In this mini-series, I’ve introduced you to decompression layovers, and talked about how to plan one. As you look at airfares and travel routes, you may end up narrowing your choices down to two or three cities. How do you go about choosing which location will be best for your decompression layover?
Here are nine things to consider as you make your decision.
1. Is it on the right continent?
As a rule of thumb, it’s nicer to have your decompression layover on the same continent as your arrival country. That way, your longest flight is behind you, and you can begin recovering from jet lag before diving into the busyness of life at your destination.
2. Re-entry shock
In addition to acclimating to the right time zone, you may find yourself grateful to have some private, sheltered time to acclimate to the culture of your arrival country, whether it’s your passport or host country. This is especially true if it’s been a while since you’ve been to that country.
I made the mistake once of seeing friends right after we had arrived in the U.S., and I went on and on about how huge American houses are and how they’re filled with so much needless stuff…while we sat in their huge, stuff-filled living room. Thankfully, they are good friends and knew I was re-entry shocking, but not everyone will understand your rants (or your tears in the cereal aisle, or your constant elation about the bathrooms) when you first get back. So, you might want to consider a city in your arrival country, or in a culturally-similar country, to give you a few days without an audience to process things.
3. Do you know anyone in this city?
If the answer is “yes,” you may want to look elsewhere. Remember that decompression layovers are intended to be a break from visiting people, and a time for just your family to pause together.
One exception is staying with expat friends. Folks who have lived overseas often understand the need to decompress, and will likely give you the space you need to just be on your own. They may also be a good listening ear for the aforementioned rants, tears, and elation.
4. Language and culture
Will you be able to function easily in one of the languages you know? Would you find it more relaxing to function in your mother tongue? Is the culture going to remind you too much of the place you’re trying to take a break from? For some, this is not going to be a big factor; for others, it will be the most important consideration.
Think about what makes the most sense for the amount of time you’ll be spending at your decompression layover location. If you’re only there for 24 hours, you’ll probably want to choose a hotel near the airport. If you’re there for four or five days, you can afford (time and hassle-wise) to stay farther away.
In addition to hotels, look into staying at retreat centers or not-for-profit lodging. Many folks swear by vacation rental sites such as Airbnb or VRBO to find wonderful homes to stay in that are generally more spacious and relaxing than a hotel, and allow you to save money because you can cook at “home.”
How easy is it to get from the airport to your lodging? Will it be a major hassle to transport your luggage back and forth? Does the hotel provide a free airport shuttle? Once you’re in the city, how easy is it to use public transportation to get around? Some cities have great public transportation systems (London, Bangkok) while others aren’t so great in this department (Manila, Los Angeles). Again, for some families, transportation may not be much of an issue. If you’ve got babies, toddlers, and/or heaps of luggage, it will play a bigger role in your decision.
Re-visit your list of what you’d like to accomplish during your decompression layover. If the goal is sleeping in and enjoying movies in the hotel room, you can accomplish that in just about any major city. If you’d rather get out and see the sights, look for a city that caters to tourists. Hong Kong, for example, would beat out Guangzhou for sightseeing and for being tourist-friendly. Climate and weather will affect your plans if you’re hoping to spend time outdoors, so educate yourself on what to expect at each destination if you’re not already familiar with the weather there.
8. Total cost
Don’t forget that, in addition to different prices for the airline tickets, there will be different prices for other aspects of your stay depending on which city you choose. For example, you might find a slightly cheaper flight through Tokyo than Seoul, but food, lodging, and transportation will all be less expensive in Seoul. Crunch the numbers before you make your decision.
However, remember not to be penny-wise and pound foolish: sometimes the absolute cheapest option does not make sense when you take into account the non-financial considerations on this list.
9. Will it really be restful?
I personally feel re-energized when I get the chance to explore a new city. Others will find it more appealing to go somewhere they’ve been a number of times, where they can function on autopilot instead of learning a new city’s subway system. I’m miserable when I’m hot and sweaty, so I find it more soothing to be somewhere in the higher latitudes. I’m also happier when I have access to creature comforts like cheese and napkins. Think about what is most restful and refreshing for you and your family, and add that into your considerations.
In the end, there will be some of these factors that outweigh others, but it’s good to keep these in mind as you plan. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find a decompression layover city that suits your family’s needs, and gives you a restful break on your way between worlds.