The Etiquette for when Traveling Onboard Sleeping-Cars on Luxury Trains

Sleeping-cars on Trains

Though threatened almost to extinction in the 21st century by budget airlines, highway hotels, and high-speed trains, sleeping-cars on passenger trains—which first became a part of the culture of travel in the spring of 1839 with the launching of Cumberland Valley Railroad’s sleeping car named “Chambersburg,” which ran between Chambersburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and peaked in popularity between the 1870s and 1940s when the name “Pullman,” of the Pullman Palace Car Company, became synonymous with luxurious sleeping accommodations on American trains—remain a comfortable option for long-distance and trans-continental travel.

Whether whisked away in elegance onboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express; enjoying the comforts and conveniences of a moving hotel room aboard a state-of-the-art Amtrak sleeping car; or going abroad onboard a car with modest couchette accommodations, it is imperative that a gentleman conduct himself as if he were a guest in someone’s home while in the shared areas of a sleeper-car. (See chapter, “Your Place or Mine?—How to be a perfect sleepover guest/host”). Some sleeper-cars are equipped with private bedrooms and private bathrooms. But on some trains, there are two or even four sleeping berths to a room; and while there are usually private toilets in each room, some trains have the men’s and women’s communal shower rooms on opposite ends of the car. Packing pajamas, a robe, bedroom slippers, and a grooming kit, then, is necessary since it is likely that a man will encounter a lady en route to or from the shower in the middle of the night or early in the morning, and such encounters tend to be less eventful—and less embarrassing—when both parties are appropriately clothed. It is also wise to make specific note of one’s cabin number and location so as to avoid disturbing other passengers by attempting entry into the wrong cabin after a late-night trip to the shower room. Keeping a small flashlight in one’s grooming kit is also a good idea since the hall of the car is oftentimes kept dim in the middle of the night.

While sleeping-cars are each staffed by a porter (in the olden days, always addressed as “George,” regardless of his real name) who turns down beds, keeps the washrooms tidy, etc., a gentleman should be sure to leave the counter area in the communal shower room at least as clean and dry as when he encountered it so that other passengers can have an equally pleasant experience. Because of the relatively limited “private space” available onboard trains, basic greetings should be extended to fellow sleeping-car passengers encountered in all community areas since sharing such close quarters engenders a sense of “collective intimacy.” Of course, gentlemen sleeping in shared accommodations should be especially courteous to their cabin-mates. (And packing a pair of earplugs is always a good idea, just in case one gets a snorer).

Porters should be tipped as generously as one’s budget would allow, for their personal, butler-like service is one of the last vestiges of Old World service and elegance and should be properly compensated.

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