I was so confused by the train boarding process in Europe that I almost missed my ride. Here's how to make sure you get in the right car on the right platform.

  • I traveled by train in Europe and thought the boarding process was confusing and overwhelming.

  • I learned that in Europe, train cars detach at various stations to go to different locations.

  • So you have to make sure you board the correct train car when it arrives at the platform.

When I arrived at Austria's Wien Meidling station to board an overnight train from Vienna to Venice last year, the informative screens said that my train was going to Switzerland.

I went into full panic mode, doubting my competence as a travel reporter. Did I book the wrong train? Did I arrive at the wrong station? Was I stuck in Vienna for another night with no accommodations booked? And after spending more than 100 hours on Amtrak trains in the US, how could I make such a mistake?

Luckily, I'd arrived 90 minutes early for my ride, so I had ample time to figure it out.

A train platform at night with blue screens above travelers
The platform for the author's train to Venice says it's going to Zurich.Joey Hadden/Insider

Trembling and holding back tears, I got in line at the information desk to find out what happened. And thankfully, I had done nothing wrong. According to the staff, the train's cars detach at various stations to go to different locations, unlike my Amtrak trips. When the trains arrived at my platform, I had to board my assigned train car; each had a number, which was on my ticket.

A white image of a train ticket with red lines covering private information and red labels and arrows showing the train car and seat numbers
The author's ticket for an overnight train from Vienna to Venice.Joey Hadden/Insider

And just like that, my confidence was restored. But the whole experience left me wondering if other travelers might have the same issue — and how I might be able to help. So here's my advice.

Get to the station early, and don't fret over multiple trains arriving at your platform

A blue screen listing train schedules with a red frame around the author's departure time.
An informative screen for another European train the author took from Berlin to Vienna.Joey Hadden/Insider

The most important thing you can do to avoid missing a train is arrive early. Even in the US, I always arrive at the station 60-90 minutes before departure just in case something goes wrong.

Once you arrive, take a look at the informative screens and find your train. Like me, you may find that 2-3 trains with different destinations are arriving at your platform at the same time. Don't panic — just make sure you're paying attention to the numbers. Once you arrive at the platform, check your ticket and make sure it matches up with the train car number that you board.

If you board the wrong car, an attendant can help

When the trains arrived at my platform in Vienna, I was overwhelmed by the limited amount of time I had to scan each train car before they departed. So I boarded the first car I saw that was branded with the company I was traveling with, OBB Nightjet. Once inside, I showed an attendant my ticket and they led me to the proper car and seat.

Traveling by train in a foreign country can be daunting, and to me, boarding is the most confusing part. But with my tips, I think you can feel more confident and capable in an unknown place.

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