There a few things about traveling that are tough to deal with – and long layovers are one of them. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re unavoidable depending on where you’re going (especially if you’re trying to pinch pennies here and there; because cheaper flight options often include less favorable layovers.
If you’re lucky your layover might be long enough for you to leave the airport and explore the city – but if not, there are a few sure ways to make the time go by faster and your layover as comfortable as possible.
1. RESEARCH THE AIRPORT BEFORE YOU LEAVE
if you’re going to be stuck somewhere for 8+ hours you should know what you’re in for. Most airports have websites and/or have existing reviews (via Tripadvisor or the like) that will give you a run down of the layout, available services, and amenities.
FIND OUT WHAT LOUNGES ARE AVAILABLE
most large international airports will have the major airline lounges. Figure out which ones are open and accessible to you during your layover. If you’re flying business or first class, your ticket will usually include lounge access with your specific airline. If you don’t have access to any of the airline lounges via a standard airline loyalty program – don’t worry – most international terminals have lounges that cater to the economy class traveller and permit cash visitors (often referred to as ‘day passes’ or ‘pay at door’). Researching this beforehand will help you identify what lounge is best for you, including the cost and the amenities. For example, O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg has 6 economy lounges (those not run exclusively by airlines for elite class passengers). In the International Departures Terminal, my personal favorite is Shongololo Premium Lounge – which allows cash visitors (R360 or US$23) for 4 hour stays and includes all-you-can-eat buffet, snacks and refreshments, WiFi, power outlets, and shower facilities. If you’re debating whether or not paying for lounge access is worth it – trust me – it is! You’re paying for peace and quiet, a little extra privacy, more comfortable seating and reliable services (food and WiFi).
FIND OUT IF THE AIRPORT HAS A HOTEL
If you’re layover is 10-15+ hours overnight, you may want to consider spending the night in a airport hotel, if available. For example, at Dubai International Airport there is actually a hotel inside the international terminal. This means you don’t even have to leave the airport (and therefore, don’t have to worry about immigration or security) in order to get some zZz’s between flights. Personally, I’ve had my fair share of overnight layovers where I shameless sleep on the airport floor tucked away in the back of the quietest gate I can find – but it’s important to also consider safety and comfort. If you’re traveling alone or traveling for business, it may be worth it for the extra peace of mind.
Regardless of whether or not you decide to kill time in a lounge or bunker down on the best airport bench you can find, it’s also a good idea to get a sense of the airport before you get there. That way you’ll be better prepared when you arrive. Your research will also help you take note of things like pharmacies, baggage holding/locker facilities, spa/massage/beauty services, and currency exchange venues, which may come in handy once you arrive. If your specific airport doesn’t seem to have a dedicated website or you’re looking for more reliable information, check out Sleeping in Airports, the ultimate layover survival guide.
2. 'ENJOY' YOURSELF
Once you’ve set up camp (whether in the airport terminal or in the comfort of a lounge), make the best of the time you have to kill and try to relax as much as you can! Here are some tips to help do exactly that:
- Preload your favorite TV shows (on your phone, iPad or laptop) and have yourself a marathon. While most large airports nowadays have WiFi, you usually have to pay for it. Plus, these services don’t always let you scream videos fast enough to watch your favorite shows. If you are or ever have been a college student – or anyone on a budget, for that matter – you probably have a handful of go-to streaming sites. Before you leave for the airport, pre-load episodes in your browser and they’ll be ready to watch when you’re settled on the plane. Worried that your battery won’t last? You’ll usually be able to find a charging station or an area that has power outlets.
- Catch up on your reading – this one might seem obvious given that books have been the age-old go-to for layover entertainment but reading no longer refers only to books. Similarly to how you can preload shows/movies on your laptop or tablet, you can preload webpages of interesting articles you’ve bookmarked!
- Get sh!t done (aka be productive) – this might be checking work emails (save replies to your outbox and send them later), getting ahead on a homework assignment or prepping from an upcoming meeting/presentation. For me it’s usually writing blog posts or editing photos (I’m actually in the airport lounge now as I write this). It might not be the most fun way to spend your time – but you’re stuck sitting for numerous hours anyway, why not be productive? That way you have peace of mind and spend less of your trip worrying about sending that one last email!
- Get up, stretch, and walk around – after about 3-4 hours, you’ll probably have run through the points above. Even though it doesn’t seem like it would make that big of a difference, giving yourself a short ‘change in scenery’ can make a difference. Plus, getting up will help loosen up your leg muscles, boost your circulation, and help relieve stiffness before your next flight (where you’ll also be sitting for hours at a time).
- Give yourself a mini spa treatment – you’d be amazed what a little freshening up can do for your mood and comfort. Most drugstores (e.g. CVS, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid) sell travel-size facial or cleansing wipes, hand sanitizer, and lotion. Grab some and put them in your carry-on. When the stuffy cabin air starts to get to you give yourself a refresher – the facial wipe will help cool your skin down and remove an oil/dirt you feel building up. The lotion will help keep your hands and face feeling smooth. And the hand sanitizer is just for good measure – because more than 100 passengers + 10 plus hours = disgusting lavatories! Most large airports, like JFK, also have ‘health and beauty’ services in the major terminals. These are usually little boutiques next to the Hudson News and Duty Free shops that offer massages, small spa treatments and mani/pedi’s. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself to something relaxing, which will make the remaining hours of your layover that much easier to get through!
- Sleep – when all else fails, try to get some zZzz’s. This might seem like another obvious one but don’t forget to be strategic about your sleep schedule. Depending on which time zone you’re headed to, you actually might want to avoid sleep in order to pre-empt jetlag.