I always read travel tips. I approach it the way I did when I first became a parent – even if I pick up just one useful tip from a long list it’s worth my time. I’ve also learned some of my best travel tips from friends and fellow travel writers. And I’ve discovered a few on my own, sometimes the hard way.
For example, I have forgotten to pack my underwear five times. Yes, you read that right. I am a professional travel writer who can’t remember one of the most essential items when traveling. So why would you take tips from me, you may be asking. Trust me, I’ve learned plenty in my years of travel writing. And I usually learn from my mistakes.
Here is a list of my 30 best travel tips. I’ve included my all-time favorite travel app, my #1 tip to avoid jet lag and what one multi-purpose item I always carry with me.
1. The best all-around travel app I’ve found is Tripit
I opened my laptop to check in my flight. But there was one problem. I didn’t remember what airlines I was on. After digging around in my email and trying a few different airline websites, I figured it out.
More than once I’ve had trouble locating my confirmation number when it was time to check in. I had been using an app called Flight Track to keep track of my flights, but it didn’t have a convenient place to store those.
Then I got TripIt and can easily keep track of reservations for flights, hotels, cars and even airbnbs and it couldn’t be easier. When I get a confirmation email, I just forward it to plans @Tripit.com and it keeps track of everything for me.
There is a free version, but I have the pro version for $49 that includes a few extra things. Some of the features I love include texts about how long a layover I will have, where my next gate is and what carousel my luggage is coming in on.
2. Wear compression socks or tights when you will be flying a lot
To combat blood clots and deep vein thrombosis, the best thing to do during a flight is to get up and move around frequently. That’s not always a convenient thing to do, so I recommended moving your calves up and down and also suggest always wearing compression socks.
On long flights I wear Rejuva footless compression leggings. Yes, they are a bit of a bear to get on the first time, especially if you forget to put them on at the airport and have to struggle into them in those coffin-size airport bathrooms, but after you get them on they are fairly comfortable to wear. If you just can’t do the tight thing, try compression socks. VIM & Vigr has several pairs of really cute ones so you don’t have to sacrifice style.
3. Order a special meal on an overnight flight
You typically get a better tasting meal, and they are often served first. So you can eat and try to go to sleep while everyone is waiting for their meals to be served.
4. To sleep on an overnight flight, try elevating your feet
I was getting ready to fly to India on an overnight flight, at that point the longest flight of my life. And I’ve never been able to sleep on planes. I read that if you can elevate your feet you have a better chance of sleeping and that elevation has the additional benefit of improving blood circulation.
I bought a cheap inflatable foot pillow and placed it in my carryon. It didn’t take much space and was easy to blow up. I rested my feet on it and it really did help. I actually slept during the 16-hour flight.
5. My #1 tip to avoid jet leg is to wear noise-cancelling headphones
We all know flying can be stressful, but we usually attribute that to the cramped quarters, crying babies or video-gamers who don’t turn down their sound. But airplanes are really noisy on their own and that noise contributes to our stress levels without our consciously being aware of it.
I carry noise-cancelling headphones with me to cut out all that sound even when I’m not watching a movie or TV show. I recently bought the Bose QuietComfort noise cancelling headphones and love them. I was able to watch my movie with incredible sound, and felt more rested when I arrived at my destination.
6. Take along a power strip with a USB port
How many times have you had to unplug a lamp to plug in your charging cable or crawled around under a desk trying to locate an available outlet? Now I carry a power strip with a USB port with me everywhere so I can charge multiple things at once and I only need to find one outlet.
7. Never get on a plane hungry or without a snack
Flights get delayed, or in a worse-case scenario, get stuck on the tarmac for hours. Even if your flight includes dinner shortly after take-off, you could still be delayed or encounter turbulence that prevents the flight attendants from serving meals.
Make sure to always have some snacks with you in case of flight delay or when reaching your final destination. Traveling is tiring and stressful, and many things that happen are beyond your control. But you can control your hunger level. Granola bars, nuts and trail mix are good and easily packable snacks. My favorite item is a Goodness Knows Bar. These are hard to find in stores so I order them in bulk online. They are the best snack bar I’ve ever tasted.
8. Pack a pair of foldable flats
I have a pair of foldable flats that go everywhere with me. I wear them on the plane, in the hotel room and when I’m really desperate, I take off my heels and wear them home from parties.
I added these flats to my packing list after a trip back to Charlottesville, Virginia, for my husband’s fraternity reunion. We had a wonderful night, but when it was time to walk back to the hotel from the fraternity house, I just couldn’t take another step in my high heels. In my somewhat tipsy state, it actually seemed preferable to navigate down Emmett Street in my bare feet. Luckily I dodged any broken glass or communicable diseases and now I make sure to always carry my foldable flats.
9. My favorite airport app is GateGuru
This free app allows me to find stores and restaurants in every terminal of airports around the world. I can also read reviews on them. I credit GateGuru with directing me to a delicious pastrami sandwich in O’Hare.
If you don’t have the app, the second best thing to do is see where the crew is lined up to eat. They travel through these airports all the time and would know where to find the best food.
10. Carry your own water bottle
I always have an empty water bottle with me. I fill it up after going through security at the airport. It helps keep me hydrated, saves me $3.00 every time I need water and helps the environment. I like these smaller-sized bottles as they fit well in my bag.
I tried a collapsible one once to save space. It didn’t go so well. I was waiting in line to board and accidentally squeezed it, drenching the shirt of the man in front of me. He glanced around and may have spotted me, but was kind enough to let it go.
11. Take along small sticky notes
I keep these sticky notes in my car and always take them with me when I travel. In my car I use them to write myself notes, usually about errands. For example when I go to the Y and I want to stop by the grocery store or the library, I write myself a note and put it on the steering wheel.
In a hotel room, I write a note and put it on the back of the door. It usually says “Don’t forget your chargers.” If I have a fridge and have put some items in there, I write “Don’t forget sandwich in fridge.”
They are indispensable on a cruise or anywhere else you may not have a cell connection. Use them to leave notes for your traveling mates.
12. Ask your Uber driver or taxi driver for restaurant or sightseeing tips
They will usually know the city and can offer helpful tips about where locals do and don’t eat. We had an Uber driver in Great Falls, Montana, last year who advised us to go to The Sip ‘n Dip Lounge. We later found out it was named the #1 bar on earth worth flying for. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it was the best dive bar I’d ever been to, with an ancient bee-hived woman, Piano-Pat Spoonheim, playing keyboard and mermaids swimming in the pool behind the bar.
They can also be helpful in pointing out information about their city you won’t hear from a tour guide. My Uber driver in Portland, Oregon, was happy to share stories of passengers eager to find the first pot dispensary since marijuana sales became legal in Oregon.
13. Don’t try to photograph sea animals from a boat
I once almost completely missed a whale breaching just a few feet in front of me in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Punta Mita, Mexico, because I was trying to capture it with my camera. And that was years before Instagram so I wasn’t even for more followers – I wanted it for myself.
It’s nearly impossible to get a good photo of these animals as they are generally against a dark background and you/they or both are moving. The same goes for dolphins jumping out of the water, or sea turtles sunning themselves on a log. I now put away my phone or camera and just take in the moment.
14. Keep a plastic wine opener in your toiletry bag
Here’s another lesson I learned the hard way. My daughter and I were staying in Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and I wanted to open a bottle of wine after a long and active day that included her marriage to George Clooney. This being a Las Vegas hotel, the front desk was approximately 87 miles away, so instead I Googled “how to open wine bottle without a corkscrew.”
I ruled out one technique that whacking the bottle against a tree as I didn’t have one handy. Another suggested using a towel and a hard surface. I had both of those so I wrapped the wine bottle in a towel, but not wanting to hurt the furniture I took out the Bible to cushion the blow. Then wham! I slammed the wine bottle down firmly on the Bible, which was supposed to loosen the cork. The cork remained stubbornly intact while the bottle shattered all over my pants and the rug. Thankfully, it was white wine. Now I always carry a plastic corkscrew.
15. Always take a swimsuit
Even if the itinerary doesn’t call for any activities remotely near water, it’s better to be prepared. Your accommodations may have a hot tub, or perhaps you’ll spot a spa you may want to visit.
16. If you need to rebook a flight, use the app. But then check with the gate agent.
Learn from my experience. We nearly lost $200 recently. We had a flight cancelled from New York back to Atlanta. Rather than join a long line of people waiting to rebook, we just went on the app and and rebooked ourselves.
A few hours later we overheard a man talking to his family about his cancelled flight. “Yeah, it’s a pain, but they gave us a $100 voucher,” he said. We looked at each other, then bolted to the gate agent. Sure enough, all the passengers had been given a voucher and we would have missed out.
17. Always take a portable charging battery pack and USB cord
When you are using your GPS for directions, looking up hours for that museum you want to visit and taking photos on your phone, you’ll drain your battery fast. Get a small portable battery and take it with you, along with the USB cord. They are varying sizes, some as small as a tube of lipstick. Be sure to carry a car charger port as well to recharge on the road.
18. Don’t wait until the last minute to retrieve items from your hotel safe
Years ago, I stayed in a beautiful resort in the Dominican Republic. I even had a view of the beach and the ocean from the bathtub. I had put my passport in the safe, and as I was packing I went to get it out. The safe didn’t work. I had to call the front desk and they sent someone to fix it shortly. But if you’re racing to catch a shuttle or a ride to the airport, you don’t want to have a delay if your safe doesn’t work.
19. When you’re traveling without internet or cell service, download maps on Google maps
I use Waze and Google Maps everywhere I go, so when I’m traveling where I have no service, I feel a bit lost. It’s not quite as good as being online, but I can download maps to my phone by pulling up the map when I have wifi, then downloading it on Google Maps.
20. Kayak and Hipmunk are my two favorite apps to search for flights
I can compare several sites for the best price and set up notifications for when the price drops.
21. Pack a fold-up tote bag
I always take a foldable tote bag. I use it for a beach bag, shopping bag and sometimes need to use it to bring items home. My favorite is a the Matador packable tote bag. It looks nice enough to carry all day, but folds up into a small bag to throw in my suitcase. Another favorite from Matador is the packable backpack.
22. Check your destination’s official tourism site before you go
You can check on local events, such as restaurant weeks, and get other information about what’s going on including suggested itineraries and locals’ picks.
23. Take a food tour that includes history
You can learn about the city while tasting some of its best food by taking a food tour. I especially love these tours when time in a destination is limited. You can also get some exercise in as well.
I am a native of Atlanta, but I learned a lot about my own city and visited restaurants I’d never been to during an Atlanta Food Walks Tour. I highly recommend this tour, particularly if you have an interest in civil rights history. Since I took the tour they have added a second tour in Grant Park that includes a visit to Oakland Cemetery.
24. When traveling in another country, learn a few key phrases
At least learn to say “Hello.” Other good phrases to learn include “Where is,” “Excuse me” and “Thank-you.’
When my husband and I were in Italy years ago, we often got lost finding our way around the hill towns of Umbria. We had learned the phrase “Dove so trova” which means “Where is.” Except we pronounced it “du-vet.” Like a bed cover.
When we told my fluent-in-Italian sister-in-law that, I thought she was going to snort Limoncello through her nose she was laughing to hard. And yeah, we felt a little embarrassed. But hey, it worked. Twice, nice Italian people motioned to us to get in our car and follow them while they led us to our destination.
When you have wifi you can use Google Translate to look up phrases or you can take an image of a sign and it will translate it. You can also download phrases to use offline when you don’t have a connection.
25. Review the website of attractions you are visiting
Many museum and attraction websites have a Your Visit tab or something similar on their website. It will tell you how much time you should plan for a visit there and may include other tips such as places to eat.
For example, the Georgia Aquarium has a section on Plan Your Visit with several helpful tips for what you need to know for your visit along with frequently asked questions.
26. Take a copy of your passport and other important documents and keep it on your phone
It’s a lot easier to replace a document if you have a copy of it. And some documents can’t be replaced. For example, we recently had a flight cancelled on the way back from New York and we were issued $100 vouchers from Southwest. I immediately took a photo of the voucher.
I thought I placed the voucher in the front pocket of my purse, but when I went to get it, it was gone. I didn’t worry because I had snapped a photo of it and just redeemed it by copying the voucher number from the photo on my phone.
27. Get city attraction cards
If you are visiting several of the attractions anyway, you can save money by finding a city attraction card. Many of them include public transportation. CityPASS is a great one for cities in the United States and Toronto.
28. If you travel internationally, get the Global Entry Card
Yeah, the paperwork was kind of a pain. But it’s the best $100 I’ve ever spent. Not only do I breeze past customs when I return to the US, but I always get TSA Precheck as well.
29. The cheapest, most versatile travel product you’ll ever need? A clothespin.
Yes, that small wooden clip you probably have in your laundry room deserves a place in your bag for every trip. I use mine to clip curtains closed in hotel rooms to keep out that early morning light. I also use one to close up bags of chips or crackers, or hang up underwear to dry in the bathroom.
It’s okay to be a tourist
The word tourist has gotten a bad connotation, especially for Americans. Our world economy relies on tourism. It’s big business, with more than 1.2 billion tourists crossing international borders every year. Tourism provides one out of every 11 jobs on the planet and generates 9% of our global GDP.
But yet you hear the quote, “Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler.” Like you haven’t really traveled unless you have done what the locals do or gone outside your comfort zone.
My feeling is travel should be like that old Burger King commercial – have it your way. If you want to go to exotic resort and never leave, then do it.