As someone who has travelled a lot on business, I have seen an awful lot of airports, which means I have drunk a lot of Starbucks coffee, sat in many soulless, generic bars, and browsed through many keyrings, hoodies and snowglobes bearing the name of whatever city the airport serves. I never saw these cities, just a long layover with their names being stop-offs.
A few years ago I decided something needed to change. So, rather than going for the shortest layover, if my schedule permits I now tend to choose the longest. Here are my tips to make the most of a long layover:
Check that you’ll actually have time to leave the airport!
The website Sleeping In Airports is a great resource for this. For example, 5 hours may seem long enough for a layover; and in some cities where the airport is near to a place to visit (Dubai, for example) it probably is. Once you’ve factored going through customs, the journey time and then doing it all again in reverse. It might not be worth the effort and could jeopardise you making your onward flight.
Check if you’ll actually be allowed out of the airport
Different countries have different visa rules, and it might be that, in order to go out and explore, you’ll need to apply for a visa in advance, which could be costly and ultimately probably not worth the effort. On the other hand, don’t assume you can’t leave the airport if it’s a country for which you’d normally need a visa: many countries nowadays are trying to entice tourists with single-entry, time-limited special visas (usually at a small cost) for those who in the past might have just sat around in the airport. China is probably the best example – in certain cities you can now enter for up to 72 hours by getting a transit visa on arrival. We did this in Beijing, and this turned out to be surprisingly simple.
See if there are organised tours
If you’re anxious about navigating your way around an unfamiliar city in a short space of time, doing it with a guide could be a better option, and will probably take away the worry of getting back for your connection. Quite a few airports even offer free tours, and even if they don’t you might find a local tour company that will pick up and drop off at the airport.
Work out the transport options in advance
If you’re short of time, you don’t want to be winging it on an unfamiliar metro system! Read up on the quickest way to and from your intended destination (public transport? Taxi?) and work out exactly where you need to get on and off. Most major layover cities (Bangkok, Seoul, Dubai etc.) have superb public transport systems that offer a more efficient and quicker route into town than sitting in bumper to bumper traffic.
Work out what you want to do, and remember it’s not possible to do everything!
Try to banish FOMO by remembering that the majority of people won’t leave the airport at all! This website has plenty of viable suggestions, or you might even want to look at my own suggestions for 24 hours in Beijing (easily the most adventurous layover I’ve done so far). Tips for Dubai can be found here.
I’m Polly, London-based author of travel blog www.tuesdayinbucharest.wordpress.com. During the day I work for a university, and in the evenings I can be found masquerading as a stand-up comedian.
For more travel tips – as well as some more humorous insights – see https://tuesdayinbucharest.wordpress.com/