To stopover, or not to stopover?
One decision to be made when working out a long haul itinerary is whether or not to plan a stopover when booking flights. Here are a few issues to consider which might help you decide.
What’s it going to do to the flight cost?
Before making a decision to stopover, check out flight combinations and prices. A stopover including a few nights’ accommodation sometimes makes very little difference to the total flight cost compared to a direct flight. A stopover is classed as a stay of more than 24 hours whereas a layover might be just an hour or two. Layovers can also give you the chance to do a bit of sightseeing during your journey. See if you can extend your layover by taking a later flight to your final destination with that same airline. If the city is relatively close to the airport and if transportation is good, you can see a little of the layover city without it increasing the budget at all. Your luggage will usually be checked through to your final destination leaving you with just hand luggage. This has worked for me several times, most recently in Chicago and in Istanbul.
How much of the world do you want to see?
On both occasions I’ve been to the Antipodes, the best flight deals hubbed through places I’d already visited, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Eschewing the stopover didn’t leave me feeling like I’d missed out , but I may have felt differently if I’d never been to the stopover city before. A trip to Tanzania with Qatar Airways gave me the opportunity for a two-day stopover in the Qatari capital Doha, somewhere I’d not have chosen to visit in itself, but a pleasant stopover nevertheless. Next year, I’m stopping off in Sri Lanka en route to the Seychelles, a little out of the way but a great opportunity to see more places without vastly inflating my budget.
How will you cope with double jet lag?
If you are travelling east over any distance then you’re going to be hit by jet lag. There are things you can do to help alleviate symptoms, including trying to eat and sleep according to the new time zone before you arrive and keeping hydrated during the journey with plenty of water, but the fact remains, jet lag is a very real possibility. On my trips to Australia and New Zealand, I’ve opted for a quick change of flights rather than a few days’ stopover. Why? So I suffer the dreaded jet lag once rather than twice. Admittedly by 4pm on my first day in Sydney I was punch-drunk with fatigue but after a good sleep I was raring to go the next day. In Auckland a few years later, prepared for the same thing, I enjoyed a pleasant day exploring Ponsonby before hitting the hay at 7pm for a decent night’s rest. Again, the following morning, I was fully refreshed and ready to tackle the city instead of facing another long flight. Choose a layover airport with plenty of facilities, such as Singapore’s Changi or Kuala Lumpur International, both of which have airside hotels. You can book a bed or take a shower while you wait for the second flight, and get that horrible journey out of the way in one hit.
How much time do you have for your holiday?
If you’re heading long haul for a long stay holiday such as a gap year, then a few weeks exploring somewhere on the way doesn’t make a big dent in the time you’re going to get at your destination. But if that holiday is restricted to the two or three weeks you’re going to be able to get off work, then you need to think about where you really want to spend it. Ask yourself whether your stopover days will prevent you seeing something amazing at your main destination, or give you the chance to see something equally amazing en route that you’d otherwise have missed.
Are you likely to get the opportunity to go back?
For some, a long haul trip will be the adventure of a lifetime, and likely to happen only once. If that’s the case, then stopping on the way to your main destination might be the only chance you’ll have to explore that part of the world and as such, you might be foolish to pass up the chance. If it’s somewhere that frequently shows up on flight deals websites or is a popular package holiday destination and thus relatively cheap, you might be tempted to ditch the place as a stopover for now and go there later on for a longer holiday.
Are you unsure about whether you’d like the place or not?
Taking the opportunity to make a stopover in a city is a good way to find out if you like the place enough to book a longer holiday or not. Sometimes, this might be clear beforehand; it’s possible to stop in Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, on the way to certain North American destinations, but in my opinion, this incredible country warrants more than a couple of days. But if you’re unsure, then staying just a night or two in a place gives you a taster, enough to help you decide whether to tick it off the list or to go back for a more leisurely visit.