11 ways to upgrade your travel game

Want to be a better traveler? Consider adopting these good habits before your next trip, and take your travel game to the next level.

A man rides a moving walkway in an airport while carrying a duffle bag over his shoulder; Upgrade your travel game
Traveling with only a carry-on will free you up for much better things than waiting on your luggage © Westend61 / Getty Images

Never check a bag

Whether you prefer a roller board, duffle bag, or backpack, never check a bag, even during extended visits. Not only is heavy baggage physically taxing, it’s mentally draining, adds time to your commute, and causes unnecessary worry and dependency while traveling. Pack light and save yourself the hassle. Unless you work in the fashion industry, there’s never a good reason to check a bag.

Bypass long security lines

Like lugging around extra baggage, failing to pre-register for TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry, or a third-party security program such as Clear can cost you dearly at the airport. For less than $20 per year, you can get expedited check-in for every flight you take. This frees up valuable time, allows you to enjoy a destination longer, and avoids the stressful scrum of security lines at every major U.S. airport (and even some international ones). As a bonus, download the free TSA Mobile Passport to avoid long customs and immigration lines.

Fly disloyally

Here’s a secret: airlines don’t lose money on loyalty programs, but you certainly do in the long run. Research shows you can save significantly more money by comparing fares and booking with the lowest, even over your preferred airline. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enroll in frequent flier miles with separate airlines (you totally should). But don’t let that loyalty prevent you from booking a more aggressively priced fare elsewhere in favor of sky miles.

A woman's hands are shown wringing soapy water out of clothes in a white sink; Upping your travel game
Doing laundry on the road isn't nearly as hard as it seems and will go a long way to helping you pack light © pixelfusion3d / Getty Images

Launder your clothes

If you pack light during extended stays, you will be forced to launder your clothes or suffer the smelly consequences. Good old-fashioned hotel sink-washing is the easiest and cheapest way to do this in the shortest amount of time, but you could even outsource the work to a laundromat or hotel laundry service if you prefer. Either way, get used to washing your clothes while away. It’s an inescapable part of life you might as well accept if you want to minimize your baggage.

Zig while others zag

If your schedule allows, don’t visit a place during its peak travel season. Doing so will only test your patience and pocketbook, since you’ll encounter greater numbers of people and higher airfare, hotel, and attraction rates. The same is true for day trips. Not only do early birds get the worm while visiting popular attractions, they usually get better lighting, fewer crowds, and more room to breathe. This rule also applies to sunset hour, as most visitors head for the exits in favor of dinner. Either way, get in the habit of thinking differently.

Don’t do everything

Many people will try to see and do everything while visiting a place. All who do will certainly fail. So instead of over-scheduling, block your day off into threes (morning, afternoon, night) and attempt no more than three activities per day. Not only will this help you avoid exhaustion, it will increase your exposure to spontaneous activities, which are usually more memorable than the planned ones.

A man stands on a bluff looking over terraced mountains on the Inca Trail of Peru, with a river far below; Upping your travel game
When you put your camera away, you'll be able to spend more time actually making memories © Blake Snow / Lonely Planet

Put the camera down

If you’re vacationing or traveling for an audience, by all means, keep taking photos at every turn. But if you’re traveling for yourself and/or those who accompany you, decide beforehand how many photos you plan to take and stick with it. Accept that you will not capture everything, nor should you, and you will enjoy your travels a whole lot more.

Consider traveler reviews

Reviews are a wonderful way to seek out activities, hotels, and restaurants that suit your specific tastes. That said, there is a limit to their utility. What’s a three-star experience to someone else might be a five-star for you. The trick is to read the reviews rather than just looking at the rating. By all means, do your homework when deciding upon places to visit, but understand a review won’t necessarily translate to your satisfaction.

Pay for conveniences

If you’re really hungry, buy that expensive airport sandwich. If you plan to spend most of your time on the beach, consider paying extra for oceanside. If you don’t want to sit through several stops, get an Uber over a shuttle. When purchasing conveniences, spend money on things to reduce stress and lighten your load. It pays to pay sometimes (but not every time, if you want to stretch your dollar).

A man and woman pick up food from a buffet table as other travelers sit in comfortable chairs in an airport lounge; Upgrade your travel game
Comfortable chairs and free food will make any airport more enjoyable and can be accessed for less than you might think © Hero Images / Getty Images

Use airport lounges

You don’t have to be rich or famous to benefit from the relaxing environments, free food, and private showers and bathrooms of airport lounges. In many cases, your credit card might afford you free lounge access. If not, check Loungebuddy or Groupon for discounted day rates. For long-haul flights or extended layovers, you’ll thank me.

Keep your head up

If you’re more concerned with what’s happening on your phone, you should have just stayed home. Like avoiding excessive photography, if you want to upgrade your travel game, you must reach for your phone less, not more. So set usage boundaries before you leave. Ask your travel partner to keep you honest. Then bask in the glory of what’s right in front of you.

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