Step 1: Arrive & Orient
Yes, arrive. Get your bags and gather your bearings. You’ll be here for a while. Walk around and get a feel for the place. Keep your eyes peeled for bathrooms, places to keep a low profile, and a place to get food. This should take no more than a half-hour.
When you’re done scouting, try to find an information desk. I stayed overnight in Terminal 1 at Charles DeGualle in Paris, so mine came standard with a sarcastic Frenchman who was kind enough to explain that I have to push buttons to get the elevators to work.
Step 2: Get Food
This is important. Without food and with enough passage of time, you will die. However, without food and with less passage of time, you will get grumpy and irritable, and less likely to make sleeping arrangements or friends. Get your food sooner rather than later, and always plan for a snack: airport restaurants close at night, just like restaurants in the real world. When they do close, you’re out of luck until Cinnabon (God forbid) opens in the morning.
My meal at CDG was a Big Mac and a Coke. I hope you fare better.
Step 3: Settle In
Find a good central location to all of the aforementioned necessities—just out of the way of eyelines and earshots—and make your nest. I was fortunate enough to have a camping pillow and my pajamas readily at hand, so if you have anything of that nature, a location where you could use those things is ideal.
Also, if you can find people to meet, all the better. Allies are crucial. I recommend doing something specific to where you’re from. If you’re English, make tea. If you’re German, sport the socks-and-sandals combo unabashedly. No matter where you’re from, don’t be loud.
Being from Alaska, and since there was no snow to make an igloo, I pitched my backpacker’s hammock. Almost immediately, I was greeted by a friendly young lady from Las Vegas who was traveling with her family back from Poland. Here I learned that talking to good company is one of the fastest ways to kill time when you aren’t sleeping.
Step 4: The Getaway
The most crucial step to your getaway begins before you go to sleep. Set an alarm for at least 2 hours before you go. Getting your stuff together takes a bit longer than you would think in an airport. Freshen up, too. A swipe of deodorant has a significant mood-altering property. And be sure to say goodbye to your new friends, too—you might need a couch to surf if you ever visit Las Vegas.
Have you had the misfortune of overnighting at an airport? What did you do to beat the boredom?