NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Killing time during a long airport layover is never easy, or fun.
Between the uncomfortable airport chairs and less than appetizing food options, not to mention the noise, exhaustion and boredom - it's an experience ranking somewhere between root canals and filing taxes.
Many travelers are unaware, however, that airports around the world offer free layover tours, excursions that whisk you out of the airport to popular tourist attractions, for which all transportation and logistics are conveniently handled by someone other than you. (In other words - a mini vacation and you will be back in time for your connecting flight.)
At Singapore's Changi Airport travelers facing a lengthy layover can choose from a City Lights Tour or a Heritage Tour, which include visits to the tiny country's Chinatown, Little India, Gardens by the Bay, The Esplanade and Marina Bay Waterfront.
At Seoul's Incheon International Airport there are seven free tours offered, ferrying airline passengers with time to kill to temples, palaces and local villages.
Participating in such tours is easy. It requires nothing more than having a long enough layover. In Singapore the tour requires your layover be at least five hours for example. In Seoul the layover time needed varies from one to five hours.
These two airports are merely popular examples. Other airports that have joined the trend include Taiwan's Taoyun International Airport, Turkey's Ataturk International Airport, and Doha's Hamad International Airport.
"Airport tours are a cheap way to promote tourism, enticing people to return to a country for a longer visit," says Steve Romaine, of the website Layover Ideas. "It's also a smart business strategy. It encourages travelers to choose flights routed through one of these airports."
For the savvy traveler, it's all about selecting the right airport on journeys involving an extended stopover.
The trend has yet to spread widely in the United States. The only airport in this country offering such tours is Utah's Salt Lake City International Airport.
But if the list of airports providing layover tours seems limiting, think again. Beyond the free tours, there are countless private layover tours offered at still other airports. While the cost for private tours varies and can sometimes be a little pricey, they too present a more palatable way to pass monotonous hours between flights.
The Layover Ideas website offers options for nearly any airport in the world - everything from layover pub crawls and bike tours in Buenos Aires, to zip lining in Bariloche and visiting the Acropolis in Greece. You can search alphabetically by city and country on the site for layover excursion suggestions. Prices for the tours range from about $30 to hundreds of dollars.
"The private layover tours come into place at airports where the free tours don't exist," says Bobbie Westwood, also of Layover Ideas, adding that there's no difference in quality between the free and private tours.
In January, Oregon resident Marcia Miller faced a tedious 13-hour layover in Seoul, as she journeyed home from Vietnam. Her flight arrived at Incheon International Airport around 5:30 a.m. and her connection to the U.S. did not depart until late in the evening.
Rather then sit around the airport staring at the clock; Miller booked a free layover tour.
"You get to see a temple and a palace, and you do lunch," says Miller, who operates You Go Girls Travel, specializing in tours developed just for women. "And we had a little bit of time to kill shopping near the restaurant where we ate lunch, which was really fun. I figure when you just pass through an airport, you don't get to count that as a country you have visited. But now I can count Korea as one of the more than 61 countries I've visited because I got out of the airport and got to have lunch."
And just as tourism officials hoped when creating the free layover tour offerings, the brief visit left Miller wanting more.
"I would absolutely go back," she says of Korea. "It was really exotic and different. Seoul is an enormous city, and it's very, very modern."
All of which begs the question, why don't U.S. airports offer these tours? Westwood says it likely comes down to a difference between public and private airports.
"I imagine U.S. airports don't do it more because they are government operated [and] they may not have the funding," Westwood said. "Many of the international airports are privately owned."
The one location in the U.S. offering layover tours, Salt Lake City International Airport, does so as part of a cooperative effort between the Salt Lake Convention and Visitor Bureau, the Utah Travel Council, the 2002 Olympic Visitor Information Coalition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Travelers Aid Society and the airlines serving the city.
Layover tours in Salt Lake City require at least a two-hour gap between connecting flights and during that time take visitors to Historic Temple Square, which is just seven miles away.
Each of the free airport layover tours has different requirements and factors to consider, such as the number of hours you must have available before a connecting flight. Some of the tours must be booked in advance and some require that you are flying a specific airline. Westwood advises travelers do some research ahead of time, ensuring a layover will be long enough to participate in a tour and that it will coincide with the times tours are offered.
Yet another option to consider is the model established by Tokyo's Narita Airport. In March 2015 the Narita Transit Program began offering free tours designed to expose travelers to Japanese hospitality. Unlike the other tours already mentioned, these don't provide transportation, but they do partner you with a volunteer guide who takes you to the sites and shows you around.
Some of the sites typically visited include Narita-san Omotesando road, Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple, Narita-san Park or the rural town of Tako.
Marian Goldberg, who served as the airport's public relations manager for 11 years, highly recommends travelers with a long layover use the time to visit Naritasan Temple, one of the most popular Buddhist Temples in Japan.
"Visiting the temple is a wonderful opportunity because not only do you get to see the temple itself, but the walkway to the temple is lined by all kinds of traditional shops, local foods vendors, people selling crafts and live bands," says Goldberg.
As for any nagging concerns about the lack of pre-arranged transportation, Goldberg says not to worry. Naritasan is only a ten-minute train ride from the airport.