Travellers at airports

Travellers at airports

One of the joys of low budget travelling is spending lots of time in airports… no, seriously, it’s awesome…So I often find myself camped out on the airport floor – much more comfortable than most of the chairs around – surrounded by my miniature mountain of luggage. Sitting on the floor also gives me the advantage of being able to openly people-watch without being noticed since I am below the normal-sized adult’s eye level.

No matter where I seem to go, I always find the same groups of people walking around.

  • The backpacker

There is the male traveller with a small backpack, or suitcase on wheels with a sarong draped around his neck. Wearing a hat that, for some reason reminds me of Cuba even though I’ve never visited that country. It often amazes me how these guys still manage to walk around with extreme confidence, looking very much ‘man’ with these two assessors shamelessly displayed on their bodies. Perhaps the calf tattoo helps a little bit with that.

Then you have the female version of this. Women walking around with minuscule backpacks, wearing fisherman pants – often with one of those earth-saving eco water bottles draped across their bodies like a Christmas tree ornament.

Both genders often rock an awesome head of dreads.

  • The business traveller

Then of course you have the business men. Dressed in long, carefully ironed pants – the wrinkles probably removed by some anonymous hotel staff member. With shoes that match the colour of their belts and collared, button down shirts, pulling a briefcase-on-wheels behind them.

  • The rich retirees

There are old couples, women and men with perfectly styled hair that is slowly losing its colour to be replaced by shades of light blond, white and grey. These couples are usually immaculately dressed. Large, shiny stones perch on the lady’s left ring finger. Most of her jewellery is probably safely locked away in a safe back home (unless there are some imaginative person who brings the Oceans films to reality- as it happened in South Africa recently). These couples almost never have backpacks – usually dragging branded, wheeled suitcases behind them. More often pushing said suitcases (one each) on an airport trolley. These couples seem untouchable, oblivious to the humid heat pressing down on everyone around them. It is as if they are surrounded by an air conditioned bubble. Their clothes, like their perfect hair, seems to never have been creased.

  • The frazzled traveller

Then you get the paranoid travellers, the ones who get all frazzled when they have to walk back through the metal detector, leaving their hand luggage sitting exposed on the opposite side of the x-ray machine. No judgement here, ladies and gentlemen- after five years of travelling I still make sure I see my bags go in… and come out of it.

  • The constant traveller

You can spot these travellers from across the departures hall. Cool, calm, collected, they move through the airport with the ease of someone who has been there many times before. They are always prepared for the next step of the check-in procedures with passport and boarding pass at the ready. They easily slip in and out of their shoes, and never forget stray change in their pockets at the security check. You won’t see these travellers stare at their tickets and then up at the gate numbers in confusion. It is as if these individuals have a sixth sense directing them through the most confusing of airports with ease.

  • The first-time traveller

As a first time traveller I wanted to be prepared for everything and I soon realised that I’m not the only one. They are the travellers with the fanny packs and matching luggage. First time travellers can be seen sporting fanny packs, studying guidebooks like there are doing some last minute cramming for an exam. Their bags are double locked, with wire mesh around backpacks double wrapped in plastic. They have all of the latest gadgets designed to make travelling more comfortable, including neck pillows, compression socks and water purification tablets.

  • The over-packer

It sometimes seems like the goal of the over-packer is to make the most use of their baggage allowance- and to sneak in a few grams more if they can get away with it. The over-packer often have two large bags with zippers straining to stay shut. In the check-in line you might see a second, or even third, pair of pants peeping out at their waistband while they chug down water, trying not to overheat in the multiple layers of shirts and jackets that they are wearing.

  • The over-dresser

In ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ Gregory Maguire said “The overdressed traveller betrays more interest in being seen than in seeing, while the true traveller knows that the novel world about her serves as the most appropriate accessory.” Over-dressers looks more like they are on their way to a formal event or preparing to strut down the runway rather than boarding a 17-hour flight. With high heels and perfectly matched accessories they breeze through the airport, leaving a cloud of sweet-smelling perfume behind.

  • The oblivious traveller

Oblivious travellers seem to be in a little bubble of their own. They are often absorbed in a book, with headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the bustle happening around them. These travellers seem to be unfazed by flight delays and that guy sitting next to them obviously bursting to start a conversation. Oblivious travellers don’t even seem to notice the boarding call, leisurely finishing the chapter in their book while waiting for the crowds to move through the gate, avoiding waiting in line to board a plane where everyone leaves at the same time anyway.

  • Familiar faces

The best kind of travellers are the ones whose faces are familiar. Who lights up when they see you as you unexpectedly appear around a corner. They jump up with broad smiles on their faces, evidently as happy as you are about this chance meeting. This kind of traveller makes the hours of a stop-over fly by as you sit up ‘till the early morning hours catching up and finally finding yourselves crashing under a desk in a quiet area of the airport. It is this kind of traveller who encourages you to put on your purple pajama pants to continue your journey in when you complain about the air cons that are impossibly cold and the fact that they are the only pair of long pants that you had packed.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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