Family travel can be inherently stressful. Use these tried and true travel hacks for less aggravation and annoyance. More fun and relaxation.
Traveling with our family and kids can be inherently stressful. This runs true regardless of how large your family, or the age of your kids. And, regardless of the mode of travel. Whether by cruise ship, air plane, road trip or combination. Although you are unlikely to eliminate all stress completely, you can ratcheted it down considerably with a few simple, tried and true travel hacks. So, if you have a family vacation on the horizon, check out these 37 travel hacks to see which ones could work for you.
Travel Hacks For Trips Abroad
1. Foreign Currency
When seeking to change your dollars for local currency, skip the person-to-person exchange and seek out an ATM. You will almost always get a better deal on the exchange rate via the machine network. By as much as 10-15%. You may, however, receive bill denominations that are larger than by local standards than what’s commonly used in everyday transactions. So try to get change ASAP.
2. Credit Cards Abroad
When you use your credit cards abroad, you will automatically get the best conversion rate available for travelers, but you may be subject to a fee on foreign transactions. Before you leave home, check to see whether your credit card company will charge any fees for foreign transactions. If your card charges such a fee, it will usually run about 2-3% per transaction.
Ideally, you’ll be able to travel with a card that does not charge a conversion fee. And, using such a card could be your best plan for most of your purchases. In addition to receiving the best rate exchange as of the date the transaction hits your card, you may have other benefits such as robust fraud protection and other safeguards. And, if your wallet is stolen, you can quickly cancel your card (rather than being out a bunch of cash). You can find a list of some popular credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees over at the The Points Guy website.
Note that the most widely accepted credit cards internationally are Visa and Mastercard. Many places do accept American Express, but you should have a backup just in case.
3. King Cash
Even though you may advantages when using your credit card abroad (see above), if you’re out shopping with a merchant that takes credit cards, see if you can get a discount or better price for using cash. In this case, cash means local currency. A merchant may offer to price items in U.S. dollars, but the exchange rate will almost certainly be highly unfavorable.
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Travel Hacks For Air Travel
4. Assess Lounge Options
Best travel tip for a more peaceful airport experience? Gain access to an airport lounge.
If you’re going to be spending any significant amount of time in an airport, check on your potential access to a lounge before you leave home. You may have options for lounge access that you weren’t aware of or forgotten about. These days, several credit card companies provide some degree of lounge access. Whether it’s through branded lounges like American Express, or through a lounge network like Priority Pass. (NerdWallet has a list of credit cards that offer some type of lounge access.)
Or, if you have a friend or family member who travels frequently, check whether they have guest passes they can share. If nothing else, you many find affordable options for a day pass.
Waiting with your family in a lounge will be much more comfortable than hanging out for a couple of hours at the gate or in a food court. You’ll have a comfortable place to sit. Better bathrooms. And convenient access to many amenities such as free wifi, refreshments and entertainment. Also, many have family rooms or tucked away alcoves that provide a great place to hang with kids.
5. Check Your Weight At Home
You can save a lot of time at the airport, and possibly save some money, if you weigh your luggage when you’re still at home. It’s much easier to rearrange items in the privacy of your own home rather than pulling out belongings on the floor of the airport amidst a crowd of people and potential time constraints of cutoffs for checked baggage. And, you can avoid steep fees for overweight or excess baggage. These can easily run $50 – $100 per bag each way.
You could easily use whatever household scales you have on hand. But an advantage of using a travel luggage scale is that you can take it with you to help manage your suitcase weight for your return trip. (Before you start packing that suitcase, be sure to check out our post on practical packing hacks.)
6. Have a copy of your airline’s baggage policy.
If you have any basis for not paying a fee for checked baggage, or for an increased weight allowance, take proof. For instance, you may have such privileges through your branded credit card or a frequent flier program. Or, through some perk package you purchased at the time you bought your tickets. Either print a copy of the relevant website page or save it to your phone. Not every ticket agent that you encounter at the airport will necessarily be up to speed on what rules or policies apply to you.
7. Be Extremely Polite to Those Ticket Agents.
You should always strive to be as calm and polite as humanly possible when interacting with a ticket agent at the airport. Even if it seems they aren’t being particularly nice to you. Agents (and/or their supervisors) have quite a bit of discretion that can make your travels easier, or not. They have discretion as to whether they will overlook a bag that’s a couple of pounds overweight, whether and how you’ll be accommodating for a missed flight or connection, and whether to apply other additional fees that may be applicable.
8. Extra Snacks
Pack extra snacks. Either pack some in your carry on or grab some at the airport after you clear security. Pack snacks even if you’re expecting to be served food on board. There are any number of reasons why you could not be offered food on a timeline that fits your needs. Beverage and food service may get delayed due to turbulence. They may run out of stuff And you’ll want to have something to appease hungry tummies.
9. Fragile Is As Fragile Does
You may often see as a potential travel hack, the advice to mark your luggage as fragile (even if it’s not) so that it comes out first, or otherwise receives better treatment.
In theory that could work, but you should be aware that it’s not a surefire winner. And it could possibly backfire completely. For instance, bags that get marked with those “priority” tags sometimes come out first, sometimes not. And we have had properly designated “priority” bags miss the flight entirely. Also, there’s some folks who believe that marking a bag as “fragile” makes it stand out in a not good way that makes it more appealing for potential thieves.
10. Assigned Seating
If you have the option to book seats in advance, take it. Particularly if you are traveling with kids. Avoid the drama of trying to get other passengers to switch seats. You can’t count on people’s willingness to do so.
Also check out the seat map to make sure the seats fit your needs. Check whether they’re the right configuration. Whether there’s easy access to bathrooms. But not so close that you’ll be crowded by people standing in line, or accosted by wayward odors.
If time permits, particularly if you’re going to be on the plane for a long time, check out seat reviews online. You can gain more insight into the amount of legroom, access to storage space for carry ons, seat width and other factors that may contribute to or detract from your overall comfort.
These are some popular options:
11. Use Jacket With Pockets On Flight Days
On days that you’re flying, wear some light outerwear with roomy pockets that can close. Something like a light jacket or sweater. This can help you move through the airport security more quickly. When it comes time to remove all of those small items that people often carry around in their pockets, like loose change, keys, phone, earbuds, all you have to do is take off your jacket and place it in the security bin.
Big pockets are also good places to store items that you may need as you’re moving through the airport or sitting on a plane, so that you have quick access rather than digging around in a big bag or purse. Items like your boarding pass, debit card, gum or mints.
Likewise, it can also help you stay organized when you’re sitting on the plane. You can put important things in your pockets rather than the seatback in front of you. And reduce the chance of accidentally leaving important items on the plane (like your cell phone). And, this can serve double duty if you get cold on the airplane.
Travel Hacks For Your Accommodations
12. Get An Extra Room Key
When you first check in to your hotel, you’ll be asked how many room keys you need. Ask for one more than you think you actually need. This can help cut down on some frustration.
Many times you will make your way to your room to discover that the room key inexplicably fails to work. Having a back up immediately at hand can cut down on the frustration of having to trudge back down to the front desk. Which can be particularly welcomed when you were managing your luggage yourself.
13. Keeping Track of Room Key
Make a practice of placing your room key down in the same place in your room every time. Ideally, in some convenient location close to the door that’s easy to spot as you’re leaving. This cuts down on wasted time trying to find your key as you’re getting ready to go. And, it reduces the chance that you will forget the key completely. Of course, if you do forget it, you can always get a new one at the front desk, but who wants to wait in line when they don’t have to?
14. Pack A Travel Laundry Bag
Bring along a couple of medium to large travel laundry bags. Place them at the bottom of your closet to collect dirty laundry throughout your trip. This will help keep your closet organized and your living space tidy. With two or three, you can organize your laundry as you go and streamline your return packing.
15. Controlling Room Lights & Power
Many hotel rooms now have systems in place that require you to insert your room key card into a designated slot to turn on the lights and/or all of the power in the room. This becomes a potential problem if you want to charge items while you are not physically present in your room. If you have an extra room key (as described above), then that will certainly work.
But, as it happens, most systems don’t require that you use the actual key card for your room. Some other plastic card of about the same size will usually work. Such as an old key card from some other hotel stay, or a random membership card you may have on hand. Just make sure it’s something you don’t necessarily need in the future, because it’s easy to forget that it’s there when time to check out of the hotel.
16. Cozy Up Your Cruise Cabin
Cruise ship rooms are substantially smaller than a typical room at a hotel or resort. But that’s no reason for your family to feel overly cramped or confined! Time tested hacks from veteran cruisers such as the over the door shoe organizer and wall magnets can help you maximize your usable space. Check out our special post with favorite tips for organizing cruise ship rooms.
17. Getting Back To Home Base
Either at the time you check in or as you’re leaving to step out of your hotel for the first time, grab one of the hotel business cards that you’ll usually see at the front desk. You can use it if you need help with directions to get back. Or, you can show it to any cab driver that you’re asking to drive you home. This can be very helpful in areas where you have language issues.
If no card is available, get someone at front desk to write out legibly on piece of paper or note card.
18. Travel Hacks For Forgotten Items
If you get to your hotel room and discover that you have forgotten or misplaced an item, check with the hotel front desk folks to see if they have a replacement that they can provide or loan. You will often be able to grab things like toothpaste and a disposable toothbrush, or perhaps a small sewing kit. And you will often be able to borrow a travel adapter for the power outlets (although you may be asked for a small deposit to guarantee its safe return).
Likewise, if you discover that you have misplaced a charge cord, or need an extra one, check with your hotel front desk. Many times they will have something in the lost and found that you can borrow. (This can also work for swim goggles. Check whether there is a poolside lost and found that has misplaced goggles.)
Travel Hacks For Trips With Kids
19. Plan Road Trip Breaks In Advance.
If you’re planning to take a long car trip with kids, investigate potential break options along the way in advance. At some point you’re going to want to stop to stretch your legs and let your kids run around to blow off steam. And having information about potential parks near the highway or which rest stops have better amenities can make everyone’s journey less stressful.
If you’re a member of AAA, they have planning tools and services that can help. Or, some targeted searches on Google (or any other favored search engine) can do the trick as well.
Check out these resources for ideas:
20. Bring The Noise
This is a great travel hack for light sleepers. Often times kids (and some adults) have trouble sleeping in new and unfamiliar places. Having a portable white noise machine on hand can help drown out unfamiliar or scary sounds that may keep you awake. It can also help control for unwanted noise from night owl neighbors.
You can easily find ones that will provide a menu of background sound options other than traditional white noise. Alternatively, you can download a white noise or background noise app to your phone.
21. Multi-Purpose Poop Bags
If you have a baby or pets, you probably already have some poop bags on hand. They can be used for a wide range of tasks other than picking up poop. Take some along when you’re traveling. They can be a great help when you unexpectedly need to get rid of garbage or deal with some other sticky mess.
22. Make Full Use of Baby Baggage Allowance
A great travel hack to use if you’re flying with a baby or toddler: fill up that stroller bag!
Usually you’re allowed to check strollers and car seats for free. Get a roomy stroller bag and take full advantage of the extra room. We have always adopted the view that if it’s baby/toddler related, then it’s fair game to toss in too. So no need to pay extra for some of those baby items that can otherwise take up space in your main luggage. Items like formula, extra diapers and related supplies.
Travel Hacks For Order and Organization
23. Collect Confirmations
Keep a copy of all of your travel-related confirmations in one central location that you can access on go. Either printed out or saved on a phone in a place that you can access without internet. Any confirmations you may have for flights, car service, hotels and the like.
24. Packing Cubes Really Are Game Changers
If you haven’t yet jumped onto the packing cube band wagon, do it. They are an easy way to organize your luggage. And they can help with organizing a big carry on as well.
It also makes it easier to unpack as you are traveling. You just pull out the cubes and pop in whatever drawers or shelves you have available. You can organize by person, activity, day of the week or categories (e.g., all swimsuits and goggles). Whatever makes sense for your family and trip.
You can also use them for your carry on to pack smaller items that you will want to pull out on a flight before storing it in the overhead bin. Items like headphones, charging cords and snacks.
Travel Hacks For Devices and Electronics
25. The Fully Loaded Tablet
Download a prescreened selection of movies, shows and/or music to individual tablets. That way you have appropriate entertainment available regardless of what the airline may or may not be offering for your flight.
A tablet can be your best friend when traveling. Ideally, everyone can have his or her own device. Tablets can be great for downtime in your room, providing entertainment on a long bus ride (with headphones), or during other long waiting periods.
26. Backup Power
Take some type of a power bank for charging devices on the go. That way you don’t have to worry about phones or tablets dying at unfortunate moments. When you are running around all day, a portable battery charger really comes in hand. You can use a power bank to charge cameras or any other electronic devices you may be toting around.
You can get one or more small lipstick size chargers that can be thrown in a purse or backpack. Or, one larger family size one that can charge multiple devices at the same time, and also provide repeated charges to a range of devices without having to itself be recharged.
27. Backup Headphones
Pack a backup pair of headphones. It will avoid lots of frustration, inconvenience, and unnecessary expense if someone’s personal set breaks while you’re traveling.
28. Expand Your Power Options
Regardless of where you’re traveling or your mode of transportation, take along a small outlet extender. Preferably one that includes USB slots. Many times in hotel rooms or cruise ship cabins, you may find a shortage of conveniently placed outlets. Or, available outlets not already being used by lamps, alarm clocks, etc. An outlet expander will help you make the most use of whatever outlet is available.
Also, a related travel tip if you are traveling abroad, an outlet extender can help you make the most use of a travel power plug adaptor. Plug the extender into the adaptor before plugging the adaptor into the wall. This allows you to use a single adaptor for multiple devices.
Travel Hacks For Entertainment
29. Test Drive Those Trial Subscription Offers
Just before a trip is a great time to sign up for various free trials like an audible subscription or a trial music subscription. You can download stuff for airport, airplane, hotel, etc. And cancel when you return home (unless you loved it, of course). But doing it in conjunction with a vacation means you actually have time to take advantage and use the material. And the built in transition of returning home is an easy reminder/trigger point for remembering to cancel if you don’t want to keep it.
Travel Hacks For All Occasions
30. Pack Gift Wrap, Not Wrapped Gifts
If you’re traveling with gifts, for the holidays or otherwise, pack them unwrapped and bring along materials to wrap them at your destination. If you’re going to be traveling by airplane, you have to have the working assumption that those TSA folks will open them. Presumably, you don’t want to arrive at your destination with poorly re-wrapped gifts. Or, with newly unwrapped gifts for which you don’t have a way to re-wrap.
Likewise, if you’re traveling any significant time or distance, whether the plane or otherwise, your wrapping job may not hold up well. And you may arrive with wrinkles, tears and/or crumpled corners.
For ease of packing and use, consider taking gift bags and tags rather than full traditional wrapping gear.
31. Travel Tips For Controlling Luggage Odors
Sometimes dirty laundry smells. Instead of having those unpleasant odors spread through everything in your luggage, place some of those little hotel bar soaps in your laundry bag and/or inside pocket of your suitcase. Or, if you plan ahead, take some dryer sheets from home.
32. Managing Liquid Souvenirs or Gifts
Many times when you’re traveling, you may pick up liquid items along the way that can break in your luggage on the way home. Items like wine or olive oil. Wrap them in your laundry and place them in a laundry bag deep inside your luggage. This provides some much needed cushion. And, if it breaks, well you’re going to have to wash those clothes anyway.
If you are traveling some place where you are fairly certain you’re going to want to pick up liquid items, take along some reusable bottle protectors.
33. Baby Powder Travel Hacks
Take along a small bottle of baby powder. Baby powder has lots of great uses for travelers! Some common suggestions:
- Use it as odor control for shoes and feet.
- Help clean up sandy skin from the beach.
- Freshen sheets.
- Remove grease or blood stains.
- Help detangle knotted jewelry or shoe strings.
34. Duct Tape Travel Hacks
A small role of duct tape can also have multiple uses for travelers. We first learned about the wonders of a roll of duct tape when traveling with babies. It’s great for childproofing new spaces. But we soon learned, that it can serve double duty for multiple travel uses. Some common suggestions:
- temporary repair for broken luggage
- hold curtains together to keep out too bright morning light
- use patterned or colored tape to mark and distinguish your suitcases
- close a sink drain when hand washing clothes
- temporary fix for ripped clothing, jacket or damaged shoes
- seal leaking bottles
35. Travel Hacks From Household Plastics
If you’re traveling with liquid toiletries or similar items in your suitcase, there’s several ways that household plastics can help avoid spills or leaks:
- seal items in a plastic ziploc style bag
- place some plastic wrap underneath the lids of bottles
- wrap the entire bottle in plastic wrap
36. Use Smartphone For Photographic Notes
This tip works for anyone, but particularly the directionally impaired. Use your smartphone to make a record of where you were, if you want to get back. Whether it’s taking a picture of your car in the airport garage along with the pole that has the color/number/whatever, or taking a picture of the hotel and street sign. Having a photo on your phone can be helpful reminder. A photo is also a universal communication tool that’s not language dependent.
37. Scan Key Documents To Your Phone
Scan important identification documents to save on your phone. Definitely your passport. And it can often be helpful to have your driver’s license and visas as well.
The State Department and other travel professionals advise that you travel with a copy of your passport. This makes it easier to get a fast replacement if you happen to lose your documents, or have them stolen, while you are traveling. Keeping a scanned copy on your smartphone gives you a clear color copy that’s readily available at your fingertips. Keep copies of the key documents for every member of your family who is traveling.
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