That summer vacation you’ve been planning since you were cooped up, bundled up and fed up with the cold all winter long is finally a mere weeks or days away — be it flying overseas, road trippin’ across the country or carpooling a couple hours from home for a two-night camping trip. While obviously getting to and exploring your final destination is the best part of any vacation, it’s the “getting there” part that can prove stressful, even for those of us who are pro packers and planners. That’s where these summer travel tips come in handy.
Whether you’re presenting a boarding pass or pumping gas, you’ll need as much help, insight and handy summer travel hacks to ensure your trip goes off without a hitch.
1. Get there early — very early
We all know about those long security lines at the airport and restrictions on what we can bring onto the plane. To de-stress the process, arrive far in advance of your flight. There’s nothing worse than starting a trip by feeling the pressure of potentially missing a flight.
Most major hubs have excellent restaurants and upscale shopping, so minimize the chances of mishaps by arriving ahead of schedule and enjoy a meal, read a book or have a cocktail (or two) to smooth those pre-flight jitters.
This tip applies to road trips, too. Get on the road an hour earlier because you’ll never know if you’ll drive into unexpected traffic or — and knock on wood that this doesn’t happen — have car issues along the way. That said, a week or a few days before you leave, get your car checked out and in tip-top shape, even for trips that only take you an hour or two outside of town.
2. Do your research
For those flying, one of the most important summer travel tips we can give you is to pack only what you really need. We get it; this is easier said than done, but when you consider checked baggage costs for most flights, those costs can quickly add up. And when you’re on vacation, wouldn’t you rather spend that money on food, drinks and once-in-a-lifetime experiences? We thought so.
If you’re heading out on a longer trip and can’t possibly pare down your personal belongings, we get it. In that case, be sure your checked baggage meets the weight and size requirements, or else you’ll be met with hefty fees and a headache at the ticketing counter. Using a digital luggage scale to weigh luggage at home can help protect you from a surprise at the airport.
Traveling with extra luggage? Go to your airline’s website to confirm the cost of additional checked bags and to see if pre-paying the fees is cheaper than doing so at the gate. And if you can swing a carry-on, you’ll still want to be just as prepared. It’s worth double- and triple-checking the weight and size restrictions since most airlines are sticklers about carry-ons. It’s not uncommon for roller-board carryons to be gate checked (free of cost), so consider packing any valuables in the personal item you’ll keep under the seat in front of you should the above-the-seat storage fill up before your boarding group is called.
3. Pack smarter
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The 3-1-1 rule: If you haven’t memorized it by now, do, because it’ll save you when it comes time to walk through the security lines. If you’re only packing a carry-on and you have your toiletries in it, you’re restricted to packing 3 oz. bottles( or 100 mL bottles), inside one quart-size bag. Common items that comply with the rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash and lotion. You can pack compliant aerosols, like hairspray and dry shampoo, too. If you have any items that don’t comply, then you’ll have to either toss it or pack into checked baggage ahead of time.
One tip that’ll prevent you from being the slow-poke holding up the TSA line is to place the bag at the very top of your carry-on, so you can swiftly pull it out and place it into a bin.
Water bottles can pose another TSA snag. While filled water bottles (or other beverages) are a no-go through the security line, empty and reusable bottles are fair game. Once you’re through security, you can fill them to your heart’s content — a great way to stay hydrated on notoriously drying flights.
Packing smarter isn’t limited to air travel. Road and rail travelers should create similar habits when filling suitcases. Purchase travel-sized bottles and pack only what you think you’ll use during the trip. There is no need to pack full-size items that’ll take up more space. Just because you don’t have size and weight restrictions from an airline doesn’t mean space for packed items isn’t at a premium.
Regardless of the mode of transportation, certain travel accessories can come in handy — like makeup and toiletry bags and kits. Stocking up on travel-sized products, especially if you’re a frequent traveler, allows you to leave your day-to-day cosmetics and other toiletries alone.
4. Choose the right luggage
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Smart suitcases, spinner luggage, extra-large tote bags, canvas duffel bags (with or without wheels), backpacks: The options are seemingly endless. And just because you’re flying, doesn’t mean you have to opt for a large suitcase on wheels. Because, again, it all comes back to packing smarter (which, see above).
Start out by consider how many days you’ll be out of town, how you’re getting to your destination and what kind of trip it is. If you’ll only be out of town for a few days, a stylish gym bag, duffel or a smaller suitcase will suffice. If you’re backpacking, then a larger backpack — one that’ll meet all your airlines’ carry-on requirements, so do your research — will get the job done and will be much easier to repack before you embark on the next leg of the trip. For camping excursions, a duffel bag will give you the flexibility to pack odd-shaped items. We also recommend purchasing a durable, water-resistant hanging toiletry bag. And for those more luxurious trips where you won’t be lugging your luggage around, choose a lightweight luggage option on wheels.
When it comes down to it, your luggage should meet the needs of your trip. For example, if you’ll need a phone charger on hand and your power bank dies, luggage that comes equipped with a built-in charger will prove to be lifesaver.
And speaking of gadgets…
5. Invest in travel gadgets
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Investing in travel gadgets is a smart move. We mentioned the digital luggage scale earlier, but a portable power bank is another must-have, especially if you have a non-stop itinerary and/or are camping. You don’t have to spend a fortune on one, either. The best-seller on Amazon, the Anker PowerCore 10000, is a little over $30.
If you can afford it, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot is handy for those traveling internationally, too, as you won’t have to worry about foreign SIM cards or roaming charges. One of the best ones out there right now is the Skyroam Solis, but it’ll cost you $149.99.
Another must-have item are noise-canceling headphones that’ll drown out the noise — like those needlessly chatty seat-mates on an airplane. The COWIN E7 headphones, $59.99, are the most popular product on Amazon, with over 10,000 reviews and a 4.3-star rating. If buds are more your thing, TaoTronics’ noise-cancelling earbuds are a little cheaper at $49.99 and are also highly rated.
Since electric outlets vary in shape and pattern from country to country, if you’re traveling abroad you’ll likely benefit from an power plug adapter. Rather than buying an overpriced one at the airport, this universal plug is available on Amazon for $19.99
Additional reporting by Gwen Pratesi.
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A version of this article was published in June 2016.