Travel Guide | All Colleges

How to Survive a Layover

Airport layovers don’t have to be a nightmare. Here’s how to make the most of your time

When you travel, not everything goes smoothly. Sometimes you forget to pack pajamas. Sometimes you forget to pack toothpaste. Sometimes you forget to pack both your pajamas and your toothpaste. We’ve all been there. Everyone has their travel horror stories. For example, there was the time I almost didn’t make my connecting flight to Dublin when I landed in Heathrow. I hardly had enough time to make it through customs and through that maze of an airport to get to my plane. They actually had to hold the plane for us.

Running through an airport to catch your flight can be a bit nerve wracking. But what do you do when you have a lot of time in the airport? Whether you have an early arrival, a flight delay, or a long layover, you’ve got to keep yourself sane.

I recently flew from Baltimore, Maryland to Madison, Wisconsin and found myself in such a situation during my return trip. After having my flight delayed, I had 5 hours to kill in the Madison airport and another 90 minutes to kill during a layover in Chicago. Madison is a small airport with just 12 gates. Chicago’s airport is an international gateway with several terminals. This made for two very different layovers. Here’s how I survived both:

Take Advantage of Free Wi-Fi: Not all airports offer free Wi-Fi. (I’m looking at you O’Hare) I don’t think it’s worth paying for the Wi-Fi unless you have something urgent you need to work on, but if it’s free, you might as well make the most of it. Why not catch up on Tumblr or pin a few items on Pinterest to make the time go faster? It’s also good to check in with friends and family and let them know you’re safe when you get the chance. If you’re lucky, the Wi-Fi may allow you to stream content from sites like Hulu or Netflix. An hour or two will quickly pass by with a good film or a few episodes of a television show. Granted, you can probably do this all on your smartphone, but there’s no sense in wasting data when free Wi-Fi is available.

Take BuzzFeed Quizzes: As part of my Wi-Fi use in Madison, I spent some time scrolling through BuzzFeed. I really enjoy the fun quizzes that have become quite popular on there. It’s like BuzzFeed can provide a window to the inner-workings of my psyche or something like that. I learned what Disney ride I am (The Enchanted Tiki Room), who my style icon is (Audrey Hepburn), which classic diva I am (Mariah Carey), and which country I should travel to (Switzerland). The last one seems pretty accurate, so maybe my next layover will be spent on my way over there.

BuzzFeed Quiz Result

Read Something: Reading always helps me pass the time. If you don’t have access to free Wi-Fi, hopefully you’ve packed a good book. Books are a great way to escape from the confines of your flight gate and drift into your own imagination. Now, I understand not everyone is into novels. Magazines or newspapers work just as well, and it’s easy to find both of them in an airport. Those newsstand stores are everywhere. Some of the best books I have read happened to come from purchases made on a whim during an unexpected delay or layover.

Go Shopping: You don’t actually have to buy anything. It can be fun to just browse. Some airports offer high end shopping or retail stores. I know for certain all airports offer touristy newsstand stores, as I mentioned above. I always enjoy checking out the fun and sometimes tacky goods. Every city is different, so it is fun to see what various airports offer. I know in Maryland, ours have a lot of crab themed items. In chicago, I found fun mugs and t-shirts celebrating some of the windy city’s icons. I think Wisconsin wins though with their cheese hats. I didn’t buy one, but it made for some great SnapChats.

cheese pic image for shap chat

Write: Hmm when do you think I wrote this article? If you guessed during my extended layover, you are correct! Congrats…you win an airport gift shop item of your choice (not really, I’m a poor college student after all). Even if you’re not writing for CollegeTourist (which you should be), taking time to reflect on your trip or where you’re heading makes for great memories to look back on. I keep a travel journal, so airport reflection is prime time for writing. When you have plenty of time to write, you can be more detailed than you would if you were rushing through your writing back home. It’s best to write when everything is fresh in your mind, and waiting for your flight is a great time to do that.

Treat Yourself: Extended layovers mean you’re going to be pretty hungry. We’ve all heard the classic jokes about airline food, but airport food is actually pretty good. Chances are you can find one of your favorite national restaurant chains. If you’re feeling more daring, you can opt for local favorites found within the airport. Whether you’re just looking for a fast food meal or sit down dinner, most airports offer both. Treat yourself to something yummy or maybe even a good drink. I have found that dining alone isn’t as intimidating as it seems, and no one is going to judge you in the airport…so go ahead and order your favorite meal or beverage. You’ve got time to kill, and you might as well enjoy it!

airport food pic

Some people may dread layovers, but I really don’t mind them. I find it fun to explore all that another airport has to offer. Even if I can’t make it out of the airport to explore the actual city, the things found within the airport are often a good reflection of it. So whether your next layover is at little airport or a big international one, I hope you’re able to make the most of it.

Courtney Guth

University of Maryland | 31 stories

Courtney Guth is a senior English major at the University of Maryland College Park actively seeking an answer to the age-old question, “so what are you going to do with that?” Her answer currently involves working in communications and development for a small non-profit in Washington, D.C. If she’s not exploring the nation’s capital, she’s probably watching an old movie, attempting to cook, or losing her voice at a Maryland Terrapins’ game. She believes the adage that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page” but why just read when you can write?


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