Whether you’re gearing up for a tour as soon as you deplane or looking forward to a beachside hut halfway around the globe, there’s no point in draining your energy (and enthusiasm) on trivial annoyances that can be avoided.
We rounded up our favorite travel tips from 2016 to help you maximize your time, money, and fun on any vacation:
1. Know How to Research Before You Go
Let’s face it, vacations aren’t cheap! Why risk potentially missing out on an activity or attraction that could take your next trip from standard to spectacular?
That’s why knowing how to tailor destination research to your interests and vacation style tops our list as 2016’s best tip. As a bonus, narrowing down your research also helps to cut down on information overload.
To up your planning game, start by evaluating your wants and needs for this vacation, as well as your overall travel style:
- Is your goal for this trip to relax after a busy work year, celebrate a milestone, or challenge yourself to an adventure?
- What time, budget, or even seasonal weather restrictions will affect your trip?
- Do you have any hobbies, interests, or practice a sport that could compliment your trip?
- Are you more interested in visiting tourist hot spots or discovering off-the-beaten-path experiences?
With a clear direction gleaned from the questions above, you can start narrowing down which resources are the best fit for your research. We polled six frequent travelers, all of whom live abroad or work in the industry, and got these tips to help guide your itinerary planning:
- Tripadvisor is the perfect online resource to get an overview of any destination’s top attractions.
- Consider a travel agent if coordinating a large group or multiple stops.
- Group trips often offer appealing itineraries, but traveling with others isn’t for everyone. No worries! Just search for tour groups that appeal to your interests, then copy their schedule for yourself, making alterations where appropriate.
- If you’re looking to discover interesting spots that haven’t yet made it into guidebooks, search Instagram for “#yourdestination.”
- Almost every destination worth visiting has a tourism bureau. And, that tourism bureau likely has a Facebook page chock-full of images, comments, and up-to-date advice.
- Feeling brave? Reach out to locals, travelers, and social media influencers for tailored picks.
Want to learn more about how to research your trip with precision? Check out Research Your Next Trip Like a Travel Pro for even more info on finding niche guides and tailoring your research for any hobby or interest.
2. Get Bargain Airfare by Knowing When (and How) to Buy
We’ve confirmed with experts that the cheapest time to purchase your ticket is on a Tuesday afternoon—for now. If there’s one constant in the airline industry, it’s that everything changes! Not just year to year, but over seasons, months, and holiday periods.
Start your search early and track flight prices to see how they go up and down throughout a week. My favorite tool to do so is Google Flights. To do so:
- Search for the route you’re interested in.
- Select Track Price to receive email updates.
- Watch the flight price for a week, noting the times of day and day of the week that it drops.
If you’ve narrowed your flight search down to a single airline, signing up for their weekly newsletter and following the company on Facebook are also easy and effective ways to be alerted to deals.
Just be sure to start your research about 60-days out from when you want to fly, so that your research doesn’t push you into last-minute peak prices.
3. Pick the Best Seat for Your Needs
Depending on your personal circumstances, knowing which seat to select can make or break a long flight. Here’s a breakdown of who should sit where for maximum comfort:
Best seats for anyone traveling with infants
This depends on the particular aircraft that you’re flying, the age of the infant, and whether or not you require (and they offer) a bassinet.
- If bassinet is used, you should request to be placed directly behind a forward bulkhead (the walls or dividers inside the cabin), as these areas have extra legroom and are often the only spot where infant bassinets are allowed so as not to impede the exit of others in an emergency.
- If no bassinet is available and the infant appears is younger than 10 months, the infant is allowed to sit on a parent’s lap. No extra seat is needed and any spot is fine assuming it’s not an exit row.
- If the infant is older than 10 months, a car seat is required. Regulations on seats change, so it’s important to check current rules. However, a government-approved CRS (child restraint system)—this will be indicated on a sticker.
- Additionally, infants in car/ plane seats must be next to the window if there is an unrelated passenger in the row (so as not to trap the other person in case of an emergency). It should also go without saying that infants can't be in the emergency row.
Pro Tip: Traveling with an infant over 10 months? When working as a flight attendant, I can’t tell you how many parents have tried to claim their under 10 more times than I can’t count and become upset when the flight attendants required another seat to be purchased.
Understand that this isn’t to be cruel or make the airline money! But that heavy, unsecured babies make dangerous projectiles during turbulence, risking their life and those of surrounding passengers.
Best seats for those with toddlers
Aisle all the way! Sitting here gives you the chance to walk your toddler up and down during the flight. You’re welcome to hang out in the back galley after service to stretch toddlers legs (just ask your flight attendants first).
Best seats for leg room
Every airline has slightly different configurations, and each indicates which seats offer extended legroom during the ticketing process. If you’re not willing to pony up extra cash for a premium seat, exit row is the next best option as these have a slightly wider area between seats to allow for emergency exits.
Note that, if there are multiple exit rows, none but the last will recline so as not to impede exits— this is when it’s important to pick your battles.
The total budget option to scoring legroom is any aisle seat, just watch for the cart. If you’re feeling risky and there are empty seats, you can try to tell your flight attendants that you’d like to move to a row with an empty middle seat stretch a cramped hip— just wait until the plane is up or they might deny you boarding.
Best seats for a smooth ride
Near the front of the aircraft offers the most stability. Over the wing offers the second best, but this area comes with additional noises including those “barking” hydraulic brakes. The closer to the tail, the harder the ride and the louder the noise from the galley, but...
Best seats for frequent service
Near the back galley. Depending on the aircraft, there may be three galleys (one in front, middle, and back). For example, the Airbus 320/ 319 Virgin flies only has two. Those passengers in the back were able to get the flight attendant’s attention and receive repeat orders with consistency. The downside is a potential crowd of people waiting for bathroom and noise.
Best seats for first service
This depends on the aircraft size. However, flight attendants generally work in two groups: One starts at the front (caring for first class first, which takes some time), while the others start around row 10 and work their way back.
This completely differs with each airline (impacted by how many classes of service they offer), the length of the flight (quick hops under an hour might require on-demand service), and the number of crew. If first service is a concern, you can always politely ask. However, your best bet is to grab a sandwich and water in the terminal.
4. Strategize an In-Flight Goody Bag to Prevent Discomfort
Do you reserve a unique dread for flights of four hours or more? Whether your long-haul flight foes include hunger pains, boredom, leg cramps, fear of a losing a limb to the aisle cart, we’ve got you covered in 7 Strategies to Stay Comfortable on a Long Flight.
But our favorite tips is to pack separate tote, such as a light, compact reusable canvas grocery bag, and have it prepacked with everything you’ll need on your flight.
You can swap out what’s inside to suit your preferences, but our go-to DIY in-flight survival kit includes:
- An eye mask
- A travel pillow
- A compact blanket
- Snacks (more on this next)
- Necessary medications
- Hand sanitizer
- Your tablet, Kindle or notebook (fully charged!)
- Something non-electronic to read
- An empty water bottle
- Comfy socks
- Any small toiletries you might want to use to freshen up (toothbrush, face wash, deodorant)
- Wet wipes
Organizing all your necessary items into a collapsible tote expedites the boarding process: Simply slip the tote into your carry-on while waiting to board (so as not to exceed the allowed number of carry on items), then take it back out once at your seat.
You can now stow the remainder of your things in the overhead bin, without having to fumble or worry that you’ll have to access it again during your flight. Slip the tote over the seat rest head in front of you and enjoy all your items at your fingertips without sacrificing any precious foot space.
5. Fight In-Flight Hunger by Brown-Bagging TSA-Approved Snacks
Even if you eat before a flight, there’s just something about the change in elevation and back-to-back movies that calls for an in-flight snack. You could purchase food on the flight. But, not only are onboard offerings over-priced, they’re often laden with extra sodium—which leaves you feeling bloated and jetlagged for hours after you deplane.
The solution? Do yourself a solid and pack a few non-liquid snacks, meals, and sweets to save your sanity (and limit your spending) during a long flight:
- Snacks: Crackers, string cheese, hard fruits such as apples, hard cheeses, nuts, popcorn, and even graham crackers.
- Meals: Cold Asian noodle or pasta salads, chickpea & chicken wraps, homemade sandwiches (BLTs are particularly great for packing!), and roasted sweet potatoes.
- Sweets: Cookies, brownies, streusel bars or bundt cake! Pretty much everything but ice cream is fair game here.
Bonus: I’m a big fan of bringing a few bags of my favorite tea. Small and light, the familiar scent can make any space feel a bit more comfortable.
6. Double Check If You Have to Check-In Online
Airfares are lower than ever, thanks to unbundled fees and budget airlines. While bottom-dollar seats are a bargain when first purchased, the total cost can quickly exceed that of a full-service ticket if you fail to follow the rules.
For example, airlines like Ryanair and Spirit Airlines charge you an extra $10–$15 fee if you fail to check-in online! Additional charges also include inflated baggage rates when purchased the day of.
Be sure to carefully read your confirmation email carefully and follow your airline’s directions precisely, instead of taking your expectations for granted.
7. Break-Up Kid’s Boredom With Surprises
In How to Survive Traveling with Children Without Going Crazy, we shared one mom’s tactic for inspiring good behavior: Breaking up the long trip with little gifts or surprises at regular intervals.
The items can be small, like a coloring book or different set of crayons, but by holding back some entertainment, you ensure that your kids won’t get sick all their options just an hour or two in.
Additionally, knowing that another surprise is coming up is a great way to inspire good behavior.
8. Know How to Ask for the Quietest Hotel Room
To start, ask for a hotel room away from elevators and stairs to minimize noise. If possible, opt for one without a view, since rooms overlooking scenic town squares often stay noisier than ones tucked in the back.
Sound and light-proof your room by placing towels at the base of the door and using pant hangers to clip curtains closed.
Finally, keep up your bedtime routine by vetoing the use of screens within an hour of bedtime, curling up with some chamomile tea, and lowering the room temperature so that your body gets the hint that this time to cozy up for the night.
9. Don’t Forget to Create Memories—Instead of Just Recording Them
There’s no doubt that smartphones have changed the way we record our travels. But, when you’re searching for the most social media likes, it’s increasingly hard to remember to put down the lens.
While it’s great to have beautiful photos of any vacation, there are a few tricks to making sure you’re not missing out on experiencing your destination as well.
One trick is to frame your photos to include small details that will help you recall the memories later, such as a shop sign or statue. Then, after getting a good picture, stop for a moment and make a mental note of the sights, smells, and sounds that make up the moment.
Finally, experts say you’ll increase your positive memories of a trip by going through pics each night and jotting down a few notes to accompany your favorite images—doing so strengthens the memory and serves for better storytelling later on.
Travel Is About the Journey as Much as the Destination
Of course, you’re looking forward to exploring the cobblestone streets of Paris or Greece’s Parthenon. But, shouldn’t getting there be part of the fun?
In an era where we’ve traded the pomp and circumstance of air travel for lower ticket prices, it’s up to you to make each trip enjoyable.
Reframe the otherwise tedious task of travel as an opportunity to explore, indulge in privileges, and be sure to take a moment to just sit down and relax—lest you be too tired to enjoy your vacation once you arrive.
Read Next: Do Smaller Airports Offer Lower Fares?