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20 Top Travel Hacks You Should Know (And Practice)

Discovering new beers, foods, and experiences, whether internationally or closer to home, will always be a top priority for us. 

However, over the last few years, traveling has become a bit more challenging.

With that said, with all the advantages of living a nomadic lifestyle, there are some inconveniences that can hamper travel for just about anyone. 

But, you don’t have to let those travel annoyances spoil your vacation.

Traveling these days doesn’t have to be hard. Ok, it can be tiring dealing with some restrictions, and traveling has gotten more expensive, but it’s still worth it, especially when you have a few travel hacks up your sleeve. 

How do you travel with confidence, comfort, and little to no stress?

Over the last couple of years we’ve learned a lot about the do’s and don’ts of traveling. We have also made a few travel mistakes. 

We don’t want you to suffer, so we’ve put together a list of our top travel hacks every vacationer should know – and practice. 

Our Top 20 Travel Hacks You Should Know

1. Sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

You know those fast-pass things that you can buy at amusement parks? You know, the pass that gets you to the head of the line? 

Well, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are like that for travelers.

Both programs help you expedite your flow through security and/or customs. TSA PreCheck is for domestic US travel, while Global Entry is for International travelers. 

Both programs require a bit of paperwork, a background check and an in-person interview that includes finger-printing.

2. Download Your Airline’s app

This is one of the most handy travel hacks that we’ve discovered. We routinely travel on United Airlines, so we’ve downloaded their app on all of our devices. 

Not only can we check in for our flights from the comfort of our couch, but using the app allows us to pay baggage fees and access in-flight entertainment. 

With lots of airlines changing the way they provide beverage service thanks to Covid, you’ll also find that you can order and pay for snacks and drinks through your airline’s app.

Most airlines have an app, so if you’re getting ready to fly, make sure to take a few moments and download the app for your favorite air carrier.

3. Email Your Itinerary and ID Documents to Yourself

One of the most traumatic things that can happen when traveling is to lose your identification or your travel itinerary. 

Certainly, losing things like your clothes, camera or money is a huge problem, but losing your ID can leave you stranded.

We make a point of carrying a copy of our IDs, including our passports, in electronic form, just in case. We do this a couple of different ways, so that we always have a back up, to our back up. 

First, we scan and email our documents to ourselves. This way, if we lose our phone, we can at least head to a library or other public place with computers to access our documents. 

Then, we take those scanned copies and save them to our phones. We both have iPhones, so saving your documents as PDFs to the file directory in your iPhone is an easy way to keep them available if you’re off-line. If you use a different brand of phone, research the best ways to save files for off-line access. 

Finally, make sure you share your itinerary with a trusted friend or family member, and make sure that they have a copy of your documents. This is a good last resort, in case all other options fail.

4. Notify Your Bank and Credit Card Companies

We traveled to Texas one year for Thanksgiving. While standing at the checkout stand in WalMart, my credit card was declined, and I got a fraud alert text from my credit union. 

Turns out, with so many people being victimized by credit card theft, banks are really weary of charges to your card that are not from your “normal” area.

To fix this problem, before you travel, call your bank or credit card company 24 to 48 hours prior to leaving and let them know you’re traveling, where you’re traveling to and your travel dates. 

This will keep you from that unfortunate moment when your card is declined.

5. Organize a Document Travel Kit

This is a winning hack for getting through security and customs. Put all of your travel documents together, in an easy to access location. 

This should include your passports, vaccine cards, customs forms, and boarding passes. Oh, and don’t forget a pen. 

If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll need to fill out customs forms, and airplanes never have enough pens. 

The wife likes to put everything together in a large envelope or plastic folder, for easy packing and to protect documents from spills or leaky water bottles.

6. Bring a Better Puke Bag 

I know, I know, GROSS! But, On our return flight home from Mexico, the Munchkin got sick. Full on barfing, sick. Right in the middle of our descent. 

It was a mess. What made it worse, was the barf bag that leaked and turned to mush after about 5 minutes. We’d recommend making sure that you have a bag, of some sort in your carry-on just in case. 

Ziplock bags are a great option, or even a plastic grocery bag. Just something that you can close and won’t leak. 

And do make sure that you also have some wet wipes and hand sanitizer to make cleaning up a bit easier.

Here the Puke Bags We Bought. RAZAZON Vomit Bags

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7.  Pack Your Own Snacks

Honestly, airplane snacks are a letdown. And you don’t want to pay airport prices for snacks. We pack our own snacks when we travel, so that we know we’re getting something we like, and it’s not a chore, or a bank-breaker to stave off hunger. 

Our favorites are chips, crackers and popcorn, but we will occasionally bring crackers, meat and cheese.

If you’re staying in a hotel that offers breakfast, you can always snag an extra piece of fruit, a muffin or fill a ziplock with some cereal for an easy snack.

As a matter of courtesy to our fellow air travelers, we do avoid peanuts as snacks so that we don’t cause problems for those that are highly allergic to nuts.

8. Put All of Your Electrical Items in an Electronic Organizer

There is nothing more annoying or frustrating than having to dig to the bottom of your bag for your phone cord, earbuds or charger. 

We have found that the best answer to keeping all of our cords organized and easy to find is the Bagsmart cable organizer. It’s water resistant, zippered, and nifty little elastic straps and pockets to hold your cords, chargers, earbuds, SD cards, batteries, pens and other tiny stuff.

Did you forget your charger port? Don’t worry! Most hotel TVs are now new enough that they have a USB port on the back. Plug in your charging cord to the back of the TV and you’re set.

Also, don’t forget to pack a power strip with your electronics. That way, you’ll always have plenty of plugs for all your stuff. This is particularly handy if you’re traveling internationally and don’t have many plug adaptors. 

Here are the Organizers we use. BAGSMART Electronic Organizer

9. Share Devices

I mean, really, does everyone in the family have to have 4 different devices? If you want to minimize the load of electronics, or if you really want to minimize screen time when on vacation, you can always share devices. 

And since lots of families have more than one kiddo and only one tablet, you’re gonna want to have a way to share the screen. 

A couple of handy hacks we’ve found are tablet hooks and headphone splitters. The hooks allow you to hang a tablet on the back of a car or airplane seat, and if you’re sharing one tablet, the splitter allows both people to be able to hear at the same time, through their own headphones.

Here are the Hooks and Splitters we use. HEROCLIP Carabiner Clip & Tophigh Headphone Splitter

10. Take Direct Flights 

I hate spending more time than necessary in the airport, so when we fly, we always try to find direct flights. Direct flights get you where you’re going, quicker, and with less hassle. 

Also, when you’re flying with small children, limiting the walking time and settling in time is a must for meltdown-free traveling. 

Besides, you never know when your first flight is going to be late and you end up running across a busy airport. 

Then there’s the potential for lost luggage, or luggage that arrives two days after you. Connecting flights are just a pain. Avoid them as often as possible.

Oh, did I mention that direct flights are almost always cheaper than those with connections?

11. Earn Points for Free Activities, Seats and Hotels 

Points are the way to save. There are a couple of ways you can get points for traveling. 

First, sign up for frequent flyer programs on the airlines you use the most. Each person in your family needs a frequent flyer number, even your kiddos. They’re easy to sign up for, and every time you fly, you get closer and closer to a free trip.

Next, if you can, get a point credit card from the airline you prefer. These are great because for every dollar you spend, you get some points. 

Paying your bills or buying groceries could get you a first-class ticket on your dream vacation. These cards often come with other perks like no checked baggage charges, access to VIP lounges and reduced fares.

Many hotel chains today also have rewards cards that can get you free nights or reduced rates, if you would rather save on the hotels, instead of your flights.

If you want more flexibility, check out some of the rewards cards that give you points for flights, hotels, car rentals or activities. 

Or consider a cash back card instead. The Capital One Venture card or the whole line of American Express cards are great options.

12. Forget the Boosters or Car Seats

If you’ve got little ones and need a car seat, if you’re flying, leave the booster or car seat at home. They are a huge pain in the neck to deal with, and if you have a connecting flight, you have to wait for that sucker to be pulled from the plane before you can move to your next gate. 

To solve this problem, you’ve really got two options. First, if you are renting a car, many car rental agencies have the option of adding a booster or car seat to your rental. 

They’ll even install it correctly for you. Yes, this costs you a bit extra for your car rental, but it’s totally worth the extra dollars to limit stress.

The other option is a groovy product called the RideSafer vest. This cool contraption is a super portable alternative to car seats and boosters. 

For kids age 3 and up, the vest buckles your child securely in a car, airplane or train seat. And it doesn’t take up a ton of space.

Check it out here— RideSaferbox

13. Bring at Least 2 Empty Water Bottles

Buying water is a huge waste of money, and it’s really horrible for the environment.  You can’t bring a full bottle of water through security, but you can bring an empty water bottle. 

This is one of those hacks that comes in handy, not just in the airport, but it’s certainly a money saver in the airport. 

Most airports today have bottle filling drinking fountains, if you have your own bottle, you’re set and you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy a bottle of water from an airport store. 

On a side note, having a bottle of water on hand is also a lifesaver when your kiddo just needs a drink in the worst way, after the drink cart is gone.

Here are the Water Bottles we use. IRON °FLASK Sports Water Bottle

14. Pack Light (and Try Not to Check a Bag)

This is a skill that takes practice. But if you can figure it out, it’s a huge time and money saver. Most of us overpack. We go away for a week, and bring more clothes than we would wear if we were home. 

We’ve looked at plenty of guides on how to pack lighter. They all have some useful suggestions that include rolling clothes, having a set of basic items that you can mix and match, only bringing lightweight fabrics, bringing minimal toiletries, using packing cubes (see #18), and the list goes on.

The real benefit of packing lightly is that you can avoid the checked bag, and this is another one of those big time and money saving hacks. 

If you can fit your gear in a single carry-on bag, it goes in the overhead compartment, and while everyone else is waiting for their luggage, you’re out the door, and closer to fun and adventure. 

15. Do Laundry on the Road.

Ok, so you’ve committed to packing lighter, but that’s a problem if you’re going to be gone for multiple days, right? 

Nope. It’s not a problem at all. But, you need to be willing to do some laundry on the road. 

Most hotels have laundry facilities, so you can relax in your room while your clothes are washing. If you’re up for this plan, pack a few laundry detergent pods in your suitcase. 

That way you don’t have to find laundry detergent.

The other great part of doing laundry on the road? Less laundry to do when you get home!

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16. Wear Compression Socks or Sleeves

For many people, swelling extremities is a big problem when on an airplane. Ankles, feet, fingers and legs that swell are really uncomfortable, and can make flying a literal pain. Compression socks, sleeves and gauntlets are a good way to keep swelling down and maintain comfort when flying.

17. Stop the Ear Popping

Our kiddo struggles with ear pain during flying. It’s been a travel reality that we’ve gotten used to, and we’ve tried just about every trick known to man, to ease her discomfort.

Our favorite solution for older kids is EarPlanes. These handy, reusable ear plugs come in child and adult sizes, and help reduce pressure in the ear caused by changes in elevation. 

They are also handy if you are driving in the mountains. Other options for kids are chewy foods like fruit snacks or gummy bears.

For babies, hold off on the bottle until you are starting your assent and descent. Sucking on a bottle will help them pop their ears, eliminating pain and distress.

For adults, you can use the EarPlanes as well, or try chewing gum. 

18. Use Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are our new favorite travel hack. The first time we heard about them, we thought they were a joke. But packing cubes are no joke.

Packing cubes are reusable fabric bags that allow you to organize and condense your clothes. They stack in your suitcase, and keep everything tidy and together. They also help keep clothes out of the way of luggage zippers. 

This is a really affordable travel hack. You can get a nice set of packing cubes for less than $20.

My one bit of strange advice, that I get tons of weird looks from, is roll your clothes. I mentioned this previously, but rolling your clothes is really the best way to pack. 

It makes your clothes seem smaller, reduces wrinkles and is the absolute best way to get more clothes in a single packing cube.

Want to try this hack but don’t have cubes? Gallon size ziplock bags will work just as well in a pinch. 

Here are the packing cubes we use. Shacke Pak packing cubes

19. Bring Noise Cancelling Headphones

Noise canceling headphones have become a must in our travel accessories. 

We have a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones for each of us, and I can’t tell you how many times they’ve allowed us to peacefully listen to a movie or audiobook, or take a nap on the airplane. 

Even Grandpa has gotten on board with the noise canceling headphones!

When you pack, just make sure that you bring the charging wire, just in case the batteries run out.

You don’t need to invest in an expensive pair of noise canceling headphones either. We’ve found some great options for under $75. 

Here are the Headphones we use. Anker Soundcore Life Q20

20. Hotel Door Security 

This one feeds to my paranoia (I’m probably more paranoid than most people), but I think it is important to keep my family safe when we are staying in a hotel. 

Portable hotel door locks or stops give me just a little peace of mind, and allow me to sleep comfortably, especially when we are traveling internationally. 

These handy devices give you an additional lock on your hotel door that can only be accessed from the inside.

The nice thing about these locks is they are small, and don’t take up much room in our suitcases. And they are even nice investments for single people who want extra security at home, or if you’re staying in an AirBNB.

Here are the security devices we use. Wundermax Door Stoppers

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Final Thoughts Travel Hacks

We’ve really learned a lot about how to make traveling easier, and more convenient for us. When we started thinking about how we save money on our travels, we didn’t realize how many ways there were for making travel easier that also saved us money.

Many of our hacks in this list we used initially as hacks for flying, but it turns out that they are also great ways to make road trips a lot more comfortable as well.

It’s even more challenging to travel these days with all the increased restrictions. Hopefully these travel hacks will save you time, money and most importantly your sanity!

We hope that you’ve found at least one of our travel tips helpful for your next adventure. We also love hearing about travel tips and tricks that we haven’t tried, so if you have your own travel tip or trick, let us know in the comments.

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Jason Gass

Jason is a professional freelance writer who regularly seeks out adventures with “The Wife” and "Munchkin" in tow. When he’s not traveling, camping, hiking or road-tripping, he is writing about family life with an emphasis on dads, entrepreneurship, craft beer travel or micro-farming.

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