20+ Ways To Spend Time During An Overnight Layover: Things To Do During A Layover

For whatever reason, you’re stuck in an layover. Maybe it’s how your flights are scheduled, or you’re just those unlucky few whose flights got delayed until the next morning or miss your flight entirely.

You get dreadful thinking about all those hours with nothing to do. All the eagerness to either explore your destination or go home and unpack is sucked out of the room the moment you land.

What if we tell you there’s not just one but 20+ ways to keep your dopamine level up during those long plain hours? Well, let’s scroll down to find out how to realistically make the most out of your overnight layover.

Overnight Layover - CABINZERO

Fun ways to brighten up your long, long layover.

What To Do During A Layover: Gearing Up

Before getting to things to do during a layover, there are some preparations you need to do first for a great time at the airport:

  • Check if you can leave the airport. For instance, Qantas Hamad International Airport requires your layover to be at least 5 hours long to be eligible for a 96-hour Qatar Transit Visa.
  • Generally, even if you can, you should only leave the airport when your layover is 3 hours or more. Even 3 hours is cutting it close, especially with huge terminals like Dallas/Fort Wort International Airport (DFW).
  • Research where you can rest and chill first. Some top-of-the-world airports like Singapore Changi (SIN) or Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) have excellent facilities open 24/7. Other airports may have some sections closed at night.
  • See if your baggage goes to the final destination, or you’ll need to pick it up and re-check it (that’s why we love to travel with a carry-on only).
  • Always, we repeat, always set an alarm and pay attention to the monitors for a gate change or the latest notification.
  • Ensure you have a great day pack to store all the essentials: travel documents, toiletries, medications, money/credit card, chargers, and a set of fresh clothes.

What To Do In Overnight Layover When You Can’t Leave The Airport (Or Don’t Want To)

You don’t have the necessary visa or documents to enter the country, so you have to spend the night inside the airport. Or, some airports are in secluded areas with little to no local attractions around them. You have no choice but to linger inside. Don’t worry; there are still plenty of things to do even when you can’t (or don’t want to) leave.

1. Book A Comfy Lounge 

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Book lounges and amenities in advance to enjoy a comfy layover. Photo by Yakobchuk Olena - stock.adobe.com

An airport lounge offers passengers a wide range of amenities and services, such as seating, food and beverages, and reading materials. It’s one of the best things you can do during a layover.

Some large airports have ready-for-use services that don’t require lounge access, but plenty of them do. In that case, check if booking a lounge is needed to maximise your travel experience. 

How Do I Access The Aiport Lounge? There are several ways to get access to the airport lounge:

  • Purchase With Ticket/Airline Membership
  • Some airlines offer lounge access as a part of their premium passenger services. Some are eligible for separate purchases if they are operated by an independent company. 

  • Credit Card Reward
  • Some travel credit cards offer lounge access when you sign up, redeem points, or make a certain purchase. Depending on your spending and your card’s terms and conditions, lounge benefits vary. 

  • Buy A Pass
  • There are apps that let you access airport lounges for a fee or through their membership programs. You can buy a day pass or a membership. Here are some app suggestions:

    • LoungeBuddy: it’s one of the most well-known apps for lounge access. Enter your flight details, and available lounge options will pop up on the screen for you to choose. It works on a pay-per-use basis.
    • ProrityPass: works similarly to LoungeBuddy, but you need to join their membership program to purchase your lounge services.

    2. Catch Up With Work

    If you are a digital nomad, a layover is a perfect time to tackle the tasks you have been postponing all day. Find a quiet and comfy corner and work away. If the Wi-Fi is lacking, a local SIM with data may help. You can consider booking a lounge for extra comfort and a better Internet. 

    3. Sleep The Hours Away

    It’s approaching midnight. You run out of things to do, and you’re tired. Find a quiet, comfy spot and catch some Zs. Make sure you do the following before drifting off:

    • Make sure your bags are zipped and secured. If you’re travelling with a backpack, sleep with your arms hugging it; use it as a pillow; or extend the straps and put your body through the hole.
    • If you don’t have a travel pillow on hand, stuff a packing cube or ziplock bag with a towel. Wear your jacket, so you don’t get cold.
    • Put your phone and other valuable belongings in a small bag, such as a bum bag, and keep it under your shirt.
    • Set your alarm (important)
    • Wear noise-cancelling earphones, wear earplugs or use a sleep mask (optional)

    How Do I Keep My Wallet Safe While Travelling In An Overnight Layover?

    A bum bag is your best friend. Keep all your priced belongings in a bum bag that can easily be worn underneath your jacket or shirt. This way, while you’re sleeping in the airport, you can still have quick access to the pockets, keep your stuff secured, and conceal your bag from the public eye. 

    CabinZero’s bum bag lineup is the perfect choice. It’s lightweight, compact and versatile. You can use it as a stylish and functional accessory or as a small packing compartment when it’s inside your backpack. 

    overnight layover - cabinzero

    Keep things safe and secure with a good bum bag.

    Another trick is to carry a dummy wallet. Fill it with expired cards and a small amount of money. In the event of an emergency, you can sacrifice the wallet while keeping your genuine one safe. However, it’s still not advisable to bring a huge amount of cash. Opt for an international credit card instead.

    4. Watch Movies Or Play Games

    With the long hours ahead, what’s better to entertain yourself than watching a movie or playing a game or two on your phone/tablet? Some big airports, such as Hong Kong International Airport and Changi Airport, even have a built-in movie theatre. 

    5. Read

    Curling up on a bench with a good book is a tranquil thing to do on an overnight layover. Most major high-traffic airports typically have at least one bookshop or newsstand where you can find the latest magazines.

    6. Journal or Plan Your Next Itinerary

    Take this downtime to either write about your day and feels or research information to craft your next travel plan. While you’re at it, consider making a checklist of travel belongings to make sure things are still where they should be. 

    7. Take Another Look At Your Packing

    It’s a good time to go over receipts, tickets, wrappers, or any items from your previous trip that you do not need anymore and throw them away. This way, you can start afresh for your next flight and avoid mixing up old and new stuff.

    8. Get Active

    Some airports have gym facilities where you can squeeze in a good workout session. If they don’t, you can find a quiet corner and do some yoga, simple cardio movements, or get some stretches. Afraid of being perceived while working out? Simply take a walk around the airport. 

    9. People-watching

    Watching fellow travellers going about their business is a good way to kill boredom during an overnight layover. You can trot down a few things you like about each of them or sketch their figure. Consider it a good mental exercise to keep your dopamine level up. 

    10. Shop 'til You Drop (or Not)

    Take advantage of duty-free stores at the airport to shop for a better price. You may find great deals on electronics, clothes, and souvenirs. Also, beware of the duty-free limits for the country you’re travelling to or from. Exceeding this duty-free allowance means you have to pay additional taxes.

    Things To Do In A Layover Outside The Airport

    Layovers are sometimes a blessing in disguise. It’s a perfect opportunity to explore the city you’re in. It can give you extra time to sprinkle a bit of flavour onto your original itinerary.

    11. Explore The City

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    A layover is a great opportunity to explore the new city.

    If the airport is located in the bustling part of the city, you can visit some local attractions on foot. Take a stroll down the local streets and enjoy the sights and sounds of the new place. Maybe they can spark something within you and give you inspiration for your next dream vacation.

    If the airport is tucked away from the city, consider taking a taxi or using other public transport. Big airports, such as Changi, have MRT line that runs through some terminals.

    CabinZero tips: Exchanging the local currency at the airport can be a bit of a hassle. Do it at home and/or use credit cards (and always choose the “no conversion” option).

    12. Indulge In Delicious Local Delights

    A layover is the perfect time to treat yourself to local dishes such as Banh Mi or Pad Thai. Reserve a seat at a local restaurant or try the best bites from different stores. Remember to be aware of your tolerance. You don’t want an upset tummy before your flight.

    13. Visit A Museum

    Some of the best ways to learn about the city is to visit a local museum or a historical site/exhibition. Some museums are free to visit, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is only 25 minutes away from Heathrow Airport. Spend the hours enjoying spectacular arts or impressive history, and you’ll start to appreciate the overnight layover you’re stuck in.

    14. Attend A Local Event

    During a layover, you can attend a local event like a food festival, farmers market or concert. Some places even have vibrant flea markets where you can shop for souvenirs.

    15. Cafe-hopping In The City

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    Local coffee shops make perfect overnight layover spots. Photo Credit: Clarisse Tavora

    We’re not talking about big global coffee chains you can get anywhere. There are many aesthetic and cosy local cafes in which to relax. They are often filled with local charms and unique touches, which can be a very refreshing experience. An example is the cafe apartment in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, which is only 25-30 minutes away from Tan Son Nhat International Airport. 

    16. Experience The Night Life

    Some cities have colourful nightlife scenes. You can check out the local pubs or clubs for live music or dancing. Don’t forget to manage your time and secure your personal belongings.

    17. Go For A Run Or Walk In The Park

    After a long flight, you can refresh your mind and body with a run or walk in the local park. The green bushes and cool shade are a good change of scenery. On your way, you may come across hidden gems of the city, such as a pond, an arts and crafts store, a historical monument, or a bookshop.

    18. Relax At A Spa

    Since we’re on the same note of unwinding after a long flight, why not book yourself a trip to the local spa? You can spend hours in a hair wash and scalp massage session or get a full-body one. Some destinations have their traditional massage techniques you can try. 

    H3. 19. Clean Your Clothes At The Laundry

    Travelling around with a backpack full of dirty clothes, you didn’t have the time to clean at your previous destination? Take advantage of these free hours to wash and dry them at a local laundromat. 

    H3. 20. Take A Guided Tour

    A layover might not leave you enough time to plan and execute your short exploration, but a guided tour with a local expert can. Join a guided city tour to see some of its best highlights. You might find yourself asking, “I really wish I had more time here.”

    H3. 21. Meet Up With Friends Or Family

    If you happen to have friends or family living in the area, this is a good time to hang out. If you don’t, it’s fine, too. You can still befriend locals or other travellers who are on the same layover.

    22. Rest At A Local Hotel

    if your layover is long (12+ hours), book an overnight stay at a nearby hotel to wash, sleep, and organise your backpack. For around $100-200, you will get a better sleep bed, a room to yourself, and a bathroom to freshen up. Sleeping in an airport for 12 hours may impact your upcoming trip experience.

    overnight layover - cabinzero

    There are loads of ways to have fun with a long layover.


    1. Is A 3-Hour Layover Enough Time To Leave The Airport?

    In most cases, a 3-hour layover is considered quite risky for leaving the airport, more so if you arrive at night when it’s hard to catch or train, bus, or taxi.

    • It takes about 30 minutes or more to get off the plane and to the terminals.
    • Getting through immigration and customs may take another 15-30 minutes (depending on the queue)
    • 5-10 minutes of watching the monitor to find your gate
    • Add another half an hour to find a means of transportation to the city centre
    • Not to mention, you’re probably tired or jetlagged after a long flight
    • And there’s the way back.

    That said, exploring the world outside the terminals with a 3-hour layover might be possible if you’re experienced, have access to expedited screening, and are familiar with the airport’s layout (you may have to sacrifice bathroom or snack breaks, though).

    2. Do Airlines Provide Hotel For Long Layovers?

    Airlines do provide free accommodation during long layovers (you can check it here). But don’t count on it, as most of the time, they only do this when a long layover is a result of flight cancellations or unforeseen circumstances, or you meet their requirements (e.g. premium economy ticket and above, layover over a set of hours, etc.).

    In most cases, they don’t provide but rather help “arrange” your stay. You still have to pay for accommodation, transportation, and meals from your pocket. But it never hurts to ask; maybe you will get a meal voucher or hotel partner discount.

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    A hotel stay turn a bad overnight layoverinto a great one. IG: @thegirlwiththemujihat

    3. Is It Safe To Explore The City During An Overnight Layover?

    Exploring a city during a layover is generally safe as long as you don’t venture where you’re not supposed to. The rule of thumb is to research and use common sense when travelling. A safe country like Iceland requires different levels of caution compared to somewhere like Cancun, India, or other high-risk countries.

    This means you shouldn’t go where the locals tell you not to and wander for too long into the night. Sticking to a touristy area is your safest bet. Consider carrying a map, a GPS device, or a GPS tracker for your belongings and telling a trusted friend or family your whereabouts. 

    Keep visit cards or addresses of places in case you need to go somewhere, and there’s a language barrier. Make sure you know the emergency number of the area before exploring. 

    4. How Much Money Is Needed For An Overnight Layover?

    Depending on which activities you plan on doing. Most airports don’t charge you if you’re just going to be in the waiting area doing personal things, such as reading, working or sleeping.

    Our advice is to always pay for airport lounge access (~$50) or a hotel stay (~$120-200). And set aside around $10-30 for buying magazines, shopping, snacks, etc. Make sure you don’t go overboard with your spending if you still have another adventure to be had the next day.

    If you want to venture outside the airport and explore the new city, you need to bring sufficient cash or the appropriate kind of credit card for: transportation costs to and from the airport, food and drinks, attractions, and shopping.

    Ready To Fill Your Layover With Adventures?

    We hope you can survive your layover as easily as a breeze with our list of 20+ realistic things to do. Don’t worry about the long hours too much. Your well-travelled nature will find a way to make an adventure out of it, anyway. If you find this article useful, don’t forget to leave us a comment or reach out to us via social media.

    Nguyen Tran Gia Khanh

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