As personally fulfilling as travel can be, it can come with its fair share of hiccups. Frequent travelers develop a specific routine that works for them. While some might raise an eyebrow at my three-outfit red-eye ritual (more on that later), it works for me. But what are the best travel tips out there?
Today, readers and staffers weigh in with their expert travel tips. Some of these tips might be familiar, while others are a bit further outside the box.
From sleeping off morning jet lag at European movie theaters while your hotel is preparing your room to chatting up local taxi drivers for restaurant recommendations, here’s a list of things savvy travelers do to improve their travels.
How to best plan and book a trip
First, you need to plan a trip. Now, as much as I’d love to tell you how to redeem your credit card points for a bargain cross-country flight, I’ll refrain from doing that in this article. Instead, here’s what several TPG readers and staffers do to plan and book trips.
Maximizing PTO and holidays
Many of us have to balance our work schedules with vacations and holidays. That’s why TPG reader Hing Potter uses company time off around the same time as holidays. For instance, if you take a Friday off before a Monday holiday, you could have more holiday time. But if you’re looking to outsmart inflated airfares on a holiday weekend, consider leaving Saturday morning and returning Tuesday. Since fewer travelers consider a Saturday departure and a Tuesday return on a holiday weekend, you could stand to save.
Another reader recommends taking red-eyes to avoid losing a whole day of traveling. This can be a great option on eastbound flights. While some travelers may opt out of red-eyes for obvious reasons, overnight flights can help you maximize your daytime hours and save the expense of a night of lodging.
Never miss the ship
Frequent cruiser Carol Poindexter makes cruise ship travel smoother by flying in at least one night before the ship sets sail. As cruise lines generally do not allow you to board in the second port of call, you’ll want to make it before your ship sails. Delayed flights or missing baggage can put your precious vacation in jeopardy.
Be a smart tourist
When Soraya Gomez-Greer plans to travel to a new place, she refers to detailed itineraries by tour companies. After being inspired by various attractions, she’ll plan her visit accordingly.
Speaking of attractions, Wendy Ferguson suggests pre-booking museum entry times where you can. In her experience, reserved museum tickets have saved hours of waiting in line.
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Dan Horvath is a big fan of good food on the road. In his experience, the best local restaurant advice comes from bellhops and valets rather than the hotel concierge. Ann Patton has also gotten some great restaurant recommendations from cab drivers.
For local advice, Kelly Creamer leverages Facebook’s expat and digital nomad groups. Often, these Facebook groups have great local recommendations from a foreigner’s point of view.
Credit cards writer Ryan Smith advises contacting your hotel to discuss ground transportation. You might learn of another travel method or discover a certain travel mode is unreliable. If you plan to take a taxi, don’t assume that your taxi driver knows every hotel’s location. Understand what neighborhood your hotel is in and find a nearby major landmark.
Mirror, mirror on the wall: Should I pay cash or watch my points balance fall?
Barb P. uses the TPG calculator to make a more informed decision on redeeming points. We routinely update the calculator with our latest valuations.
Book and rebook
Every week, Karen Vermeirl does a “travel audit” to check if she can rebook any travel to save money, miles or points. This tip recently worked for Jill Cornell, who received more than 100,000 United MileagePlus miles back on a round-trip flight from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS) for two passengers because she found a saver award released later.
Additionally, TPG’s managing editor of news, Clint Henderson, said he uses Google Flights to be notified of price drops on flights. Another reader told us they use Google and Kayak for price drops.
Related: How you plan and organize your trip says more about you than you think
The pack hack
You’ll need to pack for the perfect trip. There are two types of packers — the ones who bring everything just in case and those who bring just the essentials. Let’s hear from both, but first, some general tips.
TPG senior writer Katie Genter recommends developing a packing system. That way, you know exactly where the essentials — like your credit cards, Priority Pass card, headphones and passport — are.
Cheryl FialaI has duplicates of all her toiletries, including an extra razor, a hair brush, a pair of tweezers, hair ties and perfume. This helps her from forgetting something, which can be a lifesaver when packing.
Slide on, slide off
Consistent with Katie’s suggestion, reader Diogo Dutcher has a pair of lightweight airport shoes that are comfortable and easy to put on and take off.
As a young child, I remember waiting until the wee hours of the morning for our bags to come out of a broken-down luggage carousel.
TPG editor Kristy Tolley sticks to a carry-on and doesn’t overpack. While there’s a chance you’ll have to gate check your bag, by carrying on luggage, you might dodge a bullet.
Carry-on bags are generally not weighed by full-service U.S. carriers. Still, if luggage weight becomes an issue, reader Michael Brent recommends wearing your heaviest jacket to reduce luggage weight. If necessary, Michael further reduces luggage weight by filling his pockets.
If you’re going to check your luggage, be prepared. Consider putting an AirTag in your luggage like reader Meg Patten. As associate web publisher Kevin Martinez suggests, take photos of your suitcases and ensure your bags are distinct. If your bag doesn’t reach the carousel, you’ll want it to have some unique features, so you don’t have to tell the airline staff, “It’s black,” when they ask you to describe your bag.
Credit cards writer Ryan Smith suggests keeping clean underwear, socks and a shirt in your carry-on bag. TPG director of content Summer Hull urges travelers to keep an extra set of essential items — like a phone charging cord, toothbrush and toothpaste — that never leaves their travel bag.
Additionally, keep a swimsuit in your carry-on if you’re going somewhere warm.
Kids on the road
Summer also recommends keeping 24 hours’ worth of clothes in one easily accessible packing cube, so you don’t have to rummage through your suitcases in the middle of the night.
Reader Paul Lanyi also suggests packing extra clothes and large plastic sealable bags for you and your children. Unfortunately, Paul learned this the hard way after his infant son threw up on him upon takeoff from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) en route to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). While they had extra clothes for their son, Paul wore a tablecloth back to Los Angeles.
I see you rolling
Another reader swears by rolling outfits together. By rolling clothes, you can pack items for a full work week in a carry-on. Top, pants, underwear, socks and jewelry for the day all fit in a sealed bag.
Heather Wagner Thornton travels with an extra week of prescription medication (in her carry-on) in case she gets stuck somewhere longer than planned. Between flight challenges and potential health problems, it’s better to be prepared. Prescription medications can be difficult to get on short notice.
Related: Large and lavish: A review of the Briggs & Riley Extra Large Expandable Spinner suitcase
Getting to the airport is half the fun
For those who don’t have access to public transportation, getting to the airport likely means taking an Uber/Lyft or parking your car. Here are some tips for both.
Senior editor Madison Blancaflor pre-schedules her morning Uber rides to ensure she has a ride locked and loaded when it’s needed. In Madison’s experience, scheduled drivers usually get you to the airport early.
On the other hand, reader Charlotte Ward Waack has found that pre-scheduled Uber rides are often more expensive. Other readers have reported that a pre-scheduled Uber ride doesn’t guarantee a car.
Still, a pre-scheduled Uber can provide peace of mind and free up your hands in the last few minutes before heading out.
Barbara Luksch charges Lyft rides to her Chase Sapphire Reserve card to earn 10 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. Barbara has also linked her Delta SkyMiles account to Lyft to earn 2 Delta SkyMiles per dollar spent on airport Lyft rides in the U.S. To learn how to stack rewards on Lyft, check out this article.
Rob Perelman has been able to save on ride-hailing expenditures by summoning cars from addresses nearby — rather than directly at — airports.
Pre-book airport parking
TPG director of content Summer Hull said she saved money by booking a parking spot at the airport ahead of time. Some airport hotels let you park your car for a fraction of the cost compared to airport parking lots. You can contact the hotel directly or use a website like Parkaway Parking. The hotel’s free airport shuttle will take you to the terminal.
One reader told us she even flies in the morning, driving up the night before and booking a room at an airport hotel that offers a “park, sleep and fly” package.
Related: 10 ways to save on airport parking
Making flights easier
Flying can be the most stressful part of traveling. Here are a few tips to make things smoother.
Before arriving at the airport
TPG executive editor Scott Mayerowitz generally checks in for his flights before arriving at the airport to ensure that he has TSA PreCheck on his boarding pass. Additionally, he can confirm that there’s no issue with the ticket by checking in ahead of time.
When you check in online, you can also ensure that your frequent flyer number makes it on your reservation.
Your Starbucks is waiting for you
While waiting in the security line, another reader told us she orders her Starbucks. That way, it’s waiting for her when she gets through security.
Know your options
Before boarding a plane, director of content Andrea Rotondo will research alternative flights to her destination. She can quickly tell the gate agent the best options if something goes wrong with her scheduled flight.
Andrea also uses FlightAware’s “Where’s my plane now?” function to see potential delay issues before the airline alerts her.
Get me an agent!
Reader Holly Jeffrey goes to the United Club for customer service assistance. In her opinion, that beats going to the long customer service line any day.
Plane or meat locker?
Director Sophia Fen usually keeps warm by wearing a scarf when traveling. (Even when an airline provides blankets, sometimes it’s not enough.) Wearing a scarf also saves some precious room in your suitcase.
Peace out, jet lag
When I travel on a red-eye flight, I brush my teeth and shower in the lounge (when possible). Before boarding the overnight flight, I’ll change into some comfortable sleeping clothes. Shortly before landing, I’ll change into another fresh set of clothes and brush my teeth again. In my experience, staying well-hydrated and clean are the two best ways to get rest and outflank jet lag.
Oh, and here’s one of my favorite tips from reader Karen Donaghy-Wojke. When traveling to Europe, if Karen has a morning arrival and her hotel room isn’t ready yet, she’ll head to the nearest movie theater, buy a ticket and nap her jet lag off. She and another TPG reader wish that European movie theaters offered double features!
Related: 8 elite status benefits you’re not using but should
Rental car tips
I love renting cars, but in fairness, a lot can go wrong. Start by paying for your rental car with a credit card with primary car insurance.
Call to confirm
You might book a rental car with an online travel agency like Priceline or Capital One Travel. Meredith Stegall calls ahead to confirm car rental reservations on international OTA car rentals.
The 1-minute video you have to take
TPG’s Summer Hull recommends taking a quick video of the car (including the roof) before you leave the lot. That way, if the rental car company claims you damaged the car, you have video proof that the damage was there before you picked up the car.
A sea of black, gray and white
Your car alarm should go off when you click the panic button on your key fob. Still, to help you identify your car, Paul Lanyi generally backs his rental car into the hotel parking space. In his experience, few people do that, which can help you recognize your rental car.
AutoSlash is a rental car booking platform that can help you save on rental cars by searching for various discounted rates. For example, when you search for a rental car on AutoSlash, you can mark that you’re a member of various U.S. airline programs and wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club.
Ross Binkley always uses AutoSlash to search for prices, even when he doesn’t book through it.
Reader Stephen Koff sometimes has to drop his keys off at a closed rental car station. He suggests taking pictures of the car with a date and time stamp. That way, you can prove when and where you parked the car.
Related: How to never pay full price for a rental car
Other steps you can take to ensure smooth travels
Check your folios
Accounting errors happen, but it’s your job to catch them. TPG executive editor Scott Mayerowitz drops by the hotel’s front desk the night before to resolve any issues when there’s no line.
Similarly, editor Erica Silverstein audits her cruise folio every day of the sailing. That way, if there’s an accounting error, it can be promptly resolved.
Don’t over-rely on your phone
Senior writer Ashley Kosciolek always prints out hotel booking confirmations and flight/cruise boarding passes. She’s found herself in situations where her phone glitches, and the printed copies saved her a ton of time.
Finally, associate web publisher Bhawna Khowal and her husband keep one another well informed on their travel plans when one travels alone. They share flight and hotel details as well as a possible contact number for someone if they cannot reach each other for emergencies.
Related: Quick Points: Why you should always audit your Marriott folio for redemption surcharges
The best travelers have developed a travel routine and are well prepared if things go south. An overwhelming number of readers and staffers agree that keeping an extra set of essentials with you is always a good idea. Remember to pack a water bottle to refill once you’re through security.
Here’s one final tip from Mike Mulder: “Pro tip: Just be patient and be nice to all the employees. It’s almost always not their fault when something goes awry.”
Here’s to more savvy travels to come in 2023.