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Airport Layovers: Best Food & Fun While You Wait for Your Next Flight

By Daniel Bortz
June 3, 2019
Father and two kids having fun at the airport.
Travnikovstudio/Dreamstime
The busiest airports in the U.S now offer a wide array of activities, exceptional food, and even flights of wine to take the sting out of your next layover.

Show of hands: How many of you actually enjoy spending time at the airport?

We didn't think so. But that may changing. While airport "entertainment" once consisted of only bars and chain restaurants, today many airports offer a number of fun ways to chill while you’re waiting to fly out. Here’s how to get the most out of a layover the next time you fly from one of the five busiest U.S. airports.

1. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport

With more than 100 million passengers visiting it in 2017, Atlanta’s international airport is the busiest airport in the world, according to Airports Council International.

Flying with Fido? Check out the 1,000-square foot fenced-in dog park, which is part of the ground transportation center in Domestic Terminal South. It features flowers, grass, rocks, and benches—and has biodegradable waste bags for easy pet cleanup.

History buffs should check out "A Walk Through Atlanta History." Located in the Transportation Mall between Concourses B and C, the multimedia installation uses video, audio, murals, and photographs to take you through key periods in Atlanta’s development.

Have time to enjoy a fine dining meal? Hit up One Flew South in Concourse E. This critically acclaimed restaurant specializes in cuisine inspired by world travels, and it has a cocktail list that pays tribute to the flying boats (‘Floatplanes’) that carried wealthy passengers from Miami to Nassau and Havana so they could drink legally during the Prohibition era.

Art lovers will enjoy the airport’s permanent exhibit, “Zimbabwe Sculpture: a Tradition in Stone,” which features 20 stone sculptures from the South African country. Find it in the transportation mall between concourses A and T.

2. Los Angeles International Airport

Over 84 million people visited LAX in 2017. The second largest airport in the U.S., Los Angeles's main airport has an array of food and entertainment options for travelers.

The size of three football fields, the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) serves as the "Rodeo Drive" of LAX. It boasts tons of shops, including Fred Segal, which sells trendy clothing, accessories, and grooming products, and Sunset Strip's famous bookstore Book Soup. The caveat: it's not connected to any other terminal, so to visit from another terminal you'll have to go through security again.

Wine aficionados will enjoy Vino Volo, a wine bar that offers vintages from around the world and a food menu of locally sourced cheeses, smoked salmon rolls, and other light bites. Find it in the TBIT.

Need to pick up a snack for your flight? Los Angeles’ Original Farmers Market has a store in Terminal 5 where you can choose from a broad selection of meals, snacks, wine, and coffee from local vendors.

3. Chicago O'Hare International Airport

This is a major connecting airport for destinations in the Midwest. It’s also not a bad airport to be stuck in.

Parents traveling with children should take them to the Kids on the Fly interactive play area, which features child-sized model airplanes and a control tower. Find it in Terminal 2.

Enjoy the stunning display of 466 squiggly neon tubes above a moving walkway in "The Sky's the Limit,” a mile-long neon light sculpture that connects concourses B and C in Terminal 1.

Don’t depart without stopping by one of the airport’s Garrett Popcorn shops, located in Terminals 2 and 3. Go for the Chicago staple’s Garrett Mix, a combination of handcrafted cheddar and caramel popcorn.

4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

Spanning more than 17,000 acres, the busiest airport in Texas is also the fourth most-visited airport in the country. In fact, because of its size, it has its own postal code.

Find your happy place before you board a plane for a long trip by doing some pre-flight stretches in the free 24-hour yoga studio, tucked between Terminals B and D.

View works from more than 30 local, national and international artists in the International Terminal D. Also, check out the sculpture garden just outside the Terminal D parking garage on the arrivals level.

Let your kids burn off energy in Terminal B’s Junior Flyer Club, a 685 square-foot aviation themed play area.

5. Denver International Airport

A hub for Frontier Airlines and United, this Colorado airport handled more than 61 million passengers in 2017.

Eat like a local at the popular Colorado burger chain Smashburger in Concourse C, Elway’s steakhouse Concourse B, or Root Down, a veggie-centric restaurant in Concourse C that serves up tasty dishes like thai carrot curry and roasted beets with seed pesto and basil vinaigrette.

Take in a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains at the west end of Terminal C. While you’re there, grab some reading material for your flight at Denver’s famous Tattered Cover Book Store outpost.

Sip a glass of wine Lounge 5280 in Concourse B. Rated one of the best airport bars in the U.S., the establishment offers hand-picked wine selections from around the world and a beer list highlighting Colorado's craft brewers.

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Travel TipsProduct Reviews

Essential Weekend Getaway Gear

There’s an art to packing for a short trip—there are the essentials, and then there are the non-essentials that bring an element of comfort and joy to the journey. For those travelers who rarely let a weekend pass without hitting the open road or taking to the skies, we found five things to help make the most of those quick two-day jaunts, from packing to transit to maximizing your time on the ground. The Bag (Courtesy Lo & Sons) First things first: Start with the proper equipment. This classic-looking cotton-canvas weekender is roomy enough to hold the necessities for a short trip and has multiple pockets to keep things organized, but its best features may very well be its modern touches: a sleeve that lets it slip over a suitcase handle for easy transport and a zippered compartment that keeps at least two pairs of shoes separate from the rest of your clothes. And the whole thing weighs less than 2 pounds, so it’s easy to sling it over your shoulder and go—even if it's packed to the brim. Catalina Deluxe Small in Teal Blue, $128, loandsons.com. The Multitasker (Courtesy The Bali Market) With luggage space at a premium, weekend warriors need accessories that do double-, triple-, or even quadruple-duty, and this lightweight, high-absorbency Turkish towel fits the bill. At 40”x70”, it’s large enough to be used as a beach towel (or as a bath towel, for that matter), but it takes up way less room than terry cloth. Woven from quick-drying cotton, this thin textile can also serve as a wrap, a scarf, or a throw for a chilly plane, train, or bus ride, and it rolls up to practically nothing. That's a win-win-win-win. Perfect Classic Turkish Towel in Grey, $36, thebalimarket.us. The Wet One (Amy Lundeen) Wring every last drop out of a warm-weather weekend: Pack a stash bag for a wet bathing suit (and Turkish towel!), and never forgo that final swim again. This one has a beachy, tropical print and a vinyl-coated, waterproof interior, and it’s big enough to hold the sunscreen, too. Tropical Palm Extra Large Cosmetic Bag, $28, needleandoak.com. The Sleep Aid (Courtesy Bucky) If you need pitch-black darkness to get a solid eight hours of Zs, an eye mask is a must-pack accessory. Sure, you could go with that flimsy freebie you've been using since your last long-haul flight, but this silky polka-dot number is a playful alternative. With contoured foam eye cups that let you blink without messing up your makeup or putting undue pressure on your lids, it'll keep you snoozing, even if you're stuck in coach. Bucky 40 Blinks Sleep Mask, $13, amazon.com. The Soundtrack (Courtesy Bose) What’s a vacation without the tunes? This waterproof, drop-proof Bluetooth speaker clocks in at just under 4"x4" and weighs less than a pound, offering huge, bass-heavy sound in a tiny, silicone-rubber-wrapped package. With six hours of battery life, a tear-resistant strap for hands-free portability, and an app that can control the volume, pair another speaker, and switch between music libraries in various devices, it'll help get the party started wherever you are. SoundLink Micro Bluetooth speaker, $100, bose.com.

Travel Tips

How to Have a Tick-Free Summer

Long sleeved shirts, long pants, hats, sprays, frequent body checks, and full-on inspections of kids before bedtime. Is that the summer you’ve been looking forward to? Unfortunately, the risk of tick bites - which can lead to Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) - has made those rather un-festive rituals a necessity in much of the U.S., where ticks are especially active during the warm months between April and September. But a new government study, published in 2018 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, suggests that insecticide-treated clothing may be one of the most effective tick-fighting tools out there. In lab tests, clothing treated with permethrin (interestingly, a synthetic compound similar to the insect-repelling compounds found in chrysanthemums) was shown to cause ticks to fall off the clothing or make the ticks unable to bite the person wearing the treated clothing. Permethrin is found in tick-repelling sprays, creams, and shampoos, but the new study underscores that permethrin-treated clothing is effective at all stages of a tick’s life, causing the ticks to fall off “vertical” clothing such as pants and, after a few minutes, rendering the ticks unable to move normally or bite. Further, the amount of permethrin used in insecticide-treated clothing is quite low, and that the compound is “poorly absorbed” through the skin of the wearer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If you plan to spend the next few months hiking, camping, gardening, or other activities that most of us simply refer to as “summer stuff,” follow these important steps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov/ticks): KNOW YOUR RISK You’ll find ticks (or, more precisely, ticks will find you) in grassy, brush, and wooded areas, including parkland, forests, and even your own backyard, garden, or tall grass. Avoid high grass and “leaf litter,” and walk near the center of trails rather than near brush and grass beside the trail. TREAT CLOTHING AND GEAR Purchase permethrin-treated clothing such as the clothing tested in the recent government study mentioned above (rei.com is always a good place to start shopping for outdoor gear), or spray clothing, boots, and camping gear with .5% permethrin, which will hold up through several washings, then require retreating. USE INSECT REPELLENT Look for compounds such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Important: Don’t use insect repellent on babies younger than two months old and do not use oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children under three years old. CHECK YOUR CLOTHING AFTER TIME OUTSIDE Check your clothing for ticks, remove any ticks you find, or tumble dry clothing on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks. (If you wash clothing that may be infested with ticks, use hot water.) SHOWER Well, this is always a good idea after a summer hike, but your risk of contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite can be reduced by showering within two hours of coming indoors from a tick-infested area. DO A BODY CHECK Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to check your body for ticks, including under your arms, in and around your ears, inside your belly button, the back of your knees, in and around your hair, between your legs, and around your waist. While checking for ticks is serious business, it doesn’t have to be done alone and it doesn’t have to be a total drag. For inspiration, check out Brad Paisley’s hit song (and upbeat public service announcement) “Ticks.”For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

5 Carry-On Backpacks for Every Kind of Trip

As professional travelers, we put in lots of hours on the road, and with that much time on our hands, we get to know our gear pretty well. The little quirks that don’t seem like a big deal up front can become full-blown annoyances after a week of travel, and likewise, the nerdy details that might not merit more than a shrug at first glance can easily become an obsession once we realize how handy they can be in practice. We put another round of carry-on backpacks through their paces to find our favorites—all of which will fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you on most jets, and cost less than $200. 1. For the Weekend Road Trip (Courtesy Topo Designs) Topo Designs makes some of our favorite accessory bags and Dopp kits, so it’s not surprising they make one of our favorite backpacks too—the brand’s bags and accessories are designed to work together as part of a modular system, and the 30-liter Travel Bag is no exception. Pack bags, Topo’s answer to packing cubes, cost a little extra, but they nest inside for a tidy fit, and the Dopp kit does too—no cramming necessary. (If you need more room, clip a smaller bag onto the outside of the pack, or go for the 40-liter version.) But enough about the accessories—the backpack itself earns rave reviews. It has organizational pockets galore: On the front, a large zippered compartment with two internal zippered mesh pockets, plus another section with two open pockets for snacks and chargers and a deep zippered one as well. The main compartment holds three or four outfits, with two big mesh pockets for additional storage. At the back of the pack, there’s a padded laptop compartment, and an external pass-through sleeve to stack the bag on top of your rolling suitcase; it also comes with a removable crossbody strap, so the shoulder and hip straps tuck away if you choose to use it. The zippers even have security loops to protect against sticky fingers, and the stiff nylon material is water-repellant in addition to being practically tear-proof. All in all, our number-one pick.Travel Bag - 30L, $189; topodesigns.com. SHOP CARD HERE 2. For the Urban Excursion (Courtesy Knack Inc.) Launched in late 2018 by a team of former Tumi execs, Knack makes a good case for ditching the luggage and carrying just a single backpack. With a slim profile, clean lines, and crisp suiting-inspired fabric, the expandable Knack Pack displays the attention to detail you’d expect from a contingent of industry pros. Unexpanded, the medium version holds just 17 liters; expanded, that capacity nearly doubles. The packing compartment unzips to lay flat, holding a few days’ worth of clothes with compression straps to lock it all down, with a zippered mesh pocket covering the facing side. One of its savvier highlights is the built-in sunglasses case, lined with fleece and conveniently placed at the top of the pack, but other travel-minded touches include a rain flap that covers the expansion zipper; a zip-away side pocket that hides a water bottle; and padded shoulder straps, reinforced with sternum straps, that tuck into the back panel. Two minor complaints: There isn’t a side handle, and the front pocket is a bit of a head-scratcher, a triangular flap that folds down to reveal pen loops, one strangely shallow pocket, and a row of small slots big enough to hold business cards...and not much else. But for a nice-looking bag with a deceptively generous capacity, we'll allow it.Medium Expandable Knack Pack, $175; knackbags.com. 3. For the Long Haul (Courtesy Rick Steves' Europe) This convertible carry-on from Rick Steves' Europe came on our radar by way of a reader's comment—and we have to say, it was a solid suggestion. At about 40 liters, it’s the roomiest of the bunch (and at 3 pounds, the heaviest too), a no-frills pack that excels in its simplicity. The main compartment is nearly suitcase-size, with compression straps, an elasticized pocket running the length of the lid, two loose mesh bags for laundry or smalls, and a document pouch that clips into place so important papers are always within reach. On the front, there are three pockets of varying sizes: a square one for a cardigan or a neck pillow, a small one for glasses, lip balm, and the like, and a really deep one for magazines, tablets, tech gear, and more. The pack can expand a couple of inches if need be, but beware of overstuffing if you want to use it as a carry-on. Though there isn’t a dedicated compartment for a laptop, the side pocket will accommodate one, albeit without any cushioning; additional features include a mesh water-bottle sleeve, handles on the top and side, outer compression straps, and shoulder and waist straps that tuck away as needed. This is the most old-school model we tried—those shoulder straps are only slightly padded, and the floppy nylon fabric gives it the feel of a classic gym bag—and while we tend to prefer more structure and more organizational components, you won't find many travel packs this size at a comparable cost. Convertible Carry-On, $100; ricksteves.com. 4. For the Outdoorsy Overnight (Courtesy Mammut) If outdoor adventures are on the agenda—with some work on the side—try Mammut’s Seon Transporter X. In something of a reverse mullet, it's business in the back—think: a padded, fleece-lined section for a laptop, tablet, paperwork, and reading materials, plus two orange-zippered mesh compartments and pockets for pens—and a party in the front, with a main compartment housing a ventilated, zippered section for hiking boots, with space leftover for toiletries and a change of clothes or two. (Though the bag technically has a 26-liter capacity, it's definitely for those who travel light—that shoe compartment claims quite a bit of real estate.) As for access points, the big pocket at the front is basically the height and width of the pack itself, with a zippered mesh pocket inside, and the small compartment at the bag's top is good for valuables, with two fleecy open pockets and yet another zippered mesh one. Smart elements include well-padded, ergonomic shoulder straps, top and side handles for ease of carry, and big looped zippers that pull without a hitch, all under the cover of a sturdy, weather-repellent material, in a camouflage print that makes it stand out from the crowd. Seon Transporter X, $190; mammut.com. 5. For a Few Days Away (Courtesy Solo New York) With a spacious main compartment that opens like a suitcase, incorporating a built-in bag for shoes or laundry and four small stash pockets (two mesh and two solid nylon) in the lining around its frame, Solo New York’s 22.6-liter All-Star provides the capacity of a duffel—minus the duffel’s tendency to turn into a black hole, thanks to its organizational touches. On the front, a zippered pocket holds the necessities you'll want to reach on the fly, like sunglasses, tickets, and chargers. The front is padded to protect the laptop section, which also has a sleeve that fits a tablet, so you’ll only have to dig through one pocket for your electronics when you hit the security scanners. Two side handles and one on top make for easy stowing on planes or trains, and the cushy straps tuck away when they're not in use. (It also comes with a long shoulder strap, in case you get tired of hauling it around on your back.) As a whole, the pack is lightweight and inexpensive—in fact, the lightest, least expensive one we tried. At this price point, and considering its five-year limited warranty, it’s a great option for a short trip. All-Star Backpack Duffel, $87; solo-ny.com.

Travel Tips

Vacation Budget Blunders: 8 Ways Travelers Throw Money Away

Your vacation budget—like any good financial plan—should reflect your priorities and your aspirations. That said, keeping a lid on your travel expenses can be more easily said than done. The good news is: Planning an affordable trip on a budget doesn't require financial wizardry. The first step is to understand the common pitfalls that can waste your hard-earned (and hard-saved) vacation dollars. Here, the eight biggest mistakes travelers make when planning a trip budget—and, most importantly, how not to make them ever again. Mistake No. 1: Not Establishing Clear Priorities Before you begin building a budget, you need to identify what aspects of your vacation are most important to you and your traveling companions so that you can allocate funds appropriately. To simplify that inherently subjective process into something highly actionable—and, we hope, even fun and inspirational)—start by separating your “must-haves” from your “wants." For example, is staying at a 5-star resort a must-have for you? Would flying coach instead of something tonier be a deal breaker for your or your friends or family? Just because you’re visiting, say, Southern California, is it really essential to your experience that you pony up for a pricey rented convertible? Mistake No. 2: Not Reviewing Your Finances Before you even start establishing a travel budget, you’ll want to assess how much you can realistically afford to spend on your vacation. This requires taking a close look at your finances, including your savings and credit card debt. If you don’t have enough cash squirreled away, you may want to adjust your priorities (in other words, return to No. 1, above), or push back your travel dates to give yourself time to save up. Having trouble saving? Try budgeting software such as Mint, a free online tool that not only shows you what you’re spending each month but also suggests ways to trim your expenses. Month after month, incremental savings can add up to money for gelato, restaurant meals, and souvenirs, and maybe even plane fare and hotel rooms. Mistake No. 3: Not Using a Spreadsheet Sure, just hearing the word spreadsheet may slap a great big whomp-whomp on your trip-planning process. But compiling all of your travel costs in one place will help you figure out roughly how much money you’ll have to spend on your vacation—and the best way to do this is, indeed, to use a spreadsheet. There are a number of travel-budgeting spreadsheets that are available online for free. Our favorite is thiseasy-to-use template from Vertex42.com. You simply plug in a quantity and unit cost for each item; for lodging you can enter the number of nights you’ll be staying and the cost per night, and the worksheet will calculate the total costs for you. As you enter your travel costs into the worksheet, the handy pie chart will show you exactly where your money is going based on spending categories (e.g., hotels, meals, flights). It’s that easy. Mistake No. 4: Overlooking the Smaller Expenses Though lodging, food, and airfare tend to be the three largest travel expenses, there are a number of smaller travel costs that are worth factoring into your overall budget—they have a way of sneaking up on you if you’re not paying attention. Some of the most common expenses people forget are: Airport parking Travel insurance Gas Gifts Souvenirs Cell phone fees, such as data roaming charges when traveling abroad Visa costs Foreign transaction fees on your credit card (see more about this below)Vaccinations Gear (e.g., snow pants, ski masks) Toiletries Taxis and ride-sharing services Mistake No. 5: Not Factoring in the Exchange Rate Researching your destination’s exchange rate might seem like an obvious step, yet some travelers forget to do it before departing for an overseas trip. Before you leave home, check exchange rates online. One way to save money is by obtaining currency from your bank or a currency exchange instead of waiting until you arrive at your destination, because airport kiosks, hotel desks, street vendors, and shops make extra money by charging an undesirable rate of exchange. Mistake No. 6: Not Giving Yourself a Buffer While a degree of discipline is crucial, you also want to give yourself a little flexibility. Take a cue from any responsible CFO and set aside a portion of your funds—about 10 percent of your total budget—to allow for the unexpected. On vacation, that can mean the occasional splurge or any unplanned or emergency expenses, such as a flat tire (road trips don’t always go as planned!) or medical care. Label this as “miscellaneous” on your spreadsheet. Mistake No. 7: Forgetting About Foreign Transaction Fees Some credit cards charge up to a 3 percent fee on foreign transactions, which is why we recommend that international travelers apply for a credit with no foreign transaction fees, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. One caveat about credit cards: There are some destinations, such as Cuba, that do not honor U.S.-based bank or credit cards at all—meaning you’ll have to arrive with cash. Mistake No. 8: Not Understanding Hotel Fees Last year, U.S. hotels collected a record-high $2.93 billion in fees, according to research by Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. Unfortunately for travelers, some hotel fees are buried in lengthy disclosure statements or tucked into bill summaries at checkout. But by knowing in advance what these hidden hotel fees are—and how much they cost on average—you’ll be able to set a more accurate budget. What hotel fees should you watch out for? Check out our article “Beware of These Hidden Hotel Fees.” Some hidden fees can be quite expensive. Daily resort fees, for instance, can cost up to $50 per night, and they typically appear only after you have selected a room and are about to pay for the reservation, warns Randy Greencorn, co-founder of ResortFeeChecker.com, an online tool that, as its URL suggests, allows users to look up resort fees at more than 2,000 properties around the world. TALK TO US: How has a travel budget helped you save money for your trip priorities? We’d love to hear your tips—or blunders!—in the comments below.For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.

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