Anyone who has travelled across large sections of the globe has likely experienced the 12 or even 16-hour international layover in a new city. This is particularly common when booking the cheapest possible fare: securing an incredible bargain on flight tickets means paying the penalty of a long layover. And so you find yourself with 12 hours to kill in Istanbul airport on your way from Europe to Asia, or 14 hours in Amsterdam while traveling from North America to East Europe. Ever taken advantage of this opportunity to see a new destination?
A long layover doesn’t have to mean sitting around on uncomfortable airport seats for this time: you can take this opportunity to get out and explore a bonus city on your trip! Here are some tips and tricks to doing this effectively, and making sure you make it back in time for your next flight. Here’s how you can make the most of an International Layover
Step 1 – Store your Luggage
The first thing you will need to do is store your bags. Unless you are travelling on a through ticket with the same airline, and even if you are in some cases, you will need to collect your luggage and will not be able to check it in to your next flight until a two or three hours before the flight time.
You definitely do not want to be lugging your bags around with you as you check out your stopover destination. I tried doing this in Bangkok but it literally broke my back. Most airports offer luggage storage, however, this can be expensive: check out these alternatives for secure luggage storage.
Step 2 – Currency and Transit Visas
Depending on your stopover destination, you may need to acquire a transit visa in order to exit the international transfer area of the airport. The cost of the visa may be one of the considerations you take into account when deciding whether to leave the airport between your flights or spend those hours hanging out at the terminal.
Always ask about transit visas, however, as some countries (for example Singapore) allow short term transit visas for free. You will just need to be able to show proof of your onward travel.
Another consideration to keep in mind is currency – if passing through a city unrelated to the rest of your trip, unless travelling around Europe you will likely only need the local currency for the duration of your stopover.
Even if you do not planning on spending much money, you will at a minimum be looking at transport costs, and so will need to have some of the local currency on you. Usually the best option is to withdraw a little money from your ATM card, which may end up being more affordable than exchanging cash at the airport.Step 3 – Transport
Work out your transport plan ahead of time. Taxis and even shuttles to and from airports are expensive in most parts of the world, but most major airports also have much cheaper public transport options. On the other hand, if money is not such as issue for you but you are strapped for time, you may choose to use taxis for your stopover.
Before your trip, research online to find the best transport option and plan your route – Google maps is great for this. Be sure to look up how tickets on the relevant public transport system work – can you buy tickets at the station or on the bus or train, or do you need to buy a swipe card at a kiosk and load it up?
Step 4 – Sight Seeing
Plan out what sights you want to see to make the most of your short visit. You may choose to hit up the major attractions the city is famous for. Alternatively, you could decide to get a sense of ordinary life in the city by dropping in on the places popular with locals, or simply walking around and taking in the atmosphere.
Of course you will want to see as much as possible in your brief visit, however also be realistic: you have a limited amount of time, and a pretty important deadline! Sensibly plan how much you can fit into your stopover while allowing adequate transit times to and from the airport.
Rather than being disappointed about the sights you may not get to see, view anything you can see in your stopover as a bonus to your main trip!
Step 5 – Food and Drink
One of the best ways to experience a city in a short amount of time is through the sense of taste. Research the local specialty of the area and find somewhere to sample it. There is nothing better to break up a long plane journey than sitting down to a good meal with a glass of wine or a local craft beer.
However, be careful to eat in clean, well regarded restaurants (you can research this online TripAdvisor or Yelp) and stay away from street food – the last thing you want to deal with in your next long-haul flight is a bout of food poisoning. Be extremely moderate with your alcohol intake for the same reason, and also because consumption of alcohol can contribute to jetlag and DVT.
Step 6 – Getting Back to The Airport
As well as planning how you will get into the city, it is even more important to make a plan for getting back to the airport. You are unlikely to have wifi or data while touring the city, so make sure you have this sorted beforehand while you have a good internet connection.
Most of all, allow plenty of time to get back to the airport. Confirm what time check in closes (or your boarding time if you have checked through to your final destination) and allow at least an hour to pass through security, get to your gate and in case you are delayed on the way.