split the price.
2) Locks are for suckers.
They either won’t work, or the guard can simply unlock them. In our case, ours worked when we got in, then suspiciously stopped working once the train started moving. People have been known to steal luggage while you sleep so put your valuables underneath your mattress, and you can also:
Optional) MacGyver ghetto-rig your door like a paranoid grandmother.
Yup, I totally tied a bedsheet taught around the handle and braced the bottom with part of the bunkbed ladder. And yes, a few times, someone did try to open the door… creeptastic
3) Get some sort of confirmation from your hotel/hostel
There’s a common scam where officials will ask you for proof of where you will be staying, and charge you a “fine” if you don’t provide it. While apparently this is illegal, most hotels and hostels are aware of this and will email you a confirmation if you ask. Just have one.
4) Take a photo of your tickets
Another scam is where the guard will take your tickets and tell you he will “return them in the morning” and when you arrive, that guard is gone, and now you must pay a “fine” for riding without a ticket. Our guard took our tickets as well, but I took a photo of the tickets right in front of him, so there would be no mistake.
5) Don’t underestimate the power of courtesy
Not all guards and officials are corrupt, and not every train is boarded by robbers (as exciting as that sounds). Most crimes are opportunistic, so take the time to learn “hello” and “thank you” in whatever language is most prevalent. (“thank you” in Hungarian is pronounced KUH-suh-nuhm, in the same rhythm as “cinnamon.”) And be sure to smile, it breaks down barriers.
Now you are prepared to have the fearless heart of a grizzly bear and take sketchy night trains around Europe.
Budapest to Belgrade (Beograd) night train:
Hungarian train website: http://www.mav-start.hu/english
Duration: about 8 hours
Price: about €66 for 2 beds in the same room.
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