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Photo by wili_hybrid Feature photo by mshades

Sleeping rough can be much more pleasant than it sounds, but there are definite dangers involved.

YOUR PLANE LEAVES at the crack of dawn, the train has arrived at some unknown hour of the morning or you’ve just missed that last bus. All the hostels and hotels are full, you’re down to you’re last dime, or perhaps you’re just looking to save a few bucks.

While you’re traveling there will be at least one occasion when you have to face spending the night without the luxuries of a bed and comforter.

Here are a few hints and tips to ponder before you close your eyes for the night:

Photo by barto

Get Advice

You’re missing out if you bed down in an airport without first consulting, with reviews and practical advice from practically every airport in the world.

Find out which airport has comfy sofas in the departure lounge, or where you can expect to be woken by rats running across your face. Some train and bus stations are also included on this useful website.

Make sure you know the opening and closing times, if applicable, of anywhere you might consider sleeping. For example, Paris’ budget airport Beauvais chucks out sleepers at 11 pm every night.

With little except fields around Beauvais, if the weather is less than warm and dry you’ll be in for a very unpleasant night.

Follow Your Instincts

For a good nights sleep you need peace and quiet, a soft place to lie down and perhaps some shelter should it rain. The city park or a local beach typically meets all of the above requirements.

Unfortunately, all the low-lifes of the city, the dealers, pimps, alcoholics and other petty criminals, also seem to like these kinds of areas.

Several travelers have reported spending the night on Rio’s beaches, only to be woken in the early hours threatened with a knife and a less than polite request for all of their belongings.

Photo by motoyen

If an area doesn’t look safe, or even if you just have a ‘bad feeling’ then it’s best to follow those instincts and look elsewhere.

Love Your Bags

A passenger recently stranded in Phoenix Airport fell asleep with his laptop strapped around his body. In the morning the strap remained, but his computer, camera, passport and bag had disappeared.

Use a locked storage area if possible or hug your luggage and don’t let go. One Internet blog even suggests duct taping everything to your body so that there’s no risk of limp arms letting go of anything.

Your passport, money and credit cards should be so well hidden on your body that not even a thorough customs search could retrieve them.

Don’t Expect to Sleep

With your head stuck between an armrest, the metal frame of a chair sticking into your side and the departure area full or passing travelers, it’s not always easy to fall asleep.

There’s nothing more frustrating than tossing and turning all night, especially when you have no room to toss and turn.

Ear plugs are indispensable for blocking out the sounds of announcements and passing cleaners, but also bring a good book or a full iPod to pass those early hours when sleep isn’t possible.

Be Prepared for Company

While it’s nice to have some peace and quiet while you sleep, if you see other people bedding down for the night it means that this is probably a safe (ish) place to stay. Resist the urge to head to that dark, quiet corner far from anywhere.

No matter where you choose to sleep, be aware of who’s around you.

I once awoke on an overnight bus in the U.S. to find my male neighbor attempting a ‘massage’ of my upper thigh area. A close friend of mine once had her sleep disturbed at a the Berlin Train station to find a semi-naked man trying to lick her toes.

While these occurrences are rare (and tame in comparison to other backpacking tales), ask yourself if you really want to risk getting groped by a stranger.

Photo by bratha

Are You Legal?

New York’s JFK airport does not allow ‘lying down’ inside any of its buildings. Neither does the entire city of Singapore.

If you can’t perfect the art of sleeping in an upright position, expect to be woken up by some less than polite security official. While it is rare, they may be within their rights to detain and/or fine you.

Consider the Alternatives

While you might succeed in getting a good night’s sleep, roughing it is never the most pleasurable night of your trip and your safety can never be guaranteed.

Before you resign yourself to a rough night, think about what else you could do. Perhaps sitting on an overnight bus/train to another destination, going to an all night café or finding a friend with floor space may be a better option.

It may even be worth shelling out those extra dollars for a nice hotel.

Community Connection

Sleeping rough is more dangerous for female travelers. Check out 7 Must-Know Personal Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers for candid advice.

A silk sleeping sack is a great piece of gear for sleeping rough. Check out Matador editor Tim Patterson’s review of the Travel Hammock silk sleeping sack.

Have you slept rough while traveling? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below.

Travel SafetyAccommodations


About The Author

Matt Scott

Having spent the majority of his adult life traveling and working abroad, Matt Scott has plenty to write about; his writing and photos have appeared in publications around the world, both on line and in print. Originally from the UK he currently lives in Paris, where he works as a trip leader for an active travel company.

  • kdt

    While backpacking my way through Europe, I was traveling by train to some relatively remote spot in Austria. The main line from Munich arrived too late in the evening to make my connecting train, so I spent the night in the train station along with dozens of other backpackers. Sleeping spots were tight, but then I happened upon a nice, clean, unoccupied spot on the floor, and, thanking my lucky stars, slept fairly soundly — until 5:30 a.m., when the ticket clerk loudly informed me that I’d have to move. I hadn’t noticed the shuttered ticket window when I unrolled my sleeping bag.

    Lesson learned: if you sleep in front of a ticket window, you will wake up early.

    • Tim Patterson

      at least you got a few hours!

  • Turner

    Nojuku in Japan – sleep on the closest bench when you miss the last train.

    • Tim Patterson

      yup – many a night on a park bench in Sapporo. And btw, Turner, your new website looks great – more to say on that soon!

      • Turner

        Cheers to that; will look for you on gchat later. My first nojuku was in Kure, after I didn’t transfer to the Sanyo line in Hiroshima. You’d think there would be an izakaya or a karaoke bar or something open at 1 AM, but no…

  • Tim Patterson

    When my buddy George came to visit me in Hokkaido a few years ago he slept on the streets twice – once in Odori park in Sapporo, with me, and once when I lost him drunk at a festival in Asahikawa and he slept in an alleyway. Good old George.

  • Marissa

    I can usually sleep alright in a plane or bus (as long as I have my earplugs), or an airport…except for the Dublin airport! I had an overnight layover there once and the timing made no sense for me to stay in town for the night. That airport is FREEZING and there isn’t really any good place to stretch out or lie down.
    The good news was that I was able to read a whole book in 10 hours.

  • Sarah

    I slept in the Chicago O’Hare airport en route from Mexico City to Tokyo and man, oh man was it a night of misery. The U.S makes you clear customs with all of your bags even if you’re continuing on to an international destination, and I knew this very well but somehow worked myself into a state of denial thinking that I’d be able to stay within the airport gates. Sure, right, getting in at 1 a.m. I’m SURE there’ll be somebody at the Air Nippon ticket counter just waiting to check me on through.

    So I got in at 1:30 a.m. after a short delay, had to clear customs and then found myself outside the airport in the ground transport area. Fantastic. I asked a couple of janitors and a soft serve ice cream guy, who somehow was still manning his stand at 2 a.m., where was the best place to sleep. They directed me to a smaller terminal across the street where I stuck two benches together, threw some jackets over my bags, and slept on top of them. Or rather, listened to the fluorescent lights, tossed and turned, and cursed myself for my brilliant cheap flight plan for three hours until the airport opened at 5 and I was promptly kicked off the bench. I then proceeded to sit and sleep sitting up against a wall until Air Nippon opened at 7.

    Needless to say, I arrived in Tokyo looking as if I’d been hit by a train.

    • Tim Patterson

      I slept in O’Hare last week. It was brutal. Couldn’t go through security until 3:45 am, but I did catch an hour or so by the gate.

  • Keri

    Sleeping rough while traveling?

    On a fully occupied, 22-hour bus ride from Bariloche to Buenos Aires, Argentina, I sat beside a friendly old man (definitely 70+) and thanked the gods for my good fortune.

    Two hours in he had affectionately renamed me angel. Three hours in he insisted on teaching me the works of Buenos Aires Tango upon our arrival. After a delicious two-course dinner and free whiskey around hour four of five of the trip, I leaned my seat back to 180 degrees and drifted away… only to be awakened by the over friendly 70+ year old man’s hands rubbing my upper thigh area. With 15 hours + of the adventure still to go, I didn’t want to make things more awkward than they already were (did I also mentioned that he was seriously obese? impossible to maneuver around) so I moved his hand and issued a very firm “NO.” A few minutes later the hand returned. I returned my seat to the 90 degree position and sat indian style for the next 10 hours, face planted to the bus window and mummy-wrapped by a miniature blanket. Five hours before reaching our destination I found an empty seat (during my one bathroom break) next to a young guy and asked to slip in next to him. I apologized. Told him I didn’t want to sit next to the old man anymore. The young guy smiled. Thought it was the ultimate pick up line…….

    Can’t win for losing sometimes.

    • Tim Patterson

      Those Argentine long distance buses sure are luxurious huh….but bummer about the lecherous old man.

  • Michelle

    Loved this article! The Singapore line made me laugh.

  • scosol

    I’ve done this in Paris and Marseilles in a sleeping bag with an ice axe next to me in case of any rude awakenings :)


    I once spent the night in a hayfield near a town where I could not get a bus until morning. I got so many chigger bites all over my body that night that the doctor thought I had small pox. While chiggers in the USA dont carry diseases those in other parts of the world do (typhus not small pox). I got off lucky with just a couple of weeks of an ugly an itchy rash.
    Got very bad bedbugs when offered a mattress (from storage) on the floor within a small closet like room for a couple of nights. Mattress was infested and I got hundreds of bites. Moral – inspect your mattress and don’t sleep in tall grass in humid warm climates.

  • joshywashington

    i love it!

    I have had the good fortune of sleeping on the street 4 times!
    once in a park in Sicily (moderately scary)
    once behind a building in the Greek Isles (scary)
    once on a bench in Amalfi, Italy (cold, somehow fun)
    and in a bush in Switzerland.

    of course countless airports and bus stations… makes for good stories!

  • Carlo

    We used once for Athens. It was highly rated there and for good reason, there were a few others who had the same idea. The floor space they recommend is right out front of a little chapel, so you can get your prayer on as well if you like. The carpeted area was actually all taken, but luckily we had our thermarests and sleeping bags. And yes, earplugs and eyemasks are essential!

  • jackshmeck

    I have had different expriences.

    I once got into Auckland around 1 am and wasn’t sure if my friend would be arriving or not, so I waited for him. I also coulnd’t call him, so I was very nervous of having to travel around NZ on my own, since all the trips, cars and hostels were booked under his name and credit card.

    Fortunately they have a Samsung station at the airport, with free internet. So I got in touch with my brother via IM and told him to call him in Australia and find out what the deal was. After finding out that my friend would be getting in around noon the next day, I stretched out on the 4-seat benches, which were quite comfortable and had a good sleep. There also was a Mc Donalds and clean toilets and I felt really safe. All in all I quite enjoyed having all that time to sleep, read, and listen to my iPod.

    What wasn’t too much fun was spending a night at the Central Staion in Sydney. While it is quite safe with security patrolling the station, it was really cold. There is no sheltered area to sleep or wait and it is completely open and windy. On top of that the seats of the benches are seperated with arm rests which makes it impossible to sleep. The stone floor was far too cold to sleep on and even with sleeping bags we were freezing.

  • Simone Gorrindo

    Oh, this is fun!

    I’ve slept outside innumerable times, most of them in Europe. I’ve slept on park benches, outdoor train stations, sitting on my backpack in the area where trains adjoin, many, many beaches (a lot of them rocky, unfortunately, and one night through the most intense thunderstorm I’ve ever seen), below a beach home on stilts in Italy (was driven out by a huge, growling man with a bat), in a sandbox in switzerland (woke up at 5 AM to a group of shady-looking men tossing duffel bags into the lake), creepy parks, a grassy area in Pamplona during San Fermin amid many wine-covered drunks….

    The strangest outdoor sleeping experience I’ve ever had, though, was in Paris. At the naive age of 17, I arrived with my high school boyfriend at 7 pm by chunnel, deposited into a much shadier version of Paris than I had imagined. I was armed with decent French, but that was about it. Had no plan whatsoever. Not much money. All rooms in our price range were full. We decided to sleep in a park. As we lay down, we began to realize, from the looks of passersby, that we were in the red light district. Exhausted, we resigned to it, and cuddled up behind a tree when all of the sudden we heard something: moaning.

    A woman was giving a man a blow job against the tree in a front of us. We both froze, trying to stay as still and quiet as possible. After a couple minutes, we saw another man approaching, heard his pants drop, and then a female shriek. The onlooker (who I believe was homeless) was um, well, pleasuring himself. The woman flipped! The man took off, and she threw her heels and went after him. She wrestled him to the ground and just clobbered him over and over with her purse.

    Now we were really trying to remain invisible.

    Of course, we didn’t for long. On her way back to the tree, the woman spotted us. So, we got what was coming – at first. She came behind the tree and started screaming at us, her skirt hitched up, her heavy makeup running down her face, her hair teased and tangled. She was incredibly drunk. Thank god that I had paid attention in french class. I managed to calm her down and explain our predicament. So, naturally, she transitioned from anger to hysterical tears, and brought out her liquor bottle, willing us to share with her.

    We somehow politely declined and ended up spending the night awake on a stairwell, accompanied by a stray cat. It was a lovely introduction to Paris.

  • chris.

    o’hare is freaking cold in the winter!! even with the paper thin blanket they dropped on the floor next to me.

  • Peter

    Referring back to your note about Beauvais airport : Beware! French airports – even the major ones – just shut up shop at night.
    Having lived in France for 25 years and done a lot of outdoors living, my advice to travellers would be to give the country a miss. Any pleasant green patch, little bit of woodland that looks good for a bit of stealth camping should be carefully examined. Dogs are myriad in France and their owners don’t clean up after them.  Globally, the standard of hygiene, both persoanl and public, is abysmal.

  • Coyin Oh

    “New York’s JFK airport does not allow ‘lying down’ inside any of its buildings. Neither does the entire city of Singapore.” HAHAHA.

    • Zeeman Choo

      But Singapore airport very nice got flat-ish chairs specifically for travelers with a long wait to lie down and sleep on!

    • Zeeman Choo

      (Source: I slept on them many times d. )

  • Suen Rowe

    I now realize I am definitely not cut out for roughing it.

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