37 Travel Tips, Tricks & Secrets for a Great Vacation

Travel can be confusing.  Where to go, what to see, how to get there, finding the best deals, what to eat, learning the culture, etc., etc., etc.  Since beginning to travel on a regular basis, I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.  This list attempts to clear up many of the questions travelers new and old often have during their travels.  If you have any other travel tips, tricks or secrets, I’d love to hear them!

1) Be Willing to Travel Anywhere: The most affordable deals are always fluctuating.  If you are willing to travel anywhere in the world, you are better able to capitalize on these fluctuations.  If you are focused on one place, you may miss an opportunity to travel to other amazing destinations for cheap.  Keep your eyes open.

2) Avoid Peak Season Travel: The prices for flights and accommodations spike during peak travel season.  By avoiding peak season and traveling on the shoulder, you are able to benefit from smaller crowds and lower prices.  One drawback of traveling during the shoulder season is that the weather may not be as warm.

3) Fly During the Middle of the Week: Certain days of the week (Monday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) are more expensive to fly simply because more people fly on those days.  Flying on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays often yields significant savings.

4) Check Multiple Aggregators: Using flight aggregators can help save you time and money when searching for the best deal on airfare.  There are many to choose from and they often return the same results, though it pays to check them all as it is impossible to know if a deal may pop up somewhere.  Here are some aggregators that I use regularly:

Bing: This is my favorite aggregator.  It is convenient to use and has a Price Indicator which can help you determine if it is a good idea to snag a deal today or wait for prices to fall.

Kayak: I like this site because you are able to chose an option to be flexible in your travel dates, which can result in significant savings.

Tripeedo: This is a useful site as you are able to compare prices from many of the more popular travel sites such as Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity.

5) Check the Airline Website: In addition to using flight aggregators, check the airline website to compare the prices which are being shown by the aggregators.  Flight aggregators earn money through the fees airlines add to the base ticket price.  Sometimes there are discrepancies between the aggregators and purchasing direct with the airline.  It is worth your time to check around.

6) Fly on the Red Eye: Flights that leave early in the morning are often cheaper than those leaving a couple hours later.  Quick connections or long layovers also often provide opportunity for travelers to save money.  More than once I have spent the night camped out on the airport floor.

7) Avoid Non-Stop Flights: Direct flights are usually much more expensive than flights with multiple connections.  Making connections in other airports isn’t always free from stress and frustration.  Delayed flights have the potential to affect your ability to make your connection.  Long layovers are boring.  The savings that multiple connections provide travelers is usually worth a little inconvenience.

8) Fly Economy: Most people flying First Class do not pay for the luxury.  Budget travelers will arrive in the same city at the same time as those in First Class.  The seats may be less comfortable in Economy but the savings are significant.

9) Find Package Deals: If you have decided on a destination, check for deals on tour packages.  Often these guided tours will include the cost of your flight, lodging and transportation within the country.  They can provide you with convenience at reasonable prices.  A common drawback to these packages is that they often depart from an airport which is not local.  You will have to arrange travel to and from the departing airport.

10) Avoid Package Deals: The real benefit of package deals is the convenience they provide.  It can be more cost effective to plan your own itinerary and custom tailor it to your desires.  Weigh your options and decide if the convenience of a guided tour is worth the extra cost.  You may be able to do it cheaper on your own but it will require more planning.

11) Sign up for Email Offers: Signing up for weekly email updates about travel offers is a great way to find some of the best deals available.  I subscribe to TravelZoo’s Top 20 and each week I receive an email with deals that are simply amazing!  One drawback to many of these trips is that they depart from specific airports and the booking window is short.  You must act fast and have flexibility in your schedule.

12) Book Your Flight Early: If you are able to book your flight early you have the advantage of being able to shop around for the best deals.  I try to book my flights about 3 to 6 months in advance.  Any later and the flights are beginning to fill up and the prices begin to rise.

13) Book Your Flight Late: If you have flexibility, it could be worth your effort to hold off on booking until 3 to 4 weeks before you want to leave.  Sometimes airlines will drop their prices on flights that do not have enough passengers as a way to encourage people to buy.  This is a gamble and not something I recommend unless you have the flexibility to change your plans.

14) Don’t Book Last Minute: Whatever you do, don’t book your flight at the last minute.  Airlines raise the prices of their airfare for flights as the departure date approaches.  They do this to benefit from people who had to unexpectedly make a trip they weren’t planning.  Unless it is an emergency, plan ahead to get the best deal.

15) Check Prices at Nearby Airports: If you live in an area where it is possible to travel to multiple airports, check the prices of each.  By flying out of one rather than the other could save you hundreds of dollars.  For example, I live in Wisconsin, so I check the cost of  flying out of Madison as well as Minneapolis and Chicago.  On average, flights out of Chicago are cheaper since flights from Minneapolis often connect in Chicago.  The drawback to saving the money in my situation is the long drive to Chicago.  The savings would need to be significant to convince me to drive all that way.

16) Assign Your Seats Online: When you make a reservation online, you can choose where you want to sit.  If you forego this step, you might end up on the wing, next to the window with your significant other six rows back on the other side of the plane.  Often, people are willing to swap seats but don’t rely on the kindness of a stranger, assign your seats when you make your reservation.

17) Pack Light, Then Take Out Half: Avoid checked baggage fees on domestic flights by packing light so you can fit all of your belongings into your carry-on.  Figure out the things you can live without and leave them at home.  Most hotels provide shampoo, conditioner and soap.  Packing light not only saves you money on baggage fees but the less you drag along with you, the more mobile you are and the easier it is to get around.

18) Print Out All Reservations & Itineraries: Flight information, hotel reservations, transportation arrangements.  These provide proof of purchase and are useful in reminding you of when and where you need to be.  Keep them in a place where you won’t lose them and is easily accessible.

19) Know Airport Security Procedures: Airport security is possibly one of the most frustrating aspects of traveling, for no reason than many people simply do not know what to do.  No liquids over 3 ounces, take your off shoes, belt and jacket, have your computer out of your carry-on bag.  Pack your cosmetics and toiletries in your checked bag.  The less you carry through security, the easier this process becomes.

20) Don’t Park at the Airport: Parking at the airport is a waste of money.  Find a place to park nearby and take a free shuttle to the airport.  A small tip to the driver is customary and worth it when compared to the price of parking at the airport.  When you return, just give them a call and they’ll pick you up and take you to your car.  Shop around for the best deals.

21) Avoid Exchanging Money at the Airport: Currency exchanges in the airport are a ripoff.  They charge high fees for their services, giving you a poor exchange rate.  If you must exchange currency, find a local bank to work with.  Another option is to withdraw money at an ATM.  Be aware of your bank policy on foreign transactions as many charge a 3% fee in addition to the charge for making a withdrawal.

22) Carry Small Bills: In many countries large denomination bills are inconvenient, if not impossible, to use as many people are unable to make change.  Avoid this problem by carrying many small denomination bills.

23) The USD is Not Always King: Fewer countries are accepting the US Dollar as a form of payment.  It is a good idea to carry a supplement of Euros along with your dollars.

24) Stay in Hostels: Staying in a hostel isn’t only for high school and college students.  More and more hostels are catering to young families on a budget.  If sharing a room with a dozen strangers isn’t your idea of a good time, check if the hostel offers private rooms.  If you are traveling with a group, the benefits of the hostel are diminished.  Weigh your options carefully.

25) Camp: I spent a month on a road trip and a lot of the time was spent sleeping in a tent.  One morning I woke up to buffalo grazing near our tent, the next we were camped out in a snow bank at the foot of Mount Saint Helens.  The cost of a campsite can vary, from free to $30 or more.

26) Cook for Yourself: Eating at restaurants 3 times a day adds up fast.  Find a grocery store to purchase a couple of bags of groceries and do your own cooking.  If you stay at a hostel, many offer a shared kitchen where you can cook your meals.  By doing some of your own cooking, not only are you saving money but you are also avoiding unhealthy restaurant food.

27) Carry Snacks and Bottled Water: When you are out sightseeing, carry a backpack with snacks, a lunch from the groceries you purchased (see above) and a bottle of water.  While I was in Germany, each day we went out to explore we packed a lunch and brought something to drink.  We didn’t spend a dime on food the whole time.  Be prepared!

28) Find the Best Deals on Excursions: The best deal doesn’t mean the cheapest.  Compare prices as well as features.  What is the best value for your money?  While in Iceland, I had to have the most expensive volcano tour because I wanted to have the best experience possible.  I realized a little too late that no amount of money can clear the clouds from the summit and the less expensive tours might have been sufficient.

29) Walk or Use Public Transportation: Except in areas where crime is an issue, walking or public transportation are great ways to get around.  What might have been a $20 taxi ride will be a $2 bus ride.  Learn the public transit systems and use them.  In Europe, consider purchasing a Euro Rail pass that suits your specific travel needs.

30) Buy a Guide Book: Be your own tour guide!  Buy a book, read it and use it.  Almost always, I carry a guide book.  My favorite is Lonely Planet.  There aren’t many pictures but they are filled with a wealth of information.  They can help you plan a walking tour or give you ideas about what there is to visit while you are in the area.  I would recommend purchasing two types of books, one with practical information and one with a lot of pretty pictures.  This way you can see the places in addition to reading about them.  Besides, we all like looking at pictures.  Don’t leave home without one (or two).

31) Avoid Tourist Destinations: A quick way to spend a lot of money is to spend too much time in places with a high volume of tourist traffic.  We all want to see the landmarks.  What trip to Italy would be complete without the Leaning Tower of Pisa?  The trouble comes when we begin booking our accommodations in the heart of these areas.  By staying a little left of center, you can save a great deal of money and still have access to the sights.

32) When in Rome: When you are visiting another country, follow and respect the local customs and traditions.  While in Iceland we visited the Blue Lagoon, a popular geothermal bathing area.  Before entering the lagoon, it is required that you strip naked and shower.  If there is no other place in Iceland where a tourist stands out, it is in a shower room filled with naked people.  How do you spot the tourists?  They are the ones with the personal insecurities who are still wearing shorts.  Respect the customs and traditions.  That’s what sets you apart from being just another turista.

33) Learn a Couple Basic Phrases in the Local Language: Please and Thank You go a long way and showing that you care enough to learn even a couple words shows people that you respect them and their country.  That said, many people around the world speak English.

34) Connect with People Who Live There: “Take time to talk with the locals. They can really help you find the best places to shop, eat & tour. You really never “know” a place unless you make that human connection.”

35) Avoid Buying Souvenirs: Souvenirs are a waste of money.  Check the markings on that trinket you are about to buy and I’ll almost bet it will say “Made in China”.  So, you went to São Paulo to buy a nick knack from China?  Neat!  For a more meaningful artifact from your journey, see the next tip.

36) Take Photos: Of people.  If your vacation photos are only of the landscape or architecture “you might as well have bought postcards” at the souvenir shop.  Get in front of the camera and smile big!

37) Take a Bump: Want to earn a free flight?  Be willing to give up your seat to someone who wants it more than you do.  Plan for the possibility of getting bumped by scheduling your return a day early to allow flexibility.  A trick to getting bumped is to ask whether the flight is full.  If the person at the desk confirms that it is, let the folks at your gate know that you are willing to delay your flight if they need volunteers.  Then, collect your free ticket and wait for the next flight, which could be in a few hours or tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “37 Travel Tips, Tricks & Secrets for a Great Vacation

  1. Great post. I like 1) Be Willing to Travel Anywhere. It got me to thinking. I’m going to start freelancing “on the road” this year and I’ve booked a resort down in the Ozarks of Arkansas for four months this winter, which ties into 2) Avoid Peak Season Travel. And 1) reminds me that in the future I should be flexible about traveling anywhere, not just for picking up a good deal, but for discovering somewhere I may not have thought of. I tend to think of the place in advance, so I really liked it when I read your first idea. One of my secrets was to shop around. I got initial monthly rates from the places that offer long-term rates and when I got the lowest offer, I kept shopping until someone beat it. And it was such a good deal in such a pretty place, I couldn’t refuse it. This winter will be great!

  2. What a great list. I especially agree with 27) Carry snacks and bottled water, and 35) Don’t buy souvenirs.

    Another important tip is to check up on common scams that target tourists. Wikitravel is great for this. There’s nothing worse than being scammed and then feeling stupid for the rest of the trip.

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