Vacation Travel Hacks — Straight From The Pros

Designed by Mary Galloway
We interrupt the workday to bring you a somewhat depressing fact: According to a Glassdoor survey, Americans took only half of their paid vacation time last year. Whether due to crazy workloads, lack of funds, or the nagging feeling that planning a trip is more stressful than it’s worth, this failure to redeem much-needed R&R actually hurts job performance and (duh) increases stress levels all around. Yikes, right? Well, don't panic just yet; we've got some good news, too.

To make sure you actually enjoy your time off — whether it's spent on an epic European getaway, a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, or an impromptu long-weekend trip to the shore — we tapped our favorite packing, beauty, food, and money-saving experts for their all-time best travel tips. Read up, grab your weekender, toss in a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen, and take off.
1 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
A record number of passengers are expected to fly this summer, which isn't the best news for getting your fair share of the armrest, but it could mean good things for your wallet. After years of rising prices, we'll finally see a slight decrease in ticket costs (flights to Europe, for example, are down by an average of $50). Want to sweeten the deal? Research shows that booking a flight on Tuesday yields the best fares and that you can save about 20% by leaving on Thursday rather than Friday and returning on Monday instead of Saturday. Mark your calendars, jet-setters.
Advertisement
2 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Global Entry — a.k.a. the best-kept secret in travel — is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that lets you cut all immigration and customs lines, get TSA precheck every time, and skip the paperwork when leaving or entering a country. The service costs $100 for five years (yep, just $20 a year), and you can apply by filling out an online survey and then scheduling an in-person interview at your local enrollment center. Seriously, how are we just finding out about this?
3 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Feel a spur-of-the-moment trip coming on? Download HotelTonight (free for iPhone and Android), and take the pressure out of scrambling to find last-minute accommodations. The app has killer deals on top-rated hotels as far out as a week in advance and as soon as same-day — all bookable in just three taps. We found a sweet Montauk beach resort for $49 a night and snagged a $25 coupon code when a friend booked using the app, too.
4 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
If you're trying out an Airbnb, heed travel journalist Peter Greenberg's warnings, and be wary of hosts who are slow to respond, have negative reviews, or ask for payment to be delivered upon arrival, as in-person cash swaps are actually forbidden under Airbnb rules. If you run into any problems, contact Airbnb within the first 24 hours, and it will put a hold on the payment. Even after that window, don't sweat it. The company is known to be very fair about refunds in case of a travel emergency that prevents you from using your rental.
5 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Despite their less-than-stellar rep, there’s been an explosion of stylish, upscale hostels in the past few years — so give them a try. First, scour guest reviews on sites like hostelworld.com and hostelbooker.com to get a sense of what to expect (total party spot, clean and quiet, etc.). But, when it comes to booking, call the hostel directly instead of using the websites’ services and having to pay an added fee.
6 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Prior to your trip, notify your credit-card company’s fraud department with what locations you will be visiting on what dates. Otherwise, even if you’re only headed to another state, you risk finding your card frozen as the result of a fraud alert. Talk about a damper on souvenir shopping.
Advertisement
7 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Curate a playlist to serve as the soundtrack of your trip. That way, whenever you listen to the selected songs — we’re feeling “My Way” and “Froot” right about now — it’ll take you straight back to vacation bliss.
8 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Before you start packing, Jenny Nguyen-Barron, founder of the travel blog Melting Butter, suggests downloading the Wunderlist app (free for iPhone and Android) and plotting out everything you'll need. The app has calendar alarms to help you combat I'll-just-pack-the-night-before-my-6 a.m.-flight procrastination, and it lets you collaborate on a super-list with your travel buddies.
9 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
According to packing expert Hitha Palepu of Hitha On The Go, the key to traveling light is planning to wear every piece of clothing you bring at least twice. "Opt for items that won't stretch out after a single wear (no cotton body-con dresses, then), and use previously worn tees as workout shirts," says Palepu.
10 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
No matter what your destination, pack fabric-refresher spray, so you can rewear clothes, plus a multipurpose makeup stick that works as a lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow. Palepu swears by Wander Beauty's On The Glow and the Laundress' Fabric Fresh.
11 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Don’t buy into the hype around vacuum sealing. Instead, steal Palepu's technique: Use gallon-sized Ziploc bags to pack your clothing — either by outfit or by type of rolled item (tanks, T-shirts, dresses) — to achieve the same effect. Toss in a stack of dryer sheets to remove any static cling, and you're good to go.
Advertisement
12 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Skin-care and beauty expert Gregory Dylan prevents product-spillage disasters by packing travel-size goods in plastic sandwich bags and leaving the top fifth of all bottles empty. The air pressure on planes condenses bottles — and we all know how that turns out.
13 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Calling all nervous flyers: Look into whether any of the airports you’re passing through have designated yoga rooms. Some, like Chicago O’Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth, have set aside a studio space that’s open to the public. It’s a simple way to relax before takeoff and — unlike some other airport destressors — won’t leave you with an on-flight hangover.
14 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
To beat jet lag, World of Wanderlust founder Brooke Saward recommends getting into the rhythm of a new time zone before you get there. If you board a plane midday but are headed to a place where it’s six hours later, wake up early on your travel day and try to tire yourself out. That way, you can sleep straight away and avoid playing catch up.
15 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Avoid the stress of trying to track down someone who speaks English to help you find your way after a long flight, and instead, do as Palepu does: Print out your hotel confirmations and maps in the local language before you leave home. Honestly, no matter how excited we are to touch down, we don't exactly feel like playing a game of he-said-she-said after a two-stop, 16-hour journey.
16 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
If that talk of a 16-hour flight made you lose your mojo, make this the summer you check “take a road trip” off your bucket list. The Energy Department predicts that gas prices will be their lowest since summer 2009 — $2.45 a gallon between April and September, compared with $3.59 the same time last year — so now’s the time to cruise the open highway.
Advertisement
17 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
If you're renting a car, Ordinary Traveler founder Christy Woodrow recommends double-checking whether your auto insurance covers rental insurance (most auto policies do) before buying additional coverage. If that doesn’t work, pay for your rental car with an American Express card — it offers "Premium Car Rental Protection" for $24.95 or less for up to 42 days.
18 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Before you go, download the Heads Up! app. It combines charades, Trivial Pursuit, and Password into one ridiculously fun way to pass time on a long ride. Best of all, it records your faces as you play, so you can re-watch each game for further (slightly embarrassing) amusement.
19 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
According to Cars.com, professional truckers can't drive more than 11 hours per day — and that should be your max, too. On that note, also keep in mind that our bodies are used to eating every four to five hours. Don’t forget to work in snack breaks on a road trip, no matter how tight your timeline is. Road rage has nothing on road hanger, folks.
20 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Looking forward to detoxing from work during your vacation (hey, those summer Fridays are VERY valuable) but still need to stay on top of one timely project? Gmail users can add important email addresses to a VIP mailbox and set notifications for only those threads. That way, you’ll get a ping when it matters, not when your coworkers reply all to a happy-birthday message.
21 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Be sure to build a rest day into your vacation. There will be times when you feel burned out and will want to relax, but Saward warns that if you’ve jam-packed your calendar with pre-booked activities, you’ll be hit with tons of cancellation fees. Rigid schedules are waiting for you back home (sorry!) — give in to some blissful hammock time while you're gone.
Advertisement
22 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
When it is time for a day of sightseeing, Dylan recommends tossing cleansing wipes and a good moisturizer into your bag. Wipes can be used to clean your hands and face as needed (so you don’t have to worry about touching your face with dirty hands after taking public transportation!), while an antioxidant-rich moisturizer helps prevent environmental damage and skin dehydration.
23 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
When it comes to applying sunscreen, we often overlook the back of the neck — especially bad if you’ve got your hair up to beat the heat. "A clear spray, like Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Clear Spray Sunscreen SPF 30, is best for hitting that area," says Dylan. Even if you’re not beach bound, the tropical scent will infuse your day with R&R-friendly vibes.
24 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
As anyone's who's ever gawked at their credit-card bill can confirm, people spend 12 to 18% more on average when using credit cards as opposed to cash. Allot a daily cash budget to not only keep track of your spending but also to avoid foreign-transaction fees. That said, it’s always smart to bring an emergency card just in case.
25 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
One way to spend wisely? Eating awesome local dishes. Instagram is actually one of the best apps for finding them, because the verdict on a meal is often conveniently shortened down to a bite-sized "go" or "no." "Search hashtags like '(your vacation location's) best diner,' then ask the original poster for details on location or value," says travel and food expert Elspeth Velten.
26 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Don’t fear street food. Velten's rule of thumb is that if it’s cooked in a hot wok or on a grill, it’s generally a safe bet. Seeing how your food is prepared can actually be a good thing, and it’s way more authentic than dining at any tourist trap.
Advertisement
27 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Speaking of which, challenge yourself to drink like a city's residents. "Always ask about locally made wine, beers, and spirits — then order them," says Velten. "You'll earn street cred with the bartender and have a cool recommendation to bring home." Cheers!
28 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Tap water is a major no-no in many developing countries, and it can turn up in places you wouldn’t expect. Besides rinsed salad and fruits, uncooked dressings and chutneys can also be culprits. When in doubt, Velten opts out of mystery sauces and scrapes off raw-veggie garnishes.
29 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Ready for a dining experience you won’t forget? Download the EatWith app, and book a seat at an intimate dinner party thrown by a local chef. Bring a travel buddy or attend solo; either way, you’re bound to meet interesting people. And, isn't that the best part of ANY vacation?
30 of 30
Designed by Mary Galloway
Advertisement