30 Travel Hacks That Make Summer Vacation a Total Breeze
Because getting to your destination shouldn't be so stressful.
Do you know the secret trick for skipping long taxi lines at airports? What about the ultimate frequent flyers' tactic for shaving precious time off the security wait? And do you know the best way to double the space in your suitcase without forking out money on a second bag? If not, don't sweat it—we've got your back! Because what follow are 30 genius, expert-backed travel hacks that are guaranteed to help you plan your trips like a pro, save money on all of your bookings, and guide you through just about every obstacle you'll face in the high-stress world of summer travel.
Set up a price alert months in advance.
It feels too soon to make plans for Independence Day. Okay, so when is the best (i.e. cheapest) time to book a flight? Sign up for a travel app like Hopper and let them alert you when the price is right. The truth is that there's no "right" time to buy your flight. Not six months out. Not four months out. Not two weeks ago. Experienced travelers set an alert for great deals and let those deals come to them.
Use the 24-hour rule.
If you want an impromptu trip, go ahead and book your flight with the best rate you can find. But get this: if you find a better price within 24 hours, you can cancel your reservation and get a full refund without any "booking fees." It's a federal rule. And some airlines, like American, will even let you cancel if you've booked just two days in advance of your flight.
But, as always, be sure to read the fine print. If you book with a third party ticketing service, there are likely exceptions. If you book directly with an airline, like United, the 24-hour policy is usually guaranteed.
Score the seat you want.
Nothing ruins a flight like being stuck in a middle seat, or being too close (or far) from the bathroom. Use a seating app like Seat Guru to guarantee the perfect seat placement. If you're traveling with a partner and want some extra leg room (without paying for first class), book the aisle and window seats. Even single riders want to avoid the middle if they can help it, and if your row is their only option, they'll happily trade so you can sit together.
Book your flight in Incognito.
Never check for fares without first going into Incognito mode. (Here's a step-by-step guide to going private in Google Chrome.) Airline websites store your cookies, which gives them too much intel on your travel plans. If they know when you want to fly, they can automatically raise their rates accordingly. Don't give them that power.
Cut your wait time in half.
The moment you leave your house to the moment you find your seat on the plane can feel like an eternity, but it doesn't have to be. Waze can get you to the airport with the least amount of hassle, giving you the absolute fastest route and detours around traffic jams and accidents. And if you're at one of the 150-plus airports covered by MiFlight, that app can give you travel times for all security gates, and alerts when lines are thinning out. Combine the two to minimize your time spent in-transit.
Pre-order your airport meal.
You've planned ahead for everything else about your trip, why not the airport food? Grab lets you order your meal in advance, so you can pick it up as you're on the way to your gate without having to rely on a day-old tuna salad wrap from the Hudson News fridge. No lines, no wait, no problem.
Write down the airport's Wi-Fi password before you show up.
You only have so much down-time at an airport, don't waste it trying to figure out Wi-Fi passwords. This handy Google page gives you the passwords for 266 different international airports and lounges. Visiting the Frankfurt Airport? The network name is "Frankfurt Airport, Hotspot Telekom" and the password is "Internet." At the Zurich Airport? You need to get an access code from an information desk. At JFK, you can get connected instantly whether you're at the Delta Sky Club, British Airway Lounge, or the Etihad Lounge in terminal 4.
Hang out with the locals.
You already know that the best restaurants and bars in any city are the spots where the locals go. Okay, so how does one find them? You either skim dozens or maybe hundreds of Yelp or Google Maps reviews and hope you're not just getting the opinions of disgruntled tourists. Or you sign up for an app, like Eatwith, and get the skinny on where the locals are really hanging out.
Make sure you're not sleeping on somebody's dirty sheets.
Here's a way to find out if you're getting clean linens without using a dark light (and being utterly disgusted): Look for fresh crease lines on your sheets. If you see them, that means the bed was likely changed recently, and the sheets were folded a short time ago. But if you can't find any, you should probably call housekeeping immediately.
Don't leave bathroom breaks to chance.
Taking a road trip rather than flying? Good for you. You'll save money and see more of the country. But there's still a price to pay. When you're hungry, almost out of gas, or just downright desperate, figuring out when and where to pull over can be an exercise in futility—unless your phone is loaded with the right apps. SitOrSquat doesn't just tell you where the nearest bathrooms are, but whether any of them are disgusting. You'll also need the iExit app, which alerts you to every upcoming service stop, not just what's advertised on highway billboards.
Get directions without Wi-Fi.
You can't always depend on access to Wi-Fi when you need it. And when you're in a foreign country, the price of staying connected can be exorbitant. Play it safe and download a Google Map of your destination before you get there—here's an easy explanation of how it works—and pull it up later when you're ready to explore.
Get the right soundtrack for 30,000 feet.
Whether you're petrified by turbulence or just can't fall asleep during a long flight, stay away from mood-calming drugs. A better idea: Put on some calming ambient soundscapes and pick up the Travel Halo, a stabilizing headband that blocks out light and keeps your head balanced and upright. You'll be catching some Z's in no time.
Roll your clothes.
If you're not doing this already, you're wasting a lot of valuable real estate in your suitcase. Always roll and layer, never fold and stack. This will allow you to double your wardrobe for your next cross-country outing. It's a total space saver.
Mark your luggage as fragile.
Call it a little white lie. Tagging your bags as "fragile" even if they aren't will save you a lot of time. Most airlines put fragile bags on top for the flight, so they're the first to be unloaded onto the baggage claim carousel. You'll be hailing a cab while your fellow passengers are still looking for luggage carts.
Add some dryer sheets to your suitcase.
Dryer sheets are the most versatile travel accessory. They can keep your clothes fresh while traveling (just slip a sheet or two into your suitcase), deodorize stinky shoes, and freshen up a hotel pillowcase or bathroom.
Refill travel-size toiletries.
Only those who don't plan ahead travel with full-size bottles of shampoo and shaving cream. But buying miniatures for every trip seems insane. So here's a better way: Just refill your tiny bottles and use them again and again and again. And if you really want to save every dime, just lift the bottles that come with your hotel room.
Give your phone's speaker a boost.
The tiny speakers on a smartphone do a good enough job when you're on the go, but when you're looking to set the scene in your hotel room, you might need a bass line with a little more oomph. For better sound, cut a phone-size slit into the middle of a used toilet paper roll, slip your phone inside and presto: instant speakers.
Pack a sunglasses case for your power cords.
Whether you're going through security or trying to use your laptop on board, power chords can be a major inconvenience. It can feel like you're traveling with a garden hose. But with a sunglasses case (or two, depending on the size of your cables), you can keep everything neat and organized.
Store money in a lip balm tube.
If somebody wants to steal from you, they're going to look for wallets or money clips, something that usually contains cold hard cash. They probably won't touch your lip balm. (Unless they're seriously chapped, of course.)
Pick up an any-temperature shirt.
Although it may be sweltering outside, it's likely to be a teeth-chattering 64 degrees inside the airplane. You'll want a shirt that can handle the whole range in style—something like this polo shirt, from Brooks Brothers. It's made out of Supima cotton, an ultra-rare strain of the fabric that's softer and more breathable than any other cotton on the planet. The result? An extremely comfortable polo that's practically temperature-controlled; it'll cool you off when it's warm and keep you snug when it's chilly.
Scan your passport.
Here's something experienced globetrotters know: If you can scan your most important documents and email them to your phone, they'll be much easier to replace than if you hadn't. And yes, we're talking about your passport, your drivers license, and credit cards, too.
Bring an empty water bottle.
You have two options if you want to bring your own bottled water through security and not pay the ridiculous airport prices. One, you can freeze it. Yes, the TSA lets you keep your liquids "as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening." If that sounds complicated (and it is), just bring your own reusable water bottle and dump it before entering the security line. You'll have to settle for refilling with a water fountain on the other side, but you may just discover that free water doesn't taste so bad after all.
Pack a first-aid kit.
It's easy to remember things like aspirin for headaches. But what about slightly more pressing emergencies that don't exactly require a visit to the ER? Pack Band-Aids, anti-bacterial cream, stomach antacids, cold meds, and throat lozenges. It's not planning for the worst, it's planning for the small health annoyances that at most require a pharmacy visit (but who has time for that on vacation?).
Use ATMs to get local currency.
If you're traveling to a foreign country and need some cash, skip the airport's currency exchange kiosks. You'll just end up paying a fortune in service fees. You're better off using the ATMs. Check with your bank to make sure it has an international branch. If it does, you can withdraw cash without extra charges.
Hail a cab at the departures gate.
There's only one golden rule for traveling: Whenever possible, avoid the crowds. This applies to everything about your trip. When you arrive at the terminal, don't go to the first bathroom, the one with the longest lines. There's probably a mostly empty one a few yards away. And when you arrive at your destination, don't follow the throngs of tourists towards the taxi corrals right outside Arrivals. Instead, make a beeline to Departures, where you'll find plenty of cabs dropping off customers. Just snag one of those.
Fight jet lag with exercise.
Feeling a little sluggish and foggy after an international flight? What you need is a workout. It's been proven by science. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Physiology found that the best way to get your circadian rhythm back in whack is some rigorous, heart-pounding, sweat-inducing exercise.
Charge your phone on the hotel TV.
Forgetting the plug for your phone charger doesn't have to be the end of the world. Just connect it to the USB input on the back of your hotel room TV and you're good to go. If you forgot the cable, you're still not out of luck. Ask the front desk if they have any loaner chargers. Most have extras that were left by guests and never claimed.
Bring a jacket.
A jacket, especially when it's a scorching summer day, always feels like it's going to be a pain. But forgetting a jacket for air travel is like camping without a sleeping bag. A jacket makes going through security easier (it's a great place to store your phone, wallet, keys, glasses, and other loose items during screening), and it's a perfect makeshift blanket or pillow for the flight. Something like this effortlessly cool, water-repellent field jacket from Brooks Brothers should do the trick. Look at all those pockets!
You would be shocked, literally shocked, at how much more you can get—from a flight attendant, a hotel employee, or a waiter—by being the person who's polite and doesn't act like a self-entitled jerk. Seriously, try it sometime. You'll get better seats, nicer treatment, maybe a drink on the house, or a room with a way better view. It's like the world opens up to you.
Plan a post-vacation staycation.
Why does everyone think they're going to fly back from a trip and immediately be refreshed and rejuvenated? It doesn't always work like that. If anything, you're going to come home feeling bleary and exhausted from too many miles in transit. Give yourself a one-day buffer to recover. For more ways to make traveling less of a hassle, check out these 25 Genius Trip-Planning Tips—Straight from Travel Agents.