Author: Fraser Balaam

How to Survive an Airport Overnighter

I bet, and I’m pretty confident about this, that there isn’t a travel itinerary anywhere that is so streamline that there isn’t a night on it unaccounted for, where an early morning flight or intense budget limitations mean that a night on the airport floor is both likely and logical.

Perhaps I’m just too used to using that as a permanent plan B.

Still, the point remains. Traveling on a budget usually includes a flight so cheap that it takes a while for the elation of the price to die down before you realize that you’re going to have to fly/check in at a time never before used as a time to do things except sleep or be drunk. That or have to travel to an airport which is so remote that getting there involves spanning several hundred miles, criss-crossing your way across a country in such a way that you might even start saying you’re embarking on a journey. When it comes to it though, if you’re flying early and aren’t driving to the airport the easiest thing you can do is accept your place on the shiny, sheet ice floor of an airport. My airport floor count is moving worryingly onto multiple hands and I’m actually, in truth, quite fond of them. With that, here are a few vague headers I use to give myself the best chance of making it to the morning feeling in any way human.

Appreciate it

It can be difficult to remain positive when your watch is telling you it is nearly 04:00 but the fluorescent tubed lights on the ceiling cease to dim. Just remember why you’re there. In a cost effective sense you’ve got yourself free shelter for the night, and saving on that hostel fee can pay for all manner of things in your next destination. I’ve met travelers who conduct their entire trip on a ridiculous profit/loss spreadsheet and they always seem to be quite content at that point. Another way to appreciate your homeless status is by reminding yourself just how exciting airports are. Yes, you might be there hours earlier than necessary but that you’re still there, still sat in a glass box which, veiled in an enticing mystery, is soon to take you to your next stop by crossing water and expanses of land which could be miles and miles from what you’re comfortable with.

Overnighting in an airport gives you the aura of being an esteemed traveler, and in that sense it will always keep a pocket of excitement no matter how frustrating it can become. That said, if you’re one of the unfortunate ones stranded for weeks after, say, an outpouring of volcanic ash I can see why it may lose any trappings of charm.


Rarely I’m not coming out in favour of having a few to settle you in, instead remember how important it is to stay hydrated. Cased in a bright room for hours before you fly you’re pretty much a sitting duck for jet lag, and drinking plenty of water is vital if you are planning to stay fresh for the time you (eventually) walk through arrivals. On that, make your choice early when it comes to sleep or coffee. Too many times I’ve taken the road of intensive caffeine treatment only to crash and want sleep a short time later. Predictably you’re wired by that point and end up feeling out of body and looking like the undead for the rest of the morning.

Catch up

Remember your time differences. If you’re going global, chances are your night in departures will tally with your friends/family being awake and active back home and it could be a good opportunity to make your bi-annual Skype call to have a proper catch up without the pressures of time. On a similar theme the idle hours give you chance to pack and re-pack, go through your notes/pictures/tickets, or just spend some time reconciling yourself with your thoughts and use the space to really get yourself ready for the oncoming adventures.

Bring entertainment

But, and the amount of times I’ve fallen in this trap annoys me, don’t assume you’ll be satisfied. Don’t expect you’ll really dig the rest of your unread book based on the fact you enjoyed the first few pages, don’t expect that you’ll be content with the same playlist you’ve been playing the last few weeks, and definitely don’t expect you’ll have the battery to look at pictures/play music/make phone calls at all. My typical lack of planning and misplaced confidence when it comes to foresight means I’m often the guy who is throwing his book behind him and looking at his iPod questioningly. Just anticipate the hours of boredom.


I’ve done some of my best networking amongst travelers from the comfort of a smooth tiled floor and, to take the other night in Stansted as an example, there are usually people lining the walls of every section of the lounge. Someone will be on your flight, chances are they’ll be sat there just wishing somebody would talk to them, and perhaps they’ll be staying in the same place as you or have a heap of recommendations. I’m not even going to bring up the fact that I find airports hopelessly exciting and tend to develop several airport crushes in the space of a few hours. Airports present a great chance to socialize and the amount of time you can spend with any one person can make for really intimate conversations and meetings that can go on to define the night.

Call it educational and you just might enjoy the night.

That or, you know, just go to sleep.