Whenever you travel far, you’re likely to experience a layover or two — and while direct flights might seem like the holy grail of a distant destination, I tend to enjoy my stopovers. First, they give me a chance to stretch my legs between long-haul flights , then there’s the freedom of knowing my one and only responsibility is to kill time for a few blissful hours.
Here are my favorite ways to make the best of a long layover:
Leave the airport
If your stopover will last more than five or six hours, why not take some time to explore the area? If you go this route, determine your plan before the trip — that way you don’t lose valuable minutes researching your options. Remember, you should arrive back at the airport at least two hours before your next flight.
I once met a friend for lunch in London during a long layover at Heathrow. Another time, I took the subway into Manhattan from Newark to eat a slice of pizza and wander around for an hour or two. The trip was brief, but it helped me pass the time with an experience instead of an overpriced magazine.
When I had an 11-hour layover in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, I took advantage of the culture tours. I wouldn’t have known about the airport’s free, guided city tours without prior internet research. Most layovers don’t offer Incheon’s sophisticated tourist trips (we received special stamps as we were escorted out so we could walk right through security on our way back in), but many international hubs are connected to the nearest city via several transportation options.
Your best bet for planning a layover excursion is checking the airport website. Are there tours available? Is there fast transportation to the city? After skimming the airport information, I usually head over to TripAdvisor. You’ll find several other travelers who’ve ventured past the airport during layovers. I have always appreciated itineraries recommended from travelers in the forums.
Call me crazy, but nothing compares to a good rinse after a long flight. I have charted overnight flight paths based on whether my stopover airport has showers available.
If you’re a Priority Pass holder or business class passenger, check to see if your available lounges include showers. And if not? Don’t worry. Plenty of international hubs offer showers for a charge of $15 or so — and believe me, it’s worth it. Sometimes you will get your own private bathroom with a sink, toilet, shower, and basic toiletries. Other shower areas offer a common sink and locker room with private shower stalls and tiny changing rooms.
A great resource for checking out shower availability is Sleeping in Airports. I’ve also found information by Googling “(name of city) airport showers.”
Get a room
Your search for a shower often leads you straight to the airport’s transit hotel. These are in-airport hotels (no need to go out and back through security!) offering a range of rates for shorter stays — such as three or six hours. While it’s certainly cheaper to stretch out on a bench in the terminal, sometimes a private, comfy place to rest your head can make all the difference. Check out prices via the airport’s website ahead of time. Sleeping in Airports is also a helpful guide. Sometimes the splurge — which I’ve seen listed from $30 onward — isn’t so bad.
Try a lounge
If you’re a business or first class traveler, you already know the luxurious feeling of settling into an airport lounge — there’s free food on porcelain plates, free alcohol in real glasses, free quiet areas to set up your laptop and hammer out a few work assignments. Sometimes there are free showers. Free massage chairs. Free books to read and TVs to watch. Free because you’ve already paid in loyalty or cold hard cash. Still, airport lounges are a must if you’re stuck in an airport for half a day or more.
If you’re an economy flier and don’t have a Priority Pass, check out single-day passes starting at $25 via Lounge Buddy. The price might seem steep for the opportunity to sit in a glorified waiting room, but if you’re at all inclined to indulge in a couple meals and alcoholic beverages, the cost evens out. Keep in mind that not all lounges are created equally — some of them are little more than a snack buffet and worn out leather chairs. Others? Full-fledged business headquarters with office suites, semi-private sleeping rooms, showers, never-ending bottles of wine and fresh, hot food. Be sure to read through your airport lounge’s amenities on Lounge Buddy before purchasing a pass.
Relax with a spa treatment
When I was younger (Hi, 20-year-old me!), I wondered what kinds of people used airport spas. Couldn’t they wait until they got home? Wasn’t it a little pricey? Well, I’ll tell you who uses them now: this girl, after a long flight.
Me, when I’m stranded in Newark airport for three more hours after I’ve already had a jaunt in Manhattan, waited in the long Starbucks line and read 50 pages of my new novel.
Me: Rushing to get a pedicure in the airport spa before boarding my flight to Europe this summer.
Also me: That faceless girl getting a shoulder massage after a grueling trans-Pacific flight.
In the last year, I’ve gotten more spa treatments in airports than at home. It’s a lovely way to pass the time. Treat yourself. And if you enjoy the foot massage in Newark International Airport’s D Parture Spa, tell them I sent you.
Buy a book
I saved the simplest solution for last: buying a book during stopovers has become a comforting ritual to me. Wheeling my carry-on around the too-small aisles, giving in to the temptation of a new pack of gum and Diet Coke at the register (I’m that girl). And I always remember the books I purchased in airport bookstores. They’re are like souvenirs to me, but of my time in between rather than in this place or that. The narratives help the time fly by on the flight too (pun intended). In airports, I’ve read books I would not have picked up otherwise. There’s something a little magical about stopovers: you can be completely you. No one knows you, everyone is swept up in their own business. Now is the time to buy that book you’ve been eyeing, the one you don’t want your book club to see.
And this brings me to my final point. Treat your long layovers like what they are: a few blessed hours of your own time.
Do you want to sleep? Sleep.
Do you want to explore? Take that train.
Do you want to grab a new bestseller and lose yourself while you get a killer foot massage? Girl, go for it.
My only request is for you to see the stopover as a treat rather than a drag. Enjoy yourself. Create your own adventure. And when it’s all over, have a safe flight.