20 crazy smart travel hacks that will level up your vacation

Turn on "Private Browsing" for cheaper flights

Airlines and travel sites are no different from other modern companies, and record as much data about you as possible. One of the things they do with this data is to jack up your price based on criteria like whether you've already searched for and seen any prices. This is to create a sense of urgency and encourage impulse buying. So give Private Browsing a try, and also check prices from a different device or browser altogether.

Mark your baggage as "fragile"

Not only will your stuff get handled more carefully, it's also more likely to get stacked on top. The result: you are one of the first to get your baggage back.

Meet real travel buddies with the click of a button

There's an app for that -- a whole lot of them, actually. Apps like Travel Buddies and Backpackr allow you to make friends on the road through a variety of features, for example by comparing travel itineraries with other travelers. Saves you the potential awkwardness of walking up to random people in person.

And when you get tired of your fellow travelers or they stink too much, you can meet locals with apps like Party with a Local. Obviously with a big helping of discretion and common sense so you don't get scammed.

Stay with the locals

In a similar vein, why not save money and get a more authentic experience by staying with the locals? Airbnb isn't just an American thing. You can also look into housesitting -- looking after someone's house while they're away (or maybe it's an investment) -- in which case you won't have to pay anything at all. There are dedicated sites and apps for this, which may charge you an annual fee, but it's well worth the free lodging.

Consider a LifeStraw

Unless you're in north-western Europe, don't drink the damn tap water or use questionable utensils or kitchenware without washing them yourself. You could easily end up spending all your vacation time in bed and on the toilet.

Consider buying a LifeStraw water bottle, a water filter device normally used for instantly turning wacky outdoor water into something potable.

Talk like a local

Learning a few basic phrases in the local language (My name is, thank you, etc) doesn't take much effort, and will go a very long way in the locals' respect for you, and they'll in turn make the extra effort to understand and help you. If you run into older people who never picked up any English at all, you won't have to spend on a translator -- your phone's got your back (Google Translate or iTranslate -- Naver Papago Translate is superior for Asian languages).

Your own personal tour guide is better -- and free

Professional tour guides are overpriced and boring. Just install Google Goggle on your phone and you'll be able to to instantly convert your picture of a monument or landmark into a wealth of information. You'll know more about a place and its history than even the locals, in no time.

Stash the cash

Keep your cash in several separate stashes and two wallets (petty cash -- hopefully the one they steal if it comes to that -- and big boy cash). Do you have access to a hotel safe? Put some in there as well. Put a medium value note in your insole so you're guaranteed a fare back to your place if worst comes to worst.

Volunteer to give up your seat

This doesn't sound very appealing at all, but there's perks attached to allowing them to bump you from an over-sold flight -- just ask them. Usual perks include free food, drinks, and accommodations.

Become a market researcher

Companies all over the world are looking for information in all other parts of the world, but flying a person halfway across the planet for the exclusive purpose of (for example) an undercover staff review is expensive. At the minimum you'll get to try out the company's products or food for free, but there is usually some compensation. You can also make this an interesting addition to your CV.

Let your bank know

Many banks will flag accounts that are suddenly spending money in another country altogether and this can cause your card to be locked out. You won't even be able to pull out the local physical currency you should have on hand for emergencies. So let your bank know in advance when and where you'll be traveling. This is done either by phone or through a specialized form on their site.

Zip loc is the duct tape of travel

Bring a bunch of differently sized zip loc bags, they will come in handy for dirty or wet clothes and anything odd you might want to bring back (sea shells, etc). Remember to pack all liquids in one of them.

Bribe like a gentleman

If you end up in a situation where it would be prudent to offer a bribe (most of the time you'll just be shaken down outright), never say it's a bribe directly. Excuse the transaction with it being for any fees or trouble, or a price for something worthless of theirs. Shakedowns by police or military can typically be negotiated.

Once, I happened to have a thousand dollars cash on me in addition to my petty cash which was a little less than $10. The police officer was asking for a bribe of $15. I gave him everything in my petty cash pocket and he was threatening to take me to the police station for, “Driving in the first lane, instead of the second lane.” I gave him all the little coins and everything from my petty cash pocket [see the "stash the cash" entry] and shrugged. I wasn't about to whip out a thousand dollars and start thumbing through it for the correct amount. In the end, he accepted about $9 and let me go.

Wrap any extra pairs of shoes in a shower cap

Bonus tips

  • While the thought of getting up at 4 AM and taking the airport head on doesn't sound very appealing, you might reconsider after you discover how much cheaper and less stressful and congested an early morning flight is.
  • Put a drier sheet in your bag to keep it smelling fresh.
  • Keeping a huge garbage bag at the top of your bag can serve all sorts of uses. Protects against rain, makes any thieving hands nervous from the sound it makes, etc.
  • TVs you run into will likely have an USB outlet on the back, allowing you to charge devices off of it.
  • Hypoallergenic pillow case (one that zips) and a sleep sheet can protect you from bed bugs in questionable locales.
  • Write (and check) a travel checklist. Here's one that can serve as inspiration.

Good luck, and send a postcard!

  1. 3 years ago

    I would add - drive on the correct side of the road. Americans in UK are getting into more accidents every damn year, they're oblivious about local customs.

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