Airports can be used as temporary places to sleep, chill and “live” as if they were hotels, legally, comfortably and for free… This is how.
In a perfect world, there would be no flight delays because there would be seamless transfer connections. However, that’s not the case so that makes most international airports ideal as a sort of “home away from home”, or a hotel-like potential.
In essence, all relatively busy international airports are designed to be able to provide almost all the necessities and many luxuries that most people expect and require.
They’re basically shopping malls with hotel features.
Throughout my 5 years of continuous vagabonding around the world and flying on over 420 flights, these are the ways I’ve used airports like free hotels:
In most cases, there is nothing wrong with sleeping at airports and staying over 48 hours. So don’t worry about being kick out or getting into trouble. Most major airports are essentially built for this. So the first prep is mentality, don’t worry about it.
If you know you’ll be at an airport for long hours, check your large luggage before arriving so you won’t have to lug it around. But have at least a small go-bag packed with just what you need. Also, bring a light jacket or sweater as airports get cold, especially during the red eye hours.
If possible, plan your arrival to coincide with the normal sleeping time of your new country’s time zone to better ease out of jet-lag, there are homeopathic pills that always work for me.
The public terminal area is divided in to 2 parts: the check-in area (where the airline booths are) and the gates area (where only passengers are allowed after security screening). Typically, only the largest airports are good to “use as hotels” for both areas.
If you’re arriving and intend to stay in the country but don’t want to stay at a hotel for that night (to save on accommodations) or you have a very long layover but don’t want to leave the airport, then you will want to stay in the gates area.
If you decide to leave the gates area, you will have to go through security again. Also, if your connecting flight is more than 3 hours away (usually), you will not be able to enter the gates area, same goes if you’re an arrival.
Unless it’s a holiday season, there should always be a good selection of “living space” available. Of course, the larger the airport the better the selection. Just explore and find your perfect seating area. Keep in mind about bright lighting, air conditioner power, foot traffic and Wi-Fi strength.
So again, it’s perfectly fine to sleep at airports, especially international ones. So sleep or lounge with comfort in knowing that. This will become even more apparent when the airport slows down at night with people sleeping everywhere.
Major airports have extensive varieties of types of seats to couches to benches, for the public and for free. So you’ll having your picking of sleep spots.
Once you find your own little area, you can put down your bags, take off your shoes and just chill.
Food and Water
Even the smallest of airports will have restaurants and food shops. The larger ones will have popular chains to even semi-fine dining as well. So sustenance will not be a problem.
Most airports have water fountains free for use, usually found right outside bathrooms. But oddly, some major ones don’t have them and you may need to buy water. If you’re going to be at the airport for an extended time and don’t have a reusable water bottle, buy a drink from the shop and keep refilling the bottle.
Restaurants aren’t always open 24 hours however. But shops like 7-Eleven should be open at all times, so you may not be able to have a great meal at any hour of the night but you won’t starve either.
Once you’re in the gates area after passing security, there is almost no chance of baggage theft. Because everyone in there are sort of accredited to be there. And petty crime such as theft hardly exists. However I still like to keep my “hand luggage” safe.
This is fine for a single bag but there is a better way if you’re traveling with multiple bags:
To keep all your bags secure, daisy chain them to each other, then one end to your body or the chair you’re sleeping on. It’s as easy as linking the straps to each other.
Like I said, it’s highly unlikely that another passenger would steal your bag but this gives you a little peace of mind to help you sleep better.
And as you’ll hear in most airports over the loudspeaker on repeat, “don’t leave your belongings unattended”. Not so much because of theft but because of airport security regulations.
Wi-Fi and Charging
As a digital nomad, a good internet connection and power source is vital to my lively hood, but it’s still important to everyone else with a smartphone or laptop, especially at hotels with lots of downtime, or in this case, the airport.
Evey where you go, there are Wi-Fi sources abound at airports, but most are inaccessible. If you’re lucky, your airport will have public Wi-Fi hubs in busy seating areas. The password is usually on the hub itself. If not, there is often Wi-Fi that needs registration for access, some you just need an email address, but others require you to have a local mobile number.
If all else fails, try this tried-and-true method:
Another option is to sit outside (if you don’t a membership) one of those premium lounges and hook there Wi-Fi. But you will need a password. Checkout Foursquare for user submitted passwords, or if you’re desperate, just ask one of the members when they leave.
Charging however is rarely a problem. Generally speaking, if there’s an open power outlet, you can use it, as long as you’re in a public area. But now chairs with built-in charging stations and standalone hubs are popping up everywhere at airports.
Exercise and Explore
I love massive airports. I love exploring them, just randomly walking around, especially during after hours when it seems almost deserted. It’s also good on the body and helps you rest after a nice long walk.
Some airports are beautiful, full of amazing architecture, art displays and shops through endless corridors and expanses.
Sometimes this is the only way I can fall asleep at airports. It’s almost like returning to your hotel after a day of sightseeing around the city.
The convenience of these over hotels is that they are inside the airport, whereas you would have to leave the terminal, take a taxi and often venture far to get to it.
Also, you can shower!
I only use these when I seriously need a good night’s sleep or if I’m sick.
“Checking out” is not so much of an issue if you plan on staying in your arrival country, but if you have an outbound flight, be prepared.
In search of your little “living space” inside the massive airport may have taken you far from your gate so keep that in mind when it nears boarding time.
I personally can’t sleep for more than an hour or so at a time at airports so when I inevitably wake up again and it’s near boarding time, I move closer to my gate and make myself at home at that new spot.
The last thing you want is to wake up in an unfamiliar setting and having to run to your gate.
Instead of thinking you’re stuck at the airport, make yourself at home, or at least like a hotel.