The first rule of international travel is, whatever you do, don’t leave your passport on your dresser, where you of course could never, ever forget it. The second rule is, always fly direct, because layovers are vacation-killers. Except -- hold on a sec. Have you heard of the stopover? Picture a layover so long it goes back around to actually good. Airlines in the States still haven’t caught onto this practice, so American travelers might still be wondering whether the two-for-one deal is, in fact, all that. The answer: Yup. It’s real, and it’s spectacular.
The setup is this: You book a flight to your ultimate Point B with a stop on the way in the big hub of a given overseas airline. Great, you’re used to that. But instead of racing to get through the airport in 50 minutes, schlepping your carry-on through another security checkpoint, talking yourself out of some $26 fancy chocolates, and wondering if dinking around the airport in this new foreign land “counts” as having visited the country (sorry; it doesn’t) -- instead of all that, you just ... leave. You hail a cab. You book a hotel. And for no extra cost, you kill a day or three or seven before returning for your connecting flight.
In Europe, where far more airlines clamor for your travel dollar, stopovers have become very much A Thing. “In days of yore, airlines charged extra for the privilege of stopping over in an intermediary airport, even though it didn’t really cost the airline much to allow the stopover,” says George Hobica, an airline analyst and founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. These days, if you have so much as an extra few hours to fold into a two-destination trip, you should be looking for stopovers.
Look for the option among long-haul carriers. You’ll usually see a stopover option on their website; buy there or via a travel agency. Some will sweeten the pot with hotel deals, meals, or excursions. Others get even more creative: Icelandair in 2016 let stopover customers during low season borrow an airline employee for a day, to play tour guide. Stopovers have become, Hobica notes, “a win-win.”
Here are some of the best in the world right now.