How to make the most of a layover - 12 hours in Beijing.
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
We’ve all been there, seen the most ridiculously cheap flights on sky scanner and got over-excited before actually thinking about what a 12 hour layover in China actually means in terms of our sanity and impact on the length of our holiday. When I found flights to the Philippines for £320 from London during the Easter holidays, I just could not pass up the opportunity, half a day layover or not. So I set about trying to make the most of this unfortunate stopover and came across Beijing layover tours. Luckily China offer a free transit visa up to 144 hours which is amazing considering how difficult and expensive it is to get a regular visa for China. So this inconvenience suddenly turned into an opportunity to visit a new country on the way to my destination!
I got in touch with William at Beijing Layover tours straight away and he was very quick to respond, explaining that my layover would definitely allow for a trip to the Great Wall but probably not anything else, depending on the lines at immigration. This was fine with me as the Great Wall has been high on my bucket list for a while now and to have the opportunity to see it instead of sitting around in the airport, seemed just too good to be true.
Immigration was actually really fast, the transit visa desk was easy to find and I was off the plane and through the airport in around 30 minutes. My bags were going straight through to Manila so I didn’t have to worry about collecting them and I met Willy at Starbucks as arranged right on time and we got straight in the car. The journey to the Great Wall was around an hour and 15 minutes and Willy filled me in on lots of facts about Beijing and was equally as interested to find out about how things were in my home country. We even exchanged our favourite local bands and I introduced him to Arctic Monkeys which he loved, of course! (I can't say I could say the same about his choices.) When we arrived at the wall, Will went and got our tickets and we didn’t have to queue, we walked straight up to the cable car which was an extra cost but there is the option to instead walk to the top which takes around 40 minutes. As we got off it was quite foggy but Will knew the best places for views and pictures. It was snowing at the top of the wal,l but the tour company provide winter coats for you as they know a lot of people are on their way to warmer destinations which was a really nice touch.
The wall is absolutely stunning and exactly how I imagined it would be but with less crowds! The part of the wall Will took us to, Mutianyu, is not as crowded as Badaling. This meant we could really take our time and explore the different fortresses. After about an hour we headed back down to the car park and found that I still had hours before my flight, instead of dropping me back to the airport I asked Will to drop me to the forbidden city, he would have quite happily continued with me on the tour but I decided to explore alone and get a taxi back to the airport as there was so much time to spare. The car was stocked up with snacks and drinks including Red Bull which was very helpful at this point and just as we said our goodbyes, Will left me with a souvenir magnet of Beijing to remember the trip. Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City were not quite as quiet as our last stop. The opposite in fact, but still a fantastic experience to explore the palaces and gardens of the city. I stopped for some street food (risky before another long flight I know!) before jumping in a taxi and was back to PEK with plenty of time to spare before my onward flight to Manila!
Tips for airport layovers - 6 hours or more:
Check if your city offers any layover tours (sometimes these are free through the airline!) Ones I have come across are: Singapore, Istanbul, Seoul, Taipai, Tokyo, Doha and of course Beijing.
Etihad also offer free transport between Abu Dhabi and Dubai so you could even visit 2 cities on your layover.
Before booking, ask your travel agent if it would cost any extra to extend your layover, this is a nice way to break up the journey and usually doesn't cost more, it may even save you money!
Check what the visa situation is and if you are allowed to leave the airport, even if there are no layover tours, if the city centre is relatively close you may be able to get there and back yourself either using public transport, or a cab. www.rome2rio.com/ is fantastic for working this out.
If you have an overnight layover, check if your airline offer a free nights stay, many do, even for economy passengers but it is not always advertised especially if booked through a third party website.
Tips for layovers - Under 6 hours:
If you are unable to leave the airport check out the prices of airport lounges, sometimes it works out cheaper than sitting in an airport restaurant as light meals and drinks are included as well as wifi, sometimes showers, tv rooms and other amenities, depending on location.
Check if your credit card includes lounge access. Amex gold card includes 2 free lounge passes to almost any lounge per year + unlimited access to any AMEX lounge as long as there is space (platinum members have priority). Anyone can apply with no membership fees for the first year, so it may even be worth signing up for one just for this, not to mention your points can be transferred to use on flights and hotels.
See if your airport offers free or cheap showers to freshen up between flights.
Some airports offer hourly hotels or sleeping pods if you want to beat the jet lag but don’t have a long enough stop over.
Download episodes on Netflix before you leave so you don't have to rely on wifi.
Check out what is available at your airport for example Singapore has a roof top pool and cinema whereas Seoul has an ice rink and Vancouver has an aquarium! www.sleepinginairports.net/ is my absolute go-to for information before any stop over.
Packing a change of clothes, maybe some wet wipes and any thing else you need to freshen up between journeys can make a big difference.
Portable chargers are a must as the charging stations are usually busy and you may not have the right adapter for your layover country.
Bring extra layers as airports can be freezing even in the hottest of countries.
Travel pillow of course! I’ve always had the problem of loving a travel pillow but hating carrying it around on the rest of my trip! Until I found Travel Tubbies who have created super comfy memory foam travel pillows that fold up really small and take up hardly any room in my hand luggage!
If wifi is available, I always use this time to plan my next trip or research what I am going to do when I finally get to my destination.
Have you got any other tips for layovers? Please get in touch! - firstname.lastname@example.org