For many, the airport is a place filled with frustration and anxiety. But for others, the airport is a peaceful place where you don’t exist — no one does — and I love it. You’re allowed to do absolutely nothing and sometimes, that’s exactly what the soul of a weary traveller needs.
There was a great piece about airport layovers in the New York Times recently by Sasha Chapin. In it, Chapin expressed praise for the layover, calling it a “healthful, restorative bore” and I couldn’t agree more.
Long journeys really take it out of you and the layover can be a welcome reprieve, even if it sometimes feels like an obstacle in the way of adventure. But the more I thought about it the more I realised any time spent in an airport could be such a sanctuary — it doesn’t have to be a layover.
My time in an airport is usually filled with a few of the same routines. I seek out a bar or two and compare Bloody Mary recipes. I buy some sort of salty snack at a newsstand, throw on my noise-cancelling headphones, and grab a seat to people watch. I finally crack open that book I packed and swore I’d finish on the trip, only to give up after a few pages so I can dink around on my phone instead.
Occasionally, I find a quiet corner and nap. It’s all a complete waste of time. But that’s the point, that’s what the airport is for. I’m already where I need to be. It’s just a matter of time — my time.
I intentionally get to the airport early so I can achieve this state of in-between, this limbo. Before a trip, this time allows me to relax and switch gears into travel mode. I gradually wrap up some work so I can let it go, I stop thinking about all my to-dos, then wipe away any other stressors. Basically, I forget who I was and prepare to reboot as a fresh version of myself at another location.
Being early also ensures I’m prepared to head out. Am I feeling anxious to fly today? No problem, I’ll grab a drink (make mine a double). Did I forget my book? All good, I’ll browse the bookstore for a bit and see what’s new. Oh no, my phone’s battery is about to die… Ah, there’s an outlet under that seat over there.
But when the adventures or toils of a trip are complete, I still head to the airport early before coming home. Sure, there are logistic benefits to getting to the airport a few hours early, but I’ve shown up eight or nine hours before takeoff when coming home from an international trip.
Why? Because travel is exhausting. I could maybe squeeze in another couple tourist spots with that time, snap some more photos, buy a few more knickknacks. But would I really enjoy it in that drained state of mind? Probably not. Maybe I’ll come back later? Yeah, I’ll come back later.
I'm a bit of a nervous flyer, so I always get to the airport early to sip on some courage at the bar. It helps me keep calm and, well, it's hard to pass up a good Bloody Mary. Over the years, I've learned a few tips to ensure the airport bar is always a good experience.Read more
I think I’d rather use that time to grab a tasty snack, rehydrate and sit in a coin-operated massage chair while I reflect on the ups and downs of my journey. I’d rather be in the sweet emptiness of limbo, becoming nothing.
The airport is a metaphorical hyperbaric chamber of sorts, allowing you to decompress and slowly prepare for your return to the slippery surface of the real world. This decompression period, this limbo, is universally sanctioned do-nothing time. Use it well, traveller.