I’ve recently become enamored with the idea of traveling to places I wouldn’t see on their own by taking advantage of stopovers on the way to my final destination.
What’s the difference between a stopover and a layover?
Though often used interchangeably, a stopover is not the same as a layover. When you fly, a typical connection that’s less than 24 hours long is considered a layover. Since these are usually no more than a couple of hours, layovers usually aren’t long enough to leave the airport and do anything. Even if it’s up to 6 or 8 hours, it wouldn’t make sense to leave and make your way into the city in that time frame. A stopover, however, is at least 24 hours, which means you have to stay overnight (or even multiple nights) in an intermediate city.
Most airlines and flight search sites won’t highlight results that include stopovers, because most people have somewhere to be and they’re not trying to spend one or two nights in some other random place. But there are a few reasons why this actually an awesome way to travel.
1. It’s less exhausting
I’ve been on my share of 20+ hour flight itineraries, some of which are unavoidable, and each and every time I arrive at my destination completely wrecked. So the first couple of days of vacation I’m just trying to recover from the flight over. When you fly with stopovers, you catch up with rest on different legs of your trip. Instead of thinking of it as a 40-hour connection, think of it as having two direct flights to different destinations.
And if you’re worried about how awful it might be to lug all your stuff to and from the airport two days in a row, consider that many airlines will check your bag to the final destination. So you just have to pack some necessities in an overnight bag and take that as a carry on.
2. It allows you to visit places you wouldn’t visit directly
I recently did this on a stopover in Helsinki. I had been to every other Nordic country, some twice, except Finland, so I was in no hurry to plan a standalone trip there. But scheduling an overnight there cost me nothing additional except one night of lodging. I didn’t go out of my way, and I got to enjoy it anyway. And this can be a way to discover destinations that you may want to explore in the future.
3. It could actually save you money
I recently discovered a search engine called Airwander that shows you all the potential stopovers from one destination to another, for upwards of 3 days in each destination. And you’d be surprised how much you can save by taking a completely ridiculous flight connection. For example, it would be cheaper for me to go to Malta, which is south of Italy, by way of Dubai, than it is to go there directly or through some more direct connection. And you can imagine why. That’s an absurd itinerary, unless you’re interested in doing both for less than the price of one.
4. It can help you to circumvent visa requirements
In certain countries that require a visa to visit, you can avoid the hassle and cost when you visit by taking advantage of visa-free transit rules. For example, in China, you can travel visa-free for up to 72 hours in cities like Beijing, as long as you have an outgoing flight to a third destination. In other words, it’s impossible to take advantage of this unless you do it as a stopover. Outside of that, you would need a $150 visa as a US traveler to enter China.
The only cost is time
The one major downside to traveling with stopovers this is that it does require a lot of time. So, for instance, if you have only 10 days to spend in Greece and you do a 1 or 2 night stopover in Scotland, you’ll be cutting your original trip shorter. Of course, the other alternative is just to extend your vacation. An extra day or two doesn’t seem like that much if it will give you the opportunity to preview a place you’re curious about. Besides, we work too much anyway. Wouldn’t you say you deserve 12 days instead of 10?