Layovers can sometimes be unavoidable, especially when you’re flying on a budget. You often need to pay more when flying direct. So instead of splitting your hair in resentment, why not just enjoy your stay. Airports may often have a western vibe, but if you look close enough, they often provide a glimpse of the country’s culture through architecture.
To maximize your layover or to avoid getting lost, it’s always a good practice to do a little research about the airport you’ll be having your stop before your flight. Visit the airport’s website and look for the airport map. It’s almost always available. Save a screenshot in your smartphone, better if you can print it out. That way it will be easier to locate the wash rooms, transfer desks, restaurants, and more. On the other hand, having a map at hand does not give a hundred percent guarantee that you’ll be able to physically locate the establishment immediately (trust me you won’t) but it will save a lot of your time definitely. Here are a few things you could do to keep yourselves entertained on a six-hour layover.
Taste the country’s culture, try a local dish.
Airports cafeterias most often cater to western travelers, but if you look enough, you’ll find a restaurant offering local dishes and delicacies. One of the reasons Kuala Lumpur International Airport ranks number one in my list of airports to have long layovers in is the presence of Old Malaya Kopitiam. I didn’t need to go past the immigration to enjoy a hot bowl of sumptuous Nyonya laksa. Try it the next time you stop over KLIA, it's located near gates C-11 to C-17. Just above the KLIA Boardwalk and airport transfer train station.
In Gulf airports, however, I don’t look for local airport cuisines. I live in the desert, for crying out loud. What I look for instead are the alcohol bars because, guess what, alcohol is prohibited where I came from. I’m sure you get what I mean.
Bonus tip: Most airlines usually provide meal vouchers when you have more than five hours layover. The voucher may only get you a sandwich at a deli shop or a regular fast-food meal set, but hey! A free meal is a free meal.
Stalk the local authors, hoard for rare books
Like food, local authors lurk at the airport book stores. Homegrown authors usually use their local settings when writing. They provide a general vibe of their home and their people. Most travelers who are also bibliophiles, people who love books, would often read a book bu authors from the place they’re going to. Visiting Turkey? Try “The Architect’s Apprentice” or “The Bastard of Istanbul” by Elif Shafak. Heading to Tokyo, Hokkaido, or Osaka? Read “Dance, Dance, Dance” or “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami. Prague? Dig into Franz Kafka.
If there is one thing about best-selling authors and tellers, that is the sell best. That translates to lower success rates in finding a copy. I once lost a copy of “The Windup Bird Chronicles” by Haruki Murakami and, for years, I could not find another copy either in the Philippines or in Saudi Arabia. That very elusive book just happened to materialize at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, so I didn’t pass a chance to have it. It may not be a title by a Malaysian author but I’ve been looking hard for it and I found it.
If you’re not into books, shop for the latest gadgets, but leave the perfumes and liquors alone. Some airports would not allow you to board with bottles of liquids even if you bought it from them. (I’m talking about you Brunei International Airport!).
Shop for souvenirs, they’re cheaper at the airports
There are two easily accessible locations where you can buy your souvenirs for lower prices: supermarkets and airports. The thing about tourist spots is that they cater for tourist. And in the books of merchants, tourists have got to have a lot of money (which is no longer the absolute truth nowadays). You don’t buy your souvenirs at tourist spots; they’re one of the tourist traps. Whenever I would travel, I look for souvenirs that would match the size of my 1/12 scale action figures. When I was in Dubai Mall, the one next to Burj Kalifa, I was eyeing a miniature donkey at one of the souvenir shops, but it’s too pricey, 150 Dirhams. Good thing I did not buy it as I found the very same thing at the Dubai International Airport for just 75EAD. 50% discount for not giving in to my impulse.
And bring your tiny MP3 players
Sometimes, you just wanted to shut the world. Smartphones are good, but their batteries usually don’t last that long. What if you forgot your charger, or the plugs won’t fit, or every socket just won’t work? I usually carry with me an iPod shuffle, that tiny square clip-on player until my kids discovered music and my tiny player is gone.
Here’s a confession. My kind of airport entertainment involves sitting in a comfortable chair with long foot rest while watching people fight over two-prong electrical sockets. But that’s just me, and we may have different ways of seeing things. Here’s a little secret: airports are the tiniest melting-pot of the world’s population. If you’re a writer or simply a culture buff, airports can be a huge source of information.
About The Author
Noel Cabacungan was born and raised in the Philippines but is currently working in Saudi Arabia. He suspects the universe often conspires to put him in the unfriendliest of places and believes assimilation is the only way to survive. This belief made him capable of seeing the beauty beyond the most dreary locations. His favorite form of entertainment involves observing people do crazy things in the most mundane situations. Read more about his exploits on his blog, Ten Thousand Strangers, or follow his stormtrooper alter-ego on Instagram @troopertravelsph