Travel writer. Vegemite, flat white, and book lover. Has learned you can buy just about anything just about anywhere when travelling. Mum to budding adventurers.
Why visit just one country when a stopover can let you see two for little-to-no extra cost? Many airlines permit a stopover on their transit routes, and making the most of it means you can experience the cafés in Paris or hit up the markets in Hong Kong. Not only does a stopover break up tedious long-haul flights, but it also gets you more for your travel dollar.
So, next time it’s ‘wheels up,’ navigate your stopover like a pro.
Get your paperwork in order
First things first: paperwork. The time to learn the visa entry requirements isn’t when you face immigration. Don’t just focus on your final destination — remember to organise the necessary visa paperwork in advance of your stopover. Visitors stopping over in the U.S. may require an ESTA Visa Waiver, which needs to be processed in advance. Australia requires Canadians and Brits to organise an ETA (electronic tourist visa) in advance of boarding. However, China has made it easier to stop and explore with a 72-hour transit visa available on arrival for Shanghai and Beijing when transiting to another destination.
Keep it bite-sized
Don’t try to conquer your entire destination in 48 hours. In larger cities, like London or New York, decide in advance which areas you want to see. If your time is tight, skip popular tourist attractions where there are likely to be large line-ups. Look for something a little more off the beaten track — which might mean swapping out the Tower of London for the Churchill War Rooms.
Book accommodation ahead
Ever stopped over in Hong Kong, with two children in tow, at Chinese New Year, only to realise one night’s accommodation is going to cost you half a month’s rent? (Writer shyly raises her hand…) Worrying about where to stay when you’ve got a short time is a waste of energy better spent in museums or at the local bar. Book your stopover accommodation in advance — or at the very least, know where you want to stay, and how much it’s going to cost.
If the majority of your vacation is going to be spent hiking Machu Picchu or backpacking through Southeast Asia, your stopover is an ideal time to splurge a little. It doesn’t have to be as outrageous as staying at the world’s only 7-star hotel in Dubai. In cities like Bangkok, four- and five-star luxury is possible at reasonable rates. However, your splurge could also be as simple as sipping on a Singapore Sling in Singapore‘s famous Raffles Hotel, donning a fluffy white robe and ordering room service, or getting a relaxing spa treatment all in the name of fending off jet lag.
Stay close to public transit
If you’ve only got one or two days to explore, plan to be close to public transit so you can get around with ease. Take into consideration how far the airport is from the city. Hong Kong is only 24 minutes by train and Amsterdam a mere 17 minutes away from Schiphol airport. Do your research in advance and determine how close your hotel or Airbnb is to public transport, or whether taking cabs is going to bite out of your holiday spends.
Take a tip from the locals
Ever found yourself wandering around overpriced touristy stores and thinking, “Where are all the locals?” Well, we’ve got you covered. You can hook up with actual locals when you book any Urban Adventures tour — all without resorting to Google or calling on that friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. You’ll get to check out neighbourhoods you might not otherwise explore, meet fellow travellers, and learn tips that only #localsknow.
Ease your re-entry
The hardest part of a vacation is coming home. But a stopover can help ease the re-entry into real life and prolong your holiday, even if it’s only for a day. It’s also an ideal opportunity to experience a different type of holiday than the main event. Ticking off art galleries around Europe? Couple it with a couple of days lazing on the beach. After a vacation in Tanzania, I shifted gears and spent two days wandering the streets of Amsterdam on the way home. My vacation within a vacation went a long way to avoiding a bumpy landing come Monday morning.