By Lisa Harvey
It was now three in the morning. I watched my reflection in the glass as I tried to get comfortable under the green Alitalia blanket I had stuffed in my bag on the flight over. It was too short, and I was trying to decide what was more important to cover: my feet, or my face. My body wriggled on the marble slab, looking like an oversized caterpillar. Behind me, she started again, but with much more gusto.
“Vai viaaa! Vai viaaa!” she moaned. Go awayyy! And then she would hack up a lung before going quiet for a moment, then beginning the broken record again. She was directing this banter at the man that had set up camp next to her; apparently too close for comfort. Occasionally he would spat back a Stai Zitto! (shut up) but she would carefully explain in toothless Italian that she would if he wasn’t a horrible person that had stolen her liquor. Her voice was aged with cigarette smoke. She had sectioned off a corner of the airport corridor for herself; barricading it with blankets and trash bags. He had a bathrobe and a sleeping bag that had seen better days. She had won the fort competition, but apparently he had won in the fight the night before, with a bottle of alcohol being the victor’s cup. Now, she was angry. I wanted to cry.
I thought I had picked a quiet spot to spend my night in Fumicino Airport before my flight home, but apparently it was quite the opposite. Who knew the airport was a popular humble abode for the homeless in the area? Welcome to the life of the budget traveler. I have spent many nights in airports, and have learned to fall asleep on chairs, floors, busses, boats, cars, planes, and trains. More often than not, the connecting transportation from one destination to another doesn’t add up quite right when budgeting, which makes for much down time in places you don’t particularly want to be. Make the most of it. Don’t simply sit there and complain. Here are a few ideas:
1. Always bring a journal and a pen (never forget the pen or you’ll cry.) A journal doesn’t need to be plugged in to write on. This is especially awesome in a place where the architects decided plugs were not necessary – for example: Fumicino. With a journal you can start your travel writing, draw, write letters to home, etc.
2. Find a place off the beaten path if you have enough time. Once when waiting outside of Termini train station in Rome, I wandered until I found a free admission park full of ruins. I sat by a fountain and watched as Italian couples roamed the paths until I had to catch my train.
3. Talk. Everyone is going somewhere wherever you’re stuck. Some have pretty interesting stories. I’ve met a semi-pro soccer player with dreams of moving to Europe to find a team, a vet that had illegally stayed in Africa to rehabilitate monkeys, a woman who had retired and decided to see as much as the world as she could before she died, an Italian that had taken up residency in an Irish hostel until he was fluent in English, and an Australian that traveled wherever the surf was good. These are only a couple on the list. You’d be surprised at what stories are in your reach. You just have to initiate them.
4. Sudoku or crosswords. Can’t beat em.
5. Read, read, read. Find a book that you know in a language you don’t. If you know the story, and have the copy in your native language, you can read them side by side and learn!
6. If all else fails, sleep. In airports, if you’re lucky, you can find a row of those horrible chairs. BUT! You can make these into a bed if you’re agile. Simply squeeze under the arms and it becomes a sort of a futon. Disregard the horrible looks you get from hogging the seat. They’re just jealous they didn’t think of it first. In busses, I prefer the knees-up-on-the-seat-in front. Just make sure you get the pressure on the chair before the person in the row in front of you sits. If they don’t feel the change, they’ll never know you’re pushing the chair forward in the first place. This also works in an airplane and a train, but if you get two seats to yourself, you’re golden. Stretch on out and enjoy!