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Layover 101: How to Save Money and Make Your Stopovers More Enjoyable

While layovers can be a dreaded part of travel, they don’t have to be! As a seasoned traveler, I’ve learned how to make the most of layovers by exploring new cities during the extra time. With just a few hours, you can get a taste of a new place without the hassle and expense of a full-blown trip. In this post, I’ll share my best tips for making the most of layovers, including how to plan your layover, what to consider before leaving the airport, how to store your luggage, and more!
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Must Read Guide for Your Next Layover

Many travelers dread the thought of layovers – the long lines, the crowds, and the fear of missing a connecting flight. It’s an understandable sentiment, especially if you have limited time for your trip. However, as someone who’s traveled extensively, I believe layovers can be a great opportunity to explore a new city. Think of it as a mini adventure – a chance to get a taste of a place you’ve never been to before without the hassle and expense of a full-blown trip. 

When planning my travels, I intentionally look for layovers that allow me to spend a few hours exploring a new city. Of course, this requires some planning and preparation to ensure that I have enough time to leave the airport, navigate the customs process, and explore the city before returning to catch my connecting flight. It’s a delicate balance, but with the right mindset and a little bit of planning, your layover can be a highlight of your trip. 

If you’re like me, always up for an adventure, or if you’re hoping to gather some tips for making the most out of a layover, then keep reading! In this post, I’ll share some tips and tricks that I’ve learned from my own experiences to help you see the brighter side of layovers. So whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-timer, here’s how to make the most out of your layover and turn it into a fun part of your trip! 

Book your layover intentionally

When booking your flights, intentionally choose a longer layover to give yourself more time to explore the layover city. A layover of at least six hours is usually enough time to leave the airport and do some sightseeing. Be sure to consider the time it takes to go through customs and security when planning your layover activities. 

Consider what’s required or what’s useful to know before leaving the airport

Make sure to check if the layover city requires a transit visa. Some countries may require a visa even for a layover, so it’s important to do your research before booking. Be sure to check the visa requirements for both your destination and layover countries, as well as the length of the layover. Some countries may offer a transit visa waiver for layovers under a certain number of hours. But in addition to the visa, don’t forget to ask all the necessary questions about what else is required or helpful before leaving the airport. How long is the customs process typically for the airport? Are there additional security checkpoints required to leave the airport? (To my surprise, there was one in Dublin when I traveled there a year ago!) What time am I arriving to the layover city and will this impact the process to the leave/return to the airport or navigate the city? What is the local currency and exchange rate? Can I easily use my credit card to purchase items in this country if I don’t want to go through the process of obtaining local currency? Will it be easy for me to communicate if I don’t speak the local language? 

Here are a few examples of what you should be looking for when researching visa requirements for a layover city (Please note that the following examples are provided for illustrative purposes only. It is always recommended that you verify the information by consulting the official websites of the countries you plan to visit):

  • Singapore

    In Singapore, travelers who want to leave the airport during a layover are required to pass through immigration and enter the country. However, if their layover is less than 24 hours, they can apply for a free 96-hour visa on arrival, which allows them to leave the airport and explore the city.

  • United Arab Emirates

    In the United Arab Emirates, travelers who want to leave the airport during a layover can apply for a 96-hour transit visa, which allows them to explore the city. However, to be eligible for the visa, travelers must have a valid onward ticket and a hotel reservation.

  • Turkey

    In Turkey, travelers who want to leave the airport during a layover can apply for a free transit visa, which allows them to stay in the country for up to 72 hours. However, to be eligible for the visa, travelers must have a valid onward ticket and a hotel reservation.

Store your luggage

Many airports now offer luggage storage services, so you can safely store your bags while you explore the layover city. Some airports even offer free storage for a certain amount of time, so be sure to check if this is an option. Make sure to pack a small bag with essentials like a change of clothes, toiletries, and any valuables you don’t want to leave in storage. 

Take advantage of airport lounges

If you have a long layover, it might be worth investing in an airport lounge pass. Lounges offer comfortable seating, free food and drinks, and sometimes even showers. Many credit cards offer lounge access as a perk. I personally love and use the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card for all of my travel needs. In addition to airport lounge access (including guests), I also get things like travel credits, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary car rental insurance, no foreign transaction fees, and 24/7 customer service. But no need to get a new card if you already have similar benefits. Just check with your card issuer to start maximizing all of your trips! 

Explore the city

Use your layover time to explore the city. Some airports offer free, short city tours, perfect for people who have limited time. Or you can plan your own itinerary. Consider using public transportation or ride-sharing apps to get around the city. It can be a much cheaper option than taking a taxi. Research the top sights and activities in advance so you can make the most of your time or, if you prefer a simpler option, find the bus station that’s connected to the airport and ask the attendant which city bus takes you to the city center, how long does it take to get there, and how often does the bus make the return trip. Jump on the bus and get a quick “tour” of the city. Many city buses have electrical outlets so you can charge your phone while you take in the views.  

Take advantage of Google Maps’ offline feature by downloading maps of the area for offline use. Also, use Yelp to find local restaurants, bars, and other businesses.

Consider purchasing a city tour package

If you have a longer layover and want to make the most of your time, consider purchasing a city tour package. Many tour companies offer layover packages that include transportation to and from the airport, a guided tour of the city’s top attractions, and even meals. This can be a great option if you’re spending the day in the city and want to see as much as possible without worrying about transportation or planning your own itinerary. Be sure to research and book in advance to ensure availability and to make the most of your layover experience. 

Here are a couple examples of city tours that are offered by the government or airline:

  • Qatar

    In Qatar, travelers who want to leave the airport during a layover can participate in a free city tour offered by Qatar Airways. The tour takes about three hours and includes a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, the Souq Waqif market, and the Pearl-Qatar artificial island.

  • South Korea

    In South Korea, travelers who want to leave the airport during a layover can participate in a free transit tour offered by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. The tour takes about four hours and includes a visit to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the traditional Insadong neighborhood, and the Namdaemun market.

Eat like a local

Instead of eating at the airport, venture out into the city to try local cuisine. Not only is this a fun way to experience the local culture, but it can also be much cheaper than eating at the airport. Ask locals for recommendations on where to eat. They may know of hidden gems that are off the beaten path. Be sure to factor in enough time for your meal so you’re not rushing back to the airport. 

Book a hotel

If you have a long layover, consider booking a hotel near the airport. This can give you a chance to rest and freshen up before your next flight. Many hotels offer free airport shuttles, so be sure to check if this is an option. Make sure to book in advance to ensure availability. 

Plan for unexpected delays

Research the airport’s sleeping options, such as nap pods or designated sleeping areas, in case you need to spend the night at the airport. Make sure to have a travel pillow, blanket, and eye mask in your carry-on in case you need to sleep in the airport. (Been there, done that!). Remember, layovers can be unpredictable, so make sure you have a backup plan in case your flight is delayed or cancelled. This segues nicely into to my final and probably most important tip… 

Overestimate… everything 

No matter what, be sure to overestimate the amount of time you think you might need to get back to the gate of your flight. When it comes to making it back to your gate on time, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to navigate the airport and get through security. Keep in mind that some airports can be very large and have multiple terminals, so it may (scratch that, almost always) take longer than you expect to get from one point to another. If you manage to make it through security but realize you’ve cut it too close (again, been there, done that), consider asking a staff member for assistance or using a transportation service like a shuttle or train to get to your gate more quickly. And always remember to double-check your boarding time and gate number before leaving to make sure you don’t miss your flight. By overestimating the time needed to get back to your gate, you can avoid the stress of rushing and ensure that you make it to your next destination on time. I promise that with practice, timing this part gets pretty easy. I personally shoot for returning to the airport 3 hours before my flight time. Once I’m through security, if I have at least 2 hours before my flight then I head to an airport lounge to relax a little. If I have less time then I head straight to the gate! Again, the key is to overestimate everything.  

It’s up to you.

Now, maybe after reading these tips, you decide you just want to keep it simple and stay close to the gate. And that’s perfectly okay. There’s no need to feel guilty for wanting to relax and recharge during your layover. Whether you choose to kick back and catch up on your favorite shows or take a refreshing nap, the important thing is to make the most out of your layover in a way that suits you. 

In the end, it’s all about finding a balance between rest and adventure. And who knows, by taking the time to explore during your layover, you may discover a new favorite destination or even meet new friends along the way. So don’t let your layover go to waste – instead, embrace it as an opportunity to make the most of your travels and create new experiences that will last a lifetime. After all, isn’t that what travel is all about? 

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