Airport layovers can either be hotbeds of extreme stress or peaceful paradises where you can recharge before or between flights. It's all about how you approach your brief time there.
Here are 10 tips for making your time in an airport a positive part of your travel experience, rather than an annoying hindrance.
Not every airport is as fancy as Singapore's Jewel Changi, but you can still make it workImage via The Points Guy
1. Get there early
As someone who hates being early on principle, I don't say this lightly—but your dad was right about this one: You really should get to airports early. Ideally, plan on leaving at least two hours between your arrival and your boarding time. This is absolutely key to making your experience enjoyable, or at least remotely tolerable, because there are few things more stressful than running late for a flight. Between getting lost on transit, getting stopped because you have toothpaste in your backpack, or realizing that you need to take three trams and a submarine to get to your terminal, it's just always better to leave ample time.
Don't be this guyImage via mpora.com
2. Check in the night before
Make sure that you read the instructions on your ticket well before the morning of your flight. Some airlines require you to check in 24 hours before your flight, and others require you to check in at the front desk—and will make you head back to do just that, even if you're running dangerously late. It's always better to prepare before you arrive at the airport, and if you're not sure, leave time to confirm your arrival at the front desk. Some airlines won't let you board if you fail to check in at your gate, or will give you huge fines for failing to print your boarding pass, so it's better safe than sorry when flights are at stake.
3. Have a small bag or pocket just for your ticket and passport
You don't want to be holding up the entire line while rummaging in your suitcase for your passport—so having a special pocket or bag for the necessities is always a good idea. On the other hand, never walk around holding your passport and ticket in your hands; you're so much more likely to leave it on a seat or in the bathroom that way. Use a strategy that works for you, and listen to the announcers when they tell you to keep track of your belongings at all times. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to lose track of passports, or how quickly airports will swallow up a misplaced handbag.
4. Check your bag for objects that might set off security alarms
Nothing can ruin an airport experience more quickly than getting pulled aside and interrogated by a disgruntled airport employee. You can avoid the whole process by not trusting your memory and always doing a quick search through your bag for things that might set off the alarm. If you're not sure, just take it out and leave it in its own bin. Some common culprits include shampoo, lotion, water bottles, perfume, Purell, laptops, scissors, and razors, so with all of these objects, just be safe and leave them in plain sight. Oh, also, leave the weed at home, for the love of God: There will be plenty of dealers in Cabo, Doug, and you don't want to wind up getting patted down in a foreign prison cell instead of drinking piña coladas on the beach.
5. Explore the airport like you would a museum
If you have a layover in a foreign country, or if you're about to leave one, airports can be extensions of your trip rather than pointless time-sucks. When you arrive at the airport (early, well-rested, checked in, passport in hand), start out by exploring the premises. A lot of airports have exhibits related to the country they're in, or they might boast surprising local shops or local foods. At the very least, you'll find some great souvenirs along the way. Personally, I love how futuristic and pristine airports are; they're like minimalist, alien labyrinths, and you never know what you'll find there. Some airports feature fancy architecture, golf courses, movie theaters, or amusement park rides, and others even double as apiaries for endangered bees.
6. Try out some local food and drink
Unless I'm headed for a red-eye, I almost always get a chai tea latte in airports—it's a tradition that makes me feel at home no matter where in the world I am. Airports aren't famous for their food (or their prices), but larger airports will often offer impressive culinary options, even boasting impressively delicious local fare. If you've got the time and funds, treat yourself to a delicacy or one last taste of that local bread or wine you can't get enough of, or develop your own airport dining tradition.
7. Test out the perfumes
You know those massive, labyrinthine Duty Free shops that somehow manage to look exactly the same in every airport no matter what country you're in? Well, these shops are the perfect place to test out expensive perfumes or experiment with makeup to your heart's content. I, for one, leave every airport I enter smelling like Chanel and wearing a coat of $70 hydrating lip gloss. Sometimes, you'll even find free whiskey tastings or chocolate samples in the Duty Free shops. While you shouldn't get your hopes up, be sure to check out the goings-on.
8. Find the largest window and watch the sunrise or sunset
Most airports have at least one wall-sized window, where you can sit and watch planes soar into the clouds or descend from the stars. If you find it, you'll be treated to an unparalleled view of the sky. You can watch planes come and go and relish in the knowledge that everything about where you are is temporary. You have no obligation to be anywhere or do anything during this time, because soon enough you'll be airborne, defying gravity and soaring through the clouds. I've always found peace in the liminality of airports, watching strangers float by, everybody rushing and going somewhere, but all caught together in a brief moment of stillness.
That's what I'm talking aboutnolayingup.com
6. Hit up the bookstore
Bookstores are a dying breed, but you can still find them (or at least, one or two shelves of $32 hardcover titles) in airports. Most Hudson News shops or comparable stores will have all the newest bestsellers, all of which will somehow have the word "Girl" in the title. They'll often have some brilliant classics and the latest E. L. James right next to the latest tabloids, so whatever your taste in literature is, you'll likely find something here. Even if you're not a reader, you might find some entertainment in skimming the titles, reading the latest Angelina Jolie headlines, and inhaling that new book smell.
Image via Time Magazine
7. Load up content for your flight
Most airports have pretty decent WiFi nowadays—or at least, most have a Starbucks, which appears to have successfully completed its goal of world domination—so you can use the time to get some work or writing done, or at least load up some content for your flight. Whether you want to download the newest Netflix show, curate and download the perfect Spotify playlist for a dramatic takeoff, or save a few journal articles that you know you'd never read unless you were trapped in an enclosed space for 12 hours, now is the time to make it happen. Airports are also perfect places to smooth out travel details, to finish up work, or to tell everyone you know to never contact you again because you're embarking on a soul-searching mission to find yourself, knowing full well that you'll be home with some stomach disease before too long.
8. Chat up a local
You never know who you'll meet in an airport. Strike up a conversation with the barista or security guard, and you'll get the chance to talk to a local, who might give you valuable advice about your trip. If you're not into talking to strangers, the people-watching opportunities in airports rival those of NYC. You can feel great about your life choices as you watch a million late people run past you, or just passively observe people from all around the world going about their business, letting down their guard as they wait in line or do whatever it is that normal, non-enlightened people do in airports.
9. Prepare for your trip
Now is the time to pick up all the things you might've forgotten. Need deodorant, tampons, money in the currency of the place you're going, a beach read, medicine, a SIM card, or anything else? Most airports offer these things—perhaps not at the most affordable rate, but filling in the gaps in your packing here will save you time on your actual trip, allowing you to enjoy the sights you came to see without worrying about not having a toothbrush.
10. Sneak into the first-class lounge
Airports are pretty great in and of themselves—solitude, coffee, people-watching, and AC; what could be better?—but if you're seeking a little more luxury, then you could always try to break into the exclusive Frequent Flyer lounge, or whatever the equivalent is. You might get kicked out of the airport, but at least you'll have gotten to inhale the sharp, clinical smell of people with too much money while eating candied almonds from crystal bowls.
Image via YouTube
There you have it: how to turn your airport trip into one of the best parts of your travels. It's all in the mindset, of course (but arriving early helps). Some other bonus tips: wear shoes that are easy to take on and off for the security line, use this time to charge up your electronics (there might not be a plug on the plane), get some snacks for the flight, use the bathroom, ride the moving fast-walk tracks back and forth, and whatever you do, don't be the first person to line up for a seat on the plane. You have an entire airport at your disposal, and hey, if the plane goes down, this could be the last time you're ever on Earth. Now go raid the Duty Free shop and have the time of your life.
Image via Cavotec