23 Tips For Surviving A Long Layover

Ah, the joys of air travel. There's nothing quite like booking it through the airport, carry-on slung haphazardly over your shoulder, in a desperate bid to make it to your connecting flight before it takes off. But what if we told you there's an antidote for this chaotic tarmac-to-tarmac shuffle?

Whether you choose it on purpose to save a few bucks while traveling by air or find yourself temporarily grounded thanks to an unexpected delay, a long layover — or a layover of more than a few hours without requiring an overnight stay — can leave unprepared travelers feeling as lost as Tom Hanks in "The Terminal." But with a little careful planning, the long layover can be a traveler's best friend — or at the very least, a cordial frenemy. And it certainly beats the heck out of missing your flight. Fasten your seatbelt and secure your tray table for this pre-flight survival guide to your next long layover.

1. Plan your time wisely

When you don't have long to get to your connecting flight, you spend most of your time in the airport rushing from one terminal to the next. But if you find yourself with a few extra hours to spare, it can be easy to underestimate how much time you need to get to the gate. If you're planning to stick around the airport while waiting on a domestic flight, you probably won't need to go through security again. Still, it's a good idea to calculate how long it will take you to pack up your laptop and walk or shuttle to your connecting flight terminal ahead of time so you don't risk missing your flight — you'll want to be in the boarding area at least 45 minutes before the scheduled departure. Consider setting an alarm on your phone so you don't lose track of time. 

2. Pack accordingly

Having the right supplies handy can make all the difference when you're stuck in a holding pattern. If you know you've got a long layover ahead of you, be sure to pack everything you might need in your carry-on bag. Double-check to make sure you've got charging cables for all of your devices instead of packing them in your checked luggage. 

Make sure you've got your headphones handy if you didn't use them on your first flight, and if you tend to get sensory overload, consider bringing a sleep mask and earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. And if you don't want to spend your souvenir money on expensive airport food, be sure to stash a few snacks in your bag to keep you from getting peckish between flights.  

3. Download the airport map

Making the most of your time between flights will be much easier if you know where all of the amenities and terminal gates are, especially when you're trying to hone in on a much-needed latte or restroom. Fortunately, most airports provide interactive maps that are available online to help passengers navigate while they're onsite, like this one from JFK. 

Before flying into the airport, bookmark the airport map's website or download the map to your phone. Take a few minutes mid-flight to scope out the dining options and anything else you might want to check out while you're waiting to board your next flight.  

4. Layer up

Anyone who spends much time jet-setting knows that layering is the key to comfortable air travel. Even if you're traveling between locales with similar climates, you never know what the temperature will be like inside the airport. Dressing in comfortable layers is as simple as removing or adding an item if you get too hot or cold.

How many layers you'll need will depend on when and where you're traveling, but it's always good to start with a lightweight, breathable base layer. Pull on another lightweight shirt followed by a cardigan or hoodie. If you're especially cold-natured or you're expecting chilly temperatures, grab a scarf and throw a pair of gloves, an extra pair of socks, and a beanie in your bag.

5. Don't look for lockers

Anyone who hasn't flown for a couple of decades may recall the days when they could stash their carry-on in a locker. For travelers tired from lugging around a heavy carry-on bag, these handy short-term storage rentals made it easy to take a load off while grabbing a bite to eat or perusing the gift shop on a long layover. 

Sadly, in the post-9/11 world, most airports no longer offer lockers, which means you'll have to drag your carry-on items with you through the airport. If you're worried about losing track of your carry-on luggage between flights, consider renting a baggage cart, especially if you're traveling with others.

6. Charge your devices

The last thing you want is to end up in a strange city with a zero percent charge on your phone, and your layover downtime is the perfect opportunity to juice up. But before you do, be careful you're not giving cyber thieves an easy payday. While most airports feature charging ports for their travelers' convenience, the FBI recently put out a warning that public charging ports could be vulnerable to hackers who install modified USB ports loaded with malware — a practice called "juice-jacking." 

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe while charging up. Investing in a charge-only cable lets you use any charging port without transferring sketchy data to your phone. If you're still too wary, most airports offer hundreds of outlets you can plug into. And it's never a bad idea to carry a fully charged external battery, especially if your travel itinerary includes an all-day outing.

7. Check out your nap options

Hopping from tarmac to tarmac and enduring airport security checks can be draining. If you aren't one of the lucky souls who can snooze through a flight, there are a few ways you can take advantage of your layover time and catch some z's. 

Minute Suites is a company that provides small, secure suites perfect for grabbing a nap and a quick recharge and are available for rental by the hour in many U.S. airports. Other types of private suites or sleep pods can also be found internationally. Depending on how long your layover is and how many people are in your group, it might also be worthwhile to rent an airport hotel room, even if you don't plan to be there overnight.

8. Get some exercise

Traveling by air can mean a lot of time spent sitting, something the CDC warns Americans are doing far too much of these days. The Aerospace Medical Association also warns that prolonged immobility periods can increase pain and muscle stiffness while putting passengers at increased risk of Traveler's Thrombosis, a potentially life-threatening condition when it leads to a pulmonary embolism. 

To combat these issues, think of your layover as a chance to get your steps in. Using your map of the airport to navigate, get out, stretch your legs, and see what your layover spot has to offer. If you really want to shake out some of that pent-up travel energy, some airports even offer fitness accommodations. Catch a moment of zen at the San Francisco International Airport yoga rooms, elevate your heart rate at Toronto Pearson International Airport's GoodLife Fitness Club, or get a workout in at Chicago O'Hare's Hilton Health Club.

9. Indulge in some self-care

If the thought of cramming into another airport seat puts a fresh set of knots in your shoulders and neck, a little airport self-care could be just what the doctor ordered. Sure, you can slide into a massage chair for a little mechanized muscle therapy, but many airports offer better alternatives like minute massages from licensed massage therapists or even a full-service spa. If less hands-on self-care is more your jam, take the opportunity to freshen up your mani/pedi or try out a little red light therapy before the next leg of your trip.

10. Don't forget to hydrate

It's easy to overlook this basic yet important health need while you're running around the airport all day, but hydration can be even more essential when you're traveling. According to Dr. Peter Hackett from the Institute for Altitude Medicine, air travelers should add about a liter to their daily water intake while flying. 

To make sure you're getting the right amount of water while flying, stash an empty Yeti in your carry-on bag before heading to the airport and fill it up during your layover. But don't overdo it — taking in way too much water can affect your body's sodium levels, leading to its own set of problems.

11. Try to appreciate your fellow humans

There's no doubt that traveling by air can be stressful and overwhelming. The pressure to make it through security checkpoints, the jet lag, and the sensory overload of the airport experience can be a lot for even the calmest travelers to process, which is why it should come as no shock that so many travel tantrums have gone viral since the pandemic, a phenomena called air rage.

While you can't be responsible for anyone else's feelings and actions, studies have shown that prosocial behavior can be healthy and contagious — not to mention that it can also make your layover more pleasant. If folks seem amenable, sharing some small talk in the terminal or airport coffee shop can be a great way to pass the time. If you prefer your fellow humans from a distance, remember that a smile or an open door can go a long way when someone is struggling and people-watching can be an entertaining pastime, especially when you've got someone to share your observations with.

12. Stock up on local snacks

Even if you've got a bagful of granola bars, browsing the local snack offerings can be a lot of fun and could give you a chance to try some things you don't have back at home. Whether you're traveling domestically or skipping across the pond, a visit to the vending machine or snack shop can reveal a treasure trove of local treats.

Take some time out to browse through the airport snack shop in search of regional goodies that aren't available in your neck of the woods. If there's room in your carry-on, a novel brand of cookie or candy can make an affordable souvenir for your snack-loving loved ones back home.

13. Iron out your travel itinerary

When it comes to travel, you can never be too prepared. Consider using your layover time to go over your travel plans and finalize your itinerary. Log into the network to scope out reviews on local restaurants and tourist spots or make any reservations you might need on your trip. 

If you haven't already done so, your layover is a good time to call the hotel with any questions or special arrangements you might need. And don't forget to set up transportation after arriving at your destination.

14. Get organized

If you're like most folks, your phone is full of downloads that could use some organization. Deleting some of those long forgotten files means you'll have more space for all of those travel photos. Take advantage of your layover to sort through all of those memes, photos, and PDFs you've been hanging onto and get rid of some things you no longer need. If you've been hoarding emails, an airport layover might be the excuse you need to finally go through your inbox.

15. Binge a podcast

You know that podcast all your friends have been talking about? A long layover is your chance to get caught up. A good podcast can be every bit as binge-worthy as your favorite Netflix series, making the hours speed by as you deep dive into an interesting topic or a gripping true crime saga. And with more than 48 million podcast episodes to choose from, there's something for everyone from comedy lovers to history buffs. If you're not sure which podcast to binge, start with Podcast Insights' list of the top 100 U.S. podcasts to find out what everyone else is listening to.

16. Catch up on your favorite shows

Most of us love a good series binge. But finding guilt-free time to stream every episode of "Succession" or "The White Lotus" can be tough in the busy day-to-day of life. Getting stuck between flights provides the perfect opportunity to binge on some of those shows that are on your list but you haven't had time for them yet. And according to NBC's wellness blog Better, it can even give you a much-needed dopamine boost to help take the edge off of sitting entirely too close to strangers.

17. Get lost in a good book

Whether you prefer an audiobook or the old-fashioned papercut variety, reading a book is still the gold standard for passing time in an airport. And like binge watching a good show, reading can give your brain a little dopamine kick to make the travel day ever so slightly less stressful.

If you're a romantic who loves the feel and smell of a physical book, you can usually find a few bestsellers for sale at an airport gift shop. Prefer to listen or read online but don't have an Audible subscription? Log onto your local library's website — many offer subscriptions to thousands of audiobooks and Ebooks for library card holders to access free of charge.

18. Play some games

Whether you prefer phone games or come packing a deck of cards, getting into a game can make the hours fly by. If you're traveling with companions, you can get a lot of mileage from old standards like "I Spy," "Categories," and "20 Questions." Or hop onto the Internet and grab a list of "Would You Rather" questions to entertain each other with. If you're on your own, "Solitaire" and "FreeCell" are old standbys. It's also a good excuse to try downloading a new game from your app store.

19. Get creative

If you prefer your pastimes to be a little more right-brain, use your layover time to get into something creative. Grab an adult coloring book and some gel pens or colored pencils from the gift shop and get in touch with your inner child. Pack a pretty journal and use the quiet time to spark up some doodle ideas or journal your thoughts. Or take a stroll around the airport in search of Instagram photo opportunities to share your adventures with friends back home.

20. Get into your apps

Many of us are guilty of downloading apps that are doomed to become forgotten relics, taking up space on our home screen but going largely unused. So why not use your layover time to get into some of those long lost applications? Login to Duolingo or another favorite language learning app and take advantage of the downtime to work on your language skills, browse Amazon reviews, or spend some time shopping on Poshmark. Or consider downloading something new — if it's been a while since you browsed through the app store, you might be surprised at some of the interesting productivity and shopping apps you've been missing out on.

21. Connect with loved ones

It's easy to get caught up in your day when that day is full of security checks and gate-hopping. But if you're traveling on your own, taking some time out to check in with your loved ones back home and let them know you've made it to your layover spot safely can put some concerned minds at ease. And while it's a good idea not to reveal too much about your location or travel plans on social media, a layover can give you the opportunity to browse through your friends' feeds, spread some positivity, and foster some of those relationships that don't always get enough attention.

22. Send some snail mail

If you need an airport pick-me-up between flights, a pen and some postage stamps might be just the ticket. Remember the thrill of getting a stamped envelope or a postcard from a friend on holiday? The airport has everything you need to brighten someone else's day with a little old-fashioned snail mail. In a world where communication is often focused on brevity and responsiveness, letter writing gives us a chance to write with intention and share deeply meaningful interactions. And according to the United States Postal Service pandemic-era research, receiving personal correspondence can help lift the spirits of recipients.

23. Download your content

Using your phone mid-flight is still severely limited, which means you won't be able to download or stream new content en route unless you plan to shell out for in-flight Wi-Fi. Fortunately, some apps and subscriptions let users download a limited amount of content for exactly these situations. Netflix, YouTube Premium, and Hulu are just a few of the apps that let users download content for offline use. While you're waiting for your connecting flight, take advantage of the airport Wi-Fi to download your favorite books, music, and videos so you have plenty of entertainment on the next stretch of your journey.