Frequent travelers know that adventuring the world comes with its fair share of planning or shortcuts. Travel hacks are trendy to talk about on social media; however, it can take some time and experience to learn which ones are worth using on your next trip.
A few of these tips may seem obvious to seasoned travelers. It may be a no-brainer to download Google Maps to some, though others may not know how intuitive the app is–even from abroad.
So, even if you think you’ve heard it all, I implore you to read on. I’ve been to 18 countries and visited 27 states – and I’m still learning new things! You may learn a trick you’ve never heard of before.
These hacks can come in handy when you want to save money or space. You could score some free food, learn to kick jet lag in the butt, or save a few extra bucks along the way. In any case, here are my favorite travel hacks for your consideration!
Show Table of Contents
- The Best Travel Hacks I’ve Found
- 1. Always protect your trip (and yourself)
- 2. Let cheap flight alerts come to you!
- 3. Pack your own amenity kit for long-haul flights
- 4. Use packing cubes
- 5. Bring hand soap
- 6. Take advantage of credit card offers
- 7. Learn to avoid long airport security lines
- 8. Use a pillow as an extra carry-on bag
- 9. Join a group tour
- 10. Create your own airline TV
- 11. Save money on your accommodations
- 12. Utilize Google Translate
- 13. Earn free hotel stays
- 14. Download an offline version of local Google Maps
- 15. Save a bundle on local transportation
- 16. Bring an extension cable or power strip
- 17. For solo travelers – dress like a local
- 18. If you’re backpacking, ditch the liquids and single-use items
- 19. Keep the kids entertained
- 20. Plan your trip during shoulder season
- 21. For campers or hikers, waterproof those shoes!
- 22. Mark your bag as fragile
- 23. Use AirHelp to get compensated for delayed or canceled flights
- 24. For road trippers, use seat organizers to maximize space
- 25. Use a pants hanger to keep blinds closed
- 26. Keep track of itinerary ideas in Google Docs
- 27. Use your hotel’s shower cap to protect your stuff
- 28. Create a frequent flyer account on every airline you travel with
- 29. Invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones
- 30. Beat conversion fees by paying by card in local currency
- How can I make travel fun?
- How can I improve my flight?
- How can I make travel more efficient?
The Best Travel Hacks I’ve Found
1. Always protect your trip (and yourself)
What every traveler needs, especially if you’re planning a complicated itinerary with international flights, is travel insurance. These trip-protecting and asset-protecting plans ensure that you don’t lose out on any money if things go awry, you get hurt, or you lose something valuable.
Keep in mind that travel insurance is not an all-size-fits-all solution. There are a few things to consider for your next trip, from destination to how many people you’re bringing along.
For health coverage, you’ll want to look into our favorite digital nomad-friendly insurance option: SafetyWing. Not only can you get travel health insurance with SafetyWing, but you can also use it if you are a remote worker living abroad.
But if you want to save yourself some trouble, here are some of our top travel insurance resources:
- AIG Travel Guard
- AXA Travel Insurance
- Insured Nomads Travel Health Insurance
- Seven Corners Travel Insurance
- World Nomads
- World Trips – Atlas Travel Insurance
See Related: Important Pros and Cons of Travel Insurance
2. Let cheap flight alerts come to you!
Scoring flight deals isn’t always about being savvy with internet searching. Sometimes, these magical flight prices can come right to you. With sites like Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), you can set your email notifications to ping you whenever a surprise flight deal is found. I even scored a $250 roundtrip flight with American Airlines to Japan once–though lockdowns got in the way.
Flight cancellations and flight delays are possible with some of these incredible deals. Saving money sometimes comes at a cost. Even so, long-haul flight options are frequently hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars cheaper, thanks to sites like Going or Skyscanner.
See Related: Best Skyscanner Alternatives to Book Travel
3. Pack your own amenity kit for long-haul flights
This is one of my most indispensable travel hacks for a long flight. I pride myself in packing light, but bringing my amenity kit saves my sanity onboard. Although I love a freebie like inflight comfort kits, nothing beats having your own set of travel-related items to keep you cozy in the air for hours on end.
Here is what I always bring with me for long-haul flights:
- Separate zip pouch for seat back pocket for easy access to my essentials
- External battery pack for my electronic devices (and charging cables)
- A reusable water bottle to stay hydrated
- Moldable travel pillow for ultimate comfort
- Compression socks to fight swelling
- Light blanket scarf
- Pack of jet lag prevention pills
- Headphones or earbuds
- Hand sanitizer
- Silk eye mask
See Related: Ways to Book the Cheapest First-Class Flights
4. Use packing cubes
I’ll sound like a broken record here, but packing cubes was an absolute game-changer to save space in luggage. It took me a year of using packing cubes to learn that the best packing hack with these bad boys is to roll your clothes in them rather than laying them flat inside the cubes and then pack any remaining things around them in the suitcase.
Using these cubes may make your carry-on luggage a bit heavier and sometimes lopsided, though they’re well worth it. For an added bonus, you can add fabric softener sheets or reusable cotton pads dabbed with essential oil into your suitcase to keep your clothes smelling fresh. Then, as you wear clothes, pack the dirty clothes into the packing cubes to keep them separate in your luggage.
We know a thing or two about packing cubes. See for yourself:
- Best Packing Cubes for Travel
- Best Packing Cubes on Amazon Right Now!
- Sea to Summit Packing Cubes Review: Are They Worth It?
5. Bring hand soap
This is one of those travel hacks I needed for one particular trip that has stuck with me a lot ever since. Hand soap, particularly easy-to-pack soap sheets, is a terrific addition to your carry-on bag no matter where you go.
Heck, being a very touristy place might be the reason there isn’t any soap if it all got used up. Just a word of advice: make sure your hands are dry when you grab a sheet, or you’ll accidentally use the whole pack at once.
Another favorite way to carry soap around is the Matador Flatpak Bar Soap Case, pictured above with handmade soap from the Farson Merc in Wyoming. The Matador case is about a thousand times less messy than a plastic bag and it helps dry your bar soap and keep it slime-free.
See Related: Ways to Luggage-Free Travel
6. Take advantage of credit card offers
A travel hack used by frequent flyer folks everywhere is taking advantage of the perks of a travel credit card. Mainly if you are loyal to one specific airline, a sound companion credit card could save you so much money when planning your trips. Every card will have its own set of advantages, whether that’s earning cashback in restaurants or booking travel, and some even have other perks like access to an airport lounge.
Do be careful when dealing with credit cards, though, since the perks aren’t worth it if you can’t pay them off monthly. Credit card companies make their money back in spades when folks overspend to try and access those great perks. So use these strategically.
See Related: Best Credit Cards for Rewards Points
7. Learn to avoid long airport security lines
Although this hack won’t help you save money, it will save you a lot of time at the airport. I cannot emphasize enough how game-changing TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry are in my travel game. Not having to take my shoes off or unpack my stuff at security and breezing through customs when I get back into the country is well worth the small fee associated with signing up with these programs.
As a matter of fact, some credit cards even include reimbursement for the signup fee for Pre-Check and Global Entry as part of their perks package. In which case, you’d ultimately be paying nothing to join these programs that will make airports a lot less stressful.
See Related: Essential Packing Tips for Travel
8. Use a pillow as an extra carry-on bag
This tip is a little bit on the controversial side if you ask social media. Anytime I see this brought up on TikTok, the comments are filled with people arguing about the morality of doing this. I will admit that I haven’t packed my travel pillow completely full of extra stuff, though I do tuck a few things in the case here and there if I need the space in my personal bag or carry-on.
In this case, you are using the case around your pillow (or instead of a pillow in the case of the Tube Travel Pillow) to lug anything that didn’t fit into your bag to avoid paying extra baggage fees. Since pillows aren’t considered carry-on items, using all the space you have makes sense.
If you’re not sure where you stand on the morality of gaming the luggage allowance rules, pick up the Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase. It’s meant to be stuffed with clothing to create the pillow itself, and it’s the perfect size for travel. Do note that you’ll need the window seat for this type of pillow.
See Related: Best Gadgets for Long Flights
9. Join a group tour
One of the best travel hacks for scoring free meals and free wifi with activities you wanted to do anyway is by booking a group tour. These tours can be for a few hours, a day, or for the duration of your trip.
Regardless of the tour length, you’ll be paired with like-minded group members and a guide who will give you more insight than you’d get venturing alone. That in itself makes the experience worth it.
A group tour also tends to give you more bang for your buck. Not only will it often include the cost of your activities, but it also includes amenities like travel to different places, food, accommodations, and additional perks. You might also make a few friends along the way, and you can’t put a price on that.
Some of our favorite tour and ticket resources include:
See Related: Thrifty Traveler Review: Is Premium Worth It?
10. Create your own airline TV
Okay, so a lot of planes have built-in televisions. But, let’s be honest, most of them are frustrating to use.
Not only that, but you can’t watch all that you have thanks to downloadable content from streaming services. That said, there are a few ways to turn your handheld device into a seatback mini television.
Or, if you’d rather not spend money on this, you can also take the paper barf bag to make a quick and easy phone holder. Place the bag between your phone and the phone case, and then use the tray lock to hold the bag and phone contraption in place.
See Related: The Best Travel Movies to Inspire You To Explore
11. Save money on your accommodations
There’s no doubt that accommodations will easily eat a lot of your travel budget. Even so, you can save a lot of money by utilizing deals, particularly through online travel agencies (or OTAs as they’re starting to be called) or third-party booking sites. These websites will organize the best deals for you, saving you so much time from searching the web to save some money.
Sometimes these OTAs will have incredible last-minute deals, which is also perfect for all those procrastinators out there. You could end up at a much nicer hotel than you otherwise would have, so it’s always worth a look.
Our favorite sites that will save you the most money on accommodations include:
See Related: Best Tools & Travel Resources
12. Utilize Google Translate
Translation apps have gone a long way in just the last few years. If you aren’t making high marks with Duolingo or aren’t fluent in the language of your destination, I highly recommend using the Google Translate app. Granted, you’ll need an internet connection to use it, but so long as you aren’t blowing your whole budget on data use, this app will make your trip so much better.
Should you plan on using this app extensively, be sure it’s up to date on all of your electronic devices and that you have a portable charger along. You don’t want your translator to die while you’re in the middle of a conversation.
If you know you’ll be spending some time abroad, it’s a good idea to learn a little of the language. Babbel is easy to use and offers live online classes, podcasts, and plenty of other resources.
See Related: Best Travel Apps for Europe
13. Earn free hotel stays
There’s no such thing as a free lunch… said no travel hacker ever. It may seem silly, but I highly recommend signing up for a loyalty program anytime you stay with a hotel. This is not only the easiest way to earn free nights, but it’s also an excellent way to get free upgrades or other bonuses like free beverages or snacks when you stay.
ViaTravelers writer Woodrow Matthews is an expert at what he calls “upgrade engineering” – that is, maneuvering his way from basic rooms to luxury stays. Take a peek at some of his best travel tips and soon you’ll be working from a private pool, too.
See Related: Cheap Places to Travel
14. Download an offline version of local Google Maps
Anytime you travel, particularly internationally, being aware of the need for an internet connection to use apps is crucial. Luckily you can avoid that by downloading the offline version of Google Maps for wherever you’re going. That way, internet access or not, you won’t get lost.
Not only can you use Google Maps all over the world (for the most part), but it also updates public transit information so you can utilize trains, buses, and even ferries. Keep in mind that some countries block Google Maps, so you’ll need a local equivalent or an app like OkMap instead.
Countries that have banned Google Maps include:
- North Korea
See Related: Best Hiking Apps
15. Save a bundle on local transportation
Once you get to your destination, you’re still going to need to get around. Even in the most walking-friendly city, you’ll want ways to save money on transportation.
If you’re game to drive around yourself, sometimes renting a car is the easiest way to save money on cab rides. However, that isn’t always the cheapest way to do things.
In Europe, sometimes a Eurail Pass can save you tons of money on trains. The passes are valid in dozens of countries and are the perfect way to hop around the Continent.
Booking things like ferries ahead of time can save you money too, so consider how your day-to-day itinerary might look before heading to the airport and choose the best mode of transport for your wallet.
Some of our favorite transportation partners include:
See Related: Cheapest Way to Travel Around the U.S.
16. Bring an extension cable or power strip
Even the best hotels can suffer from a lack of outlets. A travel hack I wish I had known sooner is to bring a portable power strip along, so your whole travel party can charge up every day without having to leave their electronics in the bathroom or a closet. Just be sure you have an outlet converter if you need one to avoid picking one up from the hotel or airport gift shop at double the price.
Hostels to five-star hotels can lack useable outlets. So it doesn’t really matter how much you spend on your accommodations, you could end up with just one well-placed outlet. Thank us later for not having to groggily run to the bathroom to turn off an alarm clock.
See Related: How to Pack for a Month-Long Trip
17. For solo travelers – dress like a local
When it comes to traveling solo, how you dress almost becomes more important. A lot of folks are afraid to travel by themselves because they don’t want to be a target for salespeople or thieves, which is a reasonable concern. One way to waylay this is by dressing as If you live there.
Let’s be honest; a lot of tourists look like tourists. If you show up in Barcelona wearing an I Love NYC shirt; people are going to know you aren’t from there.
We aren’t suggesting that you wear another culture’s attire like a costume; what we’re saying is to recognize the cultural differences ahead of time and try to reflect that into your clothing. Or, keep it simple and don’t wear logo shirts, shorts, and baseball caps.
See Related: Solo Travel Luggage and Accessories
18. If you’re backpacking, ditch the liquids and single-use items
Folks who have backpacked around countries know that even one extra item makes that pack a little more difficult to carry. I learned firsthand on my six-week European backpacking trip that one of the easiest ways to lessen your load is by swapping out your liquid toiletries for solid ones and reusable items.
Not only will this change make your backpack less heavy, but it’s also a more sustainable swap. Plus, it’s so much nicer to have just a few bars of soap or a reusable ear swab to bring into the bathroom.
Items I loved for my backpacking journey:
- Toothpaste tabs
- Shampoo bars
- Lotion bar
- Perfume bar (my personal favorite from TonyMoly)
- Reusable not-cotton swab
- Handkerchief instead of kleenex
See Related: How to Pack For a Camping Trip
19. Keep the kids entertained
Listen up, parents of little kids, this travel hack is for you! If you’re dreading bringing your little ones on the plane or a road trip for fear of their boredom getting the better of them, I recommend bringing a busy bag or five along to keep them occupied. These kid-friendly kits can be made easily by you or purchased in the form of busy books often attached to the Montessori teaching method.
We recommend creating a few busy bags for different legs of the journey. These activity kits can be tailored to kid’s interests, or even the trip itself.
Maybe include a set of airplane stickers with a sticker book to stick and unstick to their hearts’ content, or perhaps even themed coloring pages. Here are some other ideas for how to fill a busy bag:
- Travel-friendly felt board
- A quiet activities book
- Sensory squares for quiet enrichment
- Silent fidget toys
- Mini Voyager Travel Activity Kit
See Related: Best Family Travel Hacks
20. Plan your trip during shoulder season
One of the most underrated travel hacks is doing your traveling during the shoulder season. Also known as the off-season, traveling to certain places when other tourists are not is a terrific way to save money on airfare, hotel accommodations, and even tours. While the weather might not be as ideal during this period, it can still be perfect for your adventure.
Take for example the first time I went to Ireland and the UK – it was at the beginning of December. Although the Christmas markets were magnificent and busy, the cities were generally far less crowded. Not to mention the weather was so dreamy, the perfect sweater weather… and who doesn’t love an Irish holiday in a good sweater?
This goes for National Parks, too – take a look at how empty the Old Faithful boardwalk is above, just because it’s the “wrong” time of year to visit. Avoid summertime at major landmarks and you’ll save time and money.
See Related: Best Travel Tips And Hacks From Our Readers
21. For campers or hikers, waterproof those shoes!
I won’t lie; one of my least favorite parts of camping or hiking is the notion that my shoes will get wet. “Wet” + “socks” is a texture combination I can’t stand. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a fortune on waterproof shoes to enjoy the outdoors.
You can waterproof, or at least water repel, your shoes at home. Rubbing beeswax, Dubbin, or clear candle wax against the fabric of your shoes will help keep your feet nice and dry. Or you could buy some spray-on waterproofer for your shoes instead, though the beeswax/Dubbin method is more fun and more environmentally friendly.
Don’t forget to waterproof your winter shoes, too. Nothing is worse than snow soaking through your boots.
22. Mark your bag as fragile
If you are a frequent bag checker, this is one of the travel hacks that can be exploited in the industry. Though we don’t recommend doing this every time you check a bag, it’s worth reminding travelers that you can mark your bag(s) as fragile if it makes sense.
On your own or with the check-in desk folks, labeling your bags with a fragile sticker or bag tag can help keep your belongings safe in storage. This can’t guarantee that your bags will be handled more safely, though it might make all the difference to the baggage handler having a bad day.
The few times I have done this to get something flown safely to its destination, my belongings have arrived entirely unscathed. Either way, remember to pack carefully, even if you label the bags, to give yourself some cushion for mishandling.
See Related: Ways to Make Travel Easier for Your Next Trip
23. Use AirHelp to get compensated for delayed or canceled flights
When we got stuck on the runway in an airplane for over three hours for a 45-minute flight from Germany to Czechia, AirHelp was a huge help. Not only did they fight for us to receive the monetary compensation we were entitled to because of the European flight delay/cancellation compensation system, but they even took it a step further and took the airline to court for us when they refused to pay.
AirHelp isn’t free; they do take a portion of your compensation as a fee. Although we got about half of what we should have received if we had fought the airline ourselves, AirHelp saved us a lot of time from having to fight on our own. To us, that was absolutely worth the fee.
See Related: Travel Resources for Products and Software
24. For road trippers, use seat organizers to maximize space
Road trips are an excellent way to see the world without having to negotiate rest stops or deal with airplane delays. But keeping everyone happy and comfy on the road trip is a whole other story. One way to deal with this and maximize space at the same time is to utilize a seatback organizer.
These organizers can keep snacks within arm’s reach for passengers, hold onto beloved stuffies so the littles aren’t wriggling out of their seats, and even serve as a way to motivate passengers through the trip. Each section could even be designated for a certain leg of the trip to give them something to look forward to.
See Related: Best Road Trip Games For Couples
25. Use a pants hanger to keep blinds closed
This is a niche hack specifically for hotels that have pants hangers in the closet. Not all hotels will have this, but for the ones that do, the clips on clothes hangers will keep your blinds or curtains fully closed.
With how difficult it is to keep these window covers closed without intervention, this trick always makes me feel better, especially when I am traveling solo. No more worrying the AC blowing your blinds open while you sleep.
If you want to come prepared and not take up too much luggage space, you could always bring a chip clip or two along. A sturdy clip will keep the shades closed regardless of whether the hotel room has pants hangers or not for you to use.
See Related: Best Travel Safety Tips
26. Keep track of itinerary ideas in Google Docs
Planning group travel is the bane of my existence. Why? Because no matter how hard you try, it can be a pain to keep everyone on the same page at all times. So the next time you get a group travel itinerary inspiration (or a very organized small trip), I highly recommend using Google Docs to keep track of everything.
With a program like Google Docs, you have the ability to share up-to-the-minute itinerary changes. Anyone can make changes to the documents (unless you restrict editing access), and no one has to worry about being left in the dark about changes in plans.
Editor’s Note: Yes, that’s a real screenshot from my Google Drive folder, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg Any time I see a good flight deal come in from Going.com or Thrifty Traveler, I put together a quick spreadsheet to see if the trip is plausible at that time. If it’s not, I save everything anyway and wait for the right time to go.
See Related: Best Vacation Planners
27. Use your hotel’s shower cap to protect your stuff
The complimentary shower cap in your hotel bathroom is useful even if you don’t use it for your hair. I use the cap to pack my shoes in my luggage if they’ve gotten dirty or to keep my toiletries from leaking everywhere. Honestly, these are the most versatile hotel freebies.
One smart way to use these is to pack all of your liquid toiletries in one before placing them in your toiletry bag. That way, if your bottles end up leaking, the mess is mainly contained with the other liquid bottles in the shower cap. Another way to keep your toiletries from leaking is to invest in some quality refillable bottles that are leakproof or resistant.
See Related: Hotel vs. Motel vs. Inn: What’s the Difference?
28. Create a frequent flyer account on every airline you travel with
Regardless of how often you fly, creating a loyalty account whenever you fly with an airline is a good idea. Not all airlines keep your miles in perpetuity, though a few domestic airlines like Delta, Southwest, and United do. Even if you don’t plan on collecting miles or points for free travel with each individual airline, sometimes these loyalty programs have perks.
For instance, some programs allow members early boarding, free bags, changes on an otherwise nonrefundable ticket, and ways to earn miles outside of air travel. Plus, there are ways to exchange points across different programs, like with hotels, so you could potentially rack up a ton of miles if you have applicable partner programs.
See Related: Proven Ways to Save Money for Travel
29. Invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones
As much as I love to fly, I have never become accustomed to the constant humming in the cabin. Honestly, it bothers me.
For other travelers, it’s the constant din of other passengers constantly chatting, coughing, chewing, etc. No matter what kind of traveler you are, noise-canceling headphones will improve your air travel.
Comfortable headphones won’t interfere with your nap, and they won’t irritate your ears the way that earbuds can. Plus, when you aren’t wearing them, they can rest around your neck, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping an earbud or fiddling around trying to get the earbud case out of your bag.
See Related: Best Travel Gifts for Him
30. Beat conversion fees by paying by card in local currency
While it’s always a good idea to exchange money in a foreign country so you have a little cash on hand, generally, I wouldn’t say I like paying with cash anywhere unless I have to. One way to avoid pesky conversion fees when paying by card is always to have the card charged in the local currency.
That means when the screen pops up asking if you want to charge in USD or the local equivalent, you always want to choose the local option. This won’t protect you from foreign transaction fees, though.
Your best bet to avoid those is to bring a credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees anytime you travel abroad. There aren’t a ton of those credit cards on the market, though quite a few cards do offer that perk.
See Related: German Currency
How can I make travel fun?
Stress can absolutely kill even the most exciting vacation. Travel can be so much fun, though, especially if you have an organized planning system to keep track of all of your plans without adding stress to the experience. Starting your planning well ahead of time will leave room for more fun during the actual travel, and you’ll save money by booking things well in advance.
How can I improve my flight?
I recommend making your own amenity kit for air travel. Especially if you’re planning on a long-haul flight, bringing some comforts tailored to yourself will make the experience more enjoyable. A few things I usually include are jet lag prevention pills, my moldable travel pillow, a silk eye mask, and compression socks.
How can I make travel more efficient?
A few ways I have streamlined my own travel are included in this travel hacks list. These steps include having a digital boarding pass, enrolling in TSA-Precheck, using Google Translate, and organizing plans with Google Docs across the travel party.
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- About the Author
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Amanda is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Her work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, HuffPo, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, “Chicago Like a Local.” Amanda’s favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park she’s visited.