What to Pack on a Night Bus

If you’re traveling in Southeast Asia, they are hard to escape: night buses. I personally think they’re a great way to get around and even used them to travel from Luang Prabang to Koh Lanta over land. You don’t waste time travelling during the day, and you save money on accommodation. I even take them when I backpack in Europe and North America. As a backpacker, there is simply no better way to get around.

Buses are a green alternative to flying

My favorite European bus company is Flixbus, but I usually check Omio to see if there are even cheaper local alternatives. In Southeast Asia, there are always lots of different options, and most of them won’t be available online. I prefer to book buses through my accommodation, at the bus station or a booking office on the street, that’s usually the cheapest. Night buses tend to book up faster than regular buses, so I advise you to get your ticket at least a day in advance. If you do want to book online in Southeast Asia, I’ve had good experiences with 12go.asia and baolau.

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. With night buses, the trick is to make yourself as comfortable as possible, by wearing your comfiest clothing (I usually go for leggings) and by taking all the necessary things with you on board. This is what I pack on a night bus:

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I make a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you purchase any of the items linked on this page.

Snacks and water

white wall with plants hand holding a lifestraw flex gray water bottle with filter

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.

I bring a filter water bottle, one of my favorite travel gadgets

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

silk eye mask travel gadget

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

girl in a fluffy coat and sunglasses smiling at the camera in the old town of Prague with colorful buildings and a market in the background

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.

The best fabric to stay warm and cozy is bamboo clothing!

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

bamboo toothbrush solid toothpaste travel essentials sustainable

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.

The same goes for long haul flights, see what else I pack for those

Toilet paper

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.

Sleeping pills

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.

Portable charger

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.

Here are a few more useful travel apps

Phone/laptop/tablet or book

e-reader book travel gadget

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.

Your valuables

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.

If you liked this post, please show me some love by sharing it on social media.

7 thoughts on “What to Pack on a Night Bus

Leave a Reply