Secretly I’ve always loved a good layover, especially if I’m on my way to somewhere far off that involves one or two long-haul economy flights.

Layovers guarantee a bit of time to stretch, pick up essentials, catch up with phone calls, and time indulge in a healthier meal than what’s being served in flight.

If you’re lucky, the layover may even be long enough to indulge in a bit of sightseeing or at the very least enough time to take a hot shower and a nap.

I realize not everyone has mastered the art of the long layover, so I’ve created this long layover guide with all the survival tips you’ll need to enjoy an extended stay at the airport.

To make it easy, I’ve included a long layover packing list with all the essentials, my top 16 favorite things to do during a long layover to kill some time, plus answers to some of the most popular questions about layovers.

Read on for the ultimate guide on how to survive a long layover.

Things to Pack to Survive a Long Layover

What to Pack For a Long Layover 2
  • Kindle
  • Portable Charger
  • Charging Cords
  • Adapter
  • Pashmina
  • Reusable Water Bottle
  • Headphones
  • Snacks
  • Comfy Clothes
  • Moisturizer
  • Chapstick
  • Saline Nasal Spray
  • Ibuprofen 
  • Journal
  • Pen
  • Vitamins
  • Sunglasses
  • Toothbrush 
  • Toothpaste
  • Hand Sanitizer

Best Things to Do On a Long Layover

Read a Book

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One of my favorite ways to pass time on long-haul flights and during layovers is to read a few excellent books. 

For years I insisted on carrying actual books with me, then finally caved and hopped on the Kindle train. 

I’ve got to admit it’s way easier since it takes up less space in my bag and doesn’t kill my back the way my multiple books used to. 

Take a City Tour

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If you book the right length layover, you can leave the airport and go explore whatever city you’re killing time in.

If this is something you want to do, especially internationally, plan before booking your flight. 

I got stuck in Moscow for six hours on my way to Istanbul. If I would have planned a bit more in advance, I could have gone for the eight-hour layover that was a cheaper flight, and taken a quick tour of the city. 

Now I always look for the long layovers first in case it gives me the opportunity to save money and check out a new city.

People Watch

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One of my favorite things about living in NYC was the amount of people watching on offer. With so many tourists, there was always someone interesting to study nearby. 

It’s also one reason I love hanging out in airports. There’s a wonderful energy in them as people buzz around looking for snacks, gate changes, and kids they can’t keep track of. 

Grab a drink or a coffee (depending on the time) and enjoy watching life pass you by for a few hours. I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to smile or laugh about while you watch.

Watch a Movie

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Another way to kill a few hours with little effort is to watch a movie. I like to pre-download at least one film before departing in case my in-flight TV doesn’t work (it’s happened before), and as a precaution since some airports have seriously slow internet connections.

Phone a Friend

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Another perfect way to invest some quality layover time is to chat up a friend or family member. Just remember to check the time difference before dialing. You don’t want to phone grandma at 4am!

When I have a lengthy layover with an appropriate time difference, I try to get a few calls in.

First, I call my parents to let them know I’ve landed okay. Then I’ll just text my friends, since let’s be honest, millennials aren’t really into phone calls.

After I get situated preferably with a coffee, I like to give my grandma a call. We only connect once every month, and it makes her day when I can talk for a long period. 

I get some of you are probably rolling your eyes, and I know not everyone is close with their family, but I can promise you it will feel good to make someone’s day by surprising them with a phone call. 

Obviously, you can also call your friends, though as a millennial, I prefer to save the texting convos to occupy me while I’m grabbing food or sitting down for a cocktail. 

Book a Hotel Room

Airport Hotel Room 2

For a super long layover, book yourself a hotel room to rest up in. Or better yet, see if the airline you’re flying offers a free room.

Some airlines provide free hotel accommodations for passengers with layovers between 8-12 hours long or if they’re overnight. Check out your airline’s website to see if you can get lucky!

Even if they don’t provide a free one, it’s still pretty outstanding to get a few hours of sleep, brush your teeth, grab a hot shower, and a bit of privacy before you’re back in the air again. 

A lot of airports have hotels that are connected, though they’re typically outside of security, so remember to leave plenty of time to get through all the access points to get back into the terminal before boarding time. 

Try Local Cuisine

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I love trying new food and almost always end up planning some aspect of my trip around the new spots I’m dying to eat at.

I’m so food obsessed, that I occasionally even book layovers around what restaurants and chains are in airports. 

Seriously, it makes a world of difference when you’re sitting down to a nice comforting meal, versus getting something mediocre from a basic fast-food chain or worse, a pre-packaged sandwich.

Plus, when you’re in an international airport, it’s easy and fun to try a local cuisine that’s unique to the area. Just use common sense when ordering, since the last thing you’d want is to have a stomachache on your next flight.

Since you have a few hours, don’t forget to check out the spots to eat at in the terminals near yours. Most of the time airport terminals are connected, so you can enjoy an array of options.

Journal

travel journal 2

Anytime I travel, one of the first things I do is pack a journal. It’s become a bit of a habit, especially on solo trips, to sit and write observations and feelings I’ve had during the trip

I’ve found it really fun and helpful to go back years later and read them. I’m reminded of the mindset I was in on the trip, the details of people I encountered or experienced special moments with, and even reminders of some of the small funny mishaps from my trip. 

I always finish reading them with a small and a bit of insight into how much I’ve grown as a person since then. It’s also proof that with every trip I learn a bit more about myself.

If you’ve never journaled before, I highly suggest trying it. It’s a great way to spend some time during a layover or long flight. Just remember, you don’t have to write perfectly.  It’s something that’s personal and totally for you!

Airport Lounge 

airport vip lounge things to do on a long layover 2

If you feel like making your layover a bit more luxurious, consider spending some of it chilling in a lounge.

Most lounges offer day passes that will give you access to most or all of their amenities. Some credit card programs even give you access, so look into what your card’s benefits are!

Spending time in a lounge will give you a cozy place to hang, typically complimentary coffee, and some sort of dining option.

The fancier programs offer things like massages and discounts on outside meals.

Take Photos

airport photography

Okay, you might look crazy if you’re taking photos of yourself for your Instagram, but who cares? You’ll likely never see these people again.

If you want to be less attention grabbing, just focus on finding cool things around the airport to take photos of.

After all, nothing passes the time more quickly than creating the perfect layover Instagram post and caption!

Go Shopping

DUTY FREE 2

I’m always down for a bit of shopping, especially when it’s duty free!

I love to stock up on international candies while I’m flying. Mainly because they’re easy to carry and don’t take up much space in my bag.

Also, don’t limit yourself to just duty free. I’ve gotten some fabulous fashion finds in low key airport boutiques. One of my favorite little black dresses that I always get compliments on was an impulse buy at a boutique in Charlotte airport.

If you’ve got a solid amount of extra space, go crazy and purchase larger ticket items. Just remember to declare your purchases when you return (unless you’re like me and have already eaten them).

Research Things to Do in Your Destination City

RESEARCH THINGS TO DO 2

If you’re on the way to a new place, spend some of your airport downtime researching things to do in the area.

I know most people typically do research before departing on a trip, but if you’re anything like me, it gets left until the last minute.

When the last minute rolls around, I end up too busy packing and wrapping up loose ends at home and totally forget to do some googling on the best things to do in my new destination.

Thanks to layovers, I get a bit of dedicated time to Google some ideas and suggestions on places and events to hit up while I’m in town. 

The last time I did some dedicated research on my way to a destination, I ended up scoring a ticket for the most magical Chateau party in the South of France. 

Plus, researching so close to arrival really amps up my excitement levels, which boosts my overall energy—and is much appreciated after hours and hours of exhausting travel. 

Meditate

AIRPORT MEDITATION 2

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit meditating in a busy airport takes a lot of focus.

These days, some airports have rooms dedicated to meditation. Check the airport directory to see if the terminal you’re in offers a space. 

If not, try looking for a religious center. Often I’ve gotten lucky finding a quiet chapel to sit in for a bit of meditation. 

I realize some people have never meditated before, or have maybe only done it a handful of times. 

Don’t just write it off as something weird or hard to do. When done properly, it is really grounding, calming, and it can lead to some deep personal insights.

For a simple way to try centering yourself, download an app that will walk you through a guided meditation. I like the “Calm” app, and the “Oprah & Deepak” app. They both have a bunch of different options you can choose from in order to have a focused meditation. 

Go For a Long Walk

GO FOR A WALK AT THE AIRPORT 2

After what has presumably been a fairly long first flight, you’ll be wanting to stretch your legs a bit.

After hitting up the bathroom, the first thing I always do is walk around the terminal to get a feel for what’s around and where my next gate will be.

This way I get the lay of the land and get my blood circulating after sitting for an extended period. I try to walk at least 20 minutes before settling in somewhere to wait out the time until my next boarding call.

Once you find a place to put down your bags, I highly suggest you get in a bit of stretching. I like to do a few neck rolls, body rolls, and back stretches to wake up my body.

If you’re still feeling achy after stretching and walking around a bit, take a bit of ibuprofen to help.

Have a Drink

HAVE A DRINK AIRPORT 2

Did you know that flying on a plane can be really dehydrating?

Dehydration causes you to have worse jetlag, drains your overall energy, and completely dries out your skin, lips, and nasal passages.

To combat this, you’ll want to drink plenty of water, and moisturize your skin every few hours. I also follow my doctor’s advice and use a bit of saline spray. 

She says it helps keep your passageways moist, which can help your body fight airborne germs.

While you’re at it, enjoy a cheeky cocktail at the bar to pass some time. Just drink one glass of water per cocktail you imbibe.

Organize Photos

ORGANIZE PHOTOS 2

When all else fails, spend some time organizing photos on your phone. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one with a camera roll filled with thousands of photos and no organized folders. 

Make some folders and sort your photos. Chances are you’ll also find a bunch of screenshots that you can delete from your phone.

Plus, it can be really fun looking back over memories and photos that you’ve forgotten even exist.

If your camera roll is as messy as mine is, I guarantee it’ll take at least a few hours to sort through!

FAQs About Layovers

FAQs about layovers 2

Can I leave the airport during a long layover?

The short answer is yes, but it depends on the airport and country. You’ll want to make sure the layover is long enough and if it’s international that your visa paperwork is in order and you have time to get through customs and immigration.

You’ll also want to return with plenty of time to get through security before your flight. That could easily take a fair amount of time.  

What is the longest layover allowed?

The maximum allowed layover is 24 hours. For domestic travel, the layover times permitted are shorter, depending on the airline. 

What is the difference between a layover and a connecting flight?

Typically, the way most travelers use the term, a layover refers to any time between connecting flights. 

Airline crews define a layover as an overnight stay, while a connection to them means a quick stop before boarding the next flight.

Which is better, non-stop or layover?

Honestly, it depends on your schedule and budget. Non-stop flights are a bit more expensive, but get you there a lot faster. 

Layovers save you some money, even though it takes longer to arrive at your destination. If you pick the right layover, you potentially get enough time to experience a bit of a new city, or at the very least time to stretch your legs and have a proper meal.

Final Boarding Call

HOW TO SURVIVE A LONG LAYOVER

I hope this guide has made you a bit more excited about your next long layover—or at the very least given you some new ideas on ways to get through it!

Let me know in the comments below what your favorite way to pass time on a long layover is!

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