On my recent trip to Queensland I stayed for a night at my brother’s house in Hervey Bay. I was up there for his birthday party and, although it was a fun party, I had a terrible night’s sleep. That’s because the other interstate visitors had arrived earlier than me and got first dibs on the spare beds leaving me with the couch. Actually, I had the choice of two couches, but one was just about in the middle of the party (which was still going on when I was ready for bed). The other couch was in the second lounge room, which wasn’t quite as noisy, but it was even shorter than my diminutive stature, so I spent a very restless night firstly listening to drunken and rowdy singalongs, then tossing and turning trying to get comfortable. And finally when I’d just got comfortable the sun came up and bathed the room in bright light. This, by the way, was something like 4.00 in the morning because Queenslanders don’t have daylight savings because it fades their curtains.
Mind you, it wasn’t the worst night’s sleep I’ve had in my travels. I’ve had a quite a few (cheap dives tend to contribute to that), but here are some of my worst:
It was Bastille Day and because I thought I’d be partying all night I figured that it was a waste of money to book any accommodation for the night. So, I decided to crash at the main train station instead. That wasn’t a good idea. At around 1.00 in the morning I found myself a nice little spot in the waiting room, but not long after I got settled on the floor the room began to fill with homeless people. Very smelly – as in urine smelly – homeless people. So smelly, in fact. that I began to gag. I moved outside on to the grass and, although it was cold, I managed to doze off to sleep. That was until I was woken by an inebriated man leaning over me reciting from the bible. In French. He did this until the sun came up. That was the first and last time that I slept at (and outside of) a train station.
5th Avenue, New York
I was about to jet off to New York from London and a friend who had recently been there told me about some very cheap accommodation that he had stayed in. It was cheap, but that was because it was an illegal ‘hostel’ set up by a janitor in the basement of a very swish apartment block on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park. Although it was incredibly cheap ($10 a night) I only stayed one night. I only stayed one night because it was cold, dank and little bit creepy. A few old (as in very old) beds were jammed into a small space with only sheets dividing them and not only did the room and bed smell of mould and dead bodies, there was a Czech couple in the bed next to me (as in right next to me) who were going for some sort of how much-groaning-sex-can-we-have-in-one-night record.
As part of my Couch Surfing Tour of the Globe I stayed with Smari in his one-room studio apartment in Reykjavik. My couch was a sagging air mattress on the floor next to Smari’s bed. On my final night we went on a pub crawl (the Icelandic folk even have a name for it: Runter) and after way too many drinks I lost Smari and his friends. When I eventually got back to the apartment I got quite the shock when I caught an eyeful of four legs entwined on the bed and Smari’s white bottom bouncing up and down. I went outside, but I was in Iceland so it was cold. When I went back inside they were still at it, so I grabbed the air mattress and squeezed it into the storage cupboard. It didn’t quite fit and neither did I, but I managed to to curl up the mattress and myself into the corner. It took me two days to straighten my back out again.
Gobi Desert, Mongolia
It was so cold in our ger (or yurt in Russian – a traditional Mongolian round felt tent) that our hosts piled about ten musty blankets on top of me. We did have a pot stove heater, but the dried out yak dung that was used for fuel burned slowly – and didn’t smell the best, too, as you could imagine. Then there was the sound of howling wolves all night. Our host said that they were hungry and that ‘they would like you for a nice dinner’. I needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night and that meant putting on all my clothes and going outside to the outhouse. Although there was no way I was going to use the outhouse – it was over a hundred metres away near the edge of the forest and the wolves. I opted for the less daunting middle of the field. I scurried back to my bed and tried to cover myself again with the massive pile of blankets. It must have got cold during the night, though. When I awoke, my water bootle, which was next to my bed, was frozen solid.
On another leg of my Couch Surfing Tour of the Globe I stayed in a one-room house in Nairobi with my host and his wife and two kids. They all slept on the double bed (with a mosquito net) while I had the fetching brown velvet couch. The couch was comfortable, but I hardly got any sleep. That was because it was stifling hot in the room and I was totally encased in my sleeping bag. I had the choice of melting or malaria. A crack squadron of mosquitoes were hovering above me all night just waiting to devour me, so I sweated it out in my bag all night. I woke up at 5.00. Well, technically I didn’t wake up because I hadn’t really been asleep at all.
The Shabby Flat
My friend Stuart lived in the ‘Shabby Flat’ in a rather posh part of London. It was a small two-bedroom basement flat that Stu shared with a few flatmates. When I say a few flatmates, there were 15 of them. One couple shared a bedroom as big as a cupboard (in fact, it might have actually been a cupboard), eight were squished into the other bedroom (with three on the floor), and the other six, including me, slept in the lounge room. I had the prime spot under the dining room table on a pile of old cushions. There was no such thing as a quiet night in at the Shabby Flat. Over 20 people would be sitting on top of each other in the lounge room every night watching TV and drinking and smoking. So much smoking that cigarette smoke would pour out of the one and only lounge room window as if from a chimney. You would have to wait until everyone went to bed before you could go to sleep, but even then there would be someone coming home late drunk and stumbling over you and sitting down smoking more cigarettes. Amazingly I did this for over a month until one of the greatest days of my life – I was upgraded to the floor in between two beds in the second bedroom.
Patras to Brindisi Ferry
The cheapest ticket for the overnight Patras to Brindisi was a ‘sleeping berth’ on the ‘deck’. As in you sleep on the hard metal deck in the open air. When we set out to sea a strong icy wind blasted the deck and there was no way that I could sleep there, so i searched the ship for a spot to sleep. I first tried the seating area, but the there was a loud TV and even louder Italians having a party. I wandered around the ship in a daze trying to find a quiet spot and eventually snuck into the recently closed restaurant and put a few chairs together in the corner and slept on them. I must have been asleep for maybe two hours when the very surprised cooking staff turned up to make breakfast.
Bacau Beach Bungalows
Bacau, East Timor
My very basic beach hut (and the only one left I might add – the other ones had been burnt down) had a nice bed in it. But I didn’t get much sleep because the mosquito net over my bed was covered in all sorts of strange and frightening-looking insects. The potentially bloodsucking (and perhaps even life-sucking) insects were the least of my worries, however. Scampering and loud munching noises pervaded the room throughout the night. I did my best to ignore it, but these were really big rats (or baby crocodiles). And worst of all, when the sun came up I went to grab my breakfast from my bag and it was gone. The rats (or crocodiles) had eaten my entire packet of biscuits.
Libreville Airport, Gabon
If you have seen the film ‘The Terminal’ with Tom Hanks then that was me in Libreville airport in Gabon. I was supposed to be on my way to Sao Tome and Principe (and yes, that is a country), but I didn’t get on my connecting flight and I didn’t have a visa for Gabon, so I was stuck in the small departure lounge at the airport for three nights. The bed, which was one of the black metal-grill seats, was like sleeping on a barbecue grill. I dragged out every piece of clothing from my backpack and laid them neatly on the seat to make a quasi mattress. The problem was that they had the air conditioner on ‘Arctic’ setting, so I had wear some of my clothes to stay warm. Not long after I got settled on my first night loud French rap music blasted out from the PA. I wasn’t going to get any sleep, so I knocked myself out. I took a couple of sleeping pills, put on an eye mask and plugged in my iPod. It probably wasn’t a good idea to knock myself out in a strange African airport filled with even stranger people, but I did get some sleep. And, I needed some sleep because I had three nights in a row on the barbecue grill bed.
Have you had some terrible night’s sleep in your travels?