How safe is a 4 or 6 person couchette? We are travelling from Munich to Venice at night and are considering the 4 person couchette vs. the private 2 person sleeping car due to budget. Any feedback?
Since I've only taken one night train (Paris-Nice), I can't assume that safety is never an issue. While the door locks from the inside, it's possible that a person's couchette mates could engage in thievery while that person is asleep. While I didn't use a cable and lock to secure my bag to the rack or bunk, I wore my moneybelt to bed and did the same thing with my luggage I do when out and about during the day: I used small locks to secure the zippers on my bag.
I was worried about this last year. There was hubbie, myself, 13yo girl & 15yo boy. All we could get was a 6 berth couchette, which we couldn't "buy out". I bought through an agent before we went and was told that the train was booked out. When I looked at the tickets we were in two different compartments, but same carriage! Anyway my we split by gender and we shared with a couple, another female and a male. The couple had started making up the beds when we boarded, and so we had no option but to go to bed, which was okay. I hugged my handbag all night and slept reasonably well. The boys had a great story to tell about one of their companions, and it all added to the trip. None of us felt at all unsafe. This was from Paris to Milan. Although ny preference would've been sleepers or 4 berth couchette for privacy, snoring (me) and safety - I'd do the 6 berth couchette again. I think it would be too hard for anyone to fiddle with the luggage given that it's right up top.
I've been on a couple of couchettes and had no problems. Once we were on the crazy car with school group travelng Zurich to Vienna. We had paid for 3 beds on the car and the group had paid for 30 or so. They were swarming, but when we explained that there were just 3 of us together they moved around and we slept fairly well if sleeping with 30+ 16-20 year olds is something you can do. We have been the only ones in a couchette a couple of times or just one other person in there, but we have never had our stuff invaded. That isn't to say there aren't people who might, but we keep our money on our bodies and sometimes our backpack on our beds if we don't feel comfortable about wandering people.
I did an overnight from Madrid to Paris last year and like you I had some reservations about it in my head. However it turned out to be a great experience! When we left Madrid there was only me and a British man heading back to London via Paris, since we were both traveling alone it was good to meet someone and have a traveling companion for the evening. A couple hours into the trip we stopped in a small village and we gained a Parisian into our couchette, he had been in Salamance visiting his niece for the weekend. He spoke english and was very helpful in detailing for me and the Englishman on the best way to get to the next train station we needed to go to in Paris. While at dinner we made another stop and picked up our last person for our little room, he was a young man that I didnt get to know, he had bedded down while the rest of us were in the dining car and was just enjoying his iPod for the night. Like others had said just be careful, use common sense with your money.