How to craft the perfect holiday stopover

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

How right was American satirist P. J. O’Rourke when he observed: “Modern air travel means less time in transit. That time is now spent in transit lounges.”

For Australians, those transit lounges are usually Dubai (for Europe), Singapore (for Asia) or Los Angeles (for the Americas). You’ve gone halfway around the world yet seen nothing of it, your eyes are square from 14 hours of screen time and you’ve got a date with early-onset jetlag.

Before long-range jetliners cut out a lot of those intermediate airports, travel to the northern hemisphere invariably involved at least one stopover, which could include staying overnight. Besides easing you through the time-zone changes, there are many other advantages to a stopover.

You get more than one experience; after all, Australia is a long way from anywhere, so you can get several ticks on your bucket list for just one airfare.

The home airlines of some countries have stopover packages that make it easy to organise a journey breaker. Sometimes the most direct route isn’t the cheapest, and sites such as Google Flights and Skyscanner will reveal options you’d never consider otherwise. But they can often involve long layover times, and once you’re faced with more than five or six hours in a transit lounge, the thought of a hotel bed, some unconditioned air and a good walk or tour around a new place is inviting.

If you can build stopover time into your next trip, here are some options:

Singapore

USUAL STOPOVERS

Singapore

Until recently most Australians heading for Europe were routed via Asia, but these days you often fly straight to Dubai, especially on Qantas or Emirates.

But Singapore is a perfect stopover at around eight hours’ flying time from Melbourne. It has shopping, nightlife, history and that heady blend of east-meets-west culture. Downtown is only 30 minutes from the airport.

Singapore Airlines has stopover packages for its transit passengers. For instance, it recently had a $49 per person deal that included a night’s twin-share accommodation, return airport transfers, free rides on its Hop-on Hop-off bus and admission to popular tourist attractions.

Hong Kong

This is a similar scenario to Singapore in its flight time, shopping/culture/nightlife experience and only a 30-minute train ride to the CBD. And for real cultural contrasts, Macau is just 60 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong. The city can also be a stopover on some airlines’ routes to the US and Canada.

Hong Kong’s home airline Cathay Pacific does have a 24-hour stopover package, but at a recent price of $835 per person, you might look at planning and booking something independently.

Dubai

It would be amazing to think of the number of Australians who’ve been to Dubai but never left the airport (including me, six times). Dubai Airport is an amazing place, so imagine what the city is like. Emirates has dozens of stopover options, with a choice of 99 hotels. They start at $110 per person, and you have to book via Emirates or a travel agent after you’ve paid for your flight.

Bangkok

Thai Airways has been known to offer free hotel stopovers in Bangkok for its passengers, but they don’t include airport transfers or other benefits. Downtown Bangkok is about an hour from the airport and there’s plenty to be tempted by in the Thai capital. The Skytrain and MRT system offers day or week passes, is cheap, fast and efficient and keeps you out of Bangkok’s infamous traffic snarls or getting ripped off by taxi drivers. Take a river cruise, with commentary in English, or visit one of the many shopping malls around Rajprasong intersection, Pratunam and the Siam Center. There are street food stalls aplenty. Check smarttraveller.gov.au for travel warnings.

Johannesburg

UNUSUAL STOPOVERS

Johannesburg

South Africa is often a destination in itself, but it can be an amazing stopover to any destination in Africa and a detour on the way to Europe. The country’s famous game parks are within easy reach of Johannesburg, from where there are direct flights to London.

You’ll have to go via Sydney (Qantas) or Perth (SAA), with the former being 14 hours, but imagine coming home with not only photos of the Eiffel Tower but also Africa’s wild five in your phone.

Hawaii

Most Australians enter the US through Los Angeles, which can be a daunting experience after 14-plus hours non-stop from Melbourne.

Hawaii will ease you into America with a relaxing dose of hula, history and loud shirts. Honolulu is 10 hours from Sydney (only Jetstar has a direct flight from Melbourne), and from there it’s an easy hop to other US cities, bypassing LA.

Not being a standard international stopover, you may have to get separate tickets to include a Hawaii visit.

Mauritius

Mauritius

This Indian Ocean island nation is a do-able alternative route to Europe, with a heady blend of white beaches, Creole cuisine and unique wildlife. You’re committed to Air Mauritius and must travel via Perth, but if there is no same-day connection to Paris, the airline will provide up to two free nights’ accommodation, transfers and meals.

Vancouver

While still a long haul from Australia, this is a good stopover option if you’re headed for the eastern US and want to avoid Los Angeles. It’s a stunning waterfront city and its airport runs so smoothly – I’ve twice gone from plane door to airport train door in under 25 minutes.

And to ease travelling on to the States, you go through US customs and immigration in Vancouver Airport.

Written by Jeremy Bourke
June 20, 2017

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