Saving time and money are important considerations when you travel, especially when you travel as much as we do. This blog post is being written as I fly to Ecuador. I’ll spend the next couple of weeks exploring Ecuador’s Amazon Basin rainforest, cloud forest, and Galapagos Islands. I used all of these Travel Hacks in preparation for this trip.
1. Use a mobile boarding pass whenever available, but don’t rely on an Internet connection. Mobile boarding passes are a great way to skip the hassle of printing a paper copy and avoid check-in lines at the airport. Don’t rely on a mobile boarding pass that requires an Internet connection, though. While most airlines will send a link to a mobile version of your boarding pass, you might need WiFi or mobile data to access it. Neither of those always work best in an airport terminal. You may find yourself with a link to a website that won’t load. It’s better to take a screenshot of the mobile boarding pass or save an offline version to your Apple Wallet or similar.
2. Apply for Global Entry. Even if you don’t fly internationally more than once a year, consider applying for Global Entry. In addition to expedited US Customs screening when you return from an international trip, you also get the TSA Pre-Check benefit of expedited screening when you go through airport security. TSA Pre-Check costs $85 for a five year membership. Global Entry is only $15 more ($100 for a five year membership). That extra $15 is well worth it. If you add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) when booking flights, you’ll get TSA Pre-Check status on your flight even for domestic flights.
3. Pack a pen. Pens only seem to be around when you don’t need them. When you do, you can’t find one. If you have to fill out on immigration form prior to entry, the airline will provide the form, but not the pen. Don’t be stuck looking for a pen in the Immigration area and then filling your paperwork while everyone else lines up in front of you. You can also use the same pen to fill out a postcard to mail home (yes, postcards still exist) and to sign receipts. It sounds so simple and obvious, yet few people travel with a pen.
4. Use a photo backup service. Camera phones are terrific these days and an easy way to capture trip memories in photos and videos. Services like Google Photos and Amazon Photos allow you to back up photos to the cloud as you take them (when you have service) or when you’re back on Wi-Fi. If your phone gets lost, stolen, drowned in a rain shower while hiking, or you drop it at a music festival and never find it, you’ll still have your pictures.
5. Pick the right luggage. Having an assortment of luggage to choose from has made my travel life much easier. For this trip, I needed to pack for two weeks of travel. My flights were booked separately on two different airlines so I wasn’t able to check luggage all the way through to my destination. I needed luggage that could fit all of my gear (clothes, laptop, multiple cameras, binoculars, chargers, noise cancelling headphones, snorkel equipment, etc.) as well as a dozen extra t-shirts to give as gifts on arrival. I was able to fit all of that gear in a soft-sided duffel bag and small daypack. The duffel easily fits in overhead compartments and the day pack fits under the seat in front of me. I had too much stuff for the trip to use a roller bag so having multiple pieces to choose from saved me from checked bag fees as well as time in line to check luggage.
6. Pack a portable USB battery charger. When you’re out all day, taking photos and videos, navigating with maps, posting on social media, etc. your phone’s battery is going to drain quickly. Having a portable USB charged on hand can keep your phone running. If you can get one with multiple USB ports, even better. There never seem to be enough power outlets when you need them.
7. Pack a refillable water bottle. This one comes up in all of our lists. I’m amazed at how many people I saw purchase bottled water at the airport this morning. Most airports now have free water bottle filling stations and water fountains. In addition to minimizing single use plastics usage, you’ll save money. A bottle of water at the airport can run $2-3. Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on something else?