The Best Worst Night Sleeps I’ve Ever Had

Sleeping in a tent on the Great Wall

So often travel photographs and the stories that go along with them only highlight the wonderful, the amazing and the life-changing aspects to the trip. When I show my pictures to family, friends and travel enthusiasts, they see that spectacular view or the amazing animals and listen to the funny or insightful stories that go along with them. But what is most often left out of the blogposts are the uncomfortable lodgings or situations we may have had to sleep in the night before just to get that great shot or experience that stunning hike, animal encounter or scenic view. 

But when I look at my pictures from trips I’ve taken, I are also reminded of the hard beds, the cold and/or rainy weather and the tribulations of sleeping in my accommodations, whatever they might have been. And yet in every case the hardships that went along with a bad night’s sleep was completely worth the amazing experience that came along with it.

Here is a list of my top 10 best worst night sleeps in order from least to most impressive:

10 Iceland

Iceland offers so much to see and do, especially if you like the outdoors. It seems that every form of water exists on this island from glaciers to geysers! I went in June, however, meaning that it was always bright, making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to a bright room and, not knowing what time it was, I didn’t know if I just needed to go to the bathroom or if it was time to get up for the day. Eventually, I put a clock right next to my bed which helped a bit, but I never got a good night’s sleep during my week in Iceland.

Ice hiking on a glacier in Southern Iceland!

Got to experience

Night after night of little to no sleep was totally worth being able to watch seals at midnight playing in Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake in southern Iceland. I also got to hike on a glacier for the first time (before that I had never even heard of crampons!), go whale watching in the north in Husavik, see reindeer in the wild, go spelunking in an ice-cave and visit many of the island’s many waterfalls. And while the tiredness has long gone, these memories will last my entire life!

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Walking into the glacier water of Jökulsárlón in southern Iceland

9 Chicacnab Cloud Forest, Guatemala

One of my most interesting experiences in Guatemala was staying with a Mayan family in a traditional long house in the mountains in Chicacnab Cloud Forest. While unique and amazing, it was not the most comfortable stay I’ve ever had. The bed consisted of a slab of wood and a thin piece of foam. The family spoke one of the many Mayan languages in the area so I could not communicate well. I got by on a sheet of translated words from Mayan to Spanish as well as gestures.

Traditional Mayan longhouse in San Lucas, Guatemala

Got to experience

Waking up in the cold after a poor night sleep was worth it to be able to hike through a cloud forest with locals whose ancestors had been living there for thousands of years. I also had the opportunity to try new foods with spices I hadn’t experienced and got to witness Mayan daily life including how they farmed and lived primarily off the land. I also got to see the inside of a traditional Mayan long house. A few sleepless nights and many awkward moments were completely worth the scenic views and the cultural exchanges.

Walking through the San Lucas Cloud Forest with my hosts in Guatemala
Mayan kitchen in Guatemala

8 Koh Lanta – Old Lanta Town, Thailand

Koh Lanta is one of the many popular islands in southern Thailand. I had decided to go off-peak during the rainy season in order to avoid throngs of tourists and to get some much needed rest and relaxation. So, I booked a suite with a large balcony right on the water. I was not prepared, however, for the nightly massive thunderstorms that were often so loud they rattled the metal roof throughout the entire night. In addition, I discovered that bats also used the house for shelter, flying in and out all night long. Not only did the sound keep me up, but I often awoke to the breeze from flapping wings near my head.

Koh Lanta Shanty Town where I stayed

Got to experience

All this was worth it for the wild adventure my two week say had become: up at night trying to take pictures of bats in mid-flight, bracing myself for loud thunderclaps and praying that the roof wouldn’t come right off! I also always awoke to two possibilities: a beautiful sunrise or a still foggy morning, both of which were welcomed and gorgeous in their own way. Eating dinners on the balcony listening to the gentle waves of the ocean was always a treat and I got to witness daily life in the village with no tourists. It felt like the island itself was on vacation.

I got to learn about locals’ way of life.
I got to volunteer at Lanta Animal Welfare in Koh Lanta, Thailand

7 Gros Mourne National Park, Newfoundland

“The weather is always perfect in July”, they said. My camping trip in Gros Mourne National Park was nothing like I had expected. It rained the entire time causing me to buy another bright blue tarp every time I passed through a town with an outdoor store. In addition to the constant battle to keep things dry, I had brought along an air mattress, which apparently had a small leak somewhere because I awoke to a deflated mattress at around 3am every morning. The foot pump was extremely loud and squeaky so I didn’t want to use it in the wee hours of the morning when near other campers.

Gros Mourne National Park, Newfoundland

Got to experience

The discomfort of my wet accommodations totally left my mind when I had a moose encounter. Once I saw a moose standing in the forest quietly eating the leaves off a tree. Another time, at around 4am, I heard a moose run down the path towards the campsite (no doubt trying to get to the lake for a morning drink of water) and stop right outside my tent. I could hear her/him breathing as s/he contemplated how to get around the array of blue tarps tied to various trees. I even peaked out of the slit in the tent and saw four moose legs. Eventually, s/he decided against it and left back up the trail to search for a better way to get to the lake.

Beautiful moose in Gros Mourne National Park, Newfoundland

I also had a bear encounter! I was quietly walking down a path when I happened upon an adorable little black bear eating berries. We both looked at each other startled. The bear turned and ran one way down the path and I turned and walked swiftly the other way. I looked back at one point just as the bear was doing the same. What an experience! Camping in Gros Mourne also allowed me to listen to all kinds of animals in the woods and watch beautiful sun rises at the lake.

I loved hiking in Newfoundland’s forests.

6 Batad, Philippines

Batad is small village in the Benaue Rice Terraces in northern Luzon. To get there requires an overnight bus from Manila, a 30-minute jeepny ride and an hour hike. I stayed at Ramon’s Guesthouse which served very few vegan options and came equipped with the standard bucket showers with cold water. (Bucket showers are exactly as they sound – a large barrel of water with a floating small container that is meant to pour water over yourself.) The high elevation also made for very chilly mornings with cold water in the barrels.

Jeepney in the Philippines

Got to experience

So was it all worth it? You bet! I got to wake up each morning overlooking the scenic rice terraces of Batad from a traditional Ifugao hut. I also got to hike through said rice terraces to a waterfall as well as learn about the history of Batad told to us orally from a resident.

Traditional Ifugao hut in Batad, Philippines (built with no nails!)
Rice terraces of Batad, Philippines (northern Luzon)
Local children in Batad, Philippines

5 Grand Canyon, USA

One of the top places to visit in the USA is, without a doubt, the Grand Canyon. Although I visited in April, I had a summer tent and it was surprisingly freezing cold! One morning the zipper to the tent was even frozen shut! I had to hold it until the the warmth from my hand heated it up enough to be able to zip it open. The dry air and the strong cold winds ensured that I was constantly cold to my core for the duration of my trip.

My campsite at the Grand Canyon
Freezing at the Grand Canyon, USA

Got to experience

Being cold for an entire week gave us the opportunity, however, to watch every single sunrise and sunset. I was often alone and I got to see deer and elk. My favorite sunrise location was at Mather Point. My ultimate sunset experience was when I showed up during a thunderstorm. I was the only one there save for an eccentric from Alaska willing to brave the elements with me. I saw the sky and stone change colors with lightning strikes and fast-moving clouds passing through.

Watching storm clouds roll through during sunset at the Grand Canyon!
Hiking back up the Grand Canyon from Ooh Aah Point
I never missed a sunrise at the Grand Canyon – best way to start the day!

4 – Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia

With no electricity, outhouses for bathroom, night temperatures of 100 degrees and humidity that felt like I had just come out of the shower, it is an understatement to say that this was anything but an uncomfortable accommodation. Once, I had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the facilities and had to choose between a stall with a giant spider or a stall with a scorpion. Another night I awoke to see a long line of termites parading through the barebones cabin.

Got to experience

The discomfort of poor night sleeps, the discover that you can indeed sweat out of the top of your head, and a heat rash was completely worth it. Without a doubt, the highlight of the week for me was walking with elephants in the jungle. I felt I made a wonderful connection with an amazing elephant named Kham Lin. I also had to opportunity to plant trees in one of the most deforested countries in the world.

Walking with Kham Lin in Northern Cambodia
Feeding an orphaned gibbon in Northern Cambodia

3 Watkins Glen, Farm Sanctuary, New York

While volunteering at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, volunteers were needed to babysit, and while I usually shy away from such opportunities, my hand shot up very quickly for this one! I was given a small uncomfortable cot with a sleeping bag, there were no showers, the bright lights stayed on all night and unfamiliar noises continued to wake me until morning.

Accommodations

Got to experience

This poor night sleep gave me the opportunity to sleep with sheep, two of whom were pregnant, and a goat. I frequently awoke to all the sheep standing right next to me and just starring at me with curiosity. As the night progressed I woke up to a sheep breathing on my neck, being nibbled on or having my hair chomped on. While I will soon forget how tired I was during my volunteer shift the next day, I will never forget the amazing night I shared with Louise, Jon, Tracy and Sally.

Tracy, Louise and Jon

2 Great Wall of China

When exploring the Beijing area of China, I had the opportunity to sleep overnight on the Great Wall. I slept in a tent at the Badaling “secret” wall section in one of the watchtowers. The night was cold and I woke up with bruises on my hips from sleeping against the hard stone.

Great Wall overnight accommodations

Got to experience

Was it worth it? You bet – just to be alone on the Great Wall was worth it. I had gone in the day to Mutianyu and the amount of people and vendor made it impossible to get a people-less picture. Falling asleep listening to the stillness of the night in such a historic and iconic place of the world was nothing short of incredible! I awoke early to a foggy scene and got to hike on the wall in the dark with no one else around. I feel like I didn’t just visit the Great Wall of China, but experienced it!

The Great Wall is hillier than I had expected; it traces the landscape.
One of the benefits of getting one of my worst night sleep was being able explore the Great Wall of China.

1 Everest Base Camp, Tibet

And the best worst night sleep occurred at Everest Base Camp in Tibet.

After going through the four-day process of obtaining a Chinese visa, I then needed to get an expensive Tibetan visa once in mainland China. In order to get the visa, however, I needed to join a tour, a style of traveling I try to avoid. So, I found myself sharing a nomad tent with a couple of irritation and winey teenage Dutch boys. It was April at an altitude above 5000 meters/15,000 feet making it extremely cold. It was so cold, in fact, that when the yak dung fire had burnt out, the temperature dropped to 22 degreesFahrenheit/-6 degrees Celsius. I awoke to my water bottle frozen solid, which made for a very uncomfortable wake up as I scrambled out of the tent to brush my teeth.

Simple Tibetan lodging at Everest Base Camp

Got to experience

After warming my frozen water bottle with my hand to get enough liquid to wet my toothbrush, I happened to look up. As I watched the morning sun rays hit the top of the tallest mountain in the world, it suddenly dawned on me just how amazing of a moment this was! I took stock of just how lucky I was to be able to simply basque in the presence of Mt. Everest. I watched the light work its way down what the Tibetans consider the most sacred of mountains. The discomfort my physical body was in became increasingly less important as I soaked up the powerful feminine energy of the massive structure before me.

Mount Everest, Tibet
Smoking a cigar at Everest Base Camp (Yes, that’s Mount Everest in the background)

What was your best worst night sleep?

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