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Arriving at an Airport at Night Travel Tip

I pushed the purchase button to confirm that I wanted to buy an air ticket from Portland, Maine to Santiago, Dominican Republic via JFK. I looked at the final destination arrival time and shrugged: 2:45 AM I have arrived in many cities in the middle of the night before, and this time, even with a [...]

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I pushed the purchase button to confirm that I wanted to buy an air ticket from Portland, Maine to Santiago, Dominican Republic via JFK. I looked at the final destination arrival time and shrugged:

2:45 AM

I have arrived in many cities in the middle of the night before, and this time, even with a baby, should be no different.

I actually had two choices of arrival time. One was at 11 PM and another was at 2:45AM. I chose the later flight intentionally.


Because there are a lot less hours between 3 AM and day break than from 11PM. I do not like traveling into new cities in search of accommodation in the middle of the night. I do not make hotel reservations — I will not give my debit card number to a hotel and I want the liberty to walk out without financial penalty if I don’t like the looks of the joint. It is also a dubious endeavor trying to book some hotel rooms in the late hours of the night — many are not open (or the receptionist is sleeping), full, or not taking new guests until the following morning.

To arrive in a foreign city without an accommodation booking is to face the potential that you may need to walk between a score of hotels or hostels before finding an acceptable room. This is vastly more challenging to do in the middle of the night.

When I arrive by air in a new city — one that I have not been to before — after 10 PM, I wait at the airport until daybreak.

This is the safer, surer option. I don’t want to be searching the streets for a place to stay or trying to track down the address of some stray hotel in the middle of the night with all my worldly possessions strapped to me. I also will not bite the bullet and stay in an expensive hotel for the sake of convenience.

Looking lost and clueless when traveling is a good way to invite trouble, difficult situations, and ugly faces. Walking around in the middle of the night with my pack on asking directions to cheap hotels is a sure way to look clueless — it is a sure way to make myself an easy target.

Waiting at an airport until daybreak is also the cheapest option — a good budget travel move — for why would I want to pay full price for a half night’s stay at a hotel when I can nap at the airport for free? Sitting in a chair with my body propped up by my bag for a few empty hours is good way to save a night’s accommodation fare — money that I could better use to pay for transport into the city from the airport.

Waiting is a large part of traveling. You wait for buses, you wait for trains, you wait for entertainment, you wait to be served in restaurants, you wait in line, you wait, wait, wait. I have grown use to waiting — sitting somewhere for a few hours does not bother me, I have even grown to like it. Waiting time when traveling is open time, it is free time, it is time to look around you — watch people– observe what is going on, it is time for taking notes, reading, talking to strangers, taking photos. Waiting time can be turned into one of the most beneficial times in your travels, if you know how to use it.

Waiting in the airport

If you don’t learn to capitalize on your waiting time when traveling, you are not only missing out on a large chuck of life, but you are missing out on one of the most educational aspects of travel. The time to sit back, think, fiddle, start conversations with people you don’t know, and read are precious. The ability to stop the presses and be the observer rather than the actor can show a place from the other side.

The waiting time in travel is perhaps the real antithesis of working a day job. There seems to be few spaces in the life of an employed, busy person to do nothing — the space to wait, pressure free, with nothing else in the world to do. Traveling gives you this space en masse — you are free to do the little things that you can only miss while walking fast “doing things.”

I have no problem with waiting in airports until daybreak when I arrive at night.

It is the safer, surer option.

It is the cheaper option.

It is the easy option.

In my opinion, it is the better option.

Sometimes I read in travel guidebooks that airports are unsafe, risky places to hang out. I have no idea where this information comes from — it is rarely ever backed up. Maybe someone said this once and everybody else thought it just sounded good enough to repeat. I have never felt threatened in any airport at any time. My wife, Chaya, was shown an ugly face once in an airport, but she was sleeping in some far off corner of an empty terminal by herself.

I usually wait in the arrivals or departures halls. I look for places with lots of people. I lock my bag to the bench I am sitting on and keep all valuables inaccessible. I do sleep but I do so lightly. I do go for strolls but I don’t put myself in lonely places.

The most difficult part of waiting in an airport that I have found is subduing the great anticipation that arises from being in a new place, it is sometimes a rough go to sit still when chomping at the bit to go, to explore, to find out what lays on the other side of the hill you are so close to climbing over. All too often I find myself doing more wiggling in my seat with excitement than resting while waiting for the new day in an airport.

It is usually not a necessity to leave the airport as soon as you land. If you find yourself dumped off at your destination city at an uncompromising hour, you can wait to leave until the leaving is good. Airports are made for waiting in — so wait, save a little money, sit back and relax until the next morning light. Then, you have an entire day ahead of you to travel into the city, find a good bed, or get to where you want to go.

Travel Tips — Budget Travel — Air Travel

Filed under: Air Travel, Airports, Travel Tips

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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  • Johnny Vagabond February 7, 2010, 10:08 am

    I totally agree, Wade. While looking for a ticket to Bangkok, I ran into the same thing. With a little more searching, I was able to find a 10am arrival, as opposed to the majority of flights which landed at 11:45. Stumbling around a foreign town in the middle of the night is a risky move…

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 9, 2010, 11:19 pm

      Hello Johnny,

      Right on, 10 AM is among the perfect times for arriving. It is good to shop around for good arrival times in addition to price. Don’t know if you know this already but if you go downstairs you can get a cheap bus into the city from the Bangkok airport.



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  • hotspringfreak February 8, 2010, 11:40 am

    Move along, Move along…nothing to see here.

    Happy Trails,

    -Chris in Panajachel (where it’s so cheap)

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