When Life Gives You Layovers

When planning for a year of travel, one must consider the expense and try to cut costs wherever possible (at least, as in our case, when funds are limited). As we aimed to make the most of a year abroad, one budget-saving opportunity we found was to make use of loyalty points we’d both accumulated while traveling personally and professionally over the years (if you don’t belong to any airline or hotel loyalty programs, sign up now!). Sometimes when redeeming points, especially for long-haul or particular class-fares, one might have to make sacrifices, whether that be making multiple stops along your route or accepting longer layover times between connections. Our quandary was the latter as we mapped our way both into and out of Asia; however, we quickly learned that when life gives you layovers, make them into lay-opps (OK, that was corny).

It just so happened that our journey in and out of the region would be routed through Beijing, China, and thanks to the country’s handy 72-hour "visa free" period, we were able to leave the lounge behind for two different tours through the capital city.

More than eight months ago, as we landed late on the first day of 2017 (and the first full day of our yearlong journey), we were met at Beijing’s international airport by our friend and man-about-town Nik Wang, who took us directly to his stylish apartment in the city’s fashionable Sanlitun district for showers and a change of clothes. We then celebrated the New Year - and our adventure of a lifetime - over Peking Duck and dim sum at a nearby modern Chinese restaurant (Thank you, Nik!). Unfortunately, we were a bit unlucky with the air quality, so there wasn’t much in the way of sightseeing to be done, but we relished the opportunity to stretch our legs, clean up, and spend time with a good friend.

Our second layover came midway through our trip as we began the migration from steaming Asia to summer along the shores of Europe’s Mediterranean. Once again, we landed in Beijing and took advantage of the easy visa entry (just for reference, a typical Chinese Tourist Visa requires filling out many forms and weeks of hoping and waiting). This time, Nik was out of town, so we used our 17 free hours before our next flight to visit one of the world’s wonders, the Great Wall of China. A bit of pre-planning allowed us to find a day driver, who picked us up with our backpackers in tow and delivered us to the base of this ancient marvel. We took the shaky gondola up the mountain, which offered stunning views of both the valley below and the Wall itself, before spending several hours walking along the pathway and meditating on the beauty of man’s ingenuity.

Once again, we wrapped up the day with a traditional Chinese Peking Duck, before resting and organizing ourselves for the many hours of travel ahead, feeling both inspired by and lucky for the layover.