A complete guide answering all your questions about traveling by sleeper bus in India. Pros, cons, and budget travel tips to make the most of your travels.
Did you know that there are over 1.6 million buses in India, transporting roughly 70 million people per day? It’s true, bus travel in India is is one of the best ways to get from A to B on a budget. With “sleeper class” buses, even budget backpackers can get a comfortable ride when hopping from city to city.
In this guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about traveling on a sleeper bus in India, why I think it’s the best way to travel on a budget, and a few tips worth reading.
Looking for ideas for your trip to India? You might also want to check out this comprehensive India Packing List to find out what you should bring and what you shouldn’t! Also, I’ve written a very comprehensive 1 Month India Itinerary that covers an epic, fast-paced travel route as well as a bunch of information and tips that will prove useful in planning your trip!
About Sleeper Buses in India
If you’re from America or even Australia like me, then you’re probably not too used to long-distance bus travel. In fact, the first time I traveled consistently on buses was my first backpacking trip in Europe back in 2015. I remember thinking to myself how easy and convenient it was and from the get-go, I was hooked.
Fast forward five years and long-distance buses are still one of my favorite ways to travel. Although you might not expect it, Indian buses are surprisingly efficient, easy to organize (once you know the process), and comfortable – particularly if you’re traveling on overnight sleeper buses in India.
Okay, but, what exactly is a “sleeper bus?”
Sleeper Class buses are those built with either 2-level or 3-level sleeping bunks, or beds, where passengers can pull a curtain or screen to get a private bed onboard the bus.
Sleeper buses in India usually only run on long-distance routes. For this reason, sleeper buses are the perfect way to get a comfortable night’s sleep, save on accommodation, and get from city to city in India cheaply.
Pros and Cons of Traveling By Sleeper Bus in India
So, whether you’re in the planning stages of a trip, or you’re already in India and wondering how to get to your next destination, this should help you make a more informed choice.
Let’s start with the cons.
- Booking can be confusing (read on for how to book)
- The language barrier can make finding your bus and stops difficult at first
- Sleeper buses can sometimes be overloaded (they sometimes cram people onto the floor)
- Bus terminals are a little chaotic, especially for first-time visitors
- Bus terminals aren’t always near the center of the city
First of all, buses in India can get a little crazy, to say the least. However, making trips on sleeper buses isn’t as chaotic as you might expect. Anyone planning their first long-distance bus trip in India is going to feel a little overwhelmed at first. Regardless, I firmly believe that if you use the information you learn in this blog post, everything will go much smoother.
You can probably already get the sense that I’m a fan of sleeper bus travel in India, here’s why.
- Sleeper buses are cheaper than trains
- Bunks are usually pretty darn comfortable (if you choose the right bus)
- You’ll save money on accommodation
- Traveling at night means you’ll get more time to enjoy your days
- Buses are usually faster than trains
- Sleeper buses are easier to book than trains
- Sleeper bus routes are very extensive
- Bus tickets can be booked at late notice (train tickets are often sold out for weeks in advance)
The main perks of traveling from city to city in India by sleeper bus is that you will save money and time. Buses are often half the price of a train ticket, can be quickly booked on an app, and don’t require an agent.
Booking Overnight Sleeper Buses
It used to be the case years ago, where you would need an Indian government ID to book a bus. Things have changed in recent years, making travel in India much easier and more convenient. These days, all you need to do is book online using either of the websites above.
These booking websites work similarly to those you might already use quite often, like Booking.com, Hostelworld, or Klook. They act as an online booking platform, whereby they list bus route and seat options from various travel agents in India. This means that you can select your route, compare timings, and, most importantly, always get the best price. Trust me when I say that you won’t get a better deal; most Indians use these apps rather than haggling.
The rating system on both apps also makes it easy to spot quality transport companies. I found that “Jain Travels” and “Mahalaxmi” had the most reliable and quality sleeper buses in Rajasthan.
Redbus vs Bookaway
Personally, I tend to use Bookaway more than Redbus. To be honest, most of the better bus routes overlap between the two websites/apps, and they both usually have the same price listings. I’ve just been a fan of Bookaway for a while after using it extensively to travel in Myanmar. However, I usually check both apps to make sure I haven’t missed a deal.
How Much does Sleeper Bus Travel Cost in India
Sleeper bus prices vary by quality, timings, and of course, distance. However, they are easily one of the most affordable means of long-distance transport in India. Typically, rates start as low as 450 rupees for shorter (6-hour) trips like those from say Jaipur to Jaisalmer. For longer distance journeys, prices can be as high as 1100 rupees.
Remember though, that booking an overnight sleeper bus means that you won’t have to pay for accommodation that night.
More: Essential India Travel Resources
Find Cheap Flights
The best and easiest way to find cheap flights is to use an airfare search engine like Skyscanner. This compares all of the best fares across all airlines.
TIP: If you’re flexible on dates, search for “Whole Month” to see a calendar result with the cheapest days to fly.
Finding the Best Deals on Accommodation
Whether you’re looking for hostels, hotels, guest houses, or resorts, between Booking.com and Agoda, you’ll always get the best deals in India.
TIP: To find the best hostels, I usually compare reviews on Hostelworld, then check other booking sites to further compare prices and deals.
Good Deals on Tours and Transport
You already know that I prefer independent travel. In saying that, sometimes the best and cheapest way to get things done is to just book a tour or package. For India, I always use Klook and Viator.
By far, the cheapest way to get from place to place in India is to take long-distance, overnight buses. A reliable bus network is Redbus.in, which also has a downloadable app. You could also consider BookAway to compare cheap buses and land transport options in India.
Don’t Forget Adventure Travel Insurance
If you’re reading this blog then you’re more likely to be seeking adventures over poolside sips. My two favorite options for adventure travel are SafetyWing and World Nomads. Click here to read the comparison between the two.
What to Expect on an Indian Sleeper Bus
With the more delicate details out of the way, what’s it actually like traveling on a sleeper bus in India? As I briefly mentioned, quality can vary greatly depending on the company you book with.
After booking your bus route online, you’ll be sent a confirmation email. If you booked on the app, the details will be added to your trips. Here, you’ll get information on where to board the bus, a picture of the bus (to help you find it), and the recommended boarding time.
Tip: If you’re struggling to find the boarding point or the bus itself, look for the name of the transport company on the virtual booking ticket. Also, ask locals. They’ll often point you in the right direction.
Once you board, show the driver your ticket, and he’ll direct you to your allocated bunk.
The bunked passenger section is almost always isolated from the driver’s “cabin” by a door. Take this as a blessing – Indian bus drivers love to chat (scream) all night. Bunks in the passenger section are either 2-level or 3-level beds with ladder access and flooded by neon lights.
High-quality sleeper class buses usually include:
- Bottled water (I bring my Grayl bottle anyway)
- USB charger ports or wall sockets
- Air conditioning
- A plexiglass screen or soft pull-across curtain
Other than being able to stretch out horizontally, having a curtain/screen to pull across is probably the best feature of sleeper buses in India. In my opinion, it makes for a much easier sleep knowing that I have some private space.
My Best and Worst Sleeper Bus Experience
The best sleeper bus journey that I ever had was between Delhi and Varanasi. My bunk had a plastic screen, air-con, USB ports, reading lights, pillows, blankets, and a full window to look out.
In contrast, the worst sleeper bus didn’t have a curtain, and I was forced to share the bunk with a rather large Indian gentleman. To make the situation worse, the wall socket had been ripped out, exposing wires that would shock me in the night.
On another occasion, unbeknownst to all passengers, the entire front of the bus had fallen off on the highway during the night. We only noticed on a morning toilet stop, where we realized that the driver had been copping bugs and wind to the face the entire night!
Oh well, another story, eh?
Safety Tips and More Things You Should Probably Know
Before you head off, I’ve also written this section dedicated to helping answer your most plaguing questions about sleeper bus travel in India. Who knows? You might learn something.
First of All, Are Sleeper Buses Safe?
Although there’s the occasional mishap, sleeper buses in India are very safe. Generally speaking, Indians feel obligated to ensure that foreigners have a great time in India. Many will go out of their way to make sure you are safe and avoid danger.
Of course, I speak from a position of privilege being a male backpacker, and I acknowledge that females might have a different experience. However, I. did travel in India for two months with my girlfriend Haylea and also met loads of other solo female travelers taking the sleeper bus route who share my views.
Couples in an Indian Sleeper Bus
For couples traveling on sleeper buses in India, sleeping in the same bunk is fine, and actually encouraged. There are usually double sleeper bunks on most buses, so it’s actually great for couples traveling in India.
Do Sleeper Buses Have Toilets in India?
Unfortunately (or… fortunately?), sleeper buses don’t typically have toilets in India. As a general tip, go before you leave as there is no telling when the driver will stop for a roadside toilet stop. Realistically though, all buses stop at least every few hours and sometimes stop by request.
Which Seat is Better in a Sleeper Bus?
By far, the best seat, or bed, on a sleeper bus in India is one on the top level, preferably somewhere near the back of the bus. Having a top-row bed avoids anyone’s feet disrupting your slumber as they climb up to their bunk. Furthermore, the back-row beds are further away from the chatty driver and ticket-man.
What About Luggage?
All overnight sleeper buses in India have undercarriage luggage compartments. The ticketmen are usually very trustworthy with your luggage. Still, I always insist on stowing my own bags and bring any valuables like laptops and cameras into the bunk with me. .
More Indian Travel Guides and Blogs
I hope that this quick guide to traveling India by sleeper bus has been useful in planning your trip. If you have any questions, updates, or suggestions for this blog post, please let me know in the comments. Otherwise, why not get some more inspiring ideas for your India trip by checking out some of my other articles and guides below?
I’d also love to hear about your experiences traveling on an overnight sleeper bus in India. Do you think it’s the best way to travel in India on a budget?