Disclosure: This article may contain compensated links. See our full disclosure here.
We’ve all seen them (and many of us have been them): Parents, in the airport, at the end of their rope, clutching desperately to their very last bits of sanity. Nothing says “vacation” like a family meltdown in the airport. Air travel with kids in tow can be, shall we say, a bit stressful, so most of us simply want to contain the pain and take the quickest route from Point A to Point B.
I am no different. I have typically gravitated towards direct flights for that very purpose.
However, now that my kids are all teenagers with quite a bit of travel experience, I have decided to turn that approach on its head and instead experiment with making the journey as long as possible.
Before you decide whether I am insane, hear me out.
Layovers are the secret
A layover is a stop at a connection point between two cities. What many people don’t realize though is that a layover can be for up to 23 hours (at 24 hours, it becomes a “stopover,” which we will chat about another time).
While a 3-4 hour layover can be a drag, as you aren’t able to do much other than wait, a long layover gives you time to leave the airport and explore.
Our crazy experiment
We will be putting this new approach to practice in August in what is a bit of an extreme example:
Booking award travel from Washington, D.C. to Sydney, Australia, we had no choice but to connect in another U.S. city, since there are no direct flights between IAD and SYD. On our preferred airline, we had the option of connecting in Houston, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. The boys indicated that, of those three cities, they were most interested in visiting San Francisco. So we chose flights that would give us a 14-hour layover in the Golden Gate City.
This will allow us to fly five hours to San Francisco, arriving at 9:00 a.m. PST, then have the entire day to head into the city, tour Alcatraz (the boys’ top activity pick), and have a great (non-airport) dinner before returning to SFO at night for an 11:00 p.m. departure. Essentially, we get an entire day to visit an additional city at no extra cost. Certainly, in one day we can’t possibly enjoy all that San Francisco has to offer but, in my book, something is better than nothing! As an added bonus, this will serve as a nice break between the first leg of our trip and the 15-hour flight from San Francisco to Sydney.
This same strategy can be used (on a much saner level) within the U.S. If you are traveling between the east and west coasts, why not take a long layover to visit Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, or any other hub? You will probably even save money by doing so, as connecting flights are often (but not always) less expensive.
What do you think? Would you build a long layover into your itinerary? Is this clever or crazy?
Update: In our Facebook comments, we heard from a number of people who had successfully used this strategy in London. Yay! Also, about a month after we published, episode 12 of the Miles Away podcast with Zach Honig described how to use a layover in Los Angeles (LAX) for a day trip to Disneyland. If you are interested in that option, you can check it out here.