Sleep while traveling is important. If you can’t sleep on your mode of transport, get creative when you arrive to make sure your body gets rested.
I know sleep is extremely important, especially while traveling – and sleep deprivation is a debt that we always need to pay. But, I can’t help it. Watching movies on airplanes is one of my favorite parts of traveling and I’ll be damned if someone if someone is going to tell me I shouldn’t because I need ‘to sleep.’ The plane is quiet, dark, and someone serves me food (sidenote: I love airplane food) while I’m watching my favorite flicks – how is this not better than a movie theater?
Fast forward to when I reach my layover port, or my destination. Naturally, I am in desperate need of sleep and need to be sharp and alert for whatever comes next. Sans airplane movie addiction, this is a common issue for even the most experienced of travelers. Blaming it on poor planning, busy schedules, or conscious denial of sleep for watching all the Marvel movies simply doesn’t help – we need sleep and we need it now.
The question is, where are there places to nap while traveling? Whether you have to fly, are killing time in a new place, or you desperately need sleep and check-in isn’t until later, I’ve come up with a few options.
Why You Need to Sleep During Travel
First, do as I say, not as I do. As I’ve argued in the past, traveling is stress on our systems. Even when flight attendants tell us to sit back and relax on a plane, we’re all cramped, sitting upright or in awkward positions, breathing in recycled, dry air, and each other’s germs. If you’re on a bus, train, or in a car, this doesn’t really improve much. Your body needs as much rest as it can get in order to keep up immune system defenses and absorb the shock of the stress that come with travel.
Even if you’re traveling for only an afternoon, you owe your body at least a 15-20 minute power nap.
Sleeping While Traveling
If you read the beginning of this article and thought, “Ugh, you really should sleep on the plane if you can,” you’re right. Whether on the bus, the train, or on a plane, it’s always the most efficient to sleep on the mode of transport you’re using. Neck pillows, eye masks, and yes, even that classy ostrich pillow are all there to help release some melatonin and get you some much needed Z’s.
If you’re at an airport, I always recommend folks try to sleep at departure gates (which are accessible not only for departures, but also after your arrival depending on the airport).
If you’re in a new city with time to kill and you don’t have anywhere else to snooze, the departure gate at an airport is one of the safest free public places for you to get shut-eye.
Sleeping in Public Places (for free)
I hate the stigma of sleeping in public, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all needed to get a power nap in but are still in transit, so booking a hotel is just not an option. Let’s say you’re in a new city and you have time to kill before your flight or your Airbnb host isn’t ready for you yet, where can you at least get a power nap for free?
There are a few options, all of which I have personally tried:
Hotel lobbies vary, but they are often secure and have comfortable seating. Remember, the busier the lobby, the less likely someone will spot you. Make sure you look like their clientele and it’s always good to have a story ready in case you’re approached.
Cafes and Diners
While these aren’t for free, as most places ask you order something, cafes (especially chain cafes and 24 hour diners) are used to travelers. This game is about finding somewhere quiet and out of the way so you’re not noticeable to employees if you’re trying to get in a longer snooze.
If you’re looking for quiet, public libraries are perfect – you just can’t be too obvious about napping. I tend to lay out a couple open books like a stressed out student and rest my head down. This strategy, again, comes with more risk the longer you overstay your welcome.
I’m hesitant with this one because park napping can be quite precarious depending on the location. However, it is certainly a viable option under the right circumstances.
If it’s warm outside, during daylight hours, and it’s busy out, there’s nothing wrong or too dangerous about grabbing a nap in the fresh air. Obviously, make sure your belongings are secure if you do not have someone to keep watch for you!
Couchsurfing isn’t what it used to be ten years ago, when it was more community oriented and less of a crapshoot with hosts. However, the site still has verification and review systems in place.
Posting direct personal messages or to ‘last minute’ message boards on the site can get you somebody’s couch or even a bed for a few hours!
Train or Bus stations
In my experience, train and bus stations aren’t the safest places to sleep but this varies depending on the country, city, and even station. There are some train stations that are as well managed and patrolled as airports and some that are pretty dodgy. Use your own judgement but stations can certainly certainly offer some solid napping space.
Sleeping in Hostels, Hotels, and Napping Pods
Sleeping in public isn’t for everyone. Hell, it isn’t even for me depending on how I’m feeling about the place that I’m in at the time. Especially if safety, either around yourself or your belongings, is a crucial key to getting some solid shut-eye, then I’d recommend splurging for the comfort you need.
Even if you’re not the sort of person who regularly stays in hostels, these can be a really affordable option if you’re passing through a city for a day and you just can’t take another step and need a bed. Many hostels have lockers to store your stuff (though some require you bring your own lock).
Napping pods, cafes, and bars are becoming an international phenomenon. Luxury napping venues are certainly springing up but aren’t as common, prevalent, or cheap as most of us would want. However, they provide an accessible and secure alternative when we’d be spending just as much, if not more, on a bed in a hostel.
Sometimes hotels are the best and most sensible option if sleep deprivation gets to be too much. Whether chain hotels connected to the airport or smaller boutique ones in major cities, I have booked myself into a couple over the years in order to get just a few crucial hours of peaceful sleep. Sometimes, amidst stressful trips, you just need to shell out to keep yourself sane.
Some airports have hotels right in the terminal, and some of them allow you to book for just a few hours.
Sleep during travel is important since we’re putting our bodies in awkward and physiologically taxing positions.
Sleeping while in your mode of transport is the most efficient way to get some rest before your final destination. Sleep masks and neck pillows are certainly helpful in keeping you comfortable if you have to sleep upright.
Finding free places to sleep means that you’ll likely have to sleep in public. While a few are risky, there are plenty of options including bus/train stations, hotel lobbies, parks, cafes, and public libraries. Couchsurfing offers a more secluded alternative.
If safety and peace of mind are important, especially amidst stressful trips, you can always book a place in a hostel, a pod at a napping bar, or splurge for a hotel room for longer rests.