What To Do on Long Layovers

Rachel Massey, Lead Flight Expert

More often than not, the cheapest flight deals can come with long layovers. Although these stretches of time between destinations can seem more like a roadblock– what if you made the most of your layovers? Hopefully, these tips can help open your mind to embrace the opportunity to squeeze in another adventure and enjoy your break in between traveling. 

Before Take-Off

It’s important to do some research ahead of time if you are wanting to leave the airport and explore on your layover, so make sure to look into a few things first:

  • Time – The most important thing to keep in mind if you plan on leaving the airport during a layover is timing. If you don’t have more than 4 hours for a domestic trip and 5 hours for an international trip, it’s best to play it safe and stay inside the airport. However, if you do have an extremely long layover, say 9 hours in Shanghai, for instance, some quick city exploring can be quite exciting and enjoyable. Just be sure to give yourself ample time to make it back to your gate! Make sure to think through each process and allow enough time for each. For example, you may need to go through customs & immigration on the way out and you’ll have to pass through security again on your way back in. Add in the amount of time it will take to get to the places you would like to see and try and give yourself one “buffer hour” for any unprecedented circumstances.
  • Transit Visa – Most international airports don’t let you just walk out of the airport and return for the next leg of your trip. You may need to get a Transit Visa, which is a visa valid for a very short period. Some international airports require you to surrender your passport if leaving the airport for a period of time, while others only allow you to explore through specific bus tours that take you directly back to the airport.
  • Baggage – Remember that while your checked baggage will be flown to your final destination, you’ll need to go through security again if you leave the airport. Keep your carry-on light and easily portable so you can explore outside of the airport with as little luggage as possible. You can also look into airport storage options for your luggage, however, they may charge a small fee.

More Bang for Your Buck!

There are lots of opportunities for turning your long layover into an additional adventure within your travel itinerary, giving you the opportunity to visit two destinations for the price of one plane ticket! 

  • Free City Tours – There are actually several airlines and airports that offer free airport layover tours to promote tourism. You won’t need a visa as you will be considered an “in-transit” passenger. This is a great option that allows you to explore & see some of the highlights of big cities that are already organized for you. Most of these tours can be booked online or at the airport that your tour is departing from. Here are a few airports that offer these free city tours:
    • Singapore (Singapore Changi Airport)
    • Seoul, South Korea (Incheon Intl Airport)
    • Taipei, Taiwan (Taoyuan Intl Airport)
    • Tokyo, Japan (Tokyo Narita Airport)
    • Istanbul, Turkey (Ataturk Intl Airport)
    • Doha, Qatar (Doha Intl Airport)
    • Salt Lake City, Utah (Salt Lake City Intl Airport)
  • Explore on Your Own – To make the most of your layover, do some research about the city your airport is in before you get there to save time. It may be smart to pick 1-2 things to do depending on the length of your layover. Pick a museum to visit, check out any city walking tours, try out the local cuisine, or just start exploring the streets and see what you can find! Just make sure to try and get back to the airport about 2 hours before your second flight takes off so you can continue your adventure!

For Overnight Layovers

Most airlines provide free hotel accommodations for passengers that have a layover between 8-12 hours, and some airlines for even a shorter layover times. Every airline is different so you will have to check your carrier’s website to be sure. If a transfer hotel isn’t an option for you, check out our “Sleeping In Airports” blog post for everything you need to know to get a good night’s sleep at the airport.

Make The Most Of It!

Don’t get disheartened if flights get delayed not giving you enough time to go outside and explore. Even if you don’t have the chance or energy to explore outside, there are plenty of things you can do to enjoy your time during a layover at the airport. You can always use the time to meditate, read, journal, play card games, organize photos from your trip, meet new people, or start planning your next trip!

A Different Perspective 

Long layovers don’t always have to be a drag, they can actually be pretty fun! It’s a great opportunity to make the most of your time and money while traveling. Getting outside of the airport and exploring can give you the chance to experience a new place and culture without the burden of spending extra money on a nonstop flight. No matter where you’re headed, it’s not always about the end destination, but the journey along the way! Hopefully, these suggestions can help you take full advantage of long layovers and inspire you with more options as you plan your next trip.

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