Too many travel hacks involve carrying around a lot of stuff or a level of craftsy-ness that would lead to an Etsy empire. Personally, I’d rather focus on easy travel hacks you can actually use—which don’t involve saving old paper clips or retired medicine bottles, repurposing old containers, or really anything that makes one thing easier by forcing you to do/buy/alter/save/remember some other thing.
Here are 12 easy travel hacks that you can do without buying tons more stuff or packing a heap of Tupperware.
Memorize One Credit Card Number
This is not only useful while traveling, but also when making purchases online or paying bills by phone. I have made emergency hotel reservations while driving (using hands-free headphones, of course), paid bills and invoices while on work trips, and made an alternate airline reservation while standing in a frenzied scrum at the airport gate of a canceled flight, all with a memorized credit card number.
Send a Photo of Your Passport to Yourself Via Email
Many travelers take a snap of their passport with their phone, but this can be risky. Your phone is among the most likely items to get lost or stolen, and then the scanned passport is not only useless to you, but may also be useful to a bad guy. If you save it to an email address that you can access from any computer, you can get to it from anywhere—your hotel, a police station, an embassy office, a CBP kiosk, etc. Another option is to upload the file to a password-protected service like Dropbox.
Use Google’s OK Maps Offline Mapping Option
There are countless options for offline maps, but the simplest option is to go to the area you are going to be visiting on Google Maps on your phone, type “OK maps” into the search bar of the Google Maps app, and download the map to your phone.
When you open the saved map later, the functionality is a bit confusing the first time; instead of finding the saved map, you just start using Google Maps as you always would, and all the saved information about streets, restaurants, attractions, and more will be saved for the area you originally mapped.
Fill Any Spaces in Your Luggage with Stuff
I travel frequently with a 500-millimeter camera lens, which has a big lens hood that can take up a ton of space—but if I stuff socks into it, it takes up no more space than, well, socks. I know not everyone travels with a massive lens, but other ideas include putting toiletry bags, sunglass cases, point and shoot cameras (or socks again) inside running shoes; valuables inside the pockets of well-folded pants; or a swimsuit inside of a souvenir coffee mug. You get the idea.
Pick a Travel Jacket with Lots of Zip-Shut Pockets
Of all the travel gear on offer (and there is a lot), there is nothing as useful as a light jacket with several zippable pockets to keep hassle at a minimum. At security you can put all your stuff into the jacket and toss it on the conveyor belt; while on the plane you know where to find important items; and when out walking around you know your valuables are safely zipped away. This way your jacket serves both as cover and as a security tool.
I know this is involves buying more stuff, but a jacket is something you need anyway. The best-known maker of these multi-purpose jackets is SCOTTeVEST.
Wear a Plastic Belt
This is one of the easy travel hacks that I appreciate the most on every trip. It’s bad enough to have to take off your shoes and walk around in your socks, watch expensive jewelry disappear into a scanning machine in a dirty plastic bowl, throw away sunscreen, and chug down water, but avoiding what feels like disrobing in a busy airport security line by not having to fumble with a belt can preserve some small slice of dignity. Amazon has a selection of plastic belts to consider.
Pack an Empty Water Bottle in Your Carry-On
Everyone has a used water bottle lying around somewhere, so save yourself some money, recycle effortlessly, and stop clogging up security lines chugging water by simply jamming a leftover empty water bottle from the last time you visited a Wawa or 7-Eleven into your carry-on. Fill it up on the other side of security, take it on the plane, and then drop it in a recycling bin on your way out of your destination airport.
Alternatively, you can buy a collapsible, reusable water bottle to carry throughout your trip.
Know How to Break Into Your Own Car
On a work trip to Florida last spring, I locked my wallet and car keys in a rental car. A local auto mechanic showed up, pulled out a wedge and a towel, bent the car door just barely open, then reached in with a wire and pushed the unlock button. I remarked on how easy it was, and the mechanic said, “Yeah, when people get charged a fair amount for us to come out and do that in a few seconds, some get pretty upset.”
If you know how to break into your own car, you can avoid long waits and charges for something that almost anyone can do with a couple of simple tools.
Find the Nearest Police Station and Phone Number
In the event of a true emergency, most people know to call 911, but for non-emergency situations, calling the local police is the way to go. But how do you know the number of the local police? Put “nearest police station to my location” into Google and it returns a map and phone numbers.
Speaking of 911, this isn’t the emergency number in many foreign countries. I recommend looking up the local emergency number in your destination before you arrive, and programming it into your phone just in case.
Park in Same Area at the Hotel
At some point most travelers have stumbled out of a hotel foyer, looked around the parking lot, and had no idea which car was theirs. Sure, you can find it by pushing the unlock button and listening for a beep, but if you are in a big lot and have a rental car that looks like every other rental car, this can take a while as you walk around with a ton of luggage.
Avoid this by picking a section of the parking lot that you like and parking there every time you come back to the hotel. Soon it becomes automatic for you to know where to find your car. You can even do this at different properties—for example, by always trying to park in the back right corner of a lot.
Know Where the Hotel Stairs Are
Unless your room is many floors up, taking the stairs is almost always faster and easier than waiting in a dull hotel hallway for a slow elevator. The stairs are also usually empty, so you can run up and down them in a wet bathing suit, half dressed, or with epic bedhead and no one will see you.
Charge Phones and Other Devices via Your TV’s USB Slot
Keeping all your devices charged is one of the great hassles of modern travel; there may not be not enough outlets, or they may be hard to get to, or your kids may be monopolizing outlets to charge their Nintendo devices. Get around the problem with this easy travel hack: Most modern televisions have an unused powered USB slot on the back into which you can plug your phone, leaving the outlets free for other devices.
Do you have other easy travel hacks that you use regularly? Share them in the comments.
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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a monthly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.