Anyone who has tried to book a flight in recent months has probably noticed that the choices still aren’t great. Prices are high, flight time options are limited, and layovers are long. But what if you could use that long layover to your advantage — by briefly exploring a city you might otherwise never visit. If you’ve got the extra time and flexibility, turning your layover into an additional travel destination means you can see more, and often pay less at the same time. Here’s how to plan the perfect extended layover.
The difference between a layover, a connecting flight, and a stopover
First things first, let’s talk terminology, because what this extra stop on your flight is actually called — be it a “layover,” a “connecting flight,” or a “stopover” — is an important distinction.
A “connection” refers to the short time that exists between flights booked as a set. To get to a connecting flight, you usually have to travel through the airport to a new plane, which will take you to your next destination. A “layover” is the same thing, and the terms are often used interchangeably. The time you spend waiting during your layover (or connecting flight) typically won’t extend over 24 hours.
A stopover, on the other hand, is a layover that lasts longer than 24 hours. If a stopover breaks up your flights, you’ll probably want to leave the airport and get a hotel so you can rest before your next flight.
In general, it is always better to build in more time for your layover rather than less. (When you’re not turning this stop into a mini-trip, you should arrange for at least one hour between domestic flights and two to three if you’re flying internationally.) That helps give you a cushion of time in case your first flight is slightly delayed, as well as time to navigate the airport between flights. But if you’re looking to turn this into an extra mini-vacation, a layover of several hours — or even a stopover — is what you’re looking for.
How to plan ahead for your mini-holiday
Time is the most important factor here. Plan in the time needed to navigate the airport, additional transportation time once you exit the airport, sightseeing time, rest, dining, and the time it’ll take you to get back through the airport and onboard your next flight. Keep in mind that, depending on where you stop over, you may have to go back through customs or immigration.
It’s also important to check ahead of time for any additional regulations, particularly those that are pandemic-related. Some countries also require you to have a visa for spending even a short amount of time sightseeing outside the airport.
If you want to extend your stopover beyond the time listed on your ticket, the airport might be willing to work with you and change your flight — in fact, some airlines routinely give free stopovers to passengers. Each one handles the process differently and allows stopovers in specific countries or cities along its routes. Check with your carrier to see what’s possible for you.
Another thing you’ll need to consider is what to do with your baggage. For most connected flights, the airline will automatically transfer your luggage. However, this varies considerably by carrier and flights. Plan to have whatever you need to explore in your carry-on bag if the airline will be handling your checked bags for you.
There may also be options for storing the bulk of your luggage at the airport for several hours (or longer) while you explore the area, but inquire about that ahead of time so you’re not lugging multiple suitcases around with you while you attempt to explore a new city.
And finally, go forth with realistic expectations. This is not a full-blown vacation; you are going to get but a taste of the area. Pick one or two things you definitely want to hit — such as a landmark and a highly rated restaurant with the best local cuisine — as close to the airport as you can get. Plan to hit those, leave a little time for impromptu wandering or shopping, and then move along to your final destination.