My brother is in Ecuador right now, visiting a friend. Together, they are exploring the Galapagos Islands, making my dad and me supremely jealous — of what they’re getting to see, not how they got there.
Erich, my brother’s friend, is living in the mountains with a host family so in order to get down to the airport to meet my brother he had to take two buses and ride in the back of a milk truck for a couple hours. Not an ideal travel situation. And because my dad used points to book Adam’s travel, my brother had the not-so-fun experience of going north to get south and spending a night in an airport (which is not as uncommon as you may think).
When I heard this, I laughed… not because I thought it was funny but because I’ve been there and knew what he was in for.
When Justin and I went on our honeymoon, we flew through San Francisco to get to Hawaii, with a 20 hour layover in the city. Plenty of time to explore, not quite enough time to justify getting a hotel; we had to be back at the airport bright and early at 7 am. So we opted to be adventurous and skip the hotel that night. Following the advice of sleepinginairports.net, after arriving in SFO at noon, we parked our bags at the Airport Travel Agency for the day. We had to be back by 10 pm to retrieve them and still have time to take a quick $15 shower at Freshen Up! next door.
The San Francisco Airport is rated as one of the best North American airports for sleeping and fun activities, so we figured how bad can it be? I printed out a one-page guide with all of the relevant information we would need after we returned that evening: terminal locations of the yoga room, the aquarium and the flight history museum; which terminals had the best areas to sleep; which restaurants were open late and which opened early.
After 8+ hours exploring the city, and eating some of the best damn Chinese food we’ve ever had, the overpriced showers felt amazing. Feeling clean for our overnight stay would let us feel more refreshed for our five and a half hour flight to Hawaii in the morning.
What prevented us from feeling refreshed for our flight was the total lack of sleep that night. For as much information as we found on the Sleeping in Airports website, we did not see a warning about how LOUD an airport is at 4 in the morning.
Those automated messages about unattended baggage? They never stop. The riding vacuum cleaners? They get their best work done in the middle of the night. The automatic doors? They open for the wind.
We tried three different sleeping spots that night including an empty hallway near some restrooms (we left when the vacuum showed up); a long row of uncomfortable chairs (we left because the nearby automatic doors never stopped opening and closing); a waiting area near baggage claim full of ottomans big enough for an adult human to stretch out on (we started here, but left because we thought the unattended baggage messages might only broadcast in that area; we were wrong and came back because it was the most comfortable).
We created a little fort out of our luggage, charging our devices and keeping a hand (or foot) on our possessions at all times. Thankfully, I had an ipod and listened to guided meditations until I fell into the semblance of sleep. My husband, on the other hand, tried and failed to merely ignore the booming automated messages, which seemed to come at irregular intervals, much like water torture. By the time we had to get up and go to our gate, the circles under his eyes had darkened and I knew he’d pass out on the flight to Hawaii.
The night was not one that we care to ever repeat, though we do have some unsolicited advice for anyone who ever finds themselves having to spend a night in the airport:
- Bring noise-canceling headphones and an ipod full of books on tape, podcasts, guided meditations, anything to drown out the loudspeaker announcements.
- Bring an eyemask. I wrapped a tshirt around my face to block out the bright lights but I wish I’d had the foresight to bring a proper sleeping mask.
- Bring a blanket. Airports are cold!
- Use sleep aids. I wish we’d brought melatonin or benedryl. Maybe we could have zonked out more easily.
- Buy snacks. As loud as airports are at night, they are surprisingly empty and do not cater to the people stuck there overnight. Stock up before all the food places close.
- Don’t forget your neck pillow. It’s necessary on airplanes and will help make any chair or floor more comfortable for a few zzzz’s.
- Research the airport you’ll be stuck in. Airports have all sorts of hidden gems like aviation museums, yoga rooms, butterfly gardens, cultural performances, saunas, and 24 hour food options.
- Have a sense of adventure! Staying in an airport for many hours is never ideal, overnight even less so, but it can still be a fun, unique and novel experience if you approach it with positivity and optimism. We did not have to spend the night in the airport; we chose to, however, because neither of us had ever done it before and knew that even if it was awful, the next day we were heading to Hawaii for 10 days.
Maybe it was our general annoyance or just not knowing I’d want to blog about it later, but sadly, we did not take any photos of our airport adventure. 🙁 However, we did take a photo on our flight to Hawaii as we were very relieved to be getting out of SFO!
Have YOU ever spent the night in the airport? What tips and tricks do you have for other not-so-lucky and/or adventurous travelers? What is the best airport you’ve ever been to? Tweet us! @ashleyschwartau @justinbonnema