Let’s face it: traveling doesn’t come for free. In fact, when you add up the initial airfare, accommodation, entertainment, food, drinks, transportation and any miscellaneous charges it may turn out to be quite expensive. However, in places such as Southeast Asia, travelers are able to make their money go a long way, which is why the region has quickly become a rite of passage among young travelers today.
One of the ways backpackers stretch their money is by [generally] creating a budget for Southeast Asia. Many people will choose to stay in dorms rather than private rooms in Southeast Asia, stick to local street fare and limit their nights out. Others will plan to do all of the aforementioned, but will party well into the night with their new travel BFFs. Despite any differences, one commonality among backpackers is that most people will always stick to their budgets regarding one thing: transportation.
If you’re interested in the cheapest way to travel, it’s more than likely that you’ll have to give up comfort and personal space at some point and book a night bus in Southeast Asia. So if you’re reading this from your cubicle or you’re in the process of planning a trip yourself, I’ve come up with some survival tips to make your life a little bit easier.
How to survive a night bus in Southeast Asia
1. Bring something to do
This seems obvious, right? Of course it is! You’d be surprised how many people don’t, though. I’m not sure about you, but I definitely wouldn’t be about to be on a night bus in Southeast Asia without something to keep me occupied. I always have loads of books stored on my Nook as well as interesting podcasts. My favorites include Stuff You Should Know, Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People and Real Crime Profile because I’m currently obsessed with The People vs. O.J. Simpson case.
2. Wear flip flops
I’ve found that it can be a bit like the Hunger Games when it comes to boarding a night bus in Southeast Asia; people can be impatient and ruthless. In order to avoid any sort of frustration and be able to move as quickly as possible when it’s time to board, be sure to wear flip flops as you’ll have to remove your shoes before boarding. Doing this will make the process much easier and everyone behind you in line will appreciate you more for it.
3. Choose your seat wisely
While I’m definitely someone who’s always team bottom bunk, the top seat is a wonderful choice if that’s what you’re into. The perks to the bottom seats are the fact that you can relax without having to climb anywhere and won’t feel like you’re dying each time the driver turns a corner. The major benefit of the top seats are the fact that they’re a bit more open and the windows are bigger, which is excellent for optimal viewing on long journeys.
If you’re like me and enjoy reading at any chance you get, take the aisle seats as they’re the ones with the overhead lights; none of the lights have worked on any of the middle seats I’ve had. Avoid the very back seats at all times as they’re close to bathrooms (if your bus has one, that is) and are just honestly the absolute worst as far as comfort goes. Just don’t.
4. Be prepared for a snack attack
I love eating. In fact, I spend a lot of my time thinking about food and what I will eat for my next snack and/or meal. If you’d like to curb any potential hanger, pack some fruit, veggies, cookies, nuts or potato chips in your bag and you’ll be good to go.
Some places cater to those taking long haul trips. For instance, while I was in Phong Nha, Vietnam, I noticed that Capture Cafe offers breakfast, lunch and snack deals for picnics and take away meals. Pretty cool, huh?
5. Don’t get your hopes up
Before boarding a 24-hour bus to Hanoi from Vientiene, we’d noticed our bus driver was watching the Reese Witherspoon flop Hot Pursuit with his friends rather than getting ready to drive. Since we were already over an hour behind schedule, some people were starting to get irritated. When we asked what time we were expected to leave, he informed us that we would go in about an hour, which is when the movie was expected to end.
Now, imagine a group of people standing on the side of the road with all of their belongings as they watched their driver just chillin’. Nope. I chimed in and let him know that the movie was 2 out of 5 stars at best and that it was time to go. Eventually everyone else started to get annoyed and caused a scene, which resulted in the driver begrudgingly starting the bus and allowing us to board.
The point is, maybe you’ll get a flat tire. You may have to sit or sleep on the floor if they overbooked the bus. You might even get to sit behind a baby screaming through the night! I can almost guarantee that you’ll never be on schedule. It’s all part of the experience, so just chalk it up to a funny story and move on.
What you’ll probably look like after a night bus in Southeast Asia:
6. Bring a sleep aid of some sort
I’m not going to lie, this is not something that I have issues with. I’m the person asleep before the plane takes off and doesn’t wake up until the wheels touch down. In fact, I could probably fall asleep at a concert under the speakers if I really wanted to. However, if you’re someone who finds it difficult to relax and drift into a deep sleep, I suggest bringing some ammo. I always have the following on hand just in case:
- Benadryl or Nyquil
- Ear plugs
- A sleep mask
Now, I haven’t used any of these, but James uses all three each time and the combination works miraculously.
The most important tip is to relax and just enjoy the ride. It’s a unique opportunity to hang out while seeing some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll see in your lifetime. If you should find yourself in the situation boarding a night bus in Southeat Asia, I hope these tips can help make your process run a bit smoother than it would have otherwise. Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments below!