After what seems like ages, you finally hear your flight number being called over the loudspeaker to board the plane. Your eyes are glazed, your back is sore, and you realize you just spent nine hours scrolling through Instagram at the airport’s charging station. “What is my life!?” you think. No, you don’t get the excuse that it was a boring and long layover in an airport that served you McDonald’s three times. Get it together! Face it—if you travel abroad, you’re bound to experience that dreaded long layover. But there’s good news: a long layover can be fun and productive!
I recently had a twelve-hour layover in Taiwan. I did a quick Google search and saw that I could easily lock up my bags at the airport and take an airport shuttle to the city. My goal for the day was to make it over to the top of Taipei 101 before miming to the street food vendors what I would like to eat. Why? Because why not!? As much as I would have loved to explore Taipei for more than a couple of hours, it wasn’t an option at the time. So why not head out into the city for an afternoon rather than scrolling through Kardashian memes all day?
Everyone’s long layover situations are different. You may have a layover in the middle of the night, you may not have a visa to head out of the airport during your layover, or you may just be in the mood for a good ole’ Netflix binge while surviving your long layover.
Here are 9 tips to make the most of your long layover:
1. Go sightseeing
What better way to kill a few hours than by touring the city? Many airports will have lockers that you can rent so that you can leave your luggage behind for a few hours. Just the same, most big-city airports have shuttles that can get you to the city center for a decent price. Before arrival at your layover destination, see if there are any city tours that can entertain you with snippets of the local culture.
If you go this route, be cautious of time and immigration. If you need a specific visa to exit the airport, you may want to reconsider this idea. Make sure to plan accordingly of how long you will stay in the city. If you have a majority of the day, you may ambitiously want to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Sacre Coeur while frolicking through Paris. But is that all realistic? Try to pick one main activity so that you don’t miss your flight.
2. Explore the airport attractions
Airports are no longer boring! You don’t have to just sit at a bar with a triple priced beer and waste time away. In fact, some airports will have enough entertainment that you’ll want to have an extended layover. Some of the best airports have amenities that make travel easier than ever. Incheon Airport near Seoul is where you can go for a nice relaxing spa day or twirl around an ice-skating rink. Kuala Lumpur offers a lush outdoor atmosphere that will make you feel like you’re prancing through the great outdoors. Singapore Changi Airport offers theaters with free movies 24/7! Before you get to your layover destination, make sure to do a bit of research on your airport’s attractions.
3. Edit photos from your trip
You’ve got more photos than you can count from your travels and it’s a bit overwhelming. Use your long layover to edit those photos so that when you get back home they are ready to print and hang in your apartment. Even if you aren’t photo-savvy, you know you’ve at least got some iPhone photos that you need to sort through and spiff up. You know your grandma has been asking all about your travels and she will be happy to see some top-notch photos from your exotic adventures abroad.
4. Polish up that blog you forgot about
Friends back home keep nagging, “Are you gonna blog about your trip?” And you nonchalantly reply, “Nah…..” But in the back of your mind you are secretly wishing you could be the next Nomadic Matt. Lucky for you, you’ve got a long layover to learn all about WordPress and get at it! Start organizing your photos and stories and get a free website online where you can start sharing your experiences. Who knows where it will lead? You can’t be the next famous travel writer of your generation without at least starting a fun-loving blog.
5. Read that book you never picked up
You promised yourself at least 1,000 times that you would take some time on your travels to unwind, relax, and read. But everything went by so quickly, you didn’t really “feel” like it, and you were just too busy. Well, luckily you have a long and not-so-thrilling layover to get through and can finally lounge with your book. Try to post up at a quiet airport café or lounge where you can relax undisturbed.
6. Download games
We can’t all put our phone or tablets down. But why not do something productive rather than scrolling through mindless social media and getting jealous over strangers’ insta-pics? Download some crossword puzzles, sudoku, or mind games to get your brain flowing. You can listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and music. If you really want to just relax and let time go by, make sure you have some brain games to keep your fingers busy.
7. Make friends
Take a seat and start people watching. It’s ok to scout out who your new airport bestie will be. Meander on over to a stranger and strike up a “Heyyyy, did I meet you at that bar in Bangkok?” kind of conversation. (No, you didn’t, but hey that’s a convo starter!) Guess what? Travelers love talking about travel. Maybe you will find a new friend for your next expedition. Also, you are lugging that heavy backpack around and really want someone to watch your stuff when you need to go to the toilet. Airport pals will make the time go by a little quicker!
8. Study the lingo
Are you heading to a brand new country where you know zero words in the language? Stop, grab your phone, go to the play store, and find a free app. You should not enter a new destination and not know how to say “hello, please, thank you, and where is the bathroom?” Try to get some basic phrases down before you arrive on new soil. Yes, it’s very easy to travel while speaking only English. But out of respect, locals love if you can test out a bit of their native language when asking for basic help abroad.
9. Catch some shut-eye
Do you have a long overnighter? Rest those eyes and take a snooze. You don’t necessarily have to leave the airport for this. Do some research on your airport layover and see if they offer cozy lounges or sleeping pods. Some places may have a nice corner near a wall charger where you are on alert while others may be a bit more luxurious. Sleeping in an airport is bound to be checked off the travel bucket list at some point for anyone who travels extensively.
Are you convinced that you actually want that long layover now? There’s plenty to do and no need to worry! No one cares if you haven’t changed your clothes in over 24 hours or forgot to brush your teeth. You’ll be in a cozy bed before you know it. Make it productive, have fun, relax, and just know that it’s all part of the wonderful journey that comes with traveling.
Suggested next reading: 15 Awesome Travel Gadgets That Will Make Travel So Much Easier