Hello Goodbye Red Eye: When Sleeping at the Airport Pays. And when it fails.

9 Dec

Boarding flight to Lukla

Probably not an airplane you want to get on with no sleep…


I’ve done it.  All travellers have.  At least once.   Those over night connections or early morning flights where you feel you just could not justify shelling out for a hostel or hotel.   There are times when you’ll be happy you saved that $50+ and then there are the other times…..well, when you would have paid a lot more money to have avoided that experience altogether.

Here’s a common situation:  I’m in town for this great event! (Example: New Year’s Eve in Sydney, St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, etc).  There’s an amazing cheap flight the day after at 5 am.  I’ll just have a hostel store my bags while I’m partying, stay up all night, and pick them up on the way to the airport.  It’s going to be a blast and I’ll save so much on both the flight and not paying an extra night of accommodation.

Where to start? 

if you are planning on having drinks, this plan will backfire.  You know it’s going to.  You will be hungover on a plane,  you will be exhausted, you will hate or lash-out at whoever it is you’re travelling with, because it’ll probably be the end of your trip and well you’ll have been awake for over 24 hours.   You will at some point wish you had shelled out extra for a nice bed to sleep, because most airports can just be nightmares when you’re trying to catch a snooze/nurse a hangover (Singapore and a few others being the rare exceptions).


1)      Spend a little more money on a hostel even if you’ll barely use it.  3 hours of a decent sleep can make the biggest difference.

2)      Don’t drink/party hard.   Stay out and enjoy the happenings, but restrain yourself to the max of 1-2 drinks.

3)      And the most expensive option, but obvious solution: shell out for the more expensive flight.   If you want to fully enjoy the festivities and be in ok travelling shape, you’ve got to be prepared to do this.   Looking back, on a couple occasions I wish I had spent the extra 100++$ to avoid the nightmarish experience I put myself and any travelling companions through.  It taints what is otherwise an awesome trip.

4)      Or just ignore 1-3 and brag to your friends how you did it all and managed to survive the ordeal.

When deciding on whether to sleep in an airport, the most important thing to consider is what airport.   Taking a snooze in Christchurch’s recently redone international airport or Brisbane’s (despite the sub-arctic terminal temperatures) are safe and reliable.   Of course no airport (at least in the Western Hemisphere) rivals Singapore’s Changi airport, for luxury and great sleeping couches and cheap food.

The other factor is travelling alone.  Taking care of those belongings while you sleep is important, and of course watching out for that important pack (the one with the passport and money).  My advice?  It’s best to use it as a pillow and have a lock on it.

Some far from ideal airports to spend the night in: New Delhi (*although maybe the new airport has improve), the devil to be of all airports: LAX, Dulles, Heathrow

I attempted to spend the night in the Heathrow airport, and after a lot of difficulty trying to find a place to sleep, the airport shuts down, and there was an alarm going off, I ended up crashing in a bus terminal at Heathrow.   It was miserable and I spent the entire night wishing I’d shelled out for an expensive hotel.  After this miserable sleep, I got up and waited for the 6 am opening of the check-in desk at Virgin Airlines.  (Airlines that let you check-in insanely early deserve a special shout-out)  However, while in line I met an absolutely lovely med school student returning from a summer mission in Gabon.  We both had late connecting, evening flights, so after dropping off our bags, we spent the day strolling around London and eating pub food.

So, moral of that trip home?   Despite nightmares you can wake up to a very memorable day.


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