Vacationing in Airports: 5 Tips to Make Travel More Tolerable

September 28, 2014

Julia Smith

Julia Smith, CEM, is senior vice president, national sales at GES (, where she has been collaborating with exhibition clients for more than 23 years.

I vacation in airports. Well, not really, but after more than three decades of business travel, I have surrendered and learned how to make the best of the hours I spend in airports. Here are some of my tips for surviving the time spent “on the inside,” which can make delays, long connections and other layovers almost bearable.

1) Get to know your surroundings- Don’t just head to the gate and park yourself… Spend some time walking around and looking at the “you are here” units to see what the airport offers. Airport designers have gotten smart in the last few years, adding amenities to help you spend your time (and money) after you pass through security. Restaurants are being upgraded to include outlets offering local fare and even menus fashioned by celebrity chefs. My current pick is Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless in terminals one and three at ORD, followed by a take home snack of some irresistible Garrett popcorn (Chicago Mix!), available in the same terminals.

You can visit a mini spa for a shoulder massage or manicure, or do some last minute shopping. And airports are one of the last places you can find bookstores… Even if you are just browsing new titles to see what to download electronically. One of my favorite airports to wander is DFW – since the Skylink was added, it is easy to move between terminals (visit the XpressSpa in Terminal D). Of course, wandering around requires that you:

2) Travel in the right clothes, and with the right gear- Remember the precision with which George Clooney traveled in the movie “Up in the Air”? Purchase bags that are easy to roll and be reasonable about what you are dragging around. I’m a huge fan of Briggs & Riley luggage—pricey, but they last forever, and have great features like small outside pockets for umbrellas. And while I’m not advocating for business travel in T-shirts and sweats, I’m also not a fan of heels and tight fitting clothes when on the road. Layers will help you accommodate swings in temperature, and I always carry a pashmina or wrap that can be tucked into my carry on. Another key to tolerating the time you spend in airports is…

3) Be prepared- Like a good Scout, you need to have the tools to survive. In addition to the obvious (phone, electronics, ID, cash and credit cards), remember to bring your phone charger (or a multipurpose portable charger), ear buds and contact solution, as well as any medication you take on a regular basis, so you don’t have to panic or pay premium airport prices for replacements if you hit a travel snag. A small package of disinfecting wipes is great for wiping down all those icky airport surfaces.

4) When in Rome- Airports now offer many regional specialties in their restaurants and shopping. Be adventurous! Try a MoonPie in BNA; a bowl of jambalaya in MSY; or a salmon taco at SEA. I bought great Western jewelry during my last trip through IAH, and have found interesting gifts in many cities. Some airports feature rotating art displays; I’ve enjoyed viewing recent installations at SNA and SFO. Airports often spotlight local treasures… One of my favorites was one of Fred Rogers’ homemade button down sweaters (remember Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?), which was displayed in his (and my) hometown airport PIT.

5) Do a good deed- While traveling alone, it can be natural to isolate yourself, but nothing brightens a day more than making someone else’s life easier. Consider buying a meal for a uniformed service person, or helping a mother carry a car seat while she is juggling her kids and bags. Older or inexperienced travelers may need assistance or information during a delay. I try to pass my magazines along to the flight attendants when I finally board. If you open yourself up, you might even make a new friend.

Business travel can be exhausting and challenging… What are your travel survival tips? 

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