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virgin atlantic recording studio london heathrowIt can be tough to escape the drudgery of an airport layover, especially for seasoned travelers who’ve seen and done nearly everything imaginable. Sure, you can hop a train or take a taxi to the city center for a little sightseeing (time permitting, of course). But honestly, sometimes that’s just too much effort after an eight-hour flight. Do we really have to resign ourselves to spending hours in a rock-hard chair listening to the same songs on our iPods over and over again?

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t think so. The airline, which is known for its less than traditional approach to flight service, recently installed an industry-standard recording studio in its Clubhouse lounge (open to Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members) at London Heathrow. Musically inclined passengers can record, edit and mix a tune before e-mailing or uploading it to record companies, broadcasters, producers, etc., all while waiting for a flight.

Top 5 Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment

After hearing about this out-of-the-box service, we couldn’t help daydreaming about other swanky amenities that could make an hours-long layover more pleasurable than painful. As we noted in Best Airports for Layovers, there are already some pretty neat options out there.

At Hong Kong’s International Airport, for example, passengers can step outside to play a few rounds of golf at the USGA-approved nine-hole Sky City Nine Eagles Golf Course. Travelers at Singapore’s Changi International Airport can also soak up some vitamin D before boarding as they stroll the airport’s five themed botanical gardens, which are home to a variety of flora as well as more than 1,000 live butterflies. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, travelers can brush up on Dutch culture at the Airport Library, which features about 1,250 books, including Dutch fiction that has been translated into 30 languages. And in Zurich, the airport rents bicycles, inline skates and Nordic walking poles so passengers can explore the surrounding areas while they wait.

What Not to Wear on a Plane

With airports like these setting a precedent for innovation, we can’t help but hope that one day they’ll all be the standard rather than the exception. And while they’re working on it, maybe they could think about featuring dine-in movie theaters, bowling alleys, cooking classes and or even roller coasters.

Which amenities would you add to our airport wish list?

– written by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson

carry-on bagI hate checking bags when I fly. I just do. I hate having to worry about whether my baggage will be lost or broken into, checked luggage fees are the pits, and I’m utterly impatient when waiting to spot my suitcase as it comes down the conveyor belt.

Needless to say, I’m sort of obsessed with space-saving packing techniques. I stuff underthings and socks into my shoes, roll each piece of clothing as tightly as possible and arrange everything just so. By the time my bag is zipped up, the insides closely resemble an untouched Jenga tower; I pride myself in this. In fact, some would say I brag about it. That said, I recently discovered that my packing proficiency could be enhanced by the right bag.

A few years ago, I purchased a tote dubbed “The Miracle Bag,” thinking it would be perfect for heading to the beach or taking a road trip. And it is. But on a recent weeklong trip to Belize, I realized it’s ideal for longer treks as well. The bag is constructed of a sturdy eco-friendly plastic-like material that is super-simple to clean, and it boasts a large main compartment, a small interior zippered pocket and six deep outside pockets. It zips across the top, and has handles and a long arm strap.

On this particular trip, I managed to pack the main compartment with three swimsuits, several dresses, four pairs of shorts, four tops, two skirts, a pair of skinny jeans, two pairs of flip-flops, a pair of sandals, underclothes and my quart-size bag of toiletries. Better yet, I didn’t have to use an overhead compartment once onboard, as my carry-on fit snugly under the seat in front of me. I worried a little about whether our checked bag would get lost — but I would survive just fine with what I had in my “Miracle Bag,” even if it was for the entire week.

Oh, and on our return trip, I even succeeded in squeezing in a few souvenirs! Now, I urge you onward … in search of your very own stress-busting satchel. If you have your own miracle bag, tell us about it!

– written by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson