Must Haves for Overnight Bus Journeys

what to pack for overnight bus trips

I typically choose overland travel when possible because I usually have time to spare, but not money. Past experiences have included an overnight bus between Agnes Water and Airlie Beach, Australia, a 9 hour train ride across Germany and an overnight bus from Atlanta to New Orleans here in the US. My next mistake adventure will be taking a bus from Atlanta to Toronto, Canada. Needless to say, these experiences have turned me into an old pro when it comes to finding what to pack for long overland journeys, whether by car, bus or train.

For Entertainment

Anything over 5 hours on a bus seems crazy, but yet I’ve done it many times. When it comes to keeping your sanity, it’s all about options. Make sure you have a backup for your backup, in case your Kindle or laptop dies and you’ve already read your book and magazine.

Books or Kindle – I spent a lot of time reading on buses, particularly since most include reading lights. If you have a long book you’ve been waiting for the chance to read, this is the time!

Magazines – Flipping through magazines is also a good way to keep yourself entertained during a long trip. I save all my magazines for these trips and read them all at once. I recommend AFAR Magazine to fuel your wanderlust en route to your destination.

Laptop or DVD player – I usually load my laptop with movies and TV episodes before a trip since there aren’t monitors like the ones you find on airplanes. You can also bring DVDs to watch in smaller CD cases to keep them from getting scratched. Some buses even have WiFi, but the reliability isn’t always there, so don’t count on being able to go online.

Chargers – The Megabus trips I’ve taken always have at least 2 plugs in between the seats, so if you forgot to charge before you left home or are running low on juice, you can plug right in.

Journal – Write about your trip, taking note of where you’ve stopped or odd people who get on the bus or train.

Travel games – Bananagrams or travel chess can be played with a friend.

For Sleeping

Don’t expect to get much sleep on bus journeys, as in many places it is required by law for the driver to stop every few hours to rest, refuel or let off passengers. This usually means turning the bus (and air conditioning!) off and turning all the lights on. I’ve included these items as wishful thinking for a little bit of shuteye.

Eye mask – Not everyone will want to sleep, so there will be lights on. I can’t go anywhere without an eye mask.

Ear plugs – Between people talking and the noises of the bus, if you can’t go to sleep with your iPod playing, get yourself a cheap pair of ear plugs. I like the foam type best.

Travel pillow – I didn’t bring one on my last bus trip and instead balled up my hoodie, but I definitely wished I had it.

Melatonin – Some of us need a little help in falling asleep and melatonin is the natural remedy for it.

iPod/playlist – My go-to sleep playlist is full of songs by Bon Iver, Sigur Ros and Adem. Don’t forget your earbuds or noise-canceling headphones to go with it.

Hoodie or blanket – I get cold on buses, so I always bring a small blanket or hoodie to keep me warm throughout the night.

>>You could also try a Turkish Travel Towel as a lightweight blanket.

Extra Stuff

Tissues – The cold air gives me the sniffles, so bring a little pack of tissues that can double as a napkin or toilet paper if needed.

Vicks Vaporub – It sounds like an odd addition to this list, but I now swear by it. During my overnight bus trip in Australia, I was horribly painfully sick and couldn’t stop coughing. I paid $14 for this tiny tub of it and have sworn by it ever since. I put a little bit under my nose to clear my sinuses.

>>Or try Tiger Balm.

Lotion and lip balm – Being on a bus for an extended amount of time can dry you out, so put on lotion and lip balm before going to sleep.

Snacks – Don’t pack anything too salty, as it will make you feel tired and not in a good way. I recommend granola, dark chocolate, peanut butter and fruit. Most buses stop at least once or twice during the journey, so you can buy something if you need to.

Water – Bring at least one water bottle full to drink along the way and fill it up again when you stop. Just as on airplanes, you need to stay hydrated.

Wet wipes and hand sanitizer – You don’t have to pack both, but wet wipes can make you feel slightly cleaner so you can immediately keep going when you reach your destination. Hand sanitizer is important because bus bathrooms and gas stations rarely have soap.

iPhone apps – I’m always curious about where in the world I am when in between cities. I check Google Maps or Foursquare to check my location and see how much longer until the next stop.

PacSafe Slingsafe 300 GII – Ever since I got this backpack, I don’t use any other daypack. I could lock it to my seat without being worried that someone would snatch it while I’m in the bathroom.

Do you have any other suggestions for things to pack for overnight bus trips?

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Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Jessica says

    Good ideas! I also like to bring oil-absorbing sheets for my face. I always feel pretty sloppy after a long journey, and they’re a quick way to freshen up a little just before you arrive.

  2. Brigid says

    Thank you SO much for posting this – I’m going on a 14-hour bus trip starting Saturday evening and you’ve calmed my nerves quite a bit!

  3. Ben says

    Great post…some excellent tips indeed.

    Back in my day, I found the following routine helped no end with overnight bus journeys, especially those on terrible roads up/down mountainsides, winding this way and that, and bumping all over the place.

    This is no joke…deadly serious.

    1. I’d take my seat and get my faithful, garden variety fleece jacket and roll it out so it was like a long rope with a sleeve at each end.

    2. Tie the sleeve ends together so I had a basic loop tight enough to slip snugly around my seat head-rest and over my head, covering my eyes.

    3. Relax and fall asleep, held comfortably by the warm, fleece head-strap. No nodding forward or rolling around as the bus swings wildly this way and that.

    Genius.

  4. jennifer says

    The hoodie is also important because it holds your seat at rest stops where new passengers board. Greyhound used to give you reboarding passes and let people reboard before allowing new passengers on. However, when I was coming home from Toronto last week, they did not do that. A bunch of people lost their seats, it was a mess.

    Ben’s post is brilliant. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I have smashed my head into a window when I would lean over too far while sleeping. I am going to try that out for sure.

  5. Beverley | Pack Your Passport says

    Oh my God I’m SO glad someone else swears by Vick’s Vapour Rub! I literally use it almost every day because it clears my nose, helps me sleep and if you rub it on your chest after being out in the cold (or running) it really relieves the tightness.

    Great tips hun! 🙂

  6. Heather says

    OhhhhhhWOW that’s amazing, Ben! I’m about to go backpacking, and there will likely be a LOT of bus travel. I get carsick when I look down, so reading, journaling etc is out for me 😛 But audiobooks and podcasts are a pretty great alternatives. I notice none of the above includes any travel-sickness remedies! I usually drive myself, which deals with it quite well, so I don’t actually have any remedies of my own… will take any recommendations!

  7. Rebeka Morin says

    Hi, I’m taking my first bus trip from Mass to Atlanta, GA. And it’s gonna be my first time traveling on my own. Do you have any suggestions about what I should do if something goes wrong? You see…I have Anxiety, and I do take medication for it, but sometimes it’ll come out and I’ll have an attack. What should I do to keep myself calm? Should I sit by the driver to ask questions?

  8. Sarah says

    I love this site! It is so helpful and definitely my go-to when traveling. When I read the eye mask piece on the list, I actually said, out loud, “Oh my God, someone who understands me.” My heart sinks if I ever realize I’ve forgotten my eye mask. Thanks for this site! It’s a lifesaver!

  9. Victoria says

    I went on a 23 hour bus trip a couple months ago, for a school trip. I strongly recommend bringing face/wet wipes, some sort of breath freshener, be it toothpaste and a tooth brush, breath strips, gum, or mints, and deodorant. It will make you feel so much better just to be a little bit cleaner.

  10. Jade P. says

    Hi I’m taking my first road trip from NOLA to San Antonio this weekend and I am very nervous since I am only 17 and will be leaving bout midnight with a 2 hour delay in the early morning. If anyone had any advice or tips i would really appreciate it.

  11. Courtney says

    I am fourteen and taking a trip from IL to Washington D.C. I’m nervous and not really sure what it’s like to be on a bus. It’s over 10 hours away and we have to stop every hour for a pit stop. Any tips for things I should pack or to help me sleep?

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