Ultimate Travel Hacks!!
March 20, 2015 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Trying to up my travel game! Looking for your best hacks/tips/etc...

I've looked through older questions but most of them are concerning specific travel plans.

One of my resolutions this year is to get it together and learn how to travel like a pro. I'm hoping to travel a lot in the future (already have a couple trips planned this year) and I'd like to be better prepared.

I'm looking for any tips/hacks relating to:
- packing efficiently
- awesome travel-reliable products
- how to make flights enjoyable
- how to navigate a new place
- finding good deals (whether to save money OR to experience luxury)

Basically I just want to hear about what things/practices have really made your travels better (particularly from frequent travelers). Do you have your packing system down pat so you don't become a stressed, disorganized mess before a trip? Do you have a favorite travel jacket or pair of pants that holds up well in many different situations? What little things do you do that really open up your travel experience?

There are no particular limitations, I'm interested in hacks from both penny-pinchers and luxury travelers, domestic and international. Hoping I can take some of this and apply it myself. Thanks! :)
posted by sprezzy to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
Learn to bundle pack and go to one bag (I like my Aeronaut) and never, ever check again.
posted by ftm at 12:42 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

The minute you get yourself up to your hotel room, immediately unpack. Nothing can beat coming back after a night exploring to a room that's ready for you--you just have to work your way through whatever evening routine you have. Nothing is worse at that moment than coming back tired and ready for sleep to a room where you still have to pull out your stuff and get set up.
posted by Amy NM at 12:44 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

How to make flights enjoyable:

Noise canceling headphones. Travel is so stimulating and chaotic for me that wearing these headphones makes each trip less exhausting. I only use mine for flights 12 trips a year or so and they were worth every penny.
posted by mochapickle at 12:59 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

In no particular order:

Bags: Depends on where I'm traveling. All in cities without cobblestone streets? Wheeled carry-on as big as airline regulations allow. Some adventure in the middle of nowhere? Duffel bag or backpack within airline regs (and the regs of the smallest airline you're going to fly).

Packing: Only one bag. Make sure that all of your clothes are coordinated enough that you can wear every top/shirt with every bottom. Business travel has its own rules, but if you're traveling for fun, synthetics work best for quick-drying in the hotel/hostel bathroom. Zip-off "travel" pants and long-sleeve shirts that are easy to roll up are both handy, especially if you're going to see a variety of weather.

Products: Keep a second set of travel toiletries packed in your bag in a small kit (I use a semi-transparent synthetic bag that gets through TSA even though it's not perfectly clear). Include things like contacts, toothpaste, etc., along with any drugs you might need (I usually pack aspirin, an anti-diarrheal, benedryl, and pepto bismol. maybe airborne as well as a placebo for flights). Same goes for charges for phones/laptops/cameras etc. -- get extras and keep them in your suitcase so you don't need to remember them every time. Throw a few sets of earplugs into these kits too.

Enjoyable Flights: A Kindle and an ipod or phone with lots of podcasts does it for me, but I know a lot of people like loading up movies on their ipads. Video ipods are nice but a rarity these days. Good headphones help a lot but I don't like the noise cancelling ones enough to haul them around; I like in-ear earbuds that do most of the work. Also load your music player of choice up with a few white noise tracks to play on repeat to fall asleep to. Sometimes I'll also throw in an ounce or two of a favorite booze in a plastic bottle as a special treat. Also drink lots of water and bring your own water bottle. If you feel like you need to sleep, take benadryl instead of a traditional sleep aid -- less of a hangover if you need to wake up earlier than expected.

In Country: If you're traveling somewhere with dodgy municipal water, I love bringing a steri-pen with me (it kills off bacteria and viruses with UV light) along with a water bottle. I drink a ton of water and being able to drink purified tap water was great. (don't use a standard filter purifier though; many won't filter out viruses, which is often what you're worried about in polluted municipal aquifers). Save google maps on your phone with places of interest (or download a city-specific app). Even if your data provider isn't turned on, most gps abilities on phones will still work. Beyond that, don't be afraid to ask around for recommendations on where to go and what to check out; AskMeFi is a good resource, and check out chowhound.com for restaurant recommendations. Beyond that, plan plenty of time to get things done, and have enough things with you to do (books, journals, kindle) so that delays and waiting aren't a big deal to you. Don't be the person who loses their mind when they find out their flight is delayed an hour. You'll survive.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of my resolutions this year is to get it together and learn how to travel like a pro... Do you have your packing system down pat so you don't become a stressed, disorganized mess before a trip?

You might examine your premise here and accept that travel isn't inherently stressful, messy and disorganised. People who travel like pros tend to treat travel very, very routinely and not like some special state of insanity.

I mean, you can buy a toothbrush pretty much anywhere these days. Why fuss?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:16 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

A couple tech tips:

Multiport USB chargers are a godsend for traveling with gadgets. Like this Anker one for $25. Pack one of these, and one cable per device you need to charge. You only need to find one wall plug and one plug adapter (if overseas) to charge everything.

If you will be renting a car, the best travel phone mount (for GPS) is an air vent one like the Kenu Airframe. Fits nearly any car and isn't bulky like the window mount ones.
posted by smackfu at 1:18 PM on March 20, 2015

Bring as little as possible that you are not willing to lose, use up, or pitch. What's left over should be the things you carry on your person and not much else.

Invest in a good backpack that fits you properly. Rely on that as your main luggage. A smaller daypack can be tucked in for excursions after you arrive.

Lodging should be booked away from tourist-oriented hotels; local lodging (ie. not chains) should be selected where possible. Giving local business your money is a good, and they'll be your source for good local intel.

Toiletries can be had at most hotels, or at pharmacies/chemists worldwide. Don't pack shampoo unless you will be utterly without for the duration of your trip otherwise.

Cash is king.

Leave extraneous credit/debit cards, IDs, mementos, bits and bobs at home.

Drink lots of water. Where water is dodgy, drink tea. Water is actually dodgy in far fewer places than most (first world) travelers are likely led to believe.

Eat all the things. I've fueled a family of five across Europe and parts of North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and south Asia on bread and fruit I've bought either on the street or at bakeries as I walked the cities and villages.

Semper gumby. Plans change, trains are late, museums are closed, and you forget stuff. Understand that going in and it won't be a source of stress - just a mid-course adjustment. DarlingBri has it exactly.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:21 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I made these suggestions previously.

I keep a trimmed down master packing list for 1) domestic short trips and 2) international trips which are updated regularly so I never forget anything.

I have a small hanging travel bag with most personal items already in there and using my master list, I can quickly check what items need to be refreshed.

I mark the BACK OF MY SUITCASE with a giant X - when luggage is thrown onto the carousel for loading, they are often face down. Much easier to spot your own luggage this way than trying to figure out which one of the 38 bags floating around face down is yours. And of course, wrap your suitcase handle with colorful duct tape. Just one more item to win the SPOT YOUR LUGGAGE GAME.

I always bring one of those extension cords (I think it's about 3 feet?) with multiple heads on it so that I can sit at the airport and charge multiple items at once without inconveniencing others or can offer others the opportunity to recharge their stuff too if all the plugs are used up.

I photograph where I left my car in a garage (As if I'm going to remember I parked by Column A4 a week from now) using my smart phone so I won't forget.

If my flight is cancelled and I need to wait in another line to get onto another flight, I already have my airline's phone number in my contacts list so I can try to get faster service by phone. 9 out of 10 times I've been reassigned onto another flight faster than the people standing in front of me and am already off to get a drink and relax.

ALWAYS BE NICE TO THE PEOPLE WHO HOLD THE POWER - that is the gate agent at the airport and the front desk person at a hotel. Be nicer to that person and by the time you graduate to asking for the supervisor, more likely than not they will work harder to accommodate you than the screaming lunatic throwing the "Don't you know who I am?" horseshit.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:22 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wearing compression stockings and being well hydrated are supposed to help prevent DVT on long flights, but i find that they have the added advantage of making me feel a lot better at the end of a trip. I try to have a liter of water for a flight up to 4 hours, 2-3 after that.

Having a generic packing list has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Dead simple stuff goes on it: tickets, ID, underwear, phone, camera, and I keep it in GTasks so it's both readily accessible and adaptable.

I err more and more on the side of minimizing my carryon these days, since overhead bins fill up so quickly and I'm tall enough that not having a bag at my feet makes a noticeable difference in my comfort on a flight. I make sure that I can fit at least a change of underwear and socks in my carryon, just in case something goes wrong with my checked luggage.

Seconding the multiport USB chargers, and doing something to control your auditory environment. I haven't tried noise cancelling headphones yet, but having something of my choice to listen to, whether music, podcasts or whatever, makes travel much more pleasant.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:26 PM on March 20, 2015

-packing efficiently: My big tips are 1) These packing cubes, sometimes these stuff sacks, and of course this wallet organizer and one of his organizer bags for electronic cords/plugs, and OK yes I like his travel tray too. 2) Investing in the lightweight versatile clothes designed for multi use travel 3) A pre packed toiletries bag and first aid bag; and 4) If, like me, you check one bag, a very lightweight prepackaged carryon bag that goes under your seat with foot room to spare in front of you.
- awesome travel-reliable products: A Kindle. Besides that they get service everywhere (I got it in China) and have a rudimentary web browser, your books are with you and you can even read the NYT daily. And I never go anywhere without my sleep mask and good earplugs (stuffed in my travel tray) and, if traveling a little rough, a packs tiny silky sleep sack and blow up pillow. Also fabulous for rougher travel is a couple of smushed rolls of toilet paper (with the little cardboard roll removed) and a travel package of pleasant smelling moist towelettes.
- how to make flights enjoyable: I cannot praise my Bose noise canceling headphones enough. If you can take a tiny bit more weight, a tablet loaded with good things like some movies you want to see is nice too. Or there is your faithful Kindle.
- how to navigate a new place: Advance research, advance downloads of info to your tablet, and talking to locals like your hotel staff are all great ways to find good stuff.
- finding good deals (whether to save money OR to experience luxury): I use my tablet and local wifi spots for this, but locals are also a great resource.
posted by bearwife at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the things that has helped me to make flights enjoyable is having food with me. Granted, it's partly because I'm diabetic and (mostly) vegetarian, but having nommy things on me rather than depending on the airport/in-flight meal has been a godsend.
posted by Tamanna at 1:31 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think hacks depend on reason for traveling and how long you are traveling. If you have pretty consistent electronic I would have a specific pocketed zipper bag. I would have a pocket for each plug, charger, etc you bring. Label and pack it last. On that bag I'd also have a check list. "Check bathroom for toiletries", "phone in pocket", etc.

Use your camera on your phone. Snap a pic of your parking spot at the airport, take a pic of you confirmation numbers, etc. The pics are so easy to access for me it saves me stress.

Travel often? Have a your bag ready with a toiletries bag you never have to touch. Always have a movie burned on your electronic in case of emergency.

Google Keep for all reward program numbers.

If you are traveling for business have an extra bathing suit you can leave in your bag in case you need the hot tub.
posted by beccaj at 1:40 PM on March 20, 2015

Nthing the "pack small", and making sure that everything goes with everything else. I was able to spend a week in Italy and had only one carry-on bag with me.

Speaking of carry-on bags - I would actually disagree with the advice to get a wheeled carry-on, and would also add that you don't want a hard-sided carry-on. The reason being: every airline has a slightly different definition for "what are the dimensions of a carry-on", and if you have a soft-sided bag, it'll make it easier to squish your 24-inch-tall bag down to fit into a 23-inch-tall "if your bag doesn't fit this box you must check it" thing at the bag check.

Shoes that are easy to slip on and off are the shoes you need to wear at the airport. I trust you understand why. Or - wear the biggest and bulkiest shoes you want to have with you on the plane, so you don't need to pack them.

MAKE SURE YOUR PASSPORT IS SIGNED. (thank you, nice TSA agent, for pointing out to me that my passport wasn't signed, but giving me a break and letting me get on the plane anyway.)

Seconding "unpack when you get to your room." This may be difficult if you're in a youth hostel, but if you're in a hotel or an AirBnB, it's FANTASTIC.

if you've gone somewhere domestic, and you got a little too enthusiastic with the souvenir shopping, consider mailing some of your clothes and/or souvenirs home to yourself instead of trying to pack them.

I've recently adopted the habit of packing a small bag of tiny "luxury treats" for in my hotel room - a small tin with a couple of fancy tea bags, a small vial of bath salts, another one of bubble bath, a travel candle, a square of super-fancy chocolate - in case there's a night I decide I just want to chill in the room.

As for acclimating to a new place - if you're going to be in one place a while, a walk around the vicinity of where you're staying the first morning you're there, just to get your bearings, is a nice idea. Especially if you find a little cafe within a block or two of your place that you can temporarily adopt as "your hangout" - that's then the place you can stop into for your coffee and bagel or whatever first thing in the morning, and you can spend that time perusing your plan for the day and mapping out "how do I get to this spot" and "what time do they open" or whatever else you need to do to sort of gather yourself.

finally: consider a handwritten travel-diary habit. Pictures are great and all, but they can't capture things like the stuff you overhear on the street or the impromptu conversations you get into when asking someone for directions or any of the other little delights that happen in the course of a trip; the only way I was able to remember the fantastic efforts a cafe owner in Rome went to when she tried to tell me "hot cocoa is a seasonal drink only in this cafe and we stopped serving it three weeks ago" entirely in pantomime, was because I wrote that moment down about two minutes after walking out of her shop.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:40 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here are my tips:
- packing efficiently
I roll my clothing - you can fit a lot more by rolling it into logs, rather than folding it (I don't really know why)
I always keep my toiletries packed in a separate bag and ready to go. I replace stuff as it becomes necessary, but it is a relief to know that all my creams, pastes, clippers etc. are all in a pouch and I can just throw it in the luggage. Also I have a credit card that I keep only for emergency purposes that I pack in my toiletries bag, in case I lose my wallet or get mugged.

- how to navigate a new place
I'm not vegan, but I always look for vegan restaurants where ever I travel because 1. they are most likely to be some of the more interesting (and healthy) food in an area and 2. they are also often in interesting areas and force me to explore outside the typical tourist spots.
posted by Toddles at 2:03 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Remember that it is a vacation so the whole point is to relax and not to overplan every single minute trying to see everything. I will plan a few main sites to visit and locations for meals but then just leave time to wander around without a plan or just sit in a park or cafe to drink and relax.
posted by JJ86 at 2:10 PM on March 20, 2015

Noise canceling headphones

Smaller alternative: Sound Isolating Earphones. I have the generation before these Shure SE112 Sound Isolating Earphones with Single Dynamic MicroDriver (Shure SE115, to be precise), and they've been good for me for almost four years now. They passively block out plenty of sound. Here's a huge HeadFi thread on in-ear headphones, if you want to dig through what audiophiles are saying.

Pack your wires in individual bags, either little ziplock bags or small zipper bags. Then you can pull out an individual bag for your headphones, instead of having a pocket in your backpack or bag with various chargers and headphones, which are likely to get tangled, and you won't submit your cords to cable fatigue by simply looping them and binding them with themselves. If you don't bag them (or if you do, and you want to be really good to your cables), don't forget to use an over-under technique.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:11 PM on March 20, 2015

I currently travel full time, meaning I have no fixed home and I change countries every 2-3 months. If my current short-term apartment burst into flames and I could rescue only one thing besides my laptop, it would be my Bose noise-cancelling earbuds. I forget the model but they're on Amazon. They keep me sane. That and a universal plug adaptor are the only products I can think of to recommend.

As others have noticed, you can buy almost anything you need anywhere you go, assuming you don't "need" specific brands. I carry very few toiletries because I can just buy them at the next place if I need them.

As others have said, pack light. By this I mean bring very little instead of learning tricks to stuff as much as possible into a suitcase. When I did more normal travel I brought three changes of clothes and washed a bit by hand every night. It takes five minutes. I traveled with just those three changes of clothes for weeks at a time and never had to check a bag. Now I have two suitcases and rent places with laundry facilities because I stay for months.

To wash clothes in a hotel sink, you don't need fancy travel laundry soap; just use whatever bar soap or shampoo you find. And use normal clothes. When I first started I believed the hype about travel clothing and bought some pants and shirts but quickly learned that high-tech fiber holds onto smells, plus I looked like a dork on safari.

For luggage, don't hesitate to get wheels if the bag is small and light. Years ago I traveled with a soft backpack and that thing was literally a pain, plus I kept walloping people around me because I stuck out in back. A light rolling bag is far easier to use, especially on public transport, and if I'm on cobblestones or stairs I just pick it up by its normal handle.

Buy a bag that suits the carryon requirements of most countries, which is smaller than the US requirements. My bag is smaller than the US size and has never caused an issue on planes in Asia, Australia, Latin America, or Europe. Look online for an idea of common size limits. If I remember right, Australia is pretty restrictive, and I traveled for a few years with a little rolling carryon I bought in Sydney. There's your excuse to travel to Australia: you have to go buy a world-friendly carryon.

As for how to navigate a new place: If you're going to be traveling a lot, get an unlocked smartphone. Download a few local apps before you go, such as taxi apps and a map of the metro. When you get to the country, buy a local SIM with a data plan at the airport, before you even go into the city. Put it in your phone and activate it at the airport. With the data plan and a map app on your phone, you won't get lost unless you end up in one of the few, rural locations that I've been that have no data signal.

I'm rarely asked to take my shoes off for airport security outside the US, so I wouldn't base shoe choices on security lines unless you're staying in the US.
posted by ceiba at 2:25 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Even then, if you register for the TSA precheck (and also do the Global Entry/NEXUS combined program), you don't have to strip down for security anymore.

That's my one piece of advice, for a NA traveller: go through the hassle of getting enrolled in the trusted traveller programs if you can. They're not expensive, about $10/year, but they're like having cheat codes for the airport. You get to skip many of the security lines.
posted by bonehead at 2:46 PM on March 20, 2015

Buy some decent luggage if you are going to travel more than once more in your life. It doesn't need to be insanely expensive, but if it is cheap, the wheels will come off, the straps will break, the zippers break, the lining tears. I travel a lot for work and pleasure, and I have Crumpler luggage and bags of various kinds. My Dry Red No 3 wheelie has done plenty of outdoor wheeling through cities and cobblestones, on and off public transport, checked in, thrown in overheads, onto boats. Aside from slight wear on the wheels, it looks about the same as it did when I bought it.

Luggage strap - I get grumpy when waiting for my luggage at carousels at the end of a long flight when I'm exhausted. Being able to clearly see my bag with its bright green strap stops me worrying that someone is taking my bag.

Earplugs - if you don't have fancy headphones etc, these will still make you feel better on long flights or in noisy hotels. I buy multi-packs so I have some in all the various bags I use for trips.

Multi adapter - I have something like this. So many times, I have seen travel companions arrive with the wrong sort of adapter somewhere. Just pack one like this and pack it in your carry-on in case you have delays or a stopover and need to charge your gear at the airport.

GoToobs - I use a set of these for my travel toiletries. Full size toiletries will weigh your bag down, travel sizes are not usually good value for money and not available for all products. These haven't leaked on me yet.

Combination locks (TSA) - keyed locks are a pain so lock your bag with combination locks that are TSA approved (e.g. they can open them and relock them - some have an indicator so you can see if they were unlocked).

Don't eat on long flights or don't eat so much - I think airlines overfeed you and feed you at strange times e.g. they always want to serve me dinner when doing an overnight from Australia to Asia, which is only about 8 hours at a time that I don't normally eat because I am asleep. The research says that fasting for flights helps with jetlag and this has definitely been my experience.

Take snacks/food - I do still take snacks on the plane so I can eat when I like and sleep when I like on the flight. Also some granola bars because sometimes I have arrived somewhere very late and need a snack, but don't want to go out. Or have been stuck on a long car ride with no opportunity to stop and eat, or an early morning drive to the airport where nothing is open.

Use Seat Guru to check out your seat when you are picking it at booking or at online check-in, to make sure you don't get the window seat without a window etc.

Use online check-in - especially for international flights around Asia, there is often a separate check-in queue if you have used internet check-in and it is often almost empty.

Spend the extra money on the more convenient flight - you think it is good to pay $150 less for the non-direct flight etc until you are on your long stopover and would willingly pay it to get on a plane right now.

If you travel a lot but not on the same airline, consider a Priority Pass. Lounges vary in quality, but in general it is at least somewhere with seating and a cold drink, which is more than some airports seem to manage.

If you can get a doctor to prescribe something to help you sleep on flights, do it. Flying is amazing if you are not conscious for most of it. Over-the-counter e.g. anti-histamines take the edge off it.

Dragging bags around makes people unhappy. Don't pack too much. For flights with long stopovers, check your bags so you don't have to drag them around an airport for hours. Also, check for lockers at stopover airports so you don't have to drag them around.

If you do need a layover in Asia and it can be Singapore Airport, do it. It is one of the best airports in the world for a reason and the other major hubs in the region have nothing on it, despite having built new airports.

For your international flight, have a pen and the address of where you are staying for filling out the immigration card.

For getting to know somewhere, I make a little list of things I'm interested in seeing and set off with the intent of getting to the cafe/market/park, and then let myself be diverted as necessary and wander. Take a card from your hotel so you have the address written in the local language (and they often have a small map on them) for ease of communicating with taxi drivers.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:07 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I cosign all the above advice (headphones! something to do on the plane! sempter gumby! ONE BAG!)- but have to add another vote for the Global Pass. It is, hands down, the best hundred dollars I have ever spent.

The other tip I haven't read here yet is the travel blanket. Essentially a heavy weight sarong- it's a towel, it's a scarf, it's a picnic blanket- it will make getting stranded in the airport approximately 75% better, and is nice on planes and trains just to cut the chill. Mine is smaller than a liter bottle when packed.
posted by aint broke at 3:47 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a woman who dresses feminine. I've spent a lot of time traveling for both work and fun. I'm going to offer some advice that occasionally disagrees a bit with the above...

(1) Consider "packing efficiently to meet your travel goals" versus "packing minimally." Yes, you can get by in, say, Paris on three rotating outfits you hand wash in your hotel, a single pair of shoes, and whatever else fits in a backpack. But it is Paris and people are fashionable and one of my goals everywhere I travel is to be asked for directions (implying people think I'm not obviously a clueless American tourist) and that only happened in Paris when I was dressed for a nice dinner out, not when I was dressed in my normal travelwear of jeans and a Thinkgeek t-shirt. When I went back to Paris the second time I packed a few nicer outfits that were still comfortable to walk around in, but that were a step up from what I'd normally consider vacation clothes. I'm not saying you have to do this, but don't let "only pack what you can fit in a backpack and hand wash every night!" get in the way of other travel goals you have, like trying to "fit in", doing a few luxurious things with nicer dress codes, etc. If you do choose to bring fancier clothes, that's when it's worth optimizing around "Okay, one black shirt/trousers and one little black dress, with short walkable black heels" versus two different dresses that require two different pairs of shoes. Rolling instead of folding clothes certainly works, and I always stuff my packed shoes with socks and underwear. And certainly do beware of unnecessarily overpacking; decide on that single nice "going out" outfit rather than packing three because you can't decide at the time you're packing. Take the time to decide.

(2) Along those lines, while I understand why people often avoid checking bags at all costs, I have costly hair products that do not come in travel sizes and dammit, if I'm going to be someplace once in my life where I get to go to a nice restaurant or show or something, I'm going to look good doing it, and I want my hair product. I also feel strongly about this when I'm going to be traveling for more than a week and I know what cheap hotel toiletries do to my skin and hair over that period of time. I have an airline credit card and status that mean I never pay for a checked bag, so that probably biases my willingness to do this, but having my good shampoo, my hair products, good moisturizer, etc available to me is worth the slim chance my luggage may be lost by checking it. (It has happened only a few times to me, and yes it is a pain in the ass when it happens, but it's totally possible to travel frequently and not have this be an inevitability)

(3) Less controversially: if you are investing in a rolling suitcase, only get one of the ones with wheels on all four corners. My life changed when I upgraded to one of those from my previous one. I also really like my Victorinox Spectra lightweight hard-sided suitcase, versus the fabric one I had before; the Victorinox one weights less than half, empty, of what the other one did, which is super valuable if you happen to be densely packing clothes or you have a lot of shoes. (Have to say I wouldn't buy the Victorinox again though -- the sides have cracked in a few places. I'd upgrade to this Crumpler set instead.)

(4) Have a complete second set of toiletries (if you wear makeup, that includes brushes, etc) and electronic charging cables. Also have a set of adapter plugs if you travel internationally. Leave them in your suitcase. Never worry about forgetting them again. This was similarly life-changing for me.

(5) I have an airline kit of earplugs, a face mask, chapstick, etc. I go into sensory deprivation mode as soon as I get on board and usually sleep pretty well. Headphones are nice if you're actively watching/listening to something but otherwise I like ignoring everything around me.

(6) Don't panic! As said above, you can buy toothbrushes anywhere these days. I try not to rely on that fact because frequent travel means those "I'll just buy it when I get there" decision can add up quickly, but it's a very good backup plan.
posted by olinerd at 3:52 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

It is ridiculous how much better drinking water before and during a long flight makes me feel during and after. I try to carry a packable water bottle (like this) with me when I travel, but when I forget it, it's well worth the inflated price to buy a bottle of water post-security.

I strongly prefer not to check luggage unless I'm traveling for more than a week, and I love my Tom Bihn Tri-Star. It holds everything I need and then some, I've never had it denied as a carry-on even on tiny regional jets, it's well-organized, it's comfortable to carry backpack-style even when it's stuffed full, and it's ridiculously durable. I've had mine for 3 years and it's survived heavy travel and two weeks of severe abuse while it was lost luggage, and it's still in excellent shape.

Which reminds me: Label the crap out of your luggage, even carry-ons. External tags and labels can disappear, so include an internal one, too. It'll get back to you much sooner if it gets lost in the system.

I will Nth the advice about having a separate set of travel toiletries and cosmetics. And if you wear makeup, consider streamlining your routine for travel. For instance, I've found a BB cream I like so I don't have to carry both foundation and moisturizer, and I pack a versatile, forgiving lipstick that I don't need to use a liner or primer with. I started doing all that at the beginning of last year, which was a very heavy travel year for me, and it's made packing and unpacking a lot easier.

Make use of your hotel's free-but-for-tips luggage storage, particularly when check-in and check-out times don't line up with your plans.

Carry plenty of small bills for tipping.

If you menstruate, consider getting a Diva Cup or similar menstrual cup, it's so much less hassle. In general, but particularly while traveling. No consumable sanitary supplies to carry with you or have to search for in a strange place, and since most people can wear it for 12 hours before emptying it, no dealing with the awkwardness of changing a tampon in the airplane restroom or National Park portapotties.

This may not be feasible if you're traveling for business, but I've been leaving my laptop at home more and more often when I travel. I do bring my smartphone and my tablet, and those more than suffice for looking up directions and reviews, buying tickets and booking rooms, entertainment, and staying in contact with people. Not packing my laptop means I don't have to deal with it at security, my carry-on luggage is 4+ lbs lighter, my charger isn't taking up the weird space it takes up, I don't worry about loss or damage (or privacy), and I'm not tempted to waste vacation time browsing Metafilter.

That said, a little downtime during vacations and travel is a good thing, too. Don't feel bad about sleeping in one morning, or spending some time reading on the balcony, or lingering over brunch instead of packing something active into every waking minute. I always enjoy myself much more when I take a little me-time, even on short trips and business trips.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:03 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I pack up myself, husband, two kids and sometimes two dogs, we are often staying with relatives. I get stressed over how much of a mess/ imposition we are putting on our hosts. One of the things I do to mitigate the mess is to bring a small, collapsible clothes hamper so we can at least corral the dirty clothes. I also bring those 3M Command Strips to put up in the bathroom, where we hang up our excess towels and washrags (usually above our hosts' usual capacity for those items).
posted by Jane Austen at 6:28 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Most of my packing and flying tips are covered, so I'm going to talk about "how to navigate a new place." My comments mostly apply to domestic US business travel but also might work for other settings.

1. If your trips are booked far enough in advance, like a month or more, spend a few minutes going to the website of the CVB/Travel and tourism dept. of the city. Usually, you can just Google "Visit Atlanta" or whatever. They will invariable have an option to have a packet emailed or snail-mailed to you. I usually request a snail mail packet, and then when I have some time over breakfast or whatever, I page through the brochures and get the lay of the land. Pay special attention to the conveniently color-shaded maps dividing cities into "arts district," "downtown," etc. Try to learn the names of major streets and figure out where your hotel is, in relation. Also, spend time on the hotel website looking for links and things to do. Get to know what services the hotel has (especially the story about wi-fi).

2. Plan your airport-to-hotel ground transport link in advance. It sucks to be stranded in a deserted midnight airport with no transport if your plane is delayed, or whatever. Learn whether your hotel has a shuttle, or what other transport they recommend. Best practice is just to call your hotel before you go and ask "what are my options to get there form the airport?" They get this question several times a day and will have good answers. Sometimes there's a free shuttle, sometimes a convenient city bus, sometimes it's a taxi/private car situation.Whatever it is, the easiest way to get to your hotel is worth a few bucks, because you feel a lot better once you know where you're going to sleep.

3. I like to try to arrive in late afternoon, and I've set up a basic ground-truthing routine I try to stick to - and recommend to others. I get in, get to the hotel, check in, unpack, freshen up. Use this time to do hotel recon - check out the restaurant and bar, store, services (gym? mail? salon?), hours, etc. Then, I leave the hotel for a good long walk. I need it after a day in the air. The walk is designed to cover the general neighborhood of the hotel and give me a sense of what there is around - so before I go, I sometimes chat with desk attendants and ask where a good place to stroll is. Sometimes, there's almost nothing (anonymous business hotel area by the highway), but I still go walking ayway. Other times, this reveals where all sorts of nearby resources are. On this walk, I try to pick up as many local newspapers and free arts-and-culture papers and lifestyle mags as possible. These are chock full of relevant local info timed to your visit. The other thing I look for on a walk is a grocery or drugstore. Having one nearby is a lifesaver, and if you find one the first day, use it to pick up water, in-room snacks, and whatever else you need for the stay - it's much cheaper than a hotel store.

4. On the walk, I might have identified a dinner location, or if not, I might head back to hotel for dinner. Either way, get dinner, looking through the newspapers as you do. People who see you with the papers might offer their travel advice, or you can ask "While I'm in town, what should I do?" This is a good chance to plan how you will actually spend your time now that you have the lay of the land. Also, the papers will have restaurant info, coupons, live music listings, etc.

5. If there are sightseeing things you want to do, prioritize when you will do them in your schedule. If you don't say, for instance, "Wednesday afternoon I go to the Civil Rights Museum," chances are you won't make time for it.

6. If something is a long cab or public transport ride away, and you are going to some kind of conference or meeting, see if you can get colleauges to get into your vision for going out to that special thing (restaurant/sports game/bowling night) and all split the cost of a cab. Pro tip, call before you go to make sure that thing is open. I speak from the miserable experience of a $50 cab ride to a Whistle Stop Cafe (of Fried Green Tomatoes fame) that was closed for a high school reunion.

7. Finally, back in the room - designate specific zones where your stuff goes each night, and keep things there. Don't spread your stuff all over the room - it wastes time and makes you prone to losing things. Keep conference papers/notes/thumb drives in one pile on the desk. Keep toiletries in one area (on a folded towel on the bathroom sink). Keep money/transport passes/hotel keys/IDs in one place in the room - desk or bedside table. Mark chargers with bright colored duct tape in advance so you can spot them easily and don't leave them behind. Designate a spot for your dirty laundry (I just use my luggage after unpacking). Hang up your clothes to de-wrinkle them, never leave them in the suitcase. Lock up your passport in the safe, and lock your room before going to bed, even if you think you don't have to. Don't leave valuables and ID in your room even if you feel 100% secure.

8. Figure out where morning coffee comes from the night before (if you drink it), so you know whether or not you really need to use the in-room coffeemaker.
posted by Miko at 6:50 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best travel advice I ever got was from a friend who would routinely bounce between the U.S. and Europe for months at a time, living basically out of his laptop bag: You know they sell clothes pretty much everywhere, right?
posted by Etrigan at 7:17 PM on March 20, 2015

I will not travel without my SpacePak packing cubes, as they're the only two-sided ones I've found in a variety of sizes. I especially love that the lingerie pack's dirty side has a removable mesh bag: when it's time to do laundry, I just pop it out and into the washing machine.

Seconding Tom Bihn's Travel Trays: so great for corralling one's bits and bobs. I keep one for personal care/makeup items for the bathroom and another that goes on my nightstand for all my tech gear.

I keep at least one reusable shopper from ChicoBag on hand.

Put a dryer sheet in with your clothes. And it never hurts to have a couple of spare ziplock baggies on hand.

Icebreaker's Bliss wrap is one of my favorite pieces of clothing. It, along with a travel wrap from White & Warren, keep me from freezing on airplanes.

Not all hotels provide slippers, so I pack a pair of Dr. Scholl's Fast Flats to schlep around in.

I'm so glad that Arcteryx decided to bring back their Contenta dress, because it's a freaking fantastic piece. We ladies often draw the short end of the straw when it comes to techwear, but not this time!

I used to get terrible cankles after flying until I started wearing compression hosiery, so I'll either wear footless leggings from RejuvaHealth or snag-resistant pantyhose from Luxe Pair on the plane.

These mini pen-style scissors from Raymay have been tremendously handy to have, but I'm thinking of switching out to Leatherman's TSA-compliant Style PS multitool instead.

Samples are the best! Every time I'm at Sephora/Ulta or a department store beauty counter, I'll always ask if they have samples available, and I'll pack those instead.

Assemble an on-board amenity kit so you're not constantly having to pull things out of your bag. I keep an assortment of La Fresh wipes, lip balm, lotion, tissues, earplugs, gum, eyeshades, and the all-important noise-canceling earbuds in Knomo's Dering smartphone charge pouch. When I get to my seat, all I have to do is take out my tablet/phone and this pouch, stow my luggage, and I'm all set. Bonus: the Dering pouch doubles as a wristlet/clutch.

Depending on the situation, I'll use Maidenform's bra pocket to stash a credit card, my passport card, and cash for just-in-case reasons.

The very knowledgeable folks at FlyerTalk have put together loads of information on min-maxing the various frequent-flier programs, so it's worth reading up to see which program/alliance would be most advantageous given your home airport and travel plans.

YMMV, but I find that a Tablet Plus membership pays for itself after a couple of nights at participating hotels.

If you have connecting flights, make every effort to book them through on the same ticket, because you don't want to end up with a sob story like this one. Trip insurance can also be worth it (read the terms and conditions closely, of course).

I put my name, phone number, e-mail address, and home airport on my luggage tags. Grab a few of the freebies available at the check-in counters and put completed ones inside your luggage as well.

Some carriers have not-exorbitant international voice/text/data roaming packages, but for the rest of us, there's KnowRoaming.

In the past year, I've added a Chromecast and an Edimax travel router to my travel tech kit for connectivity/entertainment while on the road.

My favorite app for managing travel plans is TripIt, and the free tier is plenty functional for me. FlightTrack used to be a great companion app, but the latest updates have removed functionality while charging more money. It sure is nice to look at, though.
posted by evoque at 8:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

For air travel, I always bring an EMPTY water bottle through security, and then fill it up at the water fountains. That way, you don't have to wait on drink service on the plane if you get thirsty.
posted by Gneisskate at 10:21 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I definitely recommend bringing a carry-on that you can fit under the seat as opposed to one you have to store in the overhead bin. You don't have to keep getting up to get things, you don't have to worry about sitting half a plane away from your bag when all the nearby overhead bins are full, and it makes getting off the plane much quicker. I love, love, love my Vera Bradley Miller Bag for travel - it holds an insane amount of stuff, yet still fits under the seat with no problem. (It may be retired or renamed now - but you can find tons of them on eBay.)
posted by SisterHavana at 11:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh! And I never regret bringing a travel scarf, and I'm always happy to have it when I do. Basically any large wrap in a neutral color or at least one complementary to what you tend to wear (I wear a lot of black and dark colors, so I go for a dark grey wrap) that you can wear for warmth or style, or spread over you as a blanket, or put between you and the floor, or drape over hotel room lamps or light-leaking doors and windows, or use to mop up a spill... they are infinitely useful.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:29 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fundamentally, a lot of travel stress can be avoided by realising that you only NEED you passport and your credit card. Everything else you can buy if you have to. Ideally, you also have your journey details, a few changes of clothes appropriate for the purpose of your trip, your laptop (if travelling for work) and your smartphone. But these can all be replaced locally if you've forgotten them or lost them.

So with that in mind I still like my creature comforts and I tend to travel with a checked bag because I have enough status with my favoured airline to check up to two bags free of charge. Normally this is a 26" 4 wheeled suitcase, that I can push with one finger. It is never so heavy I can't lift it if required. It has a completely flat surface and this is wher my tote style shoulder bag lives. This is used as handbag. Inside this live my tablet, phone, travel documents including passport. A wrap of some description and a clear bag for my liquids which comprise moisturiser, fav lip balm, hand cream, minimal make up. My wallet, hair brush and the charge cable for my electricals.
At a push the bag can also take clean underwear and a shirt for delays or lost luggage situations. And my work laptop although it is a lot heavier than I like it to be to carry it round an airport for an hr. The laptop charger gets checked. It is charged when I leave the house.

If I plan to shop or if the trip entails both leisure and business and is longer than a week I may also take my small carry on, also 4 wheeled, can be strapped to the other case and it has a front pocket. Now the laptop lives in the front pocket and the shoulder bag only contains essentials I want to have in reach on the plane and my travel documents. The small case is never allowed to become so heavy that I can't lift it into the overhead bins unassisted. If I travel purely for business Monday-Friday the small case is the only suitcase I take.

If it is a leisure trip I am liable to want to have some picnic style meals, skip breakfast or have my travel mug if it is a road trip. So I normally pack a very small tea towel, my spork, my Swiss Army knife, a small tupper wear type container with lid and a tiny bottle of washing up liquid. With the exception of the container it can all be wrapped in the tea towel and fits into the travel mug which gets placed in checked luggage.

You can never have too many small ziplock bags. They are equally useful for containing toiletry leaks, storing foreign currency, storing snacks, storing a few cotton buds and cotton balls for any maintenance on the go, hair clips/pins etc, dirty tissues and small rubbish you accumulate on a day out when there is no bin in sight etc.

Foldable thin fabric type bag to store your dirty clothes, which also allows you to take it to the laundry facility for example if you want to.

A pair of flip flops, which can be used as slippers, sandals and if you want to nip down the corridor to get a drink from the drink machine.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:35 AM on March 21, 2015

I live in a teeny tiny apartment in Hong Kong with no dryer and no real storage, and so I have to do all my laundry well before I do my packing, which I start perhaps three days before my trip. This sounds extreme but it does mean I have the time to make those choices mentioned above - which socks, which shirts? - and lets me be totally packed the night before I leave with no panic the day of my trip. Waking up an hour later and having a leisurely breakfast on your day of departure is awesome.

Also, the radical freedom of traveling light is amazing. I recently went to Bali for two weeks and India for ten days with just 4 kg of luggage in a collapsible backpack from Muji; smooshed at the bottom of the backpack was a collapsible carry-on-sized duffel bag that I filled with souvenirs (lightweight two-dimensional ones like cool fabric and paper!) and then simply popped everything into the duffel and tipped the scales at 6 kg. I dropped off my laundry every week or so and everything was washed and folded in a day for, usually, USD 3-5. Everything was packed within the duffel in Muji packing cubes and pouches. (Muji is AMAZING for those travel size bottles too! And travel eye masks and slippers! (Go to Muji.)

Finally, keep your home base organised enough so if an unexpected trip pops up you can pack easily (all my travel pouches and bottles live in my suitcase!).
posted by mdonley at 7:32 AM on March 21, 2015

A few more ...

Once I'm settled into a hotel room, I look for and take the stairs instead of the elevator at least once. I also keep my aforementioned wrap and light shoes near my bed, so when some drunk idiots decided to pull the fire alarm at 3 AM last weekend, I got dressed and got out with a minimum of fuss.

I wrap a length of duct tape around a double-ended Sharpie, but you can also buy flat-pack strips of duct tape or packing tape.

A hair claw can be used to hold blackout curtains shut, but I've also used hangers with pant clips from the hotel room closet for the same purpose.

My cats have liberally applied their hair to all my clothes, so a pad of lint-removing sheets are more efficient to carry than a lint roller.

Yeah, there's an app on my phone, but I keep Energizer's LED keychain light on a carabiner. Bonus: set to the blinky pattern, it can be used as a bike light.

You can hack together something like Pinch Provisions' minimergency kits, but I've supercharged mine with a little packet of antibiotic ointment, a small pill box with painkillers/antacids/decongestant/etc., and a Colgate WISP.

Nthing the reusable water bottle, but I recommend the silicone versions, as they can be used as hot/cold compresses or as waterproof/watertight containers.

I use Tyny Tools and Nite Ize Gear Ties to secure things to things (like my coat to my suitcase). When I have to stash my bag in an overhead rack, I secure the handles to the rack so that it's a little harder to snatch.
posted by evoque at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you fly within the US, getting TSA Pre is far and away the best travel tip I know of. It's like traveling before 9/11! You don't need to take off your shoes, belt, or jacket. You don't need to take out your laptop. You go through a metal detector instead of the 3D scanner. It was worth every cent I paid for it. The longest part about going through security for me is now waiting for my backpack to go through the x-ray machine and it now takes me less than 15 minutes to go from car to gate.

Even better: get NEXUS instead if you can, since it's cheaper and doubles for TSA Pre and Global Entry.

My other major travel tip is to not pack anything you don't need. If you're unsure and can buy it on location, do that instead of carrying it around with you.
posted by kejadlen at 10:26 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

A few things I haven't seen in the thread:
  • Pick one airline and be loyal; getting status can pay itself back. If you have to travel with another airline, try to use one that is in the same alliance.
  • Note that TSA Pre is great most of the time; however, that you can still be "randomly" selected for additional screening -- basically, the standard routine except you don't need to unpack your bag. I say "randomly", since I've been getting the beep a lot lately.
  • Fly first class, or at least some class higher than coach/economy/enhanced economy. I realize that most people will balk because of price and such, but for my traveling, it's worth it. I'm routinely finding domestic first class tickets that are at most only 20 or 30 percent more than the economy price for that flight. Also, I think that more airlines are converting to price-based loyalty programs instead of simply miles flown, so that can be a factor in how you earn status.

posted by bonje at 1:03 PM on March 21, 2015

If you have a long-enough layover pre-purchasing a lounge pass can pay for itself with:
- comfortable big chairs, lots of safe room to spread out
- nice atmosphere
- free drinks, food (check ahead but at most larger airports there are usually hot meals throughout the day)
- TV, news papers, showers, clean and pleasant toilets

The first item - the quiet and peaceful atmosphere - is my favourite part of flying. The lounges feel like the perfect in-between place - I relax, catch up on email and reading, have a glass of wine.

If you stick to one airline lounge access is one of the first benefits you'd get too, making it so much more valuable to get status.
posted by olya at 1:06 PM on March 21, 2015

For women:

This bag for a travel tote that fits under the seat.
These headphones.
This lipstick.
This lip balm, which is also an ointment for rashes, burns, cuts, cuticle treatment, and the list goes on.
These super light, super warm jacket, vests, and more.
These inner-wear type things.
This for carrying your favourite perfume with you.
This brush for powder, blush, and bronzer.
These sneakers.
These bags fold up and make for acceptable travel handbags that look nice.
An affordable cashmere sweater that you won't mind getting a little travel scruffy.
Underwear that is ACTUALLY seamless, and dries super fast.
These pouches hold coins, earrings, bobby pins, eyedrops, vitamins, and more.
Folding, polarised sunglasses that still looked nice changed my life.
I find electrolytes help me beat jet lag and dehydration.
These are great for when I'm feeling run down.
posted by shazzam! at 5:28 AM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you travel a lot it's probably more economical to put your shampoo and such into your own travel bottles, but if you just need a small amount of something or want to try out new products, there's Minimus.biz. They sell travel sizes of all kinds of products - toiletries, food, drink mixes, etc. Their shipping costs a lot unless you spend at least $20 (as of my last purchase) - then it's free.

A couple things I haven't seen in the list -

If you're going out touring in the summer, some kind of wet wipes. I like Nathan's Power Shower. They feel fantastic when you're all sweaty and you go into a bathroom and wipe yourself down.

I get too warm very easily so one thing I always make room for is a small fan that can run on either an AC adapter or two D batteries. I found mine at Walmart for less than $10. I can cool off quickly and easily and it also is good for making some white noise at night. (I do have a white noise app on my phone but then I have to leave it on the charger all night.)

Lastly, I don't think it was actually linked, apologies if it was - OneBag.com is great for packing advice and some product recommendations.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:53 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I always pack a set of cutlery and a bottle opener, and I always have a pair of small scissors on me. That way, if I don't feel like going out for dinner or don't have time to do so, there's a wide range of stuff I can get from a local supermarket and eat / drink in my hotel room.
posted by rjs at 12:43 PM on March 23, 2015

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