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

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
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

    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...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam