Long overnight layovers, delays, and—even worse—flight cancellations are sometimes inevitable when you’re traveling. Airport overnight layovers, however, (a stop to change planes that runs overnight, with the connecting flight the next morning) take the cake for being the worst of the worst. If you’re a student traveling on a limited budget, a “reduced” room at the airport hotel may not be the best accommodation option for the night. So, once you’ve accepted that you’re spending the night in the airport, read through this quick survival guide for tips to help make the next 8-12 hours of your life easier.

1. Head to the international terminal ASAP

staying overnight running

If you can, the International Terminal at any airport is always the best place to hang out. It has the best restaurant selection, duty-free stores (ladies, free Chanel perfume sampling…need I say more?) and the comfiest seats. There are usually free charging stations with dimmed lighting, chargers, TVs, and plenty of seats. Get your phone charged, recline across a few chairs and get ready to wait out the night.

2. Be prepared — almost everything closes at midnight at the airport

are you kidding overnight layovers

This is extremely important to know if you plan to pull an airport all-nighter. At around 11:30 pm, head to one of the snack stores and stock up on the essentials. Grab a bag of chips and some candy at the register and you’ll be all set to binge-watch some TV before you fall asleep. (Don’t let yourself learn this the hard way, as I did when I was in desperate need of a coffee at 3:45 am and the airport was a ghost town.)

3. If you forget your charger, make some new layover friends

making friends at airports

Taking advantage of free Wi-Fi in the airport is a great time killer, but using Wi-Fi also kills phone batteries. If you weren’t expecting to spend the night in the airport—but really, who would?—and you forgot your phone charger, don’t panic. The best part about traveling is that everybody is in the same boat, and the camaraderie among travelers is amazing. If there’s nowhere around to buy an extra charger from, there will always be somebody at your gate or the next gate over with a charger you can use, as long as you’re ready for some polite conversation. Shout out to Henry and Tyler who let me use their charger and then told me everything I could ever want to know about bass fishing. (Did you know there are over 14 kinds of fishing poles? ’Cause I do…and now you do too!)

4. Pack toiletries in your carry-on bag

getting ready at layovers

In a twist of fate, it was actually a good thing that I overslept, missed my bus to the airport and packed my bags at 4 a.m. that one time, because I ended up putting my toiletries bag in my carry-on. I cannot tell you just how happy I was to be able to take out my contacts at midnight, wash my face and brush my teeth— sometimes it’s the little things. Get in the habit of putting your makeup bag or toiletries in your carry-on, because you never know when you’ll have to sleep in the airport or if the airline will lose your bag. Just make sure that those liquids are each under three ounces and follow airport guidelines!

5. Ask an airport attendant if there’s somewhere to grab sleeping essentials.

sleeping winnie the pooh

At some airports, there will be places where you can pick up a blanket and pillow if you’re stuck there overnight. This is especially true if your flight has been cancelled or delayed due to weather. Sometimes there are even cots available! While many airports don’t have this, it never hurts to ask. And it may be worth at least grabbing a neck pillow from an airport store!

If you don’t have a blanket or pillow handy, using a scarf or sweatshirt can also work in a pinch. It might not be your bed at home, but it’s better than staying up all night. Have a friend keep an eye on your other bags while you catch some Z’s, and take turns!

6. You can still get a workout in

monsters inc exercising GIF

Don’t have access to a treadmill or elliptical but still want to exercise? You can walk around the airport for hours if you feel like doing so! While it might not be a high-intensity cardio workout, walking from terminal to terminal for as long as your heart desires is enough to justify a workout for the day. Especially if you’re carrying your overstuffed backpack.

If you want to burn even more calories, look for stairs and go up and down them for 10-45 minutes. I might have looked a little crazy to those on the escalator as I walked up and down the stairs with my backpack for an hour, but what else is there to do after you’ve had five espresso shots? Am I right?

7. Ask for discounts

happy about discounts GIF

This might not work for everyone, but it’s always worth a try. Some airlines will offer an airport card with discount coupons on it if you decline the “discounted” hotel room and tell them that you are staying the night in the airport, but the catch is that you have to ask. It might also be helpful to keep your coffee, tea, or soda cup from to-go restaurants and coffee shops, because those places may offer free refills. (High five if you’re a Starbucks Rewards member!)

Sure, an overnight layover at an airport may not be your favorite way to spend the night, but it’s manageable with these tips. Keep in mind, you CAN leave the airport during your layover but you will have to go through security again when you return. And on the bright side, you’ll likely be flying to someplace awesome or to the comfort of your own home afterwards. It all works out in the end!

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1 Comment

Dianne Dippel · September 16, 2017 at 2:01 pm

As a 25 year standby flier I have had real experience with this and here are my tips:

ALWAYS carry on (or gate check when required so you pick up when deplaning):
Medications (carry something to eat, like trail mix, so you can take meds on a non-empty stomach), earplugs, eye mask, low-bulk blanket (for cover of body and head so when you finally do get to sleep you don’t wake up as entertainment for early travelers the next morning), and a water container (you can refill it in the airport). Do not seek out a ‘private’ space to sleep as that also increases your vulnerability… ‘Sleep’ with your head on your valuables. Set an alarm on your phone so you don’t miss your flight.

Large airports provide hotel discount forms at Customer Service desk (decide whether the extra time required for shuttle/taxi, check in, settling in, etc., is worth the short time in an actual bed).

That’s all I can think of at the moment but am sure there is more….

Ah yes, there may be times you arrive at the transfer airport after all services are closed for the night. Once you leave the secure portion of the airport you WON’T be allowed back in if TSA is gone for the night. So you may be able to find refuge in the baggage claim area.

Try to remember that the experience is an adventure in itself.

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