How I Maximize my Layover
People always ask me when I’m flying around the world if I have any time at all to see anything worth seeing or do anything worth doing on one of these super-quick-turn-and-burn courier jobs. Let me tell you, people, it isn’t as impossible as you may think.
All you need to do is have a little system in place.
Keep reading as I show you how I Maximize My Layover.
This is a simple X-step process that allows you to escape rollaboard minefields in the airport and get to at the very least, a selfie with the Eiffel Tower.
[link to IG of me somewhere cool here ]
You need 7 or more solid hours when public transit is running to have a chance.
If you have a one-and-a-half-hour layover at LAX coming in from an international destination, you’re going to struggle to get to your gate, let alone the closest In-N-Out burger. You should abandon all hope, in that case.
After a few years of doing this, I’ve come to realize that the lucky number to make any trip from the airport to the city really enjoyable is 7. 7 lucky hours. Any fewer, and you’re likely to spend more time on transit into the city than you would in the city anyway. What a waste of time.
If you’re lucky enough to have 7+ hours, then we go to step 2.
- What’s good?
In a situation like this, where you have at max one day, and maybe as few as 3-4 hours after getting into the city, you have to prioritize. I’ve got my own criteria, and you should build your own based off of your lovely personality. If you struggle to think of anything, you can use mine as a starting board. It’s served me well these many miles. The trick is to have must-haves and nice-to haves. It’s a tactic I use with my clients for digital projects at 1-2 Lab. In no particular order, here are my must-haves and nice-to-haves.
- The most stereotypical food possible. That food that I ordered before, every time I went to a restaurant serving this country’s cuisine. China – fried rice and dumplings. Mexico City – tacos. Thailand – phad thai (preferably from a cart). Italy – pasta. That’s just for the first meal, to have a comparison between the authentic version and the Americanized version. From there, I split off into the most local food possible. My second day in Shanghai involved drunken shrimp.
- The most local drink. This is dangerous… but very rewarding… most of the time. Snake wine in Vietnam paid off. Baijiu in China did not. None of the first 5 times I tried Baijiu ended well, so you should probably avoid that devil’s drink. Unless you hate humanity, in which case feel free.
- Something Instragrammable. Ok, I confess, I don’t actually use Instagram more than once a month if that, but let’s put this another way. You’re in a faraway place, and what would your parents and grandparents like to see you seeing? This is your Eiffel Tower, your Empire State Building, your Colosseum.
- Friends or Family. Say no more; saved the best for last. If I visit somewhere with friends or family, they get a meetup. It’s so hard to see friends who live overseas. Don’t have any friends there yet? You’re an international traveler, and wherever you’re getting that local drink and food is sure to be a fantastic spot to meet someone new. Get their Facebook or WeChat or whatever.
Nice to have:
- Every capital city has a fantastic museum somewhere. What are you into? When I’m in San Francisco, I beeline for the Exploratorium and call my friends and jump next to the Richter scale, and think of dumb names for the earthquake we just made. Winning name: “Hell yeah we made an earth quake!” Could use a few review sessions.
- As a traveler, no matter where you are from, it’s just good juju to learn a little about where you are. Locals will cut you some slack for being ignorant, as a foreigner, but they really appreciate it when you can join them in conversation and say something appreciative about their culture. That’s on top of the merits of just being a cultured person in general…
- If you’re reading our stuff then you’ve probably had the same thought about trying to become a digital nomad. This is an opportunity to prove to your company if you work fulltime that you can stay in touch and be productive while abroad.
When you’re only in a city for a short time, and have a list of things to see quickly, you should probably not bring a rolling suitcase or easel and canvas. Whatever you’re missing, you can buy where you are. Everywhere has everything. Maybe it won’t be your favorite brand of toothpaste, but if that’s an issue for you, you likely wouldn’t have read this far. The best to bring is the barest minimum.
- Battery pack
- Comfortable, breathable, clean clothes
- Walking shoes – look forward to 8-10km on your feet.
- Credit card
- Rainproof coat
- Wireless data
I’ve discussed this in a little more detail before with some gear recommendations, see that post here.
Do you need anything else? If you have a suggestion for an awesome product you can’t live without, please let me know. I have to say, I love upgrading my travel gear.
Then when you get there, and when you get through immigration and customs, just do it. I always find that immigration and customs take longer than I expect, except when they don’t, so being flexible is a must if you want to get to see as much as you can with quick turn and burn layover opportunities like this.
- Get out
This strategy has served me well through many years of flying around the world, and I hope that you can make use of it to, when you find yourself on any quick turn and burns throughout your travels. Just remember to leave yourself enough time to get back to the airport, grab your boarding pass, and get out.
While this framework works great, be very careful not to make the mistake of enjoying yourself too much. Missing a flight could be a very expensive way to ruin the rest of your trip. But if you decide you like this place so much, then maybe missing that flight wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
I want to give you an example of a trip where I used this framework to plan an effective itinerary. This isn’t supposed to be a complete tour guide, just to show you it’s possible. These time estimates are just that – estimates. Itwon’t be exact, but it’ll be close.
Using Wikivoyage and my tried and true criteria, I chose a few objectives to go see. The old town of Prague is quite compact, so it was very easy to get it all done in my roughly 10-hour stay.
1030: finish with customs (courier life) and I’m free to go to the ticket office and pick up a 24-hour ticket for 110 Kč (or two regular 32 Kč tickets) to get me to the city and back. Bus 119 from the airport, then line A to Malostranksa station and a walk takes about 45 mins. Easy.
1115: After climbing up the castle, I don’t bother to go inside, since the view from the outside is just so stellar. The inside is highly recommended online, but I’ll always prefer a view over a museum. You can just chill up there and take a nap (it’s a goal of mine to take a nap at every castle I can). Should be able to catch the changing of the guard, too. On this trip it was a little wintery to do that.
1ish I head back down to the Karluv Most aka Karl Bridge, the prettiest bridge ever. Good place for some of those photos for your parents, as is the cathedral at the other side. The cathedral has concerts at various times of the day.
2 or so I find myself in the main square, grab food right away from one of the street stalls plus a mulled wine to warm the bones. Om nom nom. Great spot for photos of the biggest cuckoo clock in the world (I may have made that up), gorgeous churches, a fantastic statue, and more. Just gotta dodge some annoying Segway tourists.
3ish I head north from the square to the Jewish district, first stopping by the synagogue, then visiting the Museum of Communism. It’s tiny but packed, highly recommended.
5:00 walk over to Nase Maso for some fantastic butchery, and scarf it down in the packed interior. Super packed. Worth it.
Retreading my steps, I get to the church I mentioned earlier with concerts. Well, I couldn’t miss a Vivaldi Four Seasons concert! Middle of winter, snow on the ground, it was freezing, freezing, freezing to the point of cuddling with my non-English-speaking stranger neighbor in the pew. How could the musicians possibly play? Amazing.
Following the conclusion of that at about 7:30, I was too frozen to continue, and trekked back to the subway and the airport.
Got it? 5 steps to success for a super quick trip. Anyone that can use Google can do it. If you can’t use Google, then you’re… Lost.
Keep reading here for more information about how to Escape the Suck and do things like this.