When backpacking (or in any long-term travel), sometimes you will find yourself at an airport at night, with an early morning flight and no place to stay in town for the night. This may be due to a missed flight, or by plan, as many airports offer a free place to stay for a night (if you don’t mind not having your own room).
I’ve experienced a few nights spent in airports, both on purpose and due to a plane not arriving (who knows where it went), and though it’s not as good a rest as in a hotel or hostel, it really doesn’t have to be a bad night.
I would say that anyone backpacking should experience spending a night in an airport at least once, and it will be something you will probably talk about for a while.
With this experience, outlined below are some ‘rules’ for sleeping in airports that you should know before your trip. Above all, be safe and use common sense.
Rule 1. Sleep in groups if possible.
If you’re travelling alone, or even if you’re already with someone, it’s always better to have someone watching your back. At most airports, you’ll find others who are spending the night, and positioning yourself for the night close to people who look friendly, or you’ve had a chance to chat with can make for a safer night. Just making ‘quick friends’ with someone, even if they don’t speak your language, could make them more alert to someone trying to grab your luggage. Plus, for any thieves in the area, a group of 5 or 6 people are less of a target than a single person alone.
Rule 2. Search the airport before settling.
When you’re at the airport for the night, don’t just pick the first bench or seat, and don’t feel like you should set up where other travellers are right away, but rather take time to scout out the airport. You’ll never know what you will find in random areas of the airport. For example, when spending a night at the airport in Dublin, Ireland, we could have found a good bench, but decided to explore and found a lounge with somewhat comfy chairs on the second floor which made for a better napping area.
Many airports have lounges, and some exploring could find you a better sleep than a bench or the floor. Some of the best airport lounges are listed at http://www.sleepinginairports.net, with some airports having full lay-out lounge chairs
Rule 3. Strap backpacks to you.
As I said before, safety is important, and keeping your belongings is as well. Whether you’re in a group or traveling alone, you’ll want to keep your belongings close when you sleep in a public area. A backpack makes a great pillow (and is fairly safe under your head), but I normally go one step further and make sure the luggage is actually strapped to you. Either by a string, or using the attached straps, the bag should be secured to your person to make sure it isn’t taken while you sleep. There is nothing worse than waking up with your travel belongings gone.
Rule 4. Set alarms.
This is short and simple, but very important. Be sure to set alarms (multiple if possible) for you to wake up to. No one around you will wake you up for your flight as they will most likely not know where you are going. If you’re sleeping sound, you don’t want to sleep through a flight, so get those alarms set with ample time before your boarding time!
Rule 5. Plan for meals.
Not all airports have restaurants or food vendors open 24/7, so plan ahead for getting some food. Grab a couple bagels, sandwiches or pastries before the stalls close so that you’re fed and ready for an early flight. I’ve also heard of some airport food vendors being very generous to those staying in the airport at night by giving away some of their food that would go stale or spoil over night. Don’t count on this, but striking up a friendly conversation with a food vendor 5 minutes before they close could land you some extra grub.
Rule 6. Talk to Officials/Staff.
In the event of being stranded at an airport due to an unforeseen flight delay or cancellation (or a random airport workers strike – been there, done that), many airports have cots available for travellers. Find security officials, either at a help desk or a security person, and ask them about options. They may also know where lounges are, as well as possibly get you into ‘private lounges’ normally for first class passengers.
Rule 7. Have a backup plan.
Not all airports are open 24/7, and if you’re counting on staying there as security personnel head your way with the intent of closing for the night, have a backup plan. This may only be the name/address of a local hotel. Just plan ahead and if the airport closes, then make sure you’re not literally out on the streets for the night.
Have you had a noteworthy experience staying a night at an airport? Comment below and share your story or tips!