2:00 AM, Milan, Italy. Slouched awkwardly against the wall next to a power outlet (and interestingly, a fire extinguisher), I am into my third hour of one of the most unfortunate aspects of travel: the airport overnighter. This occurs when one’s departure time on an extremely crucial flight happens to fall at an inconvenient time – say, for example, six o’clock in the morning (check-in starts at four!). Forced to take public transportation, there is no choice but to take the latest bus possible and spend the entire night in a closed airport: in this case, Milan’s Malpensa. Naturally, if the flight in question will be spanning considerable time zones (hello 10 hours!), this requires forced sleeplessness and self-amusement for up to seven hours in attempts to reduce oncoming jetlag. If you’re one of those people who associate glamour with around-the-world jet travel, think again. You’ve clearly never done this. However, if you’re about to for the first time, here are some tips to help you out.
Step One: Preparation.
Remember, if you’re flying literally across the world, you’re going to be sitting around for, like, two days, probably in horribly cramped positions. Prepare for this and get your energy out first! Spend your Day Before doing active things, spending time outside, getting a nice sunburn, and most importantly, eating large and nutritious meals and the Swiss fondue offered to you by a Latvian family. Drink tons of water and pack your carry-on baggage with care: Computer, book(s), iPod, sleeping pills, an extra set of clothes, food, water, and chocolate will probably be necessary. DO NOT forget lip balm, especially with that sunburn. Sitting around is cold, though, so bring an extra jacket. If you somehow end up alone in a Swiss-Italian bus station with an included “VIP Lounge” reminiscent of a shady nightclub, do not be alarmed, but make the most of it! Use the cappuccino machine liberally, eat the cake, lounge in the golden throne (I am not kidding), admire the silver glitter on the spray-painted black walls and pack the fruit in your purse. Glance in alarm at the emo-ness of the model on the cover of what appears to be a “Ticino Men” magazine, and use your Italian skills to talk the receptionist into giving you a discount on your bus ticket.
Step Two: Tips on the Road.
If you’re the only one taking an airport shuttle and the driver is talkative, use this to your advantage, as he probably does this all the time. If he is an ancient, toothless Italian man named Fabio, combine your linguistic skills and become instant friends. Tell him how long you have to wait before check-in and he’ll probably be able to offer detailed instructions about the best places and ways to bide your time. Be extremely friendly, talkative and engaged, and perhaps he’ll help you with your mountain of baggage and insist on paying for your luggage cart when you realize you don’t have any coins in the local currency.
Step Three: Explore.
Enter the airport with enthusiasm. At last, you have reached your destination! Airports are huge, and much less overwhelming when they’re completely empty. Time to investigate your options! Cruise around with your luggage cart and stake out major landmarks. These include the screen displaying your flight information, your check-in desk, bathrooms, power outlets, places that sell food (if they’re closed, nice seating will most likely be available outside them for free), every chair you can find, and benches with no armrests, in case you want to lay down. Take every elevator you see and find out where it goes. Explore children’s play areas. Have fun! You have a huge airport (mostly) to yourself!
Step Four: Make Decisions and Rotate.
Select an activity you know you’ll be too interested in to fall asleep while doing, such as that graphic design experiment you’ve been thinking about for months. Enjoy your alone time! Choose Desirable Location #1 and make yourself at home, enjoying the comfortable chair and proximity to the window. Drink as much water as you can while the bathroom is readily available (not the case once you board the plane). Continue for as long as you can stand, and then switch! Pack up your cart and zoom off to Desirable Location #2. Get as comfortable as you can next to power outlet next to the Qatar Airlines desk and charge your electronics in case of later emergency. Start writing even though you’re exhausted. Keep switching like this until you’re allowed to check in for your flight, then head straight for the gate – conditions will probably be better there. Stay energized by moving around when you need to, eating periodically, and talking to friendly people if you meet any. Get creative – take pictures, make up songs, write blog posts, whatever you like (note: taking pictures may be illegal in some airports). If none of this is your style, you can pace the halls creepily like everyone else in the airport seems to be doing.
Step Five: The Final Moments.
You’ve made it through the night, and really, it went by pretty quick! However, now that you’re at the gate it’s a struggle to keep your eyes open. To be safe, set your iPod alarm for your boarding time and put your headphones on. Go to the bathroom. Keep moving. Change into the most comfortable and warm clothes you have. Brush your teeth and switch your contacts for glasses. Make up stories about interesting strangers you see walking about. When you hear your boarding call, take a sleeping pill and get in line with your boarding pass and passport in hand. Now the flight will pass like nothing, too! Hope you have a window seat, smile at whoever’s sitting next to you, and fall asleep instantly. Success achieved! Good luck navigating your transfer in Frankfurt now that you’ve started sleeping, though. Your arrival wherever you’re going is right around the corner!