11 Best Travel Hacks

Photo by Kimberly Williams

After traveling in Europe, Canada, South and Central America, the United States and Asia, we have compiled a list of the best travel hacks we've learned along the way.

1. Download these apps NOW

The phone apps listed below are all free and have been game-changers for us.

Trail Wallet  - This app allows you to set a budget and keep track of it down to the penny. You can categorize expenses and stay on top of what percent you've already spent. It was created by fellow travel bloggers who have enough experience to know the best way to stay on a budget while globetrotting. 

CityMaps2Go - Another traveler along the way told us about this app with such enthusiasm that we had to try it out for ourselves. It's been super helpful for us, so now I feel like it's our turn to share the love. CityMaps2Go allows you to download detailed maps of any city or country. It will display your location when you are in wifi, and you can search the map for restaurants, streets and hotels. Better yet, you can set "pins" to places you want to remember so you'll never get lost again. (The free version allows you to download 5 maps. Upgrade for $4.99 to get unlimited downloads.)

GlobeConvert - Convert currency in a snap with this handy app! There's a list of nearly every currency you'll ever use, and you don't need Internet access in order to work its magic. Better yet, it converts more than just money. Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilometers to miles - you got it! I even use it for recipes that call for measurements in grams instead of cups.

Viber or Whatsapp - These apps are essentially the same - they allow you to text and call people in any country for free! You need to have wifi access, but once connected they work seamlessly. These apps have allowed us to call home and text friends from around the world without costing a thing.

2. Go incognito

Ever notice how ads related to your recent web searches start to appear in your sidebars? Google is creepy. Search engines remember if you have been searching for a certain flight, and may not display the best deals. To ensure you are seeing the cheapest price, open an incognito window before booking airfare or hotels.

Open an incognito window in Chrome by pressing command+shift+n (mac) or control+shift+n (pc).

3. Be prepared

Before setting off on any trip, email copies of your passport, credit cards and important documents to yourself. You'll be happy you took the time to do so if anything goes awry along the way. 

Additionally, while you are packing, lay everything out on your bed and take a photo of the contents in your bag. This will come in handy in case something goes missing and you need to file an insurance claim, which brings us to the next point...

4. Don't go without insurance

It's never fun to think about all that could go wrong while traveling, but frankly, a lot can happen. Hopefully you'll never need to use insurance, but it's smart to be prepared.

It's not as expensive as you'd think. We purchased a policy that covered two people over a three-month period and cost only $70. It paid off when we had some items stolen and were reimbursed. 

Not sure where to start when it comes to insurance, don't worry. We have a whole post explaining what we look for in travel insurance and who we go with. But if you want a more straight answer, we would recommend World Nomads travel insurance. They're the most popular within the travel community and you can get a quote on their site within seconds. 

Tip: Be sure to read the fine print. For instance, before we received money for our stolen belongings, we needed to submit receipts for those items. Additionally, if you incur medical expenses, you will most likely need pay up front and the insurance will reimburse you later. Be familiar with the protocol so you aren't surprised. 

5. Get a credit card just for travel

After doing lots of research, we decided upon the Capital One Venture card. With no foreign transaction charges, and no ATM fees at select banks, it has been a perfect card for us. Plus, we can redeem points for miles (without blackout dates) or cash. Do your own research and determine what factors are important to you. 

6. Withdraw money from ATMs

Avoid currency exchanges at all costs, as they are almost always a huge ripoff. Withdrawing cash from ATMs usually comes with a small fee, but it will be nowhere close to the interest charged by third parties. Or you can sign up for a Charles Schwab Investor Checking account and they reimburse you for all ATM fees worldwide. 

7. Think like a thief

I hate to say it, but someone carrying a big backpack and looking for the nearest hostel is going to be a target for pickpockets. Keep your bag locked at all times - especially while on public transportation - so you don't fall victim to those unsavory characters.

Be even more prepared, and travel with a fake wallet. It may sound a bit paranoid, but I carry a small wristlet containing a couple expired credit cards and a few dollar bills. If you are ever threatened, you can use this wallet as a bargaining chip.

8. Make lunch your biggest meal of the day

Many restaurants have lunch specials, so you'll pay a fraction of what you would for the same meal at dinner time. 

9. Choose hostels wisely

Before booking the absolute cheapest room you can find, figure out what amenities are included. A hostel that is in the center of town, serves free breakfast, offers wi-fi and has drink specials for guests is a better choice than the bare bones place on the edge of town. It will save you money on transportation and food, plus you'll likely have a better time. It's worth those three extra dollars, I promise.

10. Budget flights are cheap for a reason

Along the same lines as the last tip, the cheapest flight is often not the smartest. Sometimes they are totally worth it, but before booking make sure you know all the details. Figure out what the end price will be - with carry-on fees, taxes, fuel charges and all, and go from there.

Some discount airlines fly into airports that are further away from the city center. This means you'll have to cough up some cash on other transportation, so consider that too. Also, the cheapest flights are often at the wee hours of the morning, and the sheer inconvenience isn't worth the $13 you'll save.

11. Make friends  

When booking excursions, ask tour companies if they'll offer you a group discount. Even if you're traveling solo, round up a group of fellow travelers at your hostel and book together. Additionally, many companies will give you a deal if you do more than one activity with them. Don't be afraid to ask - we've saved a lot of money this way.

Check out our list of Travel Essentials that we never leave home without!

What are your best travel hacks? We'd love to hear from you!