33 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 33 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. And for more ways to make the most of the season, check out these 100 Amazing Summer Buys Under $100!
Pick up an any-temperature shirt.
Inside the airplane, it’s a teeth-chattering 64º Fahrenheit. Outside Departures, it’s a sweltering 88º. 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. (For business travelers who might prefer something a touch dressier than a polo, Brooks Brothers has a non-iron Oxford button-down shirt in Supima, too.)
Set up a price alert app months in advance.
It feels too soon to make plans for July 4th weekend. 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.
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.
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 those who don’t plan ahead travel with full-size bottles of shampoo and shaving cream. But buying miniatures for every trip seems insane. You’re not buying a new dopp kit for every trip, are you? 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. 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 all 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, though, 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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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 are the most versatile travel accessory. They 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. 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 walking by 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 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 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!
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.
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 a free app, like Party with a Local, and get the skinny on where the locals are really hanging out.
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 ideas: 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.
Pack a first-aid kit.
It’s easy to remember things like aspirin for things like 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 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 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, in a 2019 study published in the Journal of Physiology: 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 out of luck. 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.)
You would be shocked, literally shocked, at how much more you can get—from a flight, a hotel, a fancy restaurant—by being the person who’s polite and doesn’t act like a self-entitled jerk. Seriously, try it sometimes. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 buzzer to recover from all that relaxing, when you’re not checking flight times or dragging luggage or pretending you have enough leg room. And if you need help snagging the extra PTO, This Secret Trick Leads to More Vacation Days at Work.
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