Lesson 119: Make the Most of your Layover (Beijing Tips 2017)

In 2015, Alex and I decided we wanted to backpack through Japan for two weeks.

With a wedding, moving, and beginning graduate school/new jobs, it was easy to fall into the mind set of “Well, we can’t afford it.”

A lot of you know that I write a series of traveling on a budget. Now that I’m sitting in a small studio recovering from the heat in Kyoto (as most of this was typed on a train), I can safely say that we tricked ourselves. We bought our flights over a year ago while I still had an income. We put a portion of Alex’s paycheck aside for a year. And, I booked a multi-city ticket. This is one of my biggest tips for purchasing an international flight at a lower cost. A round trip ticket from NYC to Tokyo was $1300. A multi city ticket from New York–Beijing–Tokyo–New York was only $900. With that, we had a 50 hour layover in Beijing and we made the most of our time.

With that, a few tips for a 50 hour layover:

1) Make sure you don’t need a Visa: Luckily as a US Passport Holder, China offers you the chance to visit without a visa if you are in the country for under 72 hoursThis requires you to simply have copies of your itinerary and hotel reservations. Also, you can’t leave Beijing (but let’s be real–trying to visit another city during that 50 hour time frame would have been a little aggressive). Depending on where your layover is, always make sure to check visa status and vaccine requirements directly with the US Embassy Website.

2) Book a Day Tour: If you are only there for a day or two, make the most of it! Who cares if you are exhausted? You can sleep on the next leg of your trip. Alex and I booked a 12 hour day tour with Beijing Variarts Tours&Activities Ltd. We went to a Jade Factory, Silk Factory, The Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, and the Badaling Great Wall. If you are unsure of what sort of tour to book, I highly recommend the companies that work with Viator.com. I booked numerous tours through this agency–especially on our Honeymoon to Australia. When our plans changed because I was sick and we needed to reschedule a tour (because I would get sick on my own honeymoon) Viator even cancelled our tour 12 hours ahead of time with a full reimbursement. 

3) Prioritize! Alex and I knew we wanted to backpack through Japan with the Japan Rail Pass (totally worth it–more information to come in later posts). I also have a running “bucket list” that included the point: Visit all 7 continents and 7 Wonders of the World in My 20s. Audacious, I know. However, it made our pick for a layover obvious–and when the price difference was that grand, it was definitely a sign that it was meant to be.

4) Learn the Language: We get it. A lot of people speak English. But you are in a new country and I’d argue that it’s rude to simply go up to someone expecting them to know it. “Please”, “Thank You”, “Where is the Toilet”, “I’m Lost”–they all go a long way. 

5) Traveler Karma is Real: I am constantly helping lost tourists in New York city. I am constantly asking people, “Do you need help?” when they are looking lost at a subway map or outline of Manhattan. Also, our MTA is awful. Can you imagine being in a country where you don’t speak the language and suddenly the conductor announces a change? New York is known for this. Beijing–not so much. It is one of the most navigable metro systems that I have been on.

I have been told by a number of people that “they were worried New Yorkers were mean” and echoed that I proved the stereotype wrong. Not wanting to burst their bubbles and tell them I was not born and bred here–it’s simply a sign that we should be helping people who love visiting our city. When Alex and I were lost in Sendai looking for the correct train and someone offered to help, it made our entire day (we ended up talking to him and his wife for over an hour).

*There is a lot of unfortunate stuff going on in this world right now. Please show some kindness! I believe the universe will give back once you are in a new city yourself! 

And finally, some photos!


Famous Peking Duck Restaurant–Open since 1865! We also waited in line for an hour…



 WHAT A COPY OF 21 & COUNTING?! Just kidding. You know I put that book there myself. Maybe it’s silly, but since the book has a traveling component–I’ve left copies all over the world!  #leohostel 


Outside of the Forbidden City


Tienanmen Square


Great Wall of China at Badaling


My Cliche “7th Wonder of the World” Shot


Thank you for being incredible, Beijing! All 50 hours of you! Now, off to Japan!

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