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How to Turn a Boring Layover Into a Trip Within a Trip

You can fit in a mini-trip en route to your travel destination.

A stopover en route to your travel destination can be its own trip. Sometimes stopovers are long enough to hit one or two major attractions, pop into a restaurant to sample the local cuisine, or experience a city’s vibrant nightlife. If a stopover is 24 hours or more, it’s often possible to pack in a full day of sightseeing and a good night’s sleep.

With a little planning, you can turn a boring layover in an airport into the chance to spend a few hours days seeing a city you are stopping in anyway. Often, buying an airline ticket that adds a day or two to your stopover plans will cost about the same as an itinerary that only leaves you with enough time to hurdle from one gate to the next. Some airlines even offer incentives to stay a while and leave the airport.

There are several ways to create two trips out of one.

INSIDER TIPBefore booking a long layover, make sure that you look into whether the country you are stopping in requires a visa. If a visa is required, it usually doesn’t matter if you are spending a few hours or a few weeks outside of the airport – you will still need a visa.

Look for Long Connections

Most travelers want to get to their destination as soon as possible. But if you are looking for a stopover experience, instead of looking for the fastest flights, search for itineraries with long layovers. This can be a great way to explore a different city for a few hours or more.

Instead of booking an itinerary with only a couple of hours between flights, look for a schedule that gives you the most time possible in the city you are hoping to visit. For example, an 18-hour layover in Paris would certainly give you enough time to take a taxi into the city to see the Eiffel Tower and grab a baguette.

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A layover of 30 hours or more gives you a full day to explore the City of Light. Most airline websites and search engines like Google Flights allow you to sort results by the length of the trip. The default is usually to show the shortest trips first, but you can filter results so that the longest possible travel time appears at the top of the list.

If you are successful in booking a long layover and need somewhere to sleep, look for creative options: transit hotels rent rooms by the hour, airline lounge passes can sometimes get you access to beds or cots, and some airports even offer sleeping pods.

In many countries, there are short tours designed specifically for those with several hours to spare during a layover. Search “stopover tours for [your destination]” and see what you find, or look at sites like Viator and read reviews of different options.

Depending on the length of your stopover, you may only have time to drive by important sites or hop out of the car for a photo or two. However, because stopover tours are usually customized to your itinerary, you may be able to make specific requests, such as spending more time at the Eiffel Tower. Because stopover tours are usually private and pegged to your specific flights, be prepared to pay a premium.

When deciding whether a long layover is a viable option, be sure to factor in how far the airport is from the city center, when you’ll need to check in for your connecting flight, and how bad traffic is likely to be when you are traveling. There’s no point in booking a long layover only to discover you don’t have time to leave the airport. Since there are so many variables, there is no one right answer to how many hours you need to make it out of the airport and back during a stopover. However, unless you like living dangerously (and can risk missing your flight) a good rule is to stay in the airport if your layover is under six hours.

Dealing with luggage shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether or not you get out and explore. Most airports have a place to check luggage for the day. Research how to stow baggage at your stopover airport in advance so you don’t waste time looking for a place to stash your bag or wandering around a new city with a full suitcase. Another solution is to check a bag through to your final destination. Although this probably isn’t feasible for overnight stopovers, if you can get away with only bringing a lightly packed personal item, your stopover will run even more smoothly.

Also, be sure to pay attention to the timing of the layover. There is no point in booking a long layover that takes place primarily in the middle of the night when almost everything will be closed.


Book Multi-City Flights

Booking multi-city flights is a great option for when you are flying between destinations on a trip. It’s also a great way to work in seeing a different place en route to your final destination without changing your itinerary.

For example, many British Airways international flights stop in London. If you plan on flying British Airways from New York to Cairo, you will probably have to change planes in London. Instead of booking an itinerary from New York to Cairo, get more flexibility by booking multi-city flights from New York to London, and then London to Cairo with a day or two in between flights. Booking multi-city flights also gives you more flexibility if you need to change one leg of your flight.

If you know you want to explore your stopover city, there aren’t many downsides to this plan. Since your original flight and connecting flight are linked to the same reservation, there is very little risk that you will be left stranded if you are delayed getting to your stopover point.


Look for a Stopover Program

Some airlines offer stopover programs designed to get travelers to leave the airport and explore. Turkish Airlines’ TourIstanbul program is the gold standard. Turkish Air offers complimentary sightseeing tours lasting from a few hours to a full day. Some itineraries include a free hotel room and meals. Every program is a little different, and most don’t include perks like free hotel rooms. However, each offers the flexibility to explore somewhere new (or an old favorite) en route to your final destination, usually by allowing you to extend your stopover for up to a week at no extra charge.

Just don’t get too excited before you book. Some airlines, such as TAP and Iceland Air, offer “free” stopovers, but the pricing of flights can change dramatically once you try to bump your onward flight from Lisbon or Reykjavik. Similarly, although airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Air, Royal Air Moroc, Royal Jordanian, and others advertise free hotel rooms, there is often fine print that disqualifies many passengers. For example, Ethiopian Airlines only offers a free hotel room for layovers that are between 8 and 24 hours.

Book One-Way Tickets

The most straightforward way to get time in a city along the way to your final destination is to book a series of one-way flights where there is a “natural” stopover en route to your final destination For example, if you find a flight from Los Angeles to Singapore that has a built-in stop in Hong Kong, consider booking each leg separately.

One advantage of booking one-way flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Singapore is that you can ensure you get as much time in your stop-over city as you like. Your final cost may also be less. This approach also gives you the flexibility to mix and match airlines, which could help you save a lot of money, especially if you use low-cost regional airlines such as Ryanair or Wizz Air that don’t serve your entire route. Say you want to fly from New York to Warsaw and your route requires a stop in Munich. Instead of booking the route through a U.S. carrier, you could book a flight to Munich on a U.S. carrier and then book a low-cost European carrier to Warsaw. You could easily build in a little time to see Munich, where you would have to stop anyway. However, this approach is time-consuming and could be risky. If there is a problem with one of the flights, you aren’t likely to get any sympathy if you need to make changes.


Try to Get Bumped

It’s impossible to plan for getting bumped from a flight. However, if you have some flexibility, it’s a good idea to give some thought about whether you would be open to getting bumped from a connecting flight for the chance to see a new city. While getting bumped from a flight is usually a traveler’s nightmare, if your goal is to get some extra time in a city instead of a short layover, it might be worth raising your hand when airline staff asks for volunteers.

Desperate airlines are sometimes willing to accommodate requests from passengers who volunteer to get bumped, including delaying one leg of your flight by a day or two. This strategy depends on a lot of luck and requires flexibility, but it can work if you are open to making last-minute changes in your travel schedule. If the next available flight isn’t until the next day, you will usually be able to collect your luggage. The airline might cover one night in a hotel and a couple of meals. However, if you delay your trip any longer than the next available flight, expect to be on the hook for any additional expenses.