If you are anything like us you want to get the most out of your vacation and check new cities off your bucket list. What better way to do that than to get two vacations in one? Especially if the second vacation is so cheap anyone can afford it. Sound too good to be true? Well, we are here to fill you in on our little secret.
The secret is easy: layovers! I know what you’re thinking, layovers are typically the worst part of your flight. You’re either running from one airplane to another frantically or you’re sitting bored in an airport for hours in a waiting limbo. Why not instead make this dreaded time into a WHOLE OTHER VACATION (really, does it get any better?).
BONUS: Flights with layovers can actually be cheaper than direct flights since on the surface they can seem less desirable.
On a recent trip to Thailand, we scheduled a 24 hour layover in Singapore. The cost for the flight was actually cheaper than it would have been without the layover and we could now leave the airport and go explore a new city. We did this again on a trip to Bali where we were able to enjoy another 24 hour layover in Hong Kong. This layover cost the exact same than a direct flight would have and we got to enjoy dim sum in the heart of the city.
So before your fingers get click happy and book your next flight, hear our advice and learn from our mistakes.
How Do We Do This?
Before we found Skiplagged we manually checked websites to find flights with long layovers. This meant that we would sit for hours plugging in our dates and cities and scrolling through dozens of flights. There isn’t really a setting to adjust the time of the layover so we would have to not only look at the airport code of the airport but also the duration of the layover.
Skiplagged simplifies this process. It will search out flights that have long layovers to any destination you want.
The best part is you can add your starting airport and leave the destination open. This will show you a list of flights everywhere in the world starting at the cheapest price.
How Long Should Your Layover Be?
There are many things to consider when planning a layover. Customs can take a while when leaving the airport (if you are anything like us you can ask for a seat near the front of the plane and RUN LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT to the booths. Or you know, patience works too). Keep in mind that they say you should plan to be at the airport 3 hours before an international flight which will eat into some of your travel time.
Give yourself as much time as possible. We have found that 11 – 24 hours is the sweet spot. Just check the time you land and depart. This is SOOO important!! Unless you plan to be in Tokyo or New York and are ready to party you will not have a good time if your 11 hours start at 9 pm and goes till 8 am.
Know The Type Of Traveler You Are (And The People You Are Traveling With)
This is one of the most important aspects for deciding the course of your layover vacation. Are you someone who enjoys taking it slow and stress free by enjoying hours at restaurants, ordering room service and sleeping in? Or are you more like us: chickens with your head cut off (vegan pun intended) running through the city trying to take in as many sights as you can.
If you are traveling with someone else, it is important to take both of your traveling personalities into account. I know what you are thinking: this matters for any type of travel. Well, you are right but if you are only spending a couple of hours in an area the need-to-know becomes more significant.
Pro Tip: Before leaving the airport buy some water and snacks to bring for your day. It will likely cost way more than it would in the city but is almost guaranteed to make your time better. Trust us, no one has a good time when they’re hangry.
Treat Your Layover Like It Is Your Main Destination
Even though this leg of the trip is shorter doesn’t make it any less exciting. You are still paying for the flight so make the most of it. Get excited and spend some time scanning Pinterest or Tripadvisor for the top activities in the city.
As you are going to be there for only a select few hours it is important that you know where to go and what there is to see. Can you imagine if we had gone to Singapore without seeing the famous gardens by the bay?
With that being said, when we went to Hong Kong we had absolutely no idea where anything was and we just jumped on a random bus from the airport and got dropped into the middle of “backpackers downtown”. A random online hotel booking at a cheap (we had just come from Bali and so we didn’t think $40 a night was cheap) hotel left us sleeping in a place smaller than a walk in closet full of cockroaches that smelt like dirty fish. So small that they had cut the mattress to fit in the room and I couldn’t even extend my legs – I am 5’6”. Learn from our mistakes: know before you go!
Know Before You Go
- Make sure your luggage goes to your final destination, not to your layover. This will make it one less thing you need to worry about planning for.
- Check your phone’s storage space! Nobody wants to have the best shot lined up to get the dreaded “Not Enough Storage” message. I am notoriously bad for this!
- Charge Your Electronics: The worst feeling is not having your phone or camera charged when you need it the most. This can not only make you miss capturing the moment but possibly even your flight. If you have a phone with a removable battery investing in an extra one can save you.
For phones that don’t have this feature, we suggest a battery pack. These are small, yet powerful. They can fit in your pants pocket and can give you up to 10 full charges. Not only can they power your phone but some can even power cameras and computers!
- Customs & Visa Regulations: Some countries, such as Vietnam, require special visas for entry including a passport sized photos. These are easy and inexpensive to get and should not deter you. Trust us, 24 hours in Saigon is never a bad idea.
Knowing the general layout of a city can help you tons! There are many ways of doing this, but Google Maps is one of the best apps to have on your smartphone. Not only can you use it offline, but you can also download a specific area.
This will let you search public transit stops without being connected to (and without a signal).
Keep Track of Your Flights
We strongly recommend getting an app to track your flight. If you decide to leave the airport you will be busier than you realize. The last thing you want is to spend a day on the town to find out that your flight was delayed or canceled.
There are many smartphone apps that can keep track of your flight for when you connect your phone to Wifi at coffee houses or even fast food chains. All you need is the flight number on your boarding ticket.
Set alarms throughout your day to remind you to keep track of the time.
What To Do With Your Time
24 hours in a city may not seem like enough time. That’s because it isn’t. These layovers are a way to get a sneak peek at a country, or city, rather than an in-depth experience. Think of it like a first date, you can go explore enough to see if it is worth giving it a second date.
Consider how you want to fill your time. Perhaps booking a guided tour through the city is your best option. Or maybe you are more adventurous and just want a taxi to drop you off in the middle of the downtown core and you can walk as much as possible. Try looking into a city bus pass that you can hop on and off to get around the city. Or you may be wanting to see one specific thing that you can plan your day around.
For example, if your layover is in Cambodia you will want to make sure a trip to Angkor Wat is the focus of your day.
What To Pack
You are treating this like a separate holiday so be sure to put some thought into packing. As you will not be getting your main bag we suggest packing a larger, but still portable (backpacks work great), day bag. If you bring along a bulky rolling carry on, check if your airport has lockers and stash it in there so you don’t have to cart it around with you.
- A change of clothes: This is especially important if you are about to step into a completely different climate than you were once in. This includes shoes, I know they’re heavy but hear me out. You will want shoes you can walk far distances in. While this is a given, you never know what your day will look like. You are one puddle, a rainy day, or a beach trip away from being stuck with wet feet or blisters. Trust me, learn from my mistakes, BRING AN EXTRA PAIR. You can thank me later! 🙂
- FOOD: Not a full meal, you will likely remember the food you ate in whatever city you are in more than anything else, but snacks. Think granola bars! Stashing a few in your backpack will make it so that you don’t have to find a restaurant right away.
- Camera: or let’s be real your smartphone will probably do just fine. If you do bring your phone though, pack a charger just in case. You will likely be snapping so many photos you may run out of battery. 20 minutes in a Starbucks plugging your phone into an outlet may just save your trip (or at least your photos).
- Pre-print all your boarding passes: This isn’t just advice for people who are late for everything. It is really really easy to get delayed, especially when you’re in a city you don’t know well and are at the mercy of taxis or public transit. Having your boarding pass on your smartphone can solve this. Depending on how long your layover is you may even be able to print your boarding pass before you leave the airport for your whirlwind adventure. This will save you time when you return to the airport to catch your flight.
- A plastic bag or dry bag: You are literally walking into the unknown with little to nothing with you. I mean that in the most exciting way possible. Bringing a ziplock or dry bag to stash your electronics on can end up saving you a ton of money.
- Money: Kind of an obvious one but can be easily overlooked as it isn’t your main destination. Make sure you have enough cash to get into the city (a simple google search will tell you the best way and roughly how much it will cost) and some extra for any souvenirs and food you want to buy.
- A blanket or sleeping bag: We have this one. Not only is it useful to keep you warm when sleeping in airports but in case you are like us and opt for the sleaziest (aka cheapest) hotel imaginable, you have a nice little barrier between you and a questionable mattress
I know this seems like a lot of information but trust us, getting the most of your holiday by extending your layovers will be well worth it. Take the time you have in the new city as bonus time.
Don’t stress, you don’t have to cram everything in. Really, if all you bring is a camera and plan to spend the whole time on your Roman layover eating pasta, is that really the worst thing?
Have fun and let us know how your next vacation goes – we love to hear stories!