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Sleeping Rough: Essential Advice for Budget Travelers

Travel Safety Epic Stays
by Matt Scott Aug 14, 2009
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:

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.

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.

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.

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