As most backpackers and travelers know, airports can serve as temporary homes while waiting for delayed or cancelled flights. They can be the nicest buildings in a city, or they can look like they haven’t been renovated since the late sixties. Frequently, they are miles away from the rest of civilization which keeps you from generally leaving the area when waiting for these flights. Or sometimes, if you’re like me, you arrive much too early simply because you’re cautious.
On Sept 13, 2001, I was scheduled to be fly from Nadi, Fiji to Sydney, Australia. (If you’ve ever visited the Fijian airport, it’s all white tiles and retro charm). The day I showed up, it also featured massive lines of Americans being thoroughly searched before being allowed to fly back home. My flight wasn’t actually scheduled to leave for another five hours, but I was concered with exactly this type of lineup as a consequence of the NYC attacks — so I hopped into the lineup and decided to wait it out.
I remember the Americans were disgruntled, but generally in good spirits. One older man jokingly tried to bribe his way further up the line (actually maybe he was serious). The clock ticked away. When I finally arrived at the baggage checkin they told me I was much too early and would have to wait until later. Basically, I had waited in the lineup for no reason.
To top it off, my late afternoon flight was delayed for almost 12 hours. And hours in an airport is generally like those last 15 minutes before the school bell rings at the end of the day in elementary school. You just want to get going to your new destination.
One way to pass the time is: sleeping. Enter The Budget Traveler’s Guide to Sleeping In Airports, started by Canadian Donna McSheery, who as she says, “had an alcohol problem and too much time on her hands back in 1996…”
Donna does not claim to be the budget traveler guru, but when it comes to traveling and not spending any money doing so, she’s got a few good ideas. Her proudest accomplishment is this web site. Almost 10 years ago she was killing time, trying to be funny and learning web site design. Never in a million years did she think that people would actually visit her web site. Today there are over 3800 listings, with more always waiting to be added.
The Guide has some fantastic listings for airports in many countries of the world, with colourful descriptions, ratings for each airport, and road-tested advice on the best places to set up your sleeping bag. The site also features some great general tips, including these gems:
Always Have a Backup Plan: Airport officials are not totally supportive of the airport sleeping idea. Although in 95% of the airports you won’t be kicked out, you will be asked why you are there, why you are not in a hotel like normal people and they will ask for proof that you are flying out the next day.
Act Innocent: Even if you sleep in airports on regular basis — Do Not Act Like A Professional! Act like you REALLY do not want to be there and that there is absolutely nowhere else to go. I find crying helps.
Dealing with airport bribery: In some airports you will be asked for a bribe just to pass through a metal detector, enter an airport or to use the bathroom. When approached, suddenly speak a new language. Learn Klingon if a real language doesn’t interest you.
Have you been chased out of an airport for trying to catch some shuteye? Ever met some interesting traveler’s sleeping in an airport, or train station, bus depot, or public library? Share your stories in the comments.