Recently, we polled our readers and staff to hear about their favorite travel tips. Readers chimed in with travel hacks that help save money, plus advice on ways to have a good time on your next trip. Advice recommending travel insurance came pouring in, as did tips on how to save a few bucks while booking flights.
We’ve pulled these amazing tips from expert fliers, business travelers, frequent vacationers, and travel writers together to create a guide to the best travel tips around. Take a look below to see our top travel tips and a list of the best travel gear that we can’t live without.
1. Pack Light
Our top travel tip – from both the ViaTravelers community and our staff writers, is to travel light. If you can pack everything you need for your trip in your carry on luggage, you’ll have an easier time getting around in the airport or train station as well as at your destination.
Packing light can be tricky, though, if you’re not used to it. Work on putting together a capsule wardrobe so you can re-wear shirts and pants in different combinations and you’ll have an easier time scaling down your packing list.
See Related: The Complete Backpacking Checklist for Travelers
2. Pack Light
Always carry a source of light! While cell phones all have flashlights, having a small keychain LED light as a backup for traveling in cities is not a bad idea. Bring a headlamp or small lantern if you’ll travel somewhere a little more remote.
Personally, I almost always travel with a Black Diamond Moji lantern, and it’s come in handy so many times. If I’m driving, it makes for the perfect light to brighten up a dark trunk or back seat while digging through luggage, and if I’m camping, it lights up a whole tent or picnic table.
See Related: Best Travel Accessories and Gear
3. Do Your Research (or use a Travel Agent)
While a lot of travelers can just hop off the plane and go where the wind takes them, for most of us, having a plan – even if it’s just a few ideas – will help us make the most of our trips. Our readers also recommend using a reputable travel agent.
Choosing a travel agent can be tough – there are a lot of multi-level marketing (MLM) companies out there that claim to train travel agents, but these are more often than not scams, or otherwise unhelpful.
Use an agent with good reviews that’s part of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and endorsed by other major companies, like AAA or The Travel Institute. It’s a good idea to meet with your travel agent face-to-face, too, rather than use online agencies that may or may not be up to snuff.
If you don’t want to go the travel agent route, join a Facebook group for the area where you’ll be traveling, and ask for travel tips and itinerary inspiration from locals and frequent visitors.
Be sure to download Google Maps for your location ahead of time, too, so you don’t have to rely on a strong internet connection to get around.
4. Don’t be afraid to travel solo
Jacks, a ViaTravelers writer, sent in her thoughts from 30,000 feet on her way to Norway:
I like traveling alone because it gives me a huge sense of accomplishment. I enjoy my own company, and when I’m in solo-mode, I don’t have to worry about if others are having fun, coordinating itineraries, or anything else. Plus, I tend to travel to remote destinations that my friends don’t want to visit!
I tend to travel very spontaneously and follow the deal not necessarily the destination, and my type A, 9-5 friends just can’t keep up.
That’s not to say that it’s always safe to head out to a destination alone. When traveling solo, there are a few things to keep in mind. Jackie says:
Don’t tell strangers that you’re traveling solo and don’t reveal your hotel or lodging. Do some research so you know about common crimes where you are, and as tempting as it may be, don’t immediately post your photos and videos to social media. Stay a few days ahead of whatever you’re posting on the internet.
There are a lot of apps that can help you feel safer as a solo traveler, including Google Maps, the “Find My” iPhone app, and review sites like Tripadvisor or Yelp.
See Related: Essential Solo Travel Luggage & Accessories
5. Travel with loved ones, too!
While solo travel can be exhilarating, there’s a lot to be said about making memories with the people you love and having a companion can make a trip more fulfilling, more adventurous, and more fun.
Personally, I’m not much of a solo traveler. I’d rather share experiences and make memories with friends and family, snap photos together in front of landmarks, and head out on hikes with someone to talk to. The few times I have ventured out by myself, I was more hesitant to stray from my plan and less likely to explore certain trails, dirt roads, or downtowns.
I spend a lot of time in grizzly country, too, so I try to bring my slowest friends on hikes and group camping trips, as an added precaution.
See Related: Best Vacations for a Group of Friends
6. Prioritize saving for travel
Everyone always talks about how expensive it is to travel – but if you get familiar with travel hacks, dial in your frequent flyer account, sign up for services to help you find cheap flights, and are willing to jump on the next flight deal you see, you’ll soon find yourself globetrotting on a dime.
Budget travelers can attest to the benefits of travel hacks that help with saving money for flights, hotels, and more. If you take advantage of all the ways to beef up your frequent flyer account, you might even qualify for some free travel sooner than you think!
Some other money-saving hacks include looking for free walking tours, visiting tourist attractions in the off-season, opening a credit card with a sign-up bonus, and watching flight prices like a hawk.
Services like Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) have helped all of us find airline tickets and plan amazing trips for way less than you would expect.
7. Journal your trip
Journaling your trip looks a little different these days. In the past, travelers carried small notebooks and jotted down their experiences, or snapped photos on film to develop later. Now, we have so many easy ways to remember our trip. With voice memos and high-quality cameras on every cell phone, there’s no excuse to not make a log of what you’re doing each day, and how you feel about it.
Of course, plenty of travelers still do write down their recaps at the end of the day, whether that be on a classic Moleskine or in the Notes app on their phone. However you choose to do it, documenting your trip is something you’ll appreciate later.
See Related: Minimalist Travel Accessories for Traveling Light
8. Slow down and enjoy every moment
One theme that came up in a lot of our reader responses was that travel is not a race. “It will be over way too soon – leave room in your schedule for spontaneity” was one piece of advice relayed in the thread.
Mindfulness in your travel will help you create lasting memories and let you truly appreciate the time you’re spending away from home, getting to know your global neighbors.
Don’t be afraid to shake up your routine, too. I usually sleep in on vacation, but when I heard a 4 a.m. thunderstorm rolling into Grand Teton National Park, I jumped out of bed and drove to watch the sunrise over Oxbow Bend. I was betting that the weather would have brought some clouds in, and losing sleep was worth it for the view that I got.
9. Be prepared for anything to happen
Truly, you never know what could happen when you travel. Go into your trip with a mindset that things may change, and you’ll make the best out of whatever situation you find yourself in.
This past winter, I was skiing at Snowbird when an unexpected natural avalanche came crashing through Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon. The resort (and neighboring Alta) was put into “Interlodge,” which meant we weren’t allowed to leave the building we were in.
Our Interlodge only lasted a few hours, but the week after, there was a four-day Interlodge, which meant anyone who traveled up the canyon for a day trip was suddenly there for an extended stay.
Another time, I was driving through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and my car’s brakes locked up and nearly skidded us off the side of the mountain. I got towed out of the park and spent the day in Culpepper instead. It all worked out – and I got a bonus weekend back in the park when I came back down to pick up my car!
On your next trip, be ready for the unexpected. You might have a trip that goes off without a hitch, or you might get stranded in Iceland due to a volcano interrupting air traffic. Either way, when a situation is out of your control, do your best to have a good time.
This is also when I really should remind you to purchase travel insurance because a trip with some hiccups is always easier to cope with when you’re reimbursed for missed flights, medical care, or replacement gear.
See Related: Best Cancel Anytime Travel Insurance
10. Know your airline’s rules for luggage
Before you pack, double-check your airline’s luggage policy. This tip is particularly important for anyone who picks their trips based on the best flight deals and is proud of finding cheap flights to dreamy destinations.
You may be surprised to know that each specific airline has different rules and luggage sizes. Frontier is known for listing luggage sizes online that don’t correspond to their sizer, so be extra aware if you’re flying on a budget airline. Spirit, Ryanair, and Easyjet all have rules on how much luggage you can bring.
Even full-fare carriers like American, United, and Jet Blue often sell Basic Economy tickets that only allow personal items and bags that would normally be considered carry on luggage may need to be checked.
11. Have paper copies of everything
We can’t stress this enough – carry a paper copy of everything. Passport and license? Make a copy. Boarding pass? Print it ahead of time or at the airport. Chances are you won’t need these extra copies – but if you do, you’ll be so lucky you thought ahead.
Stuff paper copies of passports and other important travel documents in a safe and secure internal luggage pocket and you won’t know they’re there unless you need them.
Digital boarding passes can be hard to pull up when the free wifi at the airport doesn’t work, so having a paper copy is a good idea as a backup. If you do travel with paper boarding passes as your main way to get on the plane, keep an ear out for gate changes, departure changes, and other modifications to your travel day.
12. Understand local customs and traditions
If you’re traveling internationally, do some reading on local customs and traditions before catching your flight. Oftentimes, in a foreign country, etiquette can be a lot different than at home!
In some countries, you’ll want to dress modestly. In others, tipping is considered insulting. Formality and familiarity vary in different cultures, and you’ll get the most out of your trip if you make some effort to respect local traditions.
It’s also important to take seriously the sacred status of sites throughout the world. What may be a fun tourist attraction to you might be a centuries-old heritage site. Be respectful, no matter where you may be.
13. Carry safe water
One of the most important travel tips you’ll hear again and again is to stay hydrated and make sure you’ve got a safe source of water. In some countries, that might mean buying water for drinking and brushing your teeth.
In other countries or on backpacking excursions, you’ll want to carry a water filter. I like the Sawyer filter — to me, Lifestraw is too hard to use and much bulkier. Epic Water Filters also makes a filter that sits right in a standard Nalgene bottle.
Don’t assume that your Brita bottle or filter will make water safe to drink – but it can certainly make safe water taste a whole lot better. Water additives can also make staying hydrated more pleasant.
Kyle, our Editor-in-Chief, swears by Liquid IV. Jacks prefers powdered Gatorade packets. As for me, you’ll never catch me boarding a plane without some Airborne on hand. All of these water-enhancing powders can make it past airport security run by the TSA, and we’ve never had issues abroad.
See Related: The Ultimate Backpacking Through Europe Itinerary
14. Have backup credit cards and ways to access them
It’s always a good idea to have a backup credit card in your luggage or in a mobile wallet. That way, if your wallet gets lost or stolen, you’re not completely out of luck. It’s also helpful to stash a few extra bucks in your carry-on bag – emergency cash has gotten me out of quite a few jams.
Most banks will let you load a credit card into your phone or smart watch’s mobile wallet, too. It’s a (generally) secure way to pay for things in an emergency. Many vendors that take tap-to-pay will also take mobile payments.
Speaking of credit cards, before you head out, look into if your card comes with lounge access. Some travel credit cards do allow you to get into an airport lounge (hello, free food!). Check to see what the card’s foreign transaction fee is, too, so you can avoid any surprises.
See Related: Best Credit Cards For Travel Perks (Ranked!)
15. Be aware of your surroundings
Stuart Jameson, a ViaTravelers writer who has been to 71 countries and even hitchhiked from Germany to Cambodia, has this to say about safety while traveling:
Here’s a serious one for travel safety – practice situational awareness. Always notice the world around you, where people are, and where you’re going. Be mindful of distractions, and acknowledge where and when you’re pulling out valuables like cameras, wallets, and phones.
Note exit routes. Pay attention to the pace of your surroundings. It’s not to put the fear into anyone, but it will help significantly when you’re traveling in an unfamiliar/potentially insalubrious place — this goes double if you’re drinking or partaking in any other substances.
Some other tips to help you stay safe while traveling:
- Be aware of the weather hazards in your vacation spot. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or floods can change up a vacation in an unexpected way.
- Do some research on the safety of your destination. While most of the world is plenty safe, certain cities, districts, or countries can be particularly dangerous at times.
- Make sure someone at home knows your plans and your location, even if you’re traveling in a group.
- Learn about the wildlife wherever you’re traveling. In some parts of the world, it’s perfectly safe to cross streams and rivers, and in others, you’ll be gobbled up by a gator before you can take any fun travel photos to share. Bears, snakes, bison, and crocs are just some of the hazards you may encounter.
See Related: Best Family Vacation Ideas in Germany
Must-Have Travel Products
Our readers and staff writers also chimed in on their must-have travel products and gear. These are things that we always make room for in our bags, and if you don’t already use them to up your travel game, you’ll want to consider joining the crowd.
1. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are an absolute packing game changer. It’s not necessarily about packing MORE stuff, packing cubes also help organize your pack and keep your suitcase from distorting.
2. Noise-Canceling Headphones
Quality noise-canceling headphones top Stu’s packing list. Not only is it less anxiety-inducing to be on a plane when you can’t hear every creak, bump, or squeal – but it’s also really nice to be able to get some sleep without having to worry about cabin noise or upset babies. A good pair of over-ear headphones is one of our top picks for anxious travelers.
Regardless of whether you choose active noise-canceling or passive noise-canceling headphones, you’ll want to make sure they’re comfortable for long-haul flights. Nothing’s worse than being two hours into a long flight and realizing your ears hurt and you’ve got to take a break from your podcast, movie, or playlist.
See Related: Best Gadgets for Long Flights & Travel
3. Apple Airtags
Apple Airtags is a newer product that has taken the travel industry by storm. Throw a tag in each piece of your luggage and you’ll be able to keep an eye on checked bags or track a bag in case it goes missing.
One of my favorite packing tips is to tuck an air tag into the lining of your checked or carry-on bag. Nobody will know it’s there, and you’ll be able to track your luggage down super quickly in case it gets mishandled on your flight.
4. Toiletries & Medications
Two ViaTravelers writers had important advice about toiletries and health. Sarah Oliver recommends carrying more tissues than you may need – you never know when a poorly timed sneeze is going to put you in an awkward situation, and allergies can ruin a day in a split second if you’re not prepared.
Woodrow Matthews, on the other hand, never travels without his giant pharmacy bag of “just in case” medications. As someone who ended up with a migraine on my last layover, being prepared is a much better move than having to buy overpriced ibuprofen in the airport.
It’s also important to have a good set of toiletry bottles for travel. Opening a suitcase to find that your shampoo leaked all over your clothes is a surefire way to start your trip in a bad mood. We love the Matador Flatpak bottles, as they’re space-saving, waterproof, and pretty sturdy. They’ve never leaked on dozens of trips I’ve taken with my set.
5. Hero Clip
My all-time favorite travel accessory is my Hero Clip. I’ll admit it’s a bit gimmicky and overpriced, but it’s saved me so many times. I can hang my backpack or purse up in an airport bathroom, hang my tech pouch off the back of the plane, attach my pillow or coat to my suitcase, and so much more. It really makes carry-on only travel easier.
Hero Clips come in several sizes and colors – I chose the small one and it suits my needs as a minimalist packer. Families may want to grab a larger clip, so that it’s easier to hang off of a stroller, or it can carry more weight.
6. Tech Pouch / Plane Pouch
We’ve got a thing for tech pouches here at ViaTravelers. Between the innovative and stylish Peak Design tech pouch that we recently reviewed and the Tripped Travel Gear budget-friendly tech pouch that a few of us carry, you’ll find our team is as organized as can be.
We love our tech pouches because they make travel so much easier. Rather than digging through our bags, we can just pull out a pouch that has snacks, travel documents, cables, chargers, batteries, storage, e-readers, small tablets, headphones… just about everything you need for long flights or train rides.
I’ve gotten into the habit of using my Hero Clip to hang my tech pouch off the seat back in front of me on a plane, and then I can leave my under-seat or overhead bag alone for the rest of the trip.
7. Shemagh, Sarong, or Travel Cardigan
One thing that came up in our reader responses and in our writer discussion was the importance of having a travel scarf or cardigan. Our editor, James Oliver, travels with a comfortable shemagh to help him stay warm and look cool. It also has its uses as an emergency towel, as well as a light blanket or foldable pillow when camping.
I love a cheap sarong I picked up in New Orleans (of all places!) because it can be repurposed into a scarf, a cover-up, or even a foot-sling on the plane. Amanda has a travel cardigan from Urban Undercover that she says is one of her favorite things in the whole world.
Having a multi-purpose garment like the above can keep you warm on the plane, help you cover up if you’re entering a place where you need to dress modestly or make you a little more comfortable while elevating your usual travel outfits. There’s truly something to be said for multi-purpose travel gear!