Mastering the art of the stopover takes a bit of practice, but get it right and it reaps rewards.
Years ago, when I was living and working in Europe, I was an expert at long-haul flying. I’d slip on my travel socks and padded satin eye mask, slather myself with moisturiser and face mist, avail myself of the drinks trolley and that 26-hour trip from London to Melbourne would be a breeze (even in economy). I was focussed on getting to my destination and I didn’t have time to waste en route.
It was a rude shock on my first long-haul flight with a baby that it wasn’t about me any more. Toys, snacks and muslin drool cloths quickly replaced glamorous travel accessories. Being responsible for a baby meant that I couldn’t sleep like I used to but popping a Temazepam was not a good look. What I realised quite quickly was that if I wanted to travel far and wide with my kids, the only way to survive with sanity (and dodgy back) intact was to break the flight.
Stopovers have other benefits too. They give kids a sense of distance and cultural difference and can whet their appetites to return. When I’m travelling to Europe with my kids, I’ll often choose the airline based on its hometown hub, Singapore being a firm favourite. Indeed I don’t think Qantas has done too many favours for the stopover since they routed through Dubai. Despite the desert city’s bells and whistles for many travellers, in my opinion it just doesn’t have the authentic appeal of vibrant places like Hong Kong or Bangkok. Here are my top tips to stopover well.
The purpose of a stopover is to make you feel physically rested and nurtured – the antithesis of the flight itself – and a five-star hotel doesn’t have to cost the earth. You’re only there for a night or two, so you might as well enjoy it. Ask your airline or travel agent about special deals – there are plenty of them.
Take a transfer or a taxi
You might have been an intrepid globetrotter once but travelling with junior nomads your days of discovering the delights of the local public transport system are over. Most hotels can organise transfers and the driver can assist you with your luggage. If you’ve got little ones who need car seats, a limo is usually a safer bet than a local taxi.
Check bags through
Do your airline and airport research to see if you can store some luggage and take an overnight bag into town. Alternatively, leave most of your bags in the hotel’s luggage storage area so you’re only unpacking one or two pieces in your room.
Order room service
The novelty of having a waiter wheel a white-clothed trolley into your room, with food hidden beneath silver cloches, is something the kids will talk about for years to come.
In the swim
A splash in the hotel pool is an ideal way to relieve symptoms of jetlag and fix those swollen ankles. Just ensure you’ve got your bathers with you.
Take it easy
Rest. Sure you’re in a new destination but don’t try and see it all in 24 or 36 hours. Choose one or two sights or activities and find a good local eatery and then just chillax.
This is an edited extract of a column first written for International Traveller magazine, November 2015.