In my travels, I have found that you can always count on complications to arise, particularly flight-related. Delays and cancellations are to be expected—especially during the holidays. I’ve come to learn not only to anticipate long hours at the airport, but also to enjoy them. Let your layover be as much of an adventure as your holiday vacation. There’s plenty you can do to pass the time, and plenty more I recommend you carry on to keep boredom at bay.
What to Bring
I’ve got packing down to a science by now, but before you dive into my checklist, make sure you choose the proper carry-on. It has to be one you can easily carry and big enough to hold all the things you plan to bring. You’re technically allowed two carry-ons per person, but always shoot for one, especially if you’re traveling alone. Think of your carry-on as an anchor, weighing you down wherever you go, because if you’re on your own, there’s nobody to leave your stuff with every time you need to use the restroom. No. You have to haul it everywhere you go. Also, if you need to take a nap, one bag is optimum. Just hold it tightly on your lap so no one steals it, instead of a heap of stuff scattered randomly around your feet. Your goal is to condense all of your belongings into one bag, with room to spare for snacks and souvenirs. (Of course, the list below only pertains to carry-ons. Checked luggage is for clothes and toiletries.)
A Neck Pillow
Make sure you pack one of those comfy horse-shoe shaped neck pillows they sell at every airport. And yes, specifically a neck pillow. The reason is this way you can carry it around hands-free, leaving one arm open for your bag and the other free to hold your phone or identification and flight documentation (which I suggest you put away until it’s time to board, so as not to lose them). Always strive for convenience.
But be careful how you wear your neck pillow. I recommend you simply keep it on your neck. This provides support, for one thing, and ensures you don’t do anything embarrassing, like this.
If you don’t already have a neck pillow, I recommend you buy one at the airport. They’re a little overpriced, but they do have some cute ones—foxes and animals and such. These little guys are lifesavers during those endless, indefinite waits. There’s no way you want to haul around a full-sized pillow when you have such a compact and secure alternative.
A Toothbrush and Toothpaste
This may sound weird, but whenever I travel, my biggest pet peeve is that icky, nasty feeling of my teeth. This may have something to do with my compulsive coffee-drinking, which comes with a bitter aftertaste, but regardless your choice of beverage, the longer the wait, the yuckier you’re sure to feel. Your skin and hair start feeling greasy, and the grosser you become, the slower time transpires. It’s truly awful. But luckily, a simple brushing of the teeth relieves this ickiness. It makes a world of difference, honestly. You’ll instantly feel cleaner, fresher and more comfortable. But remember not to take too big a tube of toothpaste or security will confiscate it. So make sure you bring a mini—3.4 ounces or less (100ml).
You may bring other cleansers if you like—face wash, astringent, etc.—but from my experience, the only thing I can’t travel without is a mouthful of minty freshness. The rest are nonessentials. But like I said, if you insist, remember to adhere to the 100ml limit for any liquid carry-on. If you need help, I recommend you buy this carry-on approved container set from Fab for only $18 USD (also an awesome gift for any frequent flyer).
I am an avid fan of games and puzzles like Sudoku. Not only do they help to pass the time, but they actually exercise your brain. And what else are airports good for it not satisfying your crossword puzzle fix? These can be purchased in paper booklets or downloaded online.
Bring your choice electronic device. If a smart phone is all you need, then that should be all you bring, but if you live inside your laptop or tablet, or kindle or nook, or whatever gadget or gizmo you happen to own, bring it along. If you choose to bring a laptop, be weary of the extra weight. Laptops must be removed when you go through security, which is a hassle in and of itself, but not as much of a hassle of having to haul around two carry-ons—your bag and laptop case—around the terminal. Either bring one carry-on roomy enough to stow your laptop in as well, or don’t carry your laptop on at all. Settle for something smaller like a smart phone or tablet, if possible.
And don’t forget to bring your charger! It’s likely your layover will long outlive your battery. Think of any electronic accessories you’ll need—headphones, flash drives, cables, etc. And lastly, don’t forget to load it up with all the apps, activities and games you need to keep your eyes and fingers occupied. Stock up on shows or movies you may want to watch, or any music you may want to listen to. Download a novel to your kindle. It’s the modern world, so don’t forget to stock your electronics. Don’t exclude them from the packing process. Say you plan to get some work done, but you don’t know if you’ll be able to afford the airport Wifi—make sure you download PDFs of any references or sources you may need so you have access any time.
What to Do
If you failed to come equipped with anything to read like I suggested, just locate the nearest kiosk for a book or magazine. Airports are chock full of quality reading material, just take your pick. I consider browsing books and magazines an activity in and of itself.
If you don’t find the reading selection appealing, then write. Buy yourself a diary and fill it up with all your precious memories. Solidify your holiday in writing so twenty years from now it isn’t lost. I’m always amazed how much I manage to forget within just weeks of coming home, but if you write everything down while it’s still fresh, it’s yours forever. You don’t have to write by hand if you don’t want to—any word processor will do—although there is a sort of romance to handwriting, I think, but like I said it’s up to you.
This could also be the perfect time to correspond with loved ones. Stock up on some post cards and share your experiences with your friends and relatives. Imagine the smile on their faces when they’re sifting through their bills and find your card—no measly email or text message—no, a real, handwritten note!
Another awesome way to pass the time is spending money. Stock up on gift shop souvenirs for friends and family, duty free! But keep in mind that everything is overpriced.
Stop by the salon (if there is one) and get your hair and nails done, maybe even a facial. However! If you’re still waiting on the status of your flight, better not to commit to too long of a tune-up, in case your flight takes off without you.
Have a Drink
Airports have all kinds of eateries, from diners to taquerias, from sports bars to sushi bars, so indulge in some delicious appetizers and a nice tall, icy drink. Or steamy cappuccino, either way. But if you choose to treat yourself to alcohol, be careful not to get yourself too drunk. In combination with jet lag and sleep deprivation, one drink can be lethal, especially if you haven’t eaten. Pace yourself with something not-so-strong. You may be able to slam down those triple shots at home, but when home is on another continent, it’s best to take it easy. Passing out in an airport is not only unacceptable, but also dangerous. You’re surrounded by strangers. So check yourself—get up between each drink and take a stroll around the restaurant, just to make sure you still can. If so, bring on the booze.
Lastly, in case you’re reading this too late and you’ve already inadvertently failed to follow any of my “What to Bring” advice—no neck pillow, electronic devices or accessories, nothing to read, excessive baggage, etc. Don’t panic! Take this as a learning experience, but make the most of it. Find a central location, close enough to your gate so you stay posted on the status of your flight, and close enough to a restroom that you don’t have to go too far to handle business. If you want to shop or find something to read but your bags are so bulky they’re wreaking havoc on the kiosk, ask the cashier if he or she can watch them for you while you browse.
And there you have it—everything you need to know to make the most of waiting in the airport. Of course, you could always leave the airport if your wait is long enough, but considering the fact that you’re in a foreign city and you may not be familiar with the language or public transportation, I suggest you stick around ground zero. This way, when you get the word your flight is good to go, you know you’re ready to go with it.