How to OWN Your Long Layover: The Guide You Didn't Know You Needed

You know all of those cheesy Tumblr quotes that preach life advice to you? One of my favorite ones goes something like this:

Focus on the journey, not the destination.

I have no idea who coined this phrase, nor do I even own a Tumblr account, but I think they were onto something. A lot of us when we travel are solely fixated on the destination and dread the monotonous plane ride / bus ride / velociraptor ride that it takes to arrive there. But what if there were a way to make the journey a little more… fun?

No, I’m not talking about how to keep yourself entertained while flying. I mean, all you need to do for that is check out some of our new ebooks. What I’m really insinuating is spicing things up with a long layover. Think of it as a delicious appetizer before you arrive at your final destination. The fresh platter of bruschetta before the Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Ok I’m gonna end this analogy now before I get too hungry.  

Anyone who knows me can confirm that I’m a pro when it comes to finagling a long layover. I’ve pulled off stints in Dubai, Oslo, Copenhagen, Panama City, and Malta among others. But how do I do it? Or better yet: How do I do it well? Well, let me launch some questions and answers your way which might point you in the right direction. 

First off: When should I plan a long layover? 

There is no clear answer as to when you should plan to take on a long layover. However, I would suggest you do so when you have an intercontinental itinerary and time to kill. (If you’re jetting off on a weekend vacation, then maybe it’s better to take the most direct route). Usually, the itineraries with long layovers end up being the cheapest on our flight search engine anyways. 

When sticking to the same continent, it might be worthwhile to investigate a long layover using two different airlines if the direct route is way too expensive. For example, earlier this year I needed to fly home after Easter to Bologna from Catania and the cheapest ticket I could find was 200 euros! (Which is ludicrous). Afterwards, I decided to get creative and I somehow found a 11 euro ticket from Catania to Malta and 24 hours later I discovered a 30 euro ticket from Malta to Bologna! 

Step 2: How long should a “long layover” be?

I can’t necessarily tell you how long your layover needs to be because a lot of it depends on what’s available and where you are connecting. For example, some airports (Like Paris Beauvais Airport) are located in the middle of nowhere and it takes half the day just to get into the city. Others such as the international airport in Sofia are well-linked by public transport to the city. 

What I can say though, is be careful leaving the airport if you have less than 7 hours. I personally recommend a layover at least 15 hours to really enjoy a city. Remember: you still need to leave the airport, head into the city, and be back with enough time to catch your next flight. 

Anything that goes over two nights is more of a “stopover” and lies outside the scope of this article. Maybe I’ll write about that another time, but for now, let’s stick to the topic at hand.

Do you know what I did on long layover in Oslo? I hiked up this hill after dinner and caught this awesome view
And now, here are some questions that you should research and answer yourself before deciding on your long layover

How do I get into the city?

I touched on this in the last blurb but I’m going to bring it up again because it’s important. You need to consider distance and cost when it comes to deciding whether heading into the city is feasible. Getting from Campinas Airport into São Paulo is extremely time-consuming and complicated, whereas showing up in Oslo city center from Oslo Airport can take only 20 minutes but also costs $18 USD each way on the train. 

Where do I leave my stuff?

Unless you’re doing a self-transfer, your check-in luggage will stay at the airport. However, what if you have a bulky carryon that you really need to get rid of? Most airports and train stations have a locker service and the prices can vary depending on size, time, and location. When I went to Oslo, I spent around $10 to use the airport locker for 24 hours.

What do I do about sleep?

Most long layovers will have you questioning how you will receive sufficient sleep to actually enjoy yourself and not lose anything along the way. If you somehow manage to arrive in the morning and leave in the evening, lucky you. If you’re heading somewhere on a weeknight where there really isn’t anything to do in the evening or the city turns a bit sketchy, consider passing. 

Alternatively, you can pull a Mike and not sleep at all. When I spent 24 hours in Oslo earlier this year, I decided not to sleep at all because:

  1. Accommodation was way too freakin’ expensive
  2. It was the summer and the sun didn’t really go down, so I knew I’d be fine and dandy chilling around and exploring until the next day

Other people decide to arrive on a weekend, party all night, and show up drunk to their next flight. Again, be careful with this one. You still need to arrive to your plane in one piece and if they see you’re visibly drunk, you might not be allowed to board. I know because it happened to a friend of mine. 

Also, if you find a cheap hostel or have a friend living in the city, that could be an attractive alternative.

Are there any airline-sponsored layover programs?

Some airlines will pamper you if you have a layover in their hub cities. I found this out when I somehow ended up in Dubai on a 21-hour layover with Emirates and they gifted me a free hotel room, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and a free airport transfer. However, usually you need to know about these programs beforehand in order to take advantage of them. Some examples of layover programs (with their respective cities) are:

Turkish Airlines (Istanbul)

Qatar Airlines (Doha)

Emirates (Dubai)

Etihad (Abu Dhabi)

Ethiopian (Addis Ababa) 

There are others of course, but be sure to research beforehand! 

Do I need a visa?

Some countries require you to possess a visa in order to leave the airport. Make sure you’re not flying through a country that makes you dish out $100 USD for a visa, or else it’s probably not worth it.

However, also keep in mind that many countries that require visas for certain nationalities make exceptions for layovers. Americans traveling to Moscow, for example, do not need a visa if they are staying for less than 24 hours.

One of my dreams was to swim in front of the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai. Guess who did that on a long layover in Dubai?

So yeah, that’s pretty much it.  Some people might think spending a day somewhere isn’t really worth it, but as someone who has done it numerous times, I beg to differ. On long layovers I’ve made friends that I still keep in touch with today, sampled places I would definitely return to (and some I would not), and well – let’s be honest, when your time is limited, you really make an effort to fit in as much as humanly possible.

Have you ever taken a long layover before?  Tell us about your experience in the comments below! 

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