14 tried-and-true hacks from world travelers — plus, their packing essentials
Holiday travel this year is expected to be intense. After two festive seasons of being grounded, people are more than eager to get on a plane to see their families this year. Experts say there will be fewer flights to choose from which will make it hectic (read: delays and cancellations). That means you might need a little bit of guidance to make your holiday travel as smooth as possible. If practice makes perfect, then I should be pretty on point when it comes to traveling: I've visited 29 countries and counting.
I also know plenty of globetrotters who've far surpassed that number, and all of us have picked up clever travel hacks along the way. From accruing credit card points to packing wisely to getting quality shuteye anywhere, we've been there, learned that.
I asked a bunch of seasoned travelers to share their best tips for roaming around comfortably, efficiently and fairly frugally. I threw in a few of my own, too, along with some useful products to stock up on while you count down to take off. Now if someone can give us all an effective cure for jet lag, we'll be golden!
1. Pack solids and powders instead of liquids.
The TSA allows liquids up to 3.4 ounces (that's 100 milliliters if you're traveling outside the U.S.). Depending on your destination, you might even be required to compartmentalize your liquid toiletries in clear bags and remove them from your carry-on when going through airport security. Who needs the headache?
I've learned to pack non-liquids whenever possible. That includes shampoo, conditioner, soap, shaving cream and laundry detergent: I use bars for all of them. You can go the extra mile and invest in solid lotions, makeup and insect repellents, too. The added benefit is they're spill-proof, so no messy surprises in your luggage. Plus they use less packaging, so they're more eco-friendly and take up less space.
2. Pack light-as-air resistance bands for exercising anywhere
Travel is often an excuse to put your stretching and workout routines on hold, but it doesn't have to be that way. I like to travel with resistance bands, which are so lightweight, they're a blessing and a curse: you might not even remember you packed them!
3. A handheld luggage scale makes airport check-ins a breeze.
"Given the number of bags I travel with, making sure they are at the correct weight saves me a lot of anxiety and headache." — Leila P.
The standard checked-bag weight for most airlines is 50 pounds, which is less generous than it sounds. Many airlines will charge hefty fees for overweight bags — or require you to unpack your suitcase right there at check-in and redistribute items to your carry-on in order to avoid the penalty (this, I can confirm, is a nightmare for everyone involved.) Weighing your bags in advance is the pro move.
4. Distribute your weight wisely.
"I put the heaviest stuff in the carry-on because it rarely gets weighed. And I pack the most important things in my hand luggage, plus enough clothes and underwear for a few days in case the airline loses my luggage." — Cheily Ochoa
We're not saying your luggage will get lost. We're just saying that post-Covid understaffing, among other concerns, has been driving up the number of lost bags lately. Better safe than sorry.
5. Switch out the hotel bedding for silk pillowcases that prevent frizz and wrinkles.
"I travel with a silk pillowcase for less friction on my hair and to maintain my skin. The silk pillowcase allows for a soft surface to maintain the moisture of my curls." — LaVasjah Will
Good news: silk and satin pillowcases are also an excellent anti-aging hack since they help prevent wrinkles. They take up barely any space and weigh next to nothing, so they might actually be the smartest item you pack.
6. Save your spa treatments for overseas trips where it's affordable to pamper yourself.
"A lot of people just throw away money on special massages, like anti-cellulite massages that focus on one specific area. But a full body massage works wonders not only on cellulite but also for circulation. In Thailand, a one-hour massage outside of the hotel spa is the equivalent of no more than $8. I was going for a massage almost every day!" — Karina Das
Why wait till you arrive at your destination? Get the spa started en route!
7. Drown out sleep-disturbing sounds with a white noise machine.
"My USB white noise box allowed me to sleep in Lisbon's party district and everywhere else I stay." — Graham Kendall
We already know that noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones are essential for sleeping on planes, but what about when you arrive at your accommodations? You never know if there's construction outside, a baby next door, middle-of-the-night sanitation workers or crack-of-dawn roosters in the 'hood (travel enough and you'll experience all of these and more). Come prepared.
8. Use luggage organizers instead of dumping everything into a 'black hole.'
"Packing cubes changed my life! It's way easier to find things in my luggage. I have one for small items (underwear, socks, bathing suits) and two bigger ones: one for tops and one for gym clothes so I can keep on training while I travel, which is super important to me." — Irene Gonzalez
A cavernous suitcase increases your chances of losing things when you're packing and unpacking in places you'll never return to. It's also a giant hassle to rummage through if you want to actually get somewhere on time. Organization is key.
9. Get rid of extra chargers and consolidate.
"My laptop charges over USB-C and so does my phone, so I got rid of the phone charger. My electric shaver has a proprietary charger but I found a USB-A charger for it, and I now charge it from my laptop." — Todor Nikolov
Is it my imagination or do electronics somehow drain more quickly when you're on vacation? You simply can't afford the inconvenience and wasted time, so seek out a streamlined solution.
10. Freshen up your luggage for the long haul.
"I toss a couple of fabric softener sheets in my luggage to keep my clothes smelling like fresh laundry." — Merecedes Bezaury
Sachets, a bar of soap...I've heard plenty of ideas for freshening up luggage (I toss the Zote laundry bar above into my bag), but this one is the most clever. You could always use more dryer sheets anyway.
11. Bring your own collapsible to-go cup.
"The HuNu cup is my latest way to avoid unnecessary waste for coffee runs while traveling." — Mercedes Bezaury
Sustainably minded travelers will love this space-saving alternative to disposable cup waste.
12. Tote along a lightweight travel monitor if you plan on getting work done.
"As a digital nomad who works with two screens, I had such a hard time finding a second monitor in the big stores. So I invested in this portable monitor which is the size of a tablet. It comes with a case, and it's super easy to just carry with you. I've opted for the touch screen version because I want the extra flexibility. This is a huge lifesaver." — Francine
You probably never imagined packing an actual computer monitor, but in this work-from-anywhere era, lightweight, packable monitors exist. They connect to your smartphone to, providing a bigger screen for on-the-go entertainment.
13. Use a Chromecast device to stream your smartphone to a TV.
"Streaming from my phone to my TV in any hotel room is so easy. I can't live without it." — Tony Van Bil
Not every accommodation has a smart TV, and even if yours does, you might not want to log into your account from a public device. This is the smartest, most affordable solution.
14. Bring a portable Bluetooth speaker to stream music and more from your smartphone.
This is a tip I hear often, and one I adhere to. Having a speaker in the house when you travel just makes the place feel more like home, and then you can just pop it in your tote bag and head out. No one has ever regretted the decision to BYOS (bring your own speaker).
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