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
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
newsTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone