Still, Napaway founder and CEO Dan Aronov argues that the long way is more efficient.
“The short pitch is, not all times are the same,” 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 wasting half the day getting to and from the airport, you could travel overnight and wake up in downtown Nashville. It’s like going red-eyed, but with the ability to sleep through a full night.
To test this theory, I reserved a $125 one-way ticket and tried the luxury bus. For comparison, my one-way flight home 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 10pm from a parking lot in DC’s NoMa neighborhood at 180 L St. NE – half an hour across town from my apartment. I boarded a Lyft at 9 p.m., wearing jeans with plenty of stretch, a soft t-shirt and sweatshirt, and arrived in plenty of time to grab a slice of pizza nearby.
It took some thought to choose an outfit for the trip. The other passengers would be accommodated in one of Napaway’s 18 private suites, and we were all there to sleep. However, we would get off the bus at 8am in central Nashville, and I wouldn’t be able to check into my Airbnb until 4pm, so I decided to do something in between.
A Napaway attendant helped me put my duffel bag under the eight-wheeler, which had tinted windows and a picture of a twinkling 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 ones are free if they’re one of your two checked items).
What’s not allowed: Children under the age of 8, dogs (other pets are welcome), guns, open containers of alcohol, illegal substances and any items that may distract other passengers on board, such as spicy food and loud electronics.
Then I got on like a normal long-distance bus. Aside from 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 up with a “butterfly” pillow, creating a 6.5 foot daybed with 48 inches of legroom and 40 inches of hip width. It came complete with crisp white sheets, a full pillow and a huge fluffy blanket. There was also a three-point harness for the sitting position and a two-point harness for the bed.
Aronov says it took years to work with 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 when she heard that a great friend of frequent flyers slept like a baby in business class on a luxury reclining seat (he’d never slept on an airplane before). If they could put reclining seats on planes, why not on coaches?
“It seems kind of trivial, but the key to good sleep is shallow,” he says. “Not kind of flat, not reclined, not sitting in a chair – actually lying down.”
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Before we took off, I made my bed and opened the Napaway amenity kit. It had a light-blocking eye mask, earplugs, a disposable toothbrush, toothpaste, and a damp facial tissue (a helpful touch after my greasy dinner).
Without fear of weather delays or lack of pilots, we set off at exactly 10 p.m. I pulled down my privacy screen like a home theater projector and snuggled into sheets that smelled like hotel fresh. As a 5-4 person it felt comfortable and spacious; Aronov says the maximum height to fully stretch out is 6-4, so taller people may need to bend their knees. I put on my headphones to listen to an audio book and did a condensed version of my nightly routine from bed.
Then, like that old Disney ad, I was too excited about the bus ride to sleep and felt dizzy like I was at a mobile slumber party. So I played around on my phone, read the Napaway FAQ and tested the internet speed – it’s fast enough to stream movies from your own device; there are no tvs or screens on board – and i’m starting to get a little dizzy, which unfortunately happens to me regularly. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep, which cured motion sickness.
In the middle of the night I was woken up a couple of times by road turbulence, but I was able to fall asleep again easily. I also woke up briefly when the bus made its two scheduled pit stops. Passengers can disembark to walk around or have coffee, but I stayed hidden in my little cocoon both times.
When we got the announcement that we were 15 minutes from our final destination, I really woke up. I pulled out a mirror to examine the damage; My face was a little puffy and my hair had become a mess during the night, but I didn’t mind. I felt the same excitement at the camp overnight and had slept deeply enough to have full blown dreams.
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At 8:00 a.m. sharp, 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 went out for the first time and woke up the moment she heard the last announcement.
I grabbed my bag and caught another passenger before she left. What brought her on the bus? Was it the claim that it was more environmentally friendly than taking the plane? Was she afraid of flying?
Because she commutes frequently between DC and Nashville for work, she said she’s always looking for cheaper alternatives to flying, especially after this unpredictable year for air travel. Since flights looked particularly expensive that weekend, a friend told her about Napaway. The trip went so well that she is now trying to rent the entire bus for future events.
Currently, Napaway operates on a limited schedule, departing DC on Friday evenings and returning from Nashville on Sunday evenings. Aronov says before the company expands to other cities, it will add more options to its current schedule. More Wednesday and Thursday options will be introduced in November, with plans to offer more trips around the bank holidays.
According to Aronov, while the US lags behind Japan and other European countries, the domestic market for luxury coach travel is growing, with companies like Vonlane, RedCoach and Jet already operating across the country. (Others like California’s Cabin and Boston’s LimoLiner went under before the pandemic.)
After my wonderful experience with Napaway, I hope more Americans jump on the trend.