The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Airport Layovers: 13 Ways to Maximize Your Layover!

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

surviving long haul layover travel essentials
surviving long haul layover travel essentials

Are you the type of traveler who is surviving airport layovers? Or do you avoid long layovers during your travels?

I’m experienced in connecting flights and long layovers. Being from Hawaii, I sought budget flights and much of my international trips are long haul flights, with connecting flights and long layovers. I grew to love this type of airport life. I got to planning them into my itinerary as extended trips. Today, I choose my layovers.

 In this article, I’m going to share a few of my tips for mastering the art of -not only- surviving but maximizing long layovers. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a novice, lets turn your layover into an opportunity for exploration rather than a tiresome waiting game.

The Ultimate Layover Guide to Surviving Airport Layovers

Planning ahead and making the most of airport amenities to discovering hidden gems in your layover city,  transform those endless hours into a mini-adventure.Navigate airports like a pro, find private lounges for some pampering, and even fit in a sightseeing tour if time permits. So, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to transform your long layovers into unforgettable travel experiences.


Travel Tips : How to Survive an Airport Layover

14 Ways to Maximize your Layover

1. Sleeping Cabins: Research the Best Sleeping Spots in the Airport

Find out where the best sleeping spots are in the airport or even if it’s a 24 hour airport which you can sleep in. Some airports have sleeping cabins you can rent or lounge chairs for comfort. Other airports are devoid of sleeping pods and you must find or create the best sleeping spots of the airport.

Check out Airport Sleeping pods & capsules

I love the recliner chairs in Incheon Airport Terminal 2 – they have USB outlets for charging your phone as you sleep. Dubai Airport Emirates Terminal also has recliners that get filled quickly. In Kuala Lumpur, travelers camp out at McDonalds late at night. Every airport I’ve nested in, I had to find the best sleeping spots. From the basement level under the escalator to the basement level where there is a 24 hour Korean sleep/spa. Check Sleeping in Airports where travelers leave reviews about an airport and where they found places to sleep in.

Tip:  Keep in mind, not all airports are open 24hours. This is more an exception, but for smaller hubs, they’re something to be cautious about if you have an overnight layover.  The website may or may not mention this so the next best option is to check the airport’s website.

airport sleeping cabins, moscow airport sleepbox, moscow airport sleeping cabins
Moscow Airport Sleepbox

2. Use Left Luggage Storage

See if your airport has a left luggage, luggage storage or lockers, so you can drop your bags and jump a bus or metro for a day of sightseeing in the city. Left luggage storage is a service that lets you store your carry-on luggage, anywhere from a few hours to a week! Prices vary: $3-$10/day

Fukuoka Airport (read my 24 hour Fukuoka layover guide) is not an airport that is open 24 hours, so I had to go into town and rent a place for the night. I didn’t want to carry my luggage with me, but thankfully, I found airport pay lockers to put my luggage into overnight!  Check airport websites or visit the airport information desk to see their options for storing luggage.

Tip: Pack light. Check out my smart packing tips for carry-on luggage and check out my favorite Hynes Eagle carry-on convertible luggage.

Left Luggage in Incheon
Left Luggage in Incheon

3. Wear comfortable clothes

If you know you’re going to have a layover, dress for comfort. ‘ve seen people go as far as wear sweatpants, and I used to wear jeans but these days I love the comfort of yoga pants and my merino shirt.

While you want to dress in comfort, you also want to remember to dress in layers as planes and airports can change in temperature and you want to be able to feel comfortable during long- haul flight and long airport layovers. I always pack a light jacket and pashmina scarf and additional layering accessories.

 

4. Understand Trip Delays and your Travel insurance

Did you know that travel insurance can help with trip delays, missed connections and interruptions? I know that I often see trip delays as a covered condition on my trip insurance policies, but quickly forget when i’m in transit. Likewise, many travelers forget that trip delays are included in their trip insurance and take the bullet instead. You don’t know how many horror stories I’ve heard of flight delays and travelers upset at the gate

What is covered depends upon your plan, but commonly covered reasons can range from :

  • Airlines carrier delay: This means your flight, train, bus, or cruise ship was delayed by the carrier company.
  • Weather: Bad weather conditions that ground flights or close roads
  • Mechanical problems: If your flight or other transportation is delayed due to mechanical problems, this may be covered.
  • Missed connection: If you miss a connecting flight or other transportation due to a delay, your travel insurance may cover the cost of getting to your destination.

What is covered:

  • Reimbursement for expenses incurred due to the delay: This can include meals, accommodation, transportation, and even entertainment costs if your trip is delayed for a covered reason and exceeds a certain duration (typically 6-12 hours).
  • Missed connections: If your delay causes you to miss a connecting flight or other travel arrangement, your travel insurance may cover the cost of rebooking or finding alternative transportation.
  • Trip interruption: If your trip is interrupted due to a covered delay, you may be reimbursed for unused pre-paid expenses and the cost of returning home early.

What to do: Do your best to document the events, keep receipts, your flight tickets and report as soon as you return home from your trip.

Tip: Use this SquareMouth Trip Insurance Finder Tool to find the best plan for your needs and budget

5. Check your Layover Country Visa

Assuming you have a connecting flight with a layover in another country, verifying visa requirements is crucial for a smooth and stress-free travel experience.

Do not assume your automated flight itinerary booking means free-and-easy-passage through countries visa free. Some layovers might require an transit visa simply for crossing onto another country’s soil, especially if you plan to leave the secure airport zone or if your nationality isn’t covered by visa-free agreements.

Failing to check the visa requirements can lead to denied boarding, missed flights, and hefty fines upon arrival. By taking a few minutes to check the visa situation beforehand, you ensure a seamless transition through your layover, allowing you to relax, explore the city, or simply catch your connecting flight with peace of mind.

Travelers flying through Russia or China (Updated: China has a free 144 hour transit visa), even on a layover, might need a transit visa to pass through immigration and customs. This holds true for some other countries too, like Afghanistan, Albania, Bolivia, Cuba, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Iran.

Thankfully, staying within the secure international transit area usually doesn’t require a visa, as you’re not officially setting foot into the country.

But if your flight involves switching airports, like Heathrow to Gatwick, a transit visa becomes necessary as you’ll need to pass through customs and immigration at the layover point. Remember, checking visa requirements for your layover country, even for short connections, can avoid potential headaches and ensure a smooth journey.

Tip: Getting a visa through iVisa is quick and easy and you avoid the hassles of bureaucratic government website applications.  Check out your visa requirement 

6. Bring Charging Devices (and Adapters!)

Bring your charging devices and plug adapters.  I like to use my layover time to charge my devices so I always carry a a multiplug adapter. I always pack and store them in my electronics bag in my in-flight bag.

Not all airports have available plug outlets, USB charging ports or charging stations. Carrying an external charger like Anker x Pop Socket Magsafe charger or a small Anker nano lightning charger will keep you powered, even if you don’t have a place to plug in.

Additionally, not all airports have international plug outlets. Incheon Airport’s plug outlets only takes Asia plug adapters. Bring an international travel adapter. They’re a little bulky but you won’t have to buy adapters per country.  Due to the fact I visit South/east/Asia often, I have separate plug adapters for it.

International travel plug, international plug adapter
all in one international travel adapter

7. Pack a Bag of Essentials

Always pack a bag of layover essentials. It’s similar to what I’d pack in my in-flight essentials. In the case your flight gets delayed or your luggage gets lost, you want to have bare essentials to survive your trip and freshen up. Basic things I pack are:

– Toothbrush & toothpaste
– An extra pair of underwear
– A refillable bottle for water
– Snacks 
– Medication
Charging devices

 

Keep an eye out for my video on How to Choose your Airport Layover and Things you NEED to know about Connecting Flights, where I’ll be sharing advance tips on what you should be looking for in your airport to make your layover an amusement attraction!

8. Bring Small Cash

These days, you can make airport purchases through your credit card. But there have been exceptions. Always carry small bills such as $5, $10, $20 USD are good to carry in your wallet as backup money if you have a long layover.  If your layover allows time for to sightsee the city, take a layover tour or grab a drink, small bills are the best to take to exchange at money exchange windows for small spending cash.

9. Book Priority Pass Lounges

Airport lounges have been around for ages and are synonymous with VIP status flyers. But these days you don’t need to be a VIP to gain entry into them. Priority Pass is a site that let’s you reserve a spot at a lounge for as little as $99/year. That’s access to over 1,400 lounges. Many lounges are full-service and have wifi, buffet style food; some have showers.

Sometimes, you can find cheap rates for lounge entry (i.e. in Malaysia, I paid for lounge access upon walking and it was for a surprisingly inexpensive rate.

Tip: Priority Pass is a site that let’s you reserve a spot at a lounge for as little as $99/year. That’s not bad.

How to Survive Airport Layovers
How to Survive Airport Layovers

10. Explore Airport Tours

Long layovers are wonderful for catching an extra day of sightseeing in your layover city. This is a way of surviving long airport layovers. Check if your layover is long enough to venture outside and explore the city. Some airports offer layover tours for long layovers over 5 or 6 hours.

Check this list of free airport layover tours.

I’ve taken city tours from Incheon and Doha Airport.  Generally they have a requirement for who can join the tours and this is reliant upon how much time you’ve got. They will whisk you through immigration to the outside tour desk where you can board your city tour bus and then get you back in time for your flight. You need to go back through TSA and passport control, so they are quite strict and will check your connecting flight ticket.

Free transit city tour Incheon Airport, surviving airport layovers, long airport layovers
Free transit city tour Incheon Airport

11. Join Loyalty Programs

Sign up for loyalty programs offered by credit cards and airlines. These loyalty programs provide perks like discounts, free lounge access, or fast-track security.

12. Download your Airlines Mobile App

Stay connected with your airline’s mobile app. They can make your in-transit and layover world easier, by offering flight schedule information screens, early gate information and real-time updates on your connecting flight.

13. Research Airport Facilities

San Francisco International Airport has a yoga room with free yoga sessions and Incheon Airport has free sleep and game rooms to spend your layover time in. Practice yoga or meditation to relax your mind and body. Some U.S. airports have designated areas for yoga and mindfulness activities (such as San Francisco, Dallas Fort Worth, Burlington and Alburqurque.

Free showers: Airport showers are a nice way to refresh yourself. I’ve used the Incheon Airport shower in Terminal 2, but I’ve also noticed them in Doha and Dubai Airports recently as well. You need to bring your own towels and a change of clothes.

Sleep pods: whether it’s comfortable lounge chair or Nap pods that offer a room to shower, watch television or bed to sleep in, check your airport to see what their most restful spots of the terminal are. Check out my list of airports that offer sleeping pods.

Dog relief stations: Some airports have areas where you can relief your dogs, so your furbaby can go potty

14. Airlines In-transit Hotels during Airport Layovers

Some airlines offer free in-transit hotels for layovers over a certain duration. When I had a super long layover in Istanbul whilst traveling Turkish Airlines, I had a choice between a city tour or a free in-transit hotel stay and chose the hotel so I could get rest.

In-transit hotels not only offer a hotel room for you to rest in during your layover, but often, they include meal vouchers or a restaurant.

TURKISH AIRLINES FREETRANSIT HOTEL
My TURKISH AIRLINES FREE TRANSIT HOTEL

How do you maximize your airport layovers? What are your airport layover tips for this layover guide? 

 

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