If you have ever travelled on a budget, you will know that the best flight deals are divided into multiple legs. The cheapest trips often include very long layovers in a country which – well, which you weren’t intending to visit in the first place. Hmm. Before you resign yourself to eight hours spent staring at a wall, take a moment and consider the opportunity you have here. How long have you got? What could you do in that time? With proper planning and the right attitude, you can turn your layover into an enjoyable part of your trip.
As soon as you know which airport you’ll be stopping at – and for how long – get to researching. First of all, find out what the airport itself has on offer in terms of food, rest areas, and entertainment. You can use the ideas in this article if you’re not sure what to search for.
Find out what currency that country uses and get some cash before you leave. Odds are you’re going to want to pay for something, and airport exchange rates are notoriously bad for both cash and cards. Make sure you pack some necessaries in your carry-on: toothpaste, face wash, and so on, perhaps even a change of clothes.
There might be an opportunity to go through into the airport’s city if you are there long enough. Check to see if the trip will be safe, and what you could see while you are there. Also be sure to check whether you will need a temporary visa.
One of the best ways to really take advantage of a long layover is to get out of the airport. You can get a really great feeling of accomplishment from this, knowing that you didn’t waste any of your precious time. As most airport “hubs” are near large cities, chances are there are some interesting sights or landmarks nearby.
Most airports have some kind of train, bus, or shuttle that can bring you to the city directly from the airport. It is vital, however, to check how long this will take. Don’t just trust google maps, or even the airport’s official estimate. Check personal travel blogs and forums for people’s real experiences. Otherwise you might find yourself paying a small fortune to get your minibus driver to drive up the hard shoulder of the opposite lane, dodging oncoming traffic in a desperate attempt to get you back at boarding time. Which… may or may not have happened to someone I know.
If you can’t leave the airport, you might still be able to experience some of the culture of the country without even setting foot in it. Rather than heading for the McDonald’s at the food court, see if there are any “local” places available. It might help if, as part of your preparation, you can research the country’s famous local dishes or drinks so you know what you’re looking for.
If you didn’t manage to sleep on the first leg of your journey, this may become your first priority upon arrival – even more so than food. If you struggle to sleep on planes in general, getting a few z’s in between flights might be necessary for you to arrive at your destination in a functional state.
The way you attain this will be defined by your budget. If you have something to spare, you could look for some kind of sleeping cabin or pod system, as many airports are providing these days. If you have an especially long wait, you might even consider an airport hotel (pillow mints!!!) If you can’t stretch that far, pay-per-use lounges can be a good option, especially if they charge by the hour.
If you cannot afford to splash out, then you’re going to need to go hunting. Find a waiting area that is out-of-the way, quiet, and without bright lighting. The ultimate prize is, of course, the elusive seating-with-no-armrests. If you can’t see any near you, continue looking before you give up – there might be some elsewhere. Depending on your sensibilities, you can also make yourself relatively comfortable on the floor. The main thing is not to become self-conscious. Don’t start worrying about whether or not your neck pillow looks weird, or if you’re snoring. You need to rest; you go ahead and rest.
You’ve got the classic options here: books, kindle, a tablet or laptop loaded with movies and tv series (don’t forget the charger!). An audiobook can be a great option if you get distracted by noise or if your eyes are tired. Try to plan what you’re going to read or watch – this will make it seem more like you chose to set aside leisure time for yourself, rather than being forced into it by the cruel gods of airline pricing.
Some airports provide their own entertainment. There might be a movie room, or a museum. Sometimes there will be pieces of local or international artwork throughout the airport that you can go and find. I have previously spent a lovely couple of hours listening to live piano music at an airport bar.
One of the best ways to start feeling human again after a long flight is to get moving. Check in advance to see if the airport has a gym; if it does, be sure to take workout clothes in your carry-on. If this is not an option, then you’ll have to think outside of the box. You can find a quiet corner to do some stretches or push-ups. Walking is simple and effective – try walking the full length of the airport a few times, keeping up a good pace throughout.
Find a Friend
If you like spending time with others and meeting new people, there’s no reason to wait until you get to your destination. Women travelling alone often like another friendly face for both company and safety, even if you only pass a few words. If you get on well and your schedules line up, you could suggest getting coffee or food together. Even if the person is not someone you would ordinarily think to spend time with, you will only be with them for a few hours. You could even learn something about the person’s life and experiences in a way that will broaden your worldview.
Layovers are, generally, something to be dreaded, even if you do have a multitude of distracting activities planned. It will take effort to beat this – but you can. Try to look forward to the time you will be spending, as a part of your trip. Think about the food you could eat, people you could talk to, or the fact that you’re finally going to get a chance to finish that novel you’ve been trying to get through. This won’t guarantee that you have a good time – but looking at the whole thing as an ordeal to be endured could end up guaranteeing that you have a terrible time.
What do you do make the most of a layover? Have you ever had any adventures between flights? Tell us in the comments.