9 Tips For Surviving A Sleeper Bus

by | Dec 27, 2012 | Southeast Asia, Travel Tips | 4 comments

By the time our cab driver has arrived at the bus station, we are one of the last stragglers to board. We are given plastic bags and told to remove our shoes before getting on. I’m maneuvering myself through the narrow spaces between seats, passing foreigners and locals alike doing their best to get into a comfortable position in their designated bed. Instead of seats all perfectly aligned like a regular bus you would imagine, the seats are narrow and fully reclined, two layers of three rows. All I can think is that it looks like The Knight Bus in Harry Potter. The local people seem to be used to this. Their petite Asian frames find a comfortable position and cease to move. My bed is on the top bunk, meaning that I have to climb a small little ladder and crawl into my bed atop somebody else’s. Luckily for me I am just as short as the majority of the local people on this bus and I am able to lie fully extended without my feet being crushed. My only issue is trying to fit my massive, over-packed bag beside my body on this unnaturally narrow bed. If you are anybody over 5’1 you will have a hell of a time trying to fit in these seats.

My friend climbs up onto her own bed just beside mine and we give each other knowing looks. There will be little to no sleep tonight. There are seat belts to wrap around our waists to keep us from falling out of the bed-seats during the bumpy ride. As is my luck, my seat belt is broken and the small railing (meant for the same reason as the seat belt) is also broken. Megan says she’ll keep an eye out and wake me up if it looks like I’m about to roll off. Perfect.

I am lying right beneath the vents that rotate between blowing ice cold air or a very warm heat. I spend the majority of the night sweating profusely or shivering in the cold. On this particular bus trip, I’m all out of the sleeping pills that I’ve been using as I want to save the last one for my long flight home. Without those, I have no chance of sleeping. With them, I’m asleep for 5 to 8 hours, dead to the world even when the bus stops, the lights go on and everybody gets off for a break. They are my savior on those long and uncomfortable bus rides. However, without them I must resort to other measures.

trying to sleep on the airport floor. i'll do what i have to do for my sleep!

As the bus drives towards our destination, there is a never ending chorus of loud honks both from our bus and every other motorized vehicle on the road. The use of the horn in these parts of the world is very popular. Drivers will honk at oncoming vehicles, they will honk when passing vehicles and they will honk at dogs, cows and people on or near the road. They will honk at apparently nothing at all. It is never ending and sometimes I think they do it just to keep themselves awake on these long journeys. Along with the honking is the almost never ending rocking and shaking of the bus. The roads are not amazing and it seems just as a period of smooth driving appears it is gone just as quickly. You are left being thrown around in your narrow seat, hip bones banging the sides of the bus as it quivers and quakes over every bit of gravel, every bump, every stone, and every giant pothole.

However, there are always some things that I do and some items that I carry with me that I believe truly helps me out:

  • Eye Mask – an eye mask is an essential tool during these long bus rides. If you need sleep and are taking a day bus, an eye mask is needed to block out the daylight. For me, even just the pressure over my eyes from the eye mask helps to tell my brain that it is time to sleep. It’s comforting and, on the overnight bus journeys, blocks out the light that sometimes tends to stay on much later than it should and keeps the light out during those rest stops.
  • Ear plugs or headphones. I don’t like the feeling of ear plugs but I find that plugging my headphones into my ears and putting my calm music on works perfectly to tune out the sounds around me and fall asleep.
  • Sleeping aids. Take these at your own discretion. Some people are firmly against sleeping aids of any kind. Personally, they are my life saver. Even at home when I am unable to sleep I use melatonin to help me out. Over in Southeast Asia and on those particularly rough nights of sleeper buses, I am one of the travelers that take a stronger, over-the-counter sleeping tablet such as Xanax. *It is important to consult your doctor before taking such a medication*
  • Pee before you board! This is a MUST. Oh man, there is nothing worse than being on a 13 hour bus ride, in a bus with no washroom, and having to hold it in for hours until your rest stop.
  • Avoid spicy food before. Okay, so this isn’t for everyone. But if you’re someone who gets an upset stomach after eating spicy or foreign food, try to avoid it before a long bus ride. I don’t think I even need to explain why.
  • Snacks. I always carry snacks with me, from dried fruit and nuts to pretzels or chips. I always get hungry on these long rides or am bored and have nothing to do but eat on the bus.
  • Water. It is important to stay hydrated on these long journeys to feel awake and not so dumpy feeling when you arrive.
  • A book and a headlamp or mini flashlight. I always carry a book with either a headlamp or a mini flashlight with me. I usually can’t sleep much on these overnight bus journeys and having a good book is excellent to pass the time
  • Pay the extra for a better bus. Yes, you’re on a budget. I totally understand that. I am the girl who bawks at the idea of paying a whole ten dollars(or less!) more for a better bus than the one I’ve decided on. Honestly, I need to start taking my own advice and just paying the extra. They are often better enough that you get a decent sleep. Or sleep at all, which is better than none.

These are just some of the essential items that I carry with me and some of the things that I always do before boarding an overnight bus or any form of overnight transportation. What helps you make it through those long and treacherous journeys of transportation?

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