We traveled to China from Barcelona. At that time, a flight from here cost a little over €800 (round trip), so we had to do some juggling to end up paying €450. Any flight from Barcelona to Beijing has at least one layover, and the cheapest ones often have two, so we decided to do the first layover on our own. That is, buy a ticket to Amsterdam—and spend the night there—and then buy another ticket from Amsterdam to Beijing (€150 + €300). That way, we saw Amsterdam, saved money, and avoided 24 hours straight of flights and airports. What we couldn’t avoid was a nearly 4-hour layover in Sheremetyevo, Moscow’s airport, which was once considered the worst in Europe. I intend to offer some suggestions for dealing with very long layovers. Contributions are welcome.

How long can a layover last?
The shortest layovers I know of last 50 minutes. The longest almost 24 hours.

What happens to luggage during a layover?
Normally, you won’t have access to it. If your flights are with the same airline or even with different airlines but within the same alliance, they will take care of transferring it to the next plane. So, carry in your hand luggage what you will need: chargers, phones, tablets, laptops, books, etc. In any case, check with the airline when checking in your luggage about how to proceed during your layover. Sometimes you will have to collect it and check it in again.

Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover?

It depends on the destination you are in and your place of residence. For example, if you have a European Union passport and your layover is in a city within the Schengen area, you will have no problem going out for a walk or even staying in a hotel until your next flight. If the country where you have a layover requires a visa, you will need to have it beforehand or obtain it at the airport customs if possible. In Russia, for example, we wouldn’t have been able to go for a walk. Anyway, it’s not very reasonable to go too far if you have a layover of less than 3-4 hours. So…

What to Do at the Airport During a Layover

  • Meet People. Talking to strangers is usually a great pastime. In airport transit areas, you won’t be the only wandering soul. People from your own flight or other flights will be as bored as you, and you’d be surprised to know how open people are to chatting in these circumstances. No matter how shy you are, you can always find an excuse to approach someone: “Excuse me, do you know where…,” “Do you know how to…,” “Do you know if here…?” Once the first contact is established, if the person is receptive, you can continue with something like: “Are you also flying to…,” “Have you ever flown to…,” “Did you also come from…?” It doesn’t matter if they are silly questions. Three or four of these, and perhaps a conversation has already started without you even realizing it. Don’t let shyness stop you. Update: Since 2015, it’s much easier to meet people at an airport thanks to the app TakeCoffee, created for this very purpose. Available for iOS and Android.
  • Grab a Drink. Airports usually have a wide range of bars and restaurants. If it’s mealtime, you will have filled a good amount of time. Otherwise, you can always enter a bar and have a coffee or a beer. Or two beers, or three… maybe this will help with the previous point.
  • Read. Make sure to carry with you a book, magazine, comic, or any kind of reading material that can offer you hours of entertainment. Or you might take the opportunity to read your destination guide from cover to cover. You could even practice some of those useful phrases that come in an annex and are never used… not even when they would be truly useful. Now that MOOCs are in fashion, you can also take the opportunity to print out some lessons and study. It’s always a good time to enrich yourself. If you have an eBook, Kindle, or any other electronic device, don’t forget to charge it before flying, or at least carry the charger with you.
  • Listen to Something. Prepare your phone, mp3, iPod, or whatever with a good playlist. People usually think only of music, but in our recent trips, we discovered that podcasts entertain us much more. These are audios on various topics that people upload to the internet. We suggest you take a look at Ivoox and explore its possibilities. For example, we like the history audios by Juan Antonio Cebrián. They last between 15 and 30 minutes and are about historical characters or events, narrated in an engaging and passionate way. But there are many more topics, of course: current affairs, politics, economy, science, gossip, debates, etc. It’s like listening to the radio but personalized. You can also look for audio guides of your next destination to start getting excited.
  • Watch Something. Just as you can listen, you can also watch. All you need is a laptop, iPad, or any similar device. Watching a movie, series, documentary, or whatever consumes battery, so keep that in mind. You can also review your photos (if you’re on your way back), edit them, organize them, or whatever pleases you.
  • Play. If you like video games, don’t forget to charge your console, iPad, or whatever and include it in your hand luggage. Nowadays, these portable devices have all kinds of entertainment for all ages: you can play trivia, Parcheesi, memory games, hangman, Mario Kart, the notorious Words With Friends… it’s unlikely that you won’t find a game that suits you. Of course, traditional games (the ones you can touch) are not forbidden, but they are bulkier.
  • Write. Haven’t written since you were in school? No problem. Start that same day with a diary at the airport. Or maybe a travel log. Or your memoirs… it can be therapeutic. Or try writing a story. You’ll find a lot of inspiration there. Think that every person you see has a story behind them. Where are they from? Where are they going? Why? Writing only seems daunting at the beginning. If you get started, you might find yourself an hour later completely absorbed in your inner world.
  • Shop. I’m not a big fan of shopping, but many people take advantage of their time at the airport to do some shopping. Because of the “duty-free” aspect, there are often real bargains. If you know the prices in your city, you can compare and see if it’s really worth it to buy that perfume or that piece of clothing your mother likes so much. If you’re on your way back from your trip, take advantage of last-minute gift shopping. Or simply buy a magazine to help pass the time. It’s up to you.
  • Connect to the Internet. Many airports have free Wi-Fi or at least offer it for a limited time. Sometimes bars or restaurants have their own Wi-Fi network, so it’s worth checking out. A while ago, I published a list of European airports that offer this service for free, but I’m afraid the original PDF is no longer available. Still, you can see the most important ones. Remember to bring your laptop or mobile device fully charged. And if you bring the charger, even better. There will always be some area where you can plug it in.
  • Check Airport Services. Don’t underestimate the services an airport can offer. Check them before you depart or on-site and you might be surprised. In Schiphol (Amsterdam), for example, you can find a casino, two hotels, a meditation center, spa and massage centers, a chapel with religious services, a book area, and even a museum.
FILE PHOTO: An airplane takes off from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
  • Sleep. Even if you can’t find a hotel in your airport, you will surely find chairs, benches, sofas, or any other surface where you can sleep. Don’t leave your valuable items in sight, tie your backpack to your body, store it in a locker, or place yourself near a police checkpoint… but find a way to sleep if you’re tired.
  • Move Around. Maybe you don’t need to sleep. Maybe you’ve already been sleeping or just sitting for too many hours. Take advantage of the fact that airports are usually huge to go for a good walk, stretch your legs, and explore a bit here and there.
  • VIP Lounge. If you can afford it, or if it’s included in your ticket, you can enjoy a VIP lounge in most airports with comfortable seating, snacks, TV, newspapers, etc. If you fly frequently, have money, or if your company pays for it… you’re in luck.
  • Explore the World. If, as we said, the circumstances allow you to leave the airport and you have enough time to visit the city you’re in, it’s always a new opportunity to discover new destinations. One of the things travelers worry about most in these cases is the time they will need. Of course, this depends a lot on each city, but always try to return with at least a 2-hour margin, just in case. On the Civitatis website, you can book transfers from major airports to their cities to save time with transport combinations. It’s especially worthwhile when it comes to groups.

Layovers, while often seen as an inconvenience, can actually be a valuable part of your travel experience if approached with the right mindset and preparation. From meeting new people and indulging in some reading or listening, to exploring the airport’s many amenities or even stepping out to see a bit of the city, there are countless ways to make the most of your time between flights. Remember to plan ahead and pack wisely, ensuring you have everything you need to stay entertained, comfortable, and productive. Whether you choose to relax, explore, or connect with others, transforming a layover into an enjoyable experience is all about seizing the opportunities at hand. Safe travels and happy layovers!