Literally, don’t do a long layover.
Even if you have enough time to leave the airport, it takes a while to get to know to a new city. Sometimes it takes a while to even get to the city from the airport. Less than a day layovers don’t give you enough time. You’ll just want to go back and see the cool things you missed!
And if you don’t have enough time to leave the airport during a long layover, then you’re stuck in an airport for like 5-8 hours! So many airports are boring, uncomfortable, and expensive- not places you want to stay in for extended periods of time.
But, not everyone can afford the luxury of direct flights, so sometimes we have to put up with long layovers. Aka me. Like, virtually every flight I’ve taken abroad had a super inconvenient long layover.
I’ve learned sooo many things to make them suck less and to make the most of my time during the layover. Here are some tips to make your long layover a little better too!
In This Post
Long layover tips if you have time to leave the airport
Luggage check your bags before heading out
I personally hate carrying heavy things. And I don’t care what the internet says so you buy their products, a fully packed backpack will never be comfortable. And carrying a huge backpack or luggage can scream “STEAL FROM ME I’M A TOURIST” depending on which city you’re visiting.
Luckily, if you’re leaving the airport for part of the day, most airports have a luggage check that you can use to drop off your carry-on bags before leaving, for a small fee! Before you go on your trip, double check if the layover airport has one, how it works, and where it is, so you don’t have to carry your heavy bag around!
Or just check in your bag in the first place
If you’re going to have an extended layover anyway, are you really saving a significant amount of time by not having to pick up checked in luggage?
The answer is no, 5 – 24 hours of layover makes 30 minutes for bag pickup look like a joke. Checking in your bag makes traveling during a long layover easier, because then you won’t need to lug it around airports or cities. Still keep your important stuff on you. But if you can check in your bag, you might as well to make the layover easier!
Look up day layover itineraries
Because of the time constraint, it can be hard to efficiently figure out what to do in a city. Sure, you might know the top things you want to see already, but how do you make sure you’re planning for maximum time and fun?
Look up some travel sites whose travel style fits yours, and check out their day layover itineraries for the city! This will give you a better idea of what you can fit in your day and how to fit it in. Especially if you look up posts from people who have either done the layover before so know what actually fits, or from people who live in the area so know what’s actually interesting!
Or see if the airport offers free day tours
Did you know some airports offer free tours of the city?! If you are not in the “going out on your own” mood or don’t have time beforehand to really plan, but you still want to make the most of your time, see if the airport has free tours. These can actually be the best bet since they give you more background into the main attractions, and they make sure you get back to the airport on time!
Obviously you could also do a paid tour
I looked into this when I layovered in Mexico City because it seemed like there was too much of a crunch with the time I had to go explore the city. A lot of the guides said they’d take you to their favorite spots, not necessarily the top spots or offered to take you to places you’d be most interested in.
Look into this option if you want a more customizable, personal day tour! But also know that they’re the priciest option.
Make sure you’re staying in a centrally located area
This applies if your layover is overnight and you want a hotel.
If you’re anything like me, when you’re visiting somewhere for just a day layover and it’s not the main part of your trip, you might just book the cheapest hotel kind of near the airport and be done with it. “It’s just a day, who cares,” you might be thinking.
Wrong! Don’t do this! You still need to do your research and make sure you’re staying in a safe, easily accessible, and centrally located area. A lot of airports are pretty far from the city, so if you stay close to the airport, you might be far from the most interesting things to do. Plus, airport cities and cheap hotel districts can get really sketchy, and you don’t want to die. We didn’t do this on our layover in Frankfurt, and ended up staying in a red-light district and saw a ton of really weird crime.
Or see if your airlines offers a free hotel
They make it very hard to find information on this, so at least with them, you have to make sure to call way before your trip to secure a spot. Do a little investigation on your airlines, and see if this is offered to take away the hassle and cost of finding a hotel on your own!
Make sure there’s a convenient way for you to get to the city from the airport
Ideally you should do this before you book your ticket, if you do want to leave the airport during your layover, so you can plan your time appropriately. Some airports are just so far from the city and expensive to get transportation to, that it might not balance out with how little of the city you get to see.
Like I didn’t do this when we went to Japan, and we ended up taking an hour long, $70 train to the city to walk around for two hours. Tokyo seemed cool, but this was definitely not the best way to get a taste of it, and we just felt rushed and annoyed. It was not worth it to leave the airport, even though we wanted to see the city.
Make sure you have emergency cash
This is definitely general travel advice, but it’s especially useful if you’re trying to leave the airport for the day. Make sure you have emergency cash!! Your cards might randomly not work, even though you still need to pay for important things like transportation and food.
I always travel with a couple different debit/credit cards in case something goes wrong with them, but once on a layover, they all went wrong and I couldn’t use them! To get taxi money, I had to sell selfies of myself to these guys from Kazakhstan who kept harassing me for pictures with them. Yes, it was weird and awkward and I don’t recommend having to resort to this. Bring emergency cash with you instead.
Learn a couple phrases in the local language
You should also do this even when you’re not visiting on a layover, but it can be easy to forget when you’re just stopping over a city. Google a few common phrases in the local language – even if most people can speak English, it’s always polite to attempt to get to know the culture!
Long layover tips if you’re staying in the airport
Sometimes there isn’t enough time to leave the airport (I always double check on forums like TripAdvisor). In these cases, here are some tips to help you survive long layovers when you’re stuck in the airport!
Airports can be uncomfortable, with awkward seating and temperatures that aren’t actually standard room temperature. Don’t forget to bring a neck pillow and travel blanket! This will make it very slightly easier to fall asleep, or at the very least, be a little more comfortable.
Try to layover in a fun airport
Some airports aren’t that interesting, which makes layovers even more painful. But, interesting airports are cropping up everywhere now! Here are some examples of the more exciting airports. My personal favorite (Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport) is not even on that list!
Before you book your ticket, if you have a few different long layover options but not enough time to leave the city, go for the one in the more interesting airport!
Make sure you have fun stuff on you
Believe it or not, some airports don’t have reliable, free Internet. I know, how can you milennial there. Prepare in advance by preparing offline fun stuff– download some of your favorite games or apps on your phone, bring something you enjoy like a book, journal, or crossword puzzle, prepare to edit all of your pictures from your trip, etc!
You might already do this for the plane ride- just make sure you have enough stuff to keep you entertained for the layover too!
Bring a portable charger
Okay, something that makes even less sense to me is that some airports don’t have convenient wall outlets! Make sure your portable charger is on you so your phone won’t die. Outlets can be rare and unreliable in certain airports.
Join a lounge program
If you want more private space (with the potential for showers and snacks), consider getting access to one of those special airport lounges. I layovered with a coworker who had access to one because of his credit card, and it was the classiest layover ever. The lounges are quieter and way more comfortable than the plebian sections. The only thing is they sometimes close (like, we couldn’t do it on the way back because our layover started at like 11 PM).
I personally don’t use these on my own, so you can read more about them here.
Do a little self care at the airport
If you’re anything like me, sometimes all you need is a little self care to feel relaxed again (and coffee, but you don’t necessarily want to be caffeinated when you’re just waiting for a flight). Pack any self care things that make you happy in your carryon for your long layover, and use them when you need to feel refreshed! For me, this means spraying hydrating face mists and brushing my teeth. It seems so small, but it goes a long way.
Bonus layover tips
Try to extend your layover to a couple days
Instead of actually doing a long, <24 hour layover, try to extend your trip for another day or two in the layover city. This will give you more time to adjust to your surroundings, potentially get more sleep, keep things a little less hectic, and enjoy the city more.
A lot of airlines – especially in Iceland, offer this extended layover option, and depending when you book, it’s really not that much more expensive!
After all my extended layovers, these are the key tips and lessons I’ve learned to help make sure they’re successful and fun. What other tips would you add? What’s your favorite layover? Let me know in the comments!