These are routes I’ve taken an overnight sleeper bus in India:
- Bangalore to Kerala (Wayanad)
- Madurai to Kerala (Cochin)
- Pondicherry to Madurai
- Goa (Panjim) to Mumbai
- Mumbai to Rajasthan (Udaipur)
…and really, it’s not so bad!
That said, in an ideal India travel world, I WOULD prefer my overnight travel to be by train in AC class when possible!
But one of the things I like best about traveling by overnight bus, compared to train, is that it allows you to not have to plan so far in advance!
With long distance trains, they often sell out weeks in advance. And, they might arrive at your destination at odd times in the middle of the night too.
You do need to book your overnight sleeper bus in advance too, but you will generally be fine waiting until a few days before you’re ready to go.
The sooner you book your bus ticket, the more choice you’ll get in your seat option, though:
- Front of bus vs back of bus
- Upper berth vs lower berth
I have had it happen where I couldn’t get the seat I wanted so I changed my departure date for the following day, but I still find it rather convenient to not have to book tickets weeks in advance!
I won’t just book ANY overnight bus. (If you are more flexible, you can likely get away with even less planning ahead of time!)
When it comes to overnight buses, I do have some “requirements.”
For me, when I’m traveling overnight by bus, I want:
- sleeper seat
- AC bus
- single space
Sleeper bus vs seater bus
So the first “requirement” for me when traveling overnight by bus is to be able to lay down.
There are also overnight buses that are not “sleeper” buses, and are instead “seater” buses.
These are basically regular buses.
And this means that you will be in a (nearly) upright position all night.
There are regular seats on overnight buses that do have the ability to recline somewhat.
If you don’t mind this, then there will be more options for you for bus timings.
But I prefer to be completely flat!
AC vs non-AC on overnight bus
I generally don’t mind traveling on a non-AC bus during the day.
Even if it’s hot outside, open windows on non-AC buses means that it’s a mostly manageable temperature during the bus ride.
But at night, since I would like to increase my chances of being able to sleep, I prefer to have closed windows so I won’t be bothered as much by outside noises.
Traveling with closed windows also means you’re exposed to minimal dust, pollution, and noise during the bus ride.
If you’re not bothered by these things, then you might further consider a non-AC bus for your overnight bus trip, and once again, you will be given more bus choices too.
Single seat vs double seat (2+1)
Some buses allow you to book a double sleeper seat or a single sleeper seat.
As an example, you will see this when booking bus tickets as “2+1,” with the “2” being a double, and the “1” being a single.
If you’re traveling with a partner, then you’ll probably prefer to book the double.
But since I was traveling alone, I didn’t want to be sleeping directly next to a complete stranger, so I prefer to book a single.
Also, Indians in general are shorter people.
So if you’re tall, you might feel cramped in a single sleeper seat.
You might even consider booking 2 seats, with 2 double seats right next to each other to give you more room. I haven’t done this, but I think it’s possible to do this.
The cost of these bus tickets are not that high so you might find it to be worth it to have the full double bed to yourself. For example, my 8.5 hour bus ride to Kerala cost 840 rupees (US$12).
Single sleeper seat
Double sleeper seat
This bus had a removable divider in their double sleeper seats.
But I don’t think a divider is something to expect on every bus.
Upper berth vs lower berth
You can also choose between where you want to sleep, on top or down below.
I try to go for lower as much as possible, as I feel the bus ride will be less bumpy this way.
Although, it’s not a deal breaker for me if I can’t get a lower seat, and I have selected an upper berth when all the lower seats were taken. It was fine!
So the big question…
Can you sleep on a sleeper bus in India?!?!
I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever had my best sleep ever on a bus in India, but I am generally able to get some sleep on these buses.
And yes, maybe I will arrive in the morning at my next destination ready to get some more sleep.
But all things considered, I still think that having the option of getting around by an overnight sleeper bus in India is rather convenient, and I generally think it’s great.
Another big question…
This would be one of my least favorite parts about bus travel in India.
There are no toilets on the bus.
So for me, this generally means that I need to prepare well ahead of time.
This means I try to stop drinking water an hour or 2 before the bus.
And I also try to make sure I go to the bathroom one last time before I leave my accommodation… and one last time at the departure location (if a toilet is available).
But I find this to generally be a small sacrifice for being able to take the otherwise pretty convenient sleeper bus.
Are you stuck without a toilet for the ENTIRE overnight bus ride?!
Depending on the bus route and duration of the bus ride, you’ll likely have 1 or 2 rest stops.
These rest areas are generally small road-side shops or restaurants where you can by some snacks, and some water if you’ve decided to stop dehydrating yourself. 😉
You can pretty much be guaranteed at least one rest stop on an overnight bus ride.
As for the toilets at these rest areas…
This is India, so also keep that in mind with the toilets you may encounter.
I’ve used public toilets that I was rather impressed with (bleach smell – clean!), some that were okay and I was happy to be able to use, and some I’ve had to literally hold my breath because it was so smelly.
But again, this is a small sacrifice.
There’s also a good chance that there will be squat toilets only.
Although I’ve also been to some rest stops that have western-style toilets.
It’s a good idea to carry toilet paper with you to these bathrooms. (There probably won’t be any.)
So if you’ve decided that taking a sleeper bus is a manageable option for your backpacking trip in India…
How to buy overnight sleeper bus tickets
So once you’ve decided how comfortable you want to be during your overnight trip, you can then see if there’s your preferred seat available for your travel date!
For all the routes that I’ve taken that I listed above, I used redbus to book my overnight bus tickets online.
It’s also possible to buy bus tickets through a travel agency in any city you’re in too.
Your hotel may be able to book you a ticket as well.
But I find booking through redbus to be convenient.
And it’s even more convenient with redbus now that you don’t need an Indian mobile number, and also now that you can pay directly with a foreign credit card. (Both of these things weren’t possible even just a short time ago!)
How to book bus tickets online through redbus
So once you put in your departure city and arrival city, you’ll get a list of bus options.
This may include both government bus options, as well as private bus companies.
You can take a look at what your government bus options are, as this will likely be the cheapest option.
You can click on each of the options, and it’ll show you the type of seats so you can check.
Don’t get your expectations too high for “ultra deluxe” on government buses! You’ll still get basically regular seats with these.
So then if you’re going with a private bus company, you can then check each option to see what seats are available.
Some buses will be sleeper seats only, and some might be a combination of sleeper seats and seater seats.
I generally don’t pay too much attention to a specific bus company or the reviews, and I’ll mostly just go for the seat type as a determining factor. (Many of the bad reviews seem to be “bus was late.”)
So once you’ve decided on the specific bus you want to take, you can select your seat.
After you’ve selected your seat, you’ll be prompted to choose a boarding point in your departure city.
The best way to know which location is closest to you is really just to use Google Maps to try to figure it out.
In some cases, it could also be easiest to board the bus at the starting location, even if another pick-up location is closer to you.
The starting locations seem to usually have the bus company’s office, which is a good place to verify that you’re in the right location and to make sure you won’t miss the bus.
Otherwise, your pick-up location could be in a seemingly random spot and you might get worried if you’re even in the correct spot.
But if you do choose a spot that’s not the first stop, ask local shops around for the bus pick-up location – they will probably know!
Then after you choose a departure location, you’ll be prompted to choose a drop-off location for your destination.
Once again, it could be best to just use Google Maps to determine which stop you want to get off at.
And then, once you’ve selected your drop-off point, you’ll fill out your info… and pay!
I was able to put in my US number (although they didn’t send any notifications to it).
I was also able to pay using my US credit card.
When I used redbus to book another ticket a few weeks prior, it did require a second attempt, as the first attempt was declined by my credit card company as potentially suspicious behavior.
So if your foreign credit card doesn’t work, check your text messages and email to see if this is the case.
Then, once the booking went through, I received 2 emails.
One was from redbus…
And then another one seemed to be specifically for the bus company I booked with.
All you’ll need is these emails on your phone to board the bus. You don’t need a printout.
I took a screenshot of both emails for easy access later on.
These emails also provide you with a contact phone number in case you want to get in touch to make sure that you haven’t missed the bus if you’re not boarding from the first stop.
And that’s a bit about taking a sleeper bus in India!
See more of what it’s like to travel by overnight bus in India!
HAPPY OVERNIGHT SLEEPER BUS RIDE IN INDIA!
The need-to-know India travel tips!If it's your first trip to India, be sure to see these tips for getting around India on a budget, and more! Also be sure to see how to spend one month in South India and 2 weeks in North India, as well as tips for the Golden Triangle. And, overnight sleeper bus travel isn't so bad, and neither is traveling in general class on the train!
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Where to stay on the backpacker trail in Kerala
- Fort Cochin: Zostel Kochi
- Alleppey: Zostel Alleppey or Funky Art Beach House for chill beach vibes! (see my pics - zostel / funky) OR Dream Nest to be closer to town // and see how to spend one day in Alleppey
- Alleppey backwaters: cottage right on the waters
- Munroe Island: cottage backwaters homestay right on the waters (and see why you should consider munroe island!)
- Varkala cliff: Seawin or Prashanthi with ocean views