Top 20 tips for surviving sleeper trains in India (+ item checklist!)

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Top 20 tips for surviving sleeper trains in India (+ checklist of everything you need!)

Taking sleeper trains in India can be a daunting prospect if you’ve never experienced anything like it before! Even more so if you’re in an unfamiliar country and backpacking for the first-time! But the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be and a greater experience you’ll have. Here are my top 20 tips for surviving sleeper trains in India. You’ll be totally fine I promise – you’ve got this! 😉

Checklist of everything you’ll need:

1) First things first – book A top BUNK in advance!

During my travels in India I slept on a combination of bottom and top bunks and there are pros and cons to both!

With the bottom bunk it’s easier to get up and down when you need the toilet or get something out of your bag. However, you and your things are more exposed on the bottom bunk.

For this reason I suggest booking the top bunk on sleeper trains in India every time!

It may seem like a logistical nightmare to try and manoeuvre yourself up and down from the top bunk but I personally feel much safer. You’re out of arms reach, which means your personal belongings are out of reach too whilst you sleep!

Sleeper trains in India are much different to those you may have experienced in South East Asia. In countries like Vietnam and Thailand, bunk beds often come in fours and are enclosed in lockable cabins. But on overnight trains in India, all the cabins are open and there is nowhere to store your bags securely.

This is why having the top bunk is best because you can keep your personal belongings (electronics, important documents, money etc) in a smaller backpack that you can keep with you. I put my neck pillow on top of my smaller backpack and just use both of them as a pillow!

In India, you need to be more vigilant when it comes to safety. As a backpacking tourist you get a LOT of attention so you’ll feel like more of a target. This doesn’t mean that people have bad intentions, far from it, in India the attention is more about the fact that you’re different and stand out as a foreigner.

But this can still make tourists feel uneasy, especially if you are a woman travelling alone. So for this reason I personally think booking a top bunk is the best option to help you feel more safer and comfortable.

Mel taking a selfie on the top bunk of a sleeper train in India wearing a black and white strippy t-shirt, black leggings and glasses

2) Get to the train station early

Sleeper trains in India are almost always full, especially during peak travel seasons, so train stations can be very busy and chaotic.

For this reason, you need to make sure you arrive at the train station well in advance of departure to avoid any last-minute rush and give yourself plenty of time to locate your platform and coach. This will also give you extra time if you need to pick up water and snacks before you board.

train platform in India

3) Get a padlock for your backpack

Speaking of safety, I recommend having padlocks for your backpacks for additional security. There are no lockers to store your things on the train so keep your bags tucked away and in sight at all times. Keep personal items such as passport, money, phone and jewellery, with you in your bunk. 

Of course padlocks are not fail-safe (as in theory your whole bag could be stolen), but the padlocks will act as an added deterrent to potential pick pockets.

Get backpack padlocks

Mel carrying two backpacks and a carrier bag, smiling on a train platform in India

4) Keep the bunks down into a seated position for as long as possible

On sleeper trains in India, you’ll have bunk beds in rows of three on each side of a compartment and during the day these fold down into back rests. The bottom bunks seat six people comfortably until it’s bedtime.

Lights generally go out at 10pm on sleeper trains so you’ll find people folding the seats up into bunk beds long before this. However, if you’re travelling in a group and have the option, I recommend keeping the bunk beds down into a seating area as long as socially acceptable!

This is just for comfort’s sake as once you’re all in your bunk beds, you’re stuck lying down until the morning. It’s also more difficult to chat with your friends from bunk bed to bunk bed!

If you’re able to keep the bunks down until lights off, you’re able to sit and socialise with your travel buddies and sit up for longer. Which is better, especially if you’re not ready to go to sleep yet!

Group of travellers sitting on the different bunks on a sleeper train in India smiling at the camera

5) Be ready for bed before you board the train

Sleeper trains in India can be quite cramped and awkward to move about on once everyone is in their seats/ bunks. This is why I recommend being ready for bed BEFORE you even board the train!

I wear leggings and a t-shirt which transition from day wear into comfortable night wear. I would also recommend footwear that is easy to get on and off such as flip flops (or zippy boots if you’re travelling in colder months). This makes it easier to get shoes on in the dark after bedtime if you need the toilet.

I also do my night time routine beforehand which includes, removing my make up, moisturising, taking out my contacts and brushing my teeth so I’m not trying to keep my footing at the train sink to do all these things in the toilet cabin.

The toilet cabin is also not the cleanest place to do your night time routine (as you’ll discover) which is also why I recommend doing all this before you get on the train!

If you’re boarding the train earlier in the evening and will be eating and drinking before bed, just leave brushing your teeth until you’re ready to go to bed. But do everything else!

Mel smiling on the top bunk of a sleeper train in India wearing a black and white strippy t-shirt, black leggings and glasses


In the same way I recommend YOU being ready for bed before boarding the train, I also recommend getting your bag ready at the same time!

There’s nothing worse than having to empty the entire contents of your backpack to try and find your toothbrush that has fallen to the bottom!

I recommend packing cubes to organise all your things so you know where everything is before you board. This way you won’t disturb anyone when you’re trying to feel around in the dark to find something.  

As well as being great for organising all your things, packing cubes will save you a tonne of space in your backpack. You don’t even have to buy expensive ones, I have these Amazon basic range ones, they’re cheap and cheerful but get the job done! 

Get packing cubes.

Group of travellers waiting on a train platform with all their backpacks in the centre of a circle


Noise cancelling headphones aren’t essential but a decent pair of cans can really make the difference when backpacking. Even more so on an overnight train!

People are chattering, walking up and down the corridor to the toilet and banging doors. But with noise cancelling headphones on, you won’t lose sound quality or have to increase the volume too high if the cabin is too noisy.

I have the older, wired version of the Bose QuietComfort SE Bluetooth wireless noise cancelling headphones, which are mid-range noise-cancelling headphones. I couldn’t recommend them enough as they’re super comfy on your ears (even to sleep in) and the sound quality it top notch.

Mine have lasted me for YEARS as well so they’re well worth the investment!

Get noise cancelling headphones.

Mel posing on the bottom bunk on the sleeper train in India wearing Bose canned headphones and a black and white t-shirt

8) Take earplugs

Earplugs are a MUST HAVE if you are travelling by train in India! In addition to general noise and people walking up and down the cabin, once everyone goes to sleep, the symphony of snoring begins! And unlike your partner who you can give a gentle kick to stop, this ain’t happening in bunk beds on an overnight train!

But with a combination of earplugs and noise cancelling headphones, you won’t hear a thing! As a combo they are a lifesaver on any long journey to block out noise and help you sleep!

You can pick earplugs up from any health and beauty retailer in the UK like Superdrug or Boots. I’ve always sworn by mouldable wax earplugs as you can mould them to fit properly in your ears, making them far more comfortable than foam ear plugs. They never fall out either which is a bonus!

I’ve used wax earplugs for years on my travels now but for backpacking in India I decided to try some Loop earplugs. You may have seen these viral earplugs all over Insta and TikTok and been skeptical, but they’re honestly AMAZING!

Loop earplugs come in a case of four different sized heads made of silicone so you can pick the size that is the most comfortable and best fit for your ears. They also come in a cute, little travel case!

I absolutely LOVE them and can’t hear a bloody thing when I’m wearing them, which is perfect! 😂

Get mouldable wax earplugs.

Get Loop earplugs.

Mint green loop ear plugs


I’ve never been a fan of travelling with neck pillows until I found a memory foam travel pillow that clipped at the front!

These travel pillows literally mould to the shape of your face making them super comfortable! The clip on the front also stops your head from bobbing forward. This is what always woke me up before when using cheap bean-filled neck pillows! 

You will get a pillow on the train but they are tiny, barely-there pillows that aren’t great to sleep on. They’re also not the cleanest so you’ll want to have your own pillow for extra support. 

The memory foam travel pillows also have a removable cover so they can be washed for your next overnight journey.

Get a memory foam travel pillow.

Mel taking a selfie lying down on the top bunk of a sleeper train in India wearing a black and white strippy t-shirt


Lights are turned off on the train around 10pm but light from other people’s devices and anything residual in the cabin may keep you awake, so just in case I recommend bringing an eye mask.

I’ve never liked eye masks to be honest, I’m a bit weird and just don’t like the feeling of them on my face when I sleep! This was until I found the 100% blackout sleep mask, which has zero eye pressure but blocks out every scrap of light!

But if you’re not a fan of eye masks like old me, just take a scarf you can throw over your head! Scarves are super versatile for travelling and can double up as eye masks and blankets too!

Get a black-out eye mask.

Bunks on a sleeper train in India once the lights have gone out

11) Pack essential medication

My number one tip for travelling around India is to always pack essential medication to last for the duration of your trip.

You never know where the nearest pharmacy will be when you’re backpacking and a language barrier only makes it more difficult to find the right medication. I recommend packing emergency medication for diarrhea, upset stomach/ nausea, pain and motion sickness.

Please also ensure you pack enough medication for any pre-existing conditions too! As you’ll have probably guessed I’m not a doctor (LOL) so please get the right prescriptions from your doctor before you travel and get all the vaccines you need prior to departure.

General Medication checklist:

  • Paracetamol – standard pain killers for headaches etc.
  • Motion sickness tablets – a natural, non-drowsy remedy for the relief of travel and motion sickness. I only tend to get motion sick on boats but I felt really sick on one of the trains I took in India so I wouldn’t take any chances! It’s not easy to jump out of the top bunk in the middle of the night if you feel like you’re going to be sick, so avoid this and take some motion sickness tablets just in case you do start to feel queasy.
  • Imodium (or similar) – used to treat sudden diarrhea (especially traveller’s diarrhea!) by slowing down the movement of the gut. The “instant” tablets are fantastic because they instantly dissolve on your tongue so you don’t even need water. I’ve found these tablets to be best as they work super quickly (which is exactly what you need if this kind of situation occurs!).
  • Rennies (or similar) – relieves the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion by containing antacid to neutralise excess stomach acid. It’s basically minty chalk that settles your stomach and is especially great if you’re feeling nauseous, or hungover!
  • Dioralyte (or similar) – blackcurrant flavoured electrolyte and mineral salt sachets which reduces dehydration and helps replace lost body water and salts. These sachets are great for if you have stomach issues too to ensure you get rehydrated and feeling on top form again!
Box of paracetamol with some loose tablets

12) CHARGE ALL DEVICES BEFORE YOU GET ON and pack a power bank

There are power outlets on the trains but it’s so much easier if all your devices are charged before you board to avoid fighting over plugs when you get on.

I’d also recommend packing a power bank as your charge will only take you so far on an overnight journey. I use this power bank as it’s fast charging and allows you to charge multiple devices at once.

If you’re only charging your phone, you’ll be able to recharge it at least four times with this power bank before the bank itself needs charging!

Get a rechargeable power bank.

Woman sat on a bed holding a phone on instagram

13) Take HAND SANITISER and anti-bacterial WIPES

I’m afraid sleeper trains in India aren’t the cleanest! The bed sheets provided are washed after each journey and rubbish is cleared from each compartment but surfaces and bunkbeds are not cleaned.

This is why I suggest packing hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial wipes. The wipes are so multi-functional which makes them fantastic for backpacking! They’re great for freshen yourself up, wiping your hands, cleaning down surfaces and bunkbeds and cleaning up any spills in your backpack.   

One pack of wipes lasted for the full five weeks I was travelling around India but I went through about three bottles of hand sanitiser so I recommend buying more of that!

Sanitiser isn’t widely available in India either. You’ll usually need to go to a pharmacy to find it so it’s easier to just pack more before you go!

Get hand sanitiser.

Get 2-in-1 anti-bacterial wipes.

Dettol wipes and a sanitiser

14) Bring your own toilet paper

Toilet paper isn’t widely used in India as handheld bidets are more popular (or ‘bum guns’ as I call them! 😂), so you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper on the overnight train.

This is a general rule to follow in India as usually it’s often only hotels that provide toilet paper. Even some restaurants don’t give you toilet paper so always carry some in your bag just in case.

Hand holding a toilet roll

15) Buy food and water before you board

This piece of advice is by far one of the most important tips for surviving the overnight trains in India! There is no shop or dining cabin on the train so you need to buy all the food and water you need for the whole journey.

I suggest eating dinner before you get on the train so you only need to pack a few snacks and enough water to last you until the morning.

At certain stops you’ll find that people will jump on the train selling water or hot snacks (like delicious katuri!) but you can’t guarantee it so it’s better to be prepared so you don’t get hangry!

Mel taking a bite out of a katuri on the train


I know, I know, I’m sorry to be a Debbie Downer! Many a backpacker (especially if they are travelling in groups) will bring alcohol onto the train and have a mini party in their bunk section.

Unfortunately, it’s lights out at around 10pm on sleeper trains in India and you’re required to be quiet. You don’t want to be half lit and stuck in a tiny bunkbed as your hangover kicks in. It’s just not worth it!  

By all means have a couple of drinks, enjoy your food and play some games with your fellow travellers but avoid drinking excessively. You’ll thank me later when your head’s not thumping and you’re not too wired to sleep.   

Mel looking out the open sleeper train window with the wind blowing in her hair

17) Carry some cash

Cash is still King in India. You’ll likely be used to hearing this advice if you’re preparing to travel around India but you’ll definitely need cash if someone ends up coming on the train selling water or snacks and you want to buy anything.

A litre bottle of water costs about 20 rupees (20p) but can cost up to 60 rupees depending on what part of India you’re in. Prices can also be inflated for the train (and tourists!).

Several trains on platforms at a train station in India


If you’re one of those people who can spend hours with your nose in a book, that’s great! You can ignore this whole point. But for those of you that need Spotify and Netflix to survive long journeys, download everything you need before you board the train!

There is no wifi on the sleeper trains in India so make sure you’ve downloaded all the shows you want to watch and Spotify playlists you want to listen to before you get on the train.

I went on some train journeys in India that were 16 hours long and although you’re supposed to be asleep for eight hours of it, you need to prepare entertainment just in case you can’t sleep at any point.

Netflix home screen on the screen of a mac laptop


You can’t regulate the temperature on the train, it’s too hot, then too cold, then sweltering, then freezing, depending on what the air con situation is! The point is though, you need to prepare for all temperature inevitabilities.

I sleep in a t-shirt and leggings on the sleeper trains in India which means I’m comfortable to go to sleep but dressed if I needed to leave the cabin to go to the toilet in the night. I then layered up when it got too cold with my hoodie and scarf. My scarf also doubles up as a cover if I need it.

If you get too hot, you can always take layers off but it’s always good to be prepared.

Mel lying down on the top bunk of a sleeper train in India wearing a black and white strippy t-shirt taken from the opposite bunk


I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this post about the lack of cleanliness on the overnight trains in India. However, you’ll find as the journey goes on, they will quickly become less clean – particularly in the toilet department *wince*.

Avoid stepping in anything you really don’t want to be wiping off your feet late at night by always wearing your shoes when walking around the train! 

Keep your shoes tucked under the bottom bed in case you need to go to the toilet after bedtime and remove them before getting back into your bunk.

If you end up touching something, you’ve got your handy anti-bacterial wipes at hand! 😉

Squat toilet on an India sleeper train

Bonus tip…HAVE FUN!

There may be questionable cleanliness, snoring neighbours and no toilet paper but just embrace it! Travelling on sleeper trains in India is all part of the experience of travelling through this awesome country so don’t forget to have fun!

Remember: “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. And friends, it’s one hell of a unique journey, so enjoy! 

Mel hanging off a sleeper train in India wearing a pink dress and black cardigan and sunglasses with her hair blowing in the wind

Checklist of everything you’ll need:

Have you ever been on any sleeper trains in India? Share your experience below if you have!

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