1. International airports will betray you.
I’m an obsessive planner, so I usually have my mornings of departure on lock. Apparently, there’s a guide dedicated to sharing which security lines at which airports take the longest. Such advice would’ve come in handy before I watched time tick by with hundreds of other travelers waiting for one security station in Delhi’s international terminal. We sprinted to the gate, averting a crisis that would’ve derailed our entire journey.
I know people who haven’t been so lucky. A friend of mine lost three extended layovers due to airport betrayal (in Jakarta, Mexico City, and Manila). Now, he gets to international airports five hours in advance. I’m not kidding.
2. You will never be able to stop thinking about the clock.
You’re in an amazing city, but you don’t really ‘drop in’ because you’re too busy thinking about time. You cannot appreciate the monuments, cuisine, or cultural particularities because of your looming flight. You have exactly 18, now 17-and-a-half, hours to experience the city. You feel your pulse like techno beat in your chest, your wrist, and your head. A hurried breath of fresh air on the airport curb, and you’re off to the first stop.
3. You will forget something.
You’re on your way to the first stop when you realize you forgot a crucial accessory in your bag at the airport. You’re too far along to go back. The repercussions of this lapse in attention seem insurmountable. You can’t check directions or locate yourself on a map. You’re roughing it without your phone/GPS/chap-stick.
My forte is forgetting all kinds of shit; my fickle attention span shorts out even when functioning at regular capacity. When it comes to quick decisions on a rushed timeline, I will forget or lose anything and everything. Key example happened in Germany last year: I would have successfully toured Frankfurt on a long and otherwise boring layover, but instead, I left my iPad on a cafe counter-top and my wallet in a security tray. Only one was recovered.
4. You can’t master a public transit system in a day.
You find your preferred form of public transit, and it seems an insurmountable task to locate yourself on a map sprinkled with lines, colors, letters, and symbols. ‘Screw it,’ you say, and you ask someone how to get from point A to point B. Their directions might be foolproof, but you’re lost in a matter of minutes. ‘Tick Tick Tick!’ is all you think. A moment passes where all you want is your bed.
I love a good public transit system because I can quickly move throughout a city without shelling out much cash. But mastering a foreign system is challenging even when it’s a country with English as the national language. Now try Tokyo. It takes time, focus, and consistency to familiarize yourself with a foreign system, and a layover is not the time to do it.
5. You only think about what you’re missing.
You’re in town for 10-12 more hours, and you don’t have time to see everything. That truth eats away at you. Screw all the things you’re doing, because you feel like that amazing and rewarding hidden experience is that hole-in-the-wall on the last block. You pass something else on the road that looks right up your alley, but you’re on a schedule. If you deviate, the rest of your day is in flux.
6. Mother Nature is sometimes a huge bitch.
You can’t book tickets based off of when it’s going to rain or snow or be blazing hot. You can hope your trip doesn’t coincide with the storm of the year, but if it does you’re screwed.
You arrive to see the weather is uncooperative. ‘Oh, hi (insert city here). I guess I won’t be seeing you today.’ Weather really does test your ability to adapt and be creative, but if you’re visiting the Port of Barcelona and stuck in a Starbucks to escape the rain and wind — Mother Nature: 1, You: 0.
Last time Mother Nature disagreed with my travel plans was on the layover in Dubai. We were raring to dune-bash, a combination of high-performance jeeps and racing over sand dunes, when the sandstorm of the year pummeled the desert. Wind speeds were upwards of 75 miles-an-hour with debris coursing throughout the landscape. Sitting in a jeep playing card games was not exactly how I envisioned I’d spend half the day.
7. You forget to relish in the moment.
You visit some of the world’s most cherished monuments: the Statue of Liberty, the Burj Khalifa, the Eiffel Tower, the Sagrada Familia, and you glance them over and snap a picture. You might even use a selfie-stick if you really don’t care about seeing the spectacle in person. Do you realize that you’re standing where you’re standing? Pause and consider that. It’s understandable that you won’t come to this realization because you’re on a strict timeline. Take the time to breathe. Or don’t, you can breathe on the flight back. Next stop.
It wasn’t until I was standing ‘at the top’ of the Burj Khalifa, in the bathroom, that I realized I didn’t savor a single moment on my extended layover. Everything was blurred in my mind, and I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment. In trying to be everywhere as soon as I could, it turned out I only distanced myself from the oasis itself.
8. You develop short-term memory loss.
The end of the day is near and a friend, or stranger, asks what you enjoyed most about the city, but you don’t remember a damn thing. Nothing you did actually registered and thus the day was lost on you. Maybe you took hundreds of photos or wrote everything down in a journal, but those secondary sources will only construct a memory you wish you had savored.
You trickle back to the airport, essentially a lethargic zombie version of yourself, wondering what just happened. Are you drunk? Are you sleepwalking? Will you ever give yourself less than 18 hours to see a city again?