Lately, I’ve developed a whole new appreciation for adding layovers to my trips. Routing your flights via stopovers, and spending a night or two there, is such a great way to add some variety to a trip. And the best part? It doesn’t even have to cost anything extra.
Recently, I spent 36 hours in Istanbul on my way to Georgia. And earlier this year I flew to Thailand via Singapore (where I stayed one night) and flew back with an 18-hour layover in Beijing.
These layovers were so much fun!
I’m now slapping my forehead wondering why I haven’t been doing such layovers at any chance. Perhaps I always thought such brief visits aren’t worth it. Surely you can’t even begin to scratch the surface of a major city in just a day or two, let alone a few hours? Surely you should either do a city properly or not do it at all?
Well, that was shortsighted. I’ve realized that by not adding layovers to my connecting flights, I’ve been missing out on a ton of travel opportunities.
Why layovers are awesome
Layovers are an amazing way to sample an extra country on your way to your final destination.
It’s almost like a try-before-you-buy experience!
Adding a stopover in Istanbul on the way to Georgia made me think about doing a proper trip to Turkey sometime. Seeing Beijing, however briefly, on my way back from Thailand made me imagine doing a longer trip in China. Sure, these capitals may not representative of the countries as a whole, but they gave at least a tantalizing taste.
If not to sample a destination, then layovers can also simply be fun snack-size additions to a trip. It’s like having a starter before your main dish. And if your flight isn’t direct and you’re having a stopover anyway, why not use it to your benefit?
When I traveled from Southeast Asia back home via China, it was super fun to transition from lazing in hammocks on Cambodia’s tropical beaches to walking around Beijing in middle of winter. I literally (not literally) froze my face off as I had packed nothing at all for this weather, but it was totally worth it.
I ate some weird Chinese food, strolled around Beihai Park where people hung around the ice-skating rings, and experienced the intense security at Tiananmen Square with its creepy face-scanning technology. It was a little slice of China I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
In Istanbul, I spent the day wandering the Grand Bazaar, visited some of the historical sites dating back to Byzantine and Ottoman times, and had a lovely brunch and meze dinner before meeting up with my travel companion for the rest of the trip.
Sure, these were brief stops, but they were definitely worthwhile. They also helped to break up my flight journey: I could rest, shower, sleep, and then continue flying the following day.
Now that I’ve learned that I love layovers, I find myself thinking back to previous trips. When I flew to South Africa last year I could have totally had a layover in Addis Ababa! And when I went from Lisbon to Romania via Vienna I could have totally spent a day there! Ahhhh!
Okay, so how do you plan a layover?
First step: do multi-stop searches
Layovers do take a bit of extra searching and planning.
To find the best layover opportunities, you’ll often have to use multi-stop or multi-city flight searches. This is a feature that many flight search engines have, but you might not normally use this as most trips are just point-to-point.
Enter your starting and final destination and check the results, then note where certain indirect flights make their stops anyway. When you see a route combination you like, you can enter the transit stop in a multi-stop search, and add some additional time in that destination.
Now, there’s one issue: if you do this on a 3rd party booking site, you might get issued separate single flights which often end up being more expensive than a return.
The solution usually is to go to the airlines’ own website and do a multi-city search there. The price you’ll be quoted will usually be similar to a normal return ticket, just with a longer gap for your transfer. This does depend on whether the airline is layover-friendly.
By the way, layovers can actually make your journey cheaper!
Some search engines specialize in finding layovers that make the total cost of your journey lower, for example because you’ll be flying on cheaper days or crossing into a different airline sector. To find such advantageous flights, check out sites like Cleverlayover or Airwander.
Consider ideal stopover destinations
Certain destinations are located strategically between continents or regions, making them ideal stopover places.
For example, consider Iceland, which sits conveniently between Europe and North America. In fact, part of Iceland’s huge tourism success has been to promote and facilitate this type of visit. You can read more on Icelandair and WOWAir‘s websites.
Another example is the Azores islands in the Atlantic, which are right between Europe and the US East Coast. Azores Airlines can connect cross-Atlantic travelers from Oakland, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal to several major cities in Europe, with the option of adding a few days on the islands in between.
Dubai is a place not everyone may be interested in visiting just for Dubai, but it’s interesting to see as a stopover for a day or two on the way somewhere else.
Singapore makes for a great stop in Southeast Asia, as its hub airport is incredibly well-connected in the region and globally.
Going to Central America or the Caribbean? Then try flying to Miami or Fort Lauderdale airports before continuing your journey a day or two later.
London to Bangkok via Kazakhstan is another interesting one, as described here by Nomadic Notes.
Check for special deals
Certain destinations promote themselves as a layover place, offering cool freebies to anyone who decides to stay for a while. These freebies usually come from airlines that operate from major (up-and-coming) hubs.
On my recent layover in Istanbul, I used a Turkish Airlines promotion that gives you up with a free hotel stay if your layover is at least 20 hours. As an economy class passenger, I could choose from a few different hotels, the most expensive of which normally cost 120 EUR a night.
The following destinations currently offer free or discounted accommodation:
- Istanbul – free hotel on stays longer than 20 hours
- Doha – free hotel with Qatar Airways
- Singapore – free hotel with Singapore Airlines on a long layover through Changi
- Addis Ababa – free hotel on some stopovers with Ethiopian Airlines
- Lisbon – the airline TAP offers discounts on hotels and tours on stopovers in Lisbon
There may be more than these that offer free hotels – they’re just the ones I know of right now. The deals do change all the time, so keep an eye out for them. Usually, airlines run these promotions for a while just to try and get a destination on the map.
Some destinations also offer free tours or excursions if you decide to make a stopover. Thrifty Nomads has a great list of layover cities offering free tours.
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