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25 Really Fun Tricks and Tips Every Traveler Needs to Know

I love to travel, which is my favorite unintended consequence of becoming an author, speaker, and blogger. I’ve learned that travel always involves challenges. That’s why I have adopted an attitude that no matter how well I’ve planned, if something can go wrong it probably will. And if it doesn’t? There’s my travel bonus.

Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of really great travel tips—some fun, some crazy, but all of them very useful if only to avoid a headache or two. Some of my favorites:

Backup critical info

Before you leave, scan the front and back of every item in your wallet including your passport, then keep these files in a safe place. As an iPhone user, I email the document to myself, then open it in my phone, save it to iBooks, and immediately delete the email. This provides me with an offline record. Should you suffer a loss while traveling, this will not substitute for your passport, ID, or credit card, but you’ll have all of the pertinent information you need to keep going.

Carry a duplicate photo

If traveling abroad, take the time to get a passport photo that meets all of the required criteria. Keep it with you in a secure place. Should your passport be lost or stolen, you can go to the nearest U.S. Embassy to get a new passport. While they will be able to issue a new passport, they won’t have a photography department. Without that proper photo, it could take a couple of weeks to finally get your passport replaced.

Make a list

Sounds so elementary. Mental lists are great, but a written list is there to keep things together when stress sets in the way it does right before it’s time to leave. I make a list of items I don’t want to forget—which I know from experience that I WILL forget if I don’t write them down. When I think of something, I add it to the list.

But wait, there’s more: Once you arrive safely back home and unpack, leave your list in your suitcase. It will help you so much as you prepare for your next trip.

Pre-plan outfits

Take the time to plan what you’ll wear then pack in outfits—specifically. Write it down! You’ll be so glad you have this wardrobe plan in writing once you get to your destination or move from one accommodation to the next. You won’t be happy when you discover you brought 4 pairs of black pants but only two tops. What were you thinking?

Ditto above for recycling that list for your next trip.

Roll it

Instead of creating a folded pile clothes to stack in your suitcase, roll everything tightly. You can even roll underwear and socks for optimal organization. Your clothes will take up less space in your luggage, which can prevent extra baggage fees. Watch this video.

Bring it empty

Bring along an empty water bottle. Once you clear airport security, fill it up and you won’t have to pay $4.95 for a bottle of water. Refill as necessary during your trip. Just make sure it’s empty before you pass through security on your return trip.

Turn left

When deciding which security line to get in, keep this in mind: The majority of people, without thinking, tend to always turn to the right when there is an option. That makes those lines to the right longer. Don’t follow the crowd, don’t go with your natural instinct. Consciously choose to go to the left.

Mark it FRAGILE

This is a tip I learned a while ago from a friend who found it to be a great way to ensure that your baggage is handled correctly. Most likely, your luggage is kept at the top of the piles because of this, which will make it one of the first bags to be released.

BYO disinfecting wipes

Regardless of anything to the contrary, believe that airplanes are not clean. Assume (and rightly so in my opinion) all they do between fights to clean the restrooms is restock toilet tissue and spritz into the air with Lysol. That tray table? The armrests? Rarely, if ever, are they cleaned after every flight. I’ve calculated the time between passengers are de-planed, and a new batch sent onboard. It can be as little as 10 minutes. Think about it.

You might not believe what passengers before you have done on that tray table and stuffed into the seatback pocket. It may have been emptied, but that’s about it. Bring your own fresh disinfecting wipes. Clean your space first thing once you sit down.

Fanny pack, baby

Never underestimate the value of a fanny pack. Yes, they can be embarrassing and seemingly out of the mid-to-late 1980s, but trust me—it will ensure that your valuables are safe. It expedites security checks, too.

Don’t get in line

Stuff happens, flights get canceled. And when they do, most travelers get in line en masse to get rebooked. But not you. Don’t follow the herd. Turn the other way. Find a seat, pull out your phone and call the airline.The phone agent can do everything the gate agent can, and probably much sooner than for all those people standing in line. Or double-dip and call while in line.

Secret USB port

If you should happen to forget (or lose) the wall plug adapter for your phone charger, check the back of the TV in your hotel room. Nearly every hotel TV these days has a USB port where you can recharge your phone or other devices.

First thing, first

Make this the first thing you do when you walk in your room: Take a hand towel from the bathroom and spread it out on the desk or other countertop in the room. This becomes the de-facto place for all of the things that you have a place for at home. Put your room key on the towel, your car key, sunglasses, rechargers, wallet—everything. Now everything is visible and in one spot, rather than scattered about the room. As you come and go, return these items to their place on the towel. When you’re ready to check out, no searching, nothing left behind.

Make a note

Put your hotel address and room number on your phone. Am I the only one who can’t remember my room number? Or where I’m staying when the Uber driver inquires where I’m going? I think not.

Spare chargers galore

If you lost or forgot the charger for your computer or phone, go to the front desk. They will have a huge assortment that others have left behind. You should be able to borrow the one you need.

Double-duty shampoo

Need to wash out underwear or other clothing items? Shampoo is the perfect substitute for hand wash detergent. It’s great for getting out a grease spot, too. After all, that’s what shampoo is made to do—remove grease (from hair).

Handy safe

A travel mug makes a great travel “safe.” If you must leave small valuables in your hotel room and the room does not have a safe for your personal use, pop those small valuables into the mug then apply the lid. It will be fairly inconspicuous and an unlikely target for thieves.

Pack an extension cord

Keep an extension cord in your suitcase, and leave it there so you never forget. It always comes in handy because outlets seem to be fewer and farther away than convenient.

Carry a pen

Ensure that you have a pen before leaving home so you can complete customs forms. Flight attendants rarely have them. Fill the forms out when you get them, and make sure that your family members have theirs filled as well.

I’m in here

When you leave your hotel room, even if for only a few minutes, place the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. Now it appears to housekeeping and others that you are in the room for as long as the sign remains. This adds a layer of security should you have to leave your computer or other valuables in the room for a short time. Should you leave that sign in place for the entire day, drop by the front desk and ask for clean towels to be delivered to your room. Easy.

Clear your history

Have you ever noticed that every time you go back to check the price of a flight, the price has gone up? That’s because your Internet history is traced. When the website you’re checking realizes you want that flight they start upping the price—especially if it’s the tenth time this week you’ve checked.

Sneaky, I know. The solution is to clear your cookies and Internet browsing history for that website so you’re essentially starting again from scratch, so you will be offered incentives to lure you in. (Google it if you don’t know how to do this. It varies slightly depending on the browser you’re using. In Safari go to Preferences -> Privacy -> Manage Websites).

Compare fares

When booking air travel, always use a flight or travel comparison website. There are several, such as FareCompare.com and Kayak.com. These sites help you find the best airline and the cheapest price for your dates and routes. But DO NOT BOOK your flights through these comparison sites.

Instead, make a note of the flight number, etc., delete your browsing history, and then book directly with the airline. This way if you have a flight cancellation or other problem, you can rebook right there at the airport (or train station, etc.) through customer service. If you’ve booked your tickets with third parties (like travel agents or Internet travel sites) and you have a problem, good luck. You’re going to need it.

Hit the grocery

Shop for groceries when you arrive. You don’t have to shop for a feast, but getting basics like water and a few snacks in local stores instead of at the hotel can save you a ton.

Semi-unpack

When in your room, remove only the necessities from your luggage. Trying to make yourself at home by taking out every pair of shoes and all of your toiletries will only make repacking a living nightmare. Plus it increases your chances of forgetting something when it’s time to go home.

Fight back

AirHelp, a for-profit organization that helps air passengers around the world get paid for delayed, canceled, or overbooked flights (they do all the work and take a 25% cut of the amount awarded), says that on domestic flights, passengers may be entitled to up to twice the cost of a one-way ticket if a flight arrives two hours late and up to $1,350 if it is more than two hours late.

Keep your boarding pass(es)! That’s what you will need when you contact AirHelp should you have a delay or problem. You have up to three years to seek compensation.

AirHelp does all the work to get you the compensation you deserve, for 25% of the amount they recover. Seems fair in that 75% is better than nothing, which is what you’ll likely get otherwise.

Updated  6-1-22

 

Question: What is your all-time favorite travel tip that you’re willing to share with us? Please do tell in the comments below …


 

 

 

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  1. Kari says:

    My husband and I have started traveling with a sound machine. It provides white noise to block out random hotel sounds. I also love to use packing cubes for my clothes. I usually put all same clothes in a cube. Shorts in one. Tops in another. I might use Mary’s idea and put outfits together in cubes.

    Reply
  2. Carol says:

    I went to Italy for five weeks last fall, by myself, and took a carry-on, a backpack, and a fanny pack. Yes, five weeks, and I had more than I needed. I NEVER check luggage! Unless you’re extremely fashion-conscious and need a dozen different outfits, you can get by with a few washable outfits and the minimum of everything else. It’s so freeing to travel lightly!

    Reply
  3. StephenD says:

    Emailing these critical documents (License, Credit cards, etc.) to yourself is not only a bad practice, but also puts you at risk for identity theft and more. Why? Because email is not secure or encrypted and by taking photos of the front and back of your credit cards you are violating PCI compliance and the agreement you have with your Credit card company by storing the CVV# on an insecure device.

    Reply
  4. Pat says:

    Be sure to let the airline know if you must carry medical supplies. I have diabetes, and must carry insulin and all my pump supplies. They will allow an extra bag for this, and sometimes allow you to board earlier. Get a letter from your doctor.

    Reply
  5. Linda says:

    When checking in for my flight, I print my boarding pass & take a screen shot with my phone. So I have on my app, printed pass & picture on my phone. One time in security, it wouldn’t take my QR code from my paper one or app, so I used one in my pictures that I had screen shot. Otherwise they wanted to send me back to the desk to get copy. I like to cover all bases.

    Reply
  6. Didi says:

    One of my favorite travel tips is, when traveling with your spouse, pack each suitcase with half of each persons clothes. That way if one suitcase is delayed or lost, each person still has some clothes.

    Reply
  7. Barbara J Pire says:

    Oh my goodness! I traveled all over the world as a flight attendant. My company would get me a ticket out of Atlantic City, NJ (that was my base) and they commmercialed me anywhere to Alaska, England, Ireland, Egypt and Saudia Arabia for my work and so many more countries. But I did all those things you mentioned regarding travel. But what I used to do when I got to my hotel room is when I was going out I would put the television on and the do not disturb sign so somebody would think tha someone was in there. I have so many more tips buy I have to take the dog out! Thanks Mary for your great tips!! xxoo

    Reply
  8. Cathy down on the farm... says:

    Great tips, Mary. Too bad I do not travel by air anymore. These would come in handy. No desire to fly anymore. Would rather drive.

    Reply
  9. Maggie Morgan says:

    Always pack earplugs. (I like the soft, foam, cylinder-shaped ones.) They can transform a noisy flight, a loud hotel room, a snoring travel partner. At least for me, they do not block the sound of an alarm clock (or, I hope, a fire alarm). Thanks for the tip about the charger on the TV. I had no idea!

    Reply
  10. Kathy says:

    My last trip I just had a carry-on and my personal item which was my laptop backpack with my laptop and electronics. But when I do have to check a bag I always carry a change of clothes in my carry-on just in case the luggage gets lost. But with every Airline going to charging you for even one bag if you don’t have a certain credit card my last week-long trip to Florida I was able to pack just in my carry-on but then I had no room to bring anything back, still working on it.

    Reply
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