How to Survive an Airport Layover

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Guest Post by Jess Signet (@JesssTravels)

Ah, the excruciating layover. By the time I landed in Chicago on the way home from Bangkok – sick and having already traveled for a solid twenty-five hours – you can imagine how I felt about a nine-hour layover. Sometimes it’s impossible to fly directly between your departure and arrival cities. I created my own nightmare by choosing the cheapest option available – it sounded better on paper.

I wanted to sleep, but unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find anywhere to stretch out. The food court was terribly expensive. They wanted $5.50 for a small plastic water bottle! Boy, did I wish I’d been a bit more prepared. Layovers are something travelers must find a way to deal with or you risk starting your vacation off on the wrong foot by boring yourself silly or prolonging your exhausting trip home at the end of your journey like I did.

Here are five ways to survive your airport layover:

Grab a Bite to Eat

Let’s face it, airplane food isn’t the best. So if you’ve got a layover to kill, you might as well grab something to eat. Find a terminal map or use the GateGuru app on your smartphone to find a place to chow down. However, as I found out during my time in Chicago, airport food can be overpriced, so you may be better off bringing your own snacks with you. Remember, it’s okay to bring most foods through security; it’s only gelatinous or liquid substances that you’ll have issues with. You can also bring an empty water bottle through security with you that you fill up at a water fountain in the terminal to save you from paying that exorbitant $5.50 at the airport shop.

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Watch a Movie

One of my favorite things to do while I’m hanging around the terminal is to catch up on Netflix. I’ve found that the less you focus on your immediate surroundings, the faster the time will pass. However, when you’re traveling internationally, you might find yourself faced with error messages when you try to stream your favorite shows unless you have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) installed on your device. The VPN app hides your IP address (which is how Netflix knows where you are). It then re-routes your web traffic through a server located in your home country, thus allowing you to stream content just as though you were back on your couch. This wasn’t an issue for me when I was stuck in Chicago since I have a U.S. Netflix account. However it was still a useful tool as the VPN encrypts your traffic, so it makes your connection a lot safer from hackers when you’re accessing free airport WiFi.

Catch up on Correspondence

When you actually reach your destination, you’re probably going to have better things to do than send a ton of emails to folks back home. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to alert everyone that you’re on vacation (including, in case you forgot, your bank and your cell phone provider). Or begin clearing out space for the inevitable post-traveling photo-dump or other menial electronics-based tasks that you’ve put off until the last-minute. On your way home is the perfect time to start blogging about your trip, organize a ride from the airport, or catch up with friends.

Take a Nap

If you’ve packed headphones or earplugs and an eye-mask, an airport can be just as comfortable a place to sleep as many hostels. I generally reference the Sleeping in Airports guide, which will tell you the most comfortable spots for camping out. For example, at first glance, the Chicago airport didn’t have anywhere for me to snooze; all the seats had armrests that would inhibit reclining. But looking on the website, someone had mentioned some L-shaped couches in one of the concourses – and lo and behold, there they were. Now, I’m pretty comfortable with passing out wherever, but, if it’s not your thing, you can pay for entry to an airline lounge or the airport hotel so that you can really get comfortable. If you have a long layover and are changing time zones (or if you’re sick), those few hours of sleep could be crucial in ensuring you’re alert when you arrive at your destination or home.

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Check Out the City

Rather than spending hours in the airport, remember that you might have enough time to head into the airport city and do some sightseeing during your layover. In fact, some airports even offer tours if you have a layover of six hours or more. Others are easily connected to the city via public transportation. I got to do a great city tour of Istanbul on a layover, stopping at attractions such as the Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (which obviously were both a lot cooler than the interior of the airport). Wherever you are, there’s no reason why you can’t go see a famous attraction or visit a museum for a couple of hours. Not sure if you’ll have enough time to get into the city and back? It never hurts to ask in online forums such as Reddit’s travel forum. Also make sure that you’ve looked into whether or not you need a visa.

What else do you like to do on your long layovers? Share your stories!

This week I’m happy to feature a guest post from Jess Signet. She was an expat child, prefers solo backpacking to spending time in a corporate cubicle, and is passionate about seeing the world and sharing her stories with others. You can follow Jess on Twitter @JesssTravels.

2 thoughts on “How to Survive an Airport Layover

  1. The problem with long layover at an airport and wanting to get out to take a tour
    of the city or visit a museum, etc… what do you do with your carry-on-luggage, which most people have with them when traveling? You can no longer leave your luggage /bags at the airport (as it used to be in the old days.)

    • Many airports still offer on-site luggage storage. The rates vary; so does the amount of time you can stow it. If you’re considering taking a tour, best to check the options available at the specific airport. I never look forward to a long layover, but, next time, I might try to sneak away for a couple of hours!

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