15 Travel Tips To Save Time, Money, And Frustration

15 holiday travel tips to save time, money and frustration. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Whether you’ll be traveling on vacation, or to spend time with family over the holidays, getting there can be stressful. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks (I hate the word “hacks”…it makes me think of cats and hairballs, and I mean this isn’t MacGuyver level stuff!) that can make travel a little more pleasant and manageable.

15 Holiday Travel Tips

Before You Go…

  • Even if you don’t travel frequently, it may be worth your while to look into joining an airline mileage program. There are many credit cards that allow you to accumulate miles when used for everyday expenses like groceries, gas and such. Look for airlines that are part of an “alliance,” so that miles accumulated can be used toward multiple airlines. Some offer sign-up bonuses, which give a jump-start on racking up points or miles. (This is how we’ve been able to take many of our trips.)
  • If you’re planning to travel with carry-on luggage, be sure to check your airline’s size and weight restrictions. These can vary from airline to airline, and may be more strictly enforced on fully booked flights or during peak travel times.
  • Consider signing up for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry (if you’ll be traveling outside the US). Though there’s a fee and some time involved to submit paperwork and show up to an interview, it will save lots of time in lines and headaches getting through security, immigration and customs. I consider this some of the best travel money we’ve ever spent!
  • Be sure any toiletries or liquids you’re planning to carry on are TSA compliant and packed in a clear plastic container, easily accessible for going through security. (Though with TSA Pre-Check you can usually leave inside your luggage.) I often use the clear plastic zip pouch from my EMME bag.
  • Download, register, and allow notifications from your airline’s smartphone app. This is a great way to stay on top of delays, gate changes, connections, and baggage claim information.

On Your Way

  • Dress comfortably and in layers. Airline cabins can be notorious for fluctuating temperatures, and being able to add or remove pieces is crucial. I usually wear one of these silk tanks as a base layer, then a lighter weight top plus a sweater and/or wrap.
  • If you don’t want to pay airport prices for bottled water, bring an empty bottle through security, and fill up at a water fountain on the other side. I’ve even begun to see “bottle filling stations” with free filtered water in some airport terminals.
  • You may or may not need to remove shoes going through airport security, but I always wear a pair that I can slip off and put back on easily (no laces!), and always wear socks underneath. (I usually bring a pair of compression socks to wear during long flights as well.)
  • Sleep aids: I’m not one of those people who falls asleep easily on airplanes. I always bring an eye mask, and earplugs. I’ve also found that taking Dramamine (original formula) about 30 minutes before I want to sleep makes me just drowsy enough to nod off for a while, without being groggy upon landing. Bonus: keeps my stomach settled if there’s any turbulence. Some people swear by neck pillows, but I’ve found them more of an annoyance than help. If they work for you, great!
  • Pack a snack! Even for short trips…you never know when you might be delayed or stuck at the airport after everything’s closed. Nuts, protein bars, cheese sticks, fruit…anything non-liquid will get through security.

At Your Destination

  • Forgot your shave gel? Hair conditioner works brilliantly!
  • Shampoo works well for hand washing sweaters and delicate items.
  • Solid deodorant can be used to reduce friction and prevent chafing and blisters. Just apply to the affected area.
  • When adjusting to a different time zone, get out in natural light and walk as much as possible.
  • I find that eating lighter for the first 24 hours after a flight or long road trip can help prevent bloating and “traveler’s tummy.” And don’t forget to drink lots of water!
Lo & Sons Pearl crossbody bag, my favorite for travel! Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Don’t miss this: select colors of my favorite travel bag are up to 60% off this week! This bag would be a great gift for the traveler on your list!

Set of 6 packing cubes in pink. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

And these packing cube sets of 6 (several colors available) are just $29.99 with code ENJOY. Gift idea for the family who travels: get each member a set in a different color to help everyone find their own things easily.

What are your tried-and-true travel tips? Will you be traveling over the holidays?

See also: Advance Travel Prep5 Things I Always Carry On

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  1. I don’t know what it is about rental car companies, but it seems like every so often we hit one at an airport where their Internet service is out. That always results in manual operations and dreadful lines. We have frequent renter accounts with several rental car places and they’re helpful if you can’t stand to wait through 10 people in front of you who all want to check out with a credit card without enough credit for the hold on it, you can rent a car with a competitior quickly.

  2. Most of the very frequent travelers I know buy luggage and other travel accessories at TJMaxx. The selections vary, but more and more often, the high end brands are also represented (Tumi, Bric ,Lipault, have all been there recently) and the prices are seriously discounted over any store sale. Plus, there is no one looking askance if you decide to wheel your bag around the whole store to be sure it moves well in all directions. My favorite place to look for comfortable travel clothing is Athleta. I am by no means an athlete, but their wide selection of pants can fit almost every need, and never ever stretch out, and they always carry a wide selection of stylish looking waterproof outerwear. And: they carry both petites and plus sizes in most styles.

  3. And be aware that even if your carry-on luggage meets airline size and weight requirements, you still might be forced to “gate check” it if you’re traveling on a smaller plane. This happened to us and the 15 minutes it took for the airline to unload it caused us to miss two international connecting flights. (And we had allowed plenty of time between connections; the first flight was delayed due to mechanical problems and then weather.)

    1. Yes–your long flight might be no problem, but a smaller connection will get your wheeled carry-on gate-checked. Have your important stuff (prescription meds, electronics) in a small bag that you can keep with you even if your carry-on is gate-checked.
      Check your phone’s calling and data plan before heading overseas so you don’t get ugly surprises.
      A blow-up neck pillow is enough to hold your head in place while sleeping and is much smaller than one of those bulky foam or bead-filled things.
      Waterproof your shoes before leaving.

  4. One rule I have always lived by since I was a teenager is, never travel with more than you can carry comfortably BY YOURSELF – because you never know when you are going to have to! All the planning in the world can’t take every circumstance into account and, more than once, things have not gone as expected (vehicle breakdowns, wheels broken, restricted hotel access up mountains of steps! ) and it was everyone for themselves. This rule also keeps me from overpacking those things I probably don’t need anyway! Happy trails everyone!

    1. I don’t think I have ever traveled to Europe without having to carry my bag up a long flight of stairs. You may never know WHEN, but sooner or later you WILL.
      It’s really no problem to pack everything you need in a carry-on. It’s all about layering. No matter how long the trip, you really only have to pack for 3-4 days if you are willing to hand-wash now and then.

      1. I live up two long flights of stairs, but true, it is harder when you are tired and jet-lagged. Lynn, it can be problematic if your are dealing with two different climates (Netherlands and central Italy) or with work and hiking, for example. That is why there are tutorials.

    2. And you should always be able to lift your bag into the overhead bin yourself. There may not always be someone kind enough to help you.

  5. We travel to Europe twice a year and we follow many of your suggestions. The Global Entry Card is amazing, so great to not have to take off your shoes or remove electronics or liquids, not to mention breezing through passport control on the return home. Another must is compression socks. I used to get swollen ankles and legs aches. We also joined British Air program as we have found the best prices through them from Denver and save on tickets each year. We’re off to Italy next week, so nice to see your tips!

  6. Don’t assume the airline entertainment will be to your liking; especially on a long flight it’s best to come prepared. We just had a 10 hour flight to/from Beijing and Air China’s entertainment selection, not surprisingly, was less than thrilling. Luckily I had a good book, but it would have also been nice to have a movie or two downloaded to my iPad. And don’t forget a charging cable. Also, a rule we follow is to fly non-stop if at all possible, even if it costs more.

  7. I have been preparing a travel itinerary for many years for local and international travel. Purchase the bright yellow or red travel luggage tags from Travel Smith and slip the itinerary inside and a copy inside your luggage. If luggage is lost, it is a record of everywhere you are staying and flight info and your emergency contact. I leave one with pet sitter and one in my purse. Not only is it great for your trip at a glance,but getting any lost luggage to you. Your luggage stands out with the bright tags coming down conveyor at baggage pick up.

    1. Great idea for a thriller: luggage is lost/stolen, bad guys discover itinerary in luggage tag. The chase is on, with our heroine managing to stay one step ahead of her pursuers despite having only one change of underwear in her Lo & Sons crossbody bag.

  8. The absolute #1 travel accessory for me is the TripIt app. I am a frequent traveler and I couldn’t do it without Tripit. It keeps all of your travel information in one place, so you never have to search for a confirmation number, a boarding pass, or the address of that air b&b. You can check in for flights through the app as well. There’s a free version which works well, but If you want to upgrade, the premium version is $49 a year and will help you find alternate flights if yours is delayed, and also has a seat tracker function to automatically search for that aisle seat you wanted! I seriously love it.

    1. Yes, yes, yes to the TripIt app. keeps me organized and everything is in one place. also the flight view app which lets you track your flight as well as the flight before your flight so that you can see in advance if your likely to have a delay

  9. Great tips, especially the TSA pre check tip. Our holiday travel will be by car to visit family. I have recently started using packing cubes. I can pack less and they help me avoid bringing unnecessary items. I don’t unpack at our destination so the cubes help me stay very organized. No more rummaging around in a suitcase. I divide my clothing by type in the cubes. For example, pants in one, tops in another. There are many brands and price ranges available.

    1. I second the usefulness of travel cubes both for packing and staying organized during the trip. I’m a real nerd and label mine with labeling tape.

    2. I’ve saved those clear plastic zippered bags that sheets, blankets, etc come in, decided they would be great for travel. Have used on several trips, and they work great. Being clear, it’s easy to see what’s inside. Roll up everything to maximize space.

  10. When carrying meds, keep a list of med name/doctor name & phone #. In suitcase keep copy of itinerary should luggage need to be forwarded.

  11. I book a hotel near or at the airport, so that I can head straight to bed after a long overnight flight. Then I get up in time for supper and head to bed early. Arrival day is a write-off, but better than losing a week to illness. Jet lag has always been my nemesis. The tips about eating lightly and staying hydrated are helpful. By the morning after arrival, I’m hungry and ready to roll.

    My latest discovery was to take melatonin the night before departure, again once the flight is airborne, and the first night of my stay. If only overseas flights were in daylight hours!

    East to west travel isn’t a problem, but we cram so much into our holidays that we need a few days of down time before getting back to routine at home.

    For some reason, spring and fall travel is easier than winter and summer travel for jet lag. Daylight hours?

    And one more thing…wherever possible, I’d rather take a direct flight to my destination, or travel with the same airline when making connections. This makes things simpler if things go wrong.

  12. And I always carry an extra pair of prescription eyeglasses along with a photo in my phone of the prescription, just in case.

  13. You’re my go to person for travel. Fortunately I’ve been reading you for so long I’ve rolled your ideas into my travel plans. Yes, I’ve got Global Travel plus TSA, wore a very cool looking athletic outfit for 14 hours of travel, packing less, and enjoying it more. Oh and yes, every time I buy an apple it goes towards miles for travel or a hotel stay. I do find it hard to use those miles for travel. The airplanes make it very difficult to get the flights you want. So we’ve been using them for the hotel stay. Thanks for all your trips! They work.

  14. I wish there were a link for Eileen Fisher leggings in Plus size. Thanks. I love your travel tips and tricks. Great information!

  15. If you are ordering a shuttle or car service, order one for several hours before your departure. Once our shuttle driver was an hour late and when she did arrive and we told her that we still had 4 hours to make a 1 hour drive to the airport, she and everyone else were able to relax. Another time, trying to leave Paris, the other passenger in my shuttle was late coming down then we hit terrible traffic due to a severe car accident. The late passenger was completely stressed out and I was OK, because again, I booked way in advance. (Plus I think Charles de Gaulle Airport is the most civilized airport I’ve ever been to so waiting is very comfortable.)

    If you have a connecting flight where your connection is a point of entry, two or three hours is not going to be enough and will make for a very stressful transfer because you will have to go through customs and immigration. For example, coming back from Spain, our U.S. entry was Miami with a connection to San Francisco. The flight to San Francisco actually gave our seats away by the time we got there and was nice enough to seat us anyway (albeit separately) so we could at least get on the flight home. Lesson, point of entry connections/layovers need 4 hours minimum!

    Love your website Susan!

    1. I take it that Charles de Gaulle has been reconfigured, as I’ve always found it horrid, and I speak fluent French. I did love having a regional (suburban to city and vice-versa) railway line just outside the airport, though.

  16. I have had some luck with the naturopathic supplement for jet lag called No More Jet Lag, just follow the directions on the package. Maybe it is really “mind over matter” but, whatever, it seems to help a lot!

    1. I’ll second that. Even my “born to be sceptic” husband raves about them. We flew from here in New Zealand to England, which was around 26 hours, and we had no jetlag in either direction.

  17. Amazing suggestions by all! My newest addition to preparation is to set up transportation from airport to first hotel at the destination – especially if coming off a long haul flight. It’s just so disorienting and annoying to do it at the moment of arrival. Better yet, have a couple of places that look good to eat right by your hotel on arrival day….that way, when your famished, you don’t have to start from scratch to figure it out while jet lagged

  18. Great tips! I’ve started downloading some Netflix choices on my iPad before flights so I have options for entertainment. Audiobooks are also great, and the sound of someone storytelling in my ear seems to help me to sleep a little. A wrap of some sort is a must for the plane, as are snacks of almonds and raisins packed from home.

    We used to have the worst meals on our first nights in a new place, after wandering around looking, being tired and cranky – just not a good situation. Now I always research places within walking distance of our new home base so we have just one or two choices ready, and mapped ahead of time so I know where to go.

    Need I mention Google Maps downloadable offline maps which are searchable? They’ve changed the way we travel! And when you’re on Wifi you can look up local transit options, too — I map the route on my iPad and take a screenshot so I can use it later when I’m offline.

    Finally, as a tea nerd (okay, tea fanatic!) I always pack my mug, loose tea and a strainer in my luggage. Making my familiar tea in the new place is a little ritual that sets the world right, and has me ready to start exploring.

  19. Lots of great ideas! I always take a carry on that will fit under the seat with my essentials. Earphones, iPad, any medicine needed and a change of underwear and fresh top. This has come in handy more than once! I keep a wrap and snack in there too. It is my purse as well. I like a tote with several inside and outside pockets to make it easier to find things. Happy travels everyone!

  20. Noise-cancelling headphones are a lifesaver for me on flights of any length and well worth the investment. I use the Bose earbuds, and, when I’m not watching a movie, etc., turn on RainRain or another white noise app and try to sleep. It’s amazing how loud the roar of the plane seems without them.

    1. Along with quiet, the noise cancelling head phones seem to help with motion sickness. Maybe the way the sounds echo and the roar of the plane increase the sensation of being off-kilter?!

  21. Go to the airline website and enter your confirmation number to look up your reservation. Enter your passport ID, your Trusted Traveler info, and most importantly, your email and cell phone number.
    The trusted traveler number ensures your boarding pass has the TSA Pre markings.
    Entering your cell phone allows the airline to proactively contact you via text or phone in case of delays or rerouting.

    Another vote for Tripit – not only does it keep your trip info on your phone, but it keeps a backup copy on its website.

  22. Not for the road but for the homestead: I bought a RING for the front door so it’s like I’m home even when I’m not, able to speak to the delivery person or anyone that comes to the door, from my iPhone or iPad.
    And a Nest cam for inside the house so I can keep an eye on the animals. I even talk to them and they jump up to the camera. Peace of mind while traveling is wonderful.

  23. The foreign independent travelers best friend, Rome2rio app. I sing their praises at every opportunity. This app has helped me with all public transportation, walking directions, restaurants and hotels along the way. For example, in Israel we used the bus system, which is very complex, for all our transportation needs. Doing the research at home loads the variables for off line use.

    If you enjoy independent travel, you will love this app.

  24. Always have with you the rebooking phone number for your airline. If you miss a connection, don’t go stand in line with the rest of the passengers to rebook, instead, get on the phone with your airline and rebook your flight. Phone agents are able to do the same thing as help desk agents, often faster. And you can be sitting down or heading to lunch.

  25. Great tips from you and your readers! I snagged the Lo & Sons bag, and that was a great deal. I have been carrying one of their bags to and from work for almost 5 years now, so I know they are great quality.

  26. For layering pieces of clothing I like to start with either the J.Jill Wearever easy a-line tank or cami. About 1/3 the price of Eileen Fisher, which I do love, and a budget-friendly option! Thanks for all your travel tips … they’re very helpful, especially for overseas travel.

  27. On a recent trip down the Rhine And Danube I forgot my hair care product. To keep my fly away hair and the rain induced frizzes under control I used Lubriderm lotion. It only takes a pea sized amount rubbed in your wet hair, then blow dry and if needed, a bit more. After two weeks my hair was silky and shiny!

  28. I was gifted the Lo&Sons Pearl bag a few years ago and it has stood the test of time. I also often use their O.M.G. as my personal item. I have used the Emme toiletry bag ever since you first wrote about it and I love it. I’m fairly light on toiletries when I travel so I add my mini first aid kit, some earrings, a couple of extra charging cables and even put spare underwear in the zippered, non-see-thru pocket.

  29. Wow, these are amazing tips. Thank you all. My husband sleeps with a wedge to prop him up at home to keep him from snoring and we now use an inflatable wedge, ordered from amazon, for him to use when sleeping in hotels. The improvement to both our sleep quality when traveling has been tremendous. We also bought 2 thin inflatable camping cushions from REI that we each use to add some padding to airplane seats. They have greatly reduced lower back and leg pain after long, uncomfortable flights. Deflated, they are thin and small and take up very little room in our carry-on.

  30. Don’t assume there will be any screens/headphones onboard for viewing movies, etc. I have had two experiences where you had to download the airline’s app first and watch with your own device/headphones. The most recent was in first class, on United Chicago to Seattle (although the outbound flight inexplicably had screens, but it was a different type of plane). The first experience, some years ago, was to Europe on Air Canada Rouge and I was forced to sit through a 9 hour flight without entertainment since I hadn’t known to download their app in advance. Lesson: always best to check before you go.

  31. What a great read! Husband and I print all our reservations from airlines, hotels and car out before we leave home. He keeps a small folder in his carry on that he whips out way before any of our companions can find their info on the phone. Couple of years ago we were in O’Hare and all internet service was down. Flyers who had their paper boarding pass were easily processed and allowed to board. I also bring my Twinings decaf English Breakfast tea and a pair of those fluffy, warm socks. I bring a small pack of Lysol wipes and swipe the tray and arm rests to ward off germs.I agree with shopping Marshals & TJ Max for luggage; I have found some great buys in both places.

  32. Susan, how timely! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, am trying to remember it’s not all about us, legitimate grievances, et al., but we are cancelling our trip to Paris because the strike beginning on the 5th, the day we arrive, supposing the Air France flight itself is not cancelled, there would appear to be no buses, no taxis, no rail into Paris, no AF ground crew and the car we hired to pick us up cancelled for the sake of the driver’s safety. I did rely on some of the tips posted in the past when packing our carry-ons because checked baggage seems unlikely to be retrievable.

    Our first trip to Paris was at this time, beautiful, we danced in the snow. Time to plan another adventure!

  33. Those packing cubes are on sale for $29.99 if you go directly to ebags.com! And they gave me $10 in rewards to use before the end of the year which will more than cover the tax and shipping. 🙂

    I snagged that Lo & Sons Pearl in a nice shade of camel for $99 (plus tax and shipping) over and an OG in a discontinued combination for $89 (plus tax and shipping) over the summer! Can’t wait to use them when I fly to Florida in February!

      1. *actually, I just double-checked – it was in October. One of their “warehouse sales” if I recall correctly.

  34. Your tips are always great Susan! I am a bit surprised to see a recommendation for nuts as snacks. Travellers should never carry any nut or peanut items on to a flight or even have them in the airport. There are increasing numbers of people with life threatening allergies, including young children who just might pick up something off the floor and eat it. There are plenty of nut safe products available, including cookies and granola bars such as those from Made Good. If you can afford to fly, you can afford to carry better quality snacks with you! Thank you!

    1. Agree, but cookies contain sugar, which many people also avoid. Better to suggest savoury snacks that aren’t nut based.

  35. So many great travel hints! I love having a Global Entry card! it has saved us many hours of standing in lines.The trickiest part was scheduling the interview since the closest office was at major airport an hour and a half from our home. Luckily we were able to schedule the interview the same day we had a flight. We also use a travel credit card that reimbursed the cost of our Global Entry fee. Many cards offer this perk.

  36. Love all the comments, and use so many of them. Here’s one I’ve begun using that hasn’t been mentioned: schedule nothing for the day before you leave. Just convince yourself your trip is a day longer. Use that day to review your packing and get your house and all the last minute things ready for the trip. It saves a day of exhaustion when you arrive. Agree with: Packing cubes, Athleta travel pants, fuzzy socks for international flights (or Rothy’s), TSA registered, airline app for notifications + paper copies of itinerary, water bottle,Tripit, No More Jet Lag, meds w/ me in my carryon + a pair of underwear & things I’d need for an unexpected night during travel without my bags. I also love to pack things I’ll need on the plane in their own little bags so I can pop them into the seat pocket and find them without rummaging around. Handiwipes! – wipe down that tray table, arm rests, etc.! Be that person. Download onto the iPad, and if you fly enough, use the airline lounge. Absolutely agree to leave plenty of time for connections. Just returned from a 4-wk trip and every one of these pay off.

  37. For many years I had really disabling jet lag always on the home flight from Northern to Southern Hemisphere. It affected me for weeks. I tried everything including No more jet lag all to no avail.
    Then I found Energy Medicine by Donna Eden and the chapter on jet lag meridian pressure points. Following the easy chart I have always used it and never had any more jet lag

  38. I started doing this when my kid was a baby and realized it was good for me, too: I’d pack snacks of fruit like clementines and carrot sticks because all that sitting (25 hours for us with layovers; 16 in planes) meant the pipes didn’t flow as smoothly as normal. Fiber helps. Obviously we’d have to either snarf it down before deplaning in the US or throw away leftovers, but there were rarely leftovers.
    I have solid versions of most toiletries so my TSA bag is lightened….and no risk of leaks.
    I recently posted some tips about keeping your valuables safe while traveling.

  39. If Clear is available in your “home” airport, I highly recommend! Worth every penny! This past weekend coming home from Atlanta, the TSA lines were crazy long, but I was placed as the first person at the conveyor belt to place carry on items! My wait time would have been one hour or more, even in pre check! Not available in all airports in the US. So nice to have someone waiting to greet me and walk me to the front of the line!

  40. I would like to wear slip-on/slip-off shoes but airline safety experts say that passengers should wear lace-up shoes or zip up boots that won’t come off in an accident and will be good if you need to slide down an emergency exit slide. That also means no pumps or dress heels. TSA precheck and not having to take off your shoes is a good alternative. You also recently posted some sneakers with hidden zips that would probably work well too.

    Good tips otherwise.

  41. I always have at least a change of underwear and a shirt in my personal item. Lesson learned from having carry-on gate checked and lost for a day. Having my toiletries and fresh clothes soothed my rattled nerves a bit.