Two trips for the price of one? It's not a scam! It's a layover and it's how we see the world.
Layovers allow us to explore new cities without spending any extra money to get there. In fact, sometimes we even save money! Most travelers avoid long layovers and indirect routes like the plague and thus these undesirable flights are often less expensive. Seeing more and playing less? We'll chose that option every time!
If you're ready to fall in love with layovers like we have, here are some practical considerations for getting the most from the experience.
How much time do you need for a layover?
I recommend a minimum of eight hours to enjoy a layover. Your time on the ground should never be less than the time you spend on transportation and logistics. When we had a 4 hour layover in Vancouver, we knew there was no way we could fit in a city visit. Instead, we purchased passes to an airline lounge and spent the time reading and - of course! - eating. On a future trip, with 10 hours to spare, we were able to go downtown and visit with a friend without feeling rushed.
Not all hours are equal.
Unfortunately our shoulder-season visit coincided with reduced hours at the museums and galleries and we weren't able to enjoy any city attractions. We still had a fantastic visit but it was an important reminder that, when it comes to making the most of a layover, timing is everything.
Make your accommodations count.
Whatever you do, this is not the time to stay in the suburbs or at a cookie cutter chain hotel in order to save $20. This is the time to invest in convenience, comfort, and character.
Layovers and luggage - easier said than done.
If you travel with carry on only luggage as we do, be prepared to haul that bag around! Fortunately, most hotels and hostels offer secure luggage storage and are happy to stow your gear before check in and after check out. And if that doesn't work out, we have a sneaky solution.
This worked out perfectly for us in New York City and I'm so glad we chose a movie-themed tour bus. We really enjoyed our experience and it was the perfect layover activity- entertaining and informative. And best of all is that we weren't walking around with our backpacks!
Mastering airplane and airport logistics
I think it's worth spending extra money to pre-select your seat so you can sit at the front of the plane. Your speedy exit and subsequent arrival at the front of the customs line will easily save you 30 to 60 minutes in delays.
Verify your visas.
There are two important things to remember about visas. First, just because you're on a layover it doesn't exempt you from visa requirements. Secondly, you might be eligible for a different kind of visa because you are technically in transit. Fortunately, while you might have to spend more time reading the fine print about this, transit visas are often less expensive and easier to obtain than others.
Money, money, money.
Never get money at the airport foreign exchange office. The rates are absolutely horrible! You'll find far better rates at a foreign exchange in your destination's city centre, but you'll pay in wasted time. Sometimes tracking down currency exchange in a new city is part of an exciting adventure - but mostly it's just a boring administrative task. The theoretical savings on the very small amount of money you need to exchange doesn't justify the very real time commitment. Grab the equivalent of $50 at your local bank at home before departing and spend your travel time doing things you actually enjoy.
Come up with a transportation plan.
Organize everything - or nothing.
A layover is a great opportunity to see a city's most famous sites - but what about those massive lines? They're lines you can happily avoid if you book tours, activities, and museum passes in advance. You might even save some money as there are often deals to bundle several activities. The short length of most layovers also makes it financially feasible to hire a private guide for your visit. You'll experience a more personal itinerary and make a new friend without having to worry much about directions, traffic, or language barriers.
In New York City, our Plan A was to be first off the plane, clear customs in record time, catch a train into the city right away, have several free hours to explore, and take in an amazing breakfast performance at Ellen's Stardust Diner before catching our tour bus. Plan B was for a late flight, a slow customs line, waiting a later train, and grabbing a bagel before directly joining our tour. Happily Plan A went off without a hitch but I'm glad we had Plan B - I knew I wouldn't worry about food, timing, or transportation even if we faced huge delays.
Lasting layover love.
I could never afford to plan individual trips to all the cities I've seen and incorporating a layover into my travel plans is like flying to two destinations for the price of one. And with a bit of savvy planning, anyone can do it!
Tell us - where would you love to have a layover?
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