The Experience of Airport Layovers: Home & Abroad

Airport layovers were a distant realm unknown to me for many years, until I had a taste of adventure abroad back in 2016. It was my only encounter to recently, when I endeavoured on my second overnight stay before Christmas. The first experience was many miles away in Indonesia, the latter was somewhat closer to home in the UK. On the previous endeavour I had the company of my partner, the second time I endured it alone. Both occasions showed similarities, but were equally rather different.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Our flight from Bali to London included a change of plane and thus and overnight stay in the capital of Jakarta. Our first flight leaving Bali was in the early evening and there was no connection until the following morning, which meant a night camping out in the terminal. There was little to no means of amusement, but we did manage to stumble across a KFC on the exterior, where we scraped together our last remaining rupiah to pay for our dinner. We lounged around until closing time, before making back inside to find our bed for the night.

The terminal building stretched for what seemed like miles, yet only contained a scattering of metal seats. However, there was also a row of wooden slat benches and as luck would have it, there were available next to each other. I laid back on my small cushion and gazed up at vast heightened ceiling above. It was muggy but not hot and as my back hardened against the solid wood, I listened to the serene emptiness of the place. Quiet except for a distant choral of crickets, which chirped intermittently throughout the night.

My back ached and I struggled to get over in fear that our bags might be stolen. My partner already sleeping, I felt an begrudged sense of responsibility to keep a night watch, but I too needed rest. I managed to catch small pockets of sleep, but every time I began to drift, my lids would twitch open to check our bags. Though there was some discomfort, it hadn’t come completely unexpected and despite some anxiety felt a levelling sense of adventure at our far-flung layover that night. Waking up to the altering departures board, I held back a yearning for further escapades.

Bristol, UK

I was headed home for Christmas and with an early morning flight was faced with two potential options. 1. I could book a taxi to meet a bus leaving at 4am, which meant I could catch a little rest in the comfort of my own bed, but I would have to pay a higher cost. Alternatively, I could catch an 11pm bus and spend the remainder of the night in the airport, which would likely mean some discomfort and little sleep, but I’d be early for check in and save a few pennies.

Having debated both options and asked others for opinion, I decided in the end to air on the side of caution and stick with the latter.  When I arrived at midnight, to my surprise the building was still filled with people awaiting their nearest and dearest in arrivals.  Most of the seats in departures were taken up too, with many already settled in for own sleepovers too. Though it meant there was less room for me, it was quite nice to be in such great company and made me feel a little more relaxed about sleeping alone with my belongings.

Browsing over the few remaining chairs, I took a seat by the door and struggled to decided on whether I was tired enough to sleep or not. Though it was relatively quiet, there was surrounding shuffling and rustling and all whilst festive music played over the tannoy. I thought vacantly for a while, smiling at the familiar Christmas tunes and grew excited for my journey home. Though in truth the slightest idea of travelling can’t help but make me brighten a little.

I nodded off in brief spells until around 2am, when I grew a little restless and awoke again. By 3 o’clock a coach load of new passengers had filed into the departure hall and a draft of cold blew in from the rotating door. The noise levels gradually rose and I became ever more aware of bodies passing close to my bags. The time from then passed slow.

I hadn’t expected to check in until 5am, but by 4am I’d given up my seat and began to mull around with the others. Then, as luck would have it, check-in opened earlier than anticipated. As it turned out, I had queued with a coffee, checked-in, passed through security eaten breakfast of a sort before 5am came round.

How do they compare?

When I slept over in Jakarta, it was an entirely new experience, which made the occasion feel rather intrepid and exciting, but also left me weary at times. By the time I came to stay in Bristol I knew relatively what I could expect. Before the layover had been a necessity and I’d gone into it head-first without any consultation, the second time round, despite experience, I had researched the facilities on the internet. This time round I was staying by choice as opposed to part of a packaged deal, so I was weary of rules and regulations of bunking down overnight.

If you would like to read up on a particular airport for a predicted layover, then I can highly recommend having a look at the ‘Sleeping in Airports’ site. When I initially browsed my search engine, some information was very out of date and gave me cause for concern, then I stumbled across this particular website and any worry was gone.

At the weigh up, would I want to endure a further airport layover? I’m not entirely sure, there are pros and cons to each experience I’ve had, perhaps not readily by choice, but I think I would manage if I had to do it all again. It is part of a traveller’s greater journey after all and can make for interesting tales be they good or bad.

My advice would be to make the most of any layover, they aren’t there to provide you with a goodnight’s sleep, so just don’t go expecting it, but if you get it then, great. If I had to do it again I think I’d like to spend my time in a much bigger airport abroad, one where there was more do and see, like Singapore. Well, I have technically stopped over, as opposed to slept over in Singapore, but that’s a slightly different story…

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