General chatter - International travelers--I need your knowledge!

10-27-2009, 10:49 AM
I've never traveled further than Canada, and those were in the days when crossing the border consisted of a calm, polite Canadian officer asking why you were going to Canada and then wishing you safe travels and a good time.

In January, my 22 year old son will be going to serve in a mission in the Ukraine. He has never travelled internationally before, either. He flies out of Seattle, has a 20-hour layover at Heathrow in England, and then flies on to Kyiv, Ukraine. He will be met in Kyiv by someone who will drive him to the mission and this is all arranged so I'm not as worried about that part (although there is the whole issue of him not speaking a lick of Russian). The part I'm worried about is the 20-hour layover in England. He is talking about getting a hotel, seeing some sights, etc. But can he do that? Won't there be complications regarding having to go back through customs, etc? My thought is that he should probably just tough it out and spend the 20 hours trying to catch a nap someplace at the airport, but he is pretty insistant about this.

How does this work? I sure wish he had a travelling companion who was going with him but unfortunately, it's up to him to make his own way across the world! What do you experienced travellers know about long layovers in foreign countries?

Thighs Be Gone
10-27-2009, 11:05 AM
He will be a busy, busy fellow if he is planning a hotel and sightseeing in 20 hours. Traffic can be a KILLER in London. There is the opportunity of using the Tube system but it can be confusing if he has never done it. Luckily, he speaks the language. :)

My advice? He is 22. If he screws up, let him deal with it. :) I travelled all over Europe by myself when I was 20. I had never, ever been anywhere alone. I lost things, ran out of money, missed trains, and almost got beaten up. I made it--and am stronger for it. He will do the same.

By the way, he will need to arrive back to London airport 2 hours before his flight to Ukraine so that will cut into his time as well.

ETA: I have lived in Europe twice and Asia as well.

10-27-2009, 11:24 AM
I've used long layovers to go out and about in Europe. By long layovers I mean 5 hours. I've used the opportunity to meet for lunch with friends or walk around the city. 20 hours for most people is a whole business trip, you can get a lot done if you have it planned out well and leave plenty of time for getting back to the airport.

In London it will take him about 45 minutes to take the tube into the city, last time I rode it to Hyde Park and walked around Buckingham Palace area. He has plenty of time to do so. His bags will already be shipping to his final destination so all he'll have to do is go through security and passport control again. No biggie.

10-27-2009, 12:38 PM
^^^ I second everything wannabeskinny said!

I used to live outside London so I couldn't resist replying - here are the things I can think of:

If you change some money into pounds Sterling before he goes, he doesn't have to run around to find a money changer or an ATM.

He can buy a day-pass that is good for the Underground to the city and back (if he takes the regular Tube, not the Heathrow Express) and then ride the double-decker buses around the city for free as a mini-tour. Depending on which 20 hours he is there (if he is there over two dates), he might need two 1-day passes - info here:

The Heathrow Express is fast - 15 minutes - from the airport to the city, but like double the price of the Tube. And no free buses while in town.

There are LOTS of hostels in London if he wants a bed to sleep in for part of that layover, but a better option for him might be a hotel right next to the airport. There are lots of expensive ones, but a cheap one, with a shuttle to the airport, is: Haven't stayed there myself so I can't vouch for it, but I was going to book it for my husband this summer when he had ~20 hours layover.

Also, I agree - he should be back at the airport *at least* 2 hours before departure.

Are you going to visit him during his stay?

10-27-2009, 12:40 PM
I pretty much agree with Wannabeskinny; if he takes the Tube into London he'll have plenty of time for a bit of sightseeing. The most efficient way to do it would be to take a bus tour. There's an information desk at Heathrow where he can find out about that sort of thing.

Disagree about his bags already being shipped on. That used to happen, before 9/11; now, you and your bags have to be on the same aircraft. It's still not a problem though, they have storage lockers available for that sort of thing.

Sounds like your son is going to have a great adventure - try not to worry too much!

10-27-2009, 08:06 PM
I also had a huge layover in London not long ago, and as I remember it, when my flight arrived from Canada, I picked up my bags, cleared customs, found my airline for my next flight and checked in. Every airline will be different, but I literally got off one flight with one airline and immediately checked in again. So I just had my carry-ons and I was free to do as I saw fit until I had to clear security again... Someone please correct me if you've had a different experience, but that's what I did (flying Virgin Atlantic)

10-27-2009, 08:18 PM
Long layovers aren't anything new to the traveller. Lots of people book long layovers especially on super-long flights to places like Australia, India or Singapore specifically to take some time off and rest between flights.

When he checks in, one of two things will happen. First, he will have his luggage checked straight through to Kiev and will have boarding passes for his flight to London and one for Kiev. He will find out where he will clear customs. I suspect he'll have to clear it in Kiev. In this case, he won't collect it at the airport because it will be in transit. So instead of waiting until the gate is announced he CAN leave the airport. He can go through security again as he will have a valid boarding pass.

IF he can't check in straight through, he will have to collect his luggage in London after clearing customs and then go to check in to his flight to Kiev. In this case, he may have to keep his luggage with him as you can't check in too far in advance. He could leave the airport with his luggage and return with it to check in as appropriate.

My gut feeling is that he will check in straight through to Kiev. His luggage will stay in transit (no clearance in London as it is a stop-over). He will have a boarding pass for his Kiev flight. With this he can leave the airport, take public transport from the airport into London, see a few things, and return in plenty of time to re-clear security (he'll have a valid boarding pass and his passport with him, which is all he needs to get through security). The only thing for him to consider is making sure he has enough time to leave, tour, return, and clear customs for his flight...

10-27-2009, 10:12 PM
Thanks, everyone! I am reassured that he will have enough time to at least see a little bit of something without having to drag his bag(s) around London. My advice to him is to take a spare underwear and socks in his carry on, along with a toothbrush and whatever other small things he needs for a night or two (he's a boy so he doesn't need much!) and everything else will go in his checked luggage. I'll share these posts with him so that he'll know what to do. I appreciate it--thanks!

He's very excited about this whole thing, as he should be. His biggest fear is getting stuck for life in this tiny town, so this is a HUGE deal for him. I'm guessing that it's only the beginning for him, because he really wants to see the world!

10-28-2009, 05:00 PM
That's a good question.... I'm kinda looking at the same thing on my way to India in a few months.... only my layover is in Amsterdam!

Isn't there come kind of issues when it comes to passports and stuff? I mean, if you don't technically have a passport/visa to enter that country (other than as a layover at the airport), how are you allowed to just walk around? Sounds like that could get tricky... I mean, couldn't someone just buy a ticket to one country that they COULD get a visa for, but actually aim to get into the layover country and do God knows what?? There's got to be SOME kind of regulation of that... shouldn't there???

10-28-2009, 05:25 PM
Not really. When you leave the international part of an airport you will have to clear passport control and customs. If you need a Visa to enter the country then you will have trouble getting through. So if you need a visa to say transit through Cambodia and you don't have one you won't make it through passport control because they'll check for your visa. At passport control, you answer questions about your intentions with respect to your plans. Often they ask to see your return ticket or ticket leaving the country. They did this at passport control in London a few weeks ago when I travelled. I was asked how long I would will be in the country, address where I would be, when I was leaving the country, and proof that I had a ticket on the way.
When you go through passport control, your answer if you have a superlong layover is that "I have a super long layover and want to go to the center of town for lunch". They'll ask about luggage etc. and want to see your boarding pass. In London, I expect that they'll let you through UNLESS there is a specific Visa requirement for GB (which I don't think there is for US residients -- there isn't for Canadians).

And if you think about it, what is to stop ANYONE from missing a return flight and just not going back to the airport to use their return ticket? This is what customs relies on when you travel -- proof that you have a vaild passport, reason for entering the country, and a specific date and time to exit the country. I could go through customs/passport with a vaild passport and a return ticket and just not show up at the end of my travel just as easily as not returning from a long layover. So really, its the same old same old...

When you go back to the airport, you'll have to go through security with your passport as ID and a valid boarding pass in any event.

10-28-2009, 05:42 PM
Here's a guide to layover stuff :