I'm always checking out travel tips on the web, and won't hesitate to review a list when I see one. Sometimes I find really good tips and other times I am disappointed. I traveled almost every week for my consulting job for over a decade. Over the years I think I got pretty good at it. I'm happy to say now I mostly travel for leisure. Regardless of why you travel (for work or leisure), there are all sorts of ways to make traveling easier. So . . . here is my shot at a good list of travel & packing tips...
#1 My Favorite Travel Website - Use tripadvisor.com when planning your trip. Take advantage of the hotel reviews as well as reviews of local attractions and restaurants. Some of our best trips have been based on Tripadvisor recommendations. Oh, and if you like this site and use it - be sure to contribute by posting your own reviews with useful information.
#2 Reviews - As I mentioned above, take Tripadvisor a step further and look beyond the ratings and read the reviews in detail. Many people make recommendations on what to do and where to go (and what to avoid and what is not worth it). This has many a time given us insight into something we may not have found out about otherwise.
#3 Travel Books & Apps - Do some research and look for the best travel book/app that is available for where you are going. Some specific recommendations:
- Europe - Rick Steve's Travel Books are exceptional. We ended up with about four different books for our trip to Italy and ended up ditching the other three for the Rick Steve's book. When we traveled, this was "pre-App" days, but it's worth looking into whatever App's are out there today.
- Hawaii - The "Revealed" books are great (example: "The Big Island Revealed"). I highly recommend purchasing the App as well.
#5 Weather - Check the weather at your destination before packing. Finding yourself in a snow storm with no winter coat, or ruining your favorite pair of shoes in endless days of rain can be avoided in most cases. (Yes, I speak from experience.)
#6 Travel Diary - Keep a travel diary on your big vacations. (I got this tip from my sister.) She has created some neat photo books including notes of treasured memories and moments. I've followed her example and I am glad I took the time to note the little things that made our trips special. All these notes are preserved when I create my own photo books of our vacations. In the absence of a small notebook and pen - I have been known to keep a travel diary on a memo in my IPhone.
#7 Travel Folder - When we are planning a vacation we start a folder in our office. Whenever we get a confirmation, maps or any other relevant information - in the folder it goes. When we leave for the trip it is as simple as just grabbing this folder and everything is right at our fingertips. I know printing everything out is a bit antiquated, and I have to admit - I typically have just about everything in my phone anyway (flight info, hotel reservations and any other reservations on my calendar; hotel phone numbers & addresses in my contact list, etc....). Despite that, I think the folder is still a "nice-to-have" in my opinion. Think - crummy cell phone reception, or possibly no cell phone coverage at all. In addition, sometimes a paper map is preferred to a tiny cell phone screen.
#8 Maximize use of your Smartphone - There are so many ways your smart phone can help you out these days. Record reservations and other important information on your phone's calendar. Set reminders on your calendar if there is something important you have to take care of while you are traveling (exchange foreign currency, confirm plans, make a reservation). Use the checklist functionality to remind you to pack important items for your trip. Get the apps for airlines, hotel chains, rental car companies you frequently use. Other apps that help me when I travel:
- LocalEats - to find great local restaurants
- Weather.com - to keep tabs on the weather
- TripAdvisor - a great resource for any area you are visiting (hotels/restaurants/attractions)
- PADI app - for you PADI certified scuba divers out there - a good place for your certification card info.
- Ski Resort Apps - Snow conditions, grooming reports, lift closures, village maps, local events, etc...
- Beach Apps - Daily weather and beach conditions.
- Other apps that are specific to the area you are visiting.
- Credit Cards - It's a good idea (especially if you don't typically travel and certainly if you are traveling out of the country) to alert your credit card companies. This will prevent them from putting a hold on transactions if they are concerned they are fraudulent. This is an extra step that is well worth it. Sometimes you can do this online or you can call them directly.
- Cash - If you are traveling internationally, figure out the best option for exchanging cash. Typically airports are not the best place. Check with the place you are staying to determine the best options for exchanging cash. In some cases, most places at your destination may take your home currency and their won't be a need to exchange currency.
- Determine the best way to pay - Even if the city accepts your home currency - consider what exchange rate you are getting when you pay this way. In Mexico you may find that if you pay in Pesos - you pay substantially less than if you pay in USD's. The standard exchange rate at the time we went was 18:1, but some of the shops were quoting prices that reflected a 10:1 exchange rate. That's a big difference! Our strategy was to get Pesos from a local bank ATM (with the 18:1 exchange rate) and pay for everything we could in Pesos.
#10 Mobile Phones - If you are traveling internationally, it's probably a good idea to check with your carrier to see how much you will be charged for data/texting/calls. Typically, you can change your plan for a short period of time (to a more international friendly plan) and change it back to your regular plan after you return.
#11 Passport - First and foremost, make sure you are aware of whether a passport is required or not. If you don't have one - you need some time to acquire it. If you already have one - make sure it's not expired!!!
#12 Planning - My husband says I plan too much, and I think he doesn't plan enough - we balance each other out quite nicely. The right answer is a compromise - plan the basics of your trip but leave some room for open-ended choices and taking advantage of unexpected opportunities.
#10 Passport Wallet - If you are traveling abroad - I recommend a passport wallet. We own some that are slim and have a narrow strap to wear over your neck and under your clothing. Tourists can be big targets for pick pockets and petty theft. Keep the one item you never want to lose close to you at all times.
#11 Cosmetic Bag - Keep your cosmetics in a good cosmetic travel bag. My bag from LLBean is ideal. They make multiple sizes for all different types of travelers and they are great because you can hang them when you arrive at your destination. I have a larger one, and I purchased a small one for my husband. The quality is exceptional - they are very durable. With carry-on liquid restrictions these days - a lot of times these are packed inside checked luggage. These make great gifts too!
#12 Luggage - Invest in a decent piece of luggage. My staple is my trusty ol' Travel Pro roller bag that is sure to fit in the overhead space. When I first started consulting and traveling I was told by consulting veterans - "get a Travel Pro" - at one point, it was what all the flight attendants used and if anyone knows travel - they do. I have to admit - I am now wishing we had bags that have the four wheels that roll standing straight up. Those are much better for your back, neck and shoulders. (Those weren't around when I bought the bags we currently use.)
#13 Gear Bag - Consider a large gear bag for the longer trips or those that require lots of clothing or gear. Our large rolling duffle bags are ideal for lots of stuff. These are key to us being able to pack gear for our skiing and scuba diving trips. LLBean makes a lot of good quality durable pieces like this one below. (Note - if you are flying - you must be aware of airline bag weight restrictions when packing large bags. They can hold a lot of stuff and it is easy to go over weight limits. Check the weight before you leave home so you have time to redistribute items if necessary).
#14 Tags - Make sure all your bags are tagged with at least your name and cell phone number. Put this information on the inside of your bags as well, just in case the tag falls off the outside. Do both - you will be happy when your luggage gets lost and can make it back to you.
#15 Mark Your Bags - Mark your bags with a brightly colored luggage tag or piece of ribbon - something to make it look distinctive so it is less likely to mistaken and grabbed by someone else. It's entertaining to watch guys start to grab my standard black travel pro and jump back when they see the pink bow.
|Mark Your Bags|
#16 Purse - Don't fly with an open top purse - for years I never bought one because I was always traveling - all my bags had a zipper closure. If you put an open top bag under the seat in front of you - you will inevitably have your personal items rolling to the back of the plane on take off, and to the front upon landing. Furthermore, this is not good from a security standpoint - open top bags are easy pickings for pick pockets.
#17 When to Pack - I never pack the day of a trip - I always pack the night before. I really hate to pack under pressure. For big vacations/trips sometimes I start earlier - that way if I decide there is something I will need - I have time to get it. Beware - don't use the extra time to pack more stuff - use it to pack efficiently.
#18 Checklist - Create a packing checklist to print out for every trip (I have mine on a Word doc on my laptop). Even though I am not traveling as much these days - this is absolutely priceless to me. It makes packing so much easier. Be sure to include items that may not be necessary for every trip - some of my random items include... maps, freezer items, gifts, swim suit, bug spray, etc... I don't necessarily need these items for every trip, but the obscure items are the most likely things to forget. I have "special" lists for ski trips and scuba diving trips so we are sure to remember all our gear.
#19 Hooks - Set up hooks in your closet for placing outfits as you pack. My previous closet was Ginormous and I had enough room for nine hooks. I could use a hook for each day's outfit which was great. My current closet has less space for hooks, but even if you can only fit a few, these are great for packing or just putting an outfit together on a daily basis.
#20 Shoes - Start with packing the shoes before you start thinking about clothing. Shoes take up a lot of room in luggage, so deciding on just a couple pairs will save space. My business trips were either a "brown-shoe-week" or a "black-shoe-week". It's just easier that way. I would select outfits based on the shoes and this prevented the urge of trying to pack a different pair of shoes for a each weekday. Keep this in mind for vacations as well - do you really need eight pairs of shoes? If an outfit requires a special pair of shoes - try replacing it with one that uses a pair that will work for multiple outfits.
#21 Comfortable Shoes - Despite the fact that I'm writing this down as a tip - I am known to forget how important this is. Oftentimes, travel means a lot of walking and the super-cute-new-shoes are not necessarily the right choice. Don't let painfully sore feet ruin a great day. Sometimes that means sacrificing fashion for comfort.
#22 Shoe Bags - Protect your shoes and keep them from getting dirt on your clothing. These shoe bags were made by my mom, and they are very handy. They are the perfect size for my shoes and an ideal light weight fabric. Also, if you are concerned about your shoes getting "mushed" in a tightly packed piece of luggage - stuff them with socks you plan to pack anyways.
#23 Clothing - Think "Layers" & "Basics". Layers: outfits with layers offer more flexibility in various weather conditions. Basics: these clothing items are more versatile than unique ones - a basic white tee and a solid color cardigan or hoody can work with lots of other items. Khaki shorts or pants can go with more items than those that are crazy colors or patterns. If you want to add some interest to your outfits - scarves can add pizazz to outfits and take up very little space.
#24 Cold weather packing - this can be difficult because winter clothes are so much bulkier. My strategy for packing sweaters is always to pack light-weight sweaters and take silk base layers to go underneath for warmth. The light-weight sweaters take up less room and the silk base layers take up almost no room at all. You can find silk base layers at places like LLBean and Land's End. In the photo below you can see a big difference in the bulk of three thin sweaters (and silk base layers) v. three thick sweaters.
|Cold Weather Packing - LEFT SIDE - 3 thin sweaters with silk base layers. RIGHT SIDE - 3 thick sweaters.|
#24 Roll your clothing - Rolling clothes is a space saver and can help avoid wrinkles if you neatly fold clothes first, then roll (duh). In my opinion, people who claim this doesn't work are doing it wrong. The exception is larger items like bulky sweaters or heavy denim - sometimes just folding them is best. Use your best judgment and fold these larger items flat.
|Roll your clothing|
#25 Back up Clothing - If you are flying and checking bags - it's always a good idea to pack at least a change of underwear in your carryon. If luggage is lost or delayed - in a pinch - you can easily wash items in the sink and let them dry while you are wearing the spare pair. :o) If you have room for a whole outfit - even better. If I'm going to the beach, I always pack a bathing suit in my carryon. If luggage is lost, at least you can hang out by the pool or beach while you wait for luggage to arrive.
#26 Cosmetics - Keep a set of travel cosmetics ready to go. This means tiny bottles of shampoo, lotion and such, and also things like an extra brush, extra toothbrush, extra razor etc...all ready to go. Consider this - the more you have to pull from your regular use items when you pack - the more chances you have to forget things. Splurge on an extra set of things designated just for travel and you will always have what you need. It's worth it.
#27 Plastic Bag - Keep a plastic bag in your luggage - this will come in handy if you end up with wet clothes to pack on your way home (Whether it's a wet bathing suit, or if you got caught in the rain and have wet clothing). It takes up very little space and you will be happy to have it when you need it.
|Plastic Bag in Luggage|
#28 Travel Umbrella - Invest in a small travel size umbrella that you keep in your luggage. Large umbrellas are too bulky and a small one that is always in your luggage will be available to you on your trips should you need it.
#29 Laundry Bag - Take a laundry bag with you. It will help keep dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes, keep things organized while traveling, and when you get home it will make unpacking a snap.
#30 Medical Travel Kit - In my cosmetic travel bag I keep a small bag of medical items. This includes band aids of various sizes, antibiotic ointment, chewable Pepto', a small bottle with some Advil, Aleve & Tylenol, cough drops, nail file, spare contact lenses, dental floss, tweezers, etc...)
#31 Jewelry - Consider whether you really want to take expensive jewelry on a trip. For our scuba diving trips, we don't wear our wedding rings while diving - my husband and I choose to leave them at home and take our Silicone wedding rings (you can find packages of these on Amazon). It's not worth taking them and worrying about locking them up in a hotel safe or finding a reliable hiding spot. Below is my go to jewelry for dive trips - an inexpensive seashell necklace and bracelet from World Market - neutral and versatile - the long necklace can be worn three different ways (1, 2 or 3 times around my neck); they are cute but I never worry about them being stolen.
#32 Jewelry Travel Case - Get a travel case for jewelry. I love this one I received as a gift years ago. Some might prefer the clear plastic ones so you can see everything at a glance, but I prefer this type with the quilted fabric to provide more padding and protection for my jewelry items.
|Jewelry Travel Case|
#33 Bag Weight Restrictions - Be aware of airline weight restrictions on bags and weigh your bags at home to be sure you are not over the limit. We don't waste our time with baggage scales - just use your bathroom scale (weigh yourself with and without holding the bag and subtract to find the difference). I've seen plenty people at airports frantically redistributing their clothing at the ticket counter to avoid over the limit baggage fees - check the weight of your bags at home and avoid this craziness.
#34 Carry-On Bags - If you are checking bag(s), then you really need to consider what you are taking on your carry-on. Think about the following - "If none of my bags made it there - what do I absolutely need to make it through a day or two?" Ignore things that can easily be replaced at your destination. Some nice to haves are a change of clothing, underwear and shoes. I put shoes on this list as my husband and I recently went to Mexico and one of his bags arrived a day late. In that bag were his flip flops, and he had to wear his hikers for a day because none of the shops (who all had plenty of flip flops) had a size 12! Also consider medication and cosmetic items that would be tough to replace. Finally, consider electronic equipment like cameras, tablet, etc... (I would never recommend packing items like these in a checked bag).
AIRPORTS AND FLYING
#34 What to Wear - Avoid wearing things to airports that make it harder to get through security - Shoes - easy to get on and off. Jewelry - avoid anything that will set off metal detector. Belts - large belt buckles can set off metal detectors. Accessories - avoid accessories like scarves that will have to be removed for security.
#35 Take direct flights - If at all possible avoid connections, and always try to book a direct flight. Taking connecting flights will increase your chances of being delayed and always take quite a bit longer to get to your destination. A slightly cheaper multiple-stop flight option might not be such a good bargain (ask yourself if the additional time traveling and increased chances of getting delayed are worth the cost savings?). My husband and I often opt to drive to the nearest "hub" city and stay overnight prior to leaving on our flight - just to get a direct flight. On that note, see the next airport hotel tip...
#36 Airport Hotels - Keep an eye out for "Stay-Park-Eat-Fly" deals. You can stay at a hotel near the airport the night before your flight leaves. The hotel will give you a free place to park, free breakfast, and a shuttle to and from the airport. For longer trips - the cost of the hotel can be completely covered by your savings in parking fees!
#37 Airport Parking - If you have to pay for parking - splurge to park conveniently - Yes I know this can be expensive, but remote parking is a big hassle to me. It significantly increases your travel time; you have to drag your luggage on and off a shuttle; and it's a real downer in inclement weather as most cheap remote parking is uncovered. To me, the additional parking fees are worth my sanity.
#38 Airport Garage Parking - Always park in the same place in your regular airport parking garage - that way you always know where you have parked. This means likely going to the upper floors of the garage where I always find a space, but it makes my life easier as I am less likely to lose track of where I parked my car. Also, keep the parking ticket in your wallet, not in your car. Another note - if you are in an unfamiliar parking garage - always write the location of your car on the ticket.
#39 Be Nice - Be kind and courteous to gate agents and flight attendants. No one likes a cranky traveler. I think airports are one place where "nice guys finish first". On that note - be nice to your fellow passengers and lend a helping hand when you can.
#40 Airplane Advice - Turbulence always makes me a little nervous, no matter how much I have flown. The best advice I've ever gotten about this is from my dad - "If you are ever worried on a rough flight - just watch the flight attendants - nothing rattles them. Watch how they casually move about the plane and it will calm you down". . . he was right - I do this all the time and it really helps me relax.
#41 Smartphones & Headphones - On some of the new airplanes, you will no longer find the integrated TV's. It is now necessary to use your own device to watch in-flight entertainment. This means you will want a fully charged device, headphones and the corresponding airline's app.
#42 Checked Bag Fees - If you have status on an airline you can avoid the checked bag fees. But for the non-status folks (if you must check bags) consider getting one of the airline sponsored credit cards on the airline you travel the most. These cards will likely offer free checked bags as a benefit. Think about the amount you typically travel . . . the free checked bag deals might offset any annual fees. You often get passes to airline club rooms as well. Since I no longer have status on any airline - this is our strategy.
#43 Airplane Blanket - The all important airplane woobie - I always carry one of these on a flight. Sometimes airlines provide blankets - sometimes they don't. Also, you never know when the cabin in your airplane is going to be subzero temperatures. Having one of these on hand will make sure you are covered in any situation. I made this one from light-weight fleece I purchased from a fabric store and all I needed to do was hem the edges.
CAR TRAVELI'm skipping the obvious auto-safety items (service items up to date, jumper cables, spare tire, blanket, first aid kit...) and focusing on some items you might not think about.
#44 Car Food - Pack some snacks/beverages so you don't feel inclined to stop so often, and if you do stop you will be less inclined to pick up junk food at a gas station convenience store. Pack some "non-sleepy" food. Avoid junk/processed food, and pack "real food" like fruits, meats, cheese, breads. Our favorite is what we call our "Italian Picnic" - Prosciutto, Bread (Focaccia is our favorite), Fruit (grapes are ideal for car travel) & Cheese (string cheese is great for the car). Healthy options will keep you more alert while driving and feeling better overall. Plus if you get stuck on traffic - you will at least have some snacks.
#45 Plastic Grocery Bags - Keep a stash of plastic grocery bags in your car. They don't take up much space and can be used for many purposes - trash bag, picking up doggy poop, a place for wet items, a spare bag when you need it... We always keep a few shoved in the pocket on the back of the driver's seat.
#46 Spare Dog Leash - If you have a dog - keep a spare dog leash in the car. We typically bring one with us, but forgetting one when you really need it is a bummer. Having a spare one in the car has saved us some grief on a couple of occasions.
|Spare Dog Leash|
#47 Umbrella & Rain Ponchos - I keep a spare umbrella and rain ponchos in the car just in case. The one time you really need them - you will be happy to have them.
|Umbrella & Rain Ponchos|
#48 Waze App - This is considered a social driving app. It serves as a typical GPS - giving you turn-by-turn instructions if you wish. But it goes beyond a typical GPS because it will alert you to road hazards, police and traffic issues along the way. It can do this because you and your fellow "Wazers" report these items as you drive. Another feature we like is you can see the speed of other Wazers which enables you to further evaluate traffic conditions. (Note - your exact location is not provided to other Wazers - there is a two minute delay on data to protect privacy.) The app will also suggest alternate routes if you are about to come upon a big back-up. This has been a huge benefit to us when an interstate is backed-up and we are unfamiliar with the area. Another cool feature is you can share your drive with friends, and if they are driving to the same destination, you can see each other's progress on the way there.
#49 US Atlas - With GPS technology, one of these might seem obsolete - but you will be happy you have it when you don't have cell phone coverage or your GPS goes on the fritz. It's also great for an overall large map view that is difficult to do with a GPS or your smart phone.
Well, that is my shot at a good list of travel tips. I laugh at the fact that it started out as a top ten list, and I just kept going and adding more. I hope some of these tips were useful. If anyone has any clever tips to add - please leave a note in the comments.