It’s not the destination, it’s the journey… Making the most of your layovers could be a great way to explore some unexpected destinations!
While browsing for flights online, you have mostly like come across flights with really long layovers—and scrolled right past them. I used to be that way too, but that has changed as I’ve matured as a traveller. If you’re not in a big rush to get to your final destination, layovers actually provide an amazing opportunity to experience a new place on the go without worrying about hotels or complicated itineraries.
I have personally done many layover trips and have been able to quickly (and inexpensively) get a taste of cities like Paris, Singapore, and even Honolulu.
By definition, a layover is what happens any time you have to stop in one city for a connecting flight. This means layovers can be as brief as 30 minutes or as long as 24 hours (after 24 hours a layover is technically known as a stopover). The most fruitful layover trips require creative and unique itineraries that fit multiple activities into a short amount of time. While it may feel risky to try to squeeze in an extra city before a connecting flight, with an adventurous mindset, it’s actually an opportunity to get more out of your travel time.
Imagine the possibilities
Travel is often perceived as just a journey between two points but doesn’t have to be like that, especially, for long cross-continental trips. For example, I am currently based in New York City and often travel to my native city Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The distance between the two cities is 12,654 kilometres. That’s quite a lot of ground to cover and, with no direct flights, the trip easily takes 19 to 24 hours to complete. A layover is mandatory for the journey. It’s nearly impossible to make the trip without a chance to stretch your legs and breathe in some non-airplane air.
During the Christmas and New Year holidays of 2015, I decided to visit Dhaka and promptly remembered that flights anytime around the end of year are always priced high, with some tickets even going for around 2,000 USD one-way. Unlike previous years, this time I was determined to find a better way to get to Dhaka.
As I looked for alternative ways to get to Dhaka, I had a surprising realization: if I was strategic in booking my connecting flight(s), I could save money and travel more.
The Road Less Travelled
In general, New York City always has fairly cheap flights to popular western European cities like London and Paris. That’s how I was able to fly to Paris one-way for 400 USD for the first part of my trip, where I spent a whole day seeing the Eiffel Tower, trying escargot, and just walking along the Seine.
From Paris I found a flight to Barcelona for about 50 USD on a low-cost carrier. I spent four days in Barcelona (technically a stop-over), staying at a cheap hostel in the city center. It was just enough time for me to get immersed in Spanish cuisine and art. I even had time to take a day trip to a nearby town to get away from the city.
From Barcelona, I continued to Istanbul. After landing, I spent about 36 hours visiting the mosques and markets in between eating way too much kebab. The Istanbul layover actually came with the ticket that I booked from Barcelona to Dhaka, which is not a traditional route as few people regularly travel to Bangladesh from Spain.
In short, I ended up paying around 1,200 USD for the flight instead of 2,000 USD. I spent another 250 USD on food, accomodation, and local transportation costs combined in Paris, Barcelona, and Istanbul. In total, I saved around 500 USD just by opting to lay over in some beautiful cities.
The best way to maximize savings during a layover adventure is by choosing a city that is layover-friendly. Are restaurants priced within your budget? Are there public transport options? Can you walk around? How’s the weather going to be on the day(s) of your expected visit? A little Googling will go a long way.
For example, Singapore is very layover-friendly, starting with a public bus that takes passengers from Changi Airport to the city center for about 2 USD. Once in the city, visitors can rely on an affordable and efficient public transport network to take them around the compact island. Visitors can also opt to walk to the many museums, parks, and food markets around the city. In fact, Singapore is such a layover-friendly city that you could even hop over to Malaysia during your layover and be back in time for your onward flight.
Layover Pro Tips
It’s a fact that layover travel should be strategically planned. It’s important to do your own research to to decide if it will be cost-effective for you to take a flight with a long layover. Keep in mind that some of the savings you accrue by opting for layovers will be spent on meals, transportation, attraction tickets, and lodging during the layover.
Some of the main tricks to have a worthwhile layover adventure are purely logistical. For example, choosing a flight with a long layover (ideally eight hours or more) will ensure that you have plenty of time to explore and make your next flight. Choosing a flight that lands in your layover city early in morning will also ensure that you are able to leave the airport and engage in different activities in the city. The best advice, however, is to pack as lightly as possible, as you’ll be required to be in almost constant motion and not all airports offer affordable luggage storage.
Taking the Plunge
Layover travel is a form of art and it certainly comes with challenges. It may seem like a risky and convoluted way of travelling, but for those with an adventurous and spontaneous mindset it can be a very productive experience. Ultimately, any traveler who is able to take a (calculated) risk on layover travel will be rewarded with maximized savings and enhanced enjoyment.
Hasin Ahmed is a seasoned traveler, an adventure enthusiast, and the co-founder of travel discovery app Burdie.co.
Burdie.co is a travel app that helps travelers discover uncommon destinations, book hotels and tours, and stock up on travel accessories—all in one place.