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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Don’t like flying? We tried a sleepover bus from D.C. to Nashville.

Aboard the Napaway, passengers take an overnight trip with bus seats that turn into lie-flat beds

The Napaway bus has 18 private suites equipped with privacy curtains, lie-flat beds and plush bedding. (Natalie Compton/The Washington Post)
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Taking an 11-hour bus instead of a two-hour flight might not sound like an ideal transportation swap, but Napaway, a premium sleeper motor coach service, could change your mind.

I was skeptical before departing on the 600-plus-mile overnight journey from Washington, D.C., to Nashville. Unlike the Jet bus, which takes about the same time to get from D.C. to New York as driving or flying would, Napaway requires a much longer trip — even though you don’t have to jump through as many hoops as you would at airport security.

Still, Napaway founder and CEO Dan Aronov argues that the long way is more efficient.

“The quick pitch is: Not all time is created equal,” Aronov told me. “Awake time isn’t the same as asleep time. Comfortable time isn’t the same as uncomfortable time. Stress time isn’t the same as relaxing time.”

Instead of sucking up half your day getting to and from airports, you could travel overnight and wake up in downtown Nashville. It’s like taking a redeye, but with the ability to have a full night’s rest.

To test that theory, I reserved a $125 one-way ticket and tried out the luxury bus. My one-way flight home, for comparison, was $244.60; the route can often be cheaper, but it was a holiday weekend.

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The boarding process

The bus was scheduled to leave at 10 p.m. from a parking lot in D.C.’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 jeans with a lot of stretch, a soft T-shirt and sweatshirt, and arrived with enough time to grab a slice of pizza nearby.

It took some deliberating to choose an outfit for the trip. The other passengers would be tucked away in one of Napaway’s 18 private suites, and we were all there to sleep. However, we’d be stepping off the bus in the center of Nashville at 8 a.m., and I wouldn’t be able to check into my Airbnb until 4 p.m. Instead of going pajama mode, or dressing up 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 an image of a twinkling constellation across the side. Passengers can store two pieces of luggage below free of charge, and you can bring more for $25 per bag. There are no weight restrictions, and even big items such as unfolded bicycles are allowed for $25. (Folded ones are free if they’re one of your two checked items.)

What’s not allowed: children under 8, dogs (other pets are welcome, though), weapons, open alcohol containers, illegal substances and any items that may distract other passengers on board, such as pungent food and loud electronics.

Then I boarded like I would on 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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The lie-flat bus beds

My suite had two seats that fold down and top with a “butterfly” cushion, creating a 6.5-foot lie-flat bed with 48 inches of legroom and 40 inches of hip width. It came complete with crisp white bedsheets, 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 the company Butterfly Flexible Seating Solutions to develop the suites, each of which has more than 13 feet of usable space and a pull-down privacy screen. The executive was inspired after hearing that a tall frequent-flier friend slept like a baby on a luxurious lie-flat seat in business class. (He’d never been able to sleep on a plane before.) If they could put lie-flat seats on planes, why not put them in motor coaches?

“It seems kind of trivial, but the key to good sleep is being flat,” he says. “Not sort of flat, not reclined, not sitting in an armchair — actually laying down.”

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The overnight journey

Before we took off, I made my bed and opened the Napaway amenity kit. It had a light-blocking eye mask, ear plugs, a disposable toothbrush, toothpaste and a moist makeup-removing towelette (a helpful touch after my greasy dinner).

With no weather delays or pilot shortages to fear, we left right at 10 p.m. I pulled down my privacy screen like a home movie projector and snuggled into sheets that smelled hotel-fresh. As a 5-4 person, it felt comfortable and roomy; Aronov says the max height for fully stretching out 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 the bed.

Then, like that old Disney commercial, I was too excited about the bus ride to sleep, feeling giddy like I was at a mobile slumber party. So I played around on my phone, reading the Napaway FAQ, testing the internet speed — it’s fast enough to stream movies from your own device; there aren’t any TVs or screens on board — and starting to get a little carsick, unfortunately a regular occurrence for me. It didn’t take long to fall asleep then, which cured the carsickness.

In the middle of the night, road turbulence woke me a few times, but it was easy to fall back asleep. I also woke up briefly when the bus made its two scheduled stops. Passengers can get out to walk around or grab coffee, but I stayed tucked in my little cocoon both times.

When we got the announcement that we were 15 minutes from our final destination, I woke up for real. I pulled out a mirror to examine the damage; my face was a little puffy and my hair had become chaotic in the night, but I didn’t mind. I felt that same sleepover camp excitement and had slept deeply enough to have full-fledged dreams.

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The takeaway

At 8 a.m. on the dot, Napaway parked in downtown Nashville at 421 Rep. John Lewis Way North. A woman behind me commented that she fell asleep the moment the bus lights first turned off and woke up the minute she heard the last announcement.

I grabbed my bag and caught another passenger before she left. What got her on the bus? Was it the claim that it’s more environmentally friendly than taking a plane? Was she afraid of flying?

Because she often goes between D.C. and Nashville for work, she said, she’s always looking for cheaper alternatives to flying, particularly after this unpredictable year for air travel. With flights that weekend looking particularly pricey, a friend told her about Napaway. The trip went so well that she’s now trying to see if she can rent the entire bus for future events.

For now, Napaway only runs on a limited schedule, leaving from D.C. on Friday nights and returning from Nashville on Sunday evenings. 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 it plans on offering more trips around the holidays.

Although the United States is lagging behind Japan and some countries in Europe, Aronov says the domestic market for luxury bus travel is expanding, with companies such as Vonlane, RedCoach and the Jet already operating across the country. (Others, such as Cabin from California and LimoLiner from Boston, went under before the pandemic.)

After my delightful experience on Napaway, I hope more Americans get on board the trend.