Ever wondered how the professionals travel? The Travel + Leisure editors collectively bank a lot of miles, and we’ve tried every travel hack in the book (packing cubes and apps that let you skip the line at immigration are just the tip of the iceberg). While we’ve learned a lot from our jetsetting lives, we’ve also made our fair share of mistakes. Fortunately, we’ve turned all of our travel lessons into tips for you — so you can travel like a T+L editor — and avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past. From how to make a sneaky in-flight michelada to how to rack up travel points and get status on an airline, these 50 travel tips from the T+L staff will help you foray back to international travel in style.
Before You Go: Miles, Credit Cards, and Benefits
Frequent travelers should pick an airline and stick to it. Until recently, I would obviously just go online and get whatever flight was cheapest — and that’s still probably the best route for most leisure travelers. But if you’re on the road a lot, especially for work or otherwise on someone else’s dime, it makes sense to start building up some loyalty. Try to get status, familiarize yourself with partner airlines, and if it makes sense for you, open up a branded credit card. You’ll be rewarded with perks like upgrades, free checked bags, and maybe even lounge access…not to mention miles, miles, miles. — Hannah Walhout, Associate Editor
If you’re just wanting to travel somewhere but flexible on when and where, use Skyscanner.com to search for cheap flights. Put in your origin city, select “Everywhere” as your destination, and choose your dates — you can choose a whole month if you’re flexible — and you’ll get a list of where in the world you can travel, in order of cheapest to most expensive flights, any time of year. — Karen I. Chen, Editorial Producer
Look into airlines that offer extended stopovers in various destinations for no extra charge. Turkish Airlines offers a stopover program in Istanbul, and Icelandair offers a stopover program in Reykjavik. It’s a great way to extend your trip without paying for an extra flight. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
Get a Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express Platinum credit card. The yearly fees are high, but the benefits and rewards that offset the fees are worth it. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you get a $300 yearly credit toward any travel expenses, plus reimbursement of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees. With the Amex Platinum, you get a $200 hotel credit and monthly Uber credit, as well as CLEAR membership reimbursement. Best of all, each card gives you access to a global network of airport lounges, which has been one of my favorite perks of being a card member. Getting to spend a longer layover in an airport lounge with free drinks, food, and Wi-Fi — not to mention the opportunity to take a shower (I was once stuck in an airport for an entire day) — has been a game changer for international travel. — Karen I. Chen, Editorial Producer
If you’re going to pay the annual fee for a travel credit card, know how to use it to get the most for your money, and don’t leave perks on the table. Some of the luxury travel credit cards come with a complimentary Priority Pass, which gets you into a selection of lounges around the world — but you’ve got to follow through and sign up for Priority Pass. Many travel credit cards will also cover your Global Entry fee, but it’s up to you to apply and get that Global Entry card. Take it from a financial editor turned travel writer — you need to research the perks of your travel card, and then make sure you take full advantage. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
If you’re in the airport more than a few times a year, TSA PreCheck is absolutely clutch. It’s saved my behind on many occasions when I’ve cut my airport timing too close. (Plus, I’ve gotta be honest, it’s nice to not have to take off your shoes.) That $100 for Global Entry actually covers PreCheck, too — but if you’re in the position to open a new line of credit, I’d recommend going with one of the many travel-oriented cards that offer both for free as a membership perk. — Hannah Walhout, Associate Editor
This may sound super simple, but keep the apps of your preferred airlines in a folder on your phone. I am not someone who likes to keep unnecessary apps on their phone. But having an app that will keep your upcoming trips saved and will always allow you to have your boarding pass digitally before you arrive at the airport really makes me feel more organized. It also ensures you always have your mileage number on hand when booking a flight — and after years of missing out on miles, I like to keep my account numbers handy so I never forget to input it when booking. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
If you travel abroad a fair amount, consider using T-Mobile as your cell phone carrier. Their mobile plans include unlimited international data and texting, which has been a life-saver when needing to reference Google Maps while roaming around a foreign city; call an Uber; or to look up opening hours for various attractions, restaurants, or shops. It’s incredible to be able to touch down in a new location, turn on your phone, and be able to immediately start using the Internet without having to factor in contacting your mobile carrier and paying more for a global pass during your vacation. — Karen I. Chen, Editorial Producer
Global Entry is cool, but it costs $100. Instead, download the Airside Mobile Passport app for free and use it to skirt customs and immigration lines, no memberships or hassles required. — Paul Brady, Articles Editor
If you pay for Spotify, download your favorite playlists, podcasts, and albums directly to your phone so you always have at least a few things to listen to if you don’t have Wi-Fi or cell service. — Tanner Saunders, Experiences Editor
Nervous about flying? Try an app that predicts turbulence so you know exactly when to expect it.
As we get comfortable traveling internationally in the COVID-era, always check the latest entry regulations for the country you’re heading to. Traveling in 2021 means thinking about things like planning your COVID test before returning to the U.S. and leaving extra time at the airports for entry mishaps. If the stress of COVID-era travel is getting to you while in transit, just stay calm, practice patience, and when in doubt, double check your research.
This is a tip I learned from a co-worker early in my career at T+L: The best way to save on a hotel room is very simple, and pretty old-school. First, do your research on the property you wish to book, and know what rates are going for across the major travel booking sites for your dates. Then, call the hotel directly and ask for the “cheapest nonrefundable rate.” You may be able to negotiate against the deals you found online, since hotels pay a markup of up to 30% to booking sites and would prefer you book directly. And if that doesn’t work, at least you’ll know you’re getting the lowest possible rate. — Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor
If I’m traveling to a new city and don’t already have a hotel in mind, I always search the internet for new hotel openings. Booking a brand-new hotel can come with perks — temporarily lower rates, for some; fewer guests, AKA more personalized service for you; and sparkling, brand-new facilities. It’s nice to know you’re among the first to use a bed or bath tub, and generally just cool to be able to say you were among the first to check out a new property. — Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor
When traveling with a group, consider booking a villa over a block of hotel rooms. There are a bunch of really amazing luxury villa rental sites out there — The Thinking Traveller is my go-to for Europe, and WIMCO Villas for the Caribbean — and some hotels offer villas on property as well. They may seem unattainable, but when you split the cost among your group, it may actually come out to less, and you’ll enjoy having your own private space so much more. — Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor
We all know not all hotel rooms are created equal, but even within the same price category, some can be much better than others. So whenever I end up in a room I find particularly amazing, be it for the size, layout, or especially the view, I always take note of the room number so if I ever return (or need a recommendation for a friend), I’ll know exactly which room to request. — Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor
Packing Tips and What to Bring
In my almost six years at T+L, I’ve tried every travel accessory under the sun — packing cubes, bizarre travel pillows, compression socks, novel suitcases, you name it. Two still come with me on every flight. The first is a Smythson travel wallet, which is just as handy and elegant as everyone says. They’re on sale right now, but if you miss the markdowns, stalk them on resale sites and you can find one for a song. The second is my Trtl travel pillow, which is divisive but for those who like it, nothing else will do. — Lila Harron Battis, Senior Editor
Invest in a nice backpack if you travel a lot. It keeps your hands free at the airport. As someone who once favored a shoulder bag AND purse approach (what was I thinking?), walking through the airport without trying to juggle eight things in my hands is game-changing. If you’re looking for a good travel backpack, my husband got me the Dagne Dover “Dakota” neoprene backpack — an amazing birthday gift for the traveler in your life. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
Travel with a good-quality water bottle. Arrive at the airport with the water bottle empty, and fill it up after you go through security. It’ll help you stay hydrated on your flight, and during your travels. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
Keep a picture of prescriptions or medications you take on your phone in case of an emergency. Hopefully you never have to use them but in case of an emergency it can make getting what you need so much better and potentially save a trip that could be a borderline disaster. (Trust me, this diabetic travel editor knows!) — Tanner Saunders, Experiences Editor
Traveling with your license or ID card and passport as a backup — even when flying domestic — is a good idea, just in case. But accidents happen, and many don’t know that if you do find yourself at a U.S. airport without a government-issued form of ID, you might still get on your flight. Just remain calm, look for any other item you may have with your name on it (prescription medication, credit cards, business cards, mail), and explain what happened to an airline rep. (If you’re traveling with family members who share your last name, even better.) After an interview with a TSA agent to verify your identity, you could make it through. — Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor
Whether I’m packing for a long weekend or a two-week trip, I rely on packing cubes to keep my suitcase tidy and organized. They keep everything compact, so you can really maximize your suitcase space, and you’ll never have to dig around to find that missing sock again. — Elizabeth Rhodes, Associate Digital Editor
I always travel with a laundry bag so I can keep my used clothes separate from my fresh ones. It doesn’t take up much space but it’ll keep your clothes fresh the length of your trip. — Sean Flynn, Contributing Editor
Opt for a soft-sided weekender or duffle as your main travel bag. It’ll often squish into overhead/underseat/car trunk spaces where roller bags fear to go (and you’ll never get asked to gate check it on smaller regional jets that inevitably run out of overhead space). — Skye Senterfeit, Photo Editor
Bring your running shoes when traveling to a new destination. The absolute best way to see a city is to go on a morning run — it helps you kick the jetlag, too. P.S., it’s totally ok if that run is actually a walk — mine often are. The most important thing is just to get up, get out there, and explore before the city wakes up. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
Invest in one or two bags you know you’ll love to have on your body while exploring new places so you never have to worry about what to pack. For me, it’s the Dior Saddle Pouch that sits secure across my chest and holds the essentials. Or, if I need a little more space (probably to carry a snack) I switch to a basic-but-stylish Supreme crossbody. They’re both small enough to not cause any issues at events or museums and are a sort of security blanket when I’m out and about. — Tanner Saunders, Experiences Editor
Never pack new shoes for a trip that involves a lot of walking. I’ve made this mistake countless times — I find a pair of shoes I like right before I leave for a trip, wear them while touring a new city, and end up with painful blisters on day two. Break new shoes in ahead of time, and always pack blister pads and moleskin if you’re prone to blisters like me! — Elizabeth Rhodes, Associate Digital Editor
Pack slippers. Not only do they come in handy mid-flight, but they also help make any destination instantly feel like home. — Stacey Leasca, Contributing Writer
Find an amazing walking shoe that can double as a great plane shoe to cut down on the number of shoes you need to pack. In general, your plane shoes should always be multi-purpose — it just makes you a more economical packer.
For anyone carrying a camera that is not also a phone, my advice is to pack extra SD cards, camera batteries and a battery charger. It’s a hard lesson to learn but if your camera battery dies and you have no idea where to buy the battery you need and you didn’t pack the charger, you’re missing out on capturing the special moments of your trip. Same goes for running out of memory on one SD card. Make sure your memory cards are cleared and batteries charged prior to departure so the photo taking can happen as soon as you get to your destination. — Mariah Tyler, Visuals Editor
My biggest travel tip would be to never check a bag if you can help it. Packing lighter, i.e. in a carry-on suitcase, is helpful enough on its own: when you pare down your wardrobe and essentials, for example, you’ll have more room to shop and, of course, less to lug around in airports and through city streets. Plus, you’ll never have to wait in the chaos of the baggage carousel or deal with lost luggage again. — Madeline Diamond, Ecommerce Writer
This is controversial: If you want to check a bag, just check the darn bag! Those of us in travel love to sing the virtues of packing light — and, sure, there are benefits! — but it’s just not worth it if you’re staying up until 2 a.m. the night before a flight stressed about packing. Throw it all in a bigger suitcase, stop fretting, and get some rest. Packing light is not worth losing sleep over. — Lila Harron Battis, Senior Editor
I’ve been lucky enough to never have a bag go missing enroute to a destination, but that hasn’t stopped me from packing a change of clothes in my carry-on. Just in case your bag is lost — or even delayed for a few days — a fresh set of clothes can carry you over until you have time to buy a new wardrobe while you wait for your bag to arrive. — Sean Flynn, Contributing Editor
Designate one of your packing cubes for dirty laundry, so you can keep your already-worn clothes both organized and out of the way. And if you’re looking for the perfect packing cubes, our editors have found the 13 best offerings of 2021.
Always keep your liquids in the same toiletry bag, so if a TSA agent needs you to remove them, you don’t have to go digging around in your suitcase. These are our favorite, editor-selected toiletry cases.
If you’re going on a long-haul trip, pack for only a week and then plan to do laundry.
Always pack a portable charger — and every charging cord you’ll need with it. You may even want to use a small case to keep all your charging accessories in one place.
On the Plane
For long-haul flights I keep a pouch filled with all of my in-flight essentials: ear plugs, chapstick, ibuprofen, sanitary wipes, cell phone charger, face cream, hydrating face masks (yes, I am one of those fliers), Liquid I.V. for helping to stay hydrated, and a pen (for when you inevitably have to fill out an immigration card before arrival). As soon as I board, I tuck the pouch in the seat-back pocket so all the things I might need are within easy reach without having to fumble through my bag underneath the seat or get up and open the overhead compartment. I leave the pouch packed between trips so I can just grab and throw it in my carry-on personal item when packing for my trip. — Karen I. Chen, Editorial Producer
If you’re prone to motion sickness, headaches, or other minor illnesses that are only exacerbated by travel anxieties, pack a little emergency wellness kit and stow it in your carry-on. You might never need it (and hopefully you won’t), but having things like Dramamine, Pepcid, and a couple ibuprofens on hand can be the difference between the trip you’ve been dreaming of and one spent on the BRAT diet. — Hillary Maglin, Assistant Digital Editor
The best thing you can wear on a plane is a plain white t-shirt that’s easy to dress up with a nice jacket or dress down with trendy sweats. — Tanner Saunders, Experiences Editor
My most truly unhinged airplane ritual is this: Bring a tiny travel bottle of Tajin and a packet of lemon or lime juice or citric acid in your travel bag, order a beer and a can of Bloody Mary mix on the plane, follow your heart, et voila: in-flight michelada. Fully ridiculous? Absolutely! But also kind of brilliant? I mean, if you like micheladas, then yes. — Lila Harron Battis, Senior Editor
If you’re someone who tends to swell when flying, try compression socks. We’ve rounded up the very best ones to buy.
Tips for When You’re There
Pre-download maps. You never know when Wi-Fi or cell service will go down. Make sure you have a map handy when you need it most with apps like Maps.Me. The app allows you to download any map offline and save favorite destinations, so you can always get to where you need to be. — Stacey Leasca, Contributing Writer
Whether you’re planning a trip or just scrolling the internet for travel inspiration, utilize the labels in Google Maps to save the spots you want to visit. If I read about a new restaurant or a museum I’m excited to visit, I look up the location in Google Maps and flag it with the green “Want To Go” label. During the trip I reference it as a list of places to go, and if I loved it, I mark as a favorite. Long term, I’m building a map of all my favorite spots in the world and I love seeing the flags and stars when I’m in Maps. — Mariah Tyler, Visuals Editor
Most cities have free walking tours, which I often try to join shortly after I first arrive in a city. They’re a great way to get your bearings in a totally new place, learn some practical tips from someone who knows the city well (they’re often led by locals), as well as gain a foundation of knowledge about the city’s history and culture. — Karen I. Chen, Editorial Producer
I’ve only recently learned this myself, but if the hotel or resort you’re staying at has an on-property spa, take advantage of it! While it’s tempting to hop off the plane and immediately start immersing yourself in a new, exciting location, taking the time to pause and de-stress with a massage or bath soak really sets the tone for vacation, and you’ll be SO glad you did it. — Hillary Maglin, Assistant Digital Editor
Pocket-sized city maps are a great — and discreet! — way to get your bearings without wrestling the big fold out maps so many tourists seem to favor. My favorites are these hybrid city and public transport map notebooks, that make it look like you’re jotting down deep thoughts while you’re really trying to figure out which train gets you back to your hotel. — Skye Senterfeit, Photo Editor
If there’s a country (or a continent) that you travel to often, buy a phone and computer charger made for their outlets. I travel to Europe specifically with an EU iPhone and Mac charger and it always relieves inevitable adapter stress. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
I always try to grab a small tourist map or a subway map when I arrive in a new city. I tend to get anxious if I don’t understand the geography of where I am, especially in a new place, so I like to have a physical piece of paper I can study in my hotel room to get a sense of where I am and what neighborhoods are close by. — Maya Kachroo-Levine, Contributing Digital Editor
In my estimation, most travel-related woes that affect the body or mind — grumpiness, jet lag, just feeling not-quite-right — rear their heads the most when we are either hungry or thirsty. So stay hydrated and bring a snack. — Hannah Walhout, Associate Editor
If you’re looking for a great Instagram caption while traveling, look up quotes about your specific destination.