How to Make the Most Out of a Layover

When traveling, sometimes a layover is unavoidable. When looking at plane tickets, flights with a layover are often cheaper, but waiting in the airport for hours can often be boring and uncomfortable.

When purchasing tickets to Alaska, every flight my boyfriend and I looked at had a layover in Seattle. With both of us having never been to Seattle, we decided to make the most out of our layover. Just the two of us taking on a new city was exciting but we made sure to prepare for it; we planned out what we wanted to do there with the time we had in order to make it all happen.

We knew we wouldn’t have any time to see the city at all if our layover was only a few hours long so we decided to book our plane tickets with a 20 hour layover. We landed in Seattle at 9:45 a.m. and we didn’t leave for Fairbanks until 5:45 a.m. the next morning. With our layover being so long, it was actually cheaper and we had plenty of time to explore Seattle.

Before doing a 20 hour layover there's a few things that are good to know:

  • Checked bags will NOT carry over. You will have to get them off of the baggage claim and recheck them. We were told we could recheck them immediately but that was not true. You can only check a bag 4 hours before the flight. At least we were able to get our bag check fees waived because of this mistake.

  • The airport CAN store your bags in the airport luggage storage area. There will be a small fee but it is not much. However, it is good to know that they close at midnight and reopen at 6 a.m. so if your flight is before 6 a.m. you will need to pick it back up at midnight the latest.

  • Bring a few items to freshen up in the airport bathroom. I brought a toothbrush and toothpaste, dry shampoo (aerosol cans ARE allowed as long as it’s under 3 oz), face wash, and makeup remover.

Once your plane lands and you store your bags, the vacation before your vacation begins. Here is everything we were able to do in Seattle in just one day without even renting a car (public transportation and walking only).

Ride the Sound Transit: This train was our main form of transportation around the city. The trains have large widows and have air conditioning, and the best part is that there's a station right in the parking garage of the airport. This cheap and easy transportation was what allowed us to get where we needed and the trains arrive every few minutes so there was no wait.

Grab a coffee: Seattle is known for their coffee, so trying it was a must. We went to Moore Coffee Shop and got lattes. This coffee spot creates a design in their coffee lattes (sadly not the chai ones) and we ended up getting a cat design in one of ours (my favorite animal).

Visit the Space Needle: The space needle is the landmark of Seattle. This landmark is visible from the street and it doesn’t cost anything just to walk to it and admire it from below.

Go inside the Space Needle: For a small ticket price, you can go inside the Space Needle and go all the way to the top. From up top, the view is incredible. Being able to see the entirety of Seattle from the Space Needle just allowed us to see what parts of the city we wanted to go to next.

Walk around and shop in Pikes Market: This public market was HUGE! Everyone talks about the market but it exceeded my expectations 100%. It is amazing. Inside is fresh produce and fish and fresh cut flowers. Local artists have booths and sell not only art, but handmade clothing and jewelry. On top of all that there's restaurants and small food stations, musicians outside, and a few gift shops. The front of the market was city view and the back of it was right on the water.

Eat the best macaroni and cheese of your life: Right across from Pikes Market is Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. This place is the home of the World’s Greatest mac and cheese and it was the best I have ever eaten in my life. They make all of their cheese right in the store and you can actually watch it happen behind a glass door. After trying their cheese, I will never go to Seattle without eating there.

Drink at the 1st Starbucks: Being able to say I had a chai latte at the first Starbucks in America was the sole reason I went. It is a cliche thing to do, but I couldn’t go to Seattle and NOT go there. While it looks like a regular Starbucks inside and out, they did offer some cups and mugs that were exclusive to that location. Of course I had to get one.

Participate in the Gum Wall: Walls made of stuck gum was something I thought was only in Europe. As it turns out Seattle has one as well! It was so cool to look at and absolutely disgusting, but I left my mark and participated in the wall.

Take a ride on Seattle’s Great Wheel: Right behind Pikes Market on the water was a massive ferris wheel. Our timing was spectacular, and we were able to watch the sunset on the water from the ferris wheel. What was cool about this wheel is that the gondolas were sealed in and were temperature controlled and played music. They also didn’t pack a ton of people into each one, it was just the two of us.

Visit Chinatown-International District: We concluded our layover vacation by exploring chinatown. When we were in this area of town it felt like we left Seattle and were exploring an entirely new city. This part of Seattle was filled with tons of restaurants and shops to explore. Although we were stuffed from all that we ate earlier, the food smelled delicious and the restaurants were packed, even late at night.

Experiencing a layover this way has changed the way I plan vacations. That one day in Seattle was one of the best days of my life and it was only a layover, my real vacation trip hadn't even started yet! Just looking back at all that I was able to accomplish in one day has definitely been a motivator to plan a layover like this one again. After we were settled back into the airport, Seattle was all we could talk about. When I looked at my watch, we had walked nearly 10 miles in just a few hours and I wasn’t even exhausted because of all the fun I had. We made the most out of a (normally boring) layover.