When Travel Days Go Wrong: How to Sleep Safely and Comfortably in Public

When your travel plans go wrong, you might find yourself in unfortunate sleeping circumstances. Perhaps your flight is cancelled or you learn the bus service runs less frequently than advertised. Maybe the hotels are too expensive or you are far away from a hostel. Regardless, you’re now stuck in a public place with nothing but your backpack and a slightly anxious feeling in your stomach. Worst of all, you’re exhausted.

Railboy At The Airport
Railboy At The Airport by Efecan Kobo

As you bed down for the night, keep in mind two important needs: your safety and your comfort. These two needs should inspire every action you take from now until the moment you close your eyes. If you can carefully balance these two needs, then you just might get a good night’s sleep.

I write about safety first, because I believe it to be the more important of the two. After all, you cannot be comfortable if you do not feel safe. For example, when my wife backpacked in Alaska, her group shared responsibility for carrying the bear mace. This safety item gave her some sense of comfort in unfamiliar surroundings.

Likewise, you’ll want to ensure that you and your belongings are safe. Try sleeping in view of others or near other sleepers. If you’re at an airport, for instance, consider situating yourself across from a staffed information kiosk or convenience store. Sleep under the lights; you can always use a hood or knit cap to cover your eyes. Use the straps of your backpack to buckle it around your arm and arrange it so that compartment access points are against your body when you lie down. If you can, shift your more valuable items deeper into the pack so someone hastily rummaging through your things can’t reach them. Most importantly, have an emergency plan: what will you do or where can you go if something should go wrong during the night?

After his or her safety, a backpacker’s health is also important, and one way to remain healthy is to get enough rest during your journey. When considering your desired level of comfort as you prepare to sleep in a public place, you must be aware of certain tradeoffs.

Michael Tieso of Art of Backpacking sleeping on a bus
Michael Tieso of Art of Backpacking sleeping on a bus through Argentina

For example, if you choose to wear earplugs in order to be comfortable, perhaps you should sleep closer to areas of moderate foot traffic so as to frustrate thieves looking for an easy take. If you choose to lie down on a bench, consider how to protect your backpack: a simple rain cover might be enough to deter a thief. Perhaps this won’t be as secure as if you were to wear your backpack and sleep sitting against a wall, but it might be more comfortable.

These suggestions are hardly a complete guide, but rather, I hope, a means of inspiring you to think up new ways of sleeping safely and comfortably in public. Please share your own suggestions in the comments section! And, as always, safe and happy travels.

Roger Elmore

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