Posted February 9, 2012 by in Adventures in Backpackistan!

How to Endure a 14-Hour Layover

The biting winter chill swirled around me as I stepped out of the plane, and I tugged my flimsy jacket close around me.

“Ni hao,” smiled the stewardess, “Welcome to Beijing.”

The 10 mg of Ambien my friend had given me in New York had worn off by now, and my grogginess was quickly being overtaken by regret. Regret over China Airlines. Regret over the two-hundred-dollar-savings that seduced me into booking this particular flight. Regret over the nightmarish, fourteen-hour layover that I was about to endure because of it.

I knew the mental hurdles of a fourteen-hour layover would be no joke. Nonetheless, I put on my best game face and readied for a war of patience, softly humming Eye of the Tiger to myself as I handed the customs official my passport. With a stamp and a huff, he waved me through, and I smiled— not knowing the horrors that awaited me.

Below is a time-coded account of my soul-crushing layover in Beijing. It highlights some useful strategies for coping with layovers, while providing a moving testament to one man’s will to survive in the face of a complete and utter mental breakdown…


6:35PM: Arrive in Beijing. Proceed through immigrations and customs.

6:44 PM: Follow the signs to the security checkpoint. Discover that all liquids are forbidden from carry-on, and that I must check my backpack if I wish to keep my precious, western toiletries.

6:46 PM: Consider smuggling my shampoo and body wash by pouring them into condoms and swallowing them.

6:47 PM: Decide against it after considering the possibility of the condoms breaking, and the ensuing week of shitting bubbles.

6:48 PM: Laugh for five minutes at the thought of pooping bubbles.

7:03 PM: Approach flight desk and announce that I’m checking a padlocked toiletry bag.

7:14 PM: Re-attempt going through security, only to be turned back again because it turns out I’m not even allowed to enter the gate area until 5 AM the next morning…

7:15 PM: Curse god, the Beijing Capitol Airport, and China as an overall concept.

7:30 PM: Consider leaving the airport, or volunteering to get bumped and exploring Beijing for a couple days. If a flight is overbooked, it’s often possible to volunteer to give up your seat until the next (or a later) flight. My first visit to Tokyo was supposed to be a three-hour layover, but after a quick word at the check-in counter, I was granted a whole day and a half to wander the city. The airline company even covered my hotel room.

7:37 PM: Remember that I had prior arrangements to be picked up in Rangoon the next day, and decide to suffer the layover.

7:40 PM: Realize it’s time to start drinking heavily. Luckily, I’ve come prepared. Adhering to T.S.A. regulations that liquid containers under three ounces are permissible for carry-on, so long as they’re secured in a ziplock bag, I made a pre-flight trip to the liquor store and stuffed a sandwich bag with vodka nips. All I need to do now is buy a refillable soft drink at McDonalds or Burger King, and voila! I’m on the fast track to sloppy land, for ten dollars or less.

7:55 PM: Find a Burger King, claim a booth, and build a nest of shame where I shall languish and booze for the next several hours.

9:20 PM: Vodkaaaaaaaa.

11:00 PM: Finish the last of my nips, check my watch, and make the devastating realization that only three hours have passed. Fall into an inconsolable, catatonic state and just stare at my empty tray for a good twenty-five minutes.

11:28 PM: Snotty, punk Burger King employee asks me to leave. Retaliate by once again cursing god, the Beijing Capitol Airport, and China as a nation.

11:29 PM: Burger King employee doesn’t care at all.

11:38: PM: Wander the airport terminal in search of traveler amenities, places of interest, or a bookshop. Often airports provide means for travelers to wile away their time. The Kansai International Airport in Japan provides free computer stations, for example, and the Seoul International Airport houses a free museum on Korean history and culture.

11:57 PM: Discover that Beijing offers no such luxuries, nor is there even a seating area outside of the gate-areas.

12:10 AM: Angrily sit on the floor in a corner.

12:12 AM: Try to connect to WiFi. Many airports provide free WiFi, affording you infinite ways to kill time. Beijing Capitol Airport is not one of them.

12:30 AM: Stare.

12:50 AM: Staring.

1:20 AM: No.

1:36 AM: Walk laps around all 84 check-in counters as my sanity slowly unravels.

2:20 AM: Decide to pass the time by counting every light bulb in Terminal C—a desperate attempt to drown out the sweet Siren’s call of suicide.

2:39 AM: Lose count at 320, weep inconsolably.

3:59 AM: Fantasize a life that doesn’t resemble the painful shithole that is my own.

4:05 AM: Use my belt to fashion a noose.

4:07 AM: Get yelled at by an airport official for either attempting to kill myself, or taking pictures in the airport, I’m not sure which, I don’t really speak Mandarin.

5:00 AM: Bitterly proceed through check-in and stumble to my gate in an angry, disoriented haze.

5:05 AM: Feel inspiration to write an article on tips to surviving long airport layovers.

5:06 AM: Immediately berate myself for being self indulgent and hypocritical, considering how poorly I’m handling the situation, and that I’m clearly no authority on such matters.

5: 10 AM: Brown out for an hour and a half, too overwhelmed to think clearly or form new memories.

6:43 AM: Notice that I’ve scrawled across my notebook in giant letters, “OLD HOBBITS DIE HARD.”

7:14 AM: Bury my face in my shaking hands, too tired and mentally fragile to continue. Struggle to silence the endless screaming in my head.

8:02 AM:Wake up on my notebook an hour later,to the sun glaring through the windows. Realize that the plane is almost ready to board and start bum-rushing the ticket agents like it’s the fall of Saigon.

8:10 AM:Finally claim my seat on the plane. Stare vacantly at the headrest in front of me. Find solace in knowing that the road to recovery could be only a few therapy sessions and a handle of whiskey away.

8:12 AM: Remember the two hundred dollars I saved, enough to cover a week and a half of travel expenses. Resolve that it was all worth it and that I’d do it again in heartbeat. Anguish and exhaustion are fleeting. Two hundred dollars is like a whole week and a half.

8:13 AM: On second thought, I’m not sure, I could just be trying to justify my mistakes, or suppressing and marginalizing my torment the way abuse victims do. “It’s okay that Father Max touched me, he has really soft hands.”

For more useful tips and tricks on the stressful, aggravating pastime of travel, click on the “Backpackology 101” tab at the top of the page, or just look elsewhere, because clearly I have no idea what I’m talking about.

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