You’ve finally done it! You have let your wanderlust take the reins and you’re ready to begin your journey to distant places. After your bags are packed and you’ve said sayonara to your friends, family, and most importantly: to work – you realize you don’t quite know how people get around safely or sleep soundly when traveling long distances by bus.
Whether you’re traveling across your own country or a foreign one, these tips will help you drift blissfully and provide some safety precautions that will help you feel more at ease while sleeping.
1. Noise Cancelling Headphones
If you’re traveling on a busy or full bus, there’s no doubt that you will be forced to deal with noises outside of your control. The quiet chatter of a couple of people can add up to quite a bit of noise frequency in such a confined space. Even if no one is speaking, the rustling through bags, sniffling, or even worse – snoring – can all make the silence deafening.
Unlike the regular headphones that come with your phone, noise-canceling headphones block out ambient noises around you, making it easier for you to fall asleep. By eliminating the background sounds, such as the hum of the engine, you can all but forget that you are on a packed bus.
Because noise canceling headphones lessen the noises surrounding you, they have the added benefit of allowing you to listen to your own music or podcast at a lower volume. This makes it safer for your eardrums and means you won’t wake up to blasting music in your ears. Choose something soothing or mellow to help keep you relaxed.
2. Booking The Best Time
This may sound like an obvious idea, however, bus schedules vary throughout the day and, surprisingly, daytime trips are often busier. They can consist of commuters or school children who won’t be concerned that you have allocated this as your time to rest.
By choosing a late-night ride, you give your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock that tells you when it’s time for waking and sleeping) the opportunity to stay on track. You will also have more of a chance to be on a quieter, less populated bus.
3. Opt for first class
Chances are if you’re on an overnight bus, it’s in the name of budget friendliness. For those who worry about being able to get any amount of sleep, here’s where you may consider splurging a bit.
While this may not always be an option for each city, country or route, it’s worth looking into. First class, VIP or Business Class (depending on where you are and what company you choose) buses will often have small benefits that will be invaluable when it comes to comfort and your sleep.
Some of the many differences the extra money can make include reclining seats to stretch out for extra legroom, fewer seats to a row giving you less of a chance to have a noisy or rude neighbor, higher quality seats providing more comfort, more storage, meals provided, toilets, and a variety of other options. Again, all of these won’t apply to every First-Class experience, but you’ll still be saving on the cost of accommodation even if you splurge on a few extra conveniences.
4. Sit Near the Middle
If you are intending to sleep for the duration of the trip, it’s best to reduce the number of distractions that may prevent you from falling or staying asleep. Your choice in seating can actually help with this.
The front of the bus is often (not always) where the engine is. Avoiding this extra vibration will keep your ride slightly smoother. The front is also where you’ll have a better vantage point of the road that you’re traveling on. If you are the type of person who can’t help but backseat drive, even just in your head, you probably do not want to be able to see how your driver is sailing along roads you’re unfamiliar with. Gripping the armrest through hairpin turns and dangerously close cliff edges is not the way to get any amount of rest.
The back of the bus is typically the bumpiest overall. Depending on where you are going, you’re likely to be on some undeveloped patches of road, leading to a bumpy experience. Aside from this, you may also have to consider that the back of the bus is further from the driver, who is essentially the authority on this leg of your trip. Anyone who may want to get away with some shifty behavior will likely be the furthest from the front.
This leaves you with the middle. Aiming for the area between the wheel wells will give you a more stable ride, helping to avoid sudden jolts. It is also typically the safest since most accidents happen in the front or back of the vehicle.
5. Choosing Your Seat Wisely
Now that you know where on the bus you should sit, the question becomes Which seat? To answer this, simply think of it like you would an airplane.
The window seat will provide you with a solid structure to lean on. If you tend to be that person who falls to the side, you may want to give yourself a wall, saving yourself from the embarrassment of perching on your neighbor. This will also mean that you won’t need to wake up to let a fellow traveler in or out if your trip has multiple stops.
Aisle seats will give you the added benefit of slightly more leg room. If you’ve ever suffered from leg injuries or conditions such as Deep Vein Thrombosis or Restless Leg Syndrome, your best bet may be the aisle in order to give your legs a little more room to spread out. It’s also a better option if you ever have feelings of claustrophobia.
If you are a solo traveler, also consider who you might feel the safest sitting next to. Will you rest easier sitting next to a woman or a child? Or perhaps someone who looks like they are also on their own solo journey? Knowing that you feel safe when you’re awake will help you feel more at ease when trying to get some shut-eye.
6. Buy an Extra Seat
Ok, so you’ve decided against a First-Class bus or it’s not an option for your trip. What else can you do for a little more comfort? While it isn’t always possible for all bus companies or itineraries if you are able to request seating, it may be worth paying a few extra bucks to purchase the seat next to yours as well.
Doing so has numerous benefits including: the ability to stretch out across two seats, the comfort of knowing that no one will be seated right next to you, and a little extra space to store your things. It isn’t likely that the duration of the bus ride will be incredibly comfortable; but giving yourself the slightest amount of convenience will go a long way.
7. Bring Earplugs and an Eye Mask
If you decide against the noise canceling headphones, you should at least bring along a simple pair of earplugs. There is a reason why they’re handed out on planes and that is because they work!
Many people don’t entirely enjoy the feeling of shoving something inside their ears, but it’s recommended to pack some just in case. They don’t have to be fancy and you don’t need to splurge. When the din of other restless travelers and the noises that the bus itself will make are louder than expected, you will be happy for anything that will slightly dim it all out.
An eye mask is good for two uses – it will obviously block out any light, such as the early morning sun from which you’ll have no reprieve, but it will also encourage your body to at least try to sleep. The issue with attempting to sleep on a moving bus with shifting people is that you will be tempted to look around. If you’re gazing out the window trying to find out where you are or looking at each person who stands to stretch their legs, you are less likely to be able to fall asleep in the first place.
8. Nab a Neck Pillow
Any regular overnight traveler will tell you that a neck pillow is borderline life-changing. Once you are able to fall asleep, you won’t be able to guarantee that your head will rest peacefully on the back of your headrest. It only takes one instance of waking up with neck pain to realize that your head is actually fairly heavy and can roll forward or to the side during your slumber without you realizing it.
A neck pillow can also be beneficial if you have decided to take a sleeper train with beds, rather than seats. The beds may or may not come with a pillow, but you most likely will not want to lay on it regardless. Instead of wrapping it around your neck, try resting your head on it as an actual pillow. You’ll be thankful for it in the morning.
Don’t have room in your small overnight bag? There are a wide number of quality inflatable travel pillows that can be found online and are easy to stow when you don’t need them.
9. Wear Layers
As you prepare to fall asleep, your body temperature lowers making even the slightest breeze from an air conditioning feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the Arctic.
To avoid disrupting your sleep more than needed, dress accordingly, with lighter layers as a base and a sweater or jacket for when you’re ready to sleep. Packing a lightweight wrap will be easy to store but can double as a small blanket or pillow if needed.
You also don’t want to overheat and wake up in a pool of sweat so having the option to remove some of your layers will prove useful if you are in warmer weather.
Whether you are familiar with taking sleep medication or not, when traveling overnight or long distances, sometimes the most effective way of falling asleep is the most obvious.
Over the counter medications such as Melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles, or Valerian Root, which is an herbal supplement with calming effects, can help when it comes to encouraging your body to sleep even when your mind is wandering.
While you probably won’t run into any issues, if you do decide to opt for OTC or even prescription sleep aids, make sure that the medication is legal in your travel destination. Check with the local embassy to ensure that you are not bringing an illegal substance into a foreign country.
11. Sports Drinks
When you stop and think about it, sleep time is a very personal time. Your sleeping habits are usually ones you don’t care to share with your closest friends, much less a bus full of complete strangers. One night-time habit that you don’t often share with others is how often you get up to use the toilet.
You may wake several times throughout the night, you may wake up very few times, but regardless of how often you typically wake up to empty your bladder – the thought will cross your mind when it comes to this trip. So, what do you do?
This is where sports drinks come in handy. You will obviously want to have fluids on the bus with you in order to stay hydrated. The problem with water is that it can quickly lead to urination when you may not have facilities on the bus or don’t know when you will be stopping next. Sports drinks, as an alternative, are filled with electrolytes needed to keep you hydrated, including sodium. If you have forgotten about high school chemistry – sodium makes the body hold onto fluids, helping you retain water and decreasing the need to urinate as frequently. Meaning your body won’t wake you up for a toilet break once you’ve drifted off.
Please keep in mind that this is not an advisable dietary plan! As an overnight travel hack, it can be incredibly helpful, but remember that too much sodium intake can have adverse effects.
12. Pack the Right Snacks
Long trips often require bringing along a few snacks to get you through in between stops. Choosing your on-board eats carefully can benefit you when you’re ready to close your eyes.
When nibbling here are some eating tips to consider:
- Do Eat: Nuts such as walnuts and almonds. They are a source of Melatonin, needed for helping regulate sleep.
- Do Eat: Fruits such as kiwi. They contain serotonin and antioxidants which help promote and regulate our sleep cycle.
- Don’t Eat: Spicy foods. They can increase your body temperature and have side effects such as heartburn. This can prevent you from having an undisturbed, comfortable rest.
13. Protect Your Valuables
It goes without saying that most of us will have slight unease when it comes to sleeping in a moving vehicle, surrounded by strangers, in a place we’ve never been. While you hope that every person on this wild ride is there for the same purpose as you (Point A to Point B, in one piece), your brain may have thoughts otherwise and quite understandably.
To help put your mind at ease, be aware of your surroundings and take steps to protect yourself and your valuables. On most buses, your larger bags will likely be stored underneath the bus. Put a small lock on those, if possible, for the times when they will be out of your sight.
Keep anything of value on you personally at all times either in a small, carry-on sized bag or travel safe clothing/gear. When packing, put anything of slight value at the bottom of your bag. This will prevent anyone who may try to do a quick rummage from gaining anything important. Loosely wrap purse/bag straps around your arm or leg. If you do manage to fall asleep and someone tries to grab and go, your bag won’t make it very far with your body attached to it.
14. Store Money in Numerous Places
A general travel safety guide is to not put all your money in one place. This will not only be sound advice in the event that your wallet or bag is stolen, but will also give you some security when you are attempting to sleep with the unknown around you.
Ensuring that you have items such as money, your passport, and any other travel documentation stored safely is the best way to prevent yourself from being stranded without your hard-to-replace necessities. But what can you do? Some helpful valuables storage tips:
- Store your passport in your back pocket while seated if you’ll need to access it quickly or several times. If you do fall asleep, it’ll be hard for someone else to reach without waking you up.
- Store extra money in your shoe for emergency use.
- Invest in a concealed cross body bag or belt. When you’re planning to get some rest overnight, having your most valuable possessions tucked safely under your clothing will give you the most amount of mental freedom.
- Keep all zippers and flaps closed and secured. Never let a bag sit open, making it easy for a quick grab as a pickpocket walks by.
15. Confirming the Route
When booking your journey, it’s a good idea to find out as much as possible about the route the bus will take. This will prepare you for safety measures as well as comfort.
Is the route safe? Find out if the trip will take you through areas that are known for robberies or high jacking. If it is common for buses to be stopped and passengers robbed, it would be advisable to avoid this particular route, especially at night. Look for another bus company that will have the same destination, but goes another way.
How developed are the roads where you’re going? If it will be a trip consisting of potholes, bumps, and otherwise treacherous streets, you’re not likely to get much sleep anyway. It may be best to search for another route.