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How To Survive A Long Layover

how to survive a long layover

As South Africans, we’ve probably all experienced that torture of a looong layover at least once. Flying through Dubai, Abu Dabi or Doha (our gateways to the world) means that more often than not, you’re likely to spend a couple of hours wandering around like a zombie, spraying perfume all over yourself, spending a couple of hundred bucks on a Starbucks and trying to sleep on a steel chair. I am not great when I’m grumpy, so I try really hard to keep my layovers as painless as possible – for me and the people I’m travelling with. Here are a few of my tips for how to survive a long layover.

How To Survive A Long Layover

1. Check if you qualify for a hotel room

Sometimes, depending on the length of your layover and the ticket you bought, you might qualify for a free hotel room. For instance, if your layover is longer than 8 hours because there were no flights available, you could qualify. But if your layover is longer than 8 hours because you booked the cheaper ticket, you might not. Head to the airline help desk as soon as you land and ask whether you qualify. You might be able to get a transfer to the airport hotel, meal vouchers and a room. I did this in Dubai once for a 10-hour layover and it was a game changer.

2. Get out and explore

Depending on which airport you’re at and how long your layover is, you might be able to actually leave the airport and see somewhere new. A couple of years ago I had an 8-hour layover in Hong Kong, where South Africans don’t need a visa. This is the ideal city to get out and explore because you can hop on the fast train into the centre city right from the airport. If you’re planning on doing this, make sure your hand luggage is small and light enough to drag around for the day, or check if the airport has luggage storing facilities for your big bag and just take a handbag or backpack.

3. Find the free showers

Some airports (like Dubai*) offer access to free showers and that’s normally the first thing I look for as soon as I land. After rushing to get packed, dragging my bags around and flying for 10 hours, I normally can’t wait to brush my teeth and change my clothes. Remember to pack travel-sized toiletries and a towel as well as a change of clothes. Don’t waste time trying to find them yourself, just ask at the info desk. *You can find the free showers at the Dubai airport in Terminal 1 (between gates C18 and C22) and Terminal 3 (between gates B13 and B19 and between gates A1 and A24). 

4. See if the airport has any cool facilities

Some of the world’s major airports have some pretty cool facilities. Dubai Airport has sleeping pods that you can rent for a couple of hours of peace and quiet. San Fransisco International has free yoga rooms where you can stretch out. And Schipol has a green space where you can relax between some greenery or ride a stationary bike. Sleeping in Airports is a great site where you can find out all about the airport you’re visiting ahead of your trip.

5. Make yourself comfortable

I’m normally freezing in airports, so I always pack socks and a big scarf in my hand luggage. I also travel with a neck pillow and, for really long layovers, a small blanket. Take a lap and find the softest reclining seats you can. Keep your bag either under your chair or on your lap. Now insert your earplugs, pull up your blanket, pull down your eye mask and try to get some sleep. Don’t forget to set your alarm so you don’t miss your flight, and put your phone on your chest, inside your top, so the vibrations wake you up.

6.  Book lounge access

If you’ve got the budget, booking a lounge is one of the easiest ways to survive a long layover. I use LoungeBuddy, an app that lists airport lounges across the world. You can check out what your options are, see which lounge is closest to your gate, read reviews from other travellers and book your access using your credit card. Inside the lounge you’ll have access to showers, free snacks and drinks, wifi, charging stations and sometimes even a quick massage. If you’re going to be spending cash on food and drinks in the airport anyway, you might as well get lounge access. It’s well worth it.

7. Book a hotel room

When you’ve been travelling for 12 hours and you have 12 more to go, with a 10-hour layover from 8pm to 6pm in between, a room at an airport hotel could save your life (or your relationship with your fellow travellers). Check out hotel options and prices on Sleeping In Airports before you book. We stayed in the Airport Hotel in Doha, which is located within the security zone, so you don’t have to go through passport control before you check in. We stretched our legs on the treadmill before having long hot showers and getting 6 hours of sleep in a massive bed. It’s well worth it. *Tip: Keep a swimsuit in your hand luggage because there’s a beautiful pool for a dip. 

Do you have any tips for how to survive a long layover? Or any secret insider tips for hotels around the world?

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  1. Hi! I was wondering. I will have a layover in dubai for 8 hours. Do I need a visa for that even if it’s just a layover and I won’t be leaving the airport? I am also south african. Thank you!

    1. Hi! If you’re staying inside the airport, you won’t need a visa x