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How to Be Productive During Long (or Short) Airport Layovers

Any city big enough to have an airport is big enough to have opportunities worth sniffing out.

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Every founder who travels knows how it feels to be stuck at the airport. There’s so much to do at your destination -- but in the meantime -- all you can do is make calls and send emails. Your hands are tied -- or are they?

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Long airport layovers are not fun, but savvy entrepreneurs know how to turn every challenge into an advantage. Whether you’re delayed in Houston or scheduled for a five-hour break in Denver -- use these travel tips to turn any layover into a business opportunity:

1. Flaunt your brand.

Airports are filled with people. The longer you stay in one place, the more people will see you, your bags and your clothing. Why not take the opportunity to do some marketing?

Wear branded clothing, carry branded luggage and give out samples or swag to anyone who gets curious. According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, recipients of promotional products keep their gifts for an average of eight months. Rather than sulk at your gate and refresh your emails -- put on a smile and see if anyone wants to talk shop or take home a small gift.

Airport people are busy -- they won’t talk to just anyone. To get the right kind of attention you’ll need to follow the next tip, too.

2. Don’t look sloppy.

Founders are more connected to the brands of their companies than ever before. When you aren't dressed well your company looks bad. Take the time before you fly to pack hygiene and grooming essentials so you can look sharp no matter how long your layover lasts.

Sure, it’s more comfortable to fly in sweats than in a suit, but you don't have to be in a suit -- just look nice. If you don’t have to talk to anyone until the day after you arrive -- you can look like a slob. However, potential connections will treat you with more respect if you look like you're earning it.

Even if you plan to throw on headphones and ignore everyone around you, Psychological Science reports that people who dress better enjoy a cognitive boost.

Related: Never Underestimate the Business Advantages of Dressing Well

3. Leave the airport.

A two-hour layover doesn’t give you enough time to go exploring. Five hours, though, leaves plenty of time to grab an Uber and check out the surrounding area.

Have you spoken to any prospects in your layover city? What about your business customers? Call them up and offer to drop by. Don’t pop in unannounced -- you’ll come off as rude at best or desperate at worst. I've also found that a quick lunch meeting face to face helps grow relationships ten times faster than any email could ever do.

If you’d rather stick to people you know, call up a current client or partner and offer to buy lunch. Small gestures like this can pay off in big ways when contract renewals roll around.

Related: Email Is Great But Face-to-Face Meetings Are 34 Times More Successful

4. Play the travel rewards game.

If you must travel, you might as well pay less for the privilege. Credit card rewards programs can combine with your existing loyalty accounts to earn you free flights, higher status, free checked bags, lounge access and all sorts of other perks.

Southwest Airlines, for instance, counts the 50,000 points earned by a credit card signup bonus. Use these points towards the 110,000 points required to earn a companion pass for the next year. If you already fly Southwest, but don’t travel often enough to earn the perk, consider signing up for either a personal or business credit card. This will earn you free flights for your co-travelers for a full year.

Some credit cards offer higher bonuses in the airport or during the flight than they do online. If an agent presents you with an offer -- do a quick Google search to see how it compares to the standard online promotion.

Related: What I Learned by Spending $650,000 on My Credit Card Last Month

5. Read.

When your Wi-Fi is down, it's the worst but gives you some needed relaxation time. Throw on your headphones and dive in to a book. There’s a reason top CEOs make time to read more than 60 books a year -- and it’s not because they’re all lovers of fiction.

Always keep a book or two on you when you travel. You can crack one open during a break and absorb the knowledge of someone you admire. Check out this list of books preferred by billionaires if you aren’t sure where to start.

Your next layover might not be a thrill ride, but it doesn’t have to be an unproductive waste of time, either. When your flight gets delayed -- take the opportunity to make good impressions -- educate yourself and find new ways to push yourself (and your company) a little bit further.

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