Put your best foot forward as you embark upon the trip of a lifetime. Take it from a neurotic packer- with these 10 travel hacks, you'll be well on your way to being a seasoned globetrotter.
1. Currency Exchange
As you prepare to travel internationally, it is always a good idea to have some local currency on hand. It may be tempting to use a currency exchange kiosk at the airport, but you’d be most wise to avoid it where possible. To make the most of your dollar (literally), head to your bank before you leave town. Currency kiosks typically extend the worst rates and high service fees, and you may not even realize how much you lose in the exchange. These kiosks should be your last resort. Unless you’re headed to a remote destination with an uncommon paper note, your bank will likely have what you need, and offer the most competitive exchange rate without a service fee. For everything else, just remember to check in with your credit card company and notify them of your travel plans and dates. While companies like American Express and Capital One typically don’t require notice of travel, many banks and credit card companies do. The last thing you want is to have a legitimate purchase flagged for fraud, leaving you with a frozen and unusable card while abroad. Spare yourself the headache and be sure to plan ahead.
2. Keep a Spare Copy of your Passport Details in a Separate Safe Space
While it’s never the plan to misplace a document as important as a passport, these things happen. Imagine how difficult it would be to return home from a journey without a passport and without any details of what the document entails. Before you go, make a photocopy of your passport identification page, and keep it in a safe place away from your passport. In the event you need to visit an embassy abroad, it will make an otherwise gruesome experience a less painful one. It is also a good idea to know where the nearest embassy is at your destination. While it is more than likely that your trip will go on without a hitch, be prepared for the worst. US citizens and passport holders should check out the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at the Department of State. This free service keeps you informed of the latest safety and security information of your destination country so that you can make informed decisions about your travels, as well allows the US embassy or consulate to contact you in the event of an emergency.
3. Know Your Luggage
The luggage industry has seen a lot of modern advancement in recent years, equipped with locators, power banks, and more. Attractive as they may be, keep in mind that these features are not always TSA compatible. If you opt for a suitcase with an integrated power bank, make sure you’re comfortable with the process of removing it. Power banks may not be stored in checked luggage, and for carry on, you will need to place the battery in a separate tray at security. There’s no pressure like getting the sideways eye from fellow airport goers as you attempt to figure out how to remove the battery on the security lane.
If your travel plans include riding on a smaller aircraft, like a puddle-jumper plane in Africa, keep in mind that standard luggage regulations may not apply. Small aircraft planes generally have stricter policies surrounding weight limits and luggage types. For travel to more exotic destinations, soft-sided luggage is a safe bet, as many domestic airlines will not allow hard case luggage on board. Don’t forget to keep your packing under control too- you could find yourself in a real crisis if your luggage is over the limit. Be informed, double check the luggage policies, and keep a handheld luggage scale handy to avoid unpleasant surprises at the airport.
4. Stay Organized With Packing Cubes
Want to be the ultimate packing pro for your travels? Consider organizing your contents with packing cubes. Not only will it keep your garments neat and tidy, you will find a much smoother experience in accessing exactly what you need when divided into cubical categories. This travel hack also helps one from overpacking, offering a visual aid of what’s before you. Stick a label on each cube detailing what’s inside, and you won’t end up with a fashion tornado at your destination.
5. Take Along Power Banks and Outlet Adapters
Sure, your hotel will probably have outlet converters should you need it, but it’s not ideal to rely on this. Get even just one (but we recommend at least two) universal outlet adapters. You never know where you’ll need it before you’ve even reached your destination.
For those times you’re on the road and could use a charge up on your electronic devices, consider taking along a power bank in your carry on for the journey, to minimize the risk of losing power to your phone and other beloved devices. Keep in mind that not all power banks are created equal; pay close attention to the mAh capacity. A power bank with 25000mAh has a very large output, with the ability to give smartphones a full charge from zero approximately five times. It takes a long time to recharge a power bank, so you’re best off spending a couple of extra bucks on one with maximum capacity, covering most if not all of your trip. Anything less than 10000mAh would best be avoided. If your device is Qi compatible, you may even be able to get a wireless charge on select power banks, but be sure to keep complementary wires handy too.
6. Get A Local SIM Card
In the digital age, it’s hard to unplug and leave the world behind. To connect back home or simply hop online outside of a secure WiFi network, the reality is you’re going to want cellular service. Be prepared to pay expensive international roaming rates with your cellular carrier, and explore data roaming plans before you leave home. Alternatively, if your phone is ‘unlocked’ (a process you will have to explore with your carrier prior to departure), you may be able to get away cheap with a local SIM card at your destination. Most major airports have a kiosk or vending machine where you can buy a local SIM card to swap out inside your phone for local and inexpensive cellular coverage. Just remember to keep a SIM card pin handy. This little tool will not only simplify the swap, it’s also a surprisingly useful utility for a variety of situations you might find yourself in.
7. Enroll In A Trusted Traveler Network
A big part of the journey is getting to and from, and seasoned travelers know the headache of airport security and immigration procedures. To get through it all in a breeze, the US Department of Homeland Security offers a variety of Trusted Traveler Programs for a nominal fee. If you’re anticipating taking even just one trip abroad, it might be worth your time to explore Global Entry in advance of your travels. This $100 membership is good for five years, includes TSA Pre-Check, expedited wait times at immigration using self-service kiosks, and eliminates the hassle of extraneous paperwork. With this benefit, you’ll get on faster security lanes at the airport, and even get to keep your shoes on. Just be sure to allow plenty of time for the application process; there is a comprehensive survey to complete online, and once you have been conditionally accepted, you will have to finalize the process with an in-person interview at your local enrollment center. The effort involved may seem daunting at initiation, but the benefits upon completion prove itself more than worthy in the long run for domestic and international travel alike.
8. Prepare For The Worst... Get Travel Insurance
Acquiring some sort of travel insurance prior to a journey is a small price to pay for peace of mind when you consider the unexpected turns, however unlikely, that could potentially loom. Don’t leave yourself having to learn the hard way—inclement weather, accidents abroad, strikes, lost luggage, missed connections, change fees, medical coverage—matters pertaining to all sorts of scenarios happen every day. Insuring your investment is always a good idea, and so is not being afraid to get help when you need it most. Cross compare the several insurance plans available to travelers to select what is most appropriate for your situation. There are typically multiple tiers of coverage to choose from, so be realistic. A quick trip to Florida for a few days may not require the same level of coverage as say, an expedition to Antarctica, where in the worst case scenario, an emergency medical air lift could cost upwards of $150,000. As with everything, hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
9. Don't Forget Your Jabs
While you may not be traveling to a third world country, it’s always a good idea to be informed of vaccination and visa entry requirements well in advance of travel. A quick search online could tell you exactly what you need, and one should never bypass this step- it is your responsibility as the traveler to be in the know. Some vaccines may not be required by the destination country, but may be in your best interest anyway. For instance, if you plan to travel to Thailand, you may want to explore the health benefits and potential side effects of malaria and typhoid preventatives. Countries like Uganda hold strict requirements for vaccination from yellow fever, and will demand to see proof of your immunization upon arrival. It is best to give yourself ample time and see your healthcare provider well in advance of your trip to discuss your needs. For more particular vaccines such as the one for yellow fever, shortages have been known to happen, but many travel health clinics like Passport Health will have you covered, provided you make your appointment with advance notice.
If you plan to travel to a region with confirmed cases of the Zika virus, understand the risks involved and proceed accordingly. For those of us that can’t stand those pesky mosquitos, you may find having DEET, permethrin spray for your clothes, and should it come to it, anti-itch topicals, to be worth their weight in gold. For those of us that are truly neurotic about keeping those pesky pests away, there is even apparel with integrated repellent available on the market. If there’s an African safari in your future, try dressing in neutral colors like beige and khaki, avoiding black and blue at all costs- tsetse flies are no joke, and the right attire could keep you out of their path.
10. Consider A Travel Agent
Finding the process of preparing for a relaxing holiday totally exhausting? Yeah, that’s perfectly normal. While the digital age has seen a rise in online self-bookings, travel consultants are back and bigger than ever. It only takes one stressful experience with a cost saving travel site to make the switch. When you go with a trusted travel agent, not only will they be your advisor in knowing the ins and outs of your journey (likely because they’ve already experienced it themselves), they can do all the hard work for you, and be your dedicated contact back on the mainland should anything not go to plan. Travel agents are often extended competitive deals that will save you time and money, and in the event that something doesn’t meet your expectations, they’re available 24/7 to advocate on your behalf, making sure your journey is well on its way to a seamless experience. Finding the right agent all depends on what you’re looking for; if an adventurous expedition is in your future, reach out to a specialized agent that has comprehensive knowledge and experience in such journeys. You will save yourself hours of stress and research, left only to enjoy the trip ahead.
Samantha Sendor is the Editor-in-Chief of Sophisticated Weddings Magazine and an enthusiastic global traveler. In her pursuit to discover all the beauty this world has to offer, she has trekked through six continents, picking up countless travel hacks along the way. To read more about Samantha's adventures and find the best destinations for a wedding or honeymoon, be sure to visit the Wanderlust section from The Checklist, and get the latest issue of Sophisticated Weddings.