Backpacking tips: How to survive a bus or train ride in asia

Backpacking Tips: How to survive a long bus or train ride

Published: 16-02-2021

Most backpackers will have to deal with long bus journeys or train journeys. For example, one-day train journeys in India are certainly not strange, and Sri Lanka and Thailand, for example, are also perfect destinations to explore by train. Even if you are not traveling through Vietnam on a motorbike like we did, but traveling by public transport you will regularly spend entire nights or days in busses or trains. And although traveling by train is really one of my favorite ways of traveling, it is not always pleasant. That is why it is always useful to take a number of things into account during a long bus ride or train journey. With these backpacking tips on how to survive a long bus or train ride you’ll be safe. 

#1. Know that there will always be a delay

Delays are more the rule than the exception in Asia and that is why it is always wise to add up some hours to the total journey time. Have you been told that a bus trip will last seven hours? It will probably take eight hours, or maybe even more.

#2. Bring plenty of snacks and drinks

No matter how long your bus ride or train journey takes, make sure you always drink enough and have something to eat with you. Before we get on a bus or train, we always stop at the local supermarket for some cookies, nuts, chips and enough water and some soft drinks.

#3. Make sure you have some cash money on you

Although you can store enough food and drinks before your trip, it is always wise to have some small change with you during your trip. On pretty much every bus trip or train journey in Asia there are stops where salesmen board the bus or train to sell anything and everything. From cold drinks to packages with sticky rice, coffee and fresh fruits. It would be a shame if you couldn’t buy anything.

Busses in India

#4. Toilet paper is the solution for everything

Think about the toilets in trains in Europe and make it time times worse. The image you have in your head right now must be about right. Although there are toilets in almost every train, they are not always clean and toilet paper is almost never thought of. Always good to have something with you. Even if your bus stops for a break along the side of the road you will notice that toilet paper is the solution for everything!

#5. Backpacking tips: Always bring disinfection gel

Yep, you are in Asia which means hygiene is completely different than you are used to. Especially when you are going to make longer journeys by bus or train, it is recommended to bring a bottle with disinfectant. So you can still clean your hands after eating or after a toilet visit. Often there is no running water present.

#6. Bring a thin scarf or sarong and warm clothing

Air conditioning in busses and trains in Asia is often set at a freezing degree making it feel like you are on the South Pole and not in Asia. I therefore always have a sarong with me that I can use as a blanket against the cold.

#7. Important tip for female Asia backpackers

It will happen to everyone: You are on a long journey and suddenly the bus stops for a short break. There are no toilets available, but you really need to pee. Often there are bushes in the neighborhood where you can hide behind, but this is not always the case. The tip? Do not wear long trousers during a long bus ride or train trip, but a long skirt. Just like most women do in India for example.

My most “traumatic” toilet visit in Asia

My most traumatic toilet visit was in Vietnam, between Hanoi and Dien Bien Phu. It was in the middle of the night and finally we made a stop for something to eat, to stretch our legs and to pee. With my sleepy head I walked towards the toilets, but to my horror I didn’t see toilets, but only a long “puddle”. An open space where all the women sat side by side.

#8. Bring a sleeping bag and pillowcase

When you travel in Asia with a night bus or night train, you generally get a seat or bed with a pillow and a blanket. Often, however, these are fleece blankets that stink and are totally uncomfortable. A must is your own sleeping bag and a pillowcase.

#9. Make sure to keep your important things in a smaller backpack

During a long bus trip your backpack will often be thrown at the bottom of the bus. With a long train journey you can often take your backpack with you on the train, but of course you can not pay attention when you sleep. Always make sure you have a smaller backpack with you where you can store all your important stuff such as laptops, telephones, your passport, money and your warm clothing for during the trip.

#9. Backpacking tips: Make sure there’s some music on your phone

Although you can easily make contact with other travelers on the train and bus it’s also nice to have some quiet time for yourself. Make sure to bring a MP3 player or put some music on your phone and don’t forget to bring headphones.

Night bus in Vietnam

#10. A good book is always a good idea

Although I love to listen to great music and enjoy the views during a long bus ride or train journey, it is sometimes nice to do something different. And of course there is not much to see when traveling with night buses or trains. So bring a nice reading book or put some books on your e-reader.

#11. Do you travel together? Bring a cool travel game

When traveling together it is always wise to bring a fun game to kill time on the bus or train. This trip we have the travel edition of Carcassonne (recommended!) And a pack of game cards. A great way to entertain yourselfs during a long journey.

#12. Backpacking tips for a good night sleep: Bring earplugs and a sleeping mask

Making a long journey can be tiring, but from my own experience I know that it can be quite difficult to sleep during a long bus ride or train journey. There is always someone who makes noise and there is always a light burning somewhere. That’s why I always travel with earplugs and a sleeping mask. This way, hopefully you will arrive a bit rested at your next destination.

Backpacking tips: Bring a sleeping mask

Which backpacking tips on how to survive a long train or bus ride do you share with other travelers?

Also nice to read:

Kirsten - Even when I was a child I already knew I was going to explore the world. Now, in my early thirties, I have done pretty well in following my dream. In 2014 Erick and I started Travelaar.nl, a Dutch blog on which to share our adventures with the world. In 2017 we started Travelaar.com to share our articles with the rest of the planet.