They say it’s all about the journey, not the destination—which is a quote I think anyone who has ever been on a plane before fully disagrees with. Getting set to head off on the adventure of a lifetime can be downright painful, what with the endless security regulations, delays and the madness of trying to fit four week’s worth of clothes into one suitcase.
With that in mind, here’s a list of the ultimate travel hacks that will make your next trip that much easier.
Join the club
Joining loyalty programs and applying for credit cards with huge point sign-up bonuses are singlehandedly the best way to travel for free. Yes, free! For example, Hotels.com gives its Welcome Rewards program members every 10th night free, while hotel loyalty programs sometimes include perks like complimentary upgrades, Wi-fi or breakfast. If you’re smart with your finances, signing up for credit cards with no annual fee and a big sign-up bonus can set you on the fast track to flying first class for pennies.
Nothing but the best
Most hotel chains have a best-rate guarantee, which means that they will either match or beat the lowest advertised price you find anywhere else. Usually it means a savings of 10-25%, but if you’re lucky enough to find a property owned by the InterContinental Hotels Group they’ll match the lower price PLUS give you the first night free.
Timing is everything
There is an easy way to save loads of money before you even hit the airport: travel in shoulder season. Avoiding peak periods like school breaks and holidays means less crowds, better room availability (a free upgrade, perhaps?) and more attentive staff. In many destinations the shoulder seasons are September-November and March-May.
Off the grid
Smell ya later
Layer dryer sheets among your clothes as you pack your suitcase. They’ll help fight off that nasty airplane smell that inevitably seeps into all your clothes, and will keep them smelling fresh for weeks. Also, bring travel-size packs of laundry detergent to easily wash clothes in the hotel sink instead of hunting down a laundromat.
The best packing accessory
Not even lying, my life changed when I discovered packing cubes. These zippered contraptions may only look like little bags, but they have quite the knack for being able to condense your clothes and free up more space in that carry-on. As a bonus, they also keep everything tres organized if you group by shirts, pants, toiletries, etc. Also, make sure to roll your garments as you pack—not only does it save space, but it also cuts down on wrinkles.
The fake out
Being mugged is frightening enough, but it can also wreak havoc on your travel plans if the crook gets away with important things like your passport or only credit card. To cut back on the risk, carry around a fake wallet. Throw in things like a deactivated bank card, library card and a few American dollars, and hand that over if you get robbed. Chances are it will look real enough that the bastard won’t take the time to check the rest of your pockets.
READ MORE: How to avoid getting robbed while travelling
This one’s for the ladies. A pashmina is the best use of space in your bag, thanks to its versatility. Use it as a blanket on the plane, a shawl or head cover if you’re cold or in a conservative place, added protection to wrap around your camera, even a towel if it comes down to it.
ON THE ROAD
Tweet your troubles
If you’ve ever tried phoning an airline to resolve a problem, you know how mind-numbingly frustrating the whole process can be—and that’s when you’re finally taken off hold. Enter Twitter. The social networking tool is a fantastic way to get the attention of airlines in the event you’ve been delayed, need to make a change, are missing frequent flyer points, etc. As a bonus, the response is usually faster than you’d even get at the airport customer service counter.
READ MORE: Why Twitter is a traveller’s best friend
Keep the change
When you pull out foreign currency, the bank will likely give it to you in big bills. Break them down as soon as possible. Not only will you need small change for things like tips or bus fare, but it can actually end up saving you money. There have been a number of times where I’m bartering with someone, and when I pull out my wallet to pay I’m short a few dollars and they end up taking it anyway. That’s a much better alternative to haggling over a few bucks, then handing over a big bill and waiting around for the change like an idiot!
Off the grid
A map should be in every traveller’s arsenal, but sometimes the electronic version is easier to understand than the hard copy the hotel hands out. But unless you want to get hit with crazy roaming fees or spring for a data plan, turning on your phone’s GPS is sometimes out of the question. Enter Google Maps. Simply open up the map when you’re connected to free Wi-fi, and you’ll be able to access it even when you’re wandering around without an internet connection.
This works too:
A6) Shortcut for creating offline maps in Google Maps: type “OK Maps” into the search bar and just click save #TL_Chat
— Google Travel Team (@GoogleTravel) July 22, 2014
Courtesy of Shutterstock
Even the quickest trips take planning, and these websites are a great place to start whether you need to book flights, find a hotel or figure out how much that getaway will set you back.
Google Flight Finder: Simply incredible. Type in where you might want to go and for how long, and this search engine will find you the lowest price available, for months out. You can even sort results by airline, what time you’d like to leave or how many stops you’ll put up with.
Kayak: Playing around with destinations and dates? Kayak is great for not only finding low flight prices, but its matrix can search hundreds of airlines and travel sites at the same time–so you don’t have to.
Trip Advisor: The best website for scouting out lodging anywhere in the world, with unbiased, real reviews from travellers. Sure, some sour puss may give a great hotel a poor rating because they had champagne expectations on a beer budget, but for the most part the reviews will never lead you astray. Great for getting feedback about destinations and excursions, too!
Seat Guru: This site is brilliant in this new age of having to check-in and choose your seat before getting to the airport. Just type in your flight information, and a detailed map of the plane’s cabin will appear–complete with important info like which where the emergency exits are, which seats have more leg room and which ones don’t recline. Avoid those non-recliners at all cost!
XE: Not sure how many yen equals a dollar equals a euro? This easy-to-use currency converter takes out all the guesswork, so you won’t get a shock once your credit card bill arrives.
It used to be that when you had a problem with an airline, you either patiently stood in line at a ticket counter, or cradled a phone to your ear listening to horrid elevator music in hopes of finally connecting with a real person. Then, a wonderful wonderful thing was invented…Twitter!
Yes, I have found that you can actually get a response faster by tweeting at an airline, than trying to go all old-school and have an actual conversation with someone.
I’ve unfortunately had to test out this theory quite a few times in the last year, and am happy to report that I had more success by contacting them through social media then I did chatting on the phone.
The first time was while trying to check in for an Air Canada flight with no success. The lady I spoke with on the phone was no help (something to do with a code share?) and said we’d have to wait until the airport—not great when you’re heading out on your honeymoon and are not booked to sit together at all during the 24 hour flight. So, I went all techy and tweeted Air Canada, and within 20 minutes had brand new seat assignments!
Interestingly enough, their social media handlers seem to have more of a grasp about the general goings-on at the airline, based on my experience trying to book a flight with a promo code. When it didn’t work, I phoned Air Canada’s call centre, and got a useless “well, your flight probably isn’t valid” “well I don’t know what’s wrong” “well it probably doesn’t apply” series of responses from the bored ‘customer service’ agent who picked up after 25 minutes on hold. Not loving his answers, I tweeted Air Canada and sure enough got the following message back:
Unfortunately by then it was too late and the flight had disappeared, but you get the point. If at once you don’t succeed, try, try again!
Despite the fact that most travellers book their trips online and are avid Twitter/Facebook users, some companies haven’t quite grasped the importance of being adept with social media. Take my recent exchange with KLM. Concerned about an upcoming trip to Egypt, I phoned them to see about our options of extending our stopover in Amsterdam so we would be spending less time in the potentially dangerous country. Unfortunately, the agent I spoke with did not speak English very clearly so I was left a bit confused, and decided to go the written route instead. Despite sending @KLMCanada a message and DM request, I still to this day have heard nothing back. Really?? So, I resorted to messaging @KLM and thankfully they got back to me in a reasonable time frame—though they were not terribly sympathetic to our concerns.
I would like to point out that Singapore Airlines once extended a layover for me in Tokyo with absolutely no questions asked or extra charges (ahem!)…but that’s a story for another day. My husband and I have both also sent e-mails to KLM and have not gotten a single response back—a troubling trend I’ve noticed with airlines including WestJet. I sent them an e-mail about a travel credit question and two months later haven’t gotten a response. But look what happened less than 12 hours after I sent them a DM…
So in summary…Twitter is a traveller’s new best friend!
Now, let’s hope that more airlines take note—or bring their other customer service responses up to the same level. Because let’s face it, sometimes it’s just nicer to talk to a real person.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
- What’s in my wallet? The best credit cards for travel hacking
- Top 10 most ridiculous travel accessories
- INFOGRAPHIC: How to book a trip in 5 steps
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