Simon Calder: Look beyond the long-haul obvious


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The Independent Online

The clocks are about to lurch back, casting all of us in the Northern Hemisphere into the wintry gloom of dark evenings and shortening days. Just the moment, then, to start plotting a course for somewhere with brighter prospects.

Those with the twin blessings of time and money may well be tempted to aim for Australia and New Zealand, which are celebrating the southern hemisphere spring. The shrewd travellers among them will plan a stopover – if you are flying to the far side of the planet, it's sad not to build in a pause of at least a day in one of the world's more exotic locations.

The usual suspects have plenty to commend them: Hong Kong and Singapore offer an accessible distillation of China and South-East Asia respectively, while Bangkok works for travellers hungry for the Thai temple experience or full-on nightlife. Going west, Los Angeles is the hub of choice, with flights funnelled into southern California from Europe and fanning out into a trans-Pacific web – with five departures to Sydney alone between 9pm and midnight tomorrow.

Yet if you are lucky enough to be contemplating an escape to somewhere hot and exotic, or alternatively Adelaide, look beyond the obvious: anywhere from Munich to Havana can feature in your plans.

If Sydney is your destination, then one question: are you sure? If you intend to explore more widely in Australia, then it is almost certainly going to be better to buy an "open-jaw" itinerary, flying into one city and out of another: you'll reduce personal fatigue, expense and carbon footprint.

If Sydney is the sole target, you have the widest choice of stopovers. Of the Asian transit points, Shanghai (China Eastern), Taipei (China Airlines) and Seoul (Korean Air or Asiana) are the most startling mega-cities, with Abu Dhabi (Etihad) and Dubai (Emirates) clamouring for metropolitan supremacy in the Gulf.

For the opposite experience, fly out of Heathrow one evening at 8pm aboard Air Mauritius. You'll land on the idyllic Indian Ocean island described on these pages just before noon next day, and have time for a few blissful hours on the beach – or in the jungly interior – before another overnight flight. Attenuating jet lag has never been so sweet.

The ideal trip to Australia, though, is a Premium Economy haul from London to Sydney. The return price of £2,676 (as quoted by Opodo for travel next month) may seem expensive, but just look what it involves: flying Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick to Havana, where you can spend a week exploring the greatest city in the Caribbean.

You cannot make the obvious connections via Miami and Los Angeles, because of US rules, but Air Canada will take you via Toronto and Vancouver, with time to enjoy both of these great cities. And coming home, luxuriate in Virgin's premium economy via Hong Kong.

Expensive and indulgent, certainly – but comfort yourself with the knowledge that, at the national minimum wage and assuming a 40-hour week, it will take exactly 11 weeks to earn enough to buy the ticket. Not bad for the circumnavigation of a lifetime.

When you look at the inflight "sky map", do you feel an occasional pang of sorrow – wondering about the wonders that are seven miles below and about to disappear at nine miles a minute? Well, you can go back to the days when thirsty old planes were barely capable of reaching the end of the runway, let alone going halfway around the world.

Flying down to Rio? You used to have to stop in Lisbon and the Brazilian city of Recife, close to the mouth of the Amazon. And you still can, thanks to TAP Portugal. And with Lisbon's airport only 15 minutes from town, you can build in a stroll by the Tagus.

Darwin was for decades a mandatory stop en route to Australia. Now you fly over it. Yet the Northern Territory capital is the natural gateway, in both senses, to the nation. You can change planes in Singapore for Darwin, then travel by train from the rainforest to the desert at Alice Springs (and a side trip to Uluru) before continuing on the rails to Adelaide – proof that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.