Airport layovers: an unfortunate inevitability when you travel. Or are they? While spending extra time at a random airport C can be a bummer when you’re trying to get from A to B, they don’t have to be a total loss. Actually here are plenty of things to do during a layover.
After traveling most of my life – including traveling internationally for the past eight years and having the sweet lounge life for the last four years – I’m here to help. These are some of the best ways to make the most of an airport layover, Since you’re going to have one either way, you might as well enjoy some of these activities and keep the thrill of travel going even in transit!
1. Sign Up for Lounge Access
The secret that frequent travelers won’t share about how to make the most of airport layovers? Get lounge access.
Some people get airport access because they have status with a specific airline, but you can also get lounge access through certain credit cards. These benefits aren’t cheap, but they’re completely, totally, absolutely worth every penny. In addition to virtually guaranteed seating and charging spots, you get free food and usually free wine and beer. All told, this can save a ton of money over the course of your travels each year.
Mr. V and I pay a not-small sum (several hundred dollars) every year for our American Express Platinum card because it means we have airport access in almost every airport in the world. For a jetsetting person or couple, this is a worthwhile investment. (Here’s a referral link to signup for an Amex Platinum of your own.)
If you don’t want to pay for one of the credit cards, you can also sign up for Priority Pass, which gives you access to most of the airport lounges.
I have also slept in many an airport lounge over the years; it’s a much more relaxing space to try and recover from jet lag without worrying about so many people around like in the rest of the airport.
If I’m not in a lounge, you can put money on the fact I’m entrenched somewhere charging every electronic item I brought with me on my trip. Without power, I can’t do my job as a blogger – or snap all the photos I keep for myself on those rare trips that are 100% vacation.
Anymore, most airports have lots of outlets available for the public – thank god. If you’re in an airport that’s a bit more dated, try looking for Delta or Alaska Airlines gates even if you’re flying with someone else. They’ve added outlets to many of their seats or installed those charging towers in their gate areas to help passengers power up before their next flight.
3. Eat, Drink, or Shop Local
There’s a recent trend at airports: they’re increasingly shifting to have only local restaurants, bars, and shops. I love this because it gives us travelers a chance to experience the destination even if we can’t go outside security – I don’t love it when it means there’s no Starbucks in the airport! ? (Starbucks is one of my treats while traveling, especially for early morning flights.)
The chance to eat, drink, and shop local means you can put money into the local economy even when you’re in transit. (The above photo is of Ivars, a Seattle institution you used to be able find at Seatac airport – they closed in favor of other places because airport restaurant contracts are really hard to win!)
4. Get a Massage
Among the many amazing things you can find at airports, quick massage parlors are definitely one of the best. I’m sure these have been in airports for years, but I’ve only really started noticing them in the last two years.
Xpress Spa seems to be the primary operator in airports around the world, and they offer 15-minute neck and back massages for $42 – and longer massages for more. They also have other spa services like nails and waxing, if you roll into the airport looking like the Tasmanian Devil – as I do!
5. Grab a Minute Suite
I’ve only had the chance to do this in one airport – Charlotte – when it turned out I was in a terminal with no lounges and all the rocking chairs were occupied (sidebar: rocking chairs in airports are also awesome!). My Amex card entitled me to a free hour at Minute Suites – and it was more delightful than a lounge in some ways!
Minute Suites are this new thing where you get a private room for one, two, or eight hours. It’s sorta like a short-term hotel – but it’s this cozy, dark room with a white noise machine and (paid) snacks. Basically, a perfect haven in the middle of airport chaos! (Bonus, those eight-hour shifts can go overnight, so you can find a quiet place to sleep in the airport.)
Minute Suites start from $42 for one hour, and you can add on 15-minute increments. However, they often book up, so be sure to reserve in advance if you’re flying through one of the airports that has them (Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Dallas, or Philly).
6. Find Your Zen
Okay, one last airport trend that has made layovers way more tolerable: yoga rooms.
Yoga or even light stretching is so good for your body after a flight. (You can even do some visualization to pretend you’re cruising in Alaska or on the beach in Barbados, like my photos above! ?) Spending extended time in a pressurized airplane cabin is incredibly stressful on our bodies, not the least of which is because we don’t really move or shift around for hours on end (like we naturally do at home or in the office).
If you have time on a layover, popping in for a 5-15 minute session in the yoga room can help you stay chill, keep that body limber, and even help with travel health concerns like DVT. (Deep vein thrombosis, aka blood clots which form in your legs from not moving enough!)
Yoga rooms are also good for a quick meditation session, if that’s your jam or you’re not dressed for yoga while traveling.
7. Grab some Zzzs
My blogger friend Ashley from Wild Hearted is right: sometimes the best way to pass a long layover is by being completely unconscious. I am always nervous about sleeping on layovers in case I miss my flight, but she recommends finding a quiet spot or set of seats with no arm rests and stretching out. “I set an alarm on my phone,” she says, because she is wise and this is obviously the way to do it. ??♀️
One more pro-tip: “I also always have a scarf I use as a blanket,” Ashley added. “Because I’m always cold and airports seem to be extra cold.” That’s very true – why are all airports so cold? (Maybe something to do with germs or smells or the fact that five billion people generate a lot of heat? Anyone know?)
8. Make Some Single-Serving Friends
This one’s for you Fight Club fans out there. In that book (and movie), single-serving friends are the people you inevitably meet while traveling – but will never cross paths with again.
Brie from Chasing the Wild Goose, another blogger friend, says her favorite place to meet people at the airport is the bar. “I’m guessing getting drunk and meeting all the random people at the airport bar isn’t appropriate?” she asked me. Actually, it is. If you’ve got five hours, what other way are you going to relax and loosen up to meet interesting people and learn their life stories. I mean, really, what would Anthony Bourdain do? (RIP, Tony ?)
9. Go People Watching
One last tip from my super-wise blogger friends. Jennifer from National Park Obsessed loves to people-watch while traveling – probably because she doesn’t get enough of it while she’s out exploring the great outdoors across the country! “My favorite way is to people watch from the food court,” she added.
As the food court is where almost everyone will pass through, this is greta advice if you want to see the wild antics of your fellow homo sapiens. Personally, I love people watching, but food courts stress me out a bit – I have a great fear that people are going to drop their trays! Must be some mild PTSD from my college days when everyone would cheer when you dropped a tray of food. ?
10. Make it a Stopover!
Depending on your travel plans, the absolute thing to do during a layover is make it a stopover. Never heard of a ‘stopover’ before? Basically, it means that you extend your layover for 1+ night(s) to go out and enjoy the destination you’re traveling through.
For example, Icelandair made stopovers popular by allowing passengers to stay for up to 7 nights in Iceland without changing the price of your airline ticket. This was how I originally visited Iceland in 2012 and took those really crappy photos at the beginning of this section! ?
Since then, other airlines have started to offer this service. So if your plans are flexible and you want to visit that city you’re traveling through, the best way to arrange a stopover is by calling the airline to ask if they offer this option.
Do you have other tips or tricks for passing time during airport layovers? Share them in the comments!