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As I have travelled the world, the irony of air travel has become all too clear.  

Travel junkies and layovers

Travel junkies are all too familiar with planning flights in and around potential layovers (and stopovers - the brief version of a layover). Sometimes we want them, sometimes we dread them. But here is how we can fill them.

What to do on a Long Layover?

By Chelsea Sauvé   |  July 10th, 2019

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Let’s paint the picture.

You wait at the airport, for 2-3 hours before your flight. You go through security (such fun). You make your way to your gate, where you wait eagerly for your flight. Then, the airline staff announce that your flight is boarding, at which time you line up to board your flight.

Once on the plane, you get yourself settled (see our blog post on how to keep yourself busy on a long flight, and even enjoy it), and before the plane takes off most people begin to count down the minutes or hours until their arrival. So essentially, for a number of hours, all many travellers can think of (after waiting eagerly to get on their flight) is arriving at their destination and de-plane-ing.

Ironic, no?

But what about the moments in between? The layovers and the essence they can hold in the air travel experience? I know you may be thinking - ok, layovers are never fun. But I am here to say, that maybe they can be. Your next layover can be seen with a glass half full attitude, and be (dare I say it) enjoyed and appreciated.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s explore how you can make your next layover a part of your greater adventure instead of a nuisance.

Thirsty for more? Check out our previous blog post on What is a Thai Massage?

While some airports have the unfortunate reality of being in a suburb without great views, others are located within prime real estate. For example, the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada airport tantalizes waiting travellers with gorgeous mountain views. Taking them in is calming and spiritual. It really is breathtaking if you get the right gate.But what happens if you are at the wrong gate? Or an airport with few views? Well, that is when you look at the planes taking off. You may be thinking “Ok, Chelsea. I am not a five year old who can be easily distracted by planes”. But, let’s be honest, the ingenuity and mechanics of air travel is remarkable at any age. Even to the engineers who build them.

And there is something a touch magical about watching a plane take off (amongst non-engineering minds like my own). So sit  back, relax, and watch the magic happen. And imagine the life going on within the plane, and even consider that that is where you will be shortly - quite mind-blowing really.

Leave the airport and explore for a few hours or even for an overnight

In my humble opinion, this is the best option! The key is to make sure you’ll have enough time to go through security again (because we all know it can be a bit of a lengthy process).

So here is my fun layover story. After sitting at the Narita airport in Japan for 8 hours on one flight to Thailand (and not leaving the airport), I decided that I would arrange my flight home to include lengthy layovers and that I would actually leave the airport. And so, for my flight home I stopped in Mumbai, India (didn’t get to leave the airport but did get to drink delicious chai tea in the airport - more on that later), and then made my way to London, England. I had a cousin living there at the time (hi Matt!), who I stayed with. He took me on a whirlwind sight-seeing tour for the 15 hours I was there. I arrived late and left the next morning (after a lovely cappuccino).  

So what did I get to do on my long layover?

1.  See Matt (yay for cousins)

2. See London with 360 degree view (Matt took me to the top of the Shard)

3. Take “the tube” (so cool, navigating it… a touch challenging)

Only negative…. Having to schlep my luggage from the airport on the tube, through London, and then back to Heathrow. But, worthwhile. I am not complaining, I saw London! I recognize that not all of us have cousins in far away places, so longer layovers can be a tad pricey when finding accommodations. That said, there are always hostels and other accommodations that would be more than happy to host you!

So when I am feeling sleepy and stuck in an airport (an ode to my sleepover at the airport in Calgary Alberta, Canada), I take my shawl that always travel with (see our blog post on this - essential), smush up a sweatshirt and nap.

But when I am wide awake and ready to engage, I people watch. It is one of my favourite past times and an airport is a fabulous place to do it. People from different countries, with different styles of dress, languages, ways of entertaining their children. It is a like a real life Tower of Babble. Where else do you get to engage with that kind of cultural nexus?

Long layover or short, you can also include some interaction (because it can be very boring to sit by yourself for hours).

People watch

Generally, there is a happy chatter and energy at an airport. Aside from frustrations about delays, most people are open and up for a quick chat. It is a nice way to learn about other people - where they are from, where they are going! There’s a certain camaraderie to being stuck in the same place at the same time. Or just play peek-a-boo with their kids (my favourite). Or commune around the charging station (juice up that phone so you can access Wandure when you get to your destination - and call home to tell them you’re safe!).


Relish in the community around you - life is better when there is good energy abound, so contribute to it by raising your own.

Indulge in self- care

Explore the airport

Catch up on emails and download podcasts for your flight

Check out the arrivals and departure boards  

Takeaways?

Try the local (airport) cuisine

You may be thinking “Ok, Chelsea. I am not a five year old who can be easily distracted by planes”.
But, let’s be honest, the ingenuity and mechanics of air travel is remarkable at any age.

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Take in the views (out the large airport windows)

There will be some layovers where you would rather just do you. Read, sleep, breathe deeply, journal, meditate, Sudoku, crossword - whatever makes you feel nurtured and grounded. Maybe indulge in a pedicure or massage at one of the shops (I have never done this given my student budget, but at times it looks magical).  

So did you know that some airports have gyms?!

Yes. Gyms.

You can use them as you await your next flight. So check out the scope of the airports you’ll be calling home for a number of hours, and see if you should back some workout clothes and wear your runners for a brief shvitz between flights!

What else can you explore? Plenty.

The shops - Stretch your legs and head to the shops if you are in a large enough terminal. I’ve found a few gems in airport shops, and also the bookstores are usually awesome. A good book and travel always go hand in hand in my eyes. No money? Window shop.

Check out the art on display - Some airports will have art on display in their larger terminals. I have seen quite beautiful art at various airports around the world. I have also witnessed live music at a terminal in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Great vibe - I even purchased a CD! You never know what you’ll find.
 

For some it may sound akin to reading the encyclopedia, but I am a huge fan of looking at the arrivals and departures board. It gives you a feel for where people are travelling in this beautiful world of ours, imagining their journeys, and appreciating the remarkable planning that air travel requires.  

Sometimes a layover is your perfect opportunity to plug back into technology. Charge your phone, connect to (free) airport wi-fi, download podcasts and films for your next flight.  

While I have yet to explore Japan or India as a tourist, I have maximized my cultural exposure while on layovers at airports in both countries.

My first foray into treating an airport like a market was in Japan. I had matcha tea (my favourite) and sushi at the airport in Japan. I also found matcha infused chocolate to bring home to my family - they were thrilled! Next, when I had a brief stopover in Mumbai, India (and it was a stopover not a layover - I had very little time) I managed to squeeze in a chai tea (drank at the speed at which you would have an espresso)! It was flavourful, warm, and delightful. The perfect stopover treat.

 

The entire experience of air travel speaks more widely to our cultural tendency to wish away the moment we’re in for the moment that awaits us. And more generally, our eagerness to get to where we’re going.

But in this rush, we miss the journey - the unique process of getting somewhere and all that it entails. To let go of the anxiety over what we cannot control such as airline scheduling, changing winds and poor weather etc. In truth, the process of travel from point A to point B can be a wonderful start and end to your trip, and even appreciated. And with a layover, you can make it travel from point A to point B to point C - adding a little more adventure with a little bit of patience.  

 

I know you may be thinking - ok, layovers are never fun. But I am here to say, that maybe they can be. Your next layover can be seen with a glass half full attitude, and be (dare I say it) enjoyed and appreciated.

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You may be thinking “Ok, Chelsea. I am not a five year old who can be easily distracted by planes”.
But, let’s be honest, the ingenuity and mechanics of air travel is remarkable at any age.

Quote Close Block

[Airports host] people from different countries, with different styles of dress, languages, ways of entertaining their children. It is a like a real life Tower of Babble. Where else do you get to engage with that kind of cultural nexus?

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