As I described in the post Cold Call: Take Two, I was the happy recipient of an offer of summer employment from Bogazici University that included, along with housing and a modest salary, one round-trip air ticket from Minneapolis to Istanbul. When I sent e-mail accepting their offer I asked my hosts to purchase a ticket leaving one week earlier than their proposed date of June 7th, just prior to the start of summer classes, and to route me via Athens rather than on a non-stop flight from New York to Istanbul as they had planned. Since neither of these changes increased their costs they were happy to comply. Then, after receiving the ticket in the mail (this was before the days of e-tickets), I contacted the airline and, for a modest fee, extended my layover in Greece from four hours to seven days!
A great way to turn your working vacation into an even more enjoyable low-cost holiday is to take that free ticket from A (your home) to B (your destination) and convert it into a free or “almost-free” ticket from A to C to B, where C is any destination along the way that you would enjoy visiting. Essentially, you are converting your no-cost working vacation airline ticket into a “twofer” by adding a second stop. My wife and I spent a glorious week in Athens, Thessaloniki, and the lovely island of Paros before continuing on to Istanbul to start teaching.
We repeated this gambit on a number of subsequent working vacations, including Zimbabwe (via Lisbon, Portugal; and Cape Town, South Africa), Mauritius (via Mumbai, India), Australia (via the Fiji Islands) and Mongolia (via Beijing, China). This coming October I will be working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a three-week layover in Tokyo, Japan added to the end of the stay. In all cases the charge for extending my time in the stopover city was either zero or quite small compared to the cost of purchasing a full-fare air ticket from Minneapolis to that same destination. Even today’s $100 to $150 fee for modifying an existing reservation is a small price to pay for a holiday in Beijing, a week in Athens, or nine days in the Fiji Islands!
When planning air travel to a host country don’t search only non-stop flights, unless you are traveling with children and that is the most important consideration. Instead, determine which airlines fly to your ultimate destination, where they stop, and what the cost would be to extend your time in a stopover city on the way there or upon your return. Then inquire if your hosts would be willing to purchase an air ticket with an extended layover, either with them picking up any additional costs or having you cover the difference. You might be surprised to discover that, since the host institution has already committed to spending thousands of dollars on transportation, salary, and housing expenses, a $50 or $100 fee added to the air ticket will be of little or no concern to them–as was the case with my upcoming trip to KL. And the end result is that you get to spend a few days, perhaps even a week or more, in some exotic getaway–an attractive perk added to your already attractive working vacation experience.