How to Survive 24 Hours in an Airport

“The guy in front of me is me circa 8 pm,” I texted my best friend from Charles de Gaulle Airport at 11:15 pm on November 2, the night before my flight from Paris to Toronto. “He’s dying the fuck out. I can see it in his eyes. We’re like soldiers in this airport, slowly falling one by one.”

“LOL OMFG,” she responded.

“It’s a battlefield, girl, between the travellers and exhaustion . . . Exhaustion is kicking our asses. I’m winning the battle right now, but exhaustion is owning the war.”

***

Quite the opposite of my flight home from Rome in early August and my flight to Paris at the end of September, both of which I was dangerously close to missing, I was at the airport 22.5 hours in advance of my flight out of Paris. I only had my apartment until November 2, but couldn’t affordably fly out until November 3. Because I was leaving Europe far earlier than planned, I had already coughed up a 300-dollar flight change fee. I wasn’t going to pay any more for the convenience of flying home on a Sunday. I also wasn’t going to pay for a hotel for my last night. That would defeat the entire purpose of leaving on a Monday to save money. The airport is perfectly free. It’s also luxurious – compared to the New York subway floor I once slept on.

Having miraculously lived to tell the tale of my airport all-nighter, I can’t say I recommend it, especially if you can’t function on limited sleep. I also can’t say I wouldn’t do it again. At €141 for a hotel room at the airport, where I highly considered crashing after my teeth began to clench in exhaustion and before I saw the price, sleep is for the rich. I’m the unemployed. My stance was reaffirmed: I could sleep on the plane.

Twenty-two and a half hours awake doesn’t sound so bad until you add the fact that I didn’t sleep the night before I got to the airport either. Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle, I was running on less than 2 hours of sleep in the previous 19. To reiterate, I still had 22.5 hours before takeoff. You know those times you’re pretty sure you’re going to die? Like that time your dumb 20-year-old friend tricks your naïve 16-year-old ass into a car driven by some idiot getting high at the wheel? Or that time your talk-to-strangers mentality somehow has you relaying your entire sex life to a guy faking sociological research in Rome? Or university? This was one of those times. I thought I was going to convulse, collapse to my demise, and never make it back to Canada to spread peanut butter on apples again! (On that note, can Europe get some peanut butter up in it, please?) This is coming from a chick that has busted her ass at the gym after pulling weekday all-nighters, so those of you that need 8 hours of sleep per night just to keep your eyes open, be-fucking-ware; this probably isn’t for you. But if you have no choice – or, like me, give yourself no choice – below are my tips for spending 24 hours in an airport and ensuring you live to see your goddamn wedding day.

1. Try not to die.

I know, what the fuck kind of tip is that, right? It is your lifeline! Basic functions, like conscious awareness and easy breathing, stop being automatic by hour you’ve-lost-count. This is a life or death battle. You choose life. You haven’t even slept with any guys that haven’t turned out to be douchebags yet. You. Choose. Life.

2. Situate yourself near people that look at least semi-trustworthy.

If you’re travelling with other people, you can all take turns playing luggage guard while the others play sleeping beauties. As a solo traveller, your body is your luggage’s only defense. Sleep risks losing it but staying awake risks losing yourself, so sit next to the other zombies hanging over their suitcases, and power nap whenever you can. I kept jolting awake for fear of attempted robbery, as per my morning, but sporadic 5- to 10-minute naps summing to less than an hour of sleep during your entire stay at the airport is better than no sleep at all.

3. Carry more than 58 cents.

What did I say after my panicked race against time to Fiumicino Airport in August? Have an emergency local currency fund! Sometimes it takes me a few times to really learn my own lessons. In Paris, I would let my euros dwindle to nothing before replenishing, because I knew I could just pull more out of the ATM at BNP without incurring any charges, thanks to the basic Scotiabank account I opened before leaving and the Global ATM Alliance. With only enough cash to take the train to the airport and some change on me, my original plan for the day before my flight was to go to the bank to withdraw money before chilling at Starbucks with my luggage and writing; going to Jacques Genin one last time for hot chocolate with vanilla bean whipped cream and either a caramel tart, lemon-basil tart, mille feuille, or all of them; picking up some macarons from Pierre Hermé to bring home; buying as many Miss Manon pains of chocolat as necessary to sustain myself at the airport; and taking the RER to Charles de Gaulle, where I would stay until my next morning’s flight.

Here’s what actually happened: I went to the ATM, where two assholes tried to rob me. Yeah, for real! (Ironically, earlier that morning, I had been thinking about how people are too paranoid about theft in Paris, because I hadn’t had any problems.) They were unsuccessful because they tried to pull €300 out of my account (greedy!), which is above my 400-Canadian-dollar limit. Bless our weak dollar. I’ve kind of always wanted to be robbed while abroad for the story, but somehow minus the missing money part. Success! Being almost robbed gave me the travel badge without the financial loss. It obviously still scared the crap out of me though. I decided I didn’t need money or food that badly. I proclaimed famine and went straight to the airport. After hours of hunger-inducing sitting, I resorted to buying overpriced food at the airport for the first time in my life outside of business travel, during which food can be expensed. With only 58 cents left in cash, I guiltily took the 2.5 percent hit on my credit card.

4. Make sure to set up camp for the night in a terminal with working power outlets.

Your charged laptop and phone are crucial to your sanity. They are going to entertain you enough to hopefully keep you awake. I couldn’t do anything productive because my brain was long past the point of formulating words into eloquent sentences, but I read blogs like www.sleepinginairports.net (oh yeah, it’s a real thing) and texted friends to keep myself going. That is, until my laptop died and my phone was on the verge of the same fate, and the power outlets in Terminal 2E were powerless. Access closed to all other terminals around midnight, so I couldn’t even get to 2A, where I knew there were working outlets. When I saw the closed gate and had no choice but to turn back to my inevitable doom that was 2E, I felt like I was in Titanic. You know the part when the ship is sinking and the coalmen are trying to escape but the compartments are closing one by one? It was the 2014 version of that: dead Apple devices.

5. Be psychology prepared for a near mental breakdown when your flight delays – twice.

You may be wondering why this post is titled How to Survive 24 Hours in an Airport when I arrived 22.5 hours before departure. Enter Air Canada. My flight was delayed an hour and then another half hour for no fucking reason. By the time you’ve reached 43 hours with less than 3 collective hours of sporadic sleep, each minute feels like climbing Machu Picchu. Oh, and don’t think the flight left after that additional hour and a half wait. We had barely started boarding by then. I felt like I was minutes away from needing a goddamn resuscitator by the announcement of the second delay, and Air Canada’s meaningless apologies over the speakers weren’t helping. There was so much pressure in my chest from overtiredness (because apparently that’s what not sleeping does when you take it too far #lessonlearned) that if those motherfuckers didn’t get me on a plane soon, my plan was to walk up to them and cry. I wasn’t sure what that would do exactly, but #desperatetimes.

6. The person from Lebanon sitting beside you on the plane will be just as interesting when you land in 8.5 hours. Go to fucking sleep!

When you finally sit on that plane, immediately close your eyes. I talked to and exchanged Facebook info with the guy beside me, because he was from Lebanon and that’s cool – apparently cool enough to further deprive myself of sleep. I’m all for making new friends, but you can do that when you land. You’re the definition of near-death by this point. Sleep. You’ve made it. Congrats! Not only are you going to live, you’ve gotten close enough to death to get your priorities straight. New life goal: Sleep with a non-douchebag ASAP!