35 Brilliant Travel Hacks Only Experienced Globetrotters Know
Because getting to your vacation destination shouldn't be so stressful.
Traveling isn’t just fun, it’s good for you. Studies have proven that traveling makes you more creative, noticeably smarter, and substantially healthier. In fact, one study found that men who don’t travel at least once every year have a 20 percent increased risk of death and are 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease.
But maybe traveling itself stresses you out. All you can think about are the oppressively long lines at the airport, getting sandwiched in a tiny middle seat on your flight, and living without all the luxuries of home. Well, relax, we’re here to help you take some of the stress out of exploring the world. Use any of these 35 travel hacks on your next adventure, and you’re guaranteed to come home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. And for some destination ideas, here are 10 Secret Places Where The Ultra Wealthy Are Traveling This Summer.
Set up a price alert app months in advance
It feels too soon to make travel plans for the holidays, but 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 them come to them. And for more great travel advice, here are 15 Genius Ways to Maximize Airline Miles.
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.
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, and you’ll double your wardrobe for your next cross-country outing. It’s a total space saver. And for more great travel hacks, here are the 17 Rules of Stress-Free Business Travel.
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.
Refill travel-size toiletries
Only suckers travel with full-size bottles of shampoo and shaving cream. But buying those miniatures for every trip seems insane. You’re not buying a new dopp kit for every trip, are you? Here’s a better way: Just refill your tiny bottles and use them again and again. Speaking of travel hacks, here’s The Best Way to Get Your Hotel Room Comped.
Protect your cables and cords with pen springs
We live in a world where we need to be connected constantly. So when you can’t charge your phone or your laptop because the cords are too frayed, you’ve got a problem. You can stop the problem before it starts with something as simple as a pen spring. Just pry open a regular retractable pen, pop out the spring, and wrap it around your cord or cable.
Get the seat you want
Nothing ruins a flight like being stuck in a middle seat, or being too close (or far) from the bathroom. Don’t let it happen to you. 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 window and aisle 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. On a related note, here’s The Best Seat on Any Airplane.
Book your flight with a private browser
Never check for fares without first going into incognito mode. (Here’s a step-by-step guide to going private in Google Chrome.) iArline websites store your cookies, which gives them too much intel on your travel plans. If they know when you want to fly, they can raise their rates accordingly. Don’t give them that power.
Bring an empty water bottle
You have two options if you want to bring your own bottled water through airport security and not pay the ridiculous airport prices. One, you can freeze it. Yes, the TSA let’s 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.
Wear cargo pants for travel days
They’re not the most fashionable choice—in fact, they’re downright awful—but they are the most practical. With all those extra pockets, it’s like you’ve got a third carry on.
Mark your baggage as fragile.
Call it a little white lie. Tagging your bags as “fragile” even if they’re anything but 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 can do everything from keep your clothes fresh while traveling (just slip a sheet or two into your suitcase) to deodorize stinky shoes to freshen up a hotel pillowcase or bathroom.
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. The Waze app 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 50 airports covered by MiFlight, the app can give you travel times for all security gates, and alerts when lines are thinning out.
Pre-order your airport meal
You’ve planned ahead for everything else about your trip, why not the airport food? The Grab app lets you order your meal in advance, and pick it up as you’re walking by on the way to your gate. No lines, no wait, no problem.
Get 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 site gives you the passwords for 266 different international airports and airport 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.
Bring a jacket
A jacket, especially when it’s 80 degrees out, always feels like it’s going to be a pain in the butt. 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 keys, wallet, glasses and other loose items during screening), and it’s a perfect makeshift blanket or pillow for your flight.
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 huge pain in the ass. It can feel like you’re traveling with a garden hose. But with a sunglasses case (or two, depending on the size of your cord) you can keep everything neat and organized.
Make your own plane TV
Not all airlines have those convenient TVs mounted on the backs of each seat. And even when they do, the charges for “premium” channels can be absurd. If you’ve got a phone capable of downloading content (which you can get on your own premium account), you can mount it for easy viewing using nothing more than pieces from a barf bag. No, seriously. Here’s a tutorial on how to do it. Be the MacGyver of airline travel.
Photo courtesy of website.
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 is DreamScience, a collection of 20 calming soundscapes designed to alter your brainwaves, created by sleep researchers at the University of Toronto. Combine that with the Travel Halo, a stabilizing headband that blocks out light and keeps your head balanced and upright, and you’ll be catching some Z’s in no time.
Pack a first-aid kit
It’s easy to remember things like aspirin. But what about minor emergencies that don’t require a visit to the ER? Band-aids, anti-bacterial cream, stomach antacids, cold meds, throat lozenges. It’s not about 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 like a local.
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 in the arrivals gate. Instead, make a beeline to departures, where you’ll find plenty of cabs dropping off customers.
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, 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’s 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’s TV and you’re good to go. If you even forgot the cable, you’re still not screwed. Ask the front desk if they have any loaner cables. Most hotels have extras that were left by guests and never claimed.
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 have seriously chapped lips, of course.)
Party with the locals
You already know that the best restaurants and bars in any city is where the locals go. Well how do you find them? You either skim dozens or maybe hundreds of Yelp reviews and hope you’re not just getting the opinions of disgruntled tourists. Or you sign up for a free app like Party with a Local and get the skinny on where the locals are really hanging out.
Bring a fake wallet
The key to a fake wallet is making it look believable. Fill it with a few bills, some easily-replaceable items like a library card or expired credit card (as long as it doesn’t have the same digits as your current card), and maybe a photo. Anything that doesn’t give away too much (or any) personal information. If your wallet gets stolen, the thief will only give it a brief glance to make sure it’s the real deal. That’s all you need to get away with your real wallet intact.
Bury your belongings
Hiding your wallet or phone in a shoe while you’re at the beach isn’t fooling anyone. If you really want to protect your valuables while you take a dip, put them in a Ziploc bag and bury ’em pirate-style. Give yourself an obvious marker so you’ll be able to find your buried treasure again.
Use your hand as a watch.
Not sure how much time you have left before the sun goes down? Just hold your hand up to the sky and count the number of finger widths between the sun and the horizon. Each finger equals around 15 minutes, and a full hand is an hour.
Photo courtesy of linked website.
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 mood for a romantic evening in your hotel room’s jacuzzi, you might need a bassline 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. It’s the next best thing to having Marvin Gaye in the room with you.
Make sure you’re not sleeping on somebody’s dirty sheets
We’d love to say that every maid in every hotel in the world is doing an impeccable job. But that’s probably not true. 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 desperate to pee, 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 like gas and tourist stops, 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.
If that doesn’t sound like a travel hack, then you’ve never utilized the awesome power of not being a jerk. You would be shocked, literally shocked, at how much more you can get—from a flight, a hotel, a fancy restaurant—by being the guy who smiles and doesn’t act like a self-entitled jerk. Seriously, try it sometimes. It’s like the world opens up to you.
Plan a Post-Vacation Staycation
Why does everything think they’re going to fly back from a trip and immediately be refreshed and rejuvenated? It doesn’t work like that. If anything, you’re going to come home feeling like crap, bleary and exhausted from too many miles in transit. Give yourself a one-day buzzer to recover from all that relaxing, when you’re not checking flight times or dragging luggage or pretending you have enough leg room. Now, since you’re all set to plan your next vacation, here are The 20 Best Cities to See Before You Die.
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