Let’s get straight to the point. Even when you know how to travel like a pro, travel is not glamorous.
Travel gets romanticised, and yes! Visiting and exploring beautiful places around the world, soaking up foreign cultures and tasting exotic food is amazing!
What I’m talking about is the travel itself. The getting there. Whether it be flying, taking a bus or train, or driving yourself.
But especially flying.
The saying goes something like “It’s the journey, not the destination that matters.”
Well, let me tell you something! In a real-life travel scenario, the journey matters.
It is all about getting there as relaxed and comfortable as possible!
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There is nothing worse than being all stressed, hot and bothered while travelling. Cramped from the too-tight airplane seat. Sweaty from rushing around the airport terminal. Hungry from cheaping out on purchasing airport food. Dehydrated from a long flight….
But, travel doesn’t have to be like that.
And no, that’s not only if you win the lottery and buy a first class (or even business class) ticket.
Learn how to travel like a Pro with these 21 secret travel tips and you will arrive at your destination fresh faced and bushy tailed!
1. Allow enough time at the airport
While I have relaxed on this rule over the years (especially now that you can often check in online, which speeds up the process immensely – see #2 below), I still like to give myself enough time at the airport.
My general rule of thumb is to give yourself at least 2 hours, both before departure and for any connections you need to make.
(Note: This does depend a lot on the airport! Some are super efficient while others may need more time – it’s worth looking into the specifics on TripAdvisor or similar so you know what to expect).
Yes, hanging around at the airport is pretty boring. But, the extra time can get you out of a pickle or two…
Like that time in China when I was headed to the airport in a taxi and it got a flat tyre…
Or that time I showed up at the airport here in Cork (Ireland) without my passport…. Having followed my own rule, I had enough time to call a friend to come and get me, race back home, pick up my passport and get back just in time to run onto the plane. I was headed back to the Netherlands for my grandma’s funeral so my mind wasn’t quite as clear as it normally is but that’s the whole point.
Allow for unexpected events.
2. Check-in Online
Whenever you can, check in online. Even if you have bags to drop, the queue for online check-in/bag drop only is usually much shorter than the regular check-in line.
Even if you have connecting flights, many airlines allow you to check in online for the whole journey.
This means less time is needed prior to going through security and the handy thing is that you have your boarding pass on your phone, so you won’t misplace it or forget it anywhere.
I would suggest you download the airline’s App ahead of time and check in through it directly.
3. Portable Charger
Which brings me to my next point. We rely an awful lot on our electronics these days.
This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.
But, you definitely do not want to be relying on your phone for a boarding card or directions to your hotel or similar, and have the battery go flat at a crucial moment!
Having a portable charger for electronic devices can be an absolute lifesaver!
There are lots of options out there in varying price brackets but I got my husband a super cheap one similar to this one from Amazon years ago and it works a treat!
4. Bring Extra Zip-Lock Bags
Remember that most airports now will restrict the amount of liquids you can bring in your hand-luggage. (I have a whole post on the topic of packing hand luggage in case you’re interested!)
One zip-lock bag per person with liquid items of no more than 100ml (3oz) each is the maximum.
Most airports will have a stash of zip-lock bags just before security to help you in the process. Make sure you grab a couple of extra spare ones.
In my experience, tubes of toothpaste or moisturiser like to poke holes in the bag, causing tears that items can easily fall out of. Having some spare ones to transfer your liquids into can save you a lot of hassle.
The bags are also handy to have once you’re at your destination for storing wet items like a loofa or your bikini if you’re moving around from place to place.
5. Use a TSA Approved Lock
I absolutely recommend locking your checked bag.
It won’t always stop things from getting stolen (unfortunately!), but it will help deter those pesky thieves.
Airport security has the right to open your bag for inspection though.
TSA may inspect your checked baggage during the screening process for dangerous items like explosives. (If your bag is inspected by TSA, you will find a notice of inspection inside your bag so that you know it has been opened.)
To avoid them damaging your lock, and your bag, in the process, make sure you use a TSA approved lock.
Airport security have a ‘master key’ that they can use to open the lock safely, and will lock it for you again once their check is complete.
6. Photograph Your Bag
Not only do things get stolen out of your bag. Sometimes the whole bag goes missing…
I honestly can’t count the number of times my bag did not make it to my destination on the same flight as me!! Luckily, I’ve never had my bag disappear altogether.
If your bag does not greet you on the luggage conveyor belt at your destination airport, you can go to the lost luggage counter and put in a claim.
What helps is if you’ve taken a picture of your checked luggage so that you can easily identify the type of bag they need to be looking for.
Super-Pro Tip: Put a small ribbon or a distinct sticker on your bag for easy identification on the luggage belt (and/or in case it gets lost.) Make sure this is not anything too long as it might get tangled up in the luggage belt or other airport equipment though!!
Also, make sure you safely store away the luggage receipts that you get at check-in as it makes it much easier to track your bag if you have your identifying luggage number!
7. Pay-For-Use Lounge Access
Not many of us budget-conscious economy-class travellers ever travel far or often enough to really build up our frequent flyer points enough to get free access to business class lounges.
If you’re in America, you might have the option of signing up for an amazing credit card deal where you get tens of thousands of bonus points just for signing up.
For us poor Europeans though (*small violin*), this isn’t really a thing.
I have had silver status (and therefore Business Class lounge access) with British Airways (pretty nice!). But only because of regular work trips. (There are perks to having a demanding career!)
My guess is, though, that if you are anything like me – In your 30’s, working hard at your career, and trying to make the most of your annual leave – you are not going to have gold or platinum status with your airline.
The good news is that these days, most airports have paid-access lounges.
Earlier this year, when we were headed to Thailand for our wedding, we ended up being seriously delayed because of the unprecedented snow we experienced in Europe this past winter.
When we finally flew out of Cork (Ireland) the next afternoon, we were so relieved!
What wasn’t so fun though, was the 9-hour layover in London Heathrow Airport… Definitely a time to pay for lounge access! I also often use lounge access when I go back to New Zealand to visit family and friends. It’s a 34-hour journey at best… So you know… Not short.
Being able to have a bite to eat, shower, and change your clothes is incredible!!
Super-Pro Tip: The real secret is to buy your entry pass for the pay-for-use lounge ahead of time! Using sites like Expedia to buy lounge access can be a lot cheaper than buying it on the spot at the lounge reception.
8. Be Smart About Seat Selection
Okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one, because it’s actually 4 tips in 1…
8.a. Select an aisle seat in the middle section to minimise disturbance from other travellers (Trust me, you don’t want to have to get up 50 times during your flight because your seat-neighbour has a small bladder)
8.b. Select a seat towards the back. It’s usually quieter. Most people seem to like to be up the front. Maybe because there is arguably less obvious turbulence. But, I’ve had a whole row of seats to myself at the back of the plane on multiple occasions, while people further up were a full 3 or 4 passengers to a row. Just be conscious that the plane gets narrower towards the tail, so don’t go all the way back just in case it is busier and the plan backfires – You’ll actually be in a more cramped space.
8.c. If you’re travelling as a pair, book the window and aisle seat. Leave the middle seat empty. Individual travellers are much less likely to pick a middle seat between two other passengers. I know I would much rather have an aisle seat if it’s available (see 8.a). Chances are, if the flight isn’t completely full, you’ll have 3 seats between you! If there is a passenger between you, I’m pretty sure they’d be happy to swap seats with one of you so you can still sit together.
8.d. Keep your eyes peeled as the plane fills up and ask a member of the cabin crew whether that open exit row seat is taken. Cabin crew will often accommodate seat moves if the flight isn’t full. This works best if you’re travelling solo, although it might work for two as well. Make sure you’re extra polite and friendly when you ask, and pick your moment! I’ve been able to switch seats to an exit row seat multiple times just by paying attention and asking early. Being able to stretch your legs out is an absolute godsend on a long flight!
9. Special Meals
You know when you’re a bit peckish, and you can smell the food being prepared in the galley? It can feel like forever before they finally come and serve you.
And, hang on, why is Mr. Smug across the aisle being served already? And that couple behind me? WHERE IS MY FOOD??!!? (Sorry, I get hangry… Just ask my husband…)
The trick is to order a special meal before you fly.
Whether or not you’re gluten intolerant or a vegetarian, you can order a special meal either when you book your ticket, or later by logging on to the airline’s website and go to “Manage Your Booking”. Cabin Crew will have a list of the passengers who ordered a special meal and get those out of the way first.
I’ve ordered Hindu meals (yum! curry!), bland meals (I was doing a low-FODMAP diet), and others. Just make sure you know what you’re getting (you know, don’t order a diabetic meal and then get upset when you don’t get the chocolate cake for dessert…)
The added benefit of getting your meal first is that you can finish up, sit back and relax sooner. This is especially great on a late-evening flight!
10. Stay Hydrated
As I mention in another post about how to save money while traveling, sure you bring an empty drink bottle with you. (Fill it up after security.)
Most airports will have a drinking fountain or a specific water-bottle filling station.
Sure, you get served water on the plane, but not always when you want it, or as often as you might like. Anyway, it’s good to have your own supply for those layovers as well, so you can brush your teeth without having to use the tap water in the bathroom (often not drinkable!)
The other thing is, don’t drink too much alcohol…
Yes, I know, it is tempting when there is essentially a “free bar” (Oh wait, did we pay for that in our ticket price??) But alcohol dehydrates you, especially in the pressurised plane.
So while I’m all for enjoying a glass of wine or two, make sure you drink plenty of water too. Nothing worse than dehydration for making you feel sluggish, tired and miserable. Drinking water throughout the flight will help you arrive feeling fresher and less jet-lagged.
Super-Pro Tip: Invest in an insulated water bottle that can hold both cold and hot drinks. These days, I honestly don’t travel anywhere without my stainless steel vacuum insulated water bottle by Balhvit! It keeps the water lovely and cold for hours on end. Perfect both during travel and at your destination!
11. Choose Comfy/Loose Fitting Clothes
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll never be one of those Instagram influencers who seem to travel in perfect outfits and with immaculate hair.
I see some people (women especially, but men too) traveling in high-fashion outfits, complete with stiletto heels (okay, that’s more so the women than the men!). I honestly cannot imagine why you’d do that to yourself on a 10+ hour flight!?!
Comfort all the way, baby!
I’ve taken to travelling in a pair of leggings, a tank top, a loose long-sleeved t-shirt and a cozy knitted jumper, paired with a pair of sneakers.
Luckily work-out gear and yoga-pants are actually pretty popular and even (dare I say it?) fashionable, so you won’t look entirely out of place.
The long and short of it is this – Airplanes are not comfortable.
No matter how you twist or turn, it gets cramped and you’ll end up with at least one limb going to sleep. On top of that, your body will swell up (to a point) in the plane. No matter how amazing you look in those skintight jeans, DO NOT WEAR THEM ON THE PLANE.
Trust me on this one.
Stretchy loose clothing is the only way to go for your travel comfort.
12. Wear Layers
The temperature on planes can’t seem to make up its mind.
One minute it’s freezing cold, the next it’s absolutely boiling hot.
So wear layers. Ensure you stay as comfortable as possible by being able to take off or add layers depending on the temperature’s mood at any given time. (Hence my choice of outfit above in #11)
You’ll likely get a blanket, and that helps, but I’ve still had times when I’ve been cold regardless.
Super-Pro Tip: If the flight’s not too busy, keep those eyes peeled again and grab an extra blanket off an empty seat before take-off and stow it away for later. You can use it for extra warmth, extra seat comfort or a pillow. Cabin Crew will usually go around and collect spares, so make sure you get in there and claim yours early!
13. Bring Knitted Socks
Or slippers. I’ve seen people in hotel slippers on the plane. Ingenious!
Again, this is for comfort (really, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, that’s what this whole post is about).
Take your shoes off!!
For long-haul flights, I do this before we’ve even taken off. As I mentioned above, your body, including your feet, will swell up during the flight. You’ll be way more comfortable taking your shoes off and throwing on a pair of warm, loose, knitted socks.
14. Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Surprise! Planes are noisy. Even without the screaming baby or the freight-train snoring of a fellow passenger, it is noisy. You know… Because, huge engines… And air circulation.
While the airline will supply you with a headset for your in-seat entertainment system, let’s be honest. They’re pretty shit. As in, you still can’t hear what’s being said in the movie you’ve been dying to watch even with the volume up full blast. And they most definitely do nothing for any surrounding noise.
If you do anything for yourself before your next long-haul flight, do this: Invest in a decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
I love my gold coloured Beats Studio Over-Ear Headphones by Dr. Dre! But Bose (and I’m sure others) has some great ones too. The sound quality of the in-flight entertainment system suddenly becomes incredible!!
Super-Pro Tip: Buy an airplane adapter for your headset or you might only hear the sound from the in-flight entertainment system in one ear… Which is a tad annoying.
15. Bring Ear-Plugs
Most likely, you’ll want to try and get some sleep. I’m notoriously awful at sleeping on planes. I never used to be able to get any shut-eye at all. No matter how tired I was, my body refused to sleep simply because of the noise.
Besides, the ear-plugs can be great for when you get to your destination too, if you’re in an unfamiliar environment with more or different noises to what you’re used to.
Super-Pro Tip: Couple your ear-plugs with an eye mask. While they’ll dim the lights on the plane to simulate night-time, there will still be lights around from toilets, other passengers’ screens, overhead reading lights etc. Cover those eyes and say night night 😴
16. Hand-luggage Essentials
I have a whole packing tips post on how to pack light and travel with hand-luggage only. But, I do tend to travel with a checked bag for longer trips.
Having said that, there are a few must-have items for your hand-luggage bag;
- Change of clothes
- Wet towels/hand sanitiser
All of these items are designed to make you feel refreshed during or between flights. As mentioned before, being able to take a shower, or just a “wet towel shower” and put on a fresh set of clothes (definitely underwear & socks!) makes you feel ready to combat the next portion of your trip.
The wet towels/hand sanitiser are great travel items for when you get to your destination as well!
17. Walk, Walk, Walk
And gently stretch. Keep that circulation going!
Make sure you walk around regularly – both on the plane and the airport. Do an extra loop of the plane when you use the facilities, or make the most of the slightly more “open space” by the toilets on the plane to do some on-the-spot walking and gentle stretching.
Your body will thank you and you won’t be quite as stiff once you finally arrive at your destination.
18. Bring a Pen
Let me tell you, my husband rolled his eyes at this one!! 🙄 But I stand by it!
I know we all rely on our electronics a huge amount these days but I still always make sure I have a pen in my bag. It always comes in really useful!!
Many countries will require you to fill in an arrivals card, and being able to do so on the plane means you can get straight in line once you land, rather than wasting time filling it in at one of the counters with a chained pen. (Other passengers regularly ask to borrow mine because they didn’t bring their own.)
And, call me old-fashioned but I still find it easier to quickly jot down instructions, names, addresses and so on, on a piece of paper, or do Sudoku in a physical puzzle book.
Oh, and don’t forget your travel journal!! Way more fun to journal in a real book. With a real pen!
19. Travel Wallet
Have you ever had that sinking feeling in your stomach when you can’t locate your passport?
Did you leave it on the plane? Did someone steal it?
Keep all your travel documents together in a handy travel wallet. This includes your passport, flight details, itinerary, travel insurance details. I love the passport organiser by Homchen. Being diligent about putting your passport back into the travel wallet will save you the stress of not knowing where it is and keeps everything tidy and together.
Super-Pro Tip: Unfortunately, losing important things does happen… One way to ensure you always have a copy of your important documents at hand is to save a copy online. Just in case.
I share some of my favourite travel Apps in another post, including a couple of options for storing documents in the cloud. If you’re more “old-school” you can always just email yourself a copy – works just as well really!
20. Written / Mapped Directions
Despite all your best intentions, having offline travel maps on your phone and itineraries printed out, sometimes you just need a good old-fashioned physical map with directions.
How will you get from the airport to your first accommodation? Where do you need to go? Should you take a taxi? Have you booked a transfer ahead of time? Where is the counter you need to go to?
Write these crucial details down before you leave home.
After a long flight, the last thing you need is to get lost or confused about where you’re meant to meet up with your driver or host.
21. Mobile Internet
While there is an awful lot you can do offline these days, getting online is still a priority for most of us. Letting loved ones know you arrived safely or catching up on the latest blog post here on A Zest For travel 😇
One option that will help you manage your internet expenses and keep you online at all times is by getting yourself a mobile wifi hotspot like this one from Skyroam Solis. It works in over 120 countries and doubles as a power bank!
Another option is to rent one for a specific number of days such as through Travel Wifi, which allows you to connect up to 10 devices at a time.
Full Disclosure: I have not tried either of these myself, but wanted to share it as a tip here as I hadn’t known these types of devices even existed prior to coming across it on another blog (sorry, can’t remember which one now!) Please do the appropriate research to ensure it meets your specific needs before making any purchases.
Have I missed any tips that help you travel like a pro?
Let us know in the comments below!