Sleeping in Airports for Dummies

Throughout my time traveling, backpacking, and failing to schedule direct or convenient flights, I have ended up sleeping in the airport on numerous occasions. It is sometimes the simplest, most economical choice.

Not only is sleeping in an airport extremely uncomfortable, but it can also be a little scary if you’re alone, like I was for most of my trip last summer. Whether you’re stuck with an overnight layover because of weird flight schedules or you intentionally scheduled one to avoid paying for a hotel that night (I’ve done that), you just have to be smart about it and it’ll be just like sleeping in the Ritz! Just kidding. It’ll be horrible, but you’ll survive. So here’s what I know…

Starbucks and McDonald’s are some of the best places to sleep in an airport. The staff are accustomed to people staying there for hours on end and, despite how you feel about these franchises, they are literally in every place you’ll ever travel to (except for countries that hate America). There are also usually plenty of comfortable couches and armchairs in these cafés which make for great beds. All that being said, if you sleep in a dining establishment, be prepared to be woken up between 3:00-6:00am for cleaning.

When the cleaning crew comes in, you can move to the next great option which is the double-chair bed. If you’re lucky enough to be in an airport with moving rows of chairs, then you simply need to push two rows together and BOOM! instant bed. Exhibit A:


If you cannot push the rows together, you also have the option of strategically wrapping yourself around an armrest with your upper body in one seat and your lower body in the other. This sleeping arrangement works best for petite and somewhat flexible travelers. Balled up sweatshirts to protect your bony hips or to serve as a pillow can make this position a bit more comfortable. Exhibit B:


Another option is to find a nice little corner where you can lay out your sleeping bag (or bundle of sweatshirts) and settle in for the night. The important thing about this option is to find at least one wall to put your back against. Bonus points if you can find a real corner to nestle into. With this one, you want to find an area that is quiet enough for you to rest and avoid getting stepped on, but not so quiet that there are no witnesses. Exhibit C:


Now, let’s revisit Exhibit B for a moment. What’s wrong with that picture? Go on, go back and look at it for a minute.


That’s right! That backpack is just sitting there asking for someone to take it. In that particular photo it was fine because we were with a group of friends, but when you are traveling alone you can’t just leave your bag next to you. I mean, you can, but it probably won’t be there when you wake up.

So, what do we do with our bags?

Rule #1: Move your zippers so they’re all on one side, not at the top of the bag, and, obviously, the side you’ve moved them to is the side of the bag that should be facing you / closest to you.

Rule #2: Loop one arm through your bag strap so someone can’t just run off with it. You can also wrap your arms around it like a teddy bear if you really want to, or use it as a pillow.

Finally, what should you do with your two most valuable items (passport & cellphone)? Personally, I’ve slept with them in my hand, in my pocket most of the time. Women, you could keep them in your bra. This is also one example where I won’t make fun of you for using a money belt (UNDER your clothes. Otherwise it’s pointless). Basically, you want to keep these things as close to you as possible. Do NOT leave them in some outer zipper pocket of your bag. Also, keep your phone on vibrate because you probably won’t hear your alarm in a noisy airport.

And, if all else fails, make sure you have plenty of movies to watch. As one fellow traveler said to me, “Running out of media when you’re stuck in an airport is basically a death sentence.” Or, you know, you could read a book or something. Those don’t run out of batteries 😉


Have you had an overnight layover? What do you do to make yourself feel safe and comfortable?


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