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7 Tips to Survive an Overnight Bus Ride

Aug 9, 2019 | USA | 2 comments

If you’ve been by lately, then you know that I’m traveling within the States. I head back to Nashville tomorrow from Minneapolis, and I’ve taken a few buses within the States on this trip. Because we absolutely love our cars in America, even to the point of going into major debt over them, it is not as common to ride buses as a form of transport. It is even less common to take an overnight bus in order to get from Point A to Point B. But, if that’s the cheapest route, then guess what I’ll be on?

Yep. You guessed it. The infamous overnight bus.

It’s really not as bad as it sounds. And, once you do so, you’ll see that for yourself. Here is my experience taking a 5-hour bus from Madison, WI to Minneapolis, MN that departed at 1am, and some key pieces of advice I have for those planning to do the same.

sitting next to strangers

This one alone keeps many people from buying a long-distance bus ticket. Because, honestly, who wants to sit next to strangers? When Erika and I got on our overnight bus, there were only two seats together across the aisle. The guy I sat next to was nice, and even offered me some of his snacks that he bought in the gas station during our 25-minute break.

But, would I have chosen to sit next to him over sitting with Erika? Of course not. This is one comfort you may have to give up, especially if your bus is full. It can also be frustrating when single riders take up a whole row for themselves, so know that in advance.

sleeping on the bus (or attempting to, anyway)

This comes hand-in-hand with the whole seating arrangement situation. I definitely did not sleep well on the bus, but I did get better sleep than on my overnight train ride from past travels.

The seat is nice and cushy, with a headrest. I didn’t have much room to relax, but I took what I could get. Try to budget for a few hours, at least until early afternoon, for you to take a nap and catch up on the sleep you’ll likely lose.

1 // don’t go to bed before the bus arrives

Because I stayed up until my bus arrived at 1am, I had a much easier time falling asleep than I imagine I would have otherwise. If you do sleep or take a nap before your overnight bus is due to depart, especially if you’re looking at a late night departure instead of evening, then you run the risk of being up the whole ride.

You’ll want the benefit from being so exhausted you have no option but to sleep on the bus. I know it sounds awful when I put it like that, but it’s true!

2 // have your contact case ready

If you wear contacts like I do, then you know how horrible it is for your eyes to sleep in them. Have your case ready and available with fresh solution inside, so that when you are ready for bed, you can easily take them out.

If you’re worried that you will drop them on the floor of the bus and will be unable to find them with the lights off, then take them out before you leave. I dropped mine on the floor of a plane once, which was a nightmare! I promise you don’t want to be in that situation–especially in the dark.

3 // enter the bus with one bag, max 2

I don’t know about you, but I get anxious when I can’t see where my bags are. This applies even more strongly when I’m on a form of transit that people will enter and exit at different stops. I highly recommend only entering the bus with one or two small bags instead of bringing a lot on board.

I didn’t use the overhead compartment for my backpack, and opted to put it under the seat in front of me instead. That way, I could put my foot on it as I slept and know it was still there. I also slept while wearing my crossbody purse, just to be safe.

4 // bring an eye mask and earplugs

I think this tip would have helped me so much! I probably would have slept much more soundly had I brought earplugs and an eye mask. Every time the bus stops, the driver turns the lights on. And not just dim ones–full blast fluorescents. Ouch.

Next time, I’m bringing an eye mask so that I can sleep during the 25-minute break and not be affected by the bright lights. Also, bring some ear plugs! I used my EarPods with light music on to drown out the snorers, but I don’t like sleeping with music on for that long. Next time, I’m bringing good, old-fashioned ear plugs to block out the noise and get some beauty rest!

5 // a jacket or blanket comes in handy

Even in mild temperatures, common in summer nights, the bus A/C is on blast. I tucked my arms into my shirt to stay warmer, but I’m breaking out a blanket or sweater next time. I don’t like trying to sleep while I’m cold!

If you’re packing light like I usually do, then always take a cardigan or some other light sweater/jacket with you. You never know when you’ll need it, both on the bus and off.

6 // don’t hesitate. recline that seat!

I’m that person that gets stuck behind the one person that reclines their seat on a 2-hour flight. It is incredibly annoying. So, I usually don’t recline my own, especially on planes. I feel guilty for taking away another passenger’s already-scant leg space.

That went out the window on this bus ride.

Why? Because the leg space on a bus is much more generous. If you recline your seat all the way, then that takes a lot of legroom from the person behind you. (This happened to me on the way to Madison from Milwaukee. Grrr.) But, you can also control how much you recline, so you won’t disturb the person behind you. This alone helped me sleep as soundly as I did. It’s a win-win!

7 // do some neck stretches after your ride

My main complaint about my bus ride was the major neck pain I was in afterwards. I had a lot of soreness the morning after, so I benefitted from some stretches before going back to sleep at Erika’s grandparents’ house.

That being said, if you suffer from chronic pain, then maybe you should consider a different transit option than an overnight bus. This ride was pretty rough on my neck and back, so take that into consideration before you buy that ticket!

would i do it again?

Out of all the good, bad, and ugly, I would definitely take an overnight bus again. This time, I’ll bring an eye mask and earplugs, anticipate the cooler temperatures on the bus, and try to pick a less popular route. That way, the next ride might be a little bit more relaxing.

After reading about my experience, would you ride an overnight bus? It’s not for everyone–but it just may be the adventure that’s for your itinerary and your wallet. Regardless of which transport mode you take, enjoy your journey! After all, the craziest trips make for the best memories.

*Cover photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash. Thanks, Osman!

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empty seat on a bus with text


  1. Devin Scott

    I liked your tip of bringing earplugs to drown out the sound on the bus. My family is traveling by bus to a different state for a vacation and I’m worried that my children won’t enjoy the ride. I’ll be sure to get everyone earplugs before the trip so they can sleep on the bus.

    • Sarah

      Thanks for reading, Devin, and I hope your family has a wonderful vacation!


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Hi, I'm Sarah

Girl on boat with turquoise water in background

Welcome to my oasis! I am a writer and budding entrepreneur with a love for caffeine, capital gains, and seeing the world. If I'm not writing, you can find me reading a good book, trying out a new vegan recipe, or adding to my coffee mug collection. My goal in life? To see every country in the world. Come along for the ride!

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