From cement bag filled storage sheds in the pouring rain, to rooftops in war-torn countries, I’ve slept in some very unusual places over the past few years. Travel gives the opportunity to explore new cultures, broaden the mind, and get away from the routine of daily ‘normal’ life. It also gives you the chance to sleep in many of these weird and wonderful places. Some have been comfortable; some have been an absolute nightmare. But all share the same result – a hell of a memorable sleep. These are a few of my favourites:
Electrical shed, Florence, Oregon, USA
The Pacific Northwest in springtime is known as the wettest place in North America. A cycle trip from Canada to Mexico beginning in April gave me the chance to test the limits of my waterproof gear, but sometimes getting out of the rain by any means necessary was the order of the day. During one particularly bad downpour, somewhere near Florence, Oregon, a sign quoting $22 to pitch a tent in a deserted, drenched camp site culminated in this wondrous place to get some rest.
Rather than fork out $66 for our three already soaked tents, these three beleaguered travellers had a better idea – wait until dark and make a mad dash for an old shed in the undergrowth close by. Upon entry of said shed we were greeted with the buzzing of an electrical fuse box, and a stack of dusty cement bags. Too wet and tired to care, we put down a tarp on the floor, brewed some tea, and got some well-earned rest. At first light we completed a mad dash back to the highway in reverse, before continuing our hobo lifestyle – cooking eggs for breakfast in a bus shelter further down the road.
Disused restaurant, Esenyurt, Turkey
Amid a cross-continental hitchhiking trip, my travel partner and I found ourselves in the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Having spent a few days in the middle of the city, we ventured west, to surprise a couple of friends who were living “in a park” in the distant suburb of Esenyurt. When we arrived, it turns out our friends – a Kurdish artist couple from northern Syria – were living in the basement of a disused restaurant, in the centre of the park.
The restaurant, which had been closed for some months, was now used for storage for the other cafes in the vicinity, as well as hosting the occasional wedding. Our friends had been put up by the owner, and now they looked after the place for him. A space between two rows of stacked tables on the restaurant floor became our bedroom for a week, and we were given use of the huge restaurant kitchen in which to cook our meals.
“Neverland” tree fort, California, USA
Having successfully cycled the length of Washington and Oregon states, my two cycle companions and I entered the Sunshine State – California. Having passed through Crescent City mid-afternoon, we set about finding ourselves a suitable sleeping spot, before conquering the famed Redwood Forest the following day. As Highway 101 blazed a trail toward the forest, we decided to veer off to a side road, in search of peace and tranquility. At the side of the lane a few hundred metres down was a group of huge trees.
There was an intriguing looking gap between the thorns leading into the cluster, so we went to explore. Inside, we found the enormous trees formed a natural shelter, the 30 foot canopy making for a fantastically grand hallway, a small stream running through the middle, and soft, level earth in which to pitch our tents.
We dubbed this paradise “Neverland”, and set up camp. The trees provided the opportunity to climb high up into the canopy to get a commanding view of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean a couple of hundred metres beyond. We cooked dinner and basked in the sanctuary we’d discovered, feeling rejuvenated to cycle on through the hills of the Redwoods once morning had broken.
The top floor of a café, Yerevan, Armenia
Our Couchsurfing host was heading out of town, so we were unable to stay at his apartment in Yerevan for more than a few days. We’d had no luck in finding any other places to sleep, until a friend who worked at a local pay-as-you-go café in the city, heard of our plight. He called us, and told us that he was sleeping at the café for the night, and we were welcome to join him. We took him up on the offer, bought some wine, and went to the café that evening.
The café owners, whose concept was that everything is free. greeted us warmly, and told us that we were most welcome to stay as long as we needed, and that the top floor was extremely comfortable. We spent an evening with good friends, laughed a lot, and consumed copious amounts of wine, before passing out on a pile of bean bags in the café mezzanine.
Half-built Gas Station, rural Georgia
The truck driver we were riding with dropped us off a few miles north of the Georgian-Turkish border as he was stopping there for the night. It was December, two in the morning, and temperatures were well into the negatives. It had been a long day of hitchhiking across Turkey, and we needed to rest. Walking down the road with our backpacks, looking for a suitable spot to camp, we came across some workmen hanging around drinking vodka outside a half-constructed building.
It turned out that this was going to be a gas station, but right now it was just an empty shell. We were invited to take a patch of bare concrete inside the building, where we pitched our tent and got some much-needed sleep. We awoke to the beauty of the Georgian countryside in the morning, ready to hitchhike onward, into the mountains of the south Caucasus.
Cow field, Poti, Georgia
Once again it was Georgia that played host to another random night of post-hitchhike camping. A likely looking field with saplings and bushes, but precious little else, begged us four hitchhikers to pitch our tents there after our driver had dropped us off in the middle of the night. Looking around, the only building was an old Georgian house a half mile away. Nothing else: a great, secluded spot. Tents pitched, we passed out.
Not too long after, I was rudely awoken as dawn broke by noises and a looming shadow outside the tent. Slowly, I unzipped the door to find two dark eyes stared back at me. I was face-to-face with a huge cow, curious to know what this big green contraption was in the middle of his grazing patch. Morning had arrived, as had our welcoming party of cows. We packed up, and walked back to the highway with a backdrop of the most glorious rich blue sky of morning before continuing our hitchhiking trip.
Inner city beach, La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
An entire afternoon had just been spent sitting underneath a stack of steel girders in the back of a pick-up truck as it sped through the sun drenched desert of southern Baja, Mexico. My travel partner – who I’d met randomly on a rollercoaster in San Diego a few days previous – and I had no money for a hostel. But we did have camping gear. When we were dropped off on the waterside at midnight in the city of La Paz, we made straight for the beach.
Shunning the idea of sleeping under the cover of some up-turned rowing boats, we pitched our tent in the darkness at the edge of the beach, next to a pier. In the morning, as we packed up our tent, the local police spotted us and came over to ask, with much laughter, what two gringos were doing camping on a beach. Gringos stayed in hotels, after all. It turned out, the beach was on the main promenade through the city, and in the light of day, our bright green tent was rather conspicuous. Perhaps the upturned boats would have been a better bet.
Fire engine barn/workshop, California
During a trip down the US Pacific Coast, my brother and I found ourselves on the road in northern California with the phone number of a local farmer, who had offered us a place to stay for the night. A roof over our heads, and the possibility of a shower, sounded good. We arrived that afternoon at the address to find the gates of the expansive front garden wide open. We entered, and knocked on the front door, which was also wide open. No answer.
An hour passed as we waited for our kind host, who eventually arrived and showed us to our sleeping quarters: the barn. A few minutes later, we’d set up camp in the wood shop of the farms huge barn, which we also shared with the local community fire engine. After a few days of camping and showering in rivers it was nice to have a roof over our heads, but the layer of saw dust on everything we owned in the morning wasn’t quite so ideal.
River crossing camp site, Areni, Armenia
The nature of southern Armenia is something worth writing home about. Endless mountains, river valleys, deep gorges, and grape vines everywhere. It was just south of the famed wine producing village of Areni, that we found a near perfect camp site. The only problem – there was a wide river between us, and the un-spoilt, perfect patch of land beyond.
The river ran alongside the road we had been traveling along with two huge cliffs flanking it on either side. I could imagine traveling through this bottleneck in medieval times, being preyed on by bandits up in the cliffs. But today, the river was our adversary. Opposite the water, was a tree lined area of natural grasses, sand, bushes, and tranquility. As there were no bridges nearby, crossing through the river was our only option.
Almost an hour was spent wading back and forth across the slow moving waters, gradually ferrying our belongings to our new home. The effort exerted was more than worthwhile, with a spectacularly idyllic camping spot, secluded from all passersby, with the soundtrack of the babbling brook just beyond. The best part, it was only 6pm, so we had ample time to drink the bottle of Areni wine we’d bought, and watch the sun gradually make its way up the cliff face opposite, before the sunlight finally receded, and we caught some sleep.
Rooftop balcony, Damascus, Syria
Sleeping on a rooftop in the Middle East is something I’ve become fairly accustomed to over the past few years, but I never thought I’d be doing it in wartime Syria, in the capital, Damascus. During the day, the government-held district of Jeramana, where I was staying at a friends’ apartment was all quiet. But at night, the shelling started.
From Jeramana, from under the mosquito net in plus-40 degree heat, I’d watch as the fiery sight of hot artillery shells arced across the night sky. Every once in a while we’d also be privy to machine gun tracer fire, shot into the rebel-held neighbourhood opposite. Needless to say, the noise was deafening, and sleep was in short supply.
“Dry Wood Cottage”, rural Oregon
After spending the night in the comfort of a hostel in Astoria, Oregon, during a bicycle trip through the USA, my three cycle companions and I decided to stop in a café, before cycling onward toward Portland. As we sat inside the warm sanctuary of the coffee shop, the Pacific Northwest then decided to treat us to a monsoon of biblical proportions, with no sign of it abating. Eventually, we decided it would be hilarious to cycle onward in these conditions regardless. Strapping shopping bags to our feet, we set off, undeterred, into the rain, to the hilarity of the café staff.
By the time we’d reached the city limits, we were thoroughly drenched, and the shopping bags were filling with water. Sheltering in the forecourt of a gas station a couple of hours later, a local stopped his pickup truck to ask us if we were looking for a place to camp. Indeed, we answered. Follow me, he replied, he knew an ideal spot. A few minutes later we’d been shown into the middle of a thick, moss covered forest half way up a logging trail. Not really what I’d call the ideal camping location, especially in the pouring rain.
Fortunately, two of my cycling companions were experienced outdoorsmen. Whilst I strapped tarps to the trees to create some shelter, our outdoorsmen friends went off, knowing which logs to pick from the rain soaked forest which would still be dry. Our pickup driving friend reappeared soon after with a gift of eggs, and homemade jam, and within a couple of hours we’d created a home – a roaring fire, tortellini and French toast cooked upon hot rocks in the blaze. But most importantly: we had warmth and dryness.
We put on some music, danced around the fire, ate heartily, and marveled at the civilization we’d created out of the wilderness. In the morning, our clothes – which we’d hung on a line made from bungee cords over the fire – were dry, if a little smoky, and we were ready to conquer the road between us and Portland.
Cactus camping, the Baja desert, Mexico
A couple of weeks after camping on the beach in the southern city of La Paz, my travel buddy and I were hitchhiking back north, with the aim of making it home to Vancouver in time for Canada Day. Unfortunately, the truck we were traveling in broke down late one afternoon. We were in the middle of the Baja desert, and the day was drawing to a close. We decided we’d call it a night, and so looked for a place to camp. A hundred metres from the highway, we found a clearing between two gargantuan cactus plants, and set up our tents.
As the sun went down, we watched the stars come out in full force, and the full moon threw beautiful shadows over our camping spot from the imposing figures of the surrounding cacti. In the morning, a mechanic had appeared and fixed the problem with the huge juggernaut we were traveling in, and we got on our way.
Roof top camping, Beirut, Lebanon
I spent a few months staying in the Armenian neighbourhood of Borj Hammoud, in Beirut, Lebanon. The apartment was packed, with a large extended family from Lebanon and Syria staying there – a total of eleven people, two dogs, a parrot, and five turtles shared a two bedroom place. As a result, I took matters into my own hands: the rooftop became my home. Sharing it with an untold quantity of pigeons, I’d camp every night on the flat roof, being awoken every morning to the light of dawn.
The old lady living opposite would always stare in disbelief at the strange foreign guy on the roof, emerging every morning from a large fabric contraption, and then staggering down the stairs to join the rest of the family.
About the Author
Ben Allen is a freelance writer from Northamptonshire, England. In 2008 he relocated to Vancouver, Canada, after wanting to make a change in his life. Not happy being in one place, Ben has just been on the road undertaking a hitchhiking trip around the Middle East. Now he’s returned to North America where he’s thinking about the next step. You can follow him on Twitter @ballenuk and read more about his adventures at www.benallen.ca.