Imagine if the idea of getting through airports didn’t instill a vague sense of dread in you. Or if using your card abroad didn’t cause anxiety about cloning or exorbitant bank fees.
Travel is one of the best and most enriching experiences you can have. However, there’s no denying that some parts of the process can be seriously stress-inducing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Learn the travel hacks the pros use and you will breeze through your travels like you were born with your passport in your hand. If you’re ready to step up your travel game, here are some of my top tips to get you started.
Read Airline Information Carefully
This might sound basic, but you would be amazed at how easy it is to miss little details and end up getting lumped with fees. Make sure you know exactly how much luggage you are allowed (both check-in and carry-on) and check whether you need to print your boarding pass yourself or not. You might also want to go a step further and check the airline’s policies for service if your flight is delayed or canceled. Knowing your rights before you fly is essential and can set you up for some compensation in the event of a delay or cancellation.
Have Everything Ready at the Airport for a Stress-Free Transit
How many times have you been stuck behind people in the security line frantically removing liquids from their bags? You don’t want to be the kind of person who holds up airport traffic. Get your laptop out of its case, separate your liquids, and keep your boarding pass and passport somewhere accessible.
Carry a Decoy Wallet to Deter Pickpockets
Being robbed sucks. No matter how safe you are, sometimes it just happens. When someone tells you to hand over your belongings, there isn’t a choice. Your life is not worth whatever is in your pockets. But, there is a way you can outsmart the thieves and still keep your stuff.
Carry around a decoy wallet filled with expired credit cards and a small amount of cash (say $20). It will satisfy the robber, who will think he or she has taken everything you have. Meanwhile, you can smugly walk away with your real cards and the rest of your cash stashed in a secret pocket or other safe space.
Photo by Cory Woodward on Unsplash
Pick a Bank Account With No Transaction Fees
Foreign transaction fees for international credit card use can make a serious dent in your budget. There are some bank accounts that won’t charge extortionate rates when you use your card abroad. Travelers from the US should make sure they open a Charles Schwab High Yield Checking Account before they travel. This account is free to open and doesn’t charge fees for foreign transactions or to use ATMs abroad.
Only Use Your Card at ATMs
Exchange rates will invariably be better at an ATM than at an airport exchange counter or any other bureau de change. That said, a word of warning: only trust ATMs that are attached to a bank. It might be more convenient to use one inside a liquor store across the road, but the chance of your card getting cloned or eaten by the machine is much higher.
You might also want to be wary of using your card in stores – I have heard stories of people having their cards cloned by card machines in stores.
The More Flexible the Better When You Book Flights
If you want to find the cheapest flight possible, be flexible. Departure date flexibility could save you hundreds of dollars. For example, traveling in the last week of August will always be more expensive than the second week of September – and there are only 14 days between them.
Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay
Being flexible with your destination will also save you money, but a bit harder if you have your heart set on a specific location. Sometimes it’s worth it to stay on the beaten track. Of course, being flexible with both dates and destination will save you the really big bucks.
Always do a Quick Search of Travel Scams in Your Destination
Travel scams happen everywhere in the world, and it’s oh so easy to fall for them. As a traveler, you are a prime target for travel scams designed to extort money out of you. Unfortunately, to avoid being scammed, you have to be suspicious of anyone who seems overly nice to you. This is a real shame because there are plenty of people who genuinely want to help. However, there are also people who will sweet-talk you before ripping you off or stealing your things.
Travel During Off-Season or Shoulder Season
In the off-season, everything will be cheaper. Flights dip in price, as does accommodation (here’s an app we reviewed for accommodation as cheap as $1 per night) and possibly even tour costs once you’re there. Travel off-season and end up saving heaps of money that can be used for another trip (or just loads of beer).
Photo by JESH on Pixabay
Every region has its own peak season. The Indian Subcontinent’s is from December to February, Europe’s is from June-September, etc. Do a quick search of the country you want to visit before you book and try to avoid peak season. Weather is usually a significant factor in the peak season of a region, so keep in mind that you may be traveling into monsoon season or heavy snows.
Use the ITA Matrix to Find Secret Flight Connections
The ITA Matrix software by Google is complicated, but once you get the hang of it, you could end up saving hundreds of dollars on flights. Using this method, find hidden flights or flight connections that won’t show up on a regular search engine and that airlines don’t want you to know about.
Note that you cannot book your flights through this matrix. You will need to go on to the airline website and book them there. If you want to learn more about how to use the ITA Matrix, this is a great guide to get you started.
Learn to Love Night Buses
Night buses might sound like fresh hell, but you would be surprised how easy it is to love them. In most of the popular travel regions around the world, night buses are readily available between well-known tourist hubs. These buses are usually reasonably comfortable and super cheap.
Yes, flying might be quicker, but it will almost always be more expensive, especially once you’ve factored bags into the equation. Plus, when you travel on a night bus you won’t need to pay for accommodation that night. Just make sure you keep anything valuable with you on the bus – don’t put it down into the hold as it could get stolen.
Take a Reusable, Filtered Water Bottle With You
More countries than not have un-drinkable tap water. So, instead of buying bottles of water every few hours from the 7/11, grab yourself a filtered water bottle that you can use repeatedly. Clearly Filtered is a good option as you can fill it with tap water and it will filter out the bad stuff and purify it for you. Not only will you be saving money, but you will be using less plastic, which is a big win for the environment.
Be Minimal With Your Packing
The aim of the game is to learn to pack as lightly as possible. Traveling carry on luggage only means you’re already winning. Travel carry on and have less to carry around on your back, avoid waiting around at baggage reclaim, and steer clear of forking out extra cash for checked bags on your flights. Plus, packing for the essentials means you won’t pack fifteen different shirts, only eight of which you will actually wear. It’s possible to travel carry on even when doing a study abroad or other long-term stint.
Buy Anti-Theft Gear
Keeping your stuff safe while you travel can be a challenge. You don’t have eyes in the back of your head and you can’t be on high alert at all times. Investing in some anti-theft gear, like a Pacsafe bag, can make a big difference. You can’t put a price on the peace of mind you will have knowing that your valuables are stored in an impenetrable bag on your back.
Becoming a pro traveler is all about making mistakes.
Virtually every trick and hack on this list was discovered because I messed up and in doing so learned how to do things better next time. And you know what? I still make mistakes every time I travel.
Don’t kick yourself if something doesn’t go to plan. Use that as valuable experience to become a little bit savvier every time you travel. These aren’t the only tips out there. If nothing else, your screw-ups will make entertaining stories once you’re back.