Experienced travellers know that everything from overpriced flights and foreign transaction fees to the dreaded middle seat can put a serious damper on an otherwise perfectly planned trip.
Travelling can be complicated – but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re scouring the internet for the best flights or landing at a destination for the first time, there’s a hack to help you out.
We asked a collection of leading experts and professional frequent fliers for their best tips, tricks and shortcuts to make your next travel experience a cheaper, smoother and more relaxing one. If you’re in it for the long haul, here’s what you need to do…
Land On The Booking Sweet Spot
“A good rule of thumb is that Tuesdays are usually the cheapest days to book air travel,” reveals Phil Bloomfield of Cheapflights.co.uk. “Generally the best fares are advertised 50 days ahead of departure, with the most expensive being three days beforehand. Always fly in the evenings when you can. Aside from Fridays, the most affordable flights tend to be those which take off between 6pm and midnight.”
Break Your Journey, Not The Bank
“Flying indirectly with a short stopover to simply switch planes can often save you large sums, while adding relatively little to your journey time,” says Bloomfield. That means more spending money for a better hotel at the other end too.
Ditch The Wheelie Bag
“Holdalls make better cabin luggage than wheelie bags,” says Lee Thompson, co-founder of solo adventure travel specialists Flash Pack. “Many budget airlines are now getting stricter with their carry-on rules, and wheelie bags are always the first to get checked. A holdall is much more flexible when it comes to onboard storage and you can often fit more possessions inside them from the outset too.
“The real trick is to invest in a one with hidden wheels, like the Eastpak Strapverz, for the best of both worlds.”
Go Far, Far Away
If you’re travelling to de-stress, putting a lot of miles between you and the office / ex / family is the best way to ensure genuine rest. In a survey by the Institute of Applied Positive Research, 84 per cent of people said travelling to other countries was the surest way to beat stress. This confirms a separate study by Twitter, which found that users’ posts are happier the further away from home they’re geotagged.
Sandwich Your Seats
If you’re travelling as a pair, always book “sandwich” seats – the aisle and the window seats in a row of three. Unless it’s a full flight, it’s unlikely that anybody will then pick the middle seat, ensuring you have the entire row to yourselves. If somebody does end up between you, simply ask to switch seats so you can sit next to your partner.
Read Between The Lines
Going through airport security isn’t really ever a pleasant experience for anybody, but it’s a lot easier for some than others. “If you’re in a hurry, don’t just look at a line’s length – look for the scanners that seem to be filled with frequent travellers, like businesspeople,” says Sansom. They’ll have mastered the art of getting through quickly. Meanwhile, avoid any lines filled with people who will undoubtedly take more time, particularly families with young children.
Adapt Easily In A Charging Crisis
Every now and again, we all forget to pack the right international adaptor. The good news is that it shouldn’t affect your ability to charge your phone. As long as you’ve packed your standard charger, you can simply plug the lead into the USB port on the back of your hotel TV.
To Rock A Look, Always Roll
“To maximise luggage space and minimise creases, always roll your clothes when packing,” says Sloan Sheridan-Williams, spokesperson for accommodation portal Booking.com. Not only will your first-night wardrobe be ready to wear, but this technique also provides useful safe havens for delicate items like electric toothbrushes, razors and chargers.
Cap Your Shoes
Whether your shoes are dirty when you’re packing them – or they get muddy during your trip – there’s an easy way to prevent them from marking the clean clothes they’re now bag sharing with, says Mark Sansom, editor of Food And Travel magazine. “Simply grab a cheap shower cap to place them in during transit, and prevent any dirt from getting on your clothing.” Packing a small tumble dryer sheet for a fresh smell in your luggage is always a good idea too.
Tap Into Free Wifi
As you’re walking around, plenty of places will have free Wi-Fi, but they’ll probably be password protected – and they won’t give out that password if you aren’t making a purchase. “Sidestep that problem by checking FourSquare, where previous visitors will often post passwords,” says Sansom. Certainly beats paying the equivalent of another air-fare in roaming data costs.
Don’t Pay Twice For Car Insurance
“Once you’ve decided on the right car hire deal, only buy the basic package,” says Thompson. “Sometimes daily insurance can cost many times what it’s actually worth, as car hire firms make their profits by selling add-ons, which can be absurdly expensive. Instead, arrange your own cover beforehand – or get a general travel insurance package which covers car hire too.”
Stay Hydrated Without Leaking Money
Plane filtration systems might ensure a clean environment for passengers – but they also ensure parched throats, dizzy heads and a higher risk of jetlag. Luckily there’s an easy fix: “Invest in a reusable water bottle that looks great and does good,” says Thompson. “Just take one to the airport empty and fill it up once you’re past security. Something like BRITA’s fill&go Active bottle is ideal: it even improves the quality and taste of tap water.”
As well as saving money, booking a trip well in advance also has big psychological benefits. A Dutch study in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life (which sounds like a must-read title to us), found that holidaymakers are happiest not when they’re on holiday, not when they get back, but when they’re looking forward to it. By booking early, you maximise that excitement and anticipation – even if your productivity checks out early because you’re Googling pictures of your destination at the office.
Combat Jet Lag Before It Even Happens
“It might sound obvious, but leaving home well-rested will minimise any subsequent jet lag,” says Sheridan-Williams. “Ensure you have a relaxing 48 hours before your departure, and pre-prepare a chilled playlist to help you zone out in-flight.”
Sleep Off Your Jet Lag
To further minimise holidaying like a zombie, the Sleep Foundation recommends choosing a flight that gets you to your destination in the early evening, and staying awake until around 10pm local time. Set your watch to your new time zone as soon as you board the place and, unfortunately, you’re going to need to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the three to four hours before you go to bed.
Pre-Map Your Destination
“Download the area you’re travelling to on Google Maps before you leave home.” says Thompson. “The GPS in your phone will work without using mobile data, and with a downloaded map you’ll always be able to navigate your way around an unfamiliar area.”
Always Mark Checked Luggage As Fragile
“This is a great way to ensure that your baggage is handled correctly,” says Thompson. “Your luggage will be kept at the top of the pile because of this, which will make it one of the first bags to be released too.”
Build Your Heat Tolerance
If you live in a moderate climate and holiday in the tropics, the danger is that you spend your entire vacation in the shade because you can’t stop sweating in the sun. Fortunately, multiple studies have shown that you can increase your heat tolerance simply by exposing yourself to it in the days before. Hit the sauna or sign up for a hot yoga class and your body won’t get a heat shock when you leave the arrivals lounge.
Stay Away From That Pesky Cold
Flying can dry out the membranes in our nose – which, when moist, help keep germs moving to flush them out of our system. This can be easily solved with a saline spray you can find in most drugstores – as well as making sure you stay hydrated. Even getting in some of the steam by having a good whiff of your pre-flight coffee is worth a try.
Never Order Tap Water On The Flight Home
Speaking of hygiene, here’s a damn fine excuse for having a beer instead of water on a plane. A study by the Wall Street Journal tested tap water on 14 international and domestic flights. They found everything from salmonella to tiny insect eggs. Likewise, don’t ask for ice if you’re flying from a country with a suspect water supply. The trays will have been filled there, not at home.