We all know that feeling when you look at the cheapest flight to another city and find out that – yikes – it has a 16-hour layover. That knee-jerk reaction is natural, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be guaranteed a miserable day sitting in an airport doing nothing. In fact, most large cities have various options for in-transit passengers to leave the airport during extended layovers, whether through organized tours or on public transportation. Sometimes these also gain the benefit of temporary visa exemption. As a frequent traveler, long layovers are often inevitable, so learning to embrace them can be a glorious skill. Here are just a couple of ways you can enjoy your long transit times, and maybe even get to know a new city in the process.
Explore the Airport
Not able to leave the airport? Well, although it may be a bummer, it’s not the end of the world. Most airports, especially large international ones, have many shopping areas, sitting areas, and different terminals to explore. Although the shopping and eating can get pretty expensive, there are also options for learning about the destination (tourist booths) or walking through various terminal attractions. Some airports even have parks inside of them, where you can learn about local wildlife and see some nice plants – I saw this while in transit in Singapore. Maybe exploring the airport won’t give you day-long entertainment, but it can help you get some exercise and make the best of a not-so-optimal situation. Chances are, there are other people at the airport in your same boat who just want to have a nice conversation, so it’s fairly easy to meet people and make friends during long layovers as well. And, if all else fails, you could always buy a coffee at the nearest café and use their wifi!
Grab A Map
Tourist booths are almost always present in airports, especially ones that are big enough to have tons of people in transit. These can be the ultimate (free!) resource for travelers who want to do a little bit of exploring. Here, you can not only find paper maps and guides, but representatives can give you critical information on public transportation, landmarks, areas to walk around, and restaurant recommendations. Also, if your layover is overnight and you don’t feel like forking out a ton of money to stay at the airport hotel, they can usually help you find a place to stay. Start here if you are in any doubt about what to do during your short time in the city – it’s free and it can only help.
Drop Your Luggage
Most airports have a baggage storage room, usually called “Left Baggage” or “Baggage Storage.” If you’re planning on leaving the airport, I would highly recommend paying to leave your bags under the watchful eyes of the baggage security. It’s usually not expensive, and it saves you the hassle of lugging your junk all over an unfamiliar city. I left my hand carry in storage at Singapore’s Changi Airport for over 12 hours, and it only cost me about $7 USD – a bargain for the amount of effort I saved by leaving my heavier items behind. Just don’t forget which terminal your flight (and baggage) is located in!
Take An Organized Tour
Some cities offer organized tours for people with long layovers. London, Beijing, and Taipei all have these, just to name a few. Taking an organized tour is a great option for you if you want all of the city’s highlights to be organized in a neat little package for you, or if you need to take an organized tour in order to take advantage of a visa waiver (like in China). However, these usually have a cost associated with them, and sometimes they’re not cheap. If you’re not strapped for cash, these are a great option because they save you the worry of planning your own layover tour and risking not making it back to the airport in time for your later flight. The tour operators usually take care of all of that for you.
Ride the Rails
If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous, my personal favorite thing to do is to buy a 1-day public transportation pass for a city and explore on my own. These usually enable travelers to use the metro and bus systems as many times as they want for a set amount of time. This is a little bit riskier than organizing a tour, because you have to keep a hawk-eye on the clock to ensure that you get back on time for your flight. However, it can be a much more budget-friendly and personalized way to see a city in a short amount of time. Want to see the botanical garden? Go right ahead. In the mood for street food? Take the metro over and have a field day. The possibilities are endless, but it does require being responsible for your own schedule and navigating around the city on your own. For me, I took my trusty Lonely Planet guide to the streets of Singapore and was able to see most of the things on my list in just one day. Sounds like a pretty good way to get a taste of a new place, right?
What do you do to entertain yourself during long layovers?