10 Tips To Help Survive Long Bus Journeys

The Shell of an Abandoned Bus in a Desert

Updated August 25th, 2018.

The cheapest way to travel from country to country is usually by buses – slow, uncomfortable, smelly, crowded buses…

Two Motorbikes and Many Other Things Loaded Onto A BusThey’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!

Tourists Sleeping on a Very Crowded Laos to Vietnam BusFind the best spot to get a good night’s sleep!

How To Survive A Long Bus Ride in 10 Handy Tips

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!

Locals Riding on the Tops of Buses in SumatraThe 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 wet wipes!

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.

The View of a Karaoke Screen on a Disco busWatch out for the karaoke buses! You’ll need earplugs.

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 smartphone 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 practising 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.

A Crowded BusWhat an experience to write in your diary!

8. Just enjoy a good night sleep – don’t be drunk before!

A hot, smelly, cramped 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 favour, 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.

Many People Sat On The Top Of A Bus

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16 thoughts on “10 Tips To Help Survive Long Bus Journeys

  1. Max Alexis Schwartz says:

    Totally wanna do this, but I’m all done jumping on airplanes to the other side of the world alone… Maybe when the next girlfriend comes along to share the journey

  2. Koh tao rock climbing says:

    in malaysia now did 8 hrs the other day cramped up next to all the bags with a thai woman sleeping on my shoulder the other side , all part of the adventure

  3. Cori Lori says:

    32h from Sapa (Vietnam) to Luang Prabang (Laos) having a seat for the first 10h with everybody cuddeling with each other. Then we had to change the bus which was already full, so they put our bags (group of 20 backpackers) on the roof and in the isle where we stayed for the rest of the journey. But I have to say at least the ac or fan worked like said in the advertisment 😉

  4. Esther Poulus says:

    Four days and three nights on the bus from Rantau Prapat to Yogyakarta. The bus broke down, the roof started leaking in a rainstorm and a river flowed through the aisle, my neighbour kept coughing directly into my face, I was seated up front and had nothing to hold on to on the winding roads, so every time I nodded off I fell out of my seat (once nearly on top of the driver, who was sitting under me). Was hallucinating with lack of sleep in the end, which was a quite interesting experience. At every stop a circle of people gathered in front of the bus to stare at me through the window. Also I had slipped and fallen into a toilet before entering the bus, so I was covered in unspeakable things. Despite this, my other neighbour kept her friendly cool and constantly provided me with snacks she bought from vendors that jumped on the bus. While waiting for a connecting bus at Jakarta a local man quietly slipped me 10.000 rupia, which his wife then took away again. That’s how terrible I must have looked 🙂 22 and on my own, what a freedom! Would do it again in a heartbeat!

  5. Nic Ky says:

    Haha this thread is awfully recognisable. We took a local bus from ben tre /mekong delta to dalat. Started off pleasant and comfortabele, but then the f****** coconuts were loaded in. We were completely surrounded by tons of coconuts, you had to climb to move or get in and out of the bus. Because the bus was completely overloaded, it went terribly slow driving uphill (max 10 kmh) walking would have been faster for sure! After 10 hours we even discovered living chickens in front of our feet. Not to mention dozens of stinging bonsai trees for TET holiday. It was so awful that it got funny (especially afterwards 😉 ) Wont forget this ride 😀 Gerben De Reus

  6. Frank Fingskes says:

    around 30 h from medan to lake toba with 6 person on a 4 seat unit, carrying my backpack on my knees. in front an indonesian family on a 2 seat unit who turns their sons around and positioned them right between the two seats so they were ready to pee. (…. in my direction) incl wheel damage and repair by keeping the bus in position with stones and changing it by digging it free. it was managed very fast by a guy who definitely belonged to the company (not the driver) and traveld with us just for that case… (1988 Sumatra)

    15h from samui to bangkok. 1st time driver fall asleep, bus lost the road for a short time, people shouted out loud, driver woke up and got back to the road (@chumpon)…2nd time driver felt asleep lost the road, the bus fall down to the side, (@hua hin) lost my shoes, walking on broken glass. nobody was badly injured. 🙂 … my last bus ride ever (2008, south thailand)

  7. Archie Fartchibald says:

    32hours of Minibus, Bus, Ferry, Bus, Ferry, Bus, Minibus, Ferry from Denpasar Bali, to Labuan Bajo Flores Indonesia. It starts off deceptively pleasant, nice little ferry ride at sunset/moonrise, but then one of the busses is a goddamned KARAOKE BUS from hell, then you get to a bus station in the middle of nowhere Sambawa and have to wait for hours and hours for the next bus in the middle of the night, then a windy road, followed by a ferry with pigs running around the cargo hold. All worth it though, Flores is a gem, and its your base of operations for exploring/diving the Kombodo national park

  8. Justin Rubin says:

    My bus catching on fire in Vietnam was a fun memory too. Some guys beat the melted wheel with s stick for a while and somehow we were good to go.

    I also remember a terrible night bus in Kerala, India. It was overpacked and people were standing in the aisle sleeping. I managed to get a seat squished in next to some guy sleeping on my shoulder that I couldn’t shake. All the windows were closed and the glass covered so it felt like we were in a dark tin can speeding across pot holes with the horn going off every 3 seconds. Then I got dropped off in the middle of nowhere, pitch dark 3 am. Won’t forget that one

  9. Justin Rubin says:

    20 hours, bukittinngi to lake toba in sumatra was the longest but not the worst, despite being 5 hours longer than expected. Nothing was worse than those Vietnamese night busses

  10. Sunnye Birman says:

    28 hours Yogyakarta, Java to Denpasar, Bali. Java is one of the most populated islands in the World, the buses literally drive down the middle of the street tooting for everyone else to move. You could have a ciggie up the front with the door open, but every time I did I thought I was going to die.

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