How to Sleep Comfortably in Unusual Places on Your Travels

Any traveler — especially if you’re on a budget — can get caught out and wind up sleeping in an unusual place. Cancelled flights, bad weather, missed buses or trains, or just general miscommunication can mean you end up without a bed for the night. It’s certainly happened to me on numerous occasions!

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I hope this guide to sleeping comfortably in unusual places on your travels will give you some tips on getting the best possible night’s sleep when you find yourself in a strange place without your regular blanket and pillow.

Caught Out, Sleeping © Stephen Brace

Choosing Where to Sleep

There are a hundred different reasons why you might end up without a proper place to sleep while you’re traveling — and this is especially the case if, like me, you tend to travel on a budget (meaning you won’t spend hundreds of dollars a night for a fancy hotel) and without planning ahead (meaning that just occasionally, there’s no room at the inn). The important thing is not to see this is as an annoyance, but rather an adventure.

When you realize you’re stuck somewhere unusual for the night, take a good look around to find the best place to get some rest. For example, some airports have furniture resembling pool-side chairs where you can stretch out reasonably well. Unfortunately, many don’t. I spent a night in Vienna Airport when a snow delay meant all the buses and trains back to my then home of Bratislava had already left. I was impressed to discover that one of the fast food stores — closed for the night, but still accessible to those inside the airport — had incredibly comfortable plastic benches to lie down on.

Don’t feel embarrassed about choosing a slightly non-standard spot to sleep. The Tunisian train station I once got stuck in overnight — thanks to a complicated miscommunication about night train tickets — had only uncomfortable plastic chairs, with bars and rails digging into you, or the floor. I found a less-well-traveled spot on the floor and arranged myself there. Do be aware of cultural sensitivities and being too unusual — I always try not to be the only person sleeping on the floor, for example — but do remember that you’re going to want to enjoy your next day in a new destination too, and therefore need to get a bit of shut-eye.

Sweet Dreams, Spain © Noel Feans

How to Get Comfortable

Basically, think about your home comforts and how best you can simulate them in your new (and thankfully temporary) bedroom. A pillow is easily manufactured from various items in your backpack (or it might even be your backpack). But take the time to put together some combination of clothing which is soft and comfortable because a stiff neck can really wreck your enjoyment of a trip.

You should also dress warmly enough that you don’t wake up as the night gets colder — and if this involves putting on six layers of clothing, do it. I’ve also often used items like towels or sarongs as a kind of blanket — just lying there in my clothes never seemed very conducive to sleep, and having a layer of something on top makes a big difference.

To ensure you’re psychologically comfortable, set an alarm for an appropriate time in the morning — you don’t want to keep waking up and wondering if it’s time to catch that plane or train, for example, or you might want to make sure you’re up before too much activity starts up around you (I was kicked out of that comfortable fast food bench sleep by the cleaners at five in the morning). I’ve heard stories of people who don’t have an alarm putting a sign next to them saying “please wake me at 6am”, though I’m not quite sure I’d be trusting this alternative — but you never know!

How to Sleep Safely in a Strange Place

Obviously things can get a bit risky if you’re out cold in a public place, so consider safety elements before settling down for the night. If you’re a light sleeper, you’re probably going to notice anyone trying to grab your belongings but just the same, either keep them as close to you as possible (and your most valuable possessions, including passport and money, next to your skin — under your shirt or whatever — to be sure you’ll notice somebody trying to take them). The ideal situation, and something that I’ve often done, is to travel with a short chain and padlock — often available in travel gear shops — so you can tie up your stuff to the furniture or to you; you might also want to be padlocking your backpack shut in that case.

If you’re in a public place like an airport or train station, try to find a spot to sleep that’s visible to people who work there, like near a service counter or a shop. The lights might be brighter there, but anyone with dishonorable intentions is less likely to do something if there are witnesses around. If it’s the kind of place that has security guards, find a spot near their haunt or at least know where to find them.

Above all, if you are stuck somewhere unusual and not quite so comfortable overnight, just do your best to make the most of it and remember that you can always make it into an interesting story when it’s over. Sure, that hostel bed you thought you’d get to or that gently rocking sleeper train would have been better, but these unexpected adventures are what makes travel particularly fun. And be grateful you don’t have to sleep there for the rest of your life.

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  2. I’ve been stranded in a couple terminals and slept sitting down on a chair… =) And you’re right, its only bad news when you think of these situations negatively. Looking at it as an adventure, makes it a lot more bearable!

  3. Great tips! I’ve also found that using my backpack as a pillow doubles as a safety percaution against getting it stolen. Also, have you ever taken a look at It’s pretty handy if you know you’ll get stuck in advance.

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