Afraid to fly? Try the Napaway sleepover bus from DC to Nashville.
Still, Napaway founder and CEO Dan Aronov argues that the long way is more efficient.
“The quick pitch is this: Not all times are created equal,” Aronov told me. “Wake time is not the same as sleep time; comfortable time is not the same as uncomfortable time; stress time is not the same as relaxation time.
Instead of spending half your day traveling to and from airports, you could travel at night and wake up in downtown Nashville. It’s like taking a red eye, but with the possibility of having a full night’s rest.
To test this theory, I booked a $125 one-way ticket and tried the deluxe bus. My one-way return flight, for comparison, was $244.60; the route can often be cheaper, but it was a holiday weekend.
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The bus was scheduled to leave at 10 p.m. from a parking lot in DC’s NoMa neighborhood at 180 L St. NE — a half-hour across town from my apartment. I got into a Lyft at 9 p.m. dressed in super-stretch jeans, a soft t-shirt, and a sweatshirt, and arrived with plenty of time to grab a slice of pizza nearby.
It took some deliberation to choose an outfit for the trip. The other passengers would be hidden away in one of Napaway’s 18 private suites, and we were all there to sleep. However, we would be getting off the bus in downtown Nashville at 8am and I wouldn’t be able to check into my Airbnb until 4pm. Instead of going into pajama mode or dressing like some travelers I know, I settled on something in between.
A Napaway attendant helped me put my duffel bag under the eight-wheeler with tinted windows and a picture of a glittering constellation on the side. Passengers can store two bags below for free, and you can bring more for $25 per bag. There are no weight restrictions, and even large items like unfolded bikes are allowed for $25 (folded bikes are free if they are one of your two checked items).
What is not allowed: children under 8 years old, dogs (other pets are welcome, however), weapons, open containers of alcohol, illegal substances and any object likely to distract children. other passengers on board, such as hot food and loud electronic devices.
Then I boarded like a standard long-distance bus. Except for the tiny bathrooms, that’s about where the similarities between Napaway and Greyhound ended.
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My suite had two seats that fold down and top with a “butterfly” cushion, creating a 6.5 foot extended bed with 48 inches of leg room and 40 inches of hip width. It came with crisp white sheets, a full pillow and a huge fluffy blanket. There was also a three-point seat belt for the chair position and a two-point belt for the bed.
Aronov says it took years of working with company Butterfly Flexible Seating Solutions to develop the suites, each with over 13 feet of usable space and a flip-up privacy screen. The executive was inspired after hearing that a great frequent flyer friend slept like a baby on a luxury business class sleeper seat (he had never been able to sleep on a plane before). If they could put reclining seats on airplanes, why not put them on coaches?
“It sounds a bit trivial, but the key to good sleep is being flat,” he says. “Not sort of flat, not reclined, not sitting in an armchair – actually lying down.”
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Before taking off, I made my bed and opened the Napaway toiletry bag. There was a light-blocking eye mask, earplugs, a disposable toothbrush, toothpaste, and a wet makeup remover wipe (a useful touch after my greasy dinner).
With no weather delays or pilot shortages to worry about, we left at 10 p.m. I lowered my privacy screen like a home theater projector and snuggled up in hotel-smelling sheets. As a 5-4 person it felt comfortable and spacious; Aronov says the maximum height to fully stretch is 6-4, so taller people may have to bend their knees. I put on my headphones to listen to an audiobook and did a truncated version of my nightly routine from bed.
Then, like that old Disney ad, I was too excited for the bus ride to sleep, feeling giddy like I was at a mobile sleepover. So I’ve been playing on my phone, reading the Napaway FAQ, testing the internet speed – it’s fast enough to stream movies from your own device; there are no televisions or screens on board – and is starting to get a little car sickness, unfortunately a regular occurrence for me. It didn’t take long to fall asleep which cured car sickness.
In the middle of the night, road turbulence woke me up a few times, but it was easy to get back to sleep. I also woke up briefly when the bus made its two scheduled pit stops. Passengers can go out for a walk or have a coffee, but I stayed snuggled up in my little cocoon both times.
When we received the announcement that we were 15 minutes from our final destination, I woke up for real. I took out a mirror to examine the damage; my face was a bit swollen and my hair had gotten messy overnight, but I didn’t mind. I felt the same night camp excitement and had slept soundly enough to have full-fledged dreams.
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At 8 a.m. sharp, Napaway parked in downtown Nashville at 421 Rep. John Lewis Way North. A woman behind me said she had fallen asleep the moment the bus lights first went out and woke up the minute she heard the last announcement.
I grabbed my bag and grabbed another passenger before he left. What brought her to the bus? Was it the claim that it was greener than flying? Was she afraid to fly?
Because she often commutes between DC and Nashville for work, she said she is always looking for cheaper alternatives to flying, especially after this unpredictable year for air travel. With this weekend’s flights looking particularly expensive, a friend told him about Napaway. The trip went so well that she is now trying to see if she can hire the whole bus for future events.
For now, Napaway is only operating on a limited schedule, departing DC on Friday nights and returning from Nashville on Sunday nights. Aronov says that before the company expands to other cities, it will add more options to its current schedule. In November, it will launch more options for Wednesdays and Thursdays and plans to offer more trips during the holidays.
While the United States lags behind Japan and other countries in Europe, Aronov says the domestic market for luxury bus travel is expanding, with companies like Vonlane, RedCoach and the Jet is already operating across the country. (others like Cabin from California and LimoLiner of Boston sank before the pandemic).
After my delicious experience on Napaway, I hope more Americans will follow the trend.