Sleeping In Airports For The Stranded And Frugal Minded

Photo: bartvanpoll

Whether it's an unplanned layover, a means of making an early flight, or simply an attempt to save money on accommodation, the season of sleeping in airports is upon us. I know, I am doing it.

As I type this article, dozens of other weary holiday travelers are hunkering down in chairs and on the floor inside Albany International Airport. Sure, the lights are bright, the cleaning crew loud, and the temperature cold, but it could be worse. There is pleasant classical music coming from the ceiling, the chairs, if you are in one, are comfortable, and it is warmer in here than it is outside.

Sleeping in airports is a basic skill for frugal travelers. I say skill because with some experience and preparation, it is not something that must simply be endured, but a way to save money and time.

Here are some tips:

Know before you go

Research is key to a comfortable night in any airport. First off, you must know if you will be allowed to sit there after flights have stopped for the night. Beyond that, you want to know the basic layout of the place, what facilities are available, what the temperature, noise, and light levels are, and how many other people will be trying to do the same thing.

The first place to go for this information is the airport's website. This will provide you with a map, list of services available, and likely some rules pertaining to overnights. For more information, check to see if your airport is listed in the helpful Airport Guides series. After these resources, it is time for more specific details and no one has more than The Budget Traveler's Guide to Sleeping in Airports.

Pack for sleeping

Lots of packing guides tell travelers to fill their carry-ons with things like toiletries and changes of clothes. Not me. I say, bring what you know will make you comfortable, not what you think you may need.

If you are planning to sleep in an airport (or fear you may be), this means packing to sleep. The big three concerns for the airport squatter are light, noise, and temperature. Must haves include headphones or earplugs, a scarf or eye mask, and a blanket or light-weight sleeping bag. It sounds obvious, but having these things means the difference between a great night's sleep and starring blankly across the terminal for 10 hours.

After you have found a place for these items, you might want to consider bringing something to soften a hard floor. A blanket, thin, partial-length, sleeping pad, or a pillow could all help prevent bruising and soreness.

Don't forget these luxuries

Be sure to leave room for a timepiece, specifically one with an alarm, and anything else that might make the time pass more gently. My recommendation is the ever-useful deck of playing cards.

I know what you are all thinking: "playing cards? what about hooking up the laptop you hypocrite?" Fair enough. For those, like me, looking to get their interwebs fix there are several guides and maps that will help you find WiFi wherever you go. There is even a wiki to help find power outlets in airports around the world.

Eat, drink, be merry

Going too long without food will only leave you cranky. There are numerous ways to anticipate what kind of inflight meal you will be served. You can even share pictures of your meals and write reviews. Even can join in. But the sad truth is that lately, you will not be served any meal on the airplane at all. This only makes airport eating more important.

Of course, the easy option is to eat at one of the airport's restaurants or cafes. While easy, this is certainly not the most frugal option. Instead, try packing a snack or meal.

And don't forget to have some kind of water. I know the bans on liquids make carrying water bottles around airports a crime. I also know that an airport is drier than a desert. By a bottle of water if you must, but please, stay hydrated.

If slumber parties in museums can be so much fun then why can't we enjoy our nights in airports? With a little planning and preparation, your next night in the airport will be more comfortable and fun as staying in the dingy hotel across the parking lot. I promise.

Have any other tips for staying in airports? Any stories of success or failure? Do you love airports as much as this guy? Let us know in the comments.

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Guest's picture

The chapel seems to be to only quiet place in an airport. I wouldn't sleep there because I don't want to interfere with it's intended purpose, but it is a great place for quiet rest and contemplation.

Guest's picture

I have slept in more airports than I care to talk about. I usually put my valuables in a bag that doubles as a pillow for my head. That way no one can walk away with my most important stuff without actually waking me up.

I find if you are tired enough, the sleeping conditions are not that important. I would rather miss a nights sleep than spend $100 for a room for 7 to 9 hours. Some (international) airports have lounges that cost as little as $25.00. Those are preferable to the in transit area.

Guest's picture

Couple of things:

Walking around in an airport with a bottle of water is not against any regulations. Taking a bottle of water through security is. Take an empty bottle and fill it up in the rest room or at a water fountain.

Most airport chapels have signs that specifically prohibit sleeping in them. Be nice to those who want to pray/meditate/whatever and don't sleep there.

Don't bed down near a door of any sort. Many of the doors house maintenance and/or cleaning supplies or double as emergency exits/entrances. Employees have no problem asking you to move. Similarly, sleeping near power outlets might be an issue if an employee needs to plug in a vacuum cleaner.

Many airline frequent flyer clubs offer day passes. While not free, these are often cheaper than hotel rooms, offer free internet access and sometimes food and beverages. It's worth it to at least look into this. It often doesn't have to be the airline that you're flying.

Guest's picture

For the first time, I went on a trip where I knew I would end up on an overnight layover in Raleigh. Some of these pointers could have helped! Having never tried sleeping in airports before, I wasn't certain what to expect. I ended up sitting straight up in an uncomfortable chair dozing in and out of sleep most of the night.

Griping aside, excellent post. I will admit that the lack of sleep was worth saving the money from 6-7 hours at a hotel. So I would recommend it to anyone traveling who wants to pinch the pennies. Just be a little more prepared than I was. =)

Guest's picture

My husband and I lived in London for a year. Traveling Europe was cheap...if you flew at 5 a.m. and avoided taking taxis. To get to the airport while the tube was still open to bring us to the train station, which subsequently took us to the airport, you had to leave the night before. We left at 9 p.m., which gave us sufficient time to scout out a good sleeping spot.

Tips? Avoid any seating areas near Burger King's and Mcdonald's. Fast food places usually stay open all night and have music playing too loud. Starbucks, however, closes early and if you score, has comfortable lounge chairs which you can push together for a bed.

We would tie our suitcases to our feet so no one would try to take them. We would sleep with valuables in our pillowcases or carry-ons which we kept under our heads. You can also check luggage overnight at a storage place for about 5 dollars at some airports which is good for peace of mind.

EARPLUGS and something to cover your eyes are key! I wore a lot of hooded sweatshirts since they provided extra padding and kept my head warm.

When sleeping alone, paranoia can ruin a good night's sleep. Try to find someone who is already sleeping and camp out near them.

Pack a benadryl or light sleeping pill to help encourage Z's.

Bring an empty pillowcase with your change of clothes as the stuffing for it...remember, comfortable clothes for the next day's flight means comfortable head it saves luggage space.

Towels can double as floormats, not so much for comfort, but for sanitary reasons.

We used to see other older couples all the time camping out at Gatwick airport. They arrived earlier-around 7-8. Since their was no security to get into the lounge areas of the airport, people often brought bottles of wine and would read a book until they fell asleep. Some would bring portable radios. At least they made saving money more luxurious.

Guest's picture

Flipping heck whatever next! I wouldn't ever plan to sleep in an airport. I'd sooner forgo a night's sleep. Any healthy adult can manage one night without shut eyes.

Some people can sleep on a clothes line but I need my Kings size

Guest's picture

Adding to what gt0163c said:

Domestically it is completely within the rules to bring an empty bottle through security. My theory is that people are confused because the TSA reps don't suggest you empty your bottle; they just confiscate it or tell you to toss it. Fine. Not their job. And garbage cans full of water would be a nightmare for airports.

I've had no problems at the... 8 or 9 airports I've been through recently. But you need to be nice about it. Understand that TSA is required to check it out. Have the empty bottle out and next to your baggie in the tub. Most TSA agents pick mine up just to verify the emptiness. Also, thus far, I've only tried this with clear disposable bottles. I just don't want to risk a SIGG bottle in case opaque bottles aren't allowed. But if you have a freebie stainless bottle from a promotion its worth a try.

Guest's picture

These comments will come in handy if I am ever forced to fly.
Thank you.