I wandered this way and that. People were lying in corners, sprawled on the floor. Some looked almost peaceful – others with arms flung over their eyes, or huddled foetally, any exposed faces scrunched into grimaces or rictuses of discomfort. Distant noise of machinery, but here…silence.
I padded along quietly, carrying my wheeled suitcase, careful not to make my boots squeak on Fiumicino Airport‘s shiny flooring, turned a corner – and there, neatly prone against one wall, was the Perfect Airport Sleeper.
She was swaddled in a half-unzipped sleeping bag. Under her head was an inflatable pillow sewn into the top of a handbag, the opening side tucked under her neck. On her right side was her suitcase (padlocked), with bungee cords snaking from it into the top-half of her sleeping bag zipper – presumably attached to an arm or wrist. Under her sleeping bag, one of those super-lightweight inflatable matresses that are quickly replacing camping rollmats. She had the faint smile of the truly, deliciously content.
Let’s say I’m a burglar. (Some airports have them). Where’s my way in? I can’t pull her suitcase away because I’d drag her along with it. I can’t get at her hand-valuables because I’d need to reach under her neck. And I can’t really do anything because she’s picked a spot that’s in full view of three other groups of people.
(To hell with it. I’ll try someone else).
Whoever that lady is, I’m grateful. She’s helped open up a whole new world of affordable (read: free) accommodation when I’m travelling.
Of course, you have to do your research. Some airport staff will send you on your way (which is always why you need an affordable back-up plan). Other places will pressure you for proof of your legitimacy – ie. they’ll want to know when you’re flying and why you’re crazy enough to willingly sleep on the floor.
Here’s a good round-up of the basics, courtesy of Donna McSherry’s Guide To Sleeping In Airports.
And here’s what sleeping in Fiumicino taught me.
- Fashion yourself a bag-pillow. A small valuables bag with a fabric sleeve sewn onto the side, into which you stuff an inflatable pillow. The bag should only open at the top, and this should be tucked under your head as you sleep. Daysacks usually come with double zips for left & right access – if you’re using one of these, secure the zips together in the centre with a tie or a small padlock…and find some way of clipping your sleeping bag onto the same padlock. This sucker stays put.
- Take a lightweight inflatable mattress, such as a Thermarest. Ever gone camping and suffered lumpy ground under your sleeping bag? Airport floors are 40 billion times worse. No, really. And if you’re lying directly on the ground, you’re going to have your body heat sucked right out your back or your side, leaving you muscle-cramped and chilled to the bone when you wake. (Yes, even through a good sleeping bag. Airport floors are heat-vampires of the thirstiest variety). Yet you avoid all that misery if there’s a layer of warm air between you and the floor. Make one.
- All your luggage ends at you. First, make sure everything is locked up tight. No way for anyone to get in without making a commotion. Next, attach your luggage to yourself, whether bungee cords attached to a leg-strap, or a flexible bike-lock hooked to your belt (which is trickier if you’re prone to shifting about while you sleep). Depending on the nature of the cord connecting you to your luggage, you have a choice: in the open or hidden away? With a bike-lock steel cord you’re safe to snake it out in full view, announcing to any disreputables that they haven’t a hope of scarpering with your kit without taking you along for the ride. If you’re worried you might have a fabric cord snipped with a knife, have your suitcase right next to you and hide the excess cord down by your side.
- Get earplugs. I’d recommend these for reading or dozing – but not for full sleep. It’s worth risking a disturbed sleep for hearing any sounds that suggest someone’s tinkering with your stuff. (This might not work for everyone – I’m good at sleeping in noisy places – buses, trains etc.). Awake, the most useful aspect of earplugs is the way they allow you to hear your thoughts again, letting you damp down the travel-induced chaos in your brain and focus on one thing only – a book, an mp3’d album, a travel journal. Secure your belongings, get comfortable and disappear into a saner inner world. My recommendation for all your earplug needs is Snorestore (in particular, Mack’s Ear Seals).
- The more public, the better. I find this one really tough. My instincts scream “hide away, lurk unseen, be small be small”. But if you want to be truly safe, you have to trust in one of the golden rules of travel – namely that In General, People Are Good. So seek safety in numbers, by bedding down somewhere fully in view of as many people as you’re comfortable with. Visibility is a deterrent- so use it. (And if you end up gumming at the floor or sleep-drooling over yourself and wake up to the sound of laughter – hey, they’re strangers, you’ll never see them again. Or you could wait until they’re asleep and steal their luggage. You know, for educational purposes).
- Water. All the airports I’ve slept in were either liberally air-conditioned or sweatboxes. Either way, you dry up. So make sure you have a topped-up water bottle before you zonk out. (Confession: at Fiumicino I spent a full hour in that mental no-man’s-land between wanting to doze off and wanting to get up and hunt for a drink, too parched for the former and too lazy for the latter. Airports really screw with your self-respect. Don’t give them the opportunity).
If you’re also an intrepid airport floor-hugger – anything to add?
Images: feline_dacat, anglogean, René Ehrhardt and Robert S. Donovan.