It’s a given that somewhere in the world right now a traveller is speeding through a foreign land on an overnight bus wondering, “My god, how did I get here?” Sometimes it’s just the cheapest option, other times it’s the only way to go. But one thing is certain: Overnight buses are always an adventure. Here are five ways to help make sure your next overnight bus trip is as smooth as the road ahead.
Photo by D. Hoherd.
1. Safety first
Before buying your ticket, make sure to research the route and check for local travel advisories to see if there are any safety warnings regarding nighttime travel. If you find that robberies or accidents are commonplace, then you may want to take a day bus instead. When purchasing your ticket, find out if the bus has assigned seating. Generally, the closer you are to the bus driver, the safer you will be from potential pickpockets or other unsavory characters. Additionally, seasoned solo-female travelers suggest requesting a seat next to another woman.
2. Supersize your journey
Depending on which country you’re travelling in, you may be able to upgrade to a more comfortable seat or have several options when it comes to the types of buses available for your journey. If you can upgrade (and it fits within your budget), I recommend doing it. You’re likely to be on the bus for a while, so it’s important to maximize your comfort while also being safe. Upgrading may help you achieve both of these ends for not much more than the initial cost of the ticket. Also, the earlier you can book your ticket the better, as some carriers offer deeper discounts for journeys booked several weeks out.
3. “Check baby, check baby, 1-2-3”
Bus stations can be chaotic places, especially at night when the darkness seems to heighten the madness. It’s important to check, check, and, if it makes you feel better, check again that the bus you’re about to get on is the right one. Ever since we got on the wrong chicken bus in Guatemala, we initiated the “always ask twice” rule. Luckily, our wrong-bus incident was during the daytime and only set us back a couple of hours. When it comes to overnight buses, however, this may be the only bus to your destination, so it’s extra important to get it right the first time. One night in Cappadocia, Turkey, for example, we were next to an older traveller who found out at the last minute she was on the wrong bus to Istanbul. She was a fiery world traveller, so I have no doubt she made it to the city safely. But even to this day, I can still hear her barking at the attendants in the desert night as our bus pulled away and she was left in the parking lot.
4. Pack smartly
On modern coaches, your luggage gets stowed underneath the bus, so pack a small carry-on with your valuables and anything else you need for the trip to keep you entertained and comfortable. While long-haul buses usually have small door-less overhead compartments, you’re better off keeping your pack at your feet or on your lap, especially if you have valuables, such as electronics or jewelry, in your bag. And when I say at your feet, I mean at your feet, and not under your seat or the one in front of you. I’ve heard stories of travellers in South America having their packs cut and the contents lifted without their knowledge. If you do have to carry expensive electronics, then you may want to get a Pacsafe insert for your carry-on bag. As for your passport and wallet, it’s always a good idea to keep those items on you in a location where pickpockets would never think to look. That said, if you have to carry a lot of cash with you, make sure not to keep it all in one place.
5. Snack attack
Before departing on your overnight bus ride, pack some snacks into your carry-on for the journey. Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll stop at least once – usually in the dead of night – at a place where you can use the restroom and buy snacks and drinks. However, since there’s no way to know exactly what you will find, it’s best to be prepared with items that you enjoy in case you don’t have time to purchase something at the rest stop. Additionally, there’s a good chance your bus won’t have a bathroom, so it’s important to watch how much you drink before and during your journey as your bathroom breaks may be few and far between.
The Ankara Bus Terminal in Tomek, Turkey. Photo by M. Gangemi