The first rule of international travel is, 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 along the way in the big hub of an 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. Airlines like Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, and Icelandair give travelers anywhere from 24 hours to a week for stopovers at their respective hubs in Hong Kong, Doha, and Reykjavik. Meanwhile, some national airlines will sweeten the pot with deals on travel packages and tours in their home cities. For example, Turkish Airlines offers tour packages for Istanbul and Singapore Airlines gives passengers the option to book a travel package with hotel and ground transportation included.
MORE: How to snag a flight + hotel combo deal for your stopover
Even if you’re only sticking around your stopover city for 24 hours, it may make sense to spring for a hotel room, if only to rest your head for a bit. If the airline doesn’t offer some kind of hotel discount or stopover package, you can find last-minute hotel deals on booking apps and sites like Hotel Tonight, JetSetter, and Priceline. Barring that, you’ll find that most major airports around the world offer amenities like free battery charging stations, designated napping areas, and even access to showers. A whirlwind 24-hour stopover is not for the faint of heart, but who wants to throw away a perfectly good vacation day just putzing around the airport?
Or, use a travel booking site to create your own stopover. Even if you’re flying with an airline that doesn’t make it easy to book an extended-stay layover, there are still some online travel tools that will help you DIY a multi-city stay. Travel site Air Wander finds cheap flight deals that include an extended layover, and popular booking sites, like Skyscanner, show you how to book multi-stop trips that could save you some money.
Intrigued? You should be. Here are some of the best cities in the world for a stopover right now.
MORE: These are the most useful apps every traveler should download