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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Romelu Lukaku
sportChelsea striker sends second teasing tweet of the day
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Sport
Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura sprays a line after calling for a free kick for Brazil
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz