When most travelers think of an overnight stopover, they imagine an international destination —maybe spending a night in London or Paris after a long haul from the United States, for example, or using a built-in, free stopover ticket from Turkish Airlines in Istanbul or Icelandair in Reykjavik. However, the domestic stopover can also be used with great, and perhaps surprising, effect.
As someone who travels nonstop without any semblance of residence, I may do this when connecting two separate long haul trips together, such as returning from southeast Asia to the United States with a whole half day of down time before heading in a different direction to Europe or South America. Flying “straight” from Bali to Swedish Lapland is about as difficult as it sounds. Even presuming most of you aren’t as maniacal as myself, though, the domestic stopover has plenty of applications for the leisure traveler.
Unless you live in a major hub city, international travel days often escalate beyond what you envisioned. Sure, there’s that eight-hour flight you have from Chicago or New York to Europe, but there’s the three or five hour flight you need to take to get there, and the layover in-between. A night of rest that cuts the travel experience in half allows you to have a mental and physical reset, and when it’s 12 hours lounging in a stylish hotel as opposed to three hours wasting away in the airport terminal before your next flight, the trade-off doesn’t even seem like such a trade.
While the norm is that flights to Europe from the United States are red eyes, several of the most popular routes to European hubs like London, Paris and Amsterdam have morning flights, too. Catch the first flight out after an enjoyable evening and a morning workout in the hotel gym, and you’ll be wheels down for dinner in Europe later in the day, feeling a whole lot fresher than you would have otherwise, while not costing yourself much time.
On top of that, there’s no denying the true chaotic energy of travel right now. Flight delays and cancellations, missed connections and weather disruptions are more the rule rather than the exception, not to mention strikes, protests and unruly passengers galore. Traveling debacles seem to be at an all-time high. Opting for an overnight layover in a connection city is a smart way to eliminate any number of stressors and aggravations if your schedule has the flexibility to do so.
The domestic stopover shifts the power dynamic back to you. It feels a whole hell of a lot better to plan a short pause out in advance than fight with an airplane customer service rep to nab a complimentary pass for a one-night stay at the seedy motel around the block from the airport.
I’ve had more anxiety-ridden airport terminal runs staring down the ticking clock of a vanishing 27-minute connection window than I’d like to admit. Getting from Point A to Point B (via points A1, A2 and A3) as quickly as possible is my usual modus operandi. But I’ve never regretted the times I’ve slowed down a bit with a domestic stopover.
Finding the Right Domestic Stopover City and Hotel
The domestic stopover doesn’t work in every scenario — the right route and flight schedules need to be in place. Beyond the logistics of the route itself, the domestic stopover equation has two main variables to consider: accommodation and location.
Sure, there’s a dingy airport hotel anywhere there’s a runway in the United States, but the whole idea is to add more enjoyment to your experience, not more frustration. You need a high-end hotel with amenities and features you actually want to use, and it needs to be a property that’s in legitimate, immediate proximity to the airport. In my mind, that means you should be able to walk out the door of the airport and into the door of the hotel in no more than 15 minutes.
City: New York
Hotel: TWA Hotel
Airport to Hotel: 10-minute AirTrain & walk
The TWA Hotel at JFK is an obvious starting point, as it’s a short, free ride away on the AirTrain. You’ll be transported straight to the golden age of air travel circa 1962, ensconced in the mid-century environs in the former TWA Flight Center, a construction designed by Eero Saarinen.
The entire hotel is an Instagram trap, but it actually works. You’ll laugh at the people taking photos of themselves boarding Connie, the vintage 1958 plane turned cocktail bar out back, and then you’ll take a selfie of yourself doing it, too. Go ahead and order a drink like Vodka is My Co-Pilot, a Martini, and allow yourself to unironically indulge in the experience.
Throughout the property, there are numerous nooks and displays, diversions and photo-ops, and places to post up for a drink, a bite to eat, a work call or all of the above. Hit the heated rooftop pool overlooking the runway, or use the loaded gym, one of the largest and most well equipped of any hotel I’ve ever stayed at.
The TWA Hotel may seem silly and over the top, but within moments of arrival, you’ll find yourself giving into the conceit and enjoying yourself.
City: Washington, D.C.
Airport: Reagan National (DCA)
Hotel: Pendry Washington, D.C.
Airport to Hotel: 7-minute drive
If you’re heading to Europe or beyond via Washington, D.C., flying to Reagan as opposed to Dulles makes a world of difference on the stopover convenience scale. From there, check yourself right into the new Pendry Washington D.C. at The Wharf. It’s a chic, contemporary choice that opened in October 2022 in the now thriving Wharf district, a development project that’s managed to exceed local expectations and transform into a legit, bustling scene. The Pendry D.C. has 131 contemporary rooms and suites and is home to a large outdoor pool deck featuring cabanas and day beds, along with several worthy in-house dining venues.
Visit Bar Pendry off the lobby for a cocktail or local D.C. brew, or Flora Flora for vibrant Mexican-Peruvian fare from breakfast through dinner. On the rooftop, hit up Moonraker, offering sushi and Japanese-inspired bites, with sake and Japanese whisky to match, all with a wraparound rooftop terrace showcasing sweeping views from the Potomac to the Washington Monument and Capitol Building. Or, just make use of the enticing minibar in your room, where you’ll find splurge-worthy options like half-size bottles of the Macallan, Clase Azul and Sipsmith.
City: San Diego
Hotel: Kimpton Alma
Airport to Hotel: 11-minute drive
San Diego may not strike you as an obvious choice of domestic stopover, as it’s not a hub. But there are several scenarios when you should consider it as a wise option. One, the airport does offer direct flights to destinations such as Hawaii or Japan. So if you’re traveling in that direction from the east coast or Midwest, for instance, San Diego and its downtown airport beckons, along with the sometimes wonky routes required to get to certain Mexican getaways like Cabo San Lucas from the same points of origin.
In this case, visit the Kimpton Alma, adjacent to the Gaslamp Quarter. The 211-room property was formerly known as the Kimpton Palomar, prior to an extensive $25 million renovation and rebranding. The new digs are colorful and showcase tattoo-inspired artwork and motifs, with rooms featuring large balconies, teal carpets offset by brown leather furnishings and a touch of art deco flair. Take advantage of the hotel’s outdoor pool deck and Kimpton amenities like complimentary nightly social hours in the hotel’s all-day cafe.
The highlight of the stay will be a visit to The Desmond for dinner and drinks. Chef Jason Neroni showcases a range of Italian and Asian influences in dishes that are both flavorful and eye-catching, focusing on seasonal ingredients alongside house-made pastas and a raw bar. An optional tasting menu is available, and the technique-driven cocktail menu should be explored as well.
San Diego is also an alternate to Los Angeles, and you can get creative when looking up flight fares and connections, even driving between the cities as part of an itinerary. It’s a two-hour trip, which is the same duration as a roundtrip ride from LAX to most places you’d want to get to in the city for an overnight. Most, except…
City: Los Angeles
Hotel: Hotel June
Airport to Hotel: 12-minute drive
Getting from LAX to anywhere you want to go in Los Angeles is going to take a minimum of an hour. That’s long been the case, anyway. Enter Hotel June, which opened amid the pandemic in summer 2020. Located in the city’s Westside, adjacent to the airport, Hotel June offers stopover travelers a sunshine-soaked respite from the road.
Hotel June showcases a welcoming, retro style, while its main draw is no doubt the buzzy pool deck with lounge chairs and day beds. Its Caravan Swim Club showcases Baja-centric flavors and dishes, along with a nightly happy hour as the sun sets. There’s also a 24-hour gym and wellness offerings like morning poolside yoga sessions.
The property offers the best of both worlds: you can soak up a little bit of that Cali vibe while being in direct proximity to the airport, without being in a bland, big box, corporate airport hotel. When done right, that’s what the domestic stopover is all about.
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