Traveling in the evening, especially overnight, can be a great choice because it allows you to spend a whole day somewhere, and travel during hours where you likely aren’t missing much. Night travel often requires a separate level of thought when it comes to safety. Traveling safely at night requires you to Always use common sense and trust your instincts.
Traveling Safely at Night On Foot:
If you are wandering around at night, for example to see the moon over the volcano, or are simply out for a quiet walk on the beach, caution should be exercised. This certainly does not mean not to go, but it does suggest common sense, and trusting your instincts. You should always be present to your surroundings. Generally it is a bad idea to take dark desolate streets or alleys at night. It is a good idea to stroll on streets where shops or restaurants are still open. Have your cell phone readily available and charged to call for help, get directions, or to use as a flashlight. Read more on Top Ten Dos and Don’ts when exploring at night.
Traveling Safely at Night by Train:
In countries where train travel is popular, overnight trains often save you time and money. You can sleep on the train, saving a night’s hotel, not wasting a day, and waking in a new location. There are many benefits, but just be cautious. Sometimes I have found night trains to be desolate, where I have walked the length of several cars looking for a conductor, and have not seen a single sole. That can feel a bit eerie.
My Scary Night Train Experience
I experienced an incident on a train going from France to Barcelona many years ago. There was no other traveler as far as I could see and a conductor entered my train car in the middle of the night. He seemed inappropriately friendly and was not leaving. This probably does not happen often and it was many years ago, but I will never forget the feeling that washed over me. I yelled that I was sleeping, that he woke me, and acted very grumpy, tossing items carelessly around, and thank goodness he ultimately left.
There was also the night a long time ago, that my train was passing through Eastern Europe during a war time. I was alone in a sleeping car when armed soldiers screaming in a Slavic language pounded on the glass of my locked door. They were tapping the butts of their rifles loudly on the floor. There were too many male soldiers for my comfort. And I did not speak any slavic language. In this situation, I opened my passport to the page with my photo, country of citizenship, and document ID. I pressed it up to the glass window for them to clearly see. However, I refused to unlock my cabin door. I hoped to show respect for their authority, while holding a firm position. They eventually moved on. Diffusing chaos, using your head, and remaining calm, is key to staying safe in uncomfortable situations.
TRAVEL TIP: If you find yourself alone in a train car at night, lock the cabin door. All documents including train tickets can be shown through the glass window. I no longer open the door to my compartment until it is morning, or other people are around. Even if you are sharing a compartment, most people will agree that the door should be locked at night to protect all passengers’ personal belongings in that compartment while they are sleeping.
First Class Trains
If you can afford first class, it seems like less people tend to transit in and out of the first class cabins at night. That’s not to say that first class is safe and second is not. However, people who are traveling only a short distance tend to buy the second class ticket so there is usually much more foot traffic of people getting on and off the train after one or two stops in the second class car. Also, there are usually more conductors present in first class so that people cannot sneak into it without paying.
Using the Restroom on the Train
If you need to use the restroom while aboard, you may not be able to take all of your belongings with you. If you cannot, take the essentials; your passport, wallet, phone, computer, camera. It would suck if your clothes got taken, but most petty theft on the train is likely with smaller easy to grab bags that are more likely to have valuables. If your larger, heavier luggage is elevated on an overhead luggage rack, it is more difficult to take.
Traveling Safely at Night by Bus or Ferry:
When traveling by bus, it is highly unlikely to have a private area. Sometimes ferries offer cabins on overnight or long haul trips. These cabins can be shared or private. While expensive, the advantage to a private cabin is that you can lock the door like a hotel. Many offer their own restrooms.
Busses tend to make many stops so it would be easy for someone to exit with your belongings while you sleep. This scenario may be harder on a ferry if you are out to sea. Either way, it is a good idea to lock your things in an overhead bin or in your own cabin.
If you are sleeping in a publicly accessible space, you need to keep your essentials (passport, wallet, phone, computer, camera) curled up with you, stowed in or under your seat (provided someone cannot slide it out from behind), or attached to your body. This could include wrapping luggage straps around your wrist, waist, or ankle, somewhere you’d likely feel it being moved, and wake up. I often use a money belt that goes around your waist, under your clothing. Place your passport, money, credit cards, phone, and documents there as most other items are replaceable.
Another option is to use a travel combination lock to prevent your bag from being opened. You could also use a bike lock to physically lock your bag to a pole, the seat bottom, or whatever you can find. If this is not possible, sleeping atop your bag with a travel sheet, blanket or towel over it, but under you could work. Any of these methods may help to secure your belongings while allowing a better night’s sleep for you.
Staying Safe at Night in Your Hotel Room:
Choose an accommodation in a location where you feel relatively safe. If you are unsure or something feels shady, take a taxi or car, do not wander the neighborhood or come in well after dark. If possible, do not choose a ground floor room where forced entrance may be easier through a window or terrace.
When inside your room and when leaving your room unattended, always lock all doors and windows. If you are sleeping with open windows for air, there should be a security measure on them that only allows them to open a certain amount of inches, like from the top.
Utilize the in room safe for anything that you consider extremely valuable or irreplaceable. Many hotel desks offer an option to leave valuables with them as well.
One night in Athens I booked a room at a small hotel near the port for one night. Since I was young and alone, I was chatting with the bartender in the lobby. He was saying that when he finished he was meeting friends at a restaurant down the street. I politely said “how fun,” and he said I was welcome. I said that I’d likely be asleep, but if not, maybe I’d join. Hours later, I awoke to the sound of something. The bartender was standing inside the doorway of my room. Needless to say, I started screaming for him to get out and grabbed the bedside lamp to throw. Thankfully he left.
To this day, I’m not sure how he got my room number, but NEVER, under any circumstances, give out your room number to a stranger, unless you are absolutely positive that you’d like them to visit, because they might. Subsequently I purchased a travel alarm.
The travel alarm I originally purchased worked on hotel doors, train doors, etc. It was a simple, battery operated plastic box with two metal pieces. The method was that you inserted the 2 metal strips into a door. When the door opened, the 2 metal strips came apart, and the alarm went off. It was loud and would wake you. At least this way, you knew someone had entered. Also, the alarm itself may have scared an intruder off. These days there are similar alarms that are louder, better made, and less bulky.