Long layovers can be a traveler’s nightmare, especially when they are unanticipated and unplanned. However, if you’re someone who loves to make the most of your time, a lengthy layover can be an excellent opportunity to explore a new city or destination or simply fit in some down time that you otherwise wouldn’t. Whether you’re an avid traveler or someone who just wants to kill time before your next flight, there are so many worthwhile activities and things to do during a long layover. So, if you’re wondering what to do during a long layover, we’ve got 15 awesome ideas!
From exploring local sights to indulging in some delicious food, this airport layover guide includes some great travel tips and ideas for making the most of a long layover.
What to do during a long layover outside the airport
Long layovers can give you a chance to explore a destination you are simply passing through. If you plan to leave the airport during your layover there are a few things to keep in mind. You’ll need to do a little “airport math” before you leave the airport.
What does that mean? You will need to have a good idea of exactly how long it will take you to go through customs (if traveling internationally), get out of the airport, get to whatever place you want to visit, explore that place, get back to the airport, go through security again, and get to your gate.
We typically won’t leave the airport if our layover is less than 4 hours. It’s usually not worth risking missing our connecting flight. But if you have a bit more time and want to leave the airport during a long layover, here are a few things you can do.
Book a guided tour
A guided tour is perhaps the easiest way to explore a new city during a long layover. Not only will someone pick you up from the airport and bring you back, but you’ll have a local guide who knows his or her way around the city you are visiting and has a very good understanding of how long you will realistically need for an activity.
You can book guided layover tours in advance on websites like Viator or Get Your Guide. We’ve personally used both to book layover tours and have had great experiences every time.
Explore the city on your own
If you prefer to set out on your own to explore a city or new destination during a long layover, it is a good idea to research public transportation or taxis ahead of time.
Also, you may want to consider storing your luggage if you are backpacking or traveling carry-on only. Many airports that frequently have long layover flights have lockers that you can rent for the day to store your luggage, so you can explore hands-free without hauling your heavy backpacks or carry-on bags with you.
In some airports, like in Iceland, there are even shuttles from Keflavik Airport to the Blue Lagoon that are ideal for a long layover.
Do some shopping
Whether you do some duty-free shopping in the airport or leave the terminal and head to a shopping center or mall, a long layover is a great time to buy authentic goods from the destination in which you are flying through.
If you have a layover in Dubai with kids, for example, you can head to the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world, which has plenty of activities to keep your family entertained for hours!
Book a transit hotel
Many international airports or popular layover airports have hotels attached to the airports. Some of them can even be booked for a couple hours at a time. If you’re traveling with a jetlagged baby, child, or if you are jetlagged and exhausted yourself, you can book a transit hotel and get a few hours of sleep before your next flight.
We have personally done this on several occasions, particularly after a long international flight. Doing so ultimately will make you feel more energized and ready to hit the ground running when you arrive at your final destination.
Even if you aren’t tired, a transit hotel gives you a private space to relax, take a shower, and freshen up after your long journey.
Sample the local cuisine
Depending on the layover airport, you can likely try the local cuisine without leaving the airport. However, if you want to get away from the terminal for a while, set out and find an authentic local restaurant where you can indulge in some delicious food.
A lot of airports are teeming with fast food or large chain restaurants, so depending on where you are connecting, you may have to venture away from the airport for truly authentic cuisine. Chances are though, if you do so, it will be well worth it!
What to do during a long layover without leaving the airport
Although some people may want to set off and explore a new city during a long layover, there are plenty of people who don’t want to take that risk. Don’t worry, if that’s you there are lots of things to do during a long layover that don’t involve leaving the airport.
Visit an airport lounge
Visiting airport lounges is one of the best ways to pass the time during a long layover. Many airports offer lounge access for a small fee, while others are for members only. Several airlines also have their own airport lounges and provide lounge access for free for first class and business class travelers as well as certain airline card holders.
Frequent travelers may consider investing in the Priority Pass membership, which grants members access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. Some credit cards, like the Capital One Venture X and the Chase Sapphire Reserve come with a complimentary Priority Pass membership.
Airport lounges typically have a nicer, more relaxing environment with lounge chairs, couches, tables and plenty of outlets for charging devices. They also offer free food and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Some even have shower facilities!
Journal or write
Journaling is a great way to keep your mind active during a layover or even during a long flight. Find yourself a quiet corner, pull out your journal and pen and let your creative thoughts flow.
Journaling can improve mental health, self-awareness, and overall well-being. Writing down thoughts and emotions in a journal has also been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as it provides an outlet for expressing difficult emotions and working through challenging situations.
As a travel blogger, I often use long layovers to start outlining and writing about our trip while it is still fresh in my mind.
But whether you are writing about your thoughts and feelings or reflecting on your trip and writing about your travels, you’ll find the time passes very quickly when you are journaling.
Research your trip
If your long airport layover happens to be on the way to your trip or vacation, use that time to do some research and plan ahead. Spend a few hours creating daily itineraries, researching the best places to eat, or reserving tickets for activities in advance. Even if you aren’t ready to reserve your tickets, it’s always good to check and make sure advanced tickets aren’t required before you arrive.
So read up and book ahead of time while you are sitting around the airport. This will not only save you an extra step during your vacation, but it should also make everything a bit smoother and a lot less stressful.
Find a napping pod or Minute Suites
If your layover airport doesn’t have a connecting hotel, or your layover isn’t long enough to justify the cost of booking a hotel, but you still want to catch an hour or so of sleep, search your airport amenities for a Minute Suites or napping pods.
Not all airports have them, but if you are transiting through a major international airport, chances are the airport has some type of private rest area that you can book by the hour. Minute Suites access is even included with the Priority Pass membership!
After a long flight, it is common to feel a little gross, to put it frankly. Your teeth feel gritty, your mouth has a weird taste, and your skin looks and feels dry and tired. That’s why it can be super refreshing to take some time and clean up a bit. You likely have access to a full shower, unless you visit a hotel or airport lounge, but you can still head to the restroom to brush your teeth and wipe down your face.
Depending on how long your flight is, you may want to change clothes (be sure to pack a spare set in your carry-on bag) and apply deodorant and moisturizer. I also like to find a quiet area of the airport, face away from the main walkway and put a moisturizing face mask or under eye patches.
This is an obvious one, but layovers are obviously the perfect time to charge up all your devices for your next flight. When traveling with kids, you likely have multiple devices to charge. Phones, tablets, laptops, GoPros or cameras, and charging blocks.
Find a place with multiple outlets and plug in! If your layover is in another country, be sure to check what type of outlets they have and buy a plug adaptor if needed.
Find a chapel, meditation room, or quiet space
Most layover airports typically have an all-faith chapel where you can sneak away for a moment of serenity. These chapels are usually fairly empty, except on sabbath or holy days in certain faiths. So, they make for the perfect place for a moment of reflection, meditation, prayer, or silence.
Look for special amenities available at the airport
Depending on the airport you are connecting through, you may luck out and have a lot more to explore than just terminals and food courts. In Singapore’s Changi Airport, for example, there is a butterfly garden, 4-story slide, movie theater, swimming pool, and a fabulous rain vortex.
Other airports offer amenities like complimentary yoga classes, playgrounds for kids, ice skating rinks and even aquariums.
After a long flight it is a great idea to get moving! Walk, jog, stretch – do something that gets your muscles moving and your blood pumping. This is important for preventing blood clots and staying fit while you’re traveling. It can also aid in digestion, and can help immensely with jet lag.
So, if you’re wondering what to do during a long layover, take advantage of that giant airport and start walking!
Airports are an excellent place to simply people watch. Find a seat and observe people from all over the world, different cultures, languages, and backgrounds. It can be fascinating!
Aside from getting to watch people from all walks of life, airports are also places of heightened emotion, with travelers experiencing a range of emotions, including excitement, anxiety, and exhaustion. Simply observing people in these emotional states and situations is practically a study into human behavior.
So, even in smaller airports, people watching can be a fun way to pass time. Just put your phone down and start looking around.
Things to pack in your carry-on bag for a long layover
- Hand Sanitizer
- Cleansing Wipes
- Nasal Spray
Other things you might want to bring for a long layover
- Journal and pen
- Face Mask
- Kindle or Book
The advantages of a long layover when traveling with kids
Before we became parents, we loathed airport layovers. In fact, we would try to schedule connecting flights as close as possible. If we planned it right, by the time we rushed through the terminal our next flight was just about to board. When we were traveling pre-kids, we just wanted to get to our destination as quickly as we physically could.
Nowadays, the layover is often a welcomed part of a long journey. In fact, we often schedule long layovers to give us a few hours to explore a new place. If you’re flying with a baby or flying with a toddler, the extra time in the terminal also gives squirmy, energetic children an opportunity to stretch their legs and burn some energy. If you’re lucky, that might mean they’ll sleep on the next flight.
An airport layover also allows for more time to use the facilities, like family or unisex bathrooms, which are great for diaper changes or bathroom breaks for young children. That’s better than an airplane lavatory any day!
FAQs about long layovers
While we’ve provided some ideas on what to do during a long layover, here are a couple frequently asked questions about long layovers.
Can you leave the airport during a long international layover?
Depending on the visa situation for the country you are transiting through, it is possible to leave the airport on a long layover. However, you’ll want to make sure a Visa isn’t needed for residents of your home country in order to visit the country you are transiting through.
You’ll also want to make sure you have enough time to leave the airport, sightsee, and get back in plenty of time for your connecting flight.
How long of a layover do you need to leave the airport?
The amount of time you will need to leave the airport depends on a number of factors, including the distance from the airport to the city you are visiting and ease of transportation. Personally, we never leave the airport unless we have at least a 6 hour layover and the airport is in or very close to a city or attraction we want to visit.
Have a question or comment about what to do during a layover? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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The post about what to do during a long layover was first written in December 2015 but was most recently updated in April 2023 for accuracy and new information.
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