It's fairly common knowledge that long-term travelling on a budget is going to inevitably lead to some restless nights sleeps: whether that's those overnight buses/trains, no air-conditioning in humid places, lack of heaters in freezing conditions, all night battles with mosquitos in a tent, spending nights in airports, braving it in the jungle, or rollercoaster boat journeys through open water storms. These kind of twisted experiments, often result in a restless nights sleep, but more likely no sleep at all.
The most common annoyance for us is usually centred around dorm rooms. We once stayed in a 40 man dorm room, that resembled a Concentration Camp, and like a cliche dorm experience there was that one person who wrestled with a plastic bag in the early hours, then someone who liked to see how many times they could unzip/zip their rucksack in an hour, then the finale - an inconsiderate a**e who just loves hearing their snooze button go off every 15 minutes. However, this is nothing compared to those "surely, this can't get any worse" moments, so here are some of our best 'worst' night sleep stories we've experienced:
1) The consolation prize.
It was Golden Week (the busiest week of the year), and all of China was out exploring their country. We had to get a 10 hour train to our next destination, but our train agency had failed to secure tickets for a soft sleeper OR hard sleeper OR even a soft seat. Staying in our brothel hotel another week was too much to bear, so we took our chances with a 3rd class ticket on a hard seat. We've been on a week long train journey across Russia, so we can handle 10 hours…or so we thought. We clambered on the train with 30kg worth of luggage each (that was our first mistake) and attempted to look for our seats. We quickly realised that there were no assigned seats and with the tickets being over-subscribed, it looked like an all-night standing game in a train that seemed held together with chewing gum (literally - it was stuck in all the corners). We stood there, for what felt like eternity, not even being able to play a game of cards on our propped up rucksacks, as the train flew around corners and everyone (and everything) went flying. After 2 hours of playing sardines in the middle of a carriage with 80 people, in an area that could probably hold 50 (at a push), 2 people got off at a stop and we managed to grab their seats. I don't want to even think about how filthy they were. Then the heat set in. It felt like a sauna and everyone was dripping and smelling...badly. Adding to this, babies started crying; my eyes were streaming from the cigarette fumes that choked the cabin; live chickens were running around trying to escape their death; and the stench of something that definitely WAS dead, lingered around the fabric on the seats.
I tried to get some sleep by leaning my head against the window. Minutes later, Gwyn informed me of the smears on the screen and all I could feel was a sticky substance in my hair. No idea to this day, what it was. We sat there for hours, practically shouting at each other over the noise of the engine, with our feet getting drenched from the now knee-high rubbish floating through the cabin. That's no exaggeration - it looked like a slum, and some of the most foul smells I have ever come across. 8 hours had gone. Things looked promising that we'd make it to the other side of this journey from hell, but then I really needed the toilet. I was desperate. I was 5 metres away, but it took me 15 minutes to wade through the rubbish and squeeze through the people and over the animals. As if I was taking part in a some twisted game show, I opened bathroom door number one. It had a massive hole in the floor, were you could see the train tracks whizzing pass. It was tempting, if the rotten urine drenched wooden floor boards didn't look like they would give-way any second. I'm aware that I'm heavier in weight than the average chinese person. I decided to take my chances with door number two. That presented me with a cubicle with faeces all over the floor, walls and ceiling (that's some effort). I couldn't handle touching the door handle to close it, let alone walking in with my sandals, essentially dipping my toes in someone's waste. I thought I could handle roughing it, but I'd been defeated. Still in desperation of needing the toliet, I wrestled back towards our seats to get advice from Gwyn. All he could muster was: "Nobody else has been to the toilet since we have got on, so if you've got to go, just go". A low point - it was either potential death by urine, a poo swimming pool or wetting myself on my seat. I sat there, pondered for awhile, then choose the latter. Hours later, we arrived at our destination, only to be treated with another 1 hour 'going around the houses' taxi journey. I didn't feel so angry about him ripping us off, seeing as I knew later on, he'd be the one cleaning the back seat, where I was sitting.
2) Straight jacket anyone?
I have never been a fan of sleeper transportation and after this ordeal, I vowed never to do one again. Somewhere in Asia, we jumped aboard a sleeper bus for the night. Given the horror stories I had heard about the bottom bunks, people having to many drinks, blah blah, I choose the second tier. The beds were like coffins and you could only fit in them if you had your arms down your sides. It appeared they were made for children - I'm 5ft6 and my feet were hanging over the edge trying to avoid kicking someone in the head. We'd been warned about the potential risk of theft, so I wedged my rucksack under my legs. Then the bus hit the highway. Racing down the lanes, like something out of 'Fast and Furious', almost falling out of the bed and fearing for my safety, I copied everyone else and strapped myself down with rope, my knuckles already white from clinging onto the side rails. I used the sheet they'd provided as some type of makeshift straight jacket to keep my torso in. With the smoke in the air, the paper-thin pillow, the constant honking of the horn from drivers and the arctic air-conditioning, there was no way I was going to sleep. Exhausted, dehydrated and hungry, we arrived later than expected (and I have no idea how). What really capped of the eventful night was being greeted to air-raids in the city. We couldn't check into our hotel until midday or even kill a few hours wandering around tourist attractions, as the whole city was on lock down. Argh. I would've been hitting my head against a wall if I wasn't so tired.
3) And people say holidays start at the airport...
We were on our way to Pampola, for the annual Running with the Bulls festival in Spain. We had it all organised - afternoon flight, pick up the hire car, drive a few hours, overnight stay in a hotel, run with the bulls, try not to die. As it would happen, the flight leaving from the UK was delayed by 7 hours (good old budget airline), so when we finally arrived in Barcelona, all hire car companies had closed up shop. We considered renting one of those airport pods for the night, but with an apparent price tag of $10usd per hour, we opted for the free floor space in the foyer, thinking we would wait out the 9 hours in the airport overnight, until the hire company opened in the morning. We packed our rucksacks around us, making a little den, and lay our hoodies down on the floor for protection. The noise in the airport was impossible to sleep through and the ground was so cold it made our backs ache. Then at 1am it went quiet. Relief. Moments later, just as we closed our eyes, some security guards came over and told us (with a game of charades) we were no longer allowed to wait in this area as we were making the place look untidy. We explained our situation, but they were having none of it. He pointed for us to move along. We hauled all of our crap, found a closed Starbucks and made a base for the night by pushing some seats together. Just as we had fallen asleep, another security guard leaned over us, his sole role was the protection of those wooden coffee stirrers, and once again, we were told to go. We eventually found a little nook behind a lift and dropped into a fitful sleep, waking half an hour later to cleaners vacuuming against our heads. I swear they cleaned the same patch over and over again, hinting for us to move. Playing them at their own game, we gave a frustrated glance back. When they left, we made another last ditch attempt of trying to reach the goal of one hour undisrupted sleep, but, surprise, security guards were going around waking all the vagrants (aka passengers) up. As along as everyone had their eyes open and weren't sleeping, they were allowed to stay in the same patch. How considerate of them. It was 5am. We stared like zombies into the abyss, willing morning to arrive. Finally, the car hire company opened its doors, half an hour later no less, reaffirming their mission statement of the customer does NOT come first. By this point, we just wanted to get of the airport from hell, but as luck would have it, we hit rush hour(s) traffic. Don't you just love when a plan comes together?! Who knew that the running with the bulls the next day was going to be the easiest part of the trip!