17 Surprisingly Simple Travel Hacks with Big Impact

Traveling can be stressful. From idea to execution, so many things go into travel planning that it can often feel overwhelming. The beauty of seeing new places and trying new things can be overshadowed by flight cancellations, lost luggage, or unexpected travel expenses. 

Think back to the last trip you took. Were there things that could've gone better? With just a few tweaks to your travel routine, you could save time and money and change your entire experience!

Erika Taught Me

  • Using flight price alerts and a VPN can help you find the cheapest flights.
  • Take advantage of overbooked flights by agreeing to be bumped in exchange for a free flight.
  • Traveling with the right credit card can provide a lot of benefits, like lounge access and travel insurance.

Travel Hacks for Planning Your Trip

So you want to go somewhere. Maybe you saw a video about it, heard about a place on a podcast, or have always wanted to travel to a certain location. Turning that idea or suggestion into a plan is arguably the most crucial part of traveling. And for some people, it’s the most challenging part, too. Let’s review some travel hacks for planning a trip that can help you save time, money, and stress.

Set a Google Flights price alert

Once you clarify how you’ll pay for your travel, it’s time to move into planning the trip, including deciding your means of transportation. If you plan on catching a flight, a travel hack you should know about is Google Flights price alerts.

Google Flights is a free online search tool that lets you quickly search and compare plane ticket prices across various airlines. Google also tracks the flight price history, letting you know if the price is higher or lower than average. 

You can also set up a price alert for a specific route on a particular day. Google will notify you when a flight’s price changes. 

Book using a VPN

Airlines and booking websites offer tickets at different prices based on where in the world you access their website. Using a virtual private network, or VPN, you can make it appear like you’re viewing sites from a different location than where you are currently, potentially unlocking lower prices.

Pay with a credit card

Before making any purchases, consider using a travel credit card to fund your trip. Travel credit cards reward spending on everyday and travel-related purchases with points or miles. You can redeem them for things like flights and hotel stays. Some cards even offer additional perks like complimentary airport lounge access, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, or early check-in when you book with partnered hotels.

Travel cards also often have travel insurance built in. Depending on the card you could rental car insurance, trip delay insurance, and trip cancellation insurance.

Read more: Our Best Travel Cards

Apply for expedited security

Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked over in envy at the people breezing through the TSA PreCheck line. You're shuffling forward at an agonizingly slow rate, running the risk of missing your flight. We’ve all been there, but you don’t have to stay there! Services like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR significantly reduce airport security and customs processes' wait time and stress levels for pre-approved travelers.

  • TSA PreCheck is available at over 200 airports and helps travelers speed up domestic airport security checks by keeping their shoes on and their electronics and liquids in their bags. The membership fee and duration is $85 for 5 years.
  • Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that provides expedited clearance through customs for pre-approved, low-risk travelers when they arrive in the United States. It also includes TSA PreCheck benefits. The membership fee is $100 for 5 years.
  • CLEAR is a service available domestically and uses eye and fingerprint scans to speed up the identity verification process at airport security checkpoints. The membership fee is $189 for 1 year.

All three programs require an application, and some include background checks, fingerprinting, and interviews for approval. These services are ideal for people who travel frequently or want to save time and beat long lines. Several travel credit cards offer statement credits for one or more of the above services. Charge your membership to your credit card and you should be automatically reimbursed for the cost of the application.

Weigh your bags

Whether you have your bags packed two weeks in advance or throw your essentials in a bag half an hour before heading to the airport, most of us have a tendency to overpack. Avoid having to repack or dump excess items at Departures by weighing your bags before leaving home for the airport. You can purchase a luggage scale or simply use your bathroom scale. If you’re already at the airport and forgot to weigh your bags, find an empty check-in counter and use the luggage scale there. This will give you some time to rearrange your bags so you don’t have to wait in a long line only to have to repack and line up again.

Photograph your packed items

If you check luggage and it gets lost or damaged, the Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate passengers for the bags and their contents up to $3,800. To ensure you’re fully compensated, take photos of your luggage and its contents before you get to the airport. Doing this will help prove the cost of the items claimed as lost or damaged.

Track your stuff

You don’t just have to rely on the airline to track your luggage. You can place an Airtag in your checked bags for extra visibility on their whereabouts. Doing this will allow you to track the location of your luggage until it reaches the destination, and give you a head start on finding them if you do end up in different places.

Hacks While You’re Traveling

Now all your planning is behind you and you’re on your way. There are still more hacks to help you make the most of your trip once you’re en route to the airport.

Request upgrades at check-in

Choosing the best seat can be a stressful experience. While you have business-class taste, you may have an economy budget. 

If you are flying economy, you can check for upgrades at the check-in counter on the day of your flight, and occasionally, it could be slightly cheaper than if you paid for an upgrade ahead of time.

Choose your seat wisely

Choosing the right seat on a plane goes beyond the old debate of window vs. aisle. It can depend on the kind of flight you’re on or what you’re doing after the flight. If the gate agent announces that the flight has limited overhead space, choose seats closer to the back of the plane. Most people put their bags in the first empty spot, meaning there may be more space in the back. If you have a tight connecting flight, on the other hand, choose seats closer to the front of the plane so you can deplane quickly.

Download the airline’s app

Staying up to date on all information regarding your flight is important, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by downloading the airline’s app before arriving at the airport. Some airline apps house maps of the airports so you know where to go, allow you to view the in-flight entertainment from your smartphone, and send you notifications regarding your flight, such as boarding calls.

Bring an empty water bottle

Okay, this isn't really a luggage hack, but it's something to include in your carry-on. Power walking through the airport can be tiring, and it can be tempting to shell out a whole $9 for a 20 oz. bottle of water near your gate. If you bring an empty water bottle to the airport and through security, you can stop at Starbucks or other cafes in the terminals and get complimentary cups of water to fill it up. Many airports also have filtered water stations throughout for you to refill your bottle. This way you can stay hydrated without draining your pockets.

Rebook or refund

While airlines might be less than forthcoming when it comes to compensation for inconveniences like canceled or delayed flights, that doesn’t mean you’re on your own. If you receive a notification that your flight has been canceled, most airlines will arrange to rebook you for free on their next available flight. Suppose you choose to cancel your trip as a result of the cancellation. In that case, you are entitled to a refund for the unused travel and any additional fees paid, such as baggage fees and seat upgrades, even for non-refundable tickets.

If you receive a notification that your flight has been delayed, you may also be entitled to a partial refund in some situations. The refund could include optional fees associated with your ticket, such as baggage fees, seat upgrades, and more. Each airline has written policies about what it provides to delayed passengers. 

Related: How Trip Cancellation Works

Benefit from getting bumped

When a flight has more tickets sold than seats available, airlines first ask volunteers to give up their seats. Usually, they’ll offer a voucher incentive or a free or reduced-rate ticket in exchange for your seat. If there are not enough volunteers, airlines will select passengers to give up their seats. This is called bumping. 

Barring a few particular circumstances, you are usually entitled to compensation if you are bumped from your flight, you have a confirmed reservation, you checked in on time, you were at your gate on time, and the airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your flight’s initially scheduled arrival time. 

Depending on the airline and how long it takes you to ultimately get to your destination after being bumped, you could receive up to 400% of the value of your one-way ticket. So if you paid $250 for your ticket, you could be looking at a payment of $1,000 to wait a few more hours at the airport.

Woman walking in airport holding yellow luggage. Guide to simple travel hacks when you arrived.

Hacks for Once You’ve Arrived

You’ve landed at your destination, and the journey to get there is almost over! You still have to get your bags, make it to your accommodations, and settle. 

Don’t do without if your luggage is delayed

If your luggage is delayed, you should file a claim immediately. Airlines are responsible for locating your belongings, but if you track the Airtag you packed earlier, you can see where it is and coordinate with the airline to find it. Airlines must compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses incurred due to their luggage being delayed, up to $3,800.

Related: How Baggage Delay Insurance Works

Shuttle and then rideshare

When you’re ready to leave, most airports have a surcharge for rideshares and taxis that pick you up from the assigned areas. To avoid that surcharge, find a hotel shuttle that does not require pre-made reservations. When you get to the hotel, request a rideshare or a taxi from that location. Chances are there is no surcharge, so it should be cheaper.

Choose ATMs over currency exchanges

If you are flying internationally, avoid the currency exchange at airports. Instead, head to an ATM once you’ve reached your destination and request cash in the local currency. The exchange rates are usually better. You can then use this cash for your taxi or pocket it for other planned activities.

Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees

If you’re traveling internationally and you don’t want to be walking around with loads of cash, use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees to cover your everyday expenses abroad. Foreign transaction fees are usually around 3% of each transaction, and while that may not sound like much, those small amounts can add up quickly. Most travel cards waive these fees, but not all, so make sure you check which of your credit cards will skip the fee when spending overseas.

FAQs

How do you travel when you're broke?

Travel rewards allow you to book free flights and hotels with points or miles. You can get travel rewards from travel credit cards.

Here's our the list of the best rewards credit cards.

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.