Flights with layovers are almost always cheaper than direct journeys. In fact, the most affordable flights may have you stopping two or three times before you get to your final destination. But despite the savings, many travelers are opting to pay more money to avoid the extra time at the airport. Can we blame them? Sitting on a hard bench for hours on end while you nibble on a cold sandwich is hardly an appealing thought–especially when an oceanfront resort awaits. But while direct flights may seem like the holy grail of travel, I've often enjoyed my lengthy stopovers, and so can you. Here are six strategies you can use to not only survive your long layover, but enjoy it, too.
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#1 Get to know the airport
If you only have three or so hours to kill before your next flight, try wandering the airport to fill your time. As soon as you land, find out where your gate will be and go to it. Do this before you do anything else. This way, you get a feel for how to navigate yourself to your connecting flight and, once you know where you're going, you can explore the airport more freely. Wander the duty-free shops, take a good look at all of the weird and wonderful products offered by whatever country you're in, and once you're done, head to a restaurant for a good meal before your flight.
#2 Check out the airport lounge
Most airports will have a lounge or two where you can chill out, take a shower, have a meal and indulge in a few drinks. These lounges cost, but they're usually worth it. The airport lounges in Helsinki's main international airport, for example, cost around 35 Euro ($38 USD) but have hearty meals, juices and beer and wine included, as well as sofas to relax on, a PlayStation to play on and a bookshelf full of books to read while you wait for your flight.
#3 Leave the airport
If your layover is more than five or six hours, why not leave the airport and explore the area? If you're in a city well connected by public transport (like Shanghai, Toronto, Amsterdam or Seoul), take the day to wander the streets and take in the sights. I once spent 19 hours in Shanghai checking out the lively local food stalls at 11:00 at night and then resting in a nearby hotel. Another time, I spent 12 hours in Manila wandering the streets and eating purple yam ice cream. But be sure to do your research on entry requirements! Some countries do not permit travellers to enter the country without a visa. A layover in Oman was once spoiled by the fact that I had assumed I could enter visa-free.
#4 Get a room
Many aiport hotels offer a range of rates for shorters stays, such as three hours, six hours or a half-day stay. Some, like the Tune Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, even offer a free meal, too. Sure, it may be cheaper to stretch out on a bench in the airport, but sometimes you just need a private, comfy place to rest your head, take a shower and relax. Check out the prices via the airport hotel website ahead of time and book in advance if you can.
#5 Buy a book
Reading is a great way to pass the time. If you have a few hours on your hands but you're not keen on wandering aimlessly around the airport, head to a book store (every airport has at least one) and grab the most interesting book you can find. Head to your gate, take a seat and get lost in your book while you wait for your next flight. Treat yourself with a coffee at the same time, put your suitcase in front of you and stretch out your legs. Ah, doesn't that sound nice?
The cheapest and simplest option: Sleep. Sometimes you get to the airport in the early hours of the morning when everything is closed, or maybe you're just absolutely exhausted from your rather uncomfortable flight. Whatever the reason, sleeping is a fantastic—and effortless—way to kill time. Grab some earplugs from the nearest store or put some music on, keep your bag close to you and get some much-needed shut-eye. Just remember to set an alarm for boarding time.