Whether you’re a seasoned globetrotter or a newbie adventurer, saving time, money, and hassle on your next trip is always of interest. From scoring cheap flights and maximizing hotel loyalty programs to packing smart and defeating jet lag, traveling hacks are the savvy traveler’s way to make the most out of your journey. Level up your travel game with our rockstar guide to 81 travel hacks that will help you explore the world like a pro.
81 rockstar travel hacks for planes, trains and automobiles
The ultimate guide to some of our best tried and true travel tips and tricks for nearly every mode of transport.
Best travel hacks for planning a trip
Book flights and hotels in advance
This may seem like a no brainer but booking flights and hotels in advance can help you save money.
When searching for flights, keep track of flight prices and fluctuations with sites like Google Flights or Kayak. It’s a great way to gauge when to hit the ‘buy’ button to book a flight, and to avoid paying extra and last-minute stress. Especially if you’re flexible with your dates.
Hotels in popular destinations can be sold out quickly in high travel seasons. Booking ahead ensures greater variety of accommodation choices and price points.
Use travel credit cards
Sign up for a travel rewards credit card that offers points or miles for every purchase you make and use these points or miles to book your flights or hotels. There are quite a few cards offering great deals for frequent travelers, like lounge access, hotel upgrades and travel concierge services. Several cards also have travel insurance benefits that may cover trip delay, cancellation and lost luggage.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred and AMEX Platinum cards are popular in the United States. In Canada, the TD Aeroplan, AMEX Cobalt and Westjet RBC Mastercard are top choices. Be sure to check on their posted exchange rates, and for cards with no foreign transaction fees.
Research your destination
Learn about the local culture, customs, and etiquette before you go, and plan your itinerary accordingly. I’m big on planning trips that include flexible itineraries, and always research restaurants, attractions and cultural activities for my travel dates.
Making reservations or booking skip-the-line tickets in advance ensures you won’t miss out on amazing things that you really want to see or experience on your holiday.
Use travel apps
Download good travel apps such as Google Maps, TripAdvisor, Booking and hotel apps like Bonvoy to help you navigate, find things to do, and book accommodations before or during your vacation.
Use Google Maps offline
Download maps of your destination and use them offline to avoid data charges.
Download Google Maps (if you don’t have it already). Then go on the map to the area you want to save, type ‘ok map’ into the search option and then press download. You can now use it even when on airplane mode. Explore the city or region the old-fashioned way, aka without live GPS.
Don’t get lost in translation, use Google Translate
This helpful App lets you take photos of text in a different language and translate what it means in real time. I’ve used Google Translate in Japan and Chile and it is incredibly helpful for menus and way-finding.
Just like Google Maps, Google Translate works in airplane mode if you have downloaded the language you want to get translated from your native language.
How much space do languages take? Every language has a package that is downloaded once you choose that option. A language takes about 20-30 MB of space.
Use public transportation
Instead of taking taxis or renting a car, use public transportation such as buses or trains to save money and experience the local culture. This is easy (even necessary) to do in urban centers like New York City, London or Rome. It’s also easier and cheaper in countries with great rail networks like Switzerland.
Change money before you leave home
It’s always a good idea to have some local currency on hand upon arrival, particularly in countries where tipping is common and expected. Set a travel budget, and change money at your bank or currency exchange before you leave for the best rates. Be sure to get some small bills.
Don’t exchange money at the airport where the rates will be less favorable. And remember, you can always withdraw cash from an ATM (for a small fee) using your debit card at your destination.
Some countries like Sweden are cashless, so be sure not to arrive in Gothenburg with a lot of money. Even if you plan to tap your way around the world avoid using your credit card for small purchases. Many vendors won’t allow it or will have a minimum purchase limit.
Purchase a local SIM card or use a pocket Wi-Fi device to stay connected and avoid expensive roaming charges. You can get a physical SIM card upon landing at your destination.
Another great option is downloading and using the Airalo App on your smartphone. You can choose an eSim package for your destination and length of stay, then activate it upon arrival.
For Canadians who pay some of the highest roaming rates in the world, Airalo has been a money-saving game changer. I’ve used it on four continents, and it’s saved me hundreds of dollars. Be sure to check that your smartphone is compatible.
Take a photo of your passport
Nobody plans to lose their passport, but things happen. Take a photo of your passport and favorite it in your Photos App to find it quickly if needed. Email that photo to yourself on a cloud-based email address so you can access it in case of phone theft.
Or go old-school and make a paper copy. Store it in your purse, backpack or suitcase, just in case.
Create a frequent flyer account
Don’t waste those miles. Create a frequent flyer account for each specific airline you travel with and use that number when you book travel to collect points.
Also download the airline’s app onto your smartphone to upload your trip plans, keep track of flight changes, delays and boarding passes.
Use Instagram and TikTok to plan travel
Take advantage of tech to research your destination’s highlights and secret gems. Save posts, reels and videos on Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest that showcase special places, tips and neat restaurants, and include them in your trip itinerary.
Get TSA PreCheck, NEXUS or Global Entry
If you’re a frequent cross-border or international traveler, anything you can do to expedite travel is worth your time. Applying for and gaining NEXUS, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry status is a gamechanger and expedites security screenings and customs procedures.
As a frequent traveler, they are absolutely worth the investment:
- TSA Precheck enables you to use a separate line for domestic US flights, and you won’t have to take off your shoes or take out your laptop.
- Global Traveler is for leaving and returning to the US. You use a machine that scans your passport rather than having to wait in line at customs.
- NEXUS is designed to speed up border crossings into Canada and the United States (U.S.) for low-risk, pre-approved travelers. It is jointly run by the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
- NEXUS memberships are valid for 5 years. There is a $50 (USD) non-refundable application processing fee. When entering the U.S. from Canada, NEXUS members benefit from Global Entry kiosks at 8 Canadian airports and dedicated lanes at 16 land border crossings.
- In the United States, Clear uses a biometric travel document verification system at some major airports and stadiums. You scan your fingertips at security and then get escorted to the front of line at airports where it is offered.
Sometimes things happen that alter our carefully made travel plans. Be open to changing your itinerary if something unexpected comes up and try to stay positive in the face of challenges.
Make a packing list
There’s something to be said for writing lists and checking things off, don’t you think? It’s so satisfying! Want to be a pack hacker? Make a packing list of everything you need for your trip.
Important things to consider are location, weather, and activity type. And make note of missing items that you need to purchase or find before your departure.
Fold or roll your clothes
I’m in Camp Fold, but you might be Team Roll. Either are totally fine, it’s a personal preference.
I like folding and flat laying my clothes in my carry-on suitcase. If I’m backpacking, I’ll roll them with the heavier items towards the bottom.
Use packing cubes
Whether you fold or roll, packing cubes will organize your clothes and compress them, saving space in your suitcase. They’re a packing hack game changer. You can ‘cube’ by type of clothing (underwear, socks), and by activity (hiking clothes, ski wear).
Try vacuum bags
Vacuum bags are fantastic ways to save space in your suitcase. They compress clothes even further by taking the air out of the bag, making more space in your luggage.
Use a shower cap to wrap shoes
One of my personal favorites is to use shower caps to wrap shoes in my suitcase. Caps are also great to wrap toiletries, as are sealable Ziploc bags to prevent leaks.
Wear your bulkiest items on the plane
Bulky and heavy items take up valuable room in your suitcase. Wear your bulkiest items, like jackets or boots, on the plane to save space. And when placing your coat in the overhead bin, place it on top of your suitcase (if possible) to leave space for others.
Use a toiletry bag
A toiletry bag keeps all your toiletries organized and easily accessible. Think of it as a packing cube for your vanity. I lay mine out flat in my suitcase, closing all zippers to ensure no liquid leakage. I also place it inside a plastic bag for extra leakage protection.
Get a luggage scale
Stop worrying about how heavy your suitcase is. Use a luggage scale to avoid overweight baggage fees and adjust your packing accordingly.
Pack a lightweight tote bag
A foldable or crushable lightweight tote bag is a great item to pack in your suitcase. You can use it as a day bag, shopping bag or an extra carry-on bag.
Get a great travel pillow
If you’re flying a long distance, get a neck or travel pillow to help you sleep. My favorite is the Cabeau travel pillow. The straps attach to the seat headrest and the pillow supports your neck and head during the flight.
Use contact lens cases for small items
Small contact lens cases are fabulous for storing small items such as jewelry, earbuds and small amounts of liquids or lotion.
Pack a scarf or two
Multi-purpose items like a pashmina, sarong or scarf are indispensable for travel. They can be used as a beach cover-up, a head covering, or a blanket for those chilly overnight flights.
In your purse or backpack, pack snacks like protein bars, nuts, or dried fruit to avoid expensive airport food and satisfy your hunger during the trip.
Use Apple AirTags
If you choose to check a bag, make sure you’ve included an Apple AirTag on your packing list. These ingenious devices are trackable with your Apple iPhone, keeping tabs on your luggage as it (hopefully) makes its way with you.
AirTags are also great to attach to rental car keys, backpacks, purses and diaper bags.
Pack a power bank
A portable power bank can be a lifesaver in case your phone or other electronic devices run out of battery.
Airport travel hacks
Check in online
I swear by checking in online before a flight. Since I’m carry-on only anyway, there’s no need to stand in line at the airline counter. I can check in 24 hours prior to my flight, saving time and avoiding those long airport lines.
Use our packing tips to pack your carry-on bag efficiently, follow TSA and Transport Canada guidelines to avoid delays at security checkpoints. This includes paying attention to what liquids and sizes are permitted. It’s been 100 ml or 3.4 oz or less for 20 years now, but this is changing.
Wear slip-on shoes
Wear slip-on shoes to make it easier to remove them at security checkpoints. I’d wear them with socks or have a small pair with you to slip on to walk through security. After all, thousands have walked before you and you do not want to barefoot that path.
Bring an empty water bottle
Download movies, books, or games on your device before your flight to stay entertained. Some airline apps include entertainment so download those before you lose connection after boarding.
Get a lounge pass
Many top tier travel reward credit cards include airport lounge access. But you can purchase a pass to access airport lounges and enjoy free food, drinks, amenities and Wi-Fi.
Use airport apps
Download the Airports App and use it to track your flight status, find your gate, and navigate around airports around the world.
Be aware of flight delays
Sign up for flight alerts to stay informed and aware of flight delays and cancellations. Pay attention to gate announcements and changes. Download your carrier’s app to track incoming flights. This is one of the best ways to know ahead of time whether your flight may be delayed, even before you leave your home.
Flying travel hacks
Wear comfortable and breathable clothes on the plane. And no, I don’t mean cutoffs and flip flops. I was raised during the Golden Age of Travel (yes, it existed!), when people dressed up to fly. You don’t have to wear your Sunday best, but you can look good – even chic – dressing in comfy, stylish layers to adjust to temperature changes in the plane.
Don’t check a bag
This one explains itself. Fly as light as you can, using our packing hacks, and with carry on luggage only.
Of course, this is not always possible, i.e. winter holidays with ski gear. But try. You can save time and money.
Order a special meal
Many airlines offer the option to order a special meal when you book your flight. Options include vegetarian (my go-to), gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, vegan, low fat, and sometimes even low sodium options.
If you place an order for a special meal, you’ll always get served first, which is a bonus if you’re hungry. You can be done faster and ready to snuggle down and get some sleep while everyone else on the plane is waiting for their food to arrive.
Extra tip: If you’ve forgotten to order a special meal and can’t do it via the airline’s website or app, politely reach out to them on Twitter with your request. This has worked multiple times for me.
Bring earplugs or noise-canceling headphones
I cannot and do not travel without earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to block out the noise of the plane engine or other passengers. I also don’t travel without an eye mask – it’s a must for sleeping on planes and in hotels.
Use a neck pillow
A good neck or travel pillow can help you sleep. My favorite travel pillow is the Cabeau. The straps attach to the seat headrest and the pillow supports your neck and head during the flight.
The air inside an airplane can be dry. Use a refillable water bottle and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. It affects you more at altitude and dehydrates the body.
Bring your own snacks
I always bring some of my own snacks to avoid expensive airport food and satisfy hunger during the flight. Some of my favorites include almonds, wasabi peas, popcorn, trail mix and vegan gummy candy and jelly bellys.
Wear compression socks
Long haul flights are hard on the body and its circulation. Wearing compression socks can help. They’re specially designed to apply pressure to your lower legs, helping to maintain blood flow and reduce discomfort and swelling.
Stretch and walk around
Stretch your legs and walk around the plane during long flights to avoid blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT). And wear compression socks for long flights.
Defeat jet lag with melatonin spray or pills
Being jet lagged is the long-haul traveler’s worst enemy. In addition to getting rest, staying hydrated and avoiding heavy meals at odd hours, using Melatonin spray or gummies can greatly help with sleep.
I’ve found success with Melatonin spray. I use a few pumps when napping on a flight, then again at the destination when it’s time to sleep and if I wake up in the middle of the night.
Opt for a long layover
While you may be in a rush to get to your holiday destination, you may save money by opting for a flight with a long layover on route. If so, take advantage of exploring that layover destination by doing some pre-trip research on local attractions, then take a taxi or Uber to explore them and have some fun. It’s like a mini-holiday inside your holiday.
Destination travel hacks
Buy a souvenir to consume or use at home
My favorite travel souvenir is a tea towel or local food item, like artisanal chocolate or traditional foods or snacks. Think about what kind of souvenir you might want before you leave, so you won’t be tempted by kitschy stuff. And please support local vendors and artisans.
If you’re planning an extended vacation, consider housesitting. This is an amazing way to save money on accommodation costs when traveling. By housesitting, you’ll gain a home base with all its comforts and some responsibilities. But then get to travel at leisure and with far less cost than booking hotels.
Get up early
Sometimes jet lag can be your friend in getting you up before sunrise. Take advantage of getting up early by exploring your destination before the crowds arrive.
We did this in Venice and roamed Piazza San Marco with barely another soul around. It was unforgettable.
Another advantage of being an early bird is avoiding long attraction lines that form during peak times and often in the worst heat of the day.
Use a local guide
Exploring a new destination with a local guide gives you an immersive introduction to a place. You’ll get a local’s perspective about their home, and gain invaluable cultural knowledge and physical orientation. Local guides are also happy to share great tips on where to eat and what to do and see in that destination.
Visit the local grocery store for food and snack supplies. Not only will you save money buying groceries where the locals do, you’ll learn about the cuisine and the unique food in the city and country you’re visiting.
Use a pant hanger to close curtains
I hate light streaming into my room while I’m trying to sleep, so this is one of my all-time favorite hotel hacks. Use a pant hanger with clips to close curtains that stubbornly let light in.
Rent a car from a local
For a 21st century car travel hack, check if Turo is available in your destination. The app and website connect you with local people who own cars and are willing to rent them out for a fee that is (usually) much less than traditional car rental.
Be sure to check before you leave home about your existing insurance coverage and note that Turo makes a protection plan available to all guests, whether they have car insurance or not.
Find WiFi passwords on Foursquare
Looking for free Wifi? Download the Foursquare app, then log in with your Foursquare ID to see a list of all of the nearby venues. Click on any of the listings to see the name of the WiFi connection and its password.
Money-saving travel hacks
Sign up for airline e-newsletters
Sure, we’re all trying to limit our inboxes, but money-saving newsletters are the best kind of email.
Airlines often offer exclusive deals, promotions, and discounts to subscribers. This is also true of companies like Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) and other flight hacking sites.
Use incognito mode when booking flights
This can help you avoid price hikes as travel websites often track your browsing history and increase prices accordingly. The best time to book your flights may be Tuesdays and Wednesdays as flights tend to be cheaper. Early morning or late-night flights are often less expensive as departure times are less desirable.
Use alternative airports
Flexible about your departure and arrival? Check flights from alternative airports near you as they may offer cheaper flights than major airports.
Book accommodation with a kitchen
Booking accommodation with a kitchenette or full kitchen is a true money saver. You can cook some of your meals at home and save money on food costs, particularly breakfast items which feel particularly expensive when traveling with family.
You know I’m a carry-on girl and try to travel light as much as possible. Get a good carry-on bag, use the hacks in this article to guide your packing and you’ll become a pro in no time. Not only does traveling light avoid checked baggage fees and waiting at the baggage carousel, you’ll be also more nimble on streets and on transit.
Stay in hostels in private rooms
You might think hostels are for hippes and hipsters, but hostels are a fabulous money-saving accommodation option for families too. You can book private rooms with shared or private bathrooms in hostels for families in most European countries. Breakfast is included and you get to meet many other like-minded travelers in a friendly and social environment.
Be open to travel off-season
If you can, travel during off-peak seasons. Prices tend to be lower and popular tourist destinations are less crowded. This is becoming increasingly challenging as shoulder seasons like fall and spring are becoming busy too. But it can make a difference to you travel budget if your schedule can accommodate off-peak travel.
Road tripping travel hacks
Plan your route
Sure, you could freewheel it and head out on a road to nowhere. But planning your route and stops in advance, and researching the weather, road conditions, and traffic will save you time and money.
Do a maintenance check of your vehicle
Before hitting the road, book an appointment with your mechanic. Have them check your vehicle’s oil, brakes, tires, and fluid levels. If traveling in winter, ensure winter tires have been installed, as this is a requirement for many high mountain roads and highways in many countries around the world, including rental cars.
Pack an emergency kit
Pack an emergency kit that includes a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a blanket, a map, candles and matches, and a spare tire.
Bring a cooler
Bring a cooler with ice packs to keep drinks and snacks cool. Load it up with sandwiches or a picnic and your favorite treats. Nobody will get the hangries and you’ll avoid stopping at fast-food restaurants.
Become an automobile association member
By being a member of AAA or CAA, you have access to emergency road assist, towing services, even discounts at restaurants and hotels. As someone who’s been stranded on family road trips by dead batteries in our 1991 VW Westfalia, being bailed out by BCAA has been a trip saver.
Make use of traffic tech
Use a travel app such as GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas stations and Waze to avoid traffic accidents and speed traps.
Bring books, audiobooks, podcasts or games to keep your road tripping family entertained during long stretches of driving. One of our family favorites is the license plate game – even hard-to-please teens enjoy it.
Plan and pack only what you need for your road trip. After all, your trunk may only be able to accommodate so many bags. Avoid overpacking as it can add weight to your vehicle and reduce fuel efficiency.
Use a road atlas
Use a road atlas as a backup to your GPS or smartphone, in case you lose signal or battery. Or download your roadmap from Google Maps to use offline. If you’re an automobile association member, you can pick up free road maps at their office.
Take breaks from the road
Take frequent breaks to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, or grab a snack. When traveling with small kids, try to find playgrounds where they can run around and let off some steam. It’ll make the rest of the trip more pleasant.
Be flexible with your itinerary and be open to changing your plans if something unexpected comes up. See a cool attraction or funky diner? Pull over. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination!
Train travel hacks
Download train apps to your smartphone
Many train companies like SBB in Switzerland have free apps you can download to your smartphone. Using these apps, you can research train routes and schedules, make seat reservations and review destination information.
Choose the right seat
If you need to make seat reservations, choose a seat that suits your preferences, such as a window seat for scenic views or an aisle seat for easy access. When traveling on an overnight train, book a couchette or space in a sleeper car. You’ll be more comfortable laying down and may even get some rest. Always sleep with your important valuables and documents close to you.
Pack light if possible, to avoid lugging heavy suitcases on and off trains, where there’s usually not a lot of storage room. On the train, wear comfortable and breathable clothes, and layers to adjust to temperature changes.
Bring food and entertainment
Bring books, podcasts, or games to keep yourself entertained during the train journey. Pack snacks and drinks to avoid purchasing onboard food. Many train stations have mini grocery stores with healthy prepared foods to choose from.
Take advantage of amenities
Take advantage of amenities such as Wi-Fi, power outlets, tables and onboard entertainment systems, where applicable.
Use the luggage racks
Store your luggage in the luggage racks above your seat or in the designated luggage compartments to save space. Try to keep an eye on your bags if the compartments are located away from your seat.
Talk to strangers
We’ve shared food, learned about great restaurants and even learned words in new languages from fellow travelers. Strike up a conversation with other passengers to make new friends and learn about their experiences.
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