Over 20-plus years of professional and personal flying I have been in the air for nearly 20,000 hours, covered well over 6,000,000 miles and passed through hundreds of airports. Admittedly, that’s just a back of a cigarette packet calculation, but the numbers won’t be too far off the truth. Obviously, when I’m at work I stay in a hotel as, funnily enough, few airlines expect their pilots to fly following a night in the departure lounge. However, whether down to cancellation, lack of accommodation or simply the airport being in the middle of nowhere, during my leisure travels I have spent many a night wedged into, behind or under crappy seats. Twenty years ago, each occasion of trying to sleep in a public area usually lead to the phrase ‘never again’ playing on a continuous loop in my wide-awake mind. These days, even though the phrase is still playing, the following accessories have allowed me to reduce the volume to a mere whisper.
For those who like the idea of the Mini-Motel but not the thought of carrying a package the size of a large laptop, the Sleeper Hoodie is for you. With built-in inflatable neck pillow, an eyeshade integrated into the hood, earplugs, and pockets aplenty for passports and music players, it has everything necessary for shutting out the world – all in a wearable and fashionable top. There are even thumbholes in the cuffs, allowing them to used as fingerless gloves, and a discrete hole for a headphone cable. Which leads onto the next indispensable invention…
Whether they work by electronically filtering out external noise or simply by jamming lumps of rubber or silicone into the ear canal, these headphones are essential gear for any traveller that doesn’t want to be disturbed. Even a pair that needs to be playing something to block external noise is better than nothing, because at least it’s your noise. There are too many excellent makes and models to single one out here, but a decent set can mean the difference between sanity and madness.
Whilst the Burton Hoodie is perfect for sleeping in an enforced upright position such as an aircraft seat, for a proper night’s rest you can’t beat a flat bed. With more and more airports combating their ‘sleeper problem’ by installing immovable metal armrests, the only alternative is a cold hard floor which rather defeats the object. Thus, the only sure way to ensure comfort is to bring it yourself. This didn’t used to be an option because old fashioned foam mattresses rolled up into something the size of a fire hydrant, and inflatables took so long to blow up that it was time to catch the flight anyway. Nowadays, however, there are products like the Thermarest self-inflating mattress that weighs in at just under a pound and has a small baggage footprint when compressed. At nearly US$100 a pop it’s a little excessive for a one-off, 6-hour layover in Atlanta, but compared to the cost of even the cheapest budget hotel, it’ll pay for itself after three or four uses.
Hard floors, running for flights, careless security screeners, heavy bags – all these pose a clear and present danger to any mobile tech, and that’s just in the airport. Then there’s the pool, the beach, the monkeys… While there are loads of waterproof and shockproof cases on the market, for anyone with an Apple device or Samsung S phone the LifeProof case is second to none. For starters, it protects without turning the device into one of those rubber bricks used for swimming training. All the buttons and headphone jacks are available without letting water in and it is guaranteed to survive a drop of 4ft. In reality it’ll survive a bigger drop than that but, for safety’s sake, it might be better to let a small child carry it.
Yes, other tablets are available, and Android lovers will no doubt be foaming at the mouth at such heresy… but the iPad was the granddaddy and, for me at least, is still undoubtedly the best travel gadget ever. Before the iPad, an anti-boredom package would consist of several of the following: laptop, portable DVD player, MP3 player, books, newspapers, magazines, city maps, satnav, and so on. That usually left room for a toothbrush and some pants before the carry-on was full. Then Apple shoehorned all of this into one lightweight tablet with a decent battery life, and the world was suddenly a better place for the weary traveller. Because of the tablet computer, the children of today will grow up never knowing what it’s like being forced to choose between the least shitty of only three very shitty in-flight movies.
Oh really, you might say, something to put stuff in for the trip is an essential? Well, duh! That is true, but there’s no reason why your carry-on can’t be cool too. These bags look like a baggage handler with serious issues has kicked the shit out of them but, despite the battered look, they are impact resistant, practical and light. They’re also pretty damn good conversation starters when you are stuck in an airport overnight and bored to tears because you forgot to charge your iPad.
What are your airport sleepover essentials? Share your recommendations in the comment section below.