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20 Smart Travel Hacks You Should Know

Over the years we’ve lived and learned from our own time spent on the road. We’ve chatted up fellow travel nuts, and we’ve done plenty of research to find the most clever, creative, and efficient time-saving and stress-reducing hacks every traveler should know—and we compiled them all into this handy list. We’ve included some obvious (yet oft-forgotten) tips, as well as some clever beat-the-system hacks, too. From the moment you book a ticket or tour till you’re unpacking your souvenirs, these 20 time-saving travel hacks will help to streamline your trips, ease some headaches, and make sure you’re spending as much time as possible in blissed-out vacation mode.

Pack Light (and Try Not to Check a Bag)

This might honestly be one of the best time saving hacks out there—and for some, one of the hardest to accomplish. But take our word for it: Most people overpack. There are tons of guides on how to pack light by either rolling clothes military style, using mix-and-match basics, bringing lightweight fabrics, and paring down on toiletries, so look and learn. If you can avoid checking a bag, you’ll not only be able to bypass all those other guys who have to wait forever for their luggage to deplane, but you’ll fly through customs, be able to grab a cab before the line gets out of control, and generally move around more swiftly throughout your entire trip. Plus, thinning out your suitcase pads your budget with the money saved on checked baggage fees.

Mark Your Checked Baggage As Fragile

If you just can’t help yourself and you need to check a bag, mark it as “Fragile.” This should not only ensure that your bag gets handled with care, but also that it’s got a prime spot in the cargo and is first off the plane—meaning, your bag is one of the first bags on the baggage claim belt and you’re off and into a cab to your final destination before everyone else can ask, “Where’s the Smartcarte?”

Email a Copy of Your Itinerary and Important ID Documents to Yourself

The last thing you want to happen on a trip is for your stuff to get stolen. While your clothes, camera, and money are all high-priority items, the top of the list is your identity. Good luck trying to get much of the other things replaced or recovered without proper ID! So first things first, email yourself a copy of your passport, driver’s license, and any documents with reservation numbers on them so at least you know you’re covered in a bag snatching scenario. It’ll save you a lot of time and massive headaches if you can prove you are who you say you are, and you know when and where you need to be.

Notify Your Bank and Credit Card Companies That You’ll Be Traveling

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many people forget or fail to light the fire under this hack. It’s usually as easy as filling out a travel form online. Forgetting to do this can cause major problems, along with massive delays in doing (or at least paying for) just about anything. So while we’re at it, we suggest you bring a bit of cash with you to at least cover essentials for the first 24 to 48 hours…just in case your banks don’t get the memo.

Use ATM and Credit Cards Instead of Exchanging Money

Let’s settle this once and for all: 99 percent of the time your bank will have the best possible exchange rate. So stop wasting time and money locating and exchanging bills at those currency exchanges, or paying in your home currency at those all-too-happy independent vendors. Grab money—in the local currency—from ATMs, or pay with a credit card to save time—and your hard earned cash. But beware: International transaction fees can definitely add up, so it’s wise to grab a travel-friendly credit card that doesn’t add them. Certain Charles Schwab checking accounts refund all your ATM fees, at home and abroad.

Mix Some Quick-Dry Clothes into Your Wardrobe

Quick-dry clothes are the jam. Why waste money on expensive hotel laundry services or spend time waiting for a shirt to dry when you can just wash whatever you want to wear at the end of the day and rest assured when you wake up it’ll be so fresh and so clean (clean)—and dry?! Even if its just a few basic items, packing in some quick-dry wardrobe pieces, including underwear, can save you oodles of time and suitcase space.

Put All of Your Electrical Items in an Old Toiletry Bag

Don’t waste anymore time fishing around your bag for your electronics and chargers. Throw them all into a water-resistant, zippered toiletry bag, making them easy to find, easy to decipher, and safe from spills. We’ve been known to throw our cell phone chargers, iPod chargers, camera batteries, SD cards, and anything else you’d rather not go on a search for or replace if there’s a leak (or rainstorm).

Stuff Some Plastic Grocery Bags into Your Suitcase

Pack a few extra plastic grocery bags in with your stuff. This ole trick is super simple and comes in handy often. Don’t want to wait for that wet suit to dry, or have the time to clean off those sandy sneakers? Throw them in a bag! We also love using plastic bags to cover our cameras and phones when we are caught in an unexpected downpour, and they’re great as on-the-go laundry bags so you don’t spend time sifting through what’s clean and what’s…not.

Bring Your Own Eye Mask and Earplugs

Anyone who has ever lost a night (or four) of sleep while traveling can tell you this hack is worth its weight in golden sheep. While some international aerial routes may offer masks and earplugs in complimentary kits, it’s nice to rest assured that you have your own. The plane isn’t the only place where you stand chance to benefit from a little peace and quiet, and chances are you’ll find use for your two new best friends almost everywhere—trains, automobiles, hotels, hostels, ships…even back at home!

Pack an Infinity Scarf

The infinity scarf is like the soybean of travel necessities. It should already be on your must-bring list since you can twist it into several different wardrobe items, from scarves, to skirts, to shirts, to dresses, to whatever—but these wonderful stretches of cloth can be used for so much more. Think pillow, face cover, over-the-shoulder beach bag, dust mask, wrapping breakable items in your suitcase thingy, etc!

Set Up Google Maps to Work Offline

Such a time-saver, this one! If you don’t have internet while abroad, or you’re thinking about getting it just to use for navigation (but don’t want to spend the cash)—fret no more. While you’ve still got connection, pull up a map of where you’ll need to navigate and type “OK maps” into the search box. This saves the screen for offline use. You can also drop pins or mark specific places of interest since you won’t be able to search for them offline. For extra security, you can even take several screen shots of specific areas at different zoom lengths. This should save tons of time getting from point A to point Z.

Charge Your USB-able Devices through the Hotel Television

Didn’t bring an adapter or have more than one thing that needs to charge? No big—just head toward your hotel room’s television. Most modern televisions have USB input ports in the back so you can just plug in and charge on-the-go devices like cell phones, iPods, iPads, and point-and-shoot cameras.

Use a Currency Convertor App on Your Phone

Install a currency convertor app like XE Currency Exchange on your phone. These not only save time from doing mental math (that stuff’s just for elementary school), but can end up saving you from getting ripped off (since mental math is just for elementary school and maybe isn’t your strong suit). Even if you don’t have data on your phone, most apps will work off of the conversion rates from the last sync, so you’ll at least be in the right ballpark. Tip: If you are going to bargain for an item, plug in what the most amount of money you’re willing to spend on the item is so you have a stronger bargaining stance from the get-go.

Grab a Cab from the Departures Zone

Just arrived and noticed the taxi line is staggeringly long? Change your plan of attack, skip the line, and head over to the departures drop-off area and grab a cab from there. Since all cabs will be dropping people off and either heading back to town or down to the dreaded arrivals taxi line, there’s no competition—and if bargaining is the norm, you might be able to negotiate a lower rate. Obviously, this might not work at all airports depending on the terminal set up, but when it does, it feels like a steal!

Act Like You Know the Area If You’re Worried about Getting Ripped Off

Many times when you pop into a cab from the airport, the driver will ask if you are from the area. Generally, we suggest you say “yes,” because this can often be a means of finding out whether or not you’ll notice them taking the long way. If it’s obvious you aren’t from around the area, or if you feel uncomfortable telling a bold-faced lie, say you visit friends frequently or have family that live here. This should avoid any unnecessary side roads that translate into higher fares.

Pack a Small First-Aid Kit

Depending where you are traveling, you can save a lot of time and pain by packing a small DIY first-aid kit. At minimum, throw some aspirin and/or Tylenol, cotton swabs, regular band-aids, a little tube of anti-bacterial cream, and maybe some chewable stomach antacids for good measure into a ziploc bad or small sunglasses case and you should be set. These basics can be hard to find (or hard to mime if you don’t speak the language), and having a personal on-hand stash will make you feel prepared.

Compartmentalize Your Suitcase with Collapsible Cloth Boxes

After a few days or hotel changes, chances are it looks like a tornado hit inside your luggage. Solution? Get some small collapsible cloth boxes from places like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond and you’ve got an easy-peasy compartmentalized system inside your suitcase! A box each for toiletries, socks, underwear, bras, shorts and pants, shirts—you name it, there can be a spot for it. The best are the adjustable ones so you can change the sizes of the boxes on the go to suit your needs and allow for a “dirty laundry” compartment.

Create an Email Folder for Your Trip

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but again, you’d be surprised how easy it is to overlook. Organizing a trip can be a long process, particularly if you’re a down-to-every-last-detail planner. Create a folder or label in your email for your trips and send every confirmation, itinerary, receipt, and document that corresponds to your trip its way. Heck, you can even take a screenshot of each email on your phone. This way you’ve got easy access to confirmation numbers, record locators, frequent flyer numbers, names, and addresses—all in one place so you don’t have to spend time searching through your inbox when it’s go time.

Learn Some Key Phrases

Nothing speeds things up in a foreign country like speaking the language—or at least un peu of it. We recommend packing a small phrasebook in your bag so you don’t have to memorize a bunch of random phrases, but if you can’t find the space, just knowing a few simple phrases from “please” and “thank you,” to counting, to “where is…” with a few essentials like “bathroom,” “hotel,” “restaurant,” and/or “hospital” can save time, and is often appreciated.

Get Global Entry

While this may only make sense for those who travel frequently, a top time-saver, without a doubt, is Global Entry. How much of your travel time is spent waiting in excruciatingly long and slow-moving lines at the airport. Global Entry holders get perks straight upon arrival, all the way to touching down and heading through customs. Picture: No removing laptops, no taking off your shoes, breezing through customs and immigration… Ahhh, we can almost hear the collective sigh of relief.

—Katherine Alex Beaven

This article was originally published by under the headline The 20 Most Important Travel Hacks You Should Know. It is reprinted here with permission.

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