Updated November 18th, 2017.
The cheapest way to travel from country to country is usually by buses – slow, uncomfortable, smelly, crowded buses…
They’ll cram as much as they can on one bus!
An overnight bus journey can easily save you 90% of what a flight would cost, but of course a flight would take only a couple of hours, whereas you’re on that bus for the long haul and while you save on accommodation, if you’re unprepared you can stumble off of the bus feeling completely wiped out and unable to do anything in the awesome place you’ve just arrived at.
There are, however, some simple steps you can take to make sure your 36 hours trapped in a bumpy steel can are as comfortable as possible and if you’re really lucky, you might even get some sleep!
Find the best spot to get a good night’s sleep!
1. Choose the best seat
The fine art of seat choice requires a very specific set of skills, acquired over a very long and successful career of….bus travel. If you’re in South America, Europe or the US, then you can probably choose your seat when you book, otherwise you’ll have to fight your way onto the bus through a melee of other passengers, all with their own seat agendas. Each bus is different, but one thing remains the same – stay away from the toilet! If it’s a tall bus with the seats above the driver, then go for the very front; you’ll have the most leg room and panoramic views of the whole journey. Another good option is the seat behind the stairs; the railing makes a great footrest!
The roof of the bus is also an option for seating!
2. Prepare a foodie bag
Unless you plan on going on hunger strike to make the journey go a little bit faster (it won’t work), then you’re going to need some kind of sustenance. The bus will usually stop in some roadside restaurant, but it’ll be 5 times the normal price for something that was cooked hours earlier and they wouldn’t feed their own children. Take whatever you can with you, fruit; fried rice, Oreos, anything! Eating is a well-known cure for boredom, so stuff your face and fall back to sleep!
3. Bring Tissue or wetwipes!
Not much explanation required here, but I will anyway! Bus toilets are best avoided at all costs and if you have to use them, they’re usually limited to number ones. In the roadside rest stops, you’re still going to want something to clean up with, like paper or wet wipes. If there’s a bum gun, then you’re really winning!
4. Bring Earplugs or a charged iPod
Dodgy K Pop in SE Asia, Hindi Pop in India, Reggaeton in South America – buses are rarely cloisters of peace and relaxation. Do everything possible to block out the reality of where you are if you want to have any chance at some kind of sleep. Earplugs and an eye mask will be your most invaluable purchases.
Watch out for the karaoke buses! You’ll need ear plugs.
5. Bring a book or Kindle
You probably can’t eat and sleep your way through a 36+ hour bus journey, so you’re going to need some other form of entertainment to pass the time. A good book on your Kindle or some movies on your smart phone will be a lifesaver.
6. Learn how to socialize
Because you don’t know how to socialize right?! A lot of time can really fly by when you’re chatting with other people on the bus; be it the usual predictable conversations with fellow backpackers or trying to understand the questions of the old local guy sitting next to you and practicing your sign language.
7. Write in your diary
Keeping a diary is just one of those things that we all set off with the intention of doing; recording our deepest thoughts and melancholy wanderings about the world, but too often we forget and it falls to the bottom of the backpack and stays there. What better time to dig it out than now? Long bus journeys are the perfect time to reflect on your travels are really pay attention to what you’re experiencing, if you’re getting everything you want and what new plans you should make to get it.
What an experience to write in your diary!
8. Just enjoy a good night sleep – don’t be drunk before!
A hot, smelly, crammed bus is the worst place for a hangover. It might seem like a good idea, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be really tired and just fall asleep on the bus!’ Alcohol messes with your sleep patterns and when you think your sleeping your body is just working overtime to battle the poisoning you gave it the night before, leaving you equally tired the next day. Do yourself a huge favor, have a night off the beer before a big journey!
9. Drink water to keep you hydrated!
Water – the most important thing in your bag! Although you don’t want to be spending loads of time going back and forth to the bus toilet (because it’s disgusting!) You’ll start feeling really ill if you don’t drink enough. Hot, sweaty buses will obviously dehydrate you, but air conditioning dries the air around you so it actually sucks the water from your skin and drinking plenty of water is the only way to combat this.
10. Bring extra layers!
Air-con buses get cold at night, so take a pair of socks with you and buy a sarong or something else to wrap yourself in at night. Also, as an added bonus, the feeling of being wrapped in something reminds your brain of being in bed in your own sheets and allows you relax more easily and fall into a ‘sleep state’ quicker.
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