You can expect the dreaded layover if you decide to venture abroad, and your expected time in the air exceeds a few hours. Time spent waiting for your next connection can be anywhere from sprinting to the next gate to catch your connecting flight, to setting up camp and thwarting opportunist thieves by entwining yourself with all your belongings. I found this tactic especially useful when I’m kicked out of the airport and trying to make a bed on the sidewalk. This has happened (unfortunately) on more than one occasion, and so far, the system works. If you’re lucky enough to have the landside section of the airport remain open during those long overnight airport layovers, and you’ve been too cheap to spring for accommodation, chances are the seats have arm rests infuriatingly on every seat to test your skills at falling asleep upright.
Some airports are incredibly accommodating to the budget traveller that is looking to spend their time laying on the ground, by having carpeted floors and an abundance of power outlets to keep to music and movies rolling during your stay. An airport of note I’ve spent some time in is Chitose Airport, in Hokkaido, Japan. Not only was there an abundance of power points and padded seats, there was even flat bed like seats where you you could actually lay down without an arm rest in your ear. Needless to say, these bed seats were hot property.
One thing about long stays in airports during layovers is the temperature. Most airports I’ve visited sport a nice cool temperature, which is quite comfortable as you drag your luggage around the airport, but can leach heat from your body if you’re planning on a longer stay. A pair of long socks and thin hoodie can get you by, but that’s not always in your carry on if the intended destination is a tropical island. If you’ve chosen a winter destination, keep a coat handy to stave of the chill as you watch the clock tick down to the next leg of your journey. Nothing like catching a cold as you shake and shiver with all the extra money you saved from not booking a bed to sleep in.
I recently had an overnight layover in the city of Houston on the way to a trip to Belize. I deliberately planned to have a long one so I could get a glimpse of the city on my way through. This worked when I had a 9 hour layover in San Francisco on my way to Edmonton. This time it wasn’t such a great idea. The San Fran layover was a success, as it was all during day light hours and I didn’t need to get some rest in between. This meant a train into the city and a walk around the piers was a breeze, and I did some very effective sightseeing in a short time to maximise the benefit of the down time. Houston however, was not quite so successful. Landing in the afternoon and taking an hour and half bus to the city as the sun was going down meant I didn’t really see a thing. I got lost trying to catch a connecting bus downtown, and once I finally got to my hostel, I realised that it was a little more difficult to do the same drive by tourism I had done before, as the city of Houston is huge, and if I had ventured out, I would have negated all the rest I was looking for by staying at a hostel in the first place. It didn’t help that one of the room occupants had his light on the entire evening, a light that helpfully illuminated the entire dorm.
I still think back to a world trip I did in 2009 where I spent an enormous 30 something hours in Frankfurt International airport. And if my memory has become tainted since then, it sure as hell felt like 30 hours. My friend and I had snowboard bags which made skipping into town a little more cumbersome than usual. We opted to hang in the check-in area until we could check in out luggage for the next flight. It is not something that I think I could do again. The curved chairs available to us became excruciatingly uncomfortable in absolutely no time, I felt unusually delirious once it came time to go through customs as you don’t really get to rest during the stay as you’re shivering and shaking from having your body heat slowly leave your body and the constant announcements and bings and bongs of the PA snap you out of your reveille all too frequently.
Not all layovers are mammoth experiences though. If they’re in the vicinity of a few hours, I don’t mind the down time to catch up on reading, listening to music and podcasts, watch a movie, or straight up do some solid people watching. Airports are a hub for the weird and wonderful of human society. It’s the mix of freedom, heightened security, close proximity to others, and time being a factor, depending on how early you left your house or hotel. It can bring out the best, the worst, and the weird in us.
So how cheap are you when it comes to those long waits between flights? Do you shell out and get an airport hotel? Perhaps you bus into town to hang out with the weird and wonderful in a hostel dorm? Or maybe you set up base camp in the airport lounge and end up knowing the staff by their first names?
Sign up for the blog via email, check out the social media links to the right, and just have a look around. Thanks for reading!