Being stranded at an airport is like being stuck on a city’s front doorstep. A doorstep that’s normally full of cheap fast food, uncomfortable chairs and far too much duty-free temptation. But before you curl up on the welcome mat and wait it out, we’ve come up with some handy tips for surviving the ultimate travel purgatory – the airport layover.
1. Repack your bags
This suggestion might seem rather hellish at first, but hear us out. We’re not saying you need to scatter your dirty underwear all over the boarding gate lounge, but a quick repack can make the next leg of your journey just a little bit more manageable. Where are your headphones? Could you find them in a dark plane cabin when the baby in front of you starts screaming? What about your passport? You’re going to need to be able to find that when, after said baby has kept you up all night, you suddenly find yourself in a foreign passport control. We might sound like your mum here, but an efficient packing strategy can stop you being ‘that guy’ accidentally threw his boarding pass in the bin with his packet of corn-chips.
2. Get out
For whatever reason, some travellers seem to adopt the airport as a kind of temporary prison. “I once did 22 hours in Dubai”, they say…as if it were a badge of honour to have spent the best part of a day staring at the roof of the terminal. This is a strange thing to brag about, especially when you consider that Dubai international airport is about a 10 minute cab ride from downtown Dubai. So while they sat there eating McDonald’s alone in a food court, they could have been….eating McDonalds at a BIGGER food court. But the fun doesn’t stop there – as long as you can grab a quick tourist visa, your options are endless. I once had a friend who, when faced with a 3 hour layover in Detroit, went straight out the front door, got in a cab and asked the driver to take him to his favourite restaurant. They drove around the corner to a local diner and ate a Coney Island Hotdog while chatting about the recent housing foreclosure crisis. He still claims that he learned more about the U.S.A in half an hour than he did in his entire trip.
3. Take a Walk
If your layover isn’t quite long enough to go gallivanting around a city, don’t despair. There’s still plenty of exploring to do in the airport itself. If you’re in a country that’s a little bit exotic, head to the domestic terminal. That’s where you’ll find the stalls selling weird and wonderful food. For a start, try and see what the locals are eating. If you’re in Vietnam, eat some Pho. Stuck in Mexico City? You can bet your pesos that there will be a taco stand around somewhere. I’m also a massive fan of the trains that go between terminals. The one in Kuala Lumpur is pretty awesome. It might only kill 15 minutes or so, but it definitely beats staring at the departure gate.
4. Buy a Newspaper
If you can get your hands on a newspaper written in English, buy it. Even if it’s not in English, buy it anyway and look at the pictures. Newspapers are goldmines for wasting time. Most have crosswords, which are a godsend for those with nothing to do but sit and think. If you’ve followed tip 1, your pen should be nice and handy. And if you don’t have a pen, we’re willing to bet a nearby staff member or passenger will. If you manage to finish the crossword, we can highly recommend getting a few cheap laughs by drawing moustaches on all the pictures.
5. Write something
All great novels are born from some kind of adversity. War & Peace, Jane Eyre, To Kill A Mockingbird – all about people experiencing testing circumstances. So why add your tale of airport woe to the literary canon! Is there a computer nearby? You could start a blog detailing your airport movements. Maybe you’ve even got some tips of your own to add in the comment section below. We’d love to hear them.
The best way to think of airports is as the gateways to better things. Make those better things an Intrepid small group adventure.
Feature image c/o Oung Ty, Flickr