It’s easier than ever to hop on a budget flight, visit several cities, and make that first long-haul journey really count. Our advice? Start at a big international hub, like Singapore, Bangkok or Dubai, and research short-haul stop-offs from there. We’ve curated five itineraries to get you started.
1. For noodles, skyscrapers and street life: Singapore > Kuala Lumpur > Bangkok
Start by flying to Singapore Changi, which, as one of Southeast Asia’s biggest airports, flies to 400 cities in 100 countries worldwide, and has just built a beautiful new addition complete with a huge, indoor waterfall. In Singapore itself, your main mission is to eat. Liao Fan’s hawker stall was the world’s first ever street-food stand to win a Michelin star – and also makes the cheapest Michelin-starred meal on the planet. Get a portion of soya chicken rice and doss down at flashy, view-tastic hotel Parkroyal on Pickering, just a dumpling’s throw away and a 20-minute cab from the airport.
From Changi, it’s just an hour’s flight to the multicultural Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, where minarets coexist with shiny-metal skyscrapers. Your to-do: splurge on a cocktail at SkyBar, an upscale bar with a swimming pool, opposite the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. Stay down the street at the Doubletree by Hilton, which has a fab pool of its own.
It takes two hours and costs next to nothing to get to Bangkok from KL, where the options for rounding off your trip are endless: wander through Chinatown, take a river boat, haggle over knick-knacks and eat some of the tastiest food you’ve ever had. Before you head home, stay somewhere special: we love Siamotif Boutique Hotel.
Start in Europe’s capital of class, Vienna – where imperial architecture meets priceless museum collections (make a beeline for the MuseumsQuartier) and opulent coffee houses. Best to stay in Landstrasse – a 10-minute metro ride from the museums, but also on the direct train line back to the airport. You can’t go wrong at the Mercure Grand Hotel Biedermeier Wien.
From there, you can get cheap plane tickets from Vienna to Berlin. And lucky you, because this is the world capital of techno clubbing, the perfect antidote to all that classical music and chinaware. Get a room at Nhow Berlin – the world’s first music-themed hotel, where you can get DJ decks or Gibson guitars as room service. It’s just down the road from world-famous superclub Berghain, as well as a direct train service to the airport when it’s time to stop the party.
Finish off your trip an hour and a half’s flight away in Oslo, where you’ll get a taste of a food revolution in the making: the world’s northernmost three-Michelin-starred restaurant is there, as well as traditional flavours interspersed with world-class sushi and pizza. Stay at Hotel Bristol for impeccable amenities and a fuss-free journey back to the airport.
Dubai International is the world’s busiest airport, and the sheer volume of flights in operation makes it the perfect starting point for a three-in-one holiday. While you’re there, attempt to take a photo of the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa (you’ll need a wide-angle lens) and if you manage it, reward yourself at one of the city’s infamous bottomless brunches. Take the opportunity to sample some hotel luxury, at the Emerald Palace Kempinski. Though a bit pricey, it’s good value for a five-star in the UAE.
Swap the glitz for the chilled, seaside atmosphere of Oman’s capital, Muscat, where you’ll spend your time haggling in the souks and wandering around the Grand Mosque and Al Jalali Fort. Stay at the budget-priced Centara Muscat, which is around the corner from the mosque and on the airport-side of the city.
It’s just an hour’s plane hop from Muscat to Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s cultural heartland, where a Louvre art museum opened in 2017. That should be your first port of call, before seeking out an adrenaline rush at Yas Island – the setting for the city’s famed Grand Prix. After all that excitement, take a dip in the fantastic pool at the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort, where you should book a room, too.
Start off in international hub Hong Kong, where 70% of the city is mountains and parks – making it one of Asia’s greenest urban centres. In between bowls of steaming, delicate dim sum, take some time to hike through the parks and surrounding geological regions, and stay downtown to immerse yourself in the buzz – we like Rosedale Hotel Kowloon, on the airport side of the city centre.
It’s three and a half hours, and generally cheap, to hop over from there to Seoul. South Korea’s 24-hour capital is a soju-soaked party of karaoke, K-pop and night markets, with sauna spas on hand when you need some downtime. Nab a room at the highly recommended ENA Suite Hotel Namdaemun, which is a five-minute walk from Korea’s oldest and largest market, Namdaemun Market.
Then it’s on to Tokyo, a two hours flight away, where old and new collide in a dizzying feast for the senses. Make Shibuya your base – the Japanese city’s entertainment centre and one of its most colourful, busy neighbourhoods, famous for its neon advertisements and shopping centres. For the full experience, try out a capsule hotel, like do-c Ebisu.
5. For art, steaks and food markets: Mexico City > Bogotá > Lima
As Latin America’s busiest airport, Juarez International is an obvious jumping off point for exploring it. But don’t leave Mexico City without visiting the colossal Palacio Nacional on Constitution Square and climbing the Teotihuacan Pyramids, a 40-km drive from the city. We’d recommend escaping the urban frenzy and staying in the historic centre and former village Coyoacán, where Frida Kahlo’s famous Casa Azul house is based. Cheap-and-cheerful Hotel Montreal is a 10-minute drive away.
Four hours onwards by plane is Bogotá, the vibrant capital of Colombia, surrounded by the Andes and adorned with beautifully preserved colonial buildings. Head downtown to La Candelaria, where most travellers congregate thanks to its concentration of historic buildings and buzzy bars (the Selina La Candelaria Bogotá hotel is ridiculously cheap and in great nick). Your to-do: eat a chargrilled beef tenderloin at the legendary Andrés Carne de Res steakhouse.
Round off your Latin American odyssey in the Peruvian capital Lima, a three-hour flight south. The dry, coastal city rises from crumbling cliffs that tumble into the South Pacific, and is rich with stately museums, crowded nightclubs, avant-garde galleries and tantalising cuisine. Take a food tour of the city’s markets to sample zesty ceviche. For ocean views and reasonable prices, book a room at boutique hotel Casa Bella Miraflores to end your trip on a high.
Choose your international hub and plan a city-hopping holiday:
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 4 June 2019.