Traveling long distances can sometimes mean spending long hours at an airport or train terminal, which can lead to terminal boredom. Waiting out connecting flights or trains can be maddening, and minutes become hours in the tedium. Why not escape the confines of the train station or airport and turn a layover into an opportunity for adventure?
As any world traveler will tell you, the hidden gems of a culture lie outside the tourist-worn paths. Getting out into the locals’ world — eating what the locals eat and seeing how they live — is what makes visiting a culture memorable. There’s no adventure in the airport bar.
Of course, going on a layover adventure requires an adventurous spirit. Missing a connecting flight is time-consuming and expensive. The key to making a memorable and successful layover excursion is to be organized and methodical in your preparation. Simply showing up in a strange city and deciding then to see the sights is a recipe for either disappointment or an extended stay. Follow these strategies, though, and your next long layover could be the most fun part of your trip.
1| Plan and Prepare
Leaving the safety of the terminal confines is an adventure best taken on with at least a minimal itinerary. Simply wandering off from a train station in a strange place can present any number of issues, from crime to getting lost. When you know you will have a layover, decide right away to take it as an opportunity to see new things. Use search engines as well as various online portals such as OZCodes for booking hotels, flights if you are on a budget and also can spend some time looking at what there is to do around the area in a most affordable way. If there are businesses, residences and public transportation nearby, it is more likely that sightseeing will be safe.
Lay of the Land
Knowing the proximity of the station to local attractions helps keep your excursion realistic. Scouting the local area ahead of time on a search engine can tell you if it is worth venturing out. The length of the layover will naturally set limits on how far you can go. Being honest with yourself about how far you can safely travel without rushing will keep you from having to shell out cash for another flight.
An international airport may be further out on the perimeter of a city than a bus terminal, but that doesn’t mean there are not things to see and do in the area. Airports are normally hubs for local transportation. Taking a bus or subway from an airport can be an efficient way to get to the action. The airport may turn out to be too far on the outskirts of a city for a getaway to be feasible in the allotted time, but glory often goes to the intrepid.
Being on a layover in a foreign country brings its own set of challenges. Time spent squaring away identification and exchanging currency during a layover is time wasted. You may be able to exchange your cash for the local currency at the train station, but you may not. Some currencies, like the U.S. dollar and the Euro, are nearly universally accepted by shopkeepers, but this always costs more than using local money. Exchanging currency early will save time, and it may help keep you on budget as well.
Eat Local Fare
In Germany, the Imbissstand is ubiquitous. In Paris, it’s the crepe stand. Whether it be taco trucks or hotdog stands, most cities have some form of street food. Escaping the train station and heading out for a bite to eat is a great way to experience the local way of life, but avoid restaurants at all costs. In some places, meals are not to be hurried. Sitting down and eating in these locales is an experience that can last hours. Street food is meant to be quick and easily consumed, which is the right recipe when time is short.
Getting away from the train station on foot severely limits the range of any layover excursion. A personal favorite for combatting these limits is to travel with a longboard in tow. A person traveling at a leisurely pace on a longboard can cover a city block in less than 30 seconds. It takes three times longer to walk the same distance (verified by stopwatch).
If you are considering purchasing a board specifically for an upcoming trip, consult with your carrier about checking longboards as luggage. This is normally a non-issue on buses and trains, but air carriers normally will not allow longboards as carry-ons, making access to them on a layover unreliable. Also, be sure your longboard has quality parts — especially the wheels and bearings. Get the best cheap longboard you can afford so it does not become a hindrance, and it can turn a short layover into an adventure of its own.
Many large cities now have bike rentals that locals use to get around town. These bikes sit waiting at terminals at key locations. When renting a bike, you have the option to return it to any other terminal around the city. Here again, search engines are your friend. Mapping out the nearest bike rental location to your layover location will enable you to more quickly and efficiently get on wheels.
Rickshaws are fast becoming another form of reliable transportation in cities around the globe. Public buses, trains and subways can all facilitate quick travel on a layover as well. Modern app-based travel services and taxis are another option, but be wary of any form of transport that forces you to rely on the punctuality of others.
3| Plan Your Return
Traveling 30 minutes away from a layover location does not mean it will only take 30 minutes to return. Some things that could delay you are predictable, such as rush hour traffic. Others, like car accidents or road construction, may not be foreseeable. Plan for worst-case scenarios, even if they mean you are sitting idly at the station again when you could have seen more of a new city.
Remember to check with the representatives of whatever transportation company you are using. Ask for the earliest time your connecting train might leave the station, for example, and expect delays on your return to the terminal. No matter how much fun you are having, allow for double to triple the time to return to the terminal as it took to get away.
When You Can’t Plan
The Unexpected Layover
Layovers are not always planned into a schedule of connecting flights or trains. Sometimes, a delay at a previous stop can unexpectedly keep a plane or train from arriving until hours after schedule. When this happens, see it as an opportunity for adventure. Not being able to plan for a layover is no excuse to sit idly watching trains come and go. The stories we tell of our travels rarely include the things we mapped out. Don’t let a layover get you frustrated. Get out there and make some memories.