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.

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. (Use code UNEFEMME for 20% off.)
  • 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!

See also: Advance Travel Prep5 Things I Always Carry On

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

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34 Comments

  1. RoseAG
    November 6, 2018 / 4:10 am

    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. Ellen
    November 6, 2018 / 4:53 am

    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.

    • Valletta
      November 7, 2018 / 8:58 pm

      I found a complete set of Delsey (like pictured in Susan’s post) for about 1/3 their sale price!

  3. November 6, 2018 / 4:59 am

    Great tips! Will share this helpful post on our Music and Markets page – merci!

  4. Patricia
    November 6, 2018 / 5:14 am

    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.)

    • November 6, 2018 / 7:40 am

      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.

  5. Jan Parker
    November 6, 2018 / 5:58 am

    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!

    • Lyn
      November 6, 2018 / 8:47 am

      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.

    • Margot
      November 7, 2018 / 7:28 pm

      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.

  6. Linda
    November 6, 2018 / 6:19 am

    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!

  7. Victoria B.
    November 6, 2018 / 6:44 am

    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.

  8. Judie Woods
    November 6, 2018 / 7:39 am

    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.

  9. Mary Alice
    November 6, 2018 / 7:54 am

    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.

  10. Rondi
    November 6, 2018 / 8:16 am

    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.

    • Patricia
      November 6, 2018 / 12:54 pm

      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.

  11. sophia montgomery
    November 6, 2018 / 8:28 am

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

  12. Anon
    November 6, 2018 / 8:33 am

    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.

  13. Anon
    November 6, 2018 / 8:38 am

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

  14. November 6, 2018 / 9:07 am

    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.

  15. Chicki Atwell
    November 6, 2018 / 9:08 am

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

    • Susan B
      Author
      November 6, 2018 / 9:14 am

      Thanks, Chicki! Here’s a link to several styles of EF leggings offered in Plus: http://bit.ly/2D85i80

  16. Clariza
    November 6, 2018 / 10:05 am

    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!

  17. Carol Montanti
    November 6, 2018 / 10:43 am

    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!

    • Angela in NZ
      November 6, 2018 / 12:18 pm

      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.

    • Nancy
      November 8, 2018 / 8:26 am

      Yes…our travel agent recommended and I think it helped . Ordered from Amazon.

  18. Cynthia B
    November 6, 2018 / 10:48 am

    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

  19. Lisa
    November 6, 2018 / 12:00 pm

    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.

  20. LindainAr
    November 6, 2018 / 12:29 pm

    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!

  21. Felicia
    November 6, 2018 / 1:28 pm

    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.

  22. November 6, 2018 / 5:50 pm

    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.

  23. Valletta
    November 7, 2018 / 9:15 pm

    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.

  24. Pat
    November 9, 2018 / 6:58 am

    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.

  25. November 9, 2018 / 8:02 am

    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.

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