The Hobo Guide to Travelling Insomnia

The Hobo Guide to Travelling Insomnia

Everyone’s been there. It’s 3am, and you’re annoyingly, inexplicably awake. You roll over left and right like a Turkish kebab, but in vain. The blanket of sleep isn’t arriving, and the looming anxiety of how much crapper the day ahead is going to be with each passing hour ensures it never will.

For some people, this situation is much more common than for others. Chronic insomniacs can be set off by any number of factors, but a change in environment, heightened noise levels and irregular bedtimes are some of the biggest triggers. Recognise any of these? They’re pretty much three of the recurring themes of a roaming hobo’s lifestyle.

Practising good sleep hygiene when you’re on the road is nigh on impossible. Sleep experts suggest a quiet, dark room, a temperate sleeping space, consistent sleep-wake patterns, and avoiding blue screens. A swish hotel room would, of course, be the ideal way to strive towards such parameters. However, the average hobo is probably much more familiar with their mate’s flea-bitten futon in an uncurtained, sweaty living room, shared with two snoring acquaintances after getting to bed at 4am.

Now, I’m not claiming to have hacked this dilemma as of yet. As I write this, it’s 5am and I managed just one hour of snooze last night. I’ve drugged myself with sleeping pills for the past two weeks in an attempt to work against my dorm room, the street noise and the Spanish heat. However, I will offer some suggestions that have helped me, however marginally, shuffle my sleep-deprived way through Europe thus far.


Press fast-forward

When I’ve had a sleepless night, I like to think of essentially shifting my day forward by several hours. This means that 5am is morning exercise time. 6.30am is work/admin/sightseeing time. By 2pm you’ll hit the late-afternoon slump, so try to reserve the afternoon for binge-watching bad TV series. This obviously works better if you have a lot of flexibility with your schedule. If you have a social engagement in the evening, accept that you’ll probably be a drag. Try to push through to a reasonable bedtime, though, or risk being awake at 4am and continuing the cycle.

Total blackout

Sensory deprivation is key. I cannot stress enough the importance of a good, reliable earplugs. I have no sympathy for any so-called insomniac that travels without them. For crying out loud, buy a pair this instant and learn how to put them in properly. Also, lots of airlines give you a free sleeping mask – makes you look like a tosser but blocks out excess light from shitty hostel curtains. Acquire as many of these as possible.

Know your limits

Night buses are not a travelling insomniac’s friend. Yes, you skip on paying for accommodation for the night – but you can forget the romantic notion of “waking up in another country”, because we both know you’ll be spending that 18-hour coach trip constantly and unsuccessfully rearranging yourself in your 1m2 of space and throwing murderous shade at the apnoeic middle-ager across the way. This guarantees you’ll arrive at your destination feeling particularly crabby. Another no-no is any dorm size larger than six people. I honestly feel that the more people I share a sleeping space with, the more energy I absorb through osmosis and the less sleep I get (while they snooze away blissfully).

Have a little help

Seriously, if it’s that bad, don’t feel too guilty about drugging yourself into submission with sleeping pills in the short-term. Travels are to be enjoyed, and it’s hard to enjoy yourself when you’re hallucinating and sporadically crying after a week of no sleep. Worst case scenario, check metasearch sites for a last-minute deal on a quiet single room. Think of it as an investment into your long-term sanity.


Indeed, travelling when you’re a super-light sleeper is hard, but it shouldn’t be a deterrent. As long as you have contingency plans in place the worst that’s gonna happen is the odd eyelid-twitch. Now go get some sleep, you look like crap.

Cover by Elizabet Dominguez

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