I would love to say that my travel know-how came naturally. That I was born with the instincts of a sage sojourner; that I am inherently more Lindbergh than Earhart. In reality, however, my navigation skills and travel savvy have come the old-fashioned way: through trial and error. Sure, the 30-something me reads reviews for my hotels and triple-checks that I have my passport before I head to the airport. But only because the 20-something me was all, “It’s cool, I don’t need a hotel reservation over a holiday weekend, and my passport is probs in my backpack. Time for Jell-O shotssssssss!”

Among the lessons I have learned the hard way is how to sleep in an airport. Sometimes it was poor layover planning, and once I just didn’t bring my passport to an international flight and things snowballed from there…I won’t even get into the “JFK incident of 2005.” Should you ever find yourself in this predicament, here are the tips you’ll need to survive a night in the linoleum purgatory that is an airport lobby. 

Pack Thee a Pillow

Inflatable Neck Pillow

One of my greatest woes during nights in an airport has been where to lay my head. If your head and neck are uncomfortable, all hope is lost. Yes, sleeping atop a rolled-up sweatshirt is just as awful as it sounds. If there is even a chance you could get snowed in at an airport or miss your connection, for the love of all that is right and holy, bring a neck pillow. Oh, and the airport night crew really goes balls to the wall with the A/C after dark, so bring some gloves and long sleeves to avoid early-stage hypothermia.

Plant Your Flag

If your connecting flight leaves without you and the airline won’t pony up for hotel rooms, guess who you’re sharing your airport sleeping quarters with? That’s right, you lucky traveler, most of the other people on your flight! Even that crying baby in 9A. Don’t meander in the bathroom, or take your time at the vending machine. Find a row of empty seats near the baggage claim and find it soon. Stake your claim by laying down, and pretend to be asleep so no one bothers you.

Repurpose Your Belongings

Portrait of a tired young woman sleeping at airport

For the duration of your temporary residence at Chateau de LAX, or wherever you may be, your supplies will be limited. It’s survival of the fittest, and only the most resourceful shall remain relatively comfortable. Turn your sweatshirt into a blanket, and wrap that oversized pashmina around yourself like a stylish sleeping bag. Use hair ties or socks to tie your bag’s strap to either your own wrist or the chair where you’re sleeping. Lay with part of your body over your bag. Trust me, you’ll get more shuteye when you’re not monitoring your carry-on. 

Ask for Favors

During my harrowing overnight in one East Coast airport, there were some people on cots. And I coveted those cots so hard. Yet, I slept on a row of seats so simultaneously lumpy and board stiff that I may as well have been attempting slumber in an untilled field. What I’m saying is this: Whenever it’s possible, make friends with airport staff and get your hands on a cot, an airline pillow and blanket, or anything designed for sleeping. This is no time to be timid. Gate agents are your new best friend when you’re sleeping in an airport.

No one plans to check into the Hotel del Aeropuerto. But if you find yourself with this undesirable reservation, you can still get a bit of rest with the right strategy. Sweet dreams, travelers!