Goodbye, long-haul: stops of all stripes

Hot, hot, hot ... Australians are increasingly heading for Rio de Janeiro.
Hot, hot, hot ... Australians are increasingly heading for Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Paul Bernhardt/Lonely Planet

Say goodbye to exhausting long-haul flights — Kristie Kellahan has stopovers to suit everyone.

I ONCE tried to push straight through from a long haul, 14½-hour flight (Sydney to Los Angeles) to a kinda long, 5½-hour flight (Los Angeles to New York).

What happened is I fell asleep in the LAX terminal during the four-hour layover and missed the flight.

South Africa is one stopover worth considering when heading to Brazil.
South Africa is one stopover worth considering when heading to Brazil. Photo: Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Lonely Pl

I had to pay hundreds of dollars for a new ticket to catch a flight the following day and ended up spending the night in an airport hotel, exhausted and grumpy.

I promised myself I would not do this again. I decided that if I got the chance to break up a long journey with a stopover, I'd take it.

When I travelled to the US last November, I flew from Sydney to Los Angeles, arrived mid-morning and took the free shuttle bus to the swish Hilton LAX, an easy five-minute hop from the airport kerb.

An early check-in was appreciated, though not expected, considering I had paid just $US58 plus tax for the last-minute booking on priceline.com. I took a long, hot shower, caught up on some of my favourite cheesy American TV, ordered room service then caught some rays out by the pool.

A chilled afternoon at the nearby mall was as ambitious as my sightseeing plans got.

Back at the hotel later in the day,

I marvelled at the Fanta-orange sunset from my window and fell into the awesomely soft bed for a much-needed night's sleep.

I woke the next morning feeling refreshed and ready for my 11am flight to the Big Apple. It was a 24-hour stopover well spent.

Verdict: this is the way to travel. Take your time, be a bit kinder to yourself and make the most of free stopovers offered by most airlines on flights to the US, Europe and the Middle East. You get two holidays in one and the opportunity to save your sanity. Priceless.

Most convenient stopover

If you're even considering flying non-stop from Australia to Europe, proceed directly to the crazy counter. A combined flying time of more than 24 hours in one stint (plus connections) ought to be illegal.

Bangkok is one of the most convenient stopovers on this route and one of the most affordable. Book a night at the lush Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is merely a few minutes from the arrivals terminal.

Decompress in the pool, order some pad Thai then check out the fabulous Thai oil massage in the spa. Well, you're in Thailand, so maybe have a massage, a scrub and a foot rub while you're at it.

A visit to the night markets, a good sleep in the huge Novotel bed and you're on the way to Copenhagen, London or Rome the next day, a better version of yourself than the one that arrived.

Two-holidays-in-one stopover

Should you book a romantic Tahitian holiday, stay in an overwater bungalow, swim in the aquamarine waters and dine nightly on tuna ceviche and Moet?

Or could a family getaway to the fun-park circus of Disneyland be what the travel doctor ordered?

Why not do both? You can, by flying Air Tahiti Nui to Los Angeles via Papeete. The natural beauty of Tahiti warrants at least a couple of days to get out and explore.

Stay at the Sofitel Tahiti Resort, convenient to the airport and offering a couple of delicious restaurants. From Tahitian idyll to the endless entertainment of La La Land, you're getting two markedly distinct holidays in one airfare.

Shop-before-you-flop stopover

Mauritius and the Maldives - both are totally brilliant holiday destinations. However, both can be a total pain in the proverbial to get to when travelling from Australia.

You can expect to travel for 24 hours or more, including connection time in Dubai, Singapore, Colombo or Kuala Lumpur, depending on the airline you book with. Better to break up the journey with a shopover in either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, to visit those Asian hot spots of night markets, hawker stalls and mega-malls.

A restful stay at the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur should be just the ticket for a mini-break in exquisite style, making the arrival the next day at your idyllic Maldivian overwater beach bungalow just that much more enjoyable.

An quick alternative for Mauritius is to fly direct with Air Mauritius, which will get you there from Sydney or Melbourne in about 11 hours.

The stopover you've never considered

Rio de Janeiro is hot, hot, hot, baby! It is shaking its well-toned booty and throwing a come-hither look to travellers. Aussies are making the trek in increasing numbers, despite the 20-hour plus flight with multiple connections.

Where you can stop over on the way to Rio varies widely and depends on which airline you choose. Go with Qantas/LAN Airlines and a few days of touring the wineries of Chile's Santiago is possible. Aerolineas Argentinas offers a fare that incorporates a few days in bustling Buenos Aires before connecting to Rio.

The most surprising stopover of all is a codeshare between South African Airways and TAM Brazilian Airlines, which departs Sydney and sets off for Rio via Johannesburg. Tour the big-game reserves for some wildlife spotting before you hit up Rio's Carnival for an altogether different spectator sport.

Three things to know

1. Stopover hotels worth sticking around for: Hilton LAX (Los Angeles), hilton.com/losangeles; Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok), novotel.com; Sofitel Tahiti Resort (Papeete), sofitel.com/Tahiti; Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur (KL), ritzcarlton.com.

2. Most airlines will permit travellers to stop over at no extra charge in destinations through which they connect on the way to their final destination. Check with the airline reservations clerk when booking. Online booking sites such as expedia.com.au also allow this type of booking.

3. Don't make the rookie mistake of arriving at your stopover destination without a valid visa for that country. In order to leave an airport and enter a country — whether for a few hours or a few days — you must ensure you have complied with local visa requirements. Check out smartraveller.gov.au.

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