I had an epiphany a few years back- airport stopovers are a pain in the arse. It’s not a new theory nor is it a particularly deep thinking problem but it’s taken me some time to come to terms with. It’s not so much the short stop that drives me nuts, it’s the long, half day or overnight job that really gets me charged. You know the one- you land in the evening and your connecting flight doesn’t leave until 7 a.m. the next morning so you are left wandering aimlessly over the meticulously buffed floors of the airport for the night; the kind of arrangement that makes you realise how you got those flights so damn cheap in the first place.
This all came to a head as I lay on the floor of the Singapore airport.
We had landed late and our connecting flight didn’t leave until the following morning. I won’t try and pretend it was all terrible; the flights were cheap and the Singapore Airport is probably one of the best airports in the world in which to be stuck for an extended period of time. It is basically a shopping centre. There is a hotel at each of the three terminals and other forms of entertainment littered around. It sounds like it should be an easy wait, no matter how long the duration.
But it isn’t.
The place lights up like a stage on Broadway, light searing through your eyeballs like walking out of a nightclub as the sun comes up. It made trying to find a dark corner about as easy as correctly guessing who’s going to needlessly be killed off next in Game of Thrones- you’ve got a rough idea but in reality, you’re only guessing. While they had banana lounge type arrangements available for people to comfortably lie down and have a quick kip, the problem was that they seemed to be hidden in remote corners of the terminal. The type of corners that you need a detailed, orientated map to find only to discover all the lounges are taken. With the Transit hotels booked out (not to mention really, f**king expensive), we had no option but to find somewhere, anywhere, to lie down for a few hours. So, while I tried to sleep on two artistic looking chairs bolted into the floor, resembling oversized teacups rather than furniture (and about as comfortable), a jacket draped over my head to simulate darkness and wearing my back pack so it wouldn’t get stolen as I ‘slept’, I thought there had to be a better way.
I particularly recall using one of the airport computers with free internet (and the connection speed of an early nineties dial up modem), looking over the sea of bodies trying to sleep anyway they could. It was about four in the morning and I was checking Facebook for about the 37th time that night. I thought about all the ways I had tried to entertain myself in the past to pass the time. I’d played lawn bowls with rolled up socks in Christchurch. I played approximately 163 hands of the card game Rummy in Denang. I’ve read books I didn’t like, ate food I couldn’t stomach and slept in positions that have required severe chiropractic manipulations when I have returned home. Enough was enough.
No matter how you try and sugar coat it, airports are about as stimulating as a voluntary lobotomy and only half as comfortable. I was arriving at my destinations tired, dirty and about as sociable as a bartender at closing time. There is more energy at a retirement village than an airport terminal.
Ever since then, I have tried a different approach. If the stopover was short, a few hours maximum, I would continue on to my destination, no problems incurred, remaining my usual, smiling self. However, if the stop was going to be longer, I made the decision to stay in that particular city and explore. I decided that rather than being a grotty looking tourist, occupying an airport terminal with a permanent scowl on my face and bags under my eyes, I would venture into the city I was stopped in for a few days.
The plan was twofold; I get to see a new place and I get to sleep in a bed instead of a brightly lit, concrete, airport floor. There are also no public service announcements every twenty minutes telling me not to leave my bags unattended- an added bonus. There hasn’t been an airport sleep that hasn’t been ruined by loud airport announcements. It’s like an aviation requirement.
I’ve tried to deem it a holiday from a holiday. How often have you come home from an overseas trip more exhausted than when you left? It seemed like I was doing myself a favour; a reward for my body and my mind.
The beauty of a 72 hour stopovers is that, quite often, they won’t cost you any extra on your plane ticket, provided you fly onto your final destination with the same airline or go via their hub airport. Each airline has its own hub- a home base that they will always stop at. For example, flying to Nepal with Malaysian Airlines, we stopped over in Kuala Lumpur. We specifically chose to fly Malaysian Airlines for that reason; so we could stay for a few days of relaxation on our way home. A similar scheme was hatched for a trip to Vietnam. We flew with Thai Airways, who are based out of Bangkok, so we had a week long stopover in Thailand on our way through. It’s a viable option.
Nobody likes airports and everybody hates waiting. It’s as certain as the sun rising in the morning and the traffic lights being red when you are running late. So why not take the chance to escape them for a few days on route to your final destination? If it means I’m rested, comfortable and my demeanour will be that of a normal human instead of a glassy eyed zombie, then it’s a win in my book. I know that it means a delay in making it to where you want to be but stuff it- you’re on holiday.
It can’t hurt, can it?
Wayward Tip: Sometimes it might add some dollars onto the price of your ticket if you decide to visit your stopover destination but not always- talk to your travel agent about that. It’s a nice break from travel, so don’t write it off as an option.