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HOW TO: Sleep in an Airport and Enjoy It

by Globetrooper Todd | 28 Responses
Sleeping in Airports

One of the byproducts of cheap flights is having to deal with awful departure, lay-over and arrival times. But that’s what travel hacking is all about: relinquishing luxury to make travel cost less and last longer.

Coming from faraway places like Australia, you can easily end up with 40+ hour flight itineraries. And chances are, somewhere in that 40 hours, you’ll have to spend the night in an airport. But all is not lost; many airports let you stay for free, and when they lock the front doors, you can really have a ball.

It may not seem so, but a 40 hour itinerary without a night in an airport is pure hell. It took us 43 hours to get from Sydney to Kilimanjaro International Airport in 2008. We spent both nights in the air, without a chance to lie flat in peace and quiet, which left a lot to be desired.

It’s Sleepover Time, 007 Style

It’s no secret that the cheapest flights are usually those stitched together from multiple airlines with multiple lay-overs. As you scroll down the list of potential cheap flights you begin a debate with yourself: “should I pay $50 more for 5 fewer hours in the air?” But keep in mind, a 40 flight spent mostly in the air is much more painful than a 45 hour flight that spends a night or two in an airport.

Sleeping in airports will seem a little strange. You’ll feel as if you’re contravening some law or rule as passengers leave and the cleaners roll in. It feels sneaky. It feels clandestine. It feels 007!

Woo Hoo, Sleeping Horizontal

Maybe it’s just me, but I need to be super-dooper tired to get a good sleep sitting up. I could just travel first class, but that’s not what travel hacking is about. Just remember, no pain, no gain. But less pain is good too.

Sleeping in Airports

Tent designed for camping out anywhere - Not too sure about that

In an airport, you have about a gazillion acres of floorspace to setup camp for the night. I prefer to find a spot near a power outlet, so I can keep the MacBook charged while watching a movie or getting work done. Also, try to keep clear of high-traffic areas so the early birds don’t wake you in the morning.

Sleep? Sleep is for the Weak!

In many airports, when they lock the doors, you generally have the place to yourself. Sometimes you’ll see security guards, but most of the time it’s just pure emptiness. So rather than sleeping in airports, some people like to explore them.

If you’re the exploring type, then get moving. Most airports are huge and they make it easy to take a stroll, bump into cleaning staff, look out the windows, etc. Try not to get up to too much mischief though, because countries are especially sensitive around airports these days, and airport officials generally won’t hesitate to detain you.

If you’re not the exploring type, never fear. Most airports have decent wireless Internet connectivity. So you can surf the web, get some work done, write a few blog posts, and get in touch with people on the other side of the globe.

Fancy Seeing You Here

Where in the world would you find the greatest concentration of travel hackers and global nomads? In airports at night of course. Who else would choose the hard floors, locked doors, and blinding fluorescent lights? As an intrepid traveller, you’re probably more likely to build lasting friendships here than anywhere else.

In 2004, Lauren and I spent the night in Geneva Airport. As soon as security locked the doors and dimmed the lights (don’t expect this kind gesture anywhere else), the travel hackers all came out of hiding. Next thing you know, there was a crowd watching a movie in one corner, a group playing in-car video games in another corner, and an American football being thrown the length of the gate at the other end. We had a blast that night.

Best and Worst Airports to Sleep In

Clearly, our best experience was a night in Geneva Airport. More recently though, we stayed the night in JFK New York. For a place that apparently never sleeps, well, it was dead asleep. Plus the cleaners weren’t very friendly and they were banging vacuum cleaners next to our heads for what seemed an eternity.

But don’t take my word for it, check out this great resource where people from all over the world share their experiences sleeping in airports.

Posted in How-To Guides, Travel Hacking | September 4th, 2010

28 Responses to HOW TO: Sleep in an Airport and Enjoy It

  1. Thank god for wi-fi at airports.. I remember in Iceland I had a pretty long layover and they closed the airport! They kicked me out! So I had to wait in those uncomfortable seats that were made for preschoolers for 9 hours! lol

    • I wonder if many other airports don’t let you stay. I guess we’ll find out soon enough :) Reminds me of Egypt. We sat for 8 hours outside of customs while you guys with machine guns stared at us and while mosquitos swarmed us. Fun.

  2. Sheremetyevo International Airport, Moscow is , in my opinion, awful having being stranded there several times and experienced the full onslaught of Russian customer service.
    1 million security checks, and just for transit cusotmers, with depressed faces adds to this remarkable experience. And…Over dressed, tarty security staff, grim pubesant pale faced staff, over weight smoking scruffy airport security and the heavy stench of sickly perfume from the hoards of beauty and perfume shops. Liveless food, urine coated toilets, and constant plugging of Russian vodka on large flat screen TV’s.
    It can’t be avoided. I have to plough straight through it again next year. You have to hand it to the Russians, they encourage you to get to your destination and not get to comfortable!
    Ripley

    • I can only imagine having to sleep there. We haven’t been there yet, but from your description, it sounds like a lovely place. Sounds a little like Abu Dhabi airport in some ways: gaudy and disorganized.

  3. Hey Todd. I think you’ll both be lucky coming from down under. If you’re coming from Europe or the Eastern US, then you may be out of luck!
    Ripley

  4. Some airports even have sleeping lounges or areas with nearly horizontal “chairs” you can sleep in. We were in Singapore for an overnight but didn’t snag a lounge quickly enough so it was on to the floor to try and sleep.

    Actually, I slept pretty well. Until my wife’s death grip on my ankle and insistent voice, “Michael, Michael, wake up!” roused me. The first thing my sleep blurred eyes focused on was the barrel of an AK47.

    It was dangling from the hip of an airport security guard. He wanted to see my passport. My wife really wanted me to show him my passport as everyone in our group had already undergone a review. Fortunately I managed to wake up and come to my senses.

    • Sounds great Michael (the chairs, not AK47). I haven’t had the luck to find such luxury in an airport yet. It’s funny you mention the AK though. In Australia, you don’t really see guns anywhere. Then you turn up in Africa or similar, and big machine guns are pointed at you like it’s the latest fashion. One of many cultural lessons from the road.

  5. Nice tent, for the backyard………………..(laughing here). Maybe I’m weird, but I can’t imagine setting up a tent in airport. Each to his own :)

    • I agree :) That picture is from a company that specifically makes tents for those situations. I’m not sure what you would need the tent for. Mosquitos? Bears? hehe

  6. Awesome post Todd, love the story about the footy in Geneva!
    Can totally understand where you’re coming from, having slept in Singapore and Amsterdam airports in the last year and a bit. I remember pulling 3 cushiony seats out of a cafe in Singapore and piecing myself together a makeshift bed for the night, that was until 5:30am when the people in the cafe came in to start work, haha.

    • Great to hear from you Justin. Have heard good things about sleeping over in Singapore too. Can’t wait to visit Amsterdam either.

  7. i just love sleeping in airports, which i tend to do often in the Canadian Arctic( Nunavut) where winters are a nightmare for planes in small communities. I find that very interesting and i get to meet and talk with many Inuit who are blocked also.

    • Wow, I’d love to head up to the Canadian Arctic one day. When we were in Montreal, people spoke as if there was nothing North of there. We were tempted to do a road trip and see how far we could get. I realise Nunavut is more West, but it still must be quite magical up there being so far away.

  8. I’ve stayed the night at Frankfurt airport once with the whole family as our flight was cancelled and our visa for Germany expired on that day. They provided us with hotels, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed out of the airport due to our expired visa and so we had to stay in the airport. They gave us free food coupons which was very kind of them.

    The airport was cold and cleaners were so noisy but we had to find a comfortable way to sleep there for the night. My brother and father were quite content with the seats but my mother, sister and I weren’t. We found a prayer room and slept in there as it was a lot warmer. Despite this though, our night was very uncomfortable.

    Anyhow, the next day we were allowed access to the Malaysian Airlines Gold Lounge and were treated with a hot shower and a breakfast buffet.
    I honestly felt like Viktor Navorski in The Terminal, but probably not that bad.

    • If you’re not prepared for it and it’s cold, I imagine it wouldn’t be fun. We spent more than 8 hours in Cairo and although it wasn’t cold, the mosquitos drove us crazy. Plus we felt a little uneasy when we opened our eyes and found someone standing right in front of us just staring. Must be more difficult with a family too.

  9. I’m definitely an explorer. I find it impossible to sleep in public places, and a lot of the stories told in these comments explain why (AK47′s, weird creepers staring, cleaning staff vacuuming by your head… not for me.)

  10. My daughter’s water bottle was drugged while she was sleeping in the Madrid airport. It took her awhile to figure it out & fortunately she’d only taken a few sips of the water. Great feeling of leaden legs, unable to speak, dizzy… all the signs of the date rape drug. So watch your water bottles folks. Don’t let them out of your sight.

    • Hey Leigh, wow, what a story. Don’t even want to imagine what the plan was. I would have been in real trouble since I’m more of a “guzzler” than a “sipper”.

  11. Many moons ago (pre September 11), I slept in LA airport. A great security guy was so concerned that I was alone that he showed me a “safe” place to sleep and patrolled past all night. More recently and less exotic, I slept in Brisbane Airport. I was very glad to have my yoga mat with me.

    • A imagine a yoga mat would be perfect to insulate the cold tiles. Shame they’re so big when rolled up :)

  12. Sounds doable when you’re young person but when if your an old gentleman or a lady it’s not the most comfortable experience. I remember when my mother and I were going home after a week long stay at our relatives in the USA. She barely endured the sleeping on the floor. So not wanting to do that again she in the space of 36 hours. In London we checked in a Gatwick hotels before boarding our flight the next morning

    • Very true Smiley, I see your point. I think it’s only fun if there’s Internet acces or other people to meet and chat with.

  13. the kenyan airport has a basement makeshift lodge almost. Its like a smaller version of a train compartment and you can buy a berth for a few hours. Omg ! after bouncing around west, north and east africa it was pure heaven. It even had a goddam sliding door. I was almost tempted to hang pictures and pay rent and call it home. awww….

    • hehe Love it, ‘hang pictures and pay rent.’

      Can’t wait to return to Africa. They’ll have sort their WiFi speed out first.

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  16. Unfortunately I did not have enough time for giving it a try, but at Munich airport there are sleeping cabins, which can be used by anyone. They seemed comfortable and clean. Of course you would have to pay, but it’s even better than sleeping on the floor …

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