As emphasized in my tagline, I’m all about optimizing the travel experience. I’ve done hundreds of trips and always look for ways to reduce the stress of travel while improving the overall experience. There is something very satisfying in breezing through airport security, straight to a lounge, and sipping a free cocktail while others are still stuck in lines checking bags or taking off their shoes. In this post, I will share my top hacks to optimize the travel experience. While many of these are little things, when done in combination, they add up to a major improvement in the way you travel.
- Travel hacking (the credit card points game) is the ultimate hack. I can’t believe I paid for flights and hotels for so many years.
- Use the PackingPro app to pack quickly and eliminate the anxiety of wondering if you forgot something.
- Keep an extra credit card, cash, and ID (Passport Card) in carry-on. Don’t have all your eggs in one basket.
- Download the airline / hotel apps and boarding passes for easy check-in and to get flight notifications. If your flight is delayed you can use the app to quickly book an alternative flight while others get in line and miss out on the few open seats.
- If two of you, reserve an aisle and window seat in hopes the middle will remain vacant. Continue to monitor (on app) if the seat is still vacant and move to another aisle / window / empty middle combo if it gets taken.
- Pack some filling snacks so you don’t worry about waiting for that next meal or get stuck paying $10 for a tiny bag of jerky.
- Download movies, music, and/or audio books and look forward to relaxation time once in the air or lounge.
- Take Uber/Lyft to the airport and save time not dealing with parking. Even better on your return when you’re tired and/or had a few drinks.
- Carry-on only!!! As much as I wanted to bring rum back from Panama, when I saw the 2-hour line to check bags, I was glad I stuck to my carry-on-only principle.
- Fly through security with TSA Pre✓ (US only). No more removing shoes, laptops, liquids, etc. Free with many travel credit cards.
- Enjoy your layovers chillin’ in the lounge. Priority Pass access is free with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the prestigious Centurion access with the AMEX Platinum.
- Fly through customs with Global Entry (free from some travel cards but hassle to get) or the free Mobile Passport Control app.
- As boarding is finishing up, pay attention to any empty seats around you. If you’re fast, you might just get your own row.
- Similar to the above, you can board the plane last and take any empty seat (or row) that is better than yours. You risk not getting an overhead bin with this tactic.
- Initiate the cone of silence with a noise cancelling headset.
- Wipe your tray, armrests, and headrest with an anti-bacterial wipe.
- Use Flight Flap (pictured above) to hold phone while watching movie.
Hotel / AirBnB Hacks
- Ask for an upgraded room. Can’t hurt to ask, even if you don’t have status, as some staff / places actually do want to go above and beyond.
- Stay on the 3rd or 4th floor. The first two floors are more likely to be robbed and a fire ladder can still easily reach you.
- Take the stairs. You’ll get exercise and learn your emergency exits.
- Sleep at ease with a portable door lock (pictured above). If you think your hotel latches are safe, watch this.
- Sleep in pitch black by using the hotel’s hangers, with the clips, to close the gap in the curtains. I also bring duct tape (wrapped around a pen) to tape over annoying LED lights from a TV or smoke detector.
- I stash cash, in secret pockets of my clothes, rather than trust hotel safes which are also very easy to break into and are obviously accessible by hotel staff. As an added security measure, you can put dirty underwear on top of the bag with your secret pocket clothes!
- Close the corner of the Do Not Disturb sign in your door when you leave your room. If it’s out when you return someone has entered your room.
- Keep a little money and old cards in a fake wallet that you could hand to a mugger. It’s also nice to use this wallet / cash when making minor purchases.
- Use the Tripscout app in major cities to easily find things to see and places to eat. Free guide with promo code: analyticaltraveler.
- Download an offline Google Map of location and you can still search and get directions when offline.
- Use TripAdvisor for great dining options and also Yelp if in the US.
- Use the Google Translate app to look up phrases, have two-way conversations, and even use your camera to translate foreign text. The two-way conversation is a great way to make local friends, as some of the translations may have you both cracking up!
- At end of trip, use your extra foreign currency to pay hotel bill then use credit card for remaining balance. You can also use cash at most Starbucks to refill your Starbuck’s app. The point is to not just buy junk at the airport or lose on transaction costs at a currency exchange counter.
- Don’t over plan. Leave time to just wander, sit in cafés, people watch, live in the moment.
I hope you enjoyed my top hacks to optimize your travel experience. Let me know your favorite hack, or any good ones I missed, in the comments below.