How to Survive Long Airport Layovers

sleeping in airports

It must be your day! You just scored the cheapest return flight after weeks of holding off on buying that ticket even as prices were already shooting through the roof – sometimes, you just get lucky! Everything seems to look good, but for one thing: the flight connection sucks. But no worries, you only have, wait, what? More than 8 hours of layover? You probably didn’t miss that when you were on the checkout page, but you weren’t really thinking about it then…until now.  Come on, cheer up! If it had saved you enough to afford one or two more days going on food tours in New York, a long layover is a worthy sacrifice for that price. Let me tell you this: you will survive!

How to survive long airport layovers

It can be quite distressing, especially if it will be your first time to get stuck at an airport THAT long. You know, I thought 3 hours was a long time, until I had to spend 16 hours at one of the worst airports in the world with hardly ANYTHING to do. That felt like growing a year older every minute – it was horrible. I didn’t know what to expect and I was not armed with enough energy to chat up with fellow travelers or stockpile of stuff to keep me entertained. But that was also how I became a pro at Snakes on my old Nokia phone – oh, the sweet old days! Hey, now it’s different! So you’re still lucky lasses and lads! Relax. Just keep in mind that to win any battles in life, you need to – first and foremost – be prepared! Do not EVER underestimate the power of Murphy’s law.

Dig up everything you can find about the airport

Taiwan airport

Sure, you will have enough time to explore once you’re there, but it’s always best to do your research before arriving and know where to find what you will need – sleeping pods, lounges, food courts, left baggage facilities, entertainment areas, if any! This will allow you to plan your “stay” well and give you enough information to decide what to do with your time there.

Sleeping in Airports is a site with information on almost every airport in the world and I have been using this site for as long as I can remember; it’s the most comprehensive guide to finding your way in these airports. Travellers keep the information on the site up to date by emailing the admins, like I did a few times. Don’t let its super simple web aesthetics which still give the 90s vibes turn you away!

Get your personal entertainment stash ready

Before leaving your house, make sure that all the gadgets you are taking with you are fully charged. There may be power plugs in the airport, but you never know if someone’s already hogging that corner. So if you go crazy without a smartphone or tablet to keep you entertained, they better be juiced up! Then load it up with all your favorite e-books, movies, playlists or whatnot! It’s useless without it; unless you just intend to take selfies or doodle on it to pass the entire time! When the wifi connection is way too slow to do anything online; these will keep you sane. Oh, and don’t forget your power banks, too! If you still travel with books, magazines and with a travel journal, you’re options just got wider!

Say no to starvation

airline food snack
Pack those peanuts they give you on the flight! You might need them :)

I hardly travel without snacks in my bag – not after those times I went starving because I couldn’t buy acceptable food ANYWHERE. You’ll have better sleep and be in a better mood when you don’t “go to bed” hungry! Yes, it happens; when shops decide to close before you can even get yourself something to eat or when they just don’t sell anything apart from a three-day-old dehydrated bread lying inside the glass display counter at the only airport cafeteria. Just carry packs of healthy satisfying snacks to get you through – cookies, bread, peanuts, etc. and a bottle of water you can refill at drinking fountains, which most airports have.

Dress for the occasion

Put on your comfiest attire because you will never know where you’re going to end up on – the lounge chair or cold concrete slab. No, please don’t dress like a hobo unless you want to be picked up by the security and locked up somewhere (Hmm, maybe their custody suites offer better amenities? You wish!). Airports are more often than not, air-conditioned; so don’t forget your hoodie or pullover and a few extra scarves – just in case it gets colder than you expect and that’s mostly the case when you’re in one of those Asian airports. We can’t help it! We love minus degrees – in malls, buses and every space that is enclosed from the heat outside! You’ve been warned!

Bring your sleeping kit

Some airlines are sweethearts to provide you these travel/toiletries kits, which include an eye mask, earplugs, socks, toothbrush, etc. Keep it and use it in times like this! However, don’t rely to be extended with such lovely gestures on every flight, so always remember to squeeze your own kit into your carry on. If you want to get a good night’s sleep especially in a jam-packed and busy airport, you’ll definitely need to be armed with these and a neck pillow, of course! Traveling with someone? His/her shoulder or lap will do!

Pick a secure and strategic spot

Sleeping in airports

Assuming you already know the sleep/rest areas in the airport, try to pick a spot close to an electric socket or where the WIFI signal is the strongest – sometimes you really have to choose! If you get there late, then these spots might already be taken. The most important thing is to find enough space for your exhausted self to plonk on for the night. While there is hardly any case of travellers being assaulted inside the airport, people have lost gadgets and bags as they sleep. Try to stay in well-lighted areas and relatively close to the concierge or airport security.

Guard your belongings

I either lay my head on my travel backpack or, if I am sitting upright, place my bags on my lap/beside me and loop the straps around my arms before I hug it tightly like my life depend on it. I once startlingly woke up to a sleepwalking child tugging at one of my bags and trying to snatch it away from me – and that’s the worst that happened so far. Luckily. When you travel with someone, it’s easy to take turns watching each other’s stuff, but when you travel alone, it’s best to travel light and just have one carry-on you can easily handle! Imagine if you have a lot of stuff with you and you have to go to the toilets. You have to squeeze everything inside that tiny cubicle with you and, ugh, kind of gross if it has to touch the toilet floor.

Make use of left luggage services

But then again, if you really have to carry all that stuff because some of the friends and family you’re visiting asked you to bring some things for them and your luggage is not checked through, locate the left luggage or luggage storage service counters and leave it there without worries. These are short-term and secure; you just have to pay a few bucks to keep it there for as long as necessary. Check their opening and closing times though, to be sure that you can get your luggage out when you can finally check it in. You don’t want to see all your unclaimed belongings at some lost luggage warehouse sale.

Be considerate to other (sleeping) travellers

Sleeping in airports

Ever been stuck beside someone who loudly talks on the phone the entire time or a rowdy group of travellers who just can’t keep it down as you try to sleep at past two in the morning? Clearly, they are not being considerate. Do not be one of them. If you see people around you trying to give their tired selves a break, especially if it’s a lounge/rest area, please shut up. Go somewhere else should you need to exhaust your talktime.

Check for airline lounges and other facilities

Okay, you don’t really have to sleep rough in the airports if you can afford it. Yes, really, you have a choice! If you have some cash to spare for a nice lounge with sleeping pods or even for a night’s stay at a nearby hotel, why not? Pay lounges open their facilities even to non-airline passengers. Have a breakfast buffet, massage, shower and a cushy seat! If you need a bed, the airport hotel might be more to your liking. While some are easily accessible from the main halls of the airport terminals, you may need to take a shuttle to get to others. There’s no better backup plan for anyone who prioritizes their comfort and don’t mind shelling out a small portion of their travel fund.

Korean parade airport
At Incheon airport, one of their airport attractions is a traditional Korean parade that promotes their culture.

Sign up for a free layover tour

Another option is to see if they have free layover tours. Some airlines even offer to sponsor your visas – isn’t that lovely? A number of the airports which offer layover city tours are Singapore, Taiwan, Seoul Korea and even Doha – ask the concierge and they should know what you can do with your time there. It will be great to get out of the airport and explore a new city – or even if you’ve already been there countless times! It’s something you should consider and take advantage of if their tour schedule matches yours rather than wasting away in the airport! If you’re short on time or you just missed the last tour, some airports have amazing airport attractions such as museums, lush gardens and even parades! You can learn so much about the place without even leaving.

Do you have any experience sleeping in airports? How was it? What are the worst and best airports for layovers?

21 Comment

  1. Ada says: Reply

    Those are wonderful tips! Luckily I never had to stay at the airport more that 4 hours but it really can feel like forever when you have limited stuff to do. I had no idea about those layover trip! That sounds fantastic!

  2. Joe says: Reply

    Great tips! I think we’re all perhaps a little guilty of not fully apprciating those layover times when going for cheap booking options. But a little preparation goes a long way. My worst experience was probably at Doha airport back in 2013 – back then they didn’t really have sleeping areas in the main departures area, and I found sleep to be pretty much impossible! I hear it’s better now…

  3. Jamie says: Reply

    These are such great tips! I seem to pack more food than clothes… Hahahah! Priorities, amirite?! Thanks for the great read, love! xx

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      Haha you got your priorities in check, hun!

  4. Robin says: Reply

    That site “sleeping at airports” is brilliant – bookmarking that for future trips! The thing that frustrates me the most about layovers is that they’re often not long enough to let you actually explore the city you’re in, which you may never have been to before! Always gives me such bad FOMO!

  5. I have an 8 hour layover coming up in Doha, I’ll check for a free layover tour like you mentioned, this would be perfect. You made some important points here about sleeping etiquette and charging up! Food is important too, 8 hours is a long time without it, if there’s a McDonalds in the airport food is sorted!

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      If you are flying with Qatar, go a Qatar airways help desk once you get there and ask for the layover tour schedule. They will even sponsor your visa. 😉 Hope the timing works out! 🙂 And yes, they have McDonald’s & food court it’s a pretty modern airport now.

  6. Great tips!!! Long layovers can be quite daunting unless you’re in a really awesome airport. I like the idea of taking a tour on your layover. That would be so cool. But great tips on home to make it as pleasant as possible. I always have my sleep kit handy.

  7. These are great tips! I agree when you say to shut up if you see someone who are trying to relax himself. Respect first of all. I always go somewhere else when these things happen. – A.

  8. Nicole says: Reply

    These are great tips. I always make use of the airline lounges and if I have enough time I will leave out of the airport to check out the town. Great tips!

  9. I can’t imagine a 16 hour layover. That would have been a nightmare! I have trouble sleeping in “non-bed” areas, so that might be rough. It is normally worth it to me to go ahead and pay for a hotel. Thank for the airport website. I will be checking that out for my flight this week!

  10. Hahaha!!! I totally totally love this post! Last year while backpacking in Europe I did sleep a few times in the airport and its actually so much fun!!! Some airports give only an hour of free wifi and its really irritating!!! And I realized that concrete slab gets cold even in summer! I’m heading to that sleepinginairport site right now.

  11. Veronica says: Reply

    If you have 8 hr layover in Paris, that time is just enough to come from one terminal to another agrr. Of course, I am exaggerating here. It is just huge and chaotic.
    I just realized that I never researched the airport. Really! And the layover tours are such a wonderful idea.

  12. Anna says: Reply

    Great post – You’ve covered it all! Compiling a sleeping kit is an awesome idea 🙂 I have to say, I don’t mind layovers and actually kind of enjoy them. If there is enough time, I try to go out and explore the transit city even if it’s just for a couple of hours (haven’t done any of the airline tours yet though). Otherwise, I make sure there’s everything I need to keep me entertained in my carry-on. Another thing I’ve been enjoying recently is a membership programme that allows you to enter and use airport lounges around the world.

  13. Awesome post! I had to sleep twice on an airport, once in Budapest and one time in Denver. In Budapest there was literally nothing to do but we found a good spot to sleep a bit, so it was ok. Denver was a bit better but it was so freaking cold! Even after putting everything on I was carrying I was just freezing. But well, it’s worth it for just one night if it saves you a lot of money ;).

  14. Cat says: Reply

    Very informative! My husband and I start looking into lounges because they provide great services (food and shower?!) when you have long flight layovers. We even sign up for a new credit card just because they give us free access to premium lounges!!

  15. Chiera says: Reply

    I had an 8 hour layover in Luton just to fly up to Glasgow (an hour long flight) Why did I do this, you ask? I asked myself the same thing every time another hour ticked by. I was sleeping on the ground with my scarf as a cover. I was eventually moved away by the people who were opening up their cafe. It sucked. But I was not prepared ha! I will definitely take your tips into consideration next time! Thank you!

  16. I had to sleep once on an airport cause I missed my plane and it was actually fun, cause i wasn’t alone and we did all sorts of bs in the empty airport 🙂

    Another time I had to wait 6h on a teeny tiny airport with only a coffee store and a newspaper stand and it was horrible! I was clearly NOT prepared and I wish I had read your article before that… it has lots of valuable info!

  17. This is a very helpful write-up. A lot of people will find it beneficial and motivating as well. I remember how boring and exhausting my first layover was. I slowly got over it with my later layovers but it took time. Thanks for this lovely post.

  18. Anita says: Reply

    It’s really a great list. I try not to buy the flights with long layovers, but sometimes I couldn’t avoid that. Then I used lounges and tried to entertain myself. I haven’t slept in the airports yet. Also I haven’t been in an airport with parade yet. So cool! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Such an informative and educational post, Sarah! I will try to remember your tips.

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