Long lines at security, cramped airline seats, moody flight attendants, obnoxious fellow passengers, a dead Kindle battery, lost luggage, all indignities suffered by travelers that could ruin any trip. Travel doesn’t have to be bad though, with proper planning, a few helpful tools and the right attitude travel by plane, train or automobile can be stress free and enjoyable.
Be aware of any travel alerts and warnings for your destination.
The State Department issues Travel Warnings to recommend postponing travel to a country because of widespread civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist activity or, in some cases, because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country. Travel Alerts are a quick way to make sure your travel is safe and it’s a good first step if you’re visiting a more exotic location.
The Department of State has a program if you are planning to travel abroad, it’s called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). When you enroll in STEP, you will get updates with important safety and security announcements.
Do You Have All Required Travel Documents?
Most foreign countries require a valid passport to enter and leave. Some countries may allow you to enter with only a birth certificate, or with a birth certificate and a driver’s license, but all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air, must present a valid passport to reenter the United States.
When does your passport expire? Some countries require that a traveler’s passport be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of the trip.
Do You Need Any New Vaccinations?
Vaccinations Are Required for Entry to Some Countries
Some countries require foreign visitors to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination (aka Yellow Card) or other proof that they have had certain inoculations or medical tests before entering or transiting their country. Before you travel, check the Country Specific Information and contact the foreign embassy of the country to be visited or transited through for current entry requirements.
Become a Trusted Traveler
TSA security lines are one of the most frustrating parts of travel. TSA PreCheck can make the process much less painful. An official program from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the service lets you go through a special line at more than 120 airports across the US a little faster. You won’t have to take your laptop out of your bag or your shoes off your feet, small things that really add up. The service costs $85 per year and requires an application, fingerprints, and a clean criminal record. You can get free access if you’ve already signed up for other Trusted Traveler programs such as Global Entry.
Get a Travel Manager
If you travel a lot a good travel manager can be a real live-saver. Premium travel manager apps like Worldmate Gold ($9.99) and TripIt Pro ($49, annually) will keep all your itineraries, confirmation numbers, hotel addresses and reservation info, departure times, frequent flier numbers and more at hand. They can alert you of delayed or canceled flights as well, saving you stress and time. Adding your plans is as easy as forwarding any confirmation emails for plane, hotel and car right to Worldmate or TripIt. Or you can just set them up to do even that for you.
Bring Your Chargers
There’s nothing more nerve-racking than your phone running out of battery when you get to an unfamiliar place and need Google Maps. You don’t want to really on those quarter eating USB charging stations littering the airport to keep you devices running, so bring a charger with you.
The credit card-sized Mota Power Card ($40) will fit in your wallet and charge your phone once. The pocket sized Just Mobile TopGum ($80) can juice it up 3 times if you expect to be away from outlets for extended periods. If you need the best, the Mojo BattStation Optimus ($130) can charge 8 iPhones, ideal for longer excursions. If you just need a few hours of extra juice a good option is Mophie ($34+) as it doubles as a case.
Join Some Travel Clubs
If you fly often you might want to consider picking one airline and sticking with it. The decision will allow you to rack up enough points to reach elite status and reap the resulting perks. Better seats, waived bag fees, early boarding, better customer service, and more.
Also be sure to reap the benefits of free membership in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and any other rental agency you use. Programs offer benefits like having your car ready and waiting when you land and the ability to skip the rental counter.
Hotel rewards programs can also be great, Hyatt Gold Passport will bump you up to elite status after staying at a Hyatt for just 10 nights and offers perks like free room upgrades and late check outs. Even discount online travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz offer faster check-in lines, free wi-fi, and better rooms with elite status.
Sure, it’s obvious, but most of us pack too much regardless. Save money by not checking a bag and save your back by not carrying an overstuffed carry-on.
To pack light, you must be willing to live with less. If that notion makes you uncomfortable, remember it’s only temporary.
Clothes seem light, but they add up quick. There’s almost never a reason to pack more than a week’s worth, beyond that you should do laundry locally. Try to limit yourself to one pair of shoes, multipurpose kicks are great. Dark shoes can easily work double time in the gym and in the office. Rely on layering to vary your look and adjust to different temperatures.
Wear bulky clothing items in transit. This goes not just for shoes, but for clothing too. Jeans, which are heavy and take up a lot of suitcase space, are great for travel because they are so durable.
Be a minimalist with toiletries. You won’t die by relying on hotel ammenities.
Gadgets these days are practically built for travel. If you need a full blown laptop you have great options like a MacBook Air, Lenovo LaVie Z or Dell Inspiron 11Z. If you can get away with it pack a tablet, they’re lighter and smaller yet. Throw in a Logitech Keys-To-Go keyboard ($70) and you’re good to go.
Patience Is Important When Traveling
Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. Life is much too short to be angry & annoyed all the time. Miss your bus? There will be another one. ATMs out of money? Go explore. Take a deep breath and continue on.
Stash Extra Cash
Cash is king around the world, and the U.S. dollar rules all. To cover your ass in an emergency, make sure to always have cash at the ready. I almost never have cash domestically as do many these days, so it’s definitely something to be aware of before traveling.
If you’re traveling to sketchier areas find some good stash spots like socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag, or a sewn in pocket.
Smile & Say Hello
Locals can be your best resource. Do people seem unfriendly? Maybe it’s your body language. Make eye contact and smile as you walk by. If they smile back, say hello. English is widely spoken throughout the world so you’ll be on your way to at least a partial conversation in no time.
Don’t Be Afraid
The world is not nearly as dangerous as the media wants you to think it is. Keep an eye out for sketchy situations but don’t let that be the focus of your whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll come out just fine. Remember, most people are friendly, trustworthy, generous, and willing to help you out if you need it.
Listen To Podcasts
Podcasts are a godsend. Ever wanted to create your own personal radio station and fill it with shows and music you like? Time flies when you’re learning, enjoying stories and being entertained. Check out This American Life, The Moth, RISK!, Radiolab, Blogcast FM, TED Radio Hour, Planet Money and Invisibilia.