The thrill of travel should never be overshadowed by potential pains of reaching your destination. If you’re like us, crowded airports, overbooked flights, shrinking amenities, and higher costs have thrown a slight wrench in your travel bliss, but don’t fear: we have some advice that may put the spring back in your step. If you’ve found yourself asking, “what are the best travel hacks?”, the following list is for you.
These airport tips and tricks will help you cruise through lines, increase your comfort, and give you tools to increase your expertise. Try one or try all; when you take things into your own hands, your travel savvy self will truly shine. Here’s our take on the ultimate guide to travel hacking.
Before you go
Check in before you go to the airport.
If you only have a carry-on, you can head straight to security. If you are checking a bag, you can often hand it over at curb-side drop off points, so you can also head straight to security once inside the airport.
Pack with security in mind.
Keep your toiletries accessible in case you need to remove them from your bag, and buy a 1-quart transparent toiletries case/bag to keep things more organized/secure (plastic zip bags are less sturdy/reusable). Make sure your liquids are 3.4 oz or less.
If you plan to drive to the airport, save yourself the time of looking for free spaces. Book before you arrive, and make sure you have clear directions to your designated area.
Pick a sensible outfit.
Comfort is key, but so are clothing items that make it easy to accommodate security requirements (slip-off shoes, non-bulky outerwear, no belts or excessive jewelry).
Simplify your carry-on strategy.
When it comes to how to pack, travel hacks are a matter of common sense. Forego any superfluous items and carry only what you will need on the flight in your personal item: hand lotion, sleep mask, earplugs, a book or magazine, or your tablet. Put everything else in your checked bag or main carry-on.
Make sure your insurance covers travel-related issues. Especially if you’re leaving your country, invest in medical emergency and evacuation travel insurance.
At the airport (checking in and security)
Know where you parked.
Take a picture of your parking lot and space numbers, so you can easily find your car when you return.
Apply for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry.
- TSA Pre-check is $85 for a 5-year membership, and the process is as easy as an online application and brief in-person interview. Once approved, your wait times are dramatically decreased (most travelers wait less than 5 minutes at security), and you can keep your shoes, belts, and jackets on.
- Better yet, get all the benefits of TSA Pre-check with added perks for international travelers. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that offers accelerated clearance for pre-approved travelers when they arrive in the United States. Global Entry status is $100 for five-year membership.
Expedite the regular security check process.
Being prepared and aware is good for you and those around you, and everyone benefits when all are mindful of time-saving techniques.
- Slip off your shoes before reaching the bins, and be ready to grab anything out of your bags that is required to be on its own.
- Keep your laptop easily accessible, as you’ll have to remove it from its case. Make sure you have easy-to-open bags and cases that are not locked.
- Empty your water bottle before you get in line. Water fill stations usually await you on the other side.
Board at your own leisure.
If you’re not putting a carry-on in the overhead bin and you already have an assigned seat, there is no need to board with your group. Take it easy, and avoid yet another line. Go grab a coffee or a drink and make it back to your gate after most of the boarding is done (but don’t be late!).
Food (on and off the plane)
The lack of humidity in the pressurized cabin changes the way our tongues detect sweet and salty flavors – it inhibits those flavor detectors by about 30 percent (almost like when you are congested). To combat resulting blandness (or less-than-tasty airline food in general), try the following:
- Bring your own travel-size spices or hot sauce packets to doctor up any flavorless in-flight meals.
- Lemon juice packets can also enhance in-flight drinks, which are often served with dried-out citrus wedges or no garnish.
- The flavor of umami is not affected by altitude or humidity levels, so opt for foods high in this, like soy sauce, ketchup, tomatoes (or tomato juice), meats, and vegetables.
These airlines consistently receive high praise for the best food:
With a James Beard award-winning chef creating meals and sourcing products from its native Pacific Northwest, such as Tillamook cheese and local spirits, Alaska keeps its cuisine seasonal, fresh, and artisan.
Their head chef creates island-inspired meals, like chicken adobo with pineapple cookie dessert, that will have you dreaming of beaches and palm trees before the wheels hit the tarmac.
- Virgin America
On Virgin flights, you can order from the screen at your seat, start a tab, and eat and drink at will. Example options include sliders, sandwiches, salads, cheese plates, and premium cocktails.
- Singapore Airlines
Taking a cue from scientific studies, Singapore Airlines tests their cuisine in simulated pressurized cabins to ensure their rich flavors don’t fall flat in the air. They also have kids menus with a lot of choices for picky eaters.
Complimentary wine and beer pair perfectly with regionally inspired menus, depending on your destination.
- Turkish Airlines
Fresh staples like hummus and chicken satay with salad and rice are served with Turkish wine and mousse-based desserts.
- Innovations in neck pillows, like the Trtl, have changed the in-flight sleeping game. Specially engineered to support your neck and head almost as if you were resting against a sturdy surface, they might help you sleep better than ever.
- Never frown at the sight of a baby boarding your plane again…bring noise-cancelling headphones, or better yet, ultra-comfortable earplugs. Don’t forget a sleeping mask if you plan to catch some z’s!
- If you are prone to cold, pack a pashmina or big scarf in your carry-on, which can double as an extra blanket as well as a fashion item.
- Bring a pair of cozy socks in your bag for the flight. Taking off your shoes is sometimes frowned upon, but with a fresh pair of warm socks, you optimize comfort while keeping it clean.
- Light jackets or cardigans can be easily folded into a bag or tied around the waist, and are a travel essential for anyone prone to get chilly. Temps on planes tend to be cool, but you want something that is easy to carry and storable, as you’ll have to take it off through security.
- Wear breathable fabrics that have some give to them, so your clothes will move with you if you get restless on the plane.
- Speaking of, the best thing you can do if you’ve got the wiggles is to stretch achy limbs and stunted circulation. Choose a lull time (after meal service or when other passengers are sleeping) to take a walk up and down the aisle and get in some good stretches.
Airport-specific and general travel apps are popping up to fulfill customer needs across a range of travel woes. These are a few travel hacks for flying that we found helpful.
This app offers flight schedules and GPS in-airport maps so you can find what to do around your gate and be on top of your timeline.
Amenity info, maps, weather forecasts, and rental car reservations are included with this helpful app.
This allows you to skip customs lines and go to a specially designated customs area.
Here you’ll find TSA tips, approximate wait times, and historical wait information so you can predict how early to arrive.
This app will show you which seats have extra perks like more legroom and USB/power outlets and offers tips on which cabins are the best.
Expedia Cortana Assistant
This Cortana skill lets travelers learn more about their upcoming trip and get information on their flight, hotel, and activities.
CLEAR is a service that, for a yearly fee, will escort you to the front of security lines in participating airports.
These tracking devices tuck into your checked suitcase to help you keep your eye on lost luggage.
Some airports provide time with service animals for anxious travelers, so if you’re feeling panicky, see if there is a program at your airport.
Some airports have property-wide liquor licenses, so you can walk around with your purchased alcoholic beverage…just make sure you’re in an airport where this is the case.
Make a layover or early arrival more bearable—from yoga in San Francisco to movie theaters in Changi Singapore Airport, as well as health clubs, spas, aquariums, and galleries at airports across the world.
One of the best travel hacks to save money is to plan your trips for weekdays, during shoulder seasons, and book early morning or red-eye flights. Red-eye flights also optimize your time with the fewest nights paying for a hotel.
Bring an empty water bottle.
Most airports have filling stations after security. For a little extra flavor, bring powdered water enhancers along and fix up your beverage post-security.
Weigh your bag before you go.
Invest in a luggage scale and make sure your checked bag is under the threshold where they will start charging for heavy bags.
Bring your own snacks
Small packages of dried snacks, like fruit and nuts are much less expensive outside the airport, so buy them in advance. Better yet, buy them from bulk bins for extra savings.
What are your favorite travel hacks?