I had done all the tasks I could think of, been to the internet café, caught up on my journal, lingered over dinner and chatted with other travelers while enjoying my two beers.  Exhausted from the day’s sight-seeing, I was ready to relax.  I crossed my fingers and prepared to look at my watch, hoping it would be a semi-respectable hour to go to bed.  Crap! Only seven-thirty!

There’s a lot to be said for being early to bed and early to rise. But if you’re too early to bed, then your body might want to rise at four in the morning, when there’s not a lot to do, nor light to do it in.  A single person, who doesn’t want to drink themselves into oblivion, is often at a loss for nighttime travel activities.  Here are a few strategies for filling the evening hours:

1)    First the obvious nighttime travel activities- reading, writing and ready-ing.  Reading is of course the obvious answer to the question of how to fill the evenings.  Where as in normal life, the problem is so many books so little time, traveling one often finds themselves with an abundance of time and shortage of books.  This isn’t always a bad thing.  In desperation I sometimes read books I wouldn’t typically choose, and discover that I like them.  My criteria goes from “nonfiction or historical fiction” to “written in English.” Lately, I’ve even learned to let that criteria go, realizing that if I bring a book written in Spanish (a language I will spend the rest of my life trying to master) it will last me twice as long.

Evenings provide an excellent opportunity to prepare, repair and share.  Drag out that mini-sewing kit and fix the hole in your shirt.  Get your day-pack ready for the following day. Write some postcards. Catch up on your journal.  Start sorting through those thousands of digital photos.

2)    There are a lot of challenges to maintaining a healthy level of exercise while traveling.  Sometimes you’re on a ten-day trek and you feel like a marathon runner.  But then there are those 30-hour bus rides from which it can be hard to come un-scrunched.  I carry a yoga matt strapped to the side of my pack (can also come in handy for emergency sleep situations).  If my lodging is roomy enough, private enough and the floor not too disgusting, I spread out my mat and go for it.  There is scientific research which indicates that the best time to change your habits is when you’re away from home.  So load that kick-boxing routine onto your i-pod and have at it.

3)    I like to shower in the evening.  It makes more sense. You go to bed clean, and unless you’re doing something exciting in bed (in which case you clearly do not need to be reading this article!), you wake up clean.  It feels good to remove the gunk- sunscreen, bug repellent, dust- that has piled up on my skin throughout the day.  If you’re staying in a hostel you’ll have less competition for the shower and may even increase you’re chances of having hot water.  If you’re in the hot, muggy tropics, a shower can help you cool off so you can sleep.

4)    Need some socializing, but don’t want to drink and dance all night? A simple deck of cards is a great prop.  They are cheap, easy to carry, and there are a million ways to use them.  If you sit at a café and play solitaire on an electronic device, you’ll probably remain on your own.  But if your playing with real cards other bored travelers are bound to join you for a game.

5)    Early in my traveling career a friend advised me that it was a good idea to go to movies.  Luckily for me, many movies are in English. When you get sucked into a movie, it’s like a two-hour vacation from your life.  This can be a good thing sometimes, even if you’re living the fabulous life of international travel. In Latin America, I am often able to find “Cine Clubs”, small, sometimes improvised theaters showing art films.  Once I was watching a movie in one of these theaters when a rooster wandered in!

6)     Take up a portable hobby.  I met a man in a hotel in Honduras who carried a small set of oil paints with him.  Everywhere he would go, he would scrounge a piece of wood and paint a picture on it.  Then he would take a photo of it and leave the painting as a gift to the hotel.  A friend of mine does embroidery on her travels.  When she looks at her work later it brings back the memories of all the places she was when she worked on it.

Shilin Night Market. Photo by LWY.

7)    I’ve been delighted to find that there actually are some nighttime travel activities that interest me as a tourist.  Wandering through night markets in Southeast Asia, is an absolute pleasure.  Visiting archeological sites in Central America, I learned that some will allow you to buy a ticket for the following day after 6:00 PM and enjoy the last few hours the site is open.  This allowed me to enjoy the sound and light show at Chichen Itza and the animals that came to life at twilight at Tikal.  Occasionally, if I can do so in a respectful manner and know that my presences is not displacing someone else- I will attend a local religious ceremony.  This can be quite interesting, and at very least I’ve found going to mass in Latin America to be an excellent opportunity to practice my Spanish comprehension.

Chichen Itza – Sound and Light Show. Photo by ruffin_ready.

All that being said, I still think finding nighttime travel activities can be a challenge and would love to hear other people’s suggestions…

8 replies
  1. Julie Dawn Fox
    Julie Dawn Fox says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. Some very useful tips there. Not sure about that showering at night will remove the need to do it again in the morning in hot, sweaty countries but it is nice to go to bed feeling clean.

  2. EJ Juen Jr
    EJ Juen Jr says:

    Hi Jen, this is a great topic. If I’m in a beach resort, I just sit somewhere near the shore to relax in the sound of the waves while breathing fresh air and enjoying my coffee. But most of the time, TV kills my time. I just realized that I should try reading as well or try other things. :)

  3. loredana valles
    loredana valles says:

    nice one! actually one of the best times to roam around is at night, especially if your in a tropical country. there are also things about a place that we can only see and experience at night. :)

  4. Jennifer Choban
    Jennifer Choban says:

    Problem with hanging out outside at night is that my blood is like crack to mosquitos. Even when I’m covered with pure DEET I get bitten. Urg! Anyone know the secret to preventing this?

  5. kay curtis
    kay curtis says:

    Well, do the DEET thing but ad permethrin. There is a water soluble concoction to add to the final rinse in a top loading machine.
    *** or, you can just soak clothes in the solution then wring and hang to dry. It is a different type of repellant and augments DEET. When I was in jungles in Borneo the leeches hated it. My clothes were the only ones in a group of 5 that made the leeches drop off and scutter away.
    *** not that leeches are all that nasty! no known deceases and a number of medical benefits.

  6. Elmer Cruz
    Elmer Cruz says:

    The iPad kills my time. There’s just so much app to fiddle around with! I like garage band because it allows me to write music even without my guitar, play games, go online, tweet, fb, etc. but then again I always wind up on my own, unless I go for the hunt to have a companion between the sheets (almost always how the night ends and the next morning begins hehehe :).


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