I just wrapped up my third straight year of traveling over 100 flights each year and have learned a few travel tips along the way. That’s an average of 160 days on the road, lots of hotel nights and plenty of running miles in new cities. When I began travel regularly for work in 2016, I thought I knew a thing or two about life on the road, but there have definitely been a few lessons learned as that frequency picks up.
Today, I’m sharing a few travel tips you should take care of before you ever leave the house to make your road trip or flight easier. So many people stress out on trips because they failed to plan beforehand. In earlier posts, I’ve shared a few travel tips to help you stay within budget.
Hopefully, these will help make your life easier, whether you’re traveling for work or taking a trip to see family, friends, or maybe you’re headed out for vacation or to see a Stock Show.
Select a travel credit card
This should be your first step before any travel because if you are spending cash or putting charges on a debit card, you’re leaving cash on the table and missing out on opportunities to insure yourself should things go wrong. Let me explain.
There are so many credit cards today that offer free cash back or points earned on spending. That cash back and/or points can be redeemed toward free travel. Yes, free money back by putting your every day spending on a credit card. The key is to use it like you would a debit card and pay the balance in full every month to avoid interest charges.
Several credit cards are geared toward travel and can be useful for everyone from the business traveler to the occasional/once-a-year vacationer. Get a card that best suits your needs.
Get your card before your travel or prior to a big purchase to take advantage of point sign up bonuses that can be large enough to pay for a round trip airline ticket. Do not redeem these points or miles from travel cards for cash back, as these are often your lowest redemption rates.
Many of these come with travel perks such as primary rental car insurance (avoid buying expensive insurance from rental companies), travel disruption insurance, reimbursement of travel expenses, ride share, food delivery, or airline fees ($100 – $300 each year/each category).
I have a few cards and they pay for themselves in points earned by every day charges such as utilities, groceries, phone bills, vehicle maintenance, and gas. My favorite card line would be Chase’s Sapphire Reserve ($550), Sapphire Preferred ($95), or Freedom Unlimited (no fee). I wouldn’t recommend getting a brand-specific card (ex. airline or hotel) unless you’re a frequent traveler who is very loyal to a specific brand. Bank-branded cards (like the Chase cards above) are more flexible in point earning and redemption. The Points Guy is a good site to reference to learn about earning and using credit card points and miles.
Join the loyalty programs
Most brands today have customer loyalty programs that also earn you points or miles that can be redeemed for free travel (hotel nights, rental cars, flights). Many of these programs are removing expiration dates on miles or points earned, so even if you may not use them frequently, sign up for those free accounts.
Being a member of a brand’s loyalty program also helps when plans are interrupted. You’ll be higher on the priority list for customer service if you are a member. This is one of those travel tips that can be a life saver because no one likes waiting in long customer service lines.
Research your prices
Utilize Google to search for prices to/from or at your destination. Google has made flight and hotel searches very intuitive in their search engine and even offers flight price tracking if you’re waiting for a better deal over the course of days or weeks. Compare flight prices on different days or to nearby airports across airline brands to find the best price and schedule.
Book your travel directly with the brand and avoid third-party booking sites (Expedia, etc). Rates on these third-party sites may be higher and often come with more restrictions and terrible cancellation policies compared to booking directly with the brand. In the same vein as the prior tip, booking directly with the brand offers better customer service and flexibility when travel plans are interrupted.
Map your travel agenda
Many frustrations during travel are a result of planning time, routes and trying to find destinations. One of the best travel tips is to map out your time, including driving to/from the airport and waiting times (checking in or picking up luggage, food or fuel stops, airport security). Get on Google Maps and identify your hotels, meeting places, potential restaurants or other points of interest and save those addresses using the lists feature.
My favorite tool for mapping a travel agenda is TripIt. I forward all reservation emails to this app and it automatically creates the agenda for my trip. I log-in and add times/addresses for meetings or locations where I’ll need to be. The app then gives a notification of when I need to leave according to the travel time and notifies me of any airline changes, often before the airline-specific app.
Invest in good luggage
I cannot tell you how many pieces of luggage I’ve bought on sale, thinking I was getting a good deal, only to be replacing them a few months down the road. Even if you’re traveling only a few times a year, investing in a good piece of luggage will keep you equipped for years to come and will keep your luggage dry, safe and clean. I’ve ended up at meetings with soaked clothes due to a leaking bag in the rain. I’ve had wheels and handles break in the middle of a trip and have had to deal with ripped or torn bags from rough airline handling.
Trust me. You won’t regret investing a few good bags. I bought a carry-on and larger checked bag from Away (referral) in 2018 and haven’t looked back. I’ve used the carry-on bag nearly weekly, and it still looks good as new. I can pack 4 or 5 days of business clothes plus running clothes and still have room for work equipment. The battery pack in the carry-on keeps my phone charged all day.
Pack less than you think you’ll need
Keep it simple. I promise you don’t need all of those changes of clothes. You can wear the jeans multiple times. You don’t have to bring all of those changes of uncomfortable shoes. Lay out your clothes by day and figure out specifically what you need and pack only those things. More than likely there are stores near your destination if you have an emergency or forget something. If you’re headed to the beach, you’re not going to be wearing all those clothes any way. When I go on a running vacation, all I need a running clothes and something to change into for dinner.
Once you have those items figured out, pack them in an organized manner. These Osprey travel cubes keep my shirts folded neatly. This $10 Osprey pouch is perfect for my liquids and toiletries. This Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack is the perfect backpack for all my needs and is light enough that it’s not a burden to carry when walking all day.
Download the apps
Finally, before you take off before your trip, download the apps specific to the brands you have travel reservations with. This includes airlines, hotels, and rental car companies. These apps will make travel so much easier by being able to access reservation itineraries, early check-in, boarding passes, and even give you directions of where to go in the airport or on the road. In the event of travel disruptions, these apps will give push notifications with updates and easy access to customer service numbers so you don’t have to wait in long lines with all other travelers.
What are your travel tips?
What did I miss? Before you take a trip, whether on the roads or in the skies, what helps you to be prepared and less stressed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or give me a shout on Instagram and Twitter.
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