Sleeping in airports: yay or nay?

You’ve probably seen people settling in to sleep in the departure halls of major airports and some of them even bring sleeping bags – should you be doing it too?

Here’s a topic I often see discussed on online travel pages and something I’ve done quite often. Obviously, this is the most budget option you can do, as you save money on accommodation for the night, but is it reasonable?

The answer is, it depends on the circumstances. I prefer to do it if I have a very late or early morning flight, as I would be paying for a full night’s stay somewhere, while only using half of it. I also sometimes take a nap if the flight arrives too early, as there is no point in going to any city at 6am and chances are I haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before (I am chronically incapable of going to bed earlier if I have an early flight). However, it strongly depends on what kind of a person you are.

Pros and cons

Personally, I can sleep almost anywhere, unless it is too cold, which is why I frequently utilise overnight buses or trains. As I am quite small I can cram myself into any available chair without being uncomfortable and do not necessarily care if there is a bench to lay down on or not, which is how I save on not buying sleeping compartments on trains either. For anyone larger and taller than me, that might be quite uncomfortable and should be taken into consideration or you’ll get no sleep and feel horrible in the morning.

Benches with no handles are a blessing.

Additionally, consider your circumstances: if you are travelling with a group, sleeping in the airport is not the best option, as you could get thrown out for being loud and disturbing; if you are travelling solo, are you going to be nervous about your safety all night? Can you sleep with the bright lights on and the airport info announcements? Do you feel it is worth it depending on the possible accommodation costs?

Next, consider the airport in question: is it going to be open all night and what season is it? I prefer to go for the airports which are open 24 hours, just to be sure, and after me and my boyfriend almost froze in an airport in Estonia, I would not attempt it in winter or late autumn unless you can be sure there is heating. Is it safe to do so? Obviously you can never know for certain, but I would say most airports in Western countries should be safe, even for solo travellers.

Do they have any strange policies regarding overnight stays? All of the above and more can be on the sleepinginairports.net, where people can even leave reviews for a particular airport. As you can see, plenty of people do it all the time. I’ve seen travellers bring out sleeping bags, fluffy slippers and bath robes at larger international airports, but I personally prefer not to construct my own little camp right there.

So, whether you should do it or not, is up to you. It is cost efficient, but it is also not nearly as comfortable as even the cheapest hostel dorm room. However, you can sometimes meet fun people or get free coffee from airport staff or cafes in exchange for helping them open up and you avoid all the pesky check-in lines. No matter what you decide, it is important to stay safe. Airports are hotspots for thieves and occasionally homeless people looking for shelter, which can be nerve racking or downright dangerous for solo travellers.

Tips for sleeping in airports
I got the best granola bar from a waitress in New Zealand.

Here are some of my tips for sleeping in the airports as safe and comfortable as possible

  • If you are travelling solo, pick a well-lit spot close to the security officers or the border police and as far away from the entrance as possible. Do that anyway, even if you are not alone.
  • Check if there is anyone else preparing for an overnight stay and go over to say “Hi!”, as there is strength in numbers.
  • Sleep on your luggage, and I do mean that literally: use your backpack as a pillow, hug it and keep your documents, money and other valuables inside your clothes. If you have check-in luggage, try to place it directly under you or somehow next to your head, but ultimately you’ll have to trust fate.
  • Put on extra layers of clothing, as many airports turn down the heating during the night and it also softens the hard benches.
  • Try not to go to the toilet during the night, as you should not leave your luggage unattended and airport toilets at night are shady.
  • Set an alarm for your flight.

I hope this has helped you decide on the topic and let me know if you have any other tips or experiences in the comments!

P. S.: All of this pretty much applies to sleeping in the bus or train stations as well, but those tend to be much shadier and less safe, as they’re more open and often don’t have security guards. They can get filled with homeless people at night and there are usually all sorts of weird people passing through, so as a solo female traveller I generally try to avoid sleeping there, unless it’s an emergency.

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