Seasoned budget travelers know that cheap flights often depart at the most inconvenient times. If you want to take off from London to, say, Amsterdam for just a few pence, you might have to come to terms with spending the night at London's Stansted, one of the London area's five airports, and an especially budget-friendly one at that.
There's no shame in spending a Cheapo night at London Stansted airport. Photo: bartvanpoll.
But fear not. Spending a night at Stansted might just be the most entertaining event of your European vacation. Everything you really need to know about sleeping here or at any other European airport you (should have) learned in Kindergarten. Really, I swear.
So before you make the decision to spend the night, here are a few K-level lessons to help you survive and, hopefully, enjoy the late hours leading up to your flight. Without further ado, here are ten tips for surviving a night at Stansted (or, for that matter, any other European airport stuffed with budget-seeking fools).
1. Everybody's doing it. Ah, peer pressure, that great social lubricant. It starts when Polly urges you to eat sand on the playground. It ends here, where the mere sight of so many curled up backpackers soothes your bed-longing soul. In the middle of the night, there are probably more people sleeping in budget airline-friendly airports than taking off from them. So relax. You're not a freak for spending a night in an airport. You're a competent, confident traveler who doesn't require a petty thing like a mattress for sleeping.
2. There's lots of time to play. Games are an important part of life—and airports. I suggest a literary game. Everyone in your traveling group must write a story by morning. Shelley finished Frankenstein in one night! How does The Vampire of Stansted sound? If you're not the pen-wielding type, there are always cards or travel chess.
3. Snacks are sometimes free. There's bound to be someone giving away free food at Stansted. Your neck may be sore from sleeping in a chair, but who cares? A free-sample tea and biscuit breakfast is the perfect pick-me-up.
4. Be yourself. Or actually, don't. As many times as you've been encouraged to do this very thing, how often have you really followed through? No one ever wholeheartedly embraces this rule. Why? Because it's more fun to pretend to be someone else! If the mood strikes (or enough whiskey at the airport bar drives up your courage), consider inventing an alter-ego. Your night as Deuce Fulton, the former Wall Street power broker who sold all his worldly possessions to roam the world for several years, or Lola Minogue, the Melbourne ad exec-turned-body worker with two famous cousins, will be over before you know it.
5. Sharing is caring. Pathetic, I know—but incontrovertible. If you've got something cool—a great CD, Swiss chocolate, a theory on the Kennedy assassination—share it with your neighbors. Also see lesson #10.
6. Don't mess with Safety Patrol. Be safe, please. The last thing you want to do is piss off airport security. A hallway monitor may only have the power to say "slow down." Stansted security will slap you with a little more clout. Or worse. Don't be dumb.
7. Use your imagination. The traditional way of doing things can get boring. Make up a card game with your friends, complete with your own set of unconventional, impractical and hilarious rules. But don't go too crazy. "I was using my imagination," won't float when you get caught performing a strip tease on the baggage claim, and neither will "But those were the rules of the game." See lesson # 6.
8. They come in all shapes and sizes. If, by chance, you happen to be tossing around the idea of sleeping in another European airport, you must remember this advice: there are big ones, small ones and ones that stand on their head—just like your old block-playing buddies. You may think it's a good idea to forgo an extra night's stay at your friendly guesthouse, but some airports are tiny and dormant during the wee hours of morning. So be wary if you're traveling alone. 4 a.m. can be a dangerous time for your sanity, or, far worse, your stomach.
9. Set an alarm. If you're wondering why, you should seriously reconsider ever leaving your house and pretty much forget about planning a European jaunt!
10. Make Friends. These days, kids probably network during recess, but back when I went to school we just liked to have "Best Friends" (and they changed daily). Airports aren't as cliquey as grade school, so this should be easy for all of you, even you anti-social types. At the airport, the bond of shared immobility is strong. Just remember to sign all future airport buddy correspondence as Deuce or Lola. Otherwise, you'll have some explaining to do.