A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

68 Travel Secrets That Guarantee a Stress-Free Trip

Follow these no-nonsense rules to take the pain out of every trip this holiday season­— and beyond.

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Ticket Tips

1. “When to fly and buy” reports from hopper.com will tell you what price is a good deal for any given route. And Google Flights’ “tracked prices” feature will e-mail you when the price of a selected itinerary has gone up or down. Also, read up on these secrets booking companies don’t want you to know.

2. “Data from the past two years suggest the best time to book a domestic flight for the 2017 holiday season will be between three and seven weeks out,” says Randi Wolfson, head of communications at the travel-search site skyscanner.com.

3. “There’s a misconception that every online travel agency [OTA] has the same fares,” says George Hobica of airfarewatchdog.com. “But because they sometimes cut special deals with the airlines, it’s worth it to check them all.” A site such as kayak.com will scan multiple agencies in one search.

4. Delta has stopped working with certain OTAs, so make sure you’ve seen its fares for your itinerary before you book. And you’ll always have to check Southwest’s website for its fares. Make sure you’re not following these travel tips that are no longer true.

5. If there’s not much difference in price between an airline’s fare and an OTA’s fare, book with the airline. In the event of a delay or a cancellation, you’ll need to go back to whoever issued your ticket to get rebooked, and you could be better off if you dealt with the airline directly rather than with a third-party agent, explains Akash Gupta of thepointsguy.com.

6. Don’t always book the family together. If you’re buying multiple tickets, search for them individually and as a group. Airline ticket prices are full of quirks, and sometimes individual seats are cheaper than a block. If you decide to buy individually, make sure there’s no per-ticket processing charge that would offset the savings. These are 13 things airlines don’t want to tell you (but every flyer should know.)

7. Do: Fly on Christmas. If dinner doesn’t hit the table until early eve­ning, consider flying on Christmas morning to save an average of $50 per person compared with ­traveling on the Friday preceding the holiday. Depart before that Friday to cut costs further. Flights on Wednesday, December 20, and Wednesday, December 27, are likely to have the deepest discounts this season, according to cheapair.com. Avoid these travel mistakes for the best vacation ever.

8. Don’t ignore air + hotel bundles. Booking both at the same time may cost a lot less than booking separately. “If the hotel doesn’t have to show their price and the airlines don’t have to show their price, both are willing to give lower prices not available other­wise,” Tim Mac­Donald, former general manager of ­expedia.com, told the New York Times.

9. Do subscribe to a newsletter. Airlines often offer discounts via e-mail. Put your name on their lists and you’ll be in the know about promo codes, flash sales, and other special offers. We’ve seen discounts of up to 50 percent on certain airlines and routes.

10. Don’t miss out on fare-drop refunds. The law requires airlines to allow you to rebook your flight for free within 24 hours of buying your ticket, as long as you’re more than a week from the departure date. After that, most airlines charge up to $200 to change flights, but Southwest will never charge a fee.

11. Do review your group memberships. AARP members get up to 10 percent off at many hotel chains and up to 25 percent off some car rentals. AAA offers similar deals. One surprising source of discounts: Costco. It offers its members deals on cars and hotels as well as on some excellent vacation packages. Many employers also offer airline and hotel discounts.

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For pain free travel

12. JetBlue offers the most legroom in economy, according to Consumer Reports. Each airline has its own signature amenity, so you might want to shop accordingly. For instance, if in-flight entertainment is your priority, opt for Virgin America, which offers free Wi-Fi, movies, and television shows.

13. Delays inevitably stack up over the course of the day. The earlier in the morning you fly, the better chance you have of avoiding them.

14. If you have connecting flights, choose warm-weather cities for your layovers. Phoenix and Atlanta are less susceptible to severe winter weather—and the flight delays and cancellations it often brings—than, say, Chicago or Denver.  This is the reason it’s always so cold on airplanes.

15. Do pop a Pepto-Bismol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says travelers can reduce the risk of intestinal trouble by about 50 percent by taking Pepto-Bismol or ­Kaopectate ­preventively—either two chewable tablets or two ounces of liquid—four times a day. If you have other health conditions, check with your doctor first.

16. Don’t forget to check in the night before. If you end up getting to the airport late, the airline is more likely to give away your seat if you haven’t checked in. This is what your airplane pilot wishes they could tell you.

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Hack your bags

17. “I wear black almost exclusively when I travel,” says flight attendant Kara Mulder. If that feels too solemn for your holiday festivities, try planning your outfits around a cheerier color. The goal is to be able to mix and match a good number of outfits so you need fewer articles of clothing overall. This is why most commercial airplanes are white.

18. Shop online and ship gifts directly to your destination—especially if you’re staying with friends or family and can easily do your wrapping there.

19. Top the inside of your suitcase with a dryer sheet. Your clothes will smell laundry fresh when you arrive at your destination.

20. Put your shoes in a shower cap before you pack them, and you’ll keep dirty footprints off your clean duds.

21. “I’ll even Ziploc my clothes,” says Mulder. It’s much cheaper to wrap up that fancy Christmas party outfit than it is to buy a new one if your moisturizer explodes.

22. To maximize what you can take on board, use a tote or a backpack as your personal item. If you still want your purse with you, slip it inside the larger bag.

23. Do get a shampoo bar. Lush Cosmetics offers one for $10.95 that lasts three times as long as a bottle of shampoo and won’t be confiscated by the TSA. Plus, it can’t leak. You might also want to opt for one of these eco-friendly shampoo bars.

24. Don’t lose track of your bag. Tile (thetileapp.com, $25) is a Bluetooth device that sends a signal from your bag (or whatever you attach it to) to your phone. It has a range of up to 200 feet, depending on the model, enough to alert you when your suitcase is approaching the baggage claim.

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At the airport

25. “Most airports have filtered water systems,” says ­Jeanette ­Pavini, a savings expert at ­coupons.com. Bring an empty refillable water bottle through security, and then fill it at the terminal.

26. You might be able to hop on the lounge’s Wi-Fi, if the airport doesn’t provide any. Visit foxnomad.com for a map with Wi-Fi passwords for airports around the world.

27. Headphones at the airport are especially overpriced. “If you must buy them, you’ll get prices closest to retail at Best Buy’s kiosks,” says Coleman Collins, author of The Road Warrior.

28. Many airport bookstores are owned by the same company, and if you buy a book from one of them, you can return it to any of the chain’s stores for a half-price refund. Just keep your receipt and return the book within six months. Ask a cashier for details. Read more about this awesome perk.

29. The site gateguru.com lists amenities—restaurants, spas, children’s play ­areas—at dozens of airports.

30. Instead, call the airline as you stand in line. You’ll likely reach an agent faster, and he or she won’t be as frazzled as the poor soul at the airport.

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Surviving with the family

31. Don’t let a squabble get out of hand. According to family therapist Hal Runkel, the word “ouch” can stop an argument in its tracks. Say, “Ouch. That one hurt. I don’t know whether you were meaning to hurt me, but that’s what you did,” Runkel tells Business Insider Australia. This wake-up call can get you back to the core issue and away from hurtful territory. Make sure you don’t say any of these phrases that will just make an argument worse, either.

32. Do suggest ways to help. Everyone has one relative who never pitches in. Give Uncle Lazybones the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn’t know how to help—then offer suggestions. For example, “Uncle, I’ll leave the laundry detergent on top of the washer should you need it.”

33. Don’t get into it with adult children. Whether they’ve been out of the house for five years or 50, trust adult children to make their own decisions, even if you disagree. Comments about your children’s parenting strategies or how they split their holiday time with their spouses’ families can be especially sensitive.

34. Do skip a little of the fun. One study by consumer behaviorists found that interrupting a pleasant experience with a less pleasant one can intensify a person’s overall enjoyment. Tackle one annoying task—such as starting your taxes—and the contrast will remind you how special vacation time with the family can be.

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Tips in the air

35. “Tell a flight attendant, and he or she will keep an eye on you,” says Mulder. That could mean anything from a few calming words to a complimentary glass of wine.

36. Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times, watch it again. It’s about safety first, of course. But some of them are actually fun now, as the airlines have been putting on a talent competition with their videos lately. (Virgin America’s looks like something from MTV.)

37. Yes, it’s a worst-case-scenario thing to do, but if the plane should have problems, the cabin could fill with smoke and become difficult to navigate. Making a mental note of how far you need to go to get to the exit could save your life.

38. You’ll limit your ability to pop your ears, which could lead to pain or even moderate to severe hearing loss. Read more about why it’s so bad for you to sleep during takeoff and landing.

39. If they are too young for chewing gum, sucking on a lollipop will relieve pressure in their ears. (It’s all about swallowing frequently.)

40. Not all flight-­induced headaches are caused by increased air pressure. “It’s really easy to get dehydrated in the events leading up to the flight,” says Mulder. Drink eight ounces of water for every hour in the air.

41. Do try this turbulence trick. Jiggle your body slightly when you hit rough air, suggests ­Jamie Wortley, a public relations consultant at skyscanner.com. Your movement will counter­-act that of the plane and help you feel less jostled around. (Don’t be self-conscious: The plane will be making the other passengers jiggle a little too.)

42. Don’t close the air vent. Keep it open to create an air current that blows germs away from you, increasing the odds that you’ll stay healthy. That said, use a tissue to touch the vent. Research has shown it’s one of the dirtiest spots on the plane.

43. Do take a hike. Sitting for too long in a confined space can lead to potentially harmful blood clots. The CDC recommends getting up and walking around the cabin every two to three hours to reduce the risk. And don’t cross your legs while you’re sitting.

44. Don’t catch a cold. One study found that close quarters and low cabin humidity (which lowers immunity) make you 113 times more likely to catch a cold on a plane than on an ordinary day. Keep your nose moisturized and ward off germs with a saline nasal spray, and use hand sanitizer frequently.

45. Do ask about switching seats. One study found that sitting within two rows of someone with flu-like symptoms increases your chance of getting sick by 3.6 percent. Sit within two seats of the sick passenger, and your chance of coming down with the flu goes up by 7.7 percent. If there’s room, quietly ask the flight attendant if a move might be possible.

46. Don’t hurt your back. Using a lumbar pillow or a rolled-up jacket to support your lower back can work wonders. Also, keeping your arms on the armrests will alleviate pressure on your back.

47. Do make the airplane food taste a little less bland. The key here is to wear ­headphones. Oxford University professor of experimental psychology Charles Spence says that the sound of the plane’s engines can contribute to fliers’ inability to taste and smell food. Wearing noise-­canceling headphones could mitigate that, he says. This is why tomato juice tastes better on airplanes.

48. Don’t use your U-shaped pillow as directed. Position it backward to prevent your chin from falling forward should you nod off. Also, spray it with lavender linen spray for a soothing scent that could help lull you to sleep faster.

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Drivers’ Ed

49. If your journey entails a long drive, consider purchasing padding or seat cushions. Full-seat foam options are available for as little as $30.

50. It might give you a quick energy boost, but it wears off fast. Opt for a healthy protein-rich snack such as nuts to rejuvenate yourself without the sugar crash.

51. Every two hours or so, stop to stretch your legs and rest your eyes. Even if you don’t have time for a nap while you’re stopped, the change of pace will keep you more alert once you set off again.

52. You’ll need to stop, but save gas by doing it during rush hour. Stop-and-go traffic drains your mileage as well as your patience.

53. Do hang a shoe organizer over the seat. Especially if you’ve got kids, it’s a great way to organize first-aid items, snacks, books, and electronics.

54. Don’t drink and drive (even non-alcoholic beverages). A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that distracted driving, which includes drinking and eating at the wheel, causes 80 percent of crashes. Hot coffee, which has a tendency to spill, is a major no-no. Chocolate is, too, since it easily becomes a melted mess.

55. Do consider ditching the car. Need to decide between renting a car and relying on taxis? If the longest distance you’re traveling is between the airport and where you’re staying, you’re probably better off using cabs or services such as Uber and Lyft.

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Booking tips

56. Find the best hotel deal you can online, and then call the hotel directly to ask if it can beat what you’ve found, says Pavini. Booking with the hotel will give you more flexibility should you need to change your reservation, and talking to a person gives you a higher chance of nabbing an upgrade.

57. Celebrating a birthday or an anniversary? Tell the booking agent. “They’ll make note of that in your reservation, and you will often get an upgrade when you check in,” says Pavini.

58. They’re free, and they get you perks such as free Wi-Fi, priority check-in, late checkout, and points toward future free stays. If you’re not a member, mention that when you book your room, says Pavini: “Say, ‘If I join now, can you upgrade me or can I get a better deal?’” Speaking of better deals, here is how you can travel for free.

59. Many guests find out their hotel offers a complimentary one only after they’ve arrived.

60. Especially around the holidays, other guests might gather before parties or return from them in the wee hours. Rooms in the middle of a floor are generally the quietest, since they’re not near the elevators, ice machines, or cleaning closets.

61. Airbnb, HomeAway, and other short-term rentals are great options, especially if they can take the place of renting several hotel rooms for big families. But be careful: This type of accommodation isn’t legal ­everywhere—and you could be evicted mid-stay if your rental isn’t up to code. New York City and New ­Orleans are among the destinations that put restrictions on renting a person’s private home.

62. Home to cool, moist contents, hotel ice buckets can easily become breeding grounds for germs, says Jennifer Stagg, MD. Use the plastic liner that comes with the bucket (or ask for one if it doesn’t). Another hotel item you should avoid, the tub.

63. Do remove the bedspread ASAP. It might be changed only four times a year, Reneta McCarthy, a former housekeeping manager for a major American hotel chain, told huffingtonpost.com.

64. Don’t forget the rule of opposites. In general, you’ll want to book business hotels during their downtime (on weekends) and resort hotels during theirs (on weekdays). Sunday, which isn’t in demand by business or leisure travelers, is almost always the cheapest night to book hotels.

65. Do peel and orange when you arrive. Hotel rooms can smell a little antiseptic. Peeling an orange will give off a naturally clean and homey aroma.

66. Don’t suffer with dry air. Because of climate-­controlled rooms and windows that don’t open, the air in hotels can be dry. If your room has a kitchen area, heat water in the teakettle and let the steam escape into the room until most of the water has evaporated. Or run water over a towel and hang it near the air vent.

67. Do try a DIY price drop. Notice that the price dropped on rooms at your hotel? Book it. Then cancel your old reservation—­most hotels will let you cancel within 48 or even 24 hours before your arrival date. (Check your booking terms first.)

68. Don’t order room service. Sure, it can be fun and even a bit romantic, but room service is also pricey. Save money by having food delivered from a local eatery. Seamless or Grubhub will show you what’s nearby—it’ll most likely taste better too.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest