7 Essential Tips When Considering a Stopover in Europe
A handful of times during our travels in Europe, we had an important decision to make before booking flights. Do we detour out of a place where we will be stopped before reaching our final destination – or do we skip it? Of course, there are benefits to adding a bonus trip to your adventure, but as with many things in life, the final decision somehow…depends. On the one hand, you don’t want to miss anything, but on the other hand, you might end up over-complicating things for very little gain.
Here are seven proven tips to help you make the decision to layover – or just skip it!
1. Consider your budget
First things first: does a quick overnight or weekend stopover fit into your travel budget? Be honest!
Yes, it is quite tempting to soak up all the possible experiences in Europe, but don’t do it if it jeopardizes the quality of your main trip. Costs can add up quickly, even for the shortest stays: hotel, transport, meals – all the things you’ve already factored in at your main destination. Conclusion: don’t blow your budget with a stopover. Instead, wait until you’re back in Europe for your next adventure.
2. Timing is everything
Once you’ve determined that you have the funds and the desire to make your air stopover a mini-trip, remember that timing is really everything. If you’re only planning a brief overnight stopover, don’t try to cram a ton into a compressed time frame. Consider picking a prime site, museum, or even just a walking tour of the historic city center to get a sense of the place. You won’t see and do everything in 12 hours, but that might be enough to tempt you to come back one day for a longer visit! It’s also important to keep in mind that many overnight layovers are just that: layovers. You won’t have much time to really dig – and if you do take the plunge, it might be in the wee hours (more on that in a bit). This could be another determining factor in your decision to quit or jump.h
If you have a few days, great! Do what you can in this time frame. But if your layover precedes most of your trip, take your time. You don’t want to burn out before you get to your main event!
3. Is this a bucket list spot?
This can be a big deciding factor. Once, on an off season return flight from Dublin, we had to connect via Madrid with a 13 hour overnight layover. The sensible thing to do would have been to get a comfortable hotel room near the airport and rest. However, we had never been to Madrid. What to do?
Well, we knew that all the museums and other downtown attractions would be closed and we would be arriving in town in the middle of the night. But we had never been to Madrid, and in our minds it was better to go and experience it a bit. Our short time there made it our decision to add the spectacular city to our future travel list.
Conversely, if your layover is somewhere you’ve visited before and are familiar with, you might decide to rest near the airport. Or, you can choose a single location to focus on. For example, a one-night stopover in London on the way back from Eastern Europe. We really know London very well. But instead of staying near Heathrow, we decided to visit an area we hadn’t visited before, have dinner at a fancy little cafe and hit up a few pubs. It was quieter – and easier to get to and from the airport in this area. This targeted approach has worked well for us, and maybe for you too!
4. Don’t forget transportation
It’s a big problem ! If you’re committed to leaving the airport and exploring your layover city, you need to consider how you’re going to get there. In Madrid, we were lucky enough to find a small hotel near the airport that was also close to a metro station. From there it was 45 minutes to downtown. In London, the Heathrow Express is a quick and easy (if a bit pricey) way to get to historic London…much quicker than a taxi or Uber. Depending on your specific stopover goals, it might be a good idea to combine your transportation needs with a driving tour to see as much of your city as possible.
Bottom Line: As we discussed during a layover, your time will likely be limited. Be sure to plan your transportation – private or public – in advance. You won’t be sorry.
5. Make a plan for your luggage
No one – and I mean no one – wants to drag luggage around on a quick, time-limited trip. Airlines generally do not check baggage during an overnight layover, which means you will need to collect it from the claims area when you arrive. That said, your visit will likely be a whirlwind and you don’t want suitcases or bags dragging you around. Luckily, you have a few options to lighten your load.
First, consider packing a light travel bag and leaving your heavy suitcases at the airport. Many major airports offer a luggage storage service, but of course you will want to check availability and associated costs in advance. Many train stations also offer this type of storage service.
You can also consider going through an online broker, such as Bounce. These will connect you to luggage storage locations near an airport or hotel, allowing you to roam a lot of ground right away. They are also generally cheaper than storing in a travel hub.
Last but not least, look into your hotel. Most will be happy to check your bags at the bell or have them brought up to your room immediately after you check in. Depending on the length of your layover, this might be the best option – and the cheapest.
6. Will language be an obstacle?
Layovers are usually fast-paced and action-packed. This is why it may be wise to consider whether or not the language will be an obstacle. Of course, London, Dublin or Edinburgh will not be a problem. However, if you are considering a city in a country where English is not the primary language and you don’t have a basic understanding of what it is, you might run into some issues that could cut into your travel time. stopover and/or your pleasure. .
We learned this the hard way when, on that super-quick layover in Madrid, the taxi driver ‘couldn’t find’ our hotel one exit off the main airport thoroughfare. We don’t speak Spanish at all, so this quickly turned into a fiasco, cutting into our fast travel time, not to mention our patience!
When we talk about a normal-length vacation, we’re all about experiencing different cultures and languages; it’s part of what makes travel so great. That said, while a language barrier may create a few grumbles in your short-term trip, it might be best to revisit a city when you have more time to spend and get the real feel of a place… and refresh some local words!
7. You might have to party like a rockstar
Finally, keep in mind that many overnight layovers are just that. You will land in the late afternoon and, depending on the type of plane ticket you have purchased, you will depart early the next morning. Usually, if you bought an economy class ticket or bought one with miles, no change without big surcharges will be allowed.
The good news is that many European cities don’t really get going until mid-evening. During our night in Madrid, we finally reached Puerta del Sol around 8pm, just as the city was starting to buzz. And while the museums were closed, we certainly made the most of our sleepless night, visiting the Museo del Jamon, La Torre del Oro (a bullfighting bar) and even a local pub where we filmed the last half of the epic Real Football match Madrid/Barcelona. We got out so late it was early, and by the time we took the metro back to our hotel, we only had 90 minutes to shower, grab a quick cup of coffee, and head to the airport. Yes, it was crazy. And we had no regrets. We had a 7 hour flight to crash before heading back to the US and we had enough taste in Madrid to know that we will be back soon.
Bottom line: A quick layover is just that. But if you’re headed to a fascinating place you want to get to know a little better, it’s a great way to experience a new city without making a big commitment, if you keep time and budget in mind. Embrace overnight adventure!