The 45 Essential Travel Hacks

Your starter kit for a savvier, cheaper summer vacation

March 9, 2017 9:00 am

Two words we hate: “overwhelm” (when used as a noun) and “staycation” (when used).

Example: “I had so much overwhelm that I ended up taking a staycation instead of getting out of town.”


Summer’s around the corner — especially if you’re counting in the number of days it takes to plan a vacation that won’t break the bank. Book now, and you’ll be shaking your own hand at the killer deals you can score on airfare and hotels. Wait, though, and you may be spending June, July, and August staring longingly out your living-room window.

So take advantage of the 45 tools, tips, techniques and suggestions below.

Everything you need to know to make the most of your next big trip is here.

Now get going.

Pt. 1: Booking a Cheaper, More Hassle-Free Flight

Ticket prices are insultingly fluid, depending on when you book, where you book and even the IP you use (see below). These services can save you cash when planning your itinerary.

A. Your Booking Tool Starter Kit

Here are some sites and apps that will save you cash, advise whether to buy now or wait for later or suggest the nearest available beach.

Kiwi guarantees interlined fares, requiring a connection between non-allied airlines. Be aware that the “guarantee” might not cover all your costs — but we’ve used it without problems and at a significant discount. Kiwi also has a robust flexible search feature: you can search for a flight leaving from Origin City A (and up to, say, a 100-mile radius) to Destination Options B, C, and D, either for specific dates or a range of dates.

If you’re not set on your destination, use the “everywhere” destination search to search … everywhere.

The set-it-and-forget-it fare reminder app.

If you’re destination- and/or date-agnostic and just want a great deal, use this. Works especially well on short notice.

Now featuring reviews of specific flights, for firsthand accounts of how cramped the seats are.

Indispensable for previewing the indignities of your chosen seat on any specific flight.

Worth it for the “search by beach destination” function alone.

B. Your four-step guide to booking a cheaper flight

8.   Every decent fare-booking app has a fare predictor — it can be worth it to lock in a price while keeping an eye on fares.

9.   Browse incognito or clear your cookies before buying your ticket, which will defeat “dynamic pricing” efforts to jack up your fare.

10.  Try booking in another currency to see if the savings outweigh the foreign currency fees — they can, sometimes significantly, though they usually don’t.

11.   Keep an eye on Twitter (see below) for flash sales (meh to OK) and blooper fares (which can be shockingly good — like $100 round-trip from New York to Honolulu good).

C. Five Twitter accounts to follow for blooper fares and flash sales

12. @airfarewatchdog
13. @TheFlightDeal
14. @Cheapflights
15. @JetBlueCheeps
16. @Hopper_Deals
17. @ExitFares

D. Three Instagram Accounts From Sexy Pilots
Because we’ll go where they’re flying.

18. Pilot Maria
19. Fly Malin
20. EchoSierra85

Pt. 2: Making the Airport A More Tolerable Place

Unless you’re ensconced in the cushy confines of a first-class lounge, the airport can be a stressful place. Treat yourself better by downloading these apps.

21. Loungebuddy

Review, preview and purchase access to lounges at airports here and abroad — both members-only and those offering walk-up entry.

22. Airgrub 
Pay by app, then pick up your meal on the way to the gate — it’ll even apply discounts for alliance members where applicable.

23. Mobile Passport
Skip the largely unliked MyTSA app and install this instead — it’ll get you through immigration a lot faster, as long as the airport you arrive at (there are 21) has a separate line handling Mobile Passport folks.

24. GateGuru
From delay notifications to gate-proximate directions to the closest Starbucks, this aims to streamline your journey from airport entry to jetway.

25. AirportParkingReservations
A fast and holistic way to book discounted parking near your airport of choice.

26. DUFL 
Constant travelers, this is for you: ship your regular business-trip-wear to DUFL, and they’ll send it on to meet you at your destination of choice, clean and pressed — which means you’ll never have to lug your gear through the airport again. Expense it?

Pt. 3: Stop Paying Through the Nose for Cut-Rate Hotels

Private rentals are increasingly available in super-luxe destinations, and attended by a host of other options for attractions and events. And if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool hotel man, a new class of third-party booking apps can help you find deals, oft-overlooked boutiques and personalized experiences nonpareil.

27. Airbnb

Who knows what the future holds for Airbnb. Will they’ll find additional success as a many-revenue-streamed all-purpose travel booker, or will hardening public (and governmental) attitudes spell trouble? For now, though, it’s the gold standard.

28. Onefinestay
A high-end, more discerningly curated collection of urban, country and beach rentals around the world.

29. Le Collectionist
Professional jetsetters will appreciate the focus on destinations like St. Barths and Ibiza — plus there’s a special section dedicated to nothing but “chateaux.”

30. HotelTonight
Ideal for business travel but suitable for anyone willing to stay in multiple hotels in exchange for that-must-be-a-mistake savings, this app lets you book hotels day of at extremely reduced rates.

31. One Night Standard
The easiest way to book a same-day stay at Standard Hotels or spots with similarly cool-kids-only vibes.

32. Blink
Give this Black Tomato-linked team a brief, and they’ll create the pop-up accommodations of your dream, literally wherever you want.

Pt. 4: Save Money, Time and Stress at Your Destination

Don’t sit in your hotel room asking, “What should we do next?” Use these services and apps; hit the ground running.

A. Play like a local

Fodor’s and Rick Steves will take you where all the other tourists are. For something more immersive, start here.

33. Airbnb: Experiences
The room-booking behemoth’s next big play: Use it to plan outings and activities.

34. Spotted by Locals
Travel guide apps are a dime a dozen, but a commitment to locals’ perspective guarantees a unique mix of picks.

35. Party With a Local
Like except only for parties. It might be the fastest way to connect with locals looking to mingle.

B. Hack the city from your smartphone

36. Citymapper
The indispensable tool for navigating a city and public transport — use it once and you’ll forget Google Maps ever existed.

37. Google Trips (beta)
An easy, intuitive way to get recs for nearby restaurants and attractions — plus it’ll organize all your travel details in one place.

38. Circa
An easy way to organize (and schedule meetings) when you’re working across multiple time zones.

39. Hotspot Shield
Unless you like watching foreign-language TV shows when you’re traveling, install this before departing.

40. WhatsApp
There are dozens of ways to connect with friends and locals, but this might be the most popular and most convenient — call home over a wifi connection and you might be surprised at the (high) quality of the reception.

41. Google Translate
Little known fact: Everybody’s favorite desktop translator offers downloadable packs in 52 languages, from Afrikaans to Welsh

Pt. 5: Road Trips and Rail Travel

A brief but essential packet of apps for those of you who prefer your long-distance travel at ground level.


The best way to plan a cross-continent European trip, with a mix of air and train fares.

If you’re looking to book, say, a train trip from London to Ulaan Bator (it can be done), check here first.

There’s something magical about auto driveaway: Sign up as a “casual” driver, pick up someone’s car and drive it where it needs to go — saving an awful lot of money on one-way rental fees in the process. This popular site lists available routes — at the moment, there’s one headed from Pennsylvania to Washington state. Updates come often.

Crowdsourced travel alerts — plus the cheapest nearby gas.