Being Prepared for When You Have to Sleep in the Airport


Home sweet home.

As I’m sure any of you who read my recent rant about American Airlines are well aware of, I recently spent a cold, uncomfortable night in the Jacksonville International Airport due to a diverted flight.

While some of the things I had brought along with me on the trip ended up being lifesavers that night, there were a few things I found myself wishing I had with me. You can’t always guarantee you’re going to make it to your destination and spend the night in a warm bed, so it’s best to prepare yourself for these kinds of eventualities whenever possible. A few things thrown into your carry-on can make all the difference in the world. These are the things I suggest you pack for your next flight to ensure you can make the most of a tough situation when it happens.

I was lucky in that I was traveling using only a carry-on, so I had everything I needed with me already. But don’t get caught off guard. Make sure the following items are in your carry-on whenever you fly:

A convertible travel pillow

Up until fairly recently, I always traveled with one of those U shaped travel pillows, and for the most part it did the trick well. I forgot to pack my travel pillow for my trip to Japan in February, however, so I ended up buying a garishly pink convertible travel pillow covered in flowers and teddy bears while I was in Japan to use on the trip home. I’ve got to say, as silly as it may look…it’s been a game changer. On my recent failed attempt at getting to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, I ended up being diverted to Jacksonville and spending the night there. The travel pillow, which had been U-shaped on the plane to support my neck, was much more comfortable when sleeping on benches and the floor at the airport after I converted it back into a normal pillow shape. Here’s a similar (and much less “colorful” one I found on Amazon if you want to take a look.

You may not think you’ll need a travel pillow for a short flight, but what if you get diverted somewhere and end up spending the night in the airport? It can and will happen if you travel enough. Be prepared.

A small blanket, or at the very least a big, warm scarf.

I always travel with either a small blanket or a big scarf when I fly because it often gets cold on the plane and they aren’t always handing out airline blankets. It’s not only good for the plane, but it’s also good for unexpected situations. I had opted for large scarf on this particular journey and although I wished I had opted for a blanket, it was still a lifesaver to have something to use as a blanket as the airport was really cold. From now on, I’ll be upping my game to a small fleece blanket. It’s definitely good to have something to use as a blanket when you’re trying to sleep in an airport though.

Another option would be to wear one of those big, soft capes as a jacket onto the plane. You’ll be snuggly in-flight, and if you need it, it works as a blanket, too.

An eye mask

They don’t exactly turn the lights down at night in the airport, so you’ll be dealing with bright lights blaring down at you as you try to rest. Having a good eye mask can make all the difference in the world. Plus, it’s good for on the plane as well when you want to try to catch a few winks, and it really doesn’t take up much space in your suitcase.

Ear plugs, noise canceling headphones, or anything to drown out that guy yelling on his cell phone all night.

Yes, there was a guy yelling on his cell phone all night. All I had was earbuds. Thankfully, I also have a meditation station on Pandora that I listen to, so I turned up the volume to drown him out. He didn’t seem to be bothered by myself and others giving him the look of death as he screamed at somebody on the other end of the line for…I kid you not…four hours. It was 3am. Who was he even talking to at that time? Even if he had been trying to get the West Coast it would have been midnight there. Was he yelling at somebody in Australia? Be prepared for the fact that there’s always going to be one awful, inconsiderate person who really doesn’t give a crap if you need to sleep.

Some warm socks.

To get comfortable in your very uncomfortable airport terminal bed, you may want to take off your shoes while you try to sleep. A nice, clean, warm pair of socks helps a lot. Not only does it keep you warmer in the cold, unforgiving airport terminal, but it will also be nicer for your fellow travelers who don’t have to smell your feet. Win-win.

Cleansing Wipes.

There will very likely not be a shower. There will, however, be a bathroom. I was never so happy to have cleansing wipes in all my life. I usually use them to remove makeup when traveling, but this time around I got in a bathroom stall, took a few cleansing wipes, and gave myself a sponge bath. No shame. Men, you might be less likely to carry these as you don’t tend to have makeup to remove, but do yourself a favor and pick some of these up before your next trip. The bathroom stall cleansing wipe bath is a real luxury when desperate times call for desperate measures. They aren’t bad for general cleanliness when traveling, anyway, and they don’t count towards your liquid restrictions so really you’ve got nothing to lose.

Something comfortable you can wear to bed.

Put your pajamas in your carry-on. Or at least some sweatpants and a t-shirt. ‘Nuff said. Again, no shame. All airport etiquette rules go out the window when you’re forced to sleep in an airport terminal for the night. Check out my red heart-patterned pajama pants, world.

Something to change into in the morning.

You’ll be thanking the heavens for clean clothes and clean underwear in the morning. Make sure it’s something comfortable. You don’t want to be squeezing into your skinny jeans after all that trouble.

A toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, your hair brush, your medications, and other essentials.

If you’ll absolutely need it in the morning or overnight, put it in your carry on. Brushing my teeth and hair was something I was so thankful for when stuck in that airport. So, so thankful. And ladies, that includes feminine hygiene products. Do NOT get stuck without those if you think you’ll need them. Don’t count on the airport shops being open, either. They were all closed when we were dropped off in Jacksonville and didn’t open until after my flight left the following morning. Come prepared.

Your Phone Charger and a Portable Charging Device

All the cell phone charging options! When you’re stuck somewhere, you’ll be on your phone. A lot. Canceling reservations, calling people who were expecting to pick you up at the airport, calling your husband to have a good cry….you’ll need your phone. Have your wall charger so you plug it in and charge it up when needed. Have a portable charger (all juiced up and ready to go) in case a wall charger is nowhere to be found. I spent most of the night alone in the Jacksonville airport crying on the phone to my husband back in San Diego and I was happy to have lots of options to charge my phone. I was on the phone quietly, I should add, unlike that yelling man who just wanted to keep the whole airport awake.

Food. So much food.

Oh, glorious food. I always pack food when I travel because I have food allergies and I never know how it’s going to go. However, on this occasion I ate all of said food on the flights before my overnight delay as it was a really, really long day of flying and American Airlines doesn’t have any gluten free options on their in-flight food menu because of course they don’t. I had planned on picking up more food for the return journey at my destination but that never happened. Mistakes were made. Also, they gave me a food voucher, but since nothing was open in the terminal, it was kind of useless. Lesson…always bring even more food than you think you’ll need. All the food.

A Water Bottle

You’ll likely get kicked out of the security area before you have to sleep in misery all night, but before you do, make sure you’ve got a water bottle. You can always refill it at a water fountain, and dump it out before you have to go back through security, but it’s nice to have some water in the middle of the night.

Optional: Inflatable Sleeping Pad

Ok, so the chances of getting left in an airport terminal overnight aren’t usually in your favor (thankfully). However, if you’re feeling like some extra credit or you’re concerned you might have an overnight delay (such as any time you’ve got a late night flight out of LAX, ever) you may want to consider one of those little inflatable sleeping pads that people use while camping. Make sure it’s either self-inflating or blow up, and make sure it’s small enough that it actually fits in your suitcase and doesn’t put you over the carry-on weight/size limit, but I’ll say I was really pining for one of those in that cold, uncomfortable Jacksonville airport. Something to consider?

Basically, what it boils down to is always fly with the thought in the back of your mind that you may end up having to live like a homeless person for a night.



2 replies »

  1. I’m interested in knowing, how much does your carry on weigh from carrying these items? They definitely sound like a lifesaver, especially in your situation!
    I always end up taking lots of knickknacks on my carry on, and my bag becomes unnecessarily heavy! But when it comes to decluttering, I find myself unable to let go of each item…!

    Liked by 1 person

    • haha not too bad. I have a backpack I use, and most of these items are small and light, really. I try to pack all immediate essentials in the carry on, and then if I’m doing a checked bag, that’s where I’ll add things like the rest of my clothes, extra shoes, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

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