Behind the Scenes: Sleep

The Good, the Bed & the Ugly

Inspired by Sand & Such

We spend one third of our travels sleeping. But what happens, when we hit the hay in foreign places, varies. Droopy eyes and yawns can be accompanied by a cicada concert in Louisiana, whereas we can be abruptly awoken by church bells in Slovenia, Muezzins in Marrakech or a cockroach crossing our room in Charleston. Sleeping abroad truly involves the good, the bed and the ugly.

One summer, I woke up in the middle of the night while on a fam trip through New Brunswick, Canada. I was sleeping in a beautiful, upscale hotel in Miramichi with a  view of the river. My bed was cosy. The sort, where you kind of hope that jetlag keeps you awake for a few more hours, letting you indulge in the soft covers just a little while longer. Nevertheless, I fell asleep, stuffed with all the lobster I could get on my plates during daytime. The lobster was accompanied by white wine though, as it often is. So, my bladder woke me wee-small-hours-of-the-morning-style. I stumbled to the bathroom, but all my half asleep, disoriented me found was the wall. My hand couldn’t grab the door handle, because there simply was none. I sincerely thought I was somewhere else – vaguely remembering the layout of another hotel room at another time.

Ending up dazed and confused is a by-product of roadtrips. Worst case scenarios include not recognizing your partner’s voice after being on a four-week journey with a friend, and thinking “why is my female travel buddy suddenly talking in such a low voice?” Another scenario is waking up in my own room, staring dumbfoundedly at the walls and wondering at their white color, while slowly figuring out that I’m not in some strange place, but in my own sweet home.

The one who travels heavily, often pays with their heavenly sleep.

“Hello, jet lag, my old friend…”, you hear yourself humming after a transcontinental flight, while lying in the motel bed. That’s the very moment when you make your first mistake. You try to fall asleep by thinking about sleep. You know, that in order to go back to sleep, your body temperature would decline, while at the same time your feet and hands would warm up. It would be time for melatonin to course through your system, and tell every part of the body to rest now. Also, your blood pressure and your heart rate would slow down, and last but not least, your breathing would even out and you would drift off to sleep. However, what really happens is none of the above.

Either, you seize the moment, which is pretty early. In fact, it’s often so early that you would still call it “late”. Methods to pass the time might be: welcoming the morning with a beach walk along pitch-black St. Pete, Florida, until you finally see the silver lining (pun intended) on the horizon; packing up all your stuff in rainy Memphis in order to drive off towards Arkansas without any coffee, because not even the local Starbucks has opened its doors yet. Or – what most people would choose – option three: just stay in bed, hoping, wishing and waiting that 3 am is not the time you start your (holi-)day.

In the still of the night, yet awake lying in a foreign bed, your thoughts circle around the fact that you should be fit the next day. As University of Rochester’s neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard stated, sleep is the brain’s maintenance system. I couldn’t think of a better time for my brain to be taken care of than during a trip, where there are new impressions to process on an hourly basis.


However, jet lag is not your only foe while on the road.

The freakier the place, the stranger the noises you might hear instead of sleeping. Maybe it’s the waves heavenly crashing against the shell of your sailing boat on a stormy night. Or is it the 40-minute moaning concert echoing from the neighbors’ room in your small artsy Slovenian hotel, celebrating their relationship at 4 am in the morning? By the way – did you know that garbage trucks at the Amalfi coast always honk, before they turn the corner? Or that they already drive around at 6 am?


There are places where sleep turns into an adventure. And there are places where you have to sleep in the middle of an adventure. Africa is such a place. I’m not a camper. In fact, one of the principles of my life is “I love not camping”. However, there are moments, when you don’t really have any other options. Sleeping in Tanzania’s Serengeti, for example, where you listen to lions roar during the night and buffaloes run wild. You’re not allowed to leave your tent unaccompanied. There will always be someone waiting for you with a torch to help you find your way to the breakfast tent or some other place you might want to go. But – if you ever happen to be there, I’m sure you don’t even want to go anywhere while the night is dark and the hyenas’ eyes reflect the torch light only a few meters away from the narrow path.

A lion’s roar as your personal alarm clock in the morning? Not uncommon when sleeping in the Serengeti National Park.


Another one of those places is the Sahara, where the starry, starry sky is pretty, but your nose gets quite cold at zero degrees outside. It can also be pure magic, though. You soon learn to cherish the light you get. Especially the hours, when the sun unites with the horizon after you wake up or before you go to sleep. You get to know the complicated character of the desert one day at a time. It’s more than the perfection of a star-scattered night sky or a sunset that tastes like verbena tea. It is the hot, clean air, the merciless heat and the severe frostiness in the morning. Remember – it’s always the coldest before the dawn.

»This place between here and there


Sometimes sleep is far more than a time machine to breakfast. It is just the B-E-S-T. Those moments on the Faroe Islands, when raindrops knock on your window and you slowly drift from reality to dreamland. This place between here and there, where you don’t know where you are, who you are or what’s up next. Where everything that remains, is the feeling of deep security and coziness. When there’s a thunderstorm raging in the Adriatic bay of Trieste, but you’re relaxing on your far too good box-spring mattress in the Savoia Excelsior Palace (yes – my favorite beds in the whole wide world!) or your thoughts get washed away by the sea, while staying in the cottage of the Westcroft Guest House in Kingsand, Cornwall adjacent to the shore.

And, always remember that the first thing you dream in a new bed will come true. <3