“You should make sure you have a towel if you are going to sleep at the airport tonight,” the girl at Faro Guest Lounge, where I had been staying for two night, suggested. “Those floors get cold.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I hadn’t even thought of it. I hadn’t really thought anything through in terms of my air travel back to Brussels so I could catch my flight to Rwanda.

All I knew was that I was not going to trek into the city to stay at a hostel, nor was I going to fork out money to stay nearby at an airport hotel.

Sleeping at the airport was really the only option.

I had only slept at an airport overnight once before. I was returning from Spring Break in Toronto (yes, I know … Spring Break … Canada … ironic, but I wanted to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame) and got caught in a snow storm in Cleveland. The passengers of that Southwest flight sat for hours on the plane as it was debated whether it should take off, was de-iced, and then brought back to the gate. That night, I had spent laying across two chairs with some other people, wishing I was anywhere but there.

This time, at the Brussels Airport, I knew I was staying the night. I was in control.

I grabbed my backpack and followed the signs toward “Departures.” I wandered the empty lobby. There was no one there.

I wonder if I will get kicked out.

I didn’t think I would, but you never know.

And then, the light at the end of the tunnel. I walked into the next room and there were people. Everywhere. All camped out with their backpacks.

Sleeping.

The free airport dorm room.

I opted for a nice corner near a bench and a plug, and pulled out my black scarf to cover my eyes, my cardigan to keep me warm, and my headphones to drown out the French couple talking loudly nearby.

I closed my eyes. I felt so tired. My body ached for sleep.

Nothing happened.

Come on, D. Sleep. You need this. You have an all-day flight in the morning to Rwanda, followed by five days of trekking and touring. You MUST sleep.

I tried again.

Damn, the tile floor is hard. Damn, it is cold.

And again, another effort.

Maybe I need to eat.

I pulled out a roll (I had bought a bag of them for snacks before I left Faro for the second time) and ate it. Then, laid back down.

Damnitsonofabitch.

I sat up again.

It’s freezing in the airport.

Then, the words of advice echoed in my mind … “You should use your towel.”

So, I opened up my big ol’ backpack and pulled out my little towel and draped it over my shoulders.

Not too bad. Now, if only my head was comfortable.

I unzipped the day pack from the backpack and pulled out a T-shirt to make it more comfortable.

Better.

I squinched up into a ball and put it behind my head, spooned my messenger bag and my purse, draped my scarf over my eyes, and tried to breathe in and breathe out and only think of breathing in and breathing out.

I woke up a few hours later to the sounds of a more bustling Brussels airport. I rolled over and closed my eyes.

I went back to sleep. Amazing.

For three hours, I repeated this pattern … wake up … roll over … go back to sleep. I even had a dream I was back in Spain learning Spanish … and then it was time to check in to my flight.

Sure, I didn’t get good sleep, but at least I got something. In an airport.

At one point in the night I actually considered airport sleeping as a viable option on the nights when I don’t have the budget for a bed.

Then, I realized I was under the influence of exhaustion.

After I lugged my life through the terminal for the second time in 24 hours, I curled up on a bench at my gate, waiting a couple more hours for my mid-morning flight to Kigali.

And, to sleep some more in the airplane, where I wouldn’t need to use my towel to keep me warm.

12 comments

  1. I usually plan a night in the airport when arriving or leaving a new place to save on 1 day of accommodations while in transit. I figure most have everything you need: food, bathrooms, security, outlets, sometimes wi-fi (free or otherwise).

    The only thing is they get freezing cold so that towel is a great idea. Sleeping back liners also work well and take up minimal space in backpacks.

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  2. I once slept at the Ryanair terminal from London (although not London, an hour outside somewhere) to Rome and the same thing, tons of people on the floor. I saved some money but in the end I was cranky and tired.

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    1. Yeah, I was exhausted by the time I got to my flight. Which is good, since I slept A LOT on the flight. 🙂 You flew out of Gatwick for the Ryan Air flight. I slept at the Yotel there … but would’ve slept at the airport had I thought about it. 🙂

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  3. Yup. Almost exactly the same experience, except in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. The floor was cold and hard and the sleep was disturbed and, on the whole, kinda grim…but it *is* possible. And lots of people were doing it. Quite a few of them better prepared than I.

    Next time, I’ll take a roll-mat. That’ll make a massive difference.

    And there’s the safety issue. Which is why you probably should put your valuables under your pillow, and sleep somewhere that’s public. No dimly-lit out-the-way corners (which is against instinct, I suppose, since you want a good night’s sleep).

    I’ve seen people happily sleeping away under the Munich departure board (*clackCLACKclack…*). Couldn’t understand it…but then I saw the earplugs.

    (Always Carry Earplugs When You Travel. Cardinal rule. Useful in a million and one ways).

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  4. As a documentary photographer- usually on a budget- I have spent many a night in the airport. Dubai and Singapore are among the best- lounges open all night, leather lounge chairs you can sleep in throughout the terminal- fabulous! Spent the night in the Delhi airport- bearable. But the worst night of airport sleeping- Laguardia! Slept on the air conditioning unit. Miserable. I’ve also slept in the Penn Station Amtrak- not recommended. And, recently, in the Phoenix Greyhound station- though no sleep was had- but fabulous people watching.

    Point is, sometimes, its worth it to just suck it up and sleep on your luggage for a night. Or drink large quantities of espresso and stay up all night in the terminal. Makes for interesting stories as well!

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