Layovers are not just a great way to break up a horrendously long and cramped flight, but they are also ideal ways to add another destination to your itinerary that you may not have seen otherwise.
If you are travelling anywhere in the world as part of a longer trip or gap year, odds are your flight will be long enough to necessitate a layover or a change of flights before you get to your final destination. Most people view these layovers as inconveniences, as nothing more than long, boring waits in often dull and expensive airports.
But done right, the layover can be far more than that.
Add an extra day or two to the stop and you can have an awesome time visiting the country you are in and can be well fed, rested and ready for the next leg of your trip with a camera and a head full of extra memories.
Now you may be slightly confused as I am always pushing the virtues of slow travel and long term travel, and that is still very true. The best was to travel is slowly without rushing, and if you are exploring a country it is far better to do so over a longer period of time. You will do more, see more, experience more and gain a deeper understanding of the place you are visiting.
But that doesn’t mean every trip has to be like that.
Sometimes people only have a week or two to spend on holiday, sometimes they can’t afford to travel long term, and sometimes they find themselves in a country on a long layover.
That is all good too, provided that you remember to try not to fit everything into that tightly packed schedule and accept the fact you will only experience a small percentage of what there is to see and do there, and you’ll be fine.
Layovers are a perfect way to experience a city in a country you may not have even thought about visiting when planning your big trip or final destination.
Of course every country is different and things do depend on what passport you hold as well (I’m extremely fortunate to hold a UK passport, one of the best in the world), but many countries have arrangements for transit visas.
Transit visas are simply temporary short term visas that are issued to people with long layovers so they can spend a few days in that country. Some countries will demand that you have a layover of at least 24 hours, but others such as the ever awesome Singapore can issue you with one with a layover as short as 4 hours. There are often other restrictions such as needing proof of an onward flight, but they are much simpler and quicker than getting a full visa.
This means that basically you can spend a few days in that city before flying off to your final destination.
Consider layovers as short city breaks in between exploring the major destinations on your trip.
At the very least these long layovers will allow you to grab a room, refresh and get some decent food down you before you get back on the flight, and if the flight is an otherwise long one of 12 hours or more that should be reason enough!
But if you maximise your layover well, you can do a whole lot more.
Do a little bit of research beforehand, or even on the plane before you arrive, and pick one or two major landmarks or tourist sites that you really don’t want to miss. Depending on whether you take two or three days for your layover you can hit up the great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, Merlion Park and the iconic Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, or even the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Just think, these are major sites that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Then of course there is the chance to experience some of that city or regions local cuisine! Think of all that pasta and sauce with a layover in Italy, the curry and roti you can indulge in with stops in India or Sri Lanka, or pretty much any of the food anywhere at all in south east Asia! Food is a huge part of the travel experience and you can indulge as much as you are able in that short layover.
Of course many countries also have free guided tours specifically for layovers, usually conducted and booked from the airport itself, and these are also a great way to get a quick glimpse of this new and unexpected stop on your RTW itinerary, so you may as well make use of them.
Remember, this isn’t about just ticking off another country on your bucket list or getting another stamp on the passport and considering that country ‘done’, you won’t see an entire country, or even the city, on a layover. This is simply about getting a few extra experiences out of your extended trip and learning how to maximise your layover.
If you like what you see on the layover, you can always come back and explore more thoroughly another time.
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So be smart, break up that long flight and perfect the art of the long layover.