Young man at airport waiting lounge using digital tablet

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Flight layovers are typically viewed as an inconvenience—an undesirable extra couple of hours being stuck somewhere random that makes your overall travel time longer than it needs to be. When you look at it this way, the only reason to opt for a layover verses a direct flight is if it’s more affordable.

But it’s time to start viewing layovers as what they really are: two trips for the price of one. It’s all about maximizing your time. A few extra hours at a locale can be used to vet a new destination to see if it’s a place worth returning to, or the perfect opportunity to hit your favorite local spots before continuing on.

Make the most of your time and money: Here are a few key things to keep in mind when planning your next trip.

5 Hours to Play

In most cases, layovers are two to three hours, which gives you just enough time to deplane, use the restroom, grab a bite in the airport, and head to the gate for your second flight. So it’s a general rule of thumb to remain in the airport if your wait isn’t at least five hours long. With five to ten hours, you can leave the airport and decide if it’s best to see a few sites, eat at a local restaurant for an authentic meal, engage with locals, or just post up and people watch until it’s time to head back to the airport for your second flight.

One Night Only (Or Two)

The ideal amount of time for a layover is really ten to 48 hours. With an extra day on your hands, the anxiety of making it back for the second leg of your flight is less of a factor and you really get to enjoy the city. Even if you’re not staying overnight, consider booking a hotel room near the airport or the sites you want to see, so that you can freshen up and have a “home base” in case you want to nap, shower, or just chill in a controlled environment.

Throw It in the Bag

Pack all of your essentials in your carry-on. No matter how long the layover, most airlines keep your luggage until you reach your final destination, so make sure you have underwear, a change of clothes, electronics and chargers, and hygiene products with you.

Map Things Out

Airports can be more than an hour and a half away from the actual cities they serve, so when calculating your time on the ground to explore a city be sure to factor in the time you’ll need to travel to and from the airport. With an airport in the cut, a five-hour layover can mean you only have one hour to explore a city, which might not be worth it to you. Also do a little research on how crowded the airport typically is. Some are notorious for backed-up lines, which is something else to consider when deciding where to go and when to head back.

The Roll Out

How will you leave the airport? What about getting back there? Understand the modes of transportation in the region and plan ahead to save time. At some destinations it may be worth it to hire a driver for the length of your stay—  others may require hailing a taxi on the street, using Uber, or hopping on a train or bus. Having a clear understanding of how to get around and how much it will cost ensures that you won’t end up stranded.

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