A night bus is the perfect mode of transportation for any traveler. Especially if you are adventurous, on a budget or looking for a more eco-friendly way to get around.
I’ve been on many overnight buses in Southeast Asia, Europe and the USA. I even used them to travel from Luang Prabang to Koh Lanta over land.
One of the many advantages of sleeper trains and buses is that you don’t waste time travelling during the day. Instead, you’re transported to your next destination while you sleep. You also save money on accommodation, making them a perfect option for budget backpackers.
Of course, this only works if you manage to actually sleep, which can be a challenge. The trick to surviving night buses is much like a long haul flight: getting as much sleep as possible.
As a seasoned backpacker, my body is now capable of sleeping pretty much anywhere: buses, trains, airports, couches. As long as it isn’t upright, I’ll find a way to sleep. I know that’s not the case for everyone, which is why I wrote this post on how to survive on a long distance bus.
One of the most important factors for having a good overnight experience, is packing the right things. So here is everything you need to pack on a night bus:
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Snacks and water
Night buses are kept cool by A/C, which is great, but it does make you thirsty. Most buses will provide you with a small bottle of water, but make sure you bring a large bottle of your own as well.
And pack some nutritious snacks while you’re at it, you never know if and when the next food stop will be. I usually take some fruit, nuts and cookies.
Neck pillow, eye mask and ear plugs
Even with a reclining seat, a neck pillow is crucial for sleeping. I have an inflatable one because it saves space and works almost as well. To shield yourself from the light and noise, make sure you pack a good eye mask and ear plugs as well. It’s hard to sleep with traffic lights flashing in your face or through the noise of other passengers and Thai karaoke music.
Sweater, scarf and socks
Even in a warm climate like Southeast Asia, it will still be cold inside the bus. The A/C on night buses is on full blast, partly for your comfort and partly to keep the bus driver awake. Often there will be a blanket provided, but make sure you also take a sweater, a scarf (which can double as a make shift blanket or rolled up into a pillow) and warm socks. I also cannot stress enough how cold you’ll get if you wear shorts and a top on a night bus, this is the time to bust out those elephant pants or leggings.
Fresh pair of underwear
Chances are you’ll arrive too early to check into your accommodation, so take a fresh pair of underwear to change into, so you won’t feel as grimy the whole day.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, face wipes and deodorant
Speaking of grimy: there is nothing that I hate more than not brushing my teeth before bed. Take your toothbrush, toothpaste, some face wipes and deodorant with you so you can freshen up before bed and after waking up in the morning.
This is not just for night buses, but travel in general. Always have a roll of toilet paper or a pack of tissues with you. You do not want to go to the bathroom just to find out there is no toilet paper after you do your business.
I knew that I could sleep on flights, trains and buses without a sleeping aid in Europe, but I was a bit hesitant about the buses in Southeast Asia. So I went to the pharmacy in Vietnam, where you can buy sleeping pills over the counter. For 80.000 Dong (about 3 USD) I got a whole strip of Valium. And it works like a charm. I took one on each of my night buses in Southeast Asia and slept for 5-6 hours straight. It might not get you through the whole trip, but will definitely help you pass the time and feel a bit more alive when you arrive.
Most buses do not have plugs to charge your phone, so bring a portable charger to avoid running out of juice. Also, be sure to look up directions to your accommodation and pin it on Google Maps or maps.me beforehand if you don’t have data.
Phone/laptop/tablet or book
Unlike flights, buses don’t provide onboard entertainment (unless you count loud Thai karaoke, which I don’t) and you won’t be able to sleep the whole 12 hours. So bring your phone, tablet or laptop with some Netflix episodes downloaded or a good book to keep you occupied.
Although the cargo hold of night buses are generally safe (with the buses from Khao San road to Krabi as the exception!), it is always smarter to keep valuables like money, credit card, passport and phone on you. Use a purse or money belt to keep them on your body while you sleep.
There you go, these tips should help you survive a long night bus ride. Do you have any additional tips and tricks? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
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