We've all been there: Stuck at the airport on a long delay or overnight layover, bored out of our minds and tempted to kill time by just shopping our way through Terminal 2. But your airport layover doesn't have to be a shopping-spree budget-buster. And it doesn't have to mean camping out in front of the airport lounge and stealing the free Wi-Fi, either. (Props for trying, though.)
Here are a few cheap ways to entertain yourself at the airport—one each for solo travelers, couples, and families.
For the Solo Traveler: Get Zen
Yoga and meditation rooms are popping up in airports around the country—and most of them are free. If you're a solo traveler looking to while away a few hours during a layover, why not get in a little relaxation, realign your chakras, and stretch out travel-weary arms and legs all at the same time?
San Francisco pioneered the yoga room with a small studio in Terminal 2. Set your luggage aside and practice your asanas in the 150-square-foot studio that is a redesigned storage room.
Vermont's Burlington International Airport also offers a space to stretch. The in-terminal yoga room was built completely with donations from the community. Local studio Evolution Yoga even provided yoga props, printed instructions, and added a guestbook. After yoga, you can check out the Green Rooftop Garden.
Another airport with a yoga studio is Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. There's no need to pack your mat, either. The studio is fully equipped and totally free. If yoga isn't really your speed, but you still want to spend some time working your muscles, try out DFW's walking path. It's endorsed by the American Heart Association and approximately seven-tenths of a mile long.
Escape the hustle and bustle of air travel in Raleigh-Durham International Airport's meditation room, a quiet escape ideal for reflection, mindfulness, and prayer. The room includes chairs, prayer mats, and a podium.
If you're at an airport without a yoga studio, you can always find a quiet space to get in a few sun salutations and watch the planes take off and land (as long as you don't mind some funny looks and a few blatant stares).
For Couples: Get Out and About
You're nimble and quick and not tethered by small children or luggage. If you have a long layover and don't want to spend your time—or your money—eating and drinking unhealthy airport food at airport restaurants, jump on the nearest and fastest form of public transportation to explore the city you're in. Larger cities are always a safer bet, with robust transportation options and a variety of sights to see, but small towns can be surprisingly great, too.
In London, for example, museums are free, so visitors can hop on the Underground or the Heathrow Express—both of which connect directly to Heathrow Airport—and head into the heart of the city. You can easily spend an afternoon checking out Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, or The National Gallery, or splurge on a ride on a hop-on, hop-off bus before heading back and catching an evening flight.
Another example: Los Angeles. LAX is not far from the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, or even Malibu, all a short drive away. Hail a taxi, grab an Uber, or catch a Lyft and you'll find yourself strolling the boardwalk, enjoying the Venice people-watching or riding a roller coaster on the Santa Monica Pier—just make sure you allow plenty of time to get back to the airport. Los Angeles is infamous for its traffic.
For Family Travelers: Keep it Easy
When it comes to traveling with kids, the logistics of a layover can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be. Since it takes longer to wrangle kids onto public transportation, families with children and tweens should stay close to the airport. Plus, you'll inevitably be carrying lots of gear, and the cost of getting back and forth to the city increases with the size of your group.
On shorter layovers, look for airport play places, many of which are free. Vancouver is an excellent example of this with a giant playground right smack in the middle of the international terminal.
On longer layovers, look for a day pass at an airport hotel. They are often not terribly expensive and can be great if the hotel has a pool (just don't forget to pack a swimsuit). Finding a nearby airport hotel also makes things easy for families who have to stay overnight or even just late into the night to catch a flight.
Related: World's Best Airport Hotels
Another great option for an inexpensive family-friendly layover is a visit to a nearby museum. Some airports, such as Chicago and San Francisco, even have museums attached. The San Francisco Airport Museum focuses on air transport and offers educational programs that are free to the public. Chicago has the Kids on the Fly Children's Museum (a museum and a play place all rolled into one), which can be a total lifesaver when flying with a little one.
No matter when you're traveling, it's always a good idea to visit the airport's website to see what's available. You never know what you may find, and offerings may vary depending on the time of year. In Munich, for example, there's a traditional Christmas market right on site if you happen to be passing through during the Christmas season—proving that a long layover may even turn into a highlight of your trip.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 8 Cheap Ways To Kill Time During a Layover
- 10 Great Tours You Can Take on a Layover
- The Best Way to Store Your Luggage on a Layover