With the advancement of technology, the world has gotten smaller. You can connect with people of different cultures and languages all over the world, the smart phone has taken the place of books and pay phones, and you can travel to places you can't even pronounce!
And since we're on the subject of travel...layovers suck. Short or long, it doesn't matter, layovers are not fun. And even if you think that a layover will be short, there's a good chance that your transport will be delayed or cancelled, so it's important to be prepared for any transportation crisis.
Some context: I was catching a flight from Los Angeles down to Roatan, with an intended 90 minute layover in San Salvador. I've been on trips where the layovers have been really long before, and I've been prepared for them, but this was the first time that my layover was delayed to pretty cataclysmic proportions (cataclysmic, I tell you!). We spent about ten hours each day for two days at the airport (7AM to 5PM the first day, 6AM to 3:30PM the second) with a night in an airport hotel in between. There was a lot of going back and forth with the airline staff, a re-routed flight, and a lot of people panicking (justifiably) and getting quite angry before we could find a resolution. It was kind of a mess, and exhausting. I think I fared better because I was going home, not going on a precious one week holiday that was just slashed by a few days. I wasn't panicking, but I certainly wasn't happy with being stuck at the airport, away from my husband and work, without any substantial updates or information.
So whether you're taking plane, bus or boat, layovers are something you are going to suffer many times in your life if you want to travel and see the world. So let's discuss our Top Five Tips for surviving layovers!
Tip 1. Keep an extra set of clothes in your carry-on
If you're not planning on checking any bags in, you're good to go. Next!
If you are checking a bag in, make sure to keep an extra change of clothing in your carry-on, just in case you're stuck at the airport or need to be transported to a hotel without getting access to your check-in luggage. To keep your carry-on light and your packing efficient, just focus on clean underwear and a shirt made of light, thin material, that can be easily rolled up and stuffed away somewhere. Delays are more mentally tiring than physically tiring, and having a fresh set of clothing to change into can give you a bit of a boost, even if only for a second.
Tip 2. Layer, layer, layer
Airports, buses and airplanes are horrifically cold. I die every.single.time. I've learned over the years that instead of carrying a thick sweatshirt or hoodie, I should focus on thinner layers so that it takes up less room in my bag and I can adjust my layering as the temperature changes. It's not abnormal for the temperature to rise and fall in increments, and you don't want to have your only two options to be hotter than Hades or Arctic freeze. I always keep a thin cardigan and a scarf on me at all times, as well as a pair of socks. I have a gorgeous scarf that my friend got me in Saudi Arabia 10 years ago, and it's big enough to double as a pillow or a blanket, and just seems to match with everything I own. That scarf has been all over the world with me, and I will travel with it until the day it disintegrates.
Tip 3. Books are sexy
I didn't bring a book with me for this trip (because "the layover is so short, I won't have time read") and I deeply regretted it. I was smart enough to fully charge my computer and phone before I got on my first flight, but after 10 hours stuck at the airport, I eventually needed to recharge. I ate up my batteries faster than normal because I was contacting home a lot in the chaos and also trying to get some work done since I was stuck anyways, and while I was fortunate to be able to find an outlet nearby, when a flight's delayed and there's 100 passengers needing juice and only two outlets, blood will be spilled. Having a book would have helped pass the time faster and given me something other than work to distract me from the never-ending delays.
If you don't want to haul around a heavy book, a reading tablet, like the Kindle, is a great way to carry multiple books in a slim package. The battery life on those things are normally very good so they'll cover you for a long time, and their screens are designed so your eyes don't get tired! A fellow passenger also very kindly lent me his portable charger when I couldn't find an outlet, and that really helped me out as well. I think for my next trip, I'll invest in a portable charger as well so that I don't start to panic when I see my battery level falling.
Tip 4. Keep a universal adapter on you
And in the spirit of charging things, keep a universal adapter in your carry-on when you travel. You never know what kind of outlets places will have, and you don't want to be low on battery, find an outlet and find out you can't plug into it! Universal adapters are pretty inexpensive, are small, and can save you a little heartache.
Tip 5. Keep a snack on hand
Airports can be super expensive, and sometimes they don't have any food options other than beer, burgers and pretzels. To make sure you don't get so hungry that you buy all of Burger King, keep some portable snacks, like chocolate, trail mix or nuts in your bag. Even sandwiches will do! Just be kind to the people around you and avoid particularly pungent food, like Indian lamb curry. Or deviled eggs. Or garlic toast.
Bonus tip. Be kind
This is one that I had to remind myself of constantly during my two 10-hours days at the airport. It's not the staff's fault that the flight is grounded or delayed. They are in the line of fire and take everyone's anger and blame, but nobody reacts very well to getting yelled at, and taking your frustration out on them will only make them not want to help you.
And don't just be kind to the staff. Be kind to your fellow passengers. Be friendly. If someone needs help, help them. No matter how bad your day is, someone else probably has it much, much worse, and showing even a sliver of kindness may be the only bright spot of that person's day. It doesn't cost you anything to be kind, but it may mean the world to someone else.
Being stuck at the airport doesn't have to be an isolating event, or one that divides people. The people stuck on our flight actually bonded together very well, and though I wish I hadn't been stuck for so long, I am also grateful that I had the opportunity to meet some fantastic people and be in the position, for once, to assist others.
I learned a lot about myself on this very long layover, mostly learning that I'm actually capable of not stressing so much and of seeing the bigger picture, and that if something's outside of my control, then that's just the way it is. I saw people being kind to each other and taking care of each other, and it was a good reminder of humanity's ability to see beyond themselves and focus on others. It was a reminder that I was grateful to have, and I hope I don't forget those lessons learned any time soon.