24 February 2014

Our 13 Best Travel Tips


Danny and I have been so lucky to travel quite a bit since we've been married. We've gotten into a groove with how we like to do things, and these are 13 (!) of our top tips…

1. Space Bags Travel Set. These travel bags are LIFE CHANGING and our #1 tip!! We first used them several years ago when we backpacked in Europe for 5 wks. They allow you to get the vacuum packed effect with your clothes just by rolling and sealing. And, they help to keep your bag totally organized as each category has it's own bag. At first I didn't get on board with them and Danny had to convince me. But, I'm telling you, they will save you TIME and FRUSTRATION as you try to dig for socks and eventually see all your folded clothes become a giant mess. And, they're much greener than using regular zip locs as they're long-lasting. You can use them over and over. We got our first set nearly 4 years ago and we're still using them for every trip we go on. Also, they add another layer of protection against bugs, inclement weather, or shampoo leakage.



2. Get a Full Row. Danny came up with this one. For two travelers, book an aisle and a window seat on the same row, leaving the middle seat empty. There's a good chance other travelers will avoid booking that middle seat, leaving you with a full row. Of course, if the flight is full and someone has to book the middle seat, they'll be delighted to switch with you and get an aisle or window seat.

3. Buy Souvenirs or Unique Clothing at Second Hand Shops. I got this genius idea from Brittany Jepsen of House That Lars Built. She referred me to this huge list of second hand shops in Iceland. Since we're downsizing, I didn't do much shopping. But here's a few gems I found at Salvation Army in Bergen, Norway. Oh man. I had to leave them all behind as we don't have a home right now.







4. Hard Case Suitcases. I recently switched to a hard case suitcase and I'm so glad I did. I loove mine from Tumi (the Vapor style), which I found on E-bay. Hard cases protect bags from moisture and mold (handy for the tropics, especially), they are wipable and cleanable, and most of all, it seems they are less of a magnet for bed bugs or dust mites. eww. 

5. Muji Travel Pillows. We have these travel pillows and have been very happy with them (I love that you can get a custom fit due to the strap.) They are life savers on overnight trains and planes. I especially love that the cover is removable and washable.

Muji travel pillow


6. Take Your Own Snacks. Before every trip, I fill a carry-on with snacks. Comes in handy for me, especially since I don't eat dairy or gluten. Also, it's much healthier and cheaper than trying to find snacks on the road or at airports or train stations.

7. 4-Wheeled Suitcases! It's a dream to just be able to glide a suitcase through the airport. I'll never go back.

8. Eye Masks + Ear Plugs + No Eye Contacts.  On flights and long train or bus rides, I sleep soooo much better without contacts in. Also, eye masks and ear plugs make such a huge difference. Some trains or flights will provide them, but it's nice to have them handy.

9. Groom a Ton Before Traveling. Ha. Painting nails or shaving are not things I really like to do in most hotel bathrooms (especially the teeny tiny bathrooms in Europe.) So in the best case scenario, I will groom like it's my wedding before the trip. (Here I am in a teeny bathroom with my toiletries all laid out to dry after one of them leaked.)



10. Carry your own water bottle. I am trying to avoid plastic, when at all possible. And I'm also done with buying water unless it can't be avoided. Here in Europe, Danny and I have carried our own water bottle which we fill up each day at a faucet.

11. Grocery Stores & Farmer's Markets. We LOVE going to foreign grocery stores & markets. It's usually the best way to find foods for cheap picnics or snacks.

12. Stay in Small Inns, Hostels, or Airbnb. Travel expenses go through the roof if we stay in fancy hotels. It's nice to splurge every once in a while, but for the most part, we look for recommendations and stay in the cheapest places we can find.

13. PACK LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT. Sometimes I do this perfectly. Other times I over pack and regret it soooo much. (We definitely over packed for Scandinavia. We brought WAY too many clothes options thinking we'd be cold.) Really, EVERYTHING one really needs should fit in a carry-on bag!!! If we're on a long trip and we've packed right, we do laundry on the road (we've even done it in the hotel sink, if needed. Yes, we love to travel cheap.)

OK, all you travel veterans out there, do you have any travel tips to pass along? We need all we can get. We are going to be traveling a TON this year.

32 comments:

  1. these are great tips, but - what about packing less? you both have enormous suitcases for such a short trip...

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    1. Hello, yes, as mentioned we did take way too much stuff for this trip. Partly because we brought too many warm items, not knowing what weather we would face in Scandinavia. Also, we literally did no planning for this trip. Since we've been in the middle of moving abroad, we just grabbed what we could and were lucky to make it out the door. It's just been one of those trips (also, we only have big suitcases right now and everything else is stored.) I look forward to packing light on our next trip. It definitely takes more time and organization to do so.

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  2. Regarding grooming: Since many of my flights require I arrive at the airport outrageously early in the morning, I don't want to get up a lot earlier than just before it's time to leave. So I pack the night before, and lay out my clothes. I leave a note to myself so as not to forget anything that is not already sitting by the door (like my peeled hardboiled eggs in the refrigerator--see below). Then I wash and cream my face, dress, grab my stuff, and leave. The people checking me in, don't care if I look unfinished. I won't ever see them again, anyway. After I check in at the airport gate, I usually have at least a half hour to wait before boarding time. That is when I go to the restroom to do my makeup. I emerge, read to go, and the wait at the gate doesn't seem so long.

    I also pack my own snacks. I take a shake container with protein powder in it, buy water after going through checkpoint, and mix the two for a healthy shake. One of my favorite snacks is sliced cucumbers, celery, carrots, etc., in a see-through ziplock bag. If I pre-salt the veggies, they get watery, so along with the water I buy some salty chips at the airport and eat them together. This helps me to keep hydrated during travel, a problem for me. Hardboiled eggs have also been good. I heard about a friend who couldn't get her hardboiled eggs through checkpoint until she cracked them open, so I pre-peel my eggs, leaving them whole (less messy), put them in a bag, salted and peppered. The checker can feel the eggs through the bag, if there is any question. I've never had a problem. Of course, these have to be eaten before very long without refrigeration. But I didn't have breakfast this morning either. I might even eat them at the gate before we board.

    I'm all about taking care of myself when I travel. So one of the most important things I carry on is a small bottle of hand sanitizer. I keep it in an easy to reach location, for quick retrieval in my airplane seat.

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    1. Thanks for this comment! Great ideas!! You're good to groom at all on travel days. I usually skip it all together and look like a zombie on travel days as it seems we mostly have early departures.

      Love the idea to take a hard boiled egg! That's genius. I also love to take green olives as they can be at room temperature.

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  3. Such great tips!! I love the space bags! I never thought of using those! Husband will LOVE that idea. We try to pack one bag every now and then but since I belong to over-packers anonymous - it can be challenging. The space bags will change our packing/traveling lives from now on! Ha!

    My husband and I travel well together, too. We just fall into this great rhythm and everything works out. :) I've so enjoyed hearing of your travels!

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    1. I love it that your name is Mara! I've never told you before, but it makes me so happy to see that we have the same name. :)

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  4. I need to try these space bags!! Wonderful tips. One thing I do is download itinerary/boarding passes/maps to Passbook on my iphone and Notes section or apps that don't need wifi before I go. Then I'm not searching emails for addresses/flight numbers/contact info when there's sketchy or no internet in a foreign country! Just easier to have. Also do you have cheap unlocked phones that you can put SIM cards into? That's the cheaper and easier way to communicate while traveling a lot. Some cheap LG ones on amazon. Another thing I do is pack my purse into my carry-on. That way I can have a larger carry-on and still have all the little things I need in my purse while on the plane. One thing I've found while abroad with my iphone is that is I turn it to Airplane mode with the wifi on, the GPS on the maps or google maps app still works!! This has save me so many times when I was wondering where we were. And it's FREE!

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    1. Marlene, you are the BEST. Thanks for chiming in with these genius tips!

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  5. Also, I'm sure that since Danny's a finance wizard you know this -- but I always have the XE Currency app on my phone and charge everything on my credit card in the foreign currency if possible (not american $). Also got a credit card with a CHIP and no foreign transaction fees. Now I just need to get TSA pre check and Global Entry and I'll be good to go!

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  6. These are great tips. One thing we also have done is download tours onto our iphone/ipod so that when we go to a touristy museum or castle, etc, we don't have to pay to have the tour. We get so much more out of the place and save money all the while. We have a headphone split jack and each have our own set of headphones (also forces us to be joined at the hip to listen, which I love!)
    We also are BIG fans of Super feet inserts. We knew on our Europe travels that tennis-shoes were a major AMERICAN giveaway so we wore non-tennis shoes with super feet inserts and were totally fine (and we walked the equivalent of 2 marathons in 5 weeks).
    Lastly, we are BIG fans of a site called Couchsurfing. Its basically where each person has a profile and offers to let people sleep on their couch for free (or guest room, etc). You can pay to have your identification verified, etc. It was great for Europe because we were able to meet locals and get a lot more out of the local culture because you are staying at people's homes. Its a really cool site. We've hosted many many travelers from different countries, etc. Its been a really cool experience. I'd highly recommend it.

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    1. I should also mention that on couchsurfing, people review you right on your profile, so if its a shady place, or you're a bad host, or whatever, people will put that on the profile so others are aware before requesting the couch. The community keeps everyone accountable and also provides recommendations on people's pages etc. We always went into it thinking, lets make the request and go there and if we get a bad feeling, we'll just leave. No big deal. Its a great site. I think you guys would have a blast.

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    2. We totally dig couchsurfing. We did it once in Vienna and it was quite amazing actually. The woman even made us the most delicious dinner. And, LOVE your reminder to download tours onto the iphone. We forgot to do that for this trip and I regret it. But I'm grateful for this encouragement to do it the next time we travel.

      Danny also has that headphone split jack and we love watching movies together on flights or trains.

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  7. We don't book hotels until we get to our destination. Then, we use expedia's hidden rates feature. You pick the general area you want to stay in, and how many stars you want the hotel to be. After you book and pay, they tell you which hotel you've been assigned. We waited until 5:00 pm each day to do this, as most hotels are desperate too sell unfilled rooms. On our last trip to England, we were able to stay in nice, 4-star hotels for 40-60 euros a night. Hostels were the same price (I did the hostel thing in college, and don't think I'm up for it as an adult). We also use this process when traveling domestically, and have rarely been disappointed.

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    1. I didn't know about that feature on Expedia! This sounds like a gold mine for discounts. thank you so much!

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  8. My tips for on the plane:

    *if I'm not in business (very rare these days) I bring disposable slippers. My feet swell a lot and this makes it easier to walk to the bathroom, etc. I bring an extra pair of slippers in case the hotel doesn't provide them (cheap ones don't).

    *I also carry Muji mini face steamer and I think it makes a huge difference. On long flights (for me 12+ hours) I use it a couple times. I cleanse my face to get rid of oils, etc., steam to add moisture back and then use a really rich moisturizer.

    I use Japanese hand mask on the plane. These are available here in pharmacies, but I'm sure there are similar products all over. They are gloves with a rich hand cream. If I don't have any of these I bring a really nice hand cream and cotton gloves.

    Face masks are great. You may feel a little goofy at first, but they are great for when you're sleeping. They help keep the air you breath a little more moist and, if your mouth falls open no can tell!

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    1. wow - this sounds more like a day at the spa!! Good for you. It's lovely to use that block of hours to care for yourself. We all probably don't do it enough.

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  9. Travel in the off-months, set a limit on $ per person for food (we generally do $40), do a kitty for the food/gas money if in a group to make it go farther and less awkward when sharing costs, wear comfortable shoes!, and double check to make sure sights are not closed on certain days ie, all chateaus in France are closed on Tuesdays. Learning from experience is the worst.

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    1. Thank you! And yes, I can say that traveling in the off months is great. That's kinda what we're doing now in Scandinavia and it's led to a few discounts, less crowds, and definitely lots of availability everywhere we go.

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  10. Thank you so much, it was very helpful :D

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  11. I love keeping a laundry bag for dirty clothes. Keeps our suitcases a lot neater. I bought a really cute on from The Container Store

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    1. Yes - I'm the same way. I love having those dirty clothes separated. I also put all my shoes in their own bag.

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  12. Next time I travel (even if it's visiting family in another state), I would bring my small ninja blender. All I need are some fruits/veggie (spinach!) and OJ and I could make smoothies for breakfast, lunch or a snack. This is a great way to eat healthy while saving money.

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  13. Mara you won my heart with this post. If you'd post about the same topic weekly, I wouldn't mind a bit. I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to packing like a pro. Because you guessed right, I am a terrible overpacker. Still looking for the magic formula, but here are some things I found helpful through years:
    -always bring a pair of slippers/flip flops (rubber preferably because they're lighter and dry fast) for the bathroom/shower (most european hotels have paper slippers or not at all)
    -pack clothes by a palette (tip originally read on "Cup of jo" blog - I seem to be doing it better in summer eg. navy+white+yellow+red, because there are less pieces to coordinate than other seasons with many layers)
    -bring a cloth bag/tote for dirty clothes
    -pack as much toiletries as you can in travel size bottles
    -have a travel case with toiletries filled and ready to go and replace after every trip, so you worry about some items less to pack
    -be honest with yourself: if you know you will be lazy to do your nails while away, don't carry a whole manicure set with you "just in case". same goes for other treatments, ambitious books etc.
    -it's been a year since a made a packing list for every season in a word document and it makes packing less stressful because I'm less likely to forget anything
    -if you know where you'll be staying, ask if there is a hairdrier, such a bulky item to be carried for no reason
    -what i never regret is extra underwear and tees, all else can me managed fine
    -i take a new dove soap with in every trip and i always use it

    Now I'm gonna make a blog post after these. Thanks for the inspiration!
    Safe flights!

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  14. I like to pack a golf ball and then I use it to massage my tired feet at the end of the day.Perfect in Europe when I seem to walk about 10 miles. I also pack a ton of snacks. I don't know if you remember but when we were in Paris together, my mom would mail me packages of granola bars.

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    1. PARIS!!!!! XOXOXO What a glorious summer we had together. I'll never forget it. Love you!!

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    2. Some of my most cherished memories are from that summer and I am so glad we got to spend it together. Much love to you too!

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  15. Thank you so much for this post! I'm going to Ireland & London in a couple of weeks and it's my first time leaving the North American continent! I've been incredibly nervous, but everyone has such great tips. I feel a little bit more prepared!

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  16. Thanks for these tips -- I'll have to try the Space Bags. I've never seen them before. I really think your suitcase size is perfectly fine for travel to a cold climate. Packing warm things takes more space and it's hard to make do with just a carry-on bag if you're going for more than a week. And unless you're going to be doing a lot of toting your own suitcase around, like a long train trip with multiple stops, a 4-wheel medium size suitcase isn't much harder than a rolling carry-on and it gives you a lot more flexibility to keep organized and bring a few creature comforts. But I'm a notorious over-packer and just moved back from 7 years in West Africa and every trip there I would maximize my weight allowance because every ounce was an opportunity to bring something I needed, so having a full suitcase seems no problem. How you pack depends so much on the kind of trip you are taking and if you're going to be moving around a lot or staying in one place, and if you plan on shopping for souvenirs and need space for purchases. You may not use this water tip because you avoid artificial flavors/colors, but I get tired of plain bottled water on the road, especially when it's usually room temperature and I don't drink sugared sodas, which is sometimes the only alternative. When we were traveling in India and had to drink bottled water, we brought some of those individual packets of Crystal Light or PowerAde and would sprinkle that in. It made room temp water less tiresome. We would use it diluted strength -- sometimes ordering a big bottle of water with our meal and putting a lemonade pouch in and it would be a pleasant change. Also if you bring socks or underwear or even shirts that you are ready to "retire" you can just toss them out as you go and have more room in your luggage. If you have to do laundry as you go, bring quick dry things and wash them in the sink or bathtub and they will usually be dry in the morning. If you are traveling to a 3rd world country and make previous connections with a school or orphanage at your first stop, you can use your extra suitcase allowance and bring some school supplies or books (if it's an English-speaking country) or clothes. Children in many places appreciate getting a pen, though in India I saw a woman get mobbed as she tried to hand out some key chains to a group of children, so it's often better to give donations to an organization as you don't want to encourage children to beg. This wouldn't work in Scandinavia, but in Zimbabwe, some people on the street selling things were thrilled when I gave them my extra hotel soap and toiletries. If I have room in my suitcase, I often bring them back (especially when I was returning to Nigeria) and would donate them, and any extra business class toiletry bags to shelters or charities serving the homeless. Skype is a great way to keep in touch with people at home, as wifi is getting more available in so many places, and you can even send a text to a mobile phone in any country using Skype for a very nominal fee.. But if you need to stay in touch with your travelling partner or people you are visiting in a foreign country, it's great to bring an unlocked phone and get a local SIM card. Also if you will be doing a lot of credit card use in a foreign country, get one that doesn't have foreign transaction fees, as those add up. If you are going to a 3rd world country, I always found it very helpful to bring a whole stack of US 1$ bills, as usually they are appreciated for tips and small purchases. Oh, just writing this up makes me long to go back and travel some more in Africa. I love that place!

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  17. I always PRINT hard copies of flight itineraries, hotel bookings etc. Firstly, I'm comfortable handing them to cab drivers etc, and also, the number of times my battery dies, or the network isn't working (the worst being my phone not working in the US - I'm from Australia).

    Like you, I pack the ear plugs and eye mask, though often a hoodie (in cold temps) or a light scarf are ideal as an eye mask too - and multipurpose!

    I prefer 'flat top' suitcases, the zippered part inside is great for dirty smalls, but anything else dirty (clothing) gets folded inside out to identify it from clean. The flat top also means I have space for two piles in the suitcase, which I can easily see into and flip through options. I don't like rolling clothes, and whilst I'm not organic/vegan or strict GF/DF, I strongly detest plastics, so won't consider space bags (sorry!).

    Heavy novels from second hand stores go well in paper shopping bags - if you leave it lying around an airport, anyone can easily see it's books. You loose a paper bag and cheap books, fine, you can put it down regularly. And you can 'dump' each book as you finish it. Again, paper books always work, I'm not on board with kindle etc (hate cords adapters etc, so try to keep this to a minimum).

    Lastly, colourful luggage! I have a multicolour carry on and a yellow one. So easy to spot when I'm tired, and easy to explain if it gets lost (they have NEVER EVER when I've put them in the hold). And they're different :D

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  18. My favorite travel tip is to pack a small (empty) spray bottle. When you arrive at your destination, unpack your suitcase and hang clothes on hangers. Fill the bottle with warm water and lightly spray your clothing. The wrinkles fall right out! Stubborn wrinkles can be spritzed and smoothed by hand. I also use this method to freshen lightly worn items, making them crisp for a second wearing.

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