Simon Calder: Sleep(er) your way around the world

The man who pays his way

Sunset tonight in Penzance is at 9.34pm, but if you have the good fortune to be in Stornoway in the Western Isles you will see it sink below the horizon an hour later (weather, as always in Scotland, permitting). As midsummer approaches, living above the 50-degree north line of latitude becomes a virtue as the day stretches deep into the evening. The further north and west you venture, the more preposterously late the dusk.

So why should The Independent celebrate darkness? Because whether you are shopping after midnight in Bangkok or peering into the depths of the Universe from the Brecon Beacons, the night bestows a fresh dimension on travel experiences.

A journey under the cloak of darkness can have much to recommend it, especially when getting there is none of the fun. Nebraska and Belarus each take the best part of a day to cross by road or rail (I've checked), and each is a study in monotony. The geographical term "plain" is well chosen. Even on the line revered for the greatest train ride in the world, the Trans-Siberian, you can snooze from Omsk to Tomsk (or at least its nearest mainline station, Tayga) without fretting that you have missed something. One mile of the line across the Pennines between Settle and Carlisle provides more drama than that 500-mile stretch of Siberia.

The overnight sleeper trains between London and northern Scotland allow you the best of both worlds, in summer at least. Going north to Fort William, set your alarm to wake you as the sun starts to illuminate the shore of Loch Long, then breakfast as the West Highland Line carves its lonely course across Rannoch Moor. Heading south, the Caledonian Sleeper leaves Inverness at 8.44pm, offering the prospect of dinner by Loch Ness followed by the evening climb towards the Cairngorms. You drift off to sleep around Blair Atholl, and get jolted back to the reality of a London rush hour nine hours later – while the early-morning passengers from Inverness to Gatwick have hardly got airborne.

Daylight robbery

Time is too precious to squander on unsatisfying travel – as I discovered on the only occasion I took a daytime flight from North America to Britain. There are just a handful of such flights, leaving East Coast cities around 9am and arriving at a quiet Heathrow at 9pm.

At dawn, I woke up in the city that never sleeps. Just as the world was flooding into New York, I took the A-Train to JFK. While smarter tourists were tucking into breakfast at the Carnegie Deli and planning the day's cultural or retail immersion, I was checking in at the airport with only an inflight omelette to anticipate.

As the Airbus accelerated along the runway, I felt a surge of regret at leaving a Manhattan morning behind. The plane curved along the coasts of that novel trio – New England, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – then followed the 50-degree line of latitude like a rail all the way to Cornwall. The last embers of daylight expired shortly before landfall. I concede that I escaped the normally punishing fatigue that follows an all-night flight. But a New York day followed by a transatlantic night looks much more enticing than a lost day and a Tube journey home.

Overnight flights invite you to make the most of the day at either end of your trip. The best way to end any trip to Singapore is with the city-state's signature night out: a pre-flight feast at the East Coast Seafood Centre. From your beachside table to Changi airport takes 10 minutes. Aboard your midnight plane to Britain, you should drift off above the Andaman Sea, and wake for breakfast somewhere over the Danube. In contrast, daytime flights from the Far East to Britain, such as those, bestow upon you an endless day that vanishes into the thin air at 37,000ft.

Aesthetics apart, night flights also help you to economise. Unless you have carefully arranged for cooperative family or friends to occupy properties with spare rooms in alluring parts of the world, then you presumably have to pay for accommodation. Organise an overnight trip, and you check in for the Hotel Airbus or Boeing B&B at the same time as your flight.

The embrace of night is ideal when you are safely tucked up at high altitude; at ground level, a dazzle of daylight is what you need. The best time to touch down at any airport is at dawn. Turning up in a strange city is always best done with plenty of daylight in reserve – allowing you to settle in before a great night out in Rio or Cape Town. And while Heathrow or Gatwick can never match the electricity of Copacabana or the grandeur of Table Mountain, a 6am arrival means that you can travel onward to any part of the kingdom. Public transport is starting up, not closing down around you. Dawn is sometimes more promising than dusk.

Climbing: a dark art

The antidote to a fearful fear of heights? Darkness. When you climb Mount Kenya, the guide wakes you at 3am and cajoles you ever higher. You blunder your way by torchlight to the summit (or at least the "trekkers' peak"), with night suppressing the intimidation of altitude. Only when the sun flares over the horizon, illuminating the longest view on the planet (the 200 miles to the top of Kilimanjaro), are the treacherous ledges and sheer drops revealed. And by then, the element of choice has vanished with the night.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world