Country 15: Taiwan | This post is part of my 30×30 series. Read more here!
I used to hate long layover flights. Between the overused airport bathrooms, uncomfortable seating, and ridiculously expensive food and beverage options, there’s little to look forward to. It was only when flying into Taipei that I first appreciated the better ways a long layover could be spent. In honor of that fateful layover, I asked fellow travel bloggers for their favorite ways to pass time in the airport.
The Best Ways to Spend a Long Layover
De-stress with some yoga + meditation
Many times I had to suffer long airport layovers and couldn’t go out due to the visa requirements. I was wandering around the shops, checked out all my social media news and did whatever else to pass the time. I realized this time is really wasted and not productive. I came to an idea to start to do yoga exercises. I was worried that people will just stare at me and I won’t be able to do it freely. After a few minutes, however, I realized people around me stopped to look, so I just closed my eyes and continued. When I finished I was in a perfect mood for meditation and spent a long time doing so. For maybe the first time, my time at the airport was enriching and extremely relaxing.
Hone your craft
In order to help pass the time in an airport layover, I always give myself a writing goal. I might write down my thoughts about a destination, write down the itinerary I completed (in serious detail), or write a blog post. If you’re headed to your destination, you can write about your goals and how you are feeling at the start of your adventure. Even if you aren’t a blogger, it can be a lot of fun to record your experience. In the moment, it might seem too fresh in your mind to feel the need to record it, but it is always great to have a copy of your memories in your own words. Writing, instead of just browsing your phone, can really help pass the time while providing you with something you can keep forever.
Relax at a restaurant
Whenever I have a long airport layover, I like to research the most interesting or unique restaurant at the airport and then have a meal there. One of my favorite airport meals was eating at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant at the Copenhagen airport! This is a great way to pass the time during a long layover and if you’re at a really busy airport, it can be nice to relax at a restaurant rather than sitting at a crowded, noisy gate waiting to board your flight.
Learn about your destination
The most productive way to spend a long layover is to use the available time to learn a new language or at least pick up some basic expressions of the country/region we are traveling to. Learning languages has become more fun, easily accessible and can be entirely free. My favorite free sources are YouTube videos made by native speakers and podcasts, such as the ones available on the free podcast app called Castbox. Just make sure to check your app store and download as much material before the trip while you are still connected to WiFi, then see what works best for you. Enjoy!
Edyta from Say Yes to Madeira
Explore the exhibits
Long airport layovers can be rough, so finding activities to pass the long hours can be challenging. However, some airports, such as South Korea’s Incheon airport, provide a bored traveler many opportunities to pass the time. Spend hours taking in the free art exhibits. There are even free showers – you don’t need to be part of a VIP lounge to access them! San Francisco International Airport is another great airport that caters to travelers looking for free activities. A self-guided walking tour through the airport takes you through many museum exhibits on the aviation history of the airport.
Not all airports are created equally, and imagination might be needed to find free things to do in some airports, but it certainly beats staring at a wall waiting to board a plane!
Unwind in an airport lounge
My favorite way to spend a long layover is in the airport lounge! We’re mostly budget travelers but thankfully our Chase Sapphire Reserve card includes Priority Pass Select, which provides access to over a thousand lounges worldwide. It’s a great time to catch up on a little work, read a book or even let the kids play on their Fire tablets without the constant disruption of people walking by or worrying about luggage theft. If you want to travel in style, get yourself a Priority Pass membership!
Wendy, from the Empty Nester’s Hit the Road, adds,
Access to lounges has made our travel so much more enjoyable. Instead of fighting for a seat near the gate, hoping for an outlet for our phones, and paying way too much money for food and liquor, we get all of this for free. (Okay, not entirely for free since we do pay the annual fees on both cards.) Most lounges offer free high-speed WiFi, some type of food and beverage, and always comfortable seating—comfortable enough even for a nap. The nicer lounges may include full meals and a complete bar. For anyone who flies regularly, I highly recommend researching your options for lounge access either through Priority Pass, a frequent flyer club, or another premium travel credit card. Now we find ourselves looking forward to long layovers!
Experience culture through food
Airports provide the first glimpse of the local culture and, as we all are familiar with, food is one of the best ways to learn about a foreign culture. From the distinct ingredients to the method of food preparation, the simplest dish can reveal so much about the local culture. Even the manner the food is served and eaten reflects so much about a country’s history. Despite the fact that most airports are built to cater mostly to western travelers, there will always be at least one restaurant that represents the local cuisine.
Pro-tip: Many cities have iconic restaurants, and sometimes, these restaurants have outposts in the local airport. So close you can taste it just got closer. 😉
Get to know people
You can start a small talk or respond to one. Once during a layover, I met an elderly couple traveling to San Francisco to meet their son. They shared many stories about their travels over the years, and we ended up having a good time during the layover.
Get some fresh air
You may be surprised that many of the world’s major airports contain lavish gardens that are free to roam while waiting on a long airport layover. Singapore’s Changi Airport contains nine total gardens, including rooftop gardens as well as the world’s first airport Butterfly Garden. The lush habitat houses 40 species of butterflies, pretty flowers, plants, and a 6-meter grotto-waterfall. In the United States, Honolulu Airport and JFK International Airport both contain rooftop gardens as well. Seoul, Amsterdam, and Dubai are just a few more of the many cities that feature free gardens inside their airports. If you find yourself looking for something to do the next time you’re stuck in a long layover, definitely check with your airport to see if they have a garden. They’re a unique and relaxing way to pass time while waiting on your next flight!
Catch a movie
This summer I had a 12-hour stopover in Singapore Changi Airport on the way home from volunteering with orangutans in Borneo. Some may think that a 12-hour stopover sounds absolutely horrid but in Changi airport, there was so much to do that the time flew by. One of the things I did as I made my way around the terminals was go to the cinema. I was just about to walk out to the sunflower garden before noticing a film was about to start. I still had 10 hours left at this point, so I thought, why not? I watched Pitch Perfect 3 whilst comfortably sitting in soft leather seats and forgot about the fact that I was in an airport.
Take a breather
It’s nice that many airports make an effort to grant relaxation or entertainment. Of course, there are the good old shops and restaurants, like Heathrow Terminal 5. Some airports (for example, Paris CDG or Prague Ruzine) have good and reasonably priced day hotels: You can check in for a couple of hours, take a shower and a nap, and just feel human again.
If you don’t want to spend money on a day hotel or a lounge, many airports now have great cozy corners where you can stretch out, take a nap or connect to the internet and watch some movie or do a little working.
I actually like long flights and long layovers since they force me to take a break. Normally I’m so busy and all over the place—they make me sit and wait. Forced relaxation.
Get out and explore the city
One way to spend a long layover is to leave the airport and explore the nearby city. This is especially a good idea when the airport is not too far away so you will not lose a lot of time for transportation. Not only is this a fun way to spend your layover, but you get to potentially visit a new destination. Even though you will probably not see all the main tourist attractions, you will get the feel of the city and if you like it you can always plan a longer visit. Some airports including Singapore Changi, Seoul Incheon, and Taiwan Taoyuan even offer free guided city tours from the airport for travelers that have layovers!
That’s exactly how I spent my time in Taiwan—not eating overpriced McDonald’s in the airport, but skeptically eyeing proferred chicken feet in a row of shops in Taipei. With my luggage safely (and freely) stored at the airport and my camera in hand, I got some sightseeing, exercise, and local food in the fresh air for seven of my 11 laid-over hours. While the chicken feet left me hungry, Taipei sure didn’t—it’s definitely on my list for a longer and more in-depth visit soon!