Most of the time, there's nothing more delicious than your very own bed, made up just the way you like it. Sinking into its cozy depths at the end of a long day is one of life's small, regular pleasures. But every once in awhile, sleeping somewhere new and different is worth doing — for both the romance of falling asleep in another version of your own reality and the magic of waking up somewhere completely outside your everyday world.
Spending the night on the ground atop a mountain, on a bed made of ice, or rocking to-and-fro on a zooming train can also awaken powerful dreams, bring memories to the surface or otherwise change your perception, just a bit.
Under the stars in the Badlands: OK, yes, this is very specific, but there's a reason why — everyone I have spoken to who has done this will not shut up about what an incredible experience it is (including me). The Badlands of South Dakota are one of those places in the United States that feels like another planet, in the best way. I won't try to describe the incredible-yet-strange beauty of it, except to say that the memory of waking up there in the middle of the night and seeing the zillions of stars overhead lighting up the crazy landscape has stuck with me for nearly 20 years.
The Ice Hotel is gorgeous, ever-changing and comes complete with reindeer fur blankets. (Photo: bjaglin/flickr)
In the Ice Hotel: Every year since 1990, a hotel is built from the ice of the River Torne in Sweden. The hundred rooms — each different and conceived by an artist — are crafted every year in December and stand until April. Everything, from chairs, to sculptural art to glasses in the bar are made from ice. Yes, the beds too, which are covered with many layers of reindeer furs and topped with polar-rated sleeping bags. I'd opt for one of the incredible art suites, which change from year-to-year.
In a cave: Yunak Elveri in Turkey is a modern 5-star hotel with all the amenities (you weren't expecting to read that one after "cave" were you?). It's a combo of seven cave houses (with 40 private rooms) that date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, all connected by passageways. Located in the Cappadocia region of Turkey that's known for its outdoor adventures, this hotel is the perfect (luxe) jumping-off point.
Be like the Swiss Family Robinson for a night and sleep in a tree. (Photo: Spencer Wright/flickr)
In a treehouse: There are all kinds of treehouses to sleep in all over the world — just type "treehouses" into the advanced search bar on AirBnB and see what comes up! It's never been easier to sleep with the owls and birds.
Next to a campfire: Sleeping outside sans tent means you'll probably want to check the forecast beforehand, but other than that, this is one of the lowest-cost items on this list. All you need is a warm night and a campfire (or a good sleeping bag if it's cooler). Fall asleep to the sound of the crackling fire, and wake up to the sunrise.
It might not be your best night's sleep, but it will be different. (Photo: Steve Janosik/flickr)
On a train: The romance of a long train journey is still very much a thing to be experienced. I've slept overnight on Amtrak travelling between Portland and Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight, in a private Eurostar car from Amsterdam to Munich, and in a sleeping car on the Sunlander route of Rail Australia, which travels between Cairns and Brisbane. None of them was my best night of sleep, but everytime I loved it; asleep, but still feeling the rollicking motion of the train beneath you — always moving, even while you rest.
On the street: Thousands of people sleep on the street every day because they don't have a home or a bed to call their own. Trying it yourself, just once, will make you a more compassionate person. The Covenant House is just one of many organizations that organizes sleep-outs so the non-homeless can experience a bit of what it's like to live another life.
Outdoors in the winter: Also known as winter camping, sleeping outside during cold weather is a bit of a project. You'll need a serious sleeping bag, and preferably, some kind of shelter to retain heat — and ideally another human being to snuggle (I mean exchange heat) with. But it feels like a real adventure and waking up to a crisp winter morning in the middle of the woods while snug is your sleeping bag is unbeatable.
In the fanciest hotel you can afford: You could save up a pile of cash, set up an alert on a travel site like Kayak for super-low prices, or cash in frequent flier miles (they can often be used for things other than flying). But at least once, you should stay in a truly luxurious hotel to see what all the fuss is about. You might be surprised!
Next to the ocean: We can be flexible with this one, which can include sleeping directly on the beach, in a lean-to or hut, in a hostel or other inexpensive lodging next to the water, or even in a hotel that's located close to the surf. The idea is to sleep where you can hear the ocean waves all night long. It will absolutely change your dreams.
On a boat: It could be a cruise ship, if you're into comfort, or a rowboat if you're more of a fresh-water fan, but whatever kind of boat you opt for, sleeping on the water is a life experience not to be missed (or forgotten).
In a hammock: In plenty of societies, both modern and ancient, sleeping in a hammock is the norm. It keeps you off the ground, it's portable, and it's relaxing. If you're used to a bed, it will be an adjustment, but the free-yet-cozy aspect of a hammock's night sleep is definitely an experience.
Why did I pick 50 for the age to get to this list by? Well, it's kind of arbitrary, of course, but mostly because older people generally have a tougher time sleeping in uncomfortable or cold places. Also because I've slept in all of these places save for the ice hotel and the cave, and I'm only 37, so it seems like a doable list.
Where's the most unusual place you’ve ever slept?