At The Points Guy, our staff of writers and industry experts travels the world in pursuit of news and trends, plus a bit of rest and relaxation while on vacation. Over the years, we’ve accumulated and shared many essential travel tips on how best to book and enjoy a trip, be it a cruise, flight, hotel stay or road trip.
Some of our tips are helpful for those who may be new to the world of cruising or international, business-class flights. Others are geared toward seasoned travelers.
To help you stay safe, and travel smart during the holidays and beyond, we compiled this comprehensive list of top travel tips. Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced traveler who’s been at it for years, these TPG-backed tips can help you avoid any unnecessary headaches as you spend time away from home.
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Beginner travel tips
At TPG, we strive to provide expert advice on how to maximize miles and leverage hidden tips to get the best out of your travel planning. We also aim to help new travelers get a sense of what to expect so they can be prepared no matter what may come up during their travels.
Here are some key learnings for less-experienced travelers:
- Make digital and hard copies of your important documents. When traveling, do as TPG editor Kristy Tolley does and store the hard copy in a separate place from where you’re keeping your passport in case you lose a bag. “I also leave a copy of it at home if I’m traveling alone,” she says.
- Double-check your passport to make sure it won’t expire soon. Some countries require six months of future passport validity to allow entry. Be sure to look at the dates far in advance of your trip and build in plenty of time for renewing your passport (if needed), as there have been delays in getting passports renewed.
- Purchase travel insurance, even if you already have credit card travel protections. This is to ensure you’re covered no matter what situation you may find yourself in.
- “If you check a bag, make sure to have extra medicine or medical supplies in your personal bag in case your luggage goes missing or is delayed,” advises TPG senior writer Tanner Saunders. “As a diabetic, I keep a tiny emergency kit in my backpack with enough supplies to keep me going in an emergency.”
- Regarding baggage, TPG credit card writer Ryan Smith suggests that “the last items you pack in your carry-on will be most accessible, so use this for your passport, ID, ticket, headphones or whatever else you need during the trip.” By making sure those items you’ll use most are easiest to reach, you’ll save yourself the hassle of having to dig around (or partially unpack) your bag to grab what you need.
- After a summer of baggage delays and luggage disasters, TPG senior director of marketing and communications Becca Manheimer suggests you put Apple AirTags (or the Android equivalent) into your luggage so you can track your items if they go missing.
- Becca also suggests using Google Flights or another preferred flight search engine to manage the fluctuation of prices. “Always turn on notifications for these engines so that you can jump on any price drop or a good deal — they go quick,” she says.
- Try to find a nonstop flight rather than one with connections, even if it costs a little more. You’ll eliminate the risk of missing connections and lessen the chance of losing your luggage during a transfer.
- For beginner cruisers, TPG principal cruise writer Gene Sloan suggests arriving in port at least a day in advance (if not several days ahead of time) to eliminate the risk of missing your ship’s departure time. This will also help you get acclimated to the local time zone.
Expert travel tips
Do you have a mastery of the basics and want to vacation smarter as an expert traveler? Check out these expert-approved travel hacks from TPG:
- Those who frequently travel abroad may want to consider purchasing an annual travel insurance policy instead of one bought on a trip-by-trip basis. TPG’s Ryan Smith says he purchases an annual policy because of the cost savings it offers him for multiple trips. He also finds that having an annual policy is easier than juggling separate policies or various credit card coverage terms and conditions.
- “Just because something has less than 4.5 stars on Google (or Yelp or Tripadvisor) doesn’t mean you should avoid it,” says TPG senior director of audience development Taylor Jenkins. Your criteria for a five-star experience may differ from that of the general public, so read reviews carefully to find people with similar interests and take public ratings with a grain of salt. You may even want to consult a travel agent to get those insider tips that review-based sites don’t provide.
- An expert family travel hack from TPG editor Erica Silverstein is to leverage airlines’ typical free baggage allowance for car seats by stuffing the car seat bag with your bulky coats and laundry. This allows you to pack more items for free while also providing extra padding for the car seat.
- When taking road trips to out-of-the-way destinations, go old school and bring paper maps with you. Or, do what Taylor suggests and download offline maps from Google. Using a paper map or offline version means you always have a way to navigate around your chosen destination, even if you lose cellular service.
- A favorite expert cruise tip from Erica is to bring magnetic hooks or hangers on the trip with you for extra storage. Since cruise ship walls are magnetic, those magnetic hooks or hangers come in handy to help with storage issues in cabins. “It’s a fun way to amaze your first-time cruise companions,” she says.
- No matter how much you think you know about redeeming miles for flights, there are always new and evolving tips and tricks for turning those earnings into dream trips. Turn to TPG for guidance on sweet spots for redemptions on domestic flights and sites like ExpertFlyer (a Red Ventures property, like TPG) to find additional redemption deals and steals.
Safety travel tips
Safety is a key concern for many travelers. From potentially getting robbed while on the road to experiencing bad weather or natural disasters while traveling, there are many scenarios that could arise when you’re away from home. How should you avoid or mitigate these risks?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Pay attention to The U.S. Department of State warnings about a destination you plan on visiting, and check local sources for the latest news from that country or region for additional context. Although the State Department tends to err on the side of caution with its warnings, it’s still best to be aware of what you may face during your trip.
- Use your hotel’s travel safe to store your valuables in your room. “I always leave one credit card in the hotel safe just in case I lose the ones on me or they get stolen,” shares TPG newsletter editor Becky Blaine. Just be sure you remember to empty the safe before you leave the hotel. Becky recommends leaving another item you won’t forget, such as a single shoe, in the safe to serve as a backup hint to empty it.
- Let people at home know your itinerary and stay in touch with them throughout your trip. If something goes amiss, at least someone will know where you’re supposed to be or the last place you visited.
- “If you’re arriving at night, contact your hotel to ask about the best way to get there at the time you’re arriving and specifically ask about cheap versus safe (transportation options),” says TPG’s Ryan Smith. This will save you from getting stuck in potentially unsafe situations like being locked out of a hostel, which happened to his wife once when her flight was delayed and she arrived after hours.
- Be strategic about how you check into a hotel. “When I travel alone, I always request two keycards so people think I’m traveling with someone,” says TPG’s Kristy Tolley. She also places a hand towel over the security swing bar of her room’s door to prevent anyone outside from being able to slip a credit card in to try dislodging it.
Holiday travel tips
Traveling during the holidays can be one of the most challenging times for travelers. Travel costs are high, hotel and tour availability is low, weather events are more common and everyone is seemingly on edge as they’re racing to get home to see loved ones.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make holiday travel more affordable and less stressful. Here are a few of them:
- Flexibility is key when it comes to finding cheap holiday airfare. Changing your arrival or departure date by a single day can save you hundreds of dollars on airfare. If you don’t mind altering your family’s plans slightly, consider booking travel directly on Thanksgiving and Christmas for cheaper prices and thinner crowds at airports.
- Don’t travel with wrapped gift items in your carry-on or checked baggage. The Transportation Security Administration may want to inspect the presents, meaning the time and effort of wrapping them nicely may have been for nothing if a TSA agent wants to take a closer look. Consider shipping gifts to your destination ahead of time, as the shipping charge may be cheaper than any extra luggage fee.
- Reserve airport parking ahead of time during peak holiday travel times. Some airport parking areas fill up fast around the holidays, so reserving your spot ahead of time will save you from wasting time looking for a space when you need to catch a flight.
- Trusted Traveler Programs like TSA PreCheck, Clear and Global Entry are vital to have during peak holiday travel periods, as security and customs lines can be unbearably long. Make sure you’re prepared when the holidays roll around by applying for one (or more) of these programs well in advance of the busy travel season.
- For popular long weekends like Labor Day weekend, download your airline’s mobile app to keep track of potential flight delays in real time. Also, have alternate plans in place in case a flight is canceled.
- If you’re stuck at an airport for an extended period of time during the holidays (or any time of the year), seek out your airport’s secret quiet spaces for a brief escape from the travel chaos.
Whether you’re fresh to the world of traveling or a seasoned expert, there are always new tips you can learn to maximize your time away from home. TPG’s staff of frequent flyers, cruisers and road trippers always has some suggestions on how you can better book and enjoy your travels.
The more research and preparation you do before your trip, the better your experience will be — especially if things go wrong, as they often do.