Travel Hacks

52 Savvy Travel Tips & Hacks

How to travel win, every single time.

Traveling for some can take a lot of preparation. While for others, it’s a walk in the park. #justanotherdayattheoffice.

No matter what’s the status of your flyer miles. I believe we can all agree ….. there’s always a better way of how to do things.

Years ago I was the infrequent international traveler. Fast forward to present day – I’m gearing up every month to travel to a neighboring country. In 2018, I flew to 16 countries (some 3 times) over 4 continents. It amounted to 22 weeks away, short and long (19+hours) flights, and trying to figure out, what time zone my body was in verses what actual time zone I was physically in.

During the process of becoming a frequent traveler. I’ve pick up a lot of insight about the ever evolving tricks and know-how-to’s for travel.

Here are 52 tricks on how to optimize comfortable travel, stress-less travel, organization and travel hacks.

1-2) Your ID – to fly or not to fly?

Passport Picture

First things first. Don’t get put into the no-fly zone. It will having you paying more unintentionally.

  • Unlike food expiration dates we tend to forget passports do expire. This might sound very simple but it happens to both seasoned and infrequent flyers. Recently a well-seasoned traveler friend went to the airport and was denied to fly because his passport was about to expire in 6 months (not expired – about to). On a separate incident & friend, an infrequent traveler friend booked an international flight and after paying for the ticket, he noticed his passport was expired.
  • Needless to say both incidents came at an extra cost . Take 2 minutes right now to check your ID & passport’s expiration dates.
  • When flying internationally, check if there are Visa requirements for your destination and truly understand what it entails when applying for a Visa On Arrivals (if that is an option).
  • If needing a Visa for your destination triple check you have enough empty pages in your passport to enter your destination. It’s unfortunate that U.S. passports will no longer be granted page extensions. A whole new book is required to be issued.

3) Know the A,B,C’s and 1,2,3’s of your ticket

How to get upgraded:

Have you ever wondered how people get upgraded? Why was the person sitting next to you chosen and you weren’t? Is it the seat number? A lottery maybe? Or the person with a winning smile?

It’s like this weird VIP service that seems impenetrable, right?

The answer my friend is your loyalty. And a few additional factors.

While dressing nicely and asking politely seems to be the answer (and the advice spread over the inter webs). There’s more to it when scoring that holy grail of an upgraded seat.

What to know about your ticket.

  • In contrast to being aesthetically pleasing and being nice (which is just common sense btw – please don’t be the smelly agro passenger). The way to get upgrades is to pay for a full fare (not a discount) price ticket. And pay for it with a travel awards card. Additionally, be a participant in the airline’s frequent miles program and ensure your ticket’s fare code is properly coded for an upgrade.

What are fare codes?

  • Knowing your ticket’s fare codes is a must. United Airlines is pretty good with listing their ticket fare codes. Ticket fare codes are the long list of letters and numbers. From here, all you need to do is look at the airline’s chart of fare code meanings to understand what restrictions (if any) are on your ticket.
This ticket comes with a lot of restrictions

Delta is good at being transparent when comparing discount tickets and full fare at the time of purchase. While they don’t say full fare or discount. Their verbiage is basic and hey list what’s included in an economy ticket.

  • Your goal is to increase your status (loyalty) to the airline from all angles. Once you have proven your loyalty and increased your status from newbie stats to Platinum / VIP status. Your chances for upgrades vastly improves (free upgrades, not paying for updates – just to be clear).

Each airline applies codes which are different among airlines, but the functions are globally the same.

The tickets fare code can lengthen depending on pricing, available upgrades, frequent miles, if a travel credit card was used, the time frame of travel, restrictions, ability to change itinerary at no cost, etc. All this information is available to you at the time of purchase. It’s all in that lovely fine print that we never want to read.

  • Paying the full fare price is something to consider when the goal is to increase your status with miles which results in free future flights and upgrades in the process. This is how you travel win.

Here’s an example to compare cost, flyer miles and benefits.

  • Ticket 1: Full price economy seat for $300 with 200% miles earned (600 pts) & refundable.
  • Ticket 2: Discounted economy seat for $150 and 150% of miles earned (225 pts) & non refundable.
  1. Ticket 1 is $150 more upfront cost than Ticket 2.
  2. Ticket 2 earns 3 times less miles towards the awards program.
  3. Ticket 2 comes with restrictions (& heavy extra fees if you want to change your flight dates).

A discounted ticket can save money upfront but when adding the extra cost for things like picking your seat, checking a bag, overweight on a carry on, food, drink, cost to cancel, cost to change, etc. A discount ticket can cost more with all the a la carte items than a full price.

It’s also less frequent flyer miles with zero chances for free upgrades. If you want to pay for an upgrade, it will be more costly than a full price ticket.

For U.S. flights you can check here for Delta, American Airlines, United, Southwest and Alaska fare codes to what they mean.

4) What about the infrequent flyer with no miles?

All is not lost. There are ways to get upgraded if you are a discounted ticket holder but know that it’s situational.

  • Be a volunteer. This is the time when volunteering can get you upgrades. When a flight is over booked, passengers can volunteer to be bumped off the flight (if you have the time & patience). When volunteering your seat to catch the next flight, you will want to break out your negotiations skills. Ask for an upgrade on the next flight and lounge access.
  • In addition, find out if there are meal vouchers & which restaurants at the airport will take them (not all food vendors in the airports participate – I found this out the hard way). Also, if your bumped flight is the next day, ask what the hotel situation/ voucher is and where the hotel is in location to the airport – find out if the transport included.
  • Ever hear an announcement there are kids on the flight without parents and aren’t sitting together? Volunteer to switch seats. While you might not get an upgraded seat, most likely the cabin crew will be happy to provide gratis adult beverages, snack or meal.

5) Seat Selection

If you have purchased a discounted ticket you will most likely be charged an additional fee to pick your seat. Some carriers allow you to choose your seat for free 24 hours prior to flight.

If that’s the case. You might be like me by setting up an alarm on my smartphone telling me 2 minutes prior to the 24 hour window to check in and select a seat.

  • To make sure you don’t get the worst seat on the plane there’s Seat Guru to help with your selection. SeatGuru provides seat plans for planes.

On a side note, if you are unfortunate to be sitting in front of a kid that is constantly kicking the back of the seat. It’s best to have a flight attendant to ask the child and their parent to refrain from kicking the back of your seat.

Download before you go

6) Print outs

  • I am surprised print outs are still a thing. Yet, I have been in situations where having a physical print out confirmation was requested. It’s a few and far between request but it has happened (certain visa situations, travel excursions). Best way to know is read the fine print and get that email confirmation.

7) Get a VPN

  • When traveling internationally some countries block certain things. Whether it be Google, Facebook or your favorite movie or T.V. shows (ps Netflix is not the same everywhere).

8) Location Maps & Translate

  • Download Google Maps & Google Translate. Just in case you don’t have service. There’s an option to download your destination before you go.
  • Traveling to a foreign county? You don’t need to be fluent in another language but it’s always good to know the basics – hello, thank you, please, where’s the toilet, where, how much? Download Duolingo to grab the basics.

9) Shared riding apps

  • Research your destination on shared riding apps and or use public transportation. Uber, Grab, Lyft. If you decided to use public transportation, download the subway system and learn how to read bus maps. I use Google Maps for this.

10) Communication apps

  • Stay in touch with family and friends back home when traveling internationally. WhatsApp is the beast for global communication. It is used EVERYWHERE!Viber, Google Hangouts, Skype, Facetime are also good.

11) SIM cards

  • What is known as a Subscriber Identity Module or Subscriber Identification Module. This little device allows you to make calls, texts and browse the all mighty interwebs that is identified to a specific mobile network.
  • So, if you’re traveling internationally it’s best to research the destination SIM card prices and data verses your mobile network plan. To avoid overseas data charges, SIM cards are the way to go. Just make sure your smartphone is unlocked prior to your trip.

12) Food apps

  • Don’t know where to eat or what’s good. Food apps like Yelp, OpenTable, OpenRice and Zomato can help your food pains.

13) Music & Podcasts apps

  • Itunes and Spotify to get your favorite music and podcast to listen. Don’t forget your Bluetooth portable speakers.

14) Hotel, car rental & flight confirmations app

  • Instead of searching through your emails use Tripit to consolidate all your information and provide your itinerary in a calendar format. You can also send your itinerary to anyone you wish.

15) Take a photo of where you parked your car & checked luggage

  • If you don’t want to play Where’s Waldo with your car when arriving back to your airport parking lot. Take a photo of the spot with Isle number and or letter. It will also come in handy if you need help finding your car.
  • Also take a picture of your luggage. It’s easier to provide a picture of your luggage at baggage claim if your luggage gets lost. If your bags have somehow taken a different flight than you or off in no man’s land, tweet your issues directly to the airline. You may get a faster response.

16) Email yourself your I.D.s & Know Where your Embassy / Consulate is

  • Pictures of your government issued IDs & map out your Embassy and or Consulate when traveling internationally.

17) Your Bank & credit cards & cash

ATM’S and banks are not the same globally! I repeat!! DO not expect to have the same access to ATM’s as you have at home.

  • Before you take off. Contact your bank to let them know you will be traveling to your destination during your time frame (to prevent them from blocking your account). Nothing is worse than being locked out of your own account – traveling or not.
  • Also have them do the legwork to find out what ATM’s are available in and around where you will be staying or airport. If you are traveling internationally, go ahead and get your destinations currency out in cash.
  • SIDE NOTE: When traveling to developing countries (especially in South East Asia) cash is necessary. This has been a major side pain for some travelers who arrived without being properly prepared. ATM’S are sometimes not available or ATM’S that take your card.

18) Time to… pack it up

(…pack it in, let me beginโ€ฆ)

“Can I…… BE wearing anymore clothes?”

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My main objectives are to not over pack, stay within the luggage weight limits and bring the essentials. Usually I start organizing what I believe I will need for clothing, shoes and accessories. Then split it in half. When the pile is in half I look to see what 1-3 more items to eliminate.

What’s also helpful is having access to laundry. This way, it keeps packing clothes light as I can wear clean and fresh clothing the entire trip.

There are times when hand washing is needed. There’s Tide Pods, which are great individual small size pods that are easy for travel.

An alternative to liquid pods is a laundry bar. Fels Naptha Laundry Bar and Stain Remover packs a powerful punch to removing stains and odors (ps it’s also works on poison ivy).

There are a few other factors to consider when packing. Which luggage bag I’m taking, what’s my weight limit and the laundry situation at my destination. I also look back on my most recent trip to recall if I over packed. Just as a side note 90% of the time I have a carry on.

Mind you, I’m 5 feet TALL ๐Ÿ™‚ So these bags might appear a bit bigger.

Sarah Emery Savvy Traveler
  • Select luggage that is durable and light weight. Don’t forget to make your luggage personable (add id tags, stickers and or a bow on the handle). My go to luggage is Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Luggage with Spinner Wheels. It has traveled many miles with me and held up each trip. It’s a quality luggage from a top brand.

I’m also a fan of WITZMAN Men Vintage Canvas Rucksack Travel Duffel Backpack Retro Hiking Bag. I used this bag when I travel to destinations that consist of multiple planes, buses, tri-cyles. This travel duffel is quality made, has held up very well and has more than enough room for me to travel for 2 weeks straight.

19) Compression Bags & roll your clothes

  • Compression bags are far BETTER than packing cubes. These space savers allow you to add more stuff. The Travel Space Saver Bags allows MORE room (which encourages me to pick up those souvenirs or little prezzies for others).

I repeat, Travel Space Bags are SO MUCH BETTER THAN PACKING CUBES.

  • Don’t forget to weigh your bags. I have been known to use a regular bathroom scale to weigh my bag. If your luggage bag is too large to see the scale’s screen. Try, holding your bag close to you, get on the scale and take a mental note of the weight of you and the bag. Then subtract your weight (without the bag) and you have your weight of the bag.

To be more precise and accurate. Invest in a luggage scale. Camry Luggage Scale is inexpensive devise and you won’t be guessing if you will be over the weight luggage limit. It’s better to be accurate than guessing.

20) Check the weather

  • Of course, the obvious is to pack for your destination and check the weather. I know it’s common sense, but I have definitely not taken my own advice and assumed weather was going to be predictable and I wasn’t prepared.

21-22) Toiletries

BE PLASTIC FREE, SHED the LIQUID and the WEIGHT

  • Mouthwash and toothpaste – game changer. Use bits. They are plastic free, decreases weight and it takes up minimal space.
  • Shampoo & conditioner bars. No need to put items in a plastic bag, no use of plastic bottles and is liquid free. WIN! These bars last 3-5x longer than liquid shampoo & conditioner.
  • In lieu of a plastic bag buy a clear plastic pencil bag for your carry on liquids. They are flat, see through, have a zipper and reusable.
  • Invest in a toiletry bag with a hook for hanging. Here’s a great one!

Good for airports bathrooms, airplane toilets and hotels bathrooms.

23-24) Water bottle

  • Bring a water bottle and fill it up at the water stations at the gates. This provides you water during the flight (and you don’t have to waste plastic), prevents you from buying an overpriced water at the airport and you can use this water to brush your teeth on the plane.

PRO TIP: You can take a bottle of water through security, it just has to be frozen.

25-29) Skip all the lines

T.S.A. Precheck & Global Access & CLEAR

T.S.A. Precheck & Global Access & Clear. What are they? And what are the differences?

They paid security programs that get you through security check points faster.

  • The difference between the three, TSA & Global are U.S. government programs and CLEAR is a private company that partners with T.S.A screening and does not require pre screen like TSA Precheck and Global Acccess.
  • TSA Precheck is for travelers flying domestically in the USA. It’s $85 a year and it’s good for 5 years and available in 200 airports. Check out the perks and the process here.
  • Global Access has all the perks that TSA Precheck comes with, but it’s for the international traveler to be expedited clearance upon arrival into the U.S. $100 every 5 years with 75 domestic and international participating airports. Check out the details here.
  • CLEAR is a bit more pricey. It’s $179 a year and you can add up to 3 family members for $50. This membership will having you going to the front of the line. Yup -in front of the TSA or Global members – literally, you are stepping in front of everyone and placing your bags on the security belts. No standing in line for these passengers. If you have a frequent membership with Delta check the deals as Delta has invested in CLEAR. If you’re a SkyMiles Diamond Medallion member- then you are a winner as you can sign up for free.
  • Are you a sports fan and frequent arenas and ballparks? CLEAR will get you into selected stadiums faster. Check out Clear and all it has to offer here.

Don’t want to pay TSA PreCheck or Global Access annual fees?

  • Pro tip: If you have a travel awards cards, check the fine print. Some give back a full credit to the annual charge. Here are a few: American Express-Platinum Card & Centurion Black Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige Card.

Check out Mobile Passport App

  • OR if you are flying internationally into the U.S. and have any of the above. Try the Mobile Passport App (available to use at 3 cruise ports & 25 USA domestic airports). You can clear through immigration and customs quickly on arrival. It won’t advance you through lines when you are departing but will get you through upon arrival.
  • Check here to see if you are qualified and if it meets your agenda.

30-36) Don’t have prepaid cut the line access?

Try these maneuvers to speed up the process as much as possible.

  • Avoid getting in lines behind families. Hard stop.
  • Scan out the frequent travelers (they most likely have TSA Precheck) but look to see who already has their laptop out, slip on shoes (or have untied their laces getting ready to take them off), holding onto outer layers of clothing & have removed their watches. Get behind those who know the drill and do the same.
  • Just like avoiding to be behind someone who doesn’t know what they are doing, you do the same. Keep your Ipad / laptop in easy access areas. Invest in a proper backpack that is build for this.
  • Get in the line closest to PreCheck line. If lines are extremely long and Precheck lines have freed up, at times the security guards or immigration officers will waive you over to keep the lines moving and them busy.
  • Also apply the same standing in line tactics for departure.
  • Don’t forget to pack a pen for international flights to fill out the landing card.
  • Lastly, use the restroom before landing or after immigration and customs from an international flight. This will prevent you standing in long lines at either the restroom at the airport and through immigration.

37-38) At the airport

  • Want extra time of Wi-Fi when only an hour is free wifi is given. Roll back your clock before the hour is up to get another hour.
  • Want lounge access? Regardless of airline ticket class. You can sign up for Priority Pass. Check it out here.

39-52) Practice Self Care while in flight

The goal is to arrive revived, zero jet lag, glowing completion and with no aches. Especially on those long hauls.

  • Hand purifying spray to clean your tray table (some people change their babies on these tables), the remote control on the flight (if available) and the remote control at your hotel.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Gone are the days of UGG boots and valore jumpsuits. For me anything with zippers is not going to help me sleep. If you’re flying for a business trip and going straight to a meeting after landing. Bring an outfit to change into on the flight.
  • Many passengers use flight time to catch up on a good book, work or school studies. If that’s not on your agenda, then think of flying as taking yourself out on a date. You have a meal, a drink and a movie. Don’t stop there, use the time for some self care. Headspace App for meditation.
  • Hydration during a flight is key. Try hydrating facial routine The air that circulates on a plane is dry and recycled.
  • Remove contacts and wear your glasses. The air is really dry and can easily make your eyeballs irritated and thirsty.

The carry on the essentials

  • Eye mask, ear plugs, pillow and noise canceling headphones.
  • Personally sleeping aids make me feel groggy and drinking alcohol on flights gives me a headache. I decide not to do either on flights. But do what makes sense for you. An alternative to sleeping aids is bring your own sleepy time tea.
  • Get up, walk around to avoid feet swelling and wear compression socks. If you’re short like me, then you know this is a must because after a few hours, you start to feel numb below the knees.
  • Bring a pashmina and spray it with perfume or essential oil. I bring one for cold flights and when there’s a not so pleasant smell around me. Pashminas or scarves are great because it can be used as a makeshift blanket, pillow or roll it up to support your lower back for lower lumbar support.
  • Back up entertainment. When in flight entertainment doesn’t work (it happens). Having a good book / read on Kindle or Ipad is plan b.

There you have it. A few good tips to know before you go.

Bon Voyage!

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Outdoor enthusiast thriving in the expatriate traveling lifestyle. Looking to connect with your sense of adventure.

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