Our first night after departing the USA on our gap year was spent sleeping at Seoul’s Incheon Airport. This was a first for us.
Previously, we had done red-eye flights with the kids (not recommended) and early morning flights (also not recommended, but better than red-eye flights). This time we flew from Honolulu to Incheon, arriving at 5:30pm Incheon time (10:30pm Honolulu time), and departing the next morning to Phuket at 8:15am Incheon time. The only viable option to make this connection work was to not leave the airport.
I had been through Incheon airport a handful of times in 2014 and knew the airport fairly well. On the second floor is a “Rest and Relax” area where there are lounge chairs to lie down, massage chairs, a kids’ play area, free showers, and computers to get on the internet. This area makes connections between different flights easy and painless and is a big reason Incheon is one of my favorite international airports in the world.
Upon arrival at Incheon, we went through the connections security check point and went straight to the “Rest and Relax” area on the second floor. Our youngest daughter had already fallen asleep just before we touched down in Incheon, so it took some nifty maneuvering of getting her in and out of the umbrella stroller we brought with us. Fortunately, she didn’t wake up through the whole process and continued her deep sleep on a lounge chair.
My oldest daughter, on the other hand, was too excited to fall asleep, especially when our makeshift “room” of lounge chairs was located next to a small children’s play area. I let her play there for a few minutes while we got our “room” setup. It was 6pm in Seoul. We were exhausted, disoriented, and finally able to sleep (somewhat).
I would wake at 10pm that night to find my wife and kids still asleep in the two lounge chairs adjacent to mine. I took out my earplugs to hear the loud sounds of drilling and hammering nearby. Not only would we have to deal with the terminal boarding announcements on the intercom and nearby chatter of people around us, but we would have to deal with the ongoing construction which started at 10pm and ended at 5am.
Just great. Nearly twelve hours on an airplane to Incheon and six more hours the next day to Phuket with two kids and we’d have to deal with the noise of the nearby construction all night long.
Just go back to sleep. This one night of intentional homelessness will be over soon enough. Eventually, I would fall asleep, going in and out of a dreamy state of sleep every hour or so. I would open my eyes to check the time, to check if our carry-on bags were still by our lounge chairs, and to readjust the jackets and thin blankets covering my wife and kids.
At 3:30am, I wake up as it’s 8:30am in Honolulu. My oldest daughter wakes up too and in an attempt to keep her from making any noise, I take her to the children’s playground. We find a woman sleeping on the trampoline. So much for that idea.
Half an hour goes by of trying to keep my daughter occupied with iPad games. Then my wife and youngest daughter wake up. It’s 4am. Everyone around us is sleeping. There are no more announcements for boardings, as the first flight from the airport leaves after 6am. The airport is completely and eerily quiet.
We pack up our things and make our way down to the first level. All the shops are closed and there is no one in the airport, except for some cleaning people who are checking the restrooms and waxing the floors. Our body clocks are still on Hawaii time, so we are fresh and awake…and we have two kids with boundless amounts of energy.
Luckily, there is another children’s playground on the first level. My wife and I sit near the area while the kids have a blast in their new playground. No stores are open, so we munch on our “breakfast” of beef jerky and crackers that we have brought with us. The kids are in the playground for two hours until it’s 6am and the airport finally comes to life. The stores open, travelers start filing in, and announcements are made on the intercom.
Our flight leaves in two hours, so we eventually make our way to our boarding gate via the airport tram. We buy a couple of custard tarts for the girls to ease their hunger pangs and happily board our Thai Airways flight to Phuket at 7:35am. Comfortable seats, individual TV screens, and food and drink service await us on our flight.
15 hours overnight at the airport…Thank goodness we were “stuck” at Incheon airport, which had the facilities to make this happen, so my wife and I could keep our sanity intact. If it were any other international airport, I don’t think we could have pulled it off. Sleeping at an airport was a first for our family and one of the many adventures I’m sure we’ll have on this gap year of travel together.