Taking an overnight bus while traveling is often a great option. Not only can you cover a lot of ground without losing time, but you can also save money on a flight or hotel room.

The journey itself, however, can be challenging—especially your first time.

After taking numerous overnight buses over the years, I’ve come up with a list of tips that will hopefully make your experience easier and safer—and one during which you can sleep easy.

SAFETY

1. Make sure the route is safe.

Check local travel advisories and be sure the bus route is not one where robberies and/or accidents are common at night. If you see warnings about this, you might want to opt for a day bus.

2. Splurge on the first-class bus.

Think long and hard before buying a ticket for the cheaper or cheapest overnight bus. Does it look safe and decently maintained (eg, are tires bald)? Can you imagine being in one of the seats all night? Will there be two drivers, taking turns—or just one for the entire night? If you’re unsure and/or have a bad gut feeling, then it might be best to take more expensive, higher quality overnight bus.

Bus in El Salvador

3. Choose your seat carefully.

There are several things to consider when picking your seat:

  • Window or Aisle? Some people feel they’ll sleep better near the window; it means more ways to create a makeshift pillow. Others (like me) prefer the aisle because there’s more space and a way to stretch out.
  • Near a man or woman? You should sit where you feel most comfortable. I tend to sit next to a woman or a teenager. The few times I’ve sat near a man (whether seats were pre-assigned or not), I had some unpleasant encounters. If you’re a male traveler, then the choice might be easier. My advice is to state your preference when you buy the ticket if seats are assigned in advance.
  • Front, back or middle? The further back you sit, the bumpier (and possibly weirder) the ride may be. Sit too close to the front and you might see things you don’t want to see—the road in front of you, that is, and the scary way in which the driver is taking the hairpin turns. Of course, if you like rollercoasters, then you might enjoy a seat up front.

Seats on chicken bus

According to safety experts, the middle is generally safer. If an accident occurred, the chance of serious injury would be minimized since most accidents involve head-on collisions or rear-ending. For this reason, and those discussed above, I tend to sit in the middle.

4. Hide your money/other valuables in more than one place.

It’s not ideal to keep all of your money and credit cards together. In the event of a robbery, the thief would get everything. Try to split up your valuables. I prefer to use a slash-proof waist pack (which has a ‘trick lock’ on it) and to hide some money in my shoes.
Slashproof waist pack

SURVIVAL

Moving beyond basic safety, there’s ‘survival’—that is, making the journey more comfortable and bearable.

5. Pack as if you’re flying.

You’ll probably have to stow your larger bag underneath the bus (if there’s no room for it above you). If so, then make sure your daypack has what you need (eg, medication)—as if you’re going to be on a plane.

6. Pack an energy drink (to avoid needing to use the bathroom).

Buy a Gatorade or another beverage that replenishes electrolytes. Or pack small packets of powder drinks to make your own. This will hopefully keep your thirst quenched and your bladder, empty—meaning that you won’t have to use the bathroom as often. That’s a good thing since there may or may not be one (if there is, it’ll probably be unpleasant) on the bus and those at rest stops may be atrocious.

7. BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks).

Most often, there will be a stop or two at roadside restaurants; in some cases, the food is quite good. But there are no guarantees. I once ate at a low-quality place in Indonesia and got sick the next day. If I’d had snacks, I might have skipped that meal. You should always have something (eg, nuts, fruit or an energy bar if possible) just in case.

Snack du Jour

8. Use noise-canceling headphones and entertain yourself.

Night bus rides last from 6 to 12 or more hours. During this time, you will encounter many unpleasant sounds: a loud TV, staticky music, someone snoring and/or other conversations. Use good headphones (noise-canceling would be best) to block those sounds and to listen to your own music. If you want to read, be sure to have a reading light because chances are the overhead light won’t work.

SLEEP

9. Use earplugs plus an eye mask.

When it’s time to sleep, you’ll want to drown out the noise. I recommend earplugs, which you can buy at an electronics store. (See Tip # 6.) An eye mask is also important. It helps block out light from inside the bus at night and in the morning, when the sun coming in through the windows can make you feel like a vampire.

Eye mask and earplugs

10. Use a neck pillow.

If you travel with a suitcase, then you might want to purchase a neck pillow. If you’re a backpacker, you won’t want the extra bulk of a pillow in your bag, so you should consider getting a blow-up neck pillow. It will make you feel more comfortable whether you’re reading or resting.

11. Take meds if you need to (but nothing too strong).

It’s not always easy to sleep on these buses, so you might need some help. Taking medication (check with your doctor first) could be a solution. I use a combination of antihistamine and Xanax. You want to sleep, but you don’t want to be so knocked out that you can’t wake up and react quickly if you need to.

Megabus

Your Thoughts/Ideas?

Have you ever taken an overnight bus? If so, have you used any of the tips above or do you have any to share/add? If so, please comment below.

Me-bf-fatigue-set-inAbout Lisa:

Lisa Egle is the author of Magic Carpet Seduction, a collection of off-the-beaten-path travel tales set in China, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East. She also runs the travel blog, Chicky Bus, which takes readers/’riders’ to unique destinations around the world via photos, videos and stories. Her writing has been published on BlogHer and Matador Network, and one of her stories was featured in an article on the Oprah.com blog. Follow Lisa on Twitter.

Photo credit: All photos are @L Egle/ChickyBus, except for the one of the snacks. Thanks to Liza, a photographer whose work can be found on Flickr.

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9 Comments

  1. Heather

    These are helpful tips for any kind of travel. I employ many of these on planes too! Didn’t know that about Gatorade, though. Will be adding that to my repertoire!

  2. Jessica

    The energy drink tip is interesting! I’m trying that next time, because I’m always torn about drinking water: long bus trips make me really dehydrated, but there’s nothing worse than having to pee and waiting an hour or more for the next rest stop.

    1. Dave and Deb Post author

      Thanks for the tips. We agree when it comes to ground transportation, we try to pay for 1st or 2nd class. Most of the time it isn’t that much more expensive by Western Standards, but the difference is unbelievable.

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