A few years ago I started something that today I can't stop doing. It began as more of an experiment than anything else. I was a full-time grad student living in London with a fierce urge to travel and no income, so I knew I had to be smart about using the money I had saved. During a long weekend, I went to Brussels for a few days, took the train to Cologne, Germany to check out the Christmas markets, returned to Belgium and then a day later headed back to London. On another trip, a group of friends and I ventured to Morocco, where I left the group early and flew to Andalusia, Spain to stay with a classmate and her family before returning to school. In my experimentation, I discovered that the cost of seeing these places together was substantially less than the cost of separate trips. And so it began.
Right about now travel hackers, or maybe most people in general, are probably thinking, "this girl is not saying anything we didn't already know." Well, guess what? It was new to me! So I'm gonna write about it.
For some reason, I never gave much thought to multi-stop trips as a common practice, especially stops in different continents. Of course I've had layovers and sometimes even a stopover but the idea of playing around with multi-stop and one-way flights, or even a roundtrip within a larger roundtrip flight, was something that never occurred to me until my grad school travels. It was like a light bulb went off and my overly efficient mind snapped into high gear. Since then I have done London – India – Paris – New York, New York – Miami – St. Thomas – New York, New York – Johannesburg – London – Stockholm – New York, New York – Los Angeles – Singapore – Thailand – Hong Kong – New York (I was feeling particularly ambitious), and in March I will be doing New York – Trinidad – Mexico – Miami – New York.
One could argue that I am taking away from the amount of time I spend in one place, and that is certainly a valid statement, but as I mentioned I am an efficient lady. If I know I'm going anywhere near Europe, Asia or Africa — or at least closer to them — and I will not have the opportunity to return for a long time, you better believe I'm going to take advantage. For me, even a taste of a place is better than no taste at all.
When I passed through Stockholm for 30 hours (better than 24!), I had no intention of leaving the city and declaring myself a Stockholm expert. My goal was to visit a place I've been wanting to see with the knowledge that I could not do everything I wanted to, but I could still enjoy the city in the brief time I had. For me, experiencing some of Stockholm trumped experiencing none. That's why I love the New York Times "36 Hours" series and Anthony Bourdain's The Layover. The format of these guides accommodates the reality that not everyone has the ability to slow travel or go away for an extended period of time, so we make do with what we have.
Like many things, there are a few caveats. Multi-stop flights are not always the best choice and sometimes there's the danger of squeezing way too much into a short span of time, but the main takeaway that has helped me travel more in recent years is to play around with flights. Think beyond the roundtrip airfare and look at what combination of planes, trains and buses will be most cost effective and allow you to see more places. Be savvy, do your research, explore somewhere new and enjoy the multi-stop ride.
Have you ever taken a multi-stop flight? What was your experience like?