Everything You Need To Know About Sleeping Well On an Intercity Bus

Greyhound bus

Congratulations on both deciding to and being able to see the big, beautiful world on an intercity bus. This planet is full of adventure, both the good kind and the not-so-good. The key in life is to have more of the good kind of adventure and less of the bad. 

Yet even what seems to be a bad adventure can become good if you emerge from the experience safely, wiser, and mentally richer. 

Taking an intercity bus across any large country can be a rich source of these experiences. Depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going, traveling can take several days. In that way, the sheer length of the journey, it differs from other forms of mass transit.

The bus is more flexible than other transport options. It goes to more places. For example, when a town’s station is undergoing remodeling, the company will sometimes change it to a fast food restaurant or gas station. Service to the city in question usually doesn’t ever quit.

Because the very nature of bus travel is more flexible, you’re going to need to be flexible.

Being well well-rested is key to flexibility. 

Sleep is a physiological need, and that’s one of the basic needs. Safe travel on a bus requires meeting basic physiological needs.

Sleep is one of the fundamental needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Why the bus is best

No matter where you’re traveling, a bus remains one of the best ways to see the world. To enjoy it, it’s essential to have a positive mental attitude. 

It isn’t usually the fastest way between two points on a map unless the points are close together or not served by a train. In that sense, it’s not the “best.” 

What it can offer is an improvement for your mind, heart, and soul. You get a feeling about every place in between two points the way you never world on a plane. You can get that feeling by driving a car, but a bus doesn’t shelter you from anything the way your personal car does: neither the rest of humanity nor the country. In this era of targeted articles, videos, and ads on the Internet, that’s an increasingly rare experience. Too many people shelter themselves in a filter bubble. A few long rides cross-country will fix that.  

In the United States, some people on the coasts call the cities, states, and places between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans “flyover country.” If you travel between the coasts on a bus, that’s what you’ll spend a lot of time seeing. You’re going to keep life very real. You’re going to spend your time with undocumented migrants, broke college students, people on government assistance, drug addicts who are down and out, and the rest. 

In a sense, traveling by bus is a luxury. The cost is time. Time is the most valuable currency of all. Many people don’t have the time to do it. There’s only so much vacation time. They want to get to their destination and do whatever they would do there in the most ostensibly efficient way possible. That way usually isn’t the bus. 

Some sleep challenges have no upside. The bus isn’t one of them.

Good sleep starts with personal safety and a PMA 

This part mainly applies to people traveling on intercity bus lines. People traveling by tour bus or charter bus won’t necessarily have all of these concerns, though it always pays to be prudent. Due to the different clientele, they won’t necessarily have the same concerns about personal safety.

When it comes to bus travel, you want to end up at your destination safely. You want to have positive experiences to relate to friends and family. You don’t want to be excessively delayed. 

The last goal you can’t help. That’s out of your hands. Getting delayed on a bus can turn into one of the most miserable experiences you can have. Let’s not candy-coat it. I’ve personally experienced some long, rough delays. Once, I was a passenger on a bus stopped in a medium-sized city in west Texas in the middle of a December night. There was no announcement about how long we were going to be there. The driver stopped and got out. No other communication from the driver or his company. Nothing. It was below freezing. We were treated like livestock. 

In the morning, we found out the bus we had been riding in had mechanical issues. We moved to another. The driver hadn’t wanted to deal with disappointed passengers, so he hadn’t told them anything. 

Then there were the colorful days of the Chinatown bus lines in the northeast United States where ultracheap fares would lure all kinds of budget-minded travelers. The buses were renowned for poor maintenance and aggressively trying to keep schedules.  

Whether or not you experience a delay like this is out of your control. Much of life is like that. Remembering that makes nights spent with a warm comforter and a soft bed in a home with a roof over my head all the sweeter. It saves you from being stupid and spoiled and makes you considerate of your fellow man. 

Keeping a PMA (positive mental attitude) is the first step to sleeping well anywhere. If you can’t afford anything better, don’t cuss about that fact. Accept the opportunity to travel with gratitude. You may find yourself looking back at this experience fondly.  

Think of all of the country you’re going to see. Until you’ve done it or if you haven’t traveled by bus in a while, you don’t know what you’ll be in store for. 

Be Confident 

In many countries like Mexico, people of all socioeconomic classes travel by motorcoach. Experiences like the one in Abilene are less likely to happen in mixed socioeconomic company. Bad weather and mechanical failure happen at all economic strata, but people act with more respect toward middle and upper classes. People who aren’t down and out almost always get treated better by others. Riding the bus in another country like Mexico, India, or a European country is an entirely different experience. 

Creepy people who prey on others sometimes ride the bus. The predators include the bus lines and fellow passengers. One of the best and surest ways of keeping them at bay is to project an attitude of confidence. It’s as if these people can smell weakness. Whether you’re male or female, big or small, your confident attitude helps to ensure you have the best experience possible.  

How to act

Combine a confident, no-nonsense attitude with security precautions. If you can’t afford to have it stolen or lost, take it to the bathroom with you. Don’t leave it out of your sight. If you’re traveling with someone, you can assign them to guard it. Realize you may be disappointed in the outcome, so don’t do that. It’s simple.  

Furthermore, don’t get entrapped in sob stories. Don’t hand money out to anyone, don’t flash cash. Don’t buy anyone food. You’re not a social service agency. You’re here to take a bus trip and get to where you’re going. Period. Act like it. 

If you want to help the poor and unfortunate, help as part of an organized effort. If none of the existing agencies seem to be doing a good job of this, you’re capable of starting your own. Pursue charity as a serious—not casual—matter. 

Avoid getting sucked into any games. Don’t make yourself a target. Don’t get involved with any of their drama, real or imagined. If they want to mooch off of someone else, and somebody else lets them, that’s their affair.

To some, my attitude may seem hardhearted. The thing is, riding on a bus can take hours. That gives someone hours in which to target you.

The kind of bus friend you want 

When you look over other passengers, you want someone who makes interesting conversation. You want to talk about the places you’ve been, the places you’ll see and the weather. You want to look out for interesting things along the way. You want an extra set of ears to listen for any important announcements. You want an ally. 

Somebody who’s asking for money for a soda, cigarettes, or something else isn’t an ally. Firmly—but politely—refuse. Give them the respect you’d give any person but go on with your business of adventure and getting to your destination. 

If you understand this, you’ll be better able to relax on the bus. 

Once you behave confidently and creepy people have left you alone and moved on to bother others, get comfortable. 

Low fares mean anyone can afford the bus. That means that, in some cases, you’ll be riding with some desperate people. Relax, and rest, but at the same time, avoid taking any sleeping aid that impairs your senses and judgment.

The next task is to relax in a chair. 

Where to sit

It’s important to know that the seats at the very far back of the bus often allow for reclining. If you want to sleep, you don’t want a seat that doesn’t recline. 

There are more reasons than that, however. On overnight buses with restrooms, that’s where the restroom is. That means your fellow passengers will go back and forth to the restroom. They might bump into you going back and forth. When maintenance is an issue, there are also going to be generally unpleasant smells to contend with. 

This means that generally speaking, the best seats are in the front of the bus with the least people waiting in the aisles, andthe least people going back and forth. Consider trying to get one of these. 

Air conditioning access can depend on the individual bus. Note the availability, if possible, before settling in.

When you’re traveling through dark rural areas, if the bus windows permit it, take a look at the stars as you drift off. Take advantage of less light pollution.

Good bus sleeping equipment

When it comes to neck pillows, hands down, the best is the Infinity Pillow. With a compact design, it helps to support your neck.  It also gives you a place to put your hands which can help them from getting bumped. If you’re able to keep yourself from getting bumped, chances are you’ve found a great sleeping position.

The Infinity Pillow can also be folded and applied to the seat strategically. It gives you both flexibility and support, unlike any other equipment like a common pillow or jacket. 

An eyeshade can also help block out light. Be careful about this, however. Wearing one of these might be a sign to others you can be taken advantage of. It’s difficult to “sleep with one eye open” if they’re covered by an eyeshade or bandana. 

Earplugs also help rest. They also block you from hearing any announcements. Consider these too but realize they might not be appropriate for all bus trips. 

The window seat offers the opportunity to lean against it. It also means you won’t be brushed against by people going to and from the bathroom. 

For some, however, it means you might feel trapped. 

That is if you have a stranger as a seatmate.  

You might have to have a seatmate if the bus is full. If it’s not, place something on the seat next to you. The more room you have, the better you can sleep. 

Another good thing to bring along with you on the bus is some snacks. Trail mix is great for this purpose because it doesn’t crumble and doesn’t melt.

I’d avoid taking a sleep aid because you might need your wits about you.

If you get motion sickness, bring medicine for that. If you don’t have anything, look up, listen to some music on earbuds, and relax.

Dress in layers 

If you dress in loose-fitting layers, you can ensure you’ll be the most comfortable you can be. You can’t control the air temperature around you. Sometimes not even the bus driver can. 

Layered clothing is always a good idea. The air temperature between cities and towns can vary wildly. Furthermore, sometimes the temperature on the bus can be too hot or too cold. Layers give you some defense. 

It can also be a good idea to bring a lap blanket. It lends both warmth and a subtle feeling of security. 

Remember, it’s hard to sleep if you’re not comfortable.

Travel early in the morning or late at night 

The best ride is one that starts in the middle of the night. 

If you get on the bus in the middle of one that started in another city, you might have to ask someone to move their stuff. Don’t let speaking up for yourself make you so uncomfortable you can’t relax. 

If you’re the one starting out, you can spread out and set yourself up as you like. If you’ve got a traveling companion, all the better. You can trust your seatmate fully, relax, and get set for a great ride. 

The trip is going to match your Circadian clock, and you’re going to get to a real bed. 

No matter how well you master the science and art of sleeping anywhere, you’re going to be the most comfortable lying down. 

Until you get there, the key is staying as rested as possible and getting there in good shape.

May all your travels be good ones!

James Cobb is a road-trip expert and veteran of coast-to-coast bus, train, and plane travel in several different countries. By now, he’s seen 25 percent of the world, according to an app on Trip Advisor.

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