The Ultimate Airport Survival Guide. Oh, Snap!

Airports are often a traveler’s biggest nightmare: Long queues, rude people, screenings, overpriced items, more screenings, uncomfortable seats, boredom and yes, even more screenings.

If you ask me, I prefer train terminals or bus stations since the process is much easier and you only need to be there a few minutes before departure.  Airports? They often require you to be 2 to 3 hours before departure for international flights and 1 hour for domestic flights.

To make matter worse, some flights (especially the cheapest ones) have ungodly departure times that require you to stay overnight at the airport. Here’s a guide about how to survive long layovers and my best tips to sleep at the airport like a champion. Are you ready?

The Ultimate Airport Survival Guide #01: Check and double check viable alternatives

Most major cities have a 24 hour system of buses, trains and shuttles that can get you from the city center to the airport so there are times when you don’t really need to spend the night there. Make sure to investigate and always double-check. Most hotels and hostels are actually very flexible in that sense and will allow you to stay in the common area even past midnight.

However, this isn’t the case in small cities where the only option is to either take the last public transportation and then kill time at the airport or to take an expensive taxi once the time arrives. Buy hey, before making the choice of sleeping at the airport there is something very important that you need to verify first…is the airport going to be open?

The Ultimate Airport Survival Guide #02: Make sure the airport is actually going to be open

Airports (as well as train terminals and bus stations) are not often ruled by common sense and you shouldn’t be surprised to find out that sometimes they actually close-off during the hours between the last and first departures of the day. Can you imagine arriving at 1 am in the morning only to find out that the airport is closed and you’ll have to wait outside the gates for it to open hours later?

One of the best ways to make sure if your airport is going to be open is to check this website called Sleeping in Airports which contains all the details about all the airports in the world including how good (or bad) the sleeping facilities are as well as information about wi-fi and electricity plugs. And talking about electricity plugs…

The Ultimate Airport Survival Guide #03: Arrive as early as possible and stock up

Last month I made the mistake of waiting until the last possible minute to arrive to the Rome Fiumicino Airport for my upcoming flight to Athens, Greece. Of course, once I arrived it was impossible to find a place to sit down since everyone and their pets claimed three seats to themselves so they could lay down.

Finding an electricity plug? Trust me, finding a diamond ring is easier than finding an electricity plug at the airport at night since that’s the number one spot for all travelers to claim. The sleeping at airport’s culture is so interesting that I swear that entire books could be written about all the…unique characters you will meet, pickpockets included and that’s why the next point is a very important one.

The Ultimate Airport Survival Guide #04: Sleep with one eye open… No, not literally!

International Airports are often targeted by pickpockets who take advantage of the naivete of travelers at night and rob them of their valuables. My best advice? Use your hand luggage as a pillow and place your feet on top of your backpack/suitcase/dufflebag. That way, you will be alarmed when someone tries to snatch it away from you.

Of course, some airports actually ask people to present their ticket (or at least their e-ticket) at night before being allowed inside the terminal but remember: Pickpockets come from all social classes and nationalities. Just because everyone else around you is a traveler means that you’re 100% safe. And speaking about safety and comfort, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with spending a little bit of money to get some peace of mind.

The Ultimate Airport Survival Guide #05: If everything else fails…just book an airport hotel and relax

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to cut your loses and just pay money to sleep in a hotel right next to the airport. In fact, this is what I do during long layovers since it’s just not practical to go all the way to the city center and back to the airport within 20 hours, especially in big hubs such as Paris Charles de Gaulle or London Heathrow.

Also, make sure to check if you’re eligible to be part of your airline’s business lounge where you can be as comfy as home with many perks such as unlimited coffee and pillows.

Have you ever had to sleep at an airport? How was your experience? Share your thoughts and let me know about your craziest airport stories!

Disclaimer: This article was brought to you in collaboration with Holiday Inn London Heathrow and the Crowne Plaza London Heathrow , if you are thinking about sleeping at London Heathrow airport, be sure to check them out since they offer competitive prices and you’ll have access to facilities where you can relax during long layovers. Pretty neat, uh?

5 Travel Tips for Surviving Airports

Pin to Pinterest?

21 Responses

  1. Hannah Logan

    Personally I love airports- they make me excited and it makes the trip (finally) become real. I definitely prefer big ones with things to keep me busy though- nearly died of boredom in Newark NJ last year when our flight was delayed several hours

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      I really love big airports since there’s always more space for people who decide to spend the night there. Next week I’ll be sleeping at the Skopje airport so I hope I can survive the experience!

  2. megan_claire

    Fantastic advice – especially #2. We rocked up 2 hours early for a 7am flight to find the airport was closed. *facepalm*!!

  3. Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren

    This is great advice for some things that I bet people don’t even think of half the time! I tend to really enjoy airports on my way to a trip, and really hate them going home. I guess it’s because it means the trip is over! And yes, finding an outlet for your laptop is definitely key!

  4. Antonette Spaan

    It once happened to me that the airport got closed while I wanted to spend my night there. Very convenient … not! Nowadays I always check just to be sure

  5. Travelling Book Junkie

    I have tried to sleep in an airport on just one occasion and that was enough to tell me that I would not be doing it again. Having said that I am not adverse to turning up at an airport at 2pm if I am bright and breezy as it often offers a quiet place to work. The only stipulation that I always attach to that though is that at least one coffee shop needs to be open. Likely for me, Stansted, our local airport in the UK, has such a place with comfy-ish seats and plugs so I can work whilst others around me are trying to sleep. I then take full advantage of being there early and head through to the departure lounge as soon as it reopens in order to freshen up and get breakfast utilizing one of the lounges if possible.

  6. Alli Blair

    I’ve slept in an airport many a time :) And yes, just like you warned in your post, sleeping with “one eye open” is crucial! Although my version of this was wrapping my stuff around my waist and shoving it under my resting head.

  7. Beth Williams

    I try my best not to sleep in airports, but sometimes it happens. Great tips for those who need to spend the night there.

  8. Charli & Ben

    Great guide! We’ve utilised some great airport hotels throughout our travels. I’ve found that carrying ear plug and a sleep mask helps me to catch 40 winks if we have a long layover!

  9. GlamourousTraveller

    Some airports (especially in Asia) have designated sleep ‘lounges’. It’s essentially a place with long flatter chairs where you can catch a snooze in between flights. It’s also placed in a quiet area so you avoid the noise and chatter of people around you.

    Personally though, if I had to just lay it all out on the ground and just sleep I would. I would just choose to do it hidden behind a potted plant or something =)

  10. The Crowded Planet

    Cool tips! I’m a big fan of airports that have big lounge-style chairs. I’m lucky I can sleep anywhere though!