Why Night Travelling is the Best Way to Explore on a Backpacker’s Budget
Often the most costly and time consuming part of a trip, transportation on a backpacker’s budget can really be a thorn in the side. Finding alternate ways of getting around can help to make the most out of your time, and even help you decide where to go.
One of my favourite ways to get around while travelling is overnight transport – buses and trains mostly – which a lot of people detest or never even consider! I’m here to sell you on it right now, because it can unlock a totally new way of getting around.
Getting over the discomfort of sleeping in bus seats or curled up on train benches is just a matter of time. I’ve taken countless trips overnight, some in luxury and some that have made me question my life choices, but I have loved every one and gotten a great story out of most of them. Overnight transport also just makes sense to me – it’s cost effective, you’re not paying for a night of accommodation, and it saves time. Why use up your days on trains or in airports when someone else can drive while you’re tucked up in bed?
A night bus will most likely be one of the worst sleeps of your life (I won’t lie to you), but as long as you can function the following day, there’s no harm in a bit of a rough night. Upright and bumpy, interrupted by pit stops, snores and chattering – it’s all part of the charm. On one trip from Belgrade to Podgorica, we were lucky enough to have the driver’s music blaring all through the night; a little Mediterranean flavour to lull us to sleep.
We also got a front-row view to a very treacherous downhill descent, our rickety bus trundling through the rain and fog, along cliffs and through tunnels in the mountains, with views made all the more exceptional by the sun rising up over the valley. A treat I’ve now had a few times, waking up to dawn over the countryside is a lovely sight. I’ve watched the sunrise over a white sand beach, seen valleys erupt with colour and fields of snow stained pink and blue with dawn. It’s such a breathtaking sight that, let’s be honest, not many people are going to wake up to watch on any given day.
The best trains I’ve ever overnighted on were definitely in Russia. Bunks you could actually lie in and stretch out, sliding doors to keep some privacy. On my many train rides through Russia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, I met so many interesting people from all around the world. We spent a 39-hour train ride with crazy characters; men offering to share their food and beers and of course vodka, while trying to prove to jolly Russians that the Aussie boys had a shot at the finals. We had a chess tournament with two lads, one from Siberia and the other St. Petersburg, and I’m still friends with them to this day!
Of course, not every train ride goes smoothly. Be careful with your belongings, and be aware of what’s around you. I myself have never had an issue, even with two of us squished up with our bags in a bunkbed bus, or arriving into dodgy looking bus depots at odd hours. Some nights go by restless and long, but I reckon with a good set of headphones and a killer sleepy time playlist, it’s all just part of the fun. Some trips seemed not worth enduring, but in hindsight I’ve always had a good laugh and gotten a great story.
Some words of advice though – pick times that are going to drop you someone at a reasonable hour. It’s no use arriving to a bus station (which are often not in central locations) at 3am and getting stuck. If you’re in for a long trip, grab some snacks and heaps of water… although make sure the bathroom works before you smash a whole litre of water on a 12 hour trip!
Bring yourself something to use as a blanket, and if you’re lucky enough to get a window seat, a pillow too! And, super important, make sure you know where you’re getting off and what time you’ll get there. It’s no use overshooting by 4 hours and ending up somewhere totally different. A friend and I were lucky to have a very kind Cambodian man scream that we had arrived at Poi Pet; a jolt like that is better than coffee to get you up in the morning, really!
For the traveller on a tight budget and schedule, night travelling is a great journey. It can give you more time to spend in places, save cash and also – as I’ve done before – used the available overnight transports to help guide my trips and routes.