For me, taking the night bus is always a great idea. Not only are the tickets cheaper, which is perfect when you’re on a budget but it’s also the most eco-friendly mode of transport if you’re trying to cover long distance. I love arriving at my destination at the start of the day, usually take a quick nap before heading out and I still have the full day to explore.
Sometimes if you’re staying in a hostel, they might let you check in early if the bed is free. I usually make my way to the hostel and ask them when the earliest I can check in is, if not, I can at least leave my bag there and grab a fresh juice or some light breakfast. If I’m staying in an Airbnb, I also message the host, let them know my situation and ask them when the earliest I can check in is. Sometimes, again if the room is free, you can check in pretty early.
But before you can get to checking in, you have to ride the dreaded night bus. I cannot sleep sitting up so for me this is a big issue but I feel like I’ve taken enough night buses and have an understanding of the best things to do. These tips can also be used when riding the night train however night buses are usually more uncomfortable and with less space. So, here they are, my tips for surviving the night bus.
Arrive early at the bus station
Arriving early at the bus station means that you get a higher chance of picking the seat that you want, whether this be window or aisle. This also means that before someone has sat next to you, if they do, you can sort yourself out, get out everything you need and not have to try to do things whilst knocking the person next to you. I try to arrive about 30 minutes before my bus is meant to depart, this also leaves me extra time in case any issues come up. For example, when I got to the bus station in Belgrade, Serbia, we had to pay a fee to enter, and because this was our last day, we didn’t have any spare money. Luckily because we arrived early, we had enough time to get money out using the cash machine and still make it to the bus on time. If you’re travelling with a friend, getting on the bus early also means you have a higher chance of being able to sit together. I know how horrible it is having to talk to your friends through strangers and not having each other to lean on when trying to sleep.
Wear comfortable clothing
Although I usually wear comfortable clothing throughout my whole trip (never any jeans!), there are still some important tips for what type of clothes I would recommend, including that they need to be comfortable. If you don’t think you’d be able to sleep in it at home, imagine how it would be trying to sleep in them sitting up on a moving bus. I would also recommend no shorts; if the seats are a leather type material, you’re likely going to stick to them and if not, they’re probably going to be itchy and cause awful irritation. Best to stick to covering your legs. I also wouldn’t recommend wearing a skirt or a dress. If you’re moving around a lot or putting your legs over the other seat, it’s a lot more comforting knowing that there isn’t a chance your underwear is going to be on show. For me, I always wear loose trousers and a comfy t-shirt, this has worked wonders and I always feel comfortable, well as comfortable as I can be.
Decide on your perfect seating arrangement
I know some people prefer the aisle seat so they can stretch their legs and get up whenever they need without causing any disturbances but personally, I much prefer the window seat. Even though you can’t see anything because it’s so dark, I can rest my head on the window if the roads aren’t too bumpy or I can lean my arm on the window and prop my head on. This is all personal preference but I’d give it a think before boarding the bus so the journey can be as pleasant as possible. Another seating arrangement to think about is which part of the bus you’re going to sit in. The back of the bus usually feels the bumps in the roads the most whilst the front of the bus can give the clearest view of the road and you’re more likely to know when it’s your stop. I mostly try and sit in the middle of the bus, it’s not as bumpy and I haven’t had any issues yet with missing my stop as the driver will usually turn the lights on and make an announcement. If you’re lucky, the driver might even wake you up which is what happened to me when I arrived in Kosovo – very personal service.
Take off your shoes
As soon as I get on the bus, or any transport for that matter, I take my shoes off. I feel so much more comfortable without shoes on and if I’m doing a long journey, I want to feel relaxed. I still keep my socks on, of course. This also means if I put my feet on the chairs, I’m not making them dirty with my shoes. If taking your shoes off and having your socks on the bus floor feels disgusting to you, which I can understand, I would suggest bringing a thick pair of socks with you, just to put on whilst on the bus. When you put your shoes back on at the end, take these socks off and put them back in your bag. This way you’re not wearing the same socks that have touched the bus floor for any longer than you need to. This will most likely make it easier to sleep since we don’t sleep with shoes on normally.
I know it’s a big worry for a lot of people that their belongings will get taken if they fall asleep, especially when you’re carrying so many important items such as passport and money. I also have this worry, there’s a few things I do in this situation, depending on how safe the area I’m travelling in is as well as how safe I feel on the bus. Firstly, if you feel really unsafe, I would suggest padlocking your bag; any potential thief wouldn’t be able to undo your bag easily and would have to take it from you to get into it. With the padlock, you could wrap it around your leg, this means it’s hidden more since it’s under the seat and if anyone was to try to take it, you would feel it moving on your foot. I do this a lot even when travelling around my home city of London since it makes me feel a lot more at ease. For more security, if you’re sleeping, you could hug your bag or use it as a pillow. If you’re hugging it, I would put it on backwards and then hug it, this means it’s less likely to fall on the floor if you let go of it. If you’re using it as a pillow, push all the belongings to one side and lay on the empty part. It won’t raise you up unfortunately but you’ll feel it if anyone was to try and get inside.
Bring a jacket
For me, a jacket has so many purposes when travelling on public transport. The most obvious one, of course is wearing it, even if the weather is warm outside during the day, it can get cold at night or the bus may have really strong air conditioning that makes it colder than expected. I have been on a bus before where they gave us blankets but this has only happened once to me and you can’t guarantee how clean they will be. I mainly use my jacket as a pillow though, you can fold it or screw it up and rest your head on it, either against the window or laying down on the seat. This is a real life saver and helps me sleep a lot better. I have heard of some people taking neck pillows or even regular pillows, but I want to pack as light as possible and I would always take a jacket with me anyway.
There are a few things I always make sure I have in my bag with me when boarding the bus. It’s likely you will have to put your large bag under the bus so make sure all this stuff is inside your smaller day bag which you will have on the bus with you. To help me sleep, I always have earphones and an eye mask, if you don’t want to listen to music or don’t think they drown out the sound enough, earplugs will be a better purchase. I usually play some relaxing music, rain sounds or guided meditation to help me fall asleep, make sure your devices are charged and bring your charger on the bus with you as most buses have charging ports. I also always carry water with me, most buses do have a toilet in addiction to stopping at service stations for toilet breaks, however, if you’re worried about using the toilets, I would buy drinks with electrolytes to keep you hydrated. I always get hungry when travelling on buses, or even just boredom eating at times, so I usually pack snacks such as crisps, nuts, cereal bars, and fruit, things that are easy to eat and don’t make too much mess. Finally, I also bring hand sanitizer, after using the bathroom and washing my hands, I like to put on hand sanitizer just to make sure my hands are extra clean. Also before eating, I like to put on hand sanitizer as I have no idea what type of germs are on the bus.
Don’t force sleep
Sometimes, sleep just isn’t going to happen. It’s horrible, and you end up getting to your location extremely tired but instead of getting frustrated, just try to enjoy the journey and relax. If you are stressed out and thinking too much about sleep, it’s going to be even harder to fall asleep. In this situation, I would usually put on a podcast and focus on that, I don’t worry about getting to sleep as I know a nap at the hostel with refresh me and once I’m up and out, with either the sun in my face or the freezing wind, I’ll be wide awake and won’t be thinking about how tired I am. I also can go to bed a little bit earlier on the first night if I’m feeling really tired. Usually If I’m focusing on a podcast, I find that I’ve fallen asleep without even realising.
Bring things to do
Most night buses come with a light above your head so you can see what you’re doing without waking the rest of the bus up. I know I’m not going to be able to sleep the whole time I’m on the bus so I need something to pass the rest of my time. I will always bring a book with me, also a great activity to make you sleep. I also always have my phone; listening to music, podcasts or watching videos is a great way to fill your time. A notebook and pen is always in my bag too, this is to make any notes about what I want to do whilst I’m in my new destination. I know for me, when travelling from one country to another, It’s hard to remember everything in each country so I use this time to plan out what I want to do on each day, see when things are open as it’s common for things to be closed on certain days depending on the country. Finally, I also bring some sort of puzzle book, this helps me to stay awake towards the end of the journey too and doesn’t take up too much space.
My favourite sleep position
Lastly, I wanted to share with you my favourite sleeping position when travelling on the night bus. This only works if you have two seats to yourself or if the person you’re travelling with doesn’t mind you laying on their lap. I sit on the seat near the window and lay my body down over the other seat or over my travel buddy, with my feet still on the floor and usually with my jacket as a pillow. This does give me pins and needles after a while but I can usually get quick sleep in to feel refreshed, I usually just shake my leg until they’re gone and then make my way back to this position. I find if you have your head near the window, you will knock your head on the wall as the bus twists and turns. Make sure your head isn’t hanging off the chair!
Those are my tips for surviving the night bus, the first one night feel like a nightmare but the more you do them, the easier they’ll become. I hope you enjoy taking the night bus and are able to get a few broken sleeps in here and there and thanks so much for reading. Let me know if you have any more tips, I’ll definitely be taking the night bus again soon!