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Experienced travelers know that everything from overpriced flights and foreign transaction fees to the dreaded middle seat can put a serious damper on an otherwise perfectly planned trip.
Can’t even convince myself to get out of my room and people expect me to go on vacation where I hate traveling
— Rubashini Murugan (@rubatheawesome) May 30, 2018
Traveling can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re scouring the internet for the best flights or landing in a new place for the first time, there’s a hack to help you out.
We asked a collection of leading experts and professional frequent flyers for their best tips, tricks, and shortcuts to make your next travel experience a cheaper, smoother, and more relaxing one. If you’re in it for the long haul, here’s what you need to do…
1. Land on the booking sweet spot.
If you’re able to avoid booking your flight on a weekend, you can often save quite a bit of money. Of course, that depends on your destination, your flight path, and a number of factors, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re searching for airfare.
“A good rule of thumb is that Tuesdays are usually the cheapest days to book air travel,” reveals Phil Bloomfield of Cheapflights.
“Generally the best fares are advertised 50 days ahead of departure, with the most expensive being three days beforehand,” he continues. “Always fly in the evenings when you can. Aside from Fridays, the most affordable flights tend to be those which take off between 6 p.m. and midnight.”
There’s a reason the “red eye” flights are less expensive—airlines have trouble booking them to capacity, and less competition means better rates for travelers.
For business travelers, booking can be easier with travel gift cards.
While we’re on the subject, if you’re traveling for business, consider setting up a budget using travel gift cards to reduce your expenses and maximize your year-end deductions.
You can buy travel gift cards on Amazon in virtually any denomination to easily set travel expenses for employees on your preferred airline, building up your credit card rewards in the process.
2. Break your journey, not the bank.
“Flying indirectly with a short stopover to simply switch planes can often save you large sums, while adding relatively little to your journey time,” Bloomfield says.
This means more spending money for a better hotel at the other end, too. Just make sure that you’re ready for a layover. Ideally, you’ll keep your layover close to 60 to 90 minutes, which will give you sufficient time to make your way through the airport and grab a snack.
Sometimes a longer layover isn’t avoidable. To avoid overspending at the airport, make sure that you’re able to charge electronics, stretch out, and head to your next flight feeling calm and refreshed.
On that note, here’s a little gadget that’s saved our sanity on several different occasions.
Airport outlets are often in high demand, and if you’re traveling to a major city, you’ll often have to choose between a comfortable seat and access to the electricity. Get around that problem with this four-port smart USB wall charger, which folds for easier portability.
It’s about the same size as many single-port chargers, and the four smart ports deliver the proper amperage for your USB devices, allowing for faster charging. You can even share a few ports with your fellow travelers; you’ll quickly become the most popular guy at your airport (for whatever that’s worth).
And while nobody likes the idea of sleeping in an airport, sometimes it’s unavoidable. That’s where those dorky-looking travel pillows come into play.
We don’t love the look of any travel pillow, but you’re trying to handle a layover while keeping your sanity, not win a beauty contest. The BCOZZY pillow has a patented design that stops your head from falling forward, and you can easily twist it into different positions to suit your sleep style.
Most importantly, you won’t wake up with a sore neck, and on those long international flights, that’s pretty important.
3. Get rid of that wheelie bag.
Bags with wheels seem like a great idea, but unless you’re carrying something incredibly heavy—and no, three sets of clothes and a laptop don’t qualify—you can move through TSA checkpoints much more quickly if you’re willing to ditch the wheels.
“Duffels make better cabin luggage than wheelie bags,” says Lee Thompson, co-founder of solo adventure travel specialists Flash Pack.
“Many budget airlines are now getting stricter with their carry-on rules, and wheelie bags are always the first to get checked,” continues Thompson. “A duffel is much more flexible when it comes to onboard storage and you can often fit more possessions inside them from the outset too. The real trick is to invest in one with hidden wheels, like the Eastpak Leatherface, for the best of both worlds.”
The Eastpak Leatherface is a fantastic pickup for serious travelers, as it has high-end features like a secure, fastening inside pocket and a padded patch for easier carrying. There’s also a hidden telescoping handle, so if you are carrying serious weight through the airport, you might want to make the investment.
If you’re not a frequent traveler, the Eastpak Leatherface’s relatively high price tag might be a dealbreaker. In that case, check out the WANDF foldable travel bag, available on Amazon for less than $20.
It’s made with durable nylon, which is waterproof and tear resistant, and it doubles as a decent gym bag when you aren’t on the road. With a capacity of 2,400 cubic inches, it’s sufficient for most short-term trips, and it packs into itself in case you want to use it as an extra bag.
Regardless of which bag you choose, you’ll also need some travel tags. Don’t rely on the flimsy paper tags that came with your luggage; upgrading to some silicone tags will give you peace of mind, and when you’re traveling, that peace of mind is worth a lot.
TravelMore offers a pack of seven assorted luggage name tags made from bendable PVC silicone, and the bright neon colors make them especially useful for checked baggage. Hopefully, you can avoid checking baggage, but if not, at least you’ll be able to spot your stuff from a mile away.
4. Sandwich your seats.
If you’re traveling as a pair, always book “sandwich” seats—the aisle and the window seats in a row of three. Unless it’s a full flight, it’s unlikely that anybody will then pick the middle seat, ensuring you have the entire row to yourselves.
If somebody does end up between you, simply ask to switch seats so you can sit next to your partner. They might look at you a little weird, but you’ll end up in the same basic position.
When you need a little bit of extra arm room, don’t fight your neighbor for the space.
We’re big fans of the Soarigami, a clever divider/extender designed specifically for those tiny armrests on airplanes. It clamps onto the armrest, providing you and your neighbor with a bit of extra room (without forcing you elbow to elbow).
It’s made from recyclable plastic and leatherette, but it’s remarkably sturdy despite its lightweight design.
While you’re futzing around with your seat, you might as well throw on a seat cover. Airlines go to great efforts to sanitize their seats between flights, but pests like bed bugs can embed themselves in the cushions. A bed bug infestation can certainly ruin your trip—trust us.
Amazon offers inexpensive disposable covers, and they’re easy to slip on before your plane gets off the ground. For frequent travelers, they’re worth the money.
5. Read between the lines at security.
“If you’re in a hurry, don’t just look at a line’s length—look for the scanners that seem to be filled with frequent travelers, like business people,” says Mark Sansom, editor of Food And Travel magazine.
These people will have mastered the art of getting through quickly. Meanwhile, avoid any lines filled with people who will undoubtedly take more time, particularly families with young children.
To make your own trip through the TSA checkpoint a little quicker, invest in some loafers.
These days, if you’re going through a checkpoint, you’re taking off your shoes. You could waste time tying and untying, or your could suit up with a nice pair of comfortable loafers. An added benefit: You’ll be able to truly relax during your flight.
Look for casual loafers that aren’t too expensive. We dig these frayed kicks from CASMAG; they’re fashionable enough to wear out but easy to slip on and off when that TSA agent starts giving you the stinkeye.
6. Adapt easily in a charging crisis.
You get off the plane, settle in at your hotel, and you realize that you’ve committed one of the worst sins of international travel: You forgot to bring a charger adapter that will work with the country’s outlets.
Why do different countries have different outlets? The short answer is that different plugs have different safety features, and since electricity can be administered in a variety of ways, countries developed a variety of systems to ensure safe electrical delivery.
The good news: USB ports are truly universal. If your hotel television has a USB output, you can use that to charge your phone—at least until you can find a gift shop with an overpriced power adapter.
Next time, don’t forget your international charger.
LKY Digital offers an affordable all-in-one unit with two USB outs, numerous plug options, and built-in fuse protection. They’re also backed by a 12-month warranty, but note that you’ll need a separate adapter for high-power devices like flat irons, hair dryers, coffee makers, and basically anything else that puts out a tremendous amount of heat.
7. To rock a look, always roll.
“To maximize luggage space and minimize creases, always roll your clothes when packing,” says Sloan Sheridan-Williams, spokesperson for accommodation portal Booking.com.
Not only will your first-night wardrobe be ready to wear, but this technique also provides useful safe havens for delicate items like electric toothbrushes, razors, and chargers.
On business trips, we prefer taking a cube organizer along for the ride.
The Stow-N-Go portable luggage system is one capable option. It’s an easy-to-pack luggage accessory that expands at the hotel. Load in your clothes, collapse and latch the system, and head to your destination.
It can help you stay organized, and it’s well worth the cheap asking price—provided that you’ve got a suitcase that’s 20″ or larger.
8. Cap your shoes.
Whether your shoes are dirty when you’re packing them or they get muddy during your trip, there’s an easy way to keep them from marking the clean clothes they’re now sharing a bag with, according to Sansom.
Simply grab a cheap shower cap to place them in during transit, and this will prevent any dirt from getting on your clothing.
Shower caps are cheaper than dedicated shoe bags, and they serve the exact same function.
If your shoes are stinking up your luggage—we’ve all been there—pack a dryer sheet to freshen things up.
Make sure that you enjoy the fragrance, since it’ll likely spread to all of your clothing.
9. Don’t pay twice for car insurance.
If you’re renting a car, you need insurance—otherwise, a claim might ruin your trip (and set you back financially in a not-insignificant way).
“Once you’ve decided on the right car hire deal, only buy the basic package,” says Thompson.
“Sometimes daily insurance can cost many times what it’s actually worth, as car hire firms make their profits by selling add-ons, which can be absurdly expensive. Instead, arrange your own cover beforehand—or get a general travel insurance package which covers car hire too.”
10. Book early.
Aside from the money you’ll save, booking a trip well in advance also has big psychological benefits. A Dutch study in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life (which sounds like a must-read title to us) found that vacationers are happiest not when they’re on vacation, not when they get back, but when they’re looking forward to it.
By booking early, you maximize that excitement and anticipation, even if your productivity checks out early because you’re googling pictures of your destination at the office. Use sites like Tripadvisor to plan out activities and excursions ahead of time.
A paper itinerary can help you stay organized. This planner has spaces for pre-travel checklists, a daily planner (plus diary), mailing addresses for sending postcards, and all of the other stuff you’ll need when you’re on the road.
By taking a few minutes and planning out your trip on paper, you’ll minimize stress and you can actually enjoy your new experiences without worrying about the unexpected. This is a crucial step—don’t skip it.
11. Tap into free wifi.
As you’re walking around, plenty of places will have free wifi, but they’ll probably be password protected, and they won’t give out that password if you aren’t making a purchase.
“Sidestep that problem by checking FourSquare, where previous visitors will often post passwords,” says Sansom.
That certainly beats paying the equivalent of another airfare in roaming data costs. Otherwise, you can look for major stores and restaurants (Starbucks, McDonald’s, and similar spots), but avoid connecting to any unsecured wifi hotspots, particularly at airports.
As LifeHacker reports, free hotspots can expose your data to malicious users, who sometimes set up “honeypot” connections to entice unwitting travelers. When in doubt, don’t connect.
12. Combat jet lag before it even happens.
“It might sound obvious, but leaving home well-rested will minimize any subsequent jet lag,” says Sheridan-Williams.
“Ensure you have a relaxing 48 hours before your departure [by preparing] a chilled playlist to help you zone out in-flight.”
Jet lag occurs because our bodies produce the hormone melatonin to regulate our sleep. Melatonin controls body temperature, makes us feel drowsy, and basically acts as a sort of “master clock,” as the BBC reports.
Unfortunately, our bodies don’t simply stop making melatonin when we travel enormous distances in relatively short periods of time. That leads to issues with the “clock”—and the symptoms of jet lag. Sleeping early in a flight may help your body adjust to its new time zone more quickly.
You can also limit the effects with over-the-counter supplements.
We’d strongly suggest speaking with your physician before taking anything for jet lag, particularly if you’re already on medication or if you have any sleep-related health conditions.
With that said, some travelers find products like the Klova sleep patch to be remarkably effective. The patches use melatonin to prompt your body to sleep, potentially reducing how long it will take you to adjust to your new time zone.
Another option is 1Above, a tablet that fights jet lag with pycnogenol, a natural bark extract. Per the manufacturer, it’s “proven to reduce the length of jet lag by 53.8 percent.” We’re not sure how accurate that number really is, but Amazon reviewers swear by the stuff.
To avoid vacationing like a zombie, try to choose a flight that gets you to your destination in the early evening. If possible, stay awake until around 10 p.m. local time and set your watch to your new time zone as soon as you arrive.
Caffeine can be helpful, but only if you’re traveling east. Research from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology found that caffeine affects circadian rhythms but that the effect isn’t useful if you’re traveling west.
13. Pre-map your destination.
“Download the area you’re traveling to on Google Maps before you leave home,” urges Thompson.
“The GPS in your phone will work without using mobile data, and with a downloaded map you’ll always be able to navigate your way around an unfamiliar area.”
Headed somewhere where you don’t want to rely on GPS or want some backup in case your battery drains too quickly? Or maybe you just like the tactile experience of holding a paper map (we love it).
If so, you should tuck an atlas in your bag too. This one has a map of every U.S. state and Canadian province along with an overview map of Mexico.
14. Always mark your checked luggage as fragile.
Marking your luggage fragile “is a great way to ensure that your baggage is handled correctly,” says Thompson.
Even if you’re only packing clothes, a “fragile” marker could potentially prevent the airline from losing your bag, and best of all, it improves your chances of a quick visit to the baggage claim area. Sure, your stuff isn’t really fragile, but you might as well play the game—right?
“Your luggage will be kept at the top of the pile because of this, which will make it one of the first bags to be released, too,” Thompson says.
If you’re really worried about baggage claims, you can always invest in extra protection.
We’re big fans of Tile Mate, a “find anything” Bluetooth tracking system that lets you cue an audible signal whenever you’d like. Tuck a Tile in your luggage, and when you’re trying to sort through the baggage claim with the rest of the travelers, you can cue the Tile to quickly find your stuff.
Tile does recommend checking with your airline, however, to make sure that the device’s Bluetooth technology won’t complicate your travel plans. With that said, the Amazon reviews are full of comments from people who’ve used the device for this exact purpose.
15. Build your heat tolerance.
If you live in a moderate climate and vacation in the tropics, the danger is that you spend your entire vacation in the shade because you can’t stop sweating in the sun. Fortunately, multiple studies have shown that you can increase your heat tolerance simply by exposing yourself to it in the days before.
Hit the sauna or sign up for a hot yoga class and your body won’t get a heat shock when you leave the arrivals lounge.
If you travel to hot places often (so you need to acclimate frequently) or if you’re always cold at home, a portable sauna might do the trick. Let us know how it goes!
16. Stay hydrated without leaking money.
Plane filtration systems might ensure a clean environment for passengers, but they also ensure parched throats, dizzy heads, and a higher risk of jet lag.
Luckily there’s an easy fix: “Invest in a reusable water bottle that looks great and does good,” says Thompson.
“Just take one to the airport empty and fill it up once you’re past security. Something like BRITA’s Fill & Go Active bottle is ideal: it even improves the quality and taste of tap water.”
Filtering water bottles are essential if you’re particular about the taste of your water. Fill up at any airport fountain, then enjoy cold, clear water to your heart’s content.
17. Go far, far away.
If you’re traveling to de-stress, putting a lot of miles between you and the office/ex/family is the best way to enjoy some genuine rest. In a survey by the Institute of Applied Positive Research, 84 percent of people said traveling to other countries was the surest way to beat stress.
Really, that shouldn’t come as a surprise; new experiences can easily overcome old tensions, as Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University’s psychology department explained on the school’s blog.
“People often think spending money on an experience is not as wise an investment as spending it on a material possession,” he wrote. “They think the experience will come and go in a flash, and they’ll be left with little compared to owning an item. But in reality we remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions. At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession.”
There you have it—travel, in and of itself, is the path to happiness. Just make sure that you’re putting enough miles between your home and your destination.
On those international flights, a high-quality passport holder is absolutely essential.
To avoid high-tech pickpockets, we’d recommend an RFID-blocking travel organizer, which can hold all of your credit cards, bank cards, passports, tickets, money, and other essentials. Expensive options are available, but AmazonBasics’ nylon organizer will do the job just fine.
Be sure to log your travels when you get back home. Part of the fun of traveling is telling your family and friends about your experiences, and if you’re traveling frequently, keeping a travel map will help you keep track of where you’ve been (and give you a neat conversation piece).
Our pick here is the MyMap Deluxe scratch-off map. After each trip, use a coin—preferably, some international currency you picked up on one of your trips—to scratch off each place you’ve visited. This also makes an excellent gift for frequent travelers.