Night buses are a nightmare, literally! Sitting in the stifling heat packed closely together with a bunch of strangers or shivering away clinging to your belongings… at no point is sleep even mentioned! 12 hours, 16 hours even 24 hours and longer spent sat on a bus. You can’t just get up and walk around like on a train or nip to the toilet like a plane, on a bus you are stuck in a hellish situation for an uncomfortable amount of hours. But the more you do it the more you get accustomed to it! After 4 months and many a night bus around Eastern Europe here are our tips!
Keep your stuff safe
One of the most important thing when you are travelling on a night bus is security and therefore peace of mind. Getting some shut eye over your long journey isn’t going to happen if you are paranoid about your stuff.
Firstly our advice would be to keep all your most important and valuable items with you at all times. Your large bag will probably have to go below, so make sure to only have non valuable item in there but also do lock it up too as even loosing your clothing will be a big pain. Because we travel together we have two bags, this makes it easier to keep them safe. Even just clipping them together and then clipping them around one of the poles under the hold makes them less likely to just be swipped off. Most people are opportunists and just take what is easiest.
When you are inside the bus you can also take steps to keep your valuables safe. Firstly put them in the most secure section of your small bag and try to clip them to something. Example is our passports which are in a waterproof container with a lanyard, that is in a zipped up compartment and is connected always when travelling to an internal clip! Also try not to get your valuables out or mess about with them. Keep things like books in another section of your bag as an example. We also always keep the section with the valuables in locked up with a combination lock around the zips. Next we make sure the bag is secured to make sure it can’t be stolen. Who ever is next to the window has the bag and a metal cable that we wrap around something solid such as a section of the chair in front or even your belt loop if there is nothing else.
It sounds really paranoid, but night buses are the prime place to get your stuff stolen and feeling relaxing on them for me is mostly based on knowing the stuff I need the most is safe. Passports, money, phone, laptop, cameras and pen drives with all our photos on!!
We wrote a post all about keeping your stuff safe whilst travelling here: Keep your stuff safe whilst backpacking
Bring provisions and change
Night buses are long, tiring and don’t always give you the chance to get food or drink along the way. Being hungry or thirsty on a long journey just makes it drag even longer. Make sure you bring with you plenty of food and drink to keep yourself fuelled and hydrated. Try to make sure you bring with you some good quality and healthy food and drink too, this will make you feel so much more refreshed and energised! Although, sometimes you also need some comfort food too to keep your happiness levels high too! Get a balance!
We make sure to bring fruit juice, dried fruit, nuts, cereal bars, sandwiches and water. We also bring chewing gum too to make us feel more refreshed after sleeping! We also bring headache tablets too. Also make sure to carry change with you in the local currency, if in Europe always have some Euros on you as they are often accepted universally. Often toilets have to be paid for and of course you might want to stock up on your provisions!
Prepare for all temperatures!
Even on a boiling hot day the air conditioning on the bus can make it like an ice box, and similarly on a freezing day the heating can make you sweat it out for hours. Even on the same journey the temperature can go from one extreme to another. So make sure you dress for all occasions. We wear zip off trousers, bring hoodies on board, small blankets and flip flops so we can adapt to all conditions the night brings us! We also bring along a fan too because sometimes it can feel claustrophobic with no moving air!
Bring along a travel pillow or two, a blanket and a cushion for your back. Bring with you other types of provisions to make our journey more comfortable. This also includes tissues and toilet roll, you never know what the toilet roll situation is going to be when to rock into a tiny bus station at 2am!
Also…bring a torch with you!
Take any opportunity to get up and walk around…but let people know!
Sitting down for so long is bad for you and can make your legs swell up and ache. Even if you are comfortable or too tired always make sure you get up and have a walk around and a toilet break when you get the chance. You never know when the next one is coming. 12 hours without moving is a deep vein thrombosis threat, so keep those limbs moving!
BUT… crucially. If there are two of you then take turns so the other person can watch your belongings and make sure the bus doesn’t leave with out you. Take your phone with you and some change too. If you are alone tell someone you are next too and take your bag of valuables with you, tell the driver and ask how long you are stopping for. We have been on a few buses that have driven off with people still in the bathroom! That can leave you in a dangerous situation and separated from your things too!
Check with your next accomodation that you can check in early and book ahead
Most night buses get into your destination early in the morning. After a tiring and uncomfortable night, even if you prepare, you will just want to hit the sack as soon as you can. Think ahead and contact your hostel or hotel and explain your situation and see if you can check in early or if they have any upgrades to a private room. Coming off a night bus and having to wait around until the afternoon to check in just extends the misery, no one wants to trek around with heavy bags and even heavier eyelids for hours! It is also a good idea to forgo arriving in a city without a place booked when you have been travelling all night!
Check out our crazy day involving 2 night buses here: Warsaw in our backpacks and two night buses in 24 hours!
Check your documents
Night buses often cross over international borders and sometimes mean a long wait at customs and immigration. Make sure before you set off that all the documents you need are in order and you understand the visa requirements. At 3am with a bus load of people waiting you want to have everything in order and getting left at the border is an even bigger nightmare! Getting stranded in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night is dangerous and easily avoidable.
Check out our Ukrainian border story: crossing from Poland to Ukraine at gunpoint
Be prepared for the city you arrive in
Check out which bus station you are arriving in, where abouts in the city it is and how well connected the public transport is from there. You will be tired and almost deliriously so. Knowing which bus to get on, or which metro stop to get off at for your hostel will make it easier. Make sure you have your hostels address too and some directions, written in the local language too. Being so tired can make it hard work and this is the time when you really don’t want to get lost!
Bring entertainment and make the most of the time
16 hours is a long time to be sat there doing nothing and there is only so much time you can sleep away. bring a book and some music, try to break up the time into chunks where you do something different for each period of time. You can read through the guide for your next destination and make some notes on where you want to do, plan out a few days or write your diary/ journal and on a bus where you feel comfortable enough you can even do some blogging if that’s what you do. Even if you can’t get your laptop out I often make notes for posts on my phone.
You should also bring along a portable charger too to keep your phone charged, and if you are lucky your seat might even have a plug and the bus WIFI. If you have a tablet you can even watch some movies too! We also like to play games on our phone and tablets to pass the time. We enjoy the classics like Plants vs Zombies, cut the rope, fruit Ninja and also some free games too such as stargames, this always keeps us entertains during those long nights!
Book as early as you can!
Sometimes its not always possible depending on your plans but if you can book sooner rather than later you will have more choice when it comes to seat arrangements. Sitting together can make the difference between feeling comfortable and not, and not getting the window seat can ruin your plans for a sleep!
Chill out and try to enjoy it!
No matter what you do and how good a sleeper you are you will always end up tired and cranky at the end of a night bus, your legs will ache and you will feel fuzzy! A night bus can feel like having a hangover without the great night before it! So try to go with it as much as you can. Take the time to catch up on your diary, plan your time or just rest your poor feet after all that walking around!