Top 20 Safe Driving Tips


Hitting the road on your next trip? Whether you’re heading to Grandma’s with the kids or driving up the coast of Australia, don’t leave home without our tried and tested driving tips. Read on to learn more about avoiding traffic, saving money and staying safe (and staying awake!) on your next road trip.

car driving on country road

1. Before beginning a long drive, always get enough sleep and eat a snack or meal. Highly caffeinated beverages are not necessarily the best way to stay awake while driving. While initially you will feel more alert, the effects can recede with time, and your attention may wander although you remain awake.

2. Pull over and take breaks every couple of hours, even if you don’t feel sleepy. Grab a snack, get some fresh air and stretch your legs by walking around. If you need to, take a quick nap.

3. If you can, share the driving responsibilities with someone else. This will allow you to keep an eye on each other while driving and also enable you to nap without losing time. If you’re driving alone, turn on the radio or put on some music, and keep your window cracked open. You may want to refrain from using your cruise control if you’re driving alone at night — having to concentrate on maintaining your speed can help you stay awake.

4. If you do have to pull over, move your vehicle off the road. Never park on the shoulder or in the breakdown lane for any reason except an emergency.

5. Know the laws along your route concerning cell phone use while driving. While it may be legal in one place, it may be illegal in another, and ignorance is not typically an acceptable excuse for a violation. Here’s a handy chart of cell phone laws by country and U.S. state (keep in mind that this information can change at any time). However, even if it’s legal to talk on a cell phone where you’re going, it’s usually safest to use a hands-free device.

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6. If you don’t know this one, shame on you. Never drink any alcohol before your trip. While you may not become intoxicated from one beer, you will become sleepy.

7. Keep an eye on the skies, and if you can, plan a route around inclement weather. A minor detour could actually wind up saving you major time.

8. Use a smartphone app such as Waze or Google Maps to guide you around traffic jams.

9. Not even a GPS app is infallible, especially in remote areas, so we recommend bringing a detailed map or road atlas as a backup just in case.

10. If you are driving a rental vehicle, familiarize yourself with the car and all of its equipment (horn, brakes, hazard lights). For an amusing but true look at this issue, see The First 10 Minutes of Your Car Rental.

11. Lock all of your valuables (especially items that are clearly gifts) in the trunk or glove compartment and stow all luggage in the trunk. For more ideas, see Nine Ways to Keep Your Car Safe on the Road.

right turn prohibited sign

12. Familiarize yourself with local traffic laws, which vary from state to state and especially overseas. Is it legal to make a right turn at a red light? What are the rules on yielding to pedestrians? For more on driving abroad, see International Car Rental Tips.

13. Before setting off on a long car trip, be sure your vehicle is in prime condition — that tires are properly inflated, all fluids are at their proper levels and you have a full tank of gas. (For particularly long road trips, you may want to have your mechanic do a more thorough check.)

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14. Consider becoming a member of AAA or CAA, or signing up for your car insurer’s roadside assistance program. You won’t regret it when your car breaks down on a lonely back road.

15. Keep costs down by conserving gas as you drive. Minimize sudden starts and stops, empty your car of all unnecessary weight, and slow down — in most cars it takes much less fuel to drive 55 miles an hour than it does to drive 70. For more ideas, see Save Gas and Money.

16. Don’t wait until your gas gauge is sitting on E to refuel. On an unfamiliar road, you never know when the next gas station will appear. As soon as you hit a quarter of a tank, start looking for a place to fill up. (Smartphone apps such as GasBuddy and Gas Guru can help.)

17. When traveling with kids, be sure to stop often — not just for snacks and potty breaks, but also for fun. See a cool playground along the way? Pull over and throw a Frisbee around. You’ll also want to pack toys, books and music for the car — not to mention your motion sickness remedy of choice. For more ideas, see the car travel section of our sister site, Family Vacation Critic.

18. Feeling munchy? Stock up on snacks and drinks at grocery stores rather than gas stations or convenience stores — you’ll get a wider and healthier selection, as well as better prices. For more advice, see Eating Well and Staying Active While Traveling.

19. On longer trips, keep napkins, plasticware and a small cooler handy for meals on the go. You’ll also want some spare change for tolls, as well as a first-aid kit, flashlight, pillow and blanket. Keep a set of jumper cables, a spare tire or donut, and extra fluids for the car (such as windshield wiper fluid) in your trunk.

20. This last tip should go without saying, but it’s important enough that we’ll say it anyway: Make sure everyone in the car buckles his or her seatbelt. Not only will it keep you safe, but in most places it’s also the law.

Traveling with Pets

Traveling with pets is a growing trend, but even the most precious pet does not necessarily a good traveler make. Whether or not you bring your pet along for the trip is not so much a question of “can you?” but a question of “should you?”

golden retriever puppy looking out car window

No one knows your pet better than you, so no one is more qualified to answer that all-important question. If the answer is a resounding yes, keep reading — we’ve compiled a list of tips and resources for all you pet lovers who can’t bear to leave their furry friends behind.

Check whether pets are allowed. Many destinations don’t permit easy entrance for pets. Hawaii, for instance, has a quarantine period for dogs and cats of up to 120 days, as Hawaii is free of rabies. However, dogs and cats meeting specific pre-arrival requirements may qualify for a quarantine of five days or less, or even a direct release, at Honolulu International Airport after inspection.

Don’t underestimate the cost. Between crates, air and hotel surcharges, toys, extra food, unexpected vet bills away from home, and more, traveling with your pet can add up. Be aware of the costs and allow a little wiggle room in your budget. (Our Travel Budget Calculator can help you estimate your expenses.)

Use proper identification. Put a tag on your pet’s collar that includes rabies vaccination information, your name, your address and phone number, and local contact numbers. It could save your pet’s life.

Train your pet. A pet that responds to your commands will save you considerable trouble while on the road. From the airport to the hotel, a pet that is friendly and obedient is the most pleasant traveling companion.

Learn about your pet’s health. Knowing a little about your pet’s normal temperature, pulse and respiratory rate, prescription medications, and other health issues can save you time, worry and money on the road. Consult your vet, and make a checklist of these issues.

Bring a pet first-aid kit. A pet thermometer, tweezers, gauze, antibiotic ointments, ear drops and other items available at most stores will work; consult your vet for a complete list.

Buy a crate. A pet crate is not something to skimp on. It should be sturdy and correctly sized for your pet. A crate that is too small will be very uncomfortable; a crate that is too large could allow your pet to be tossed around during handling. If you’re bringing the animal on a plane, be sure to read your airline’s requirements regarding crate size, weight, material and design. Airline-approved crates must have ventilation on the sides (in addition to the door) and have food/water trays that are refillable from the outside in the case of a delay.

Most crates come with stickers indicating that an animal is inside. If your pet is house-trained, consider putting a blanket, liner or cushion in the crate for comfort. If she’s not house-trained, a clean carrier floor is best.

Crate train your pet. A long flight or a lonely hotel room should not be the place your pet becomes acquainted with a traveling crate. Buy your crate well before traveling, and work with your pet until he’s familiar and comfortable in the crate. Normal training techniques should work, such as the use of food, praise and other incentives to get your pet used to staying in the crate.

5 Travel Ideas for Pet Lovers

Don’t leave your pet unattended. This is one of the great “don’ts” of pet ownership. Even when temperatures are mild, a car can get dangerously hot or cold. In most situations, you are putting your pet at risk by leaving her alone in a car.

Some other don’ts: Don’t let your pet hang his head out the window. Don’t leave your pet loose in the vehicle; use a leash tied to a seat or a stable crate. And don’t let your pet ride in the passenger seat. It’s dangerous for the animal and potentially distracting for you as a driver.

Walk your pet frequently. Plan to stop the car on a regular basis. Many pets love to get out and explore, and they may need to be taken outside to relieve themselves more often while traveling than at home.

Provide adequate food and water. You should always keep food and water with you in the car — the heat of the vehicle, the stress of traveling and your pet’s excitement often cause increased thirst.

Fend off carsickness. Pets are as prone to carsickness as humans, if not more so. Partially open windows and frequent walks help, and there are many remedies available from pet stores and vets as well. Consult your vet for more information.

dog and cat in hotel room

Find pet-friendly hotels. Many hotels gladly accept pets, such as Kimpton and La Quinta Inn & Suites. Find a list of additional pet-friendly properties at,, and

Stay on a lower floor. It’s far easier to get your pet in and out of a hotel without incident if you are on the ground floor — no elevators, stairs or altercations with other guests.

Keep your pet clean. Wipe mud, dirt and water off your pet’s fur before bringing her back into the hotel. If your pet stains the hotel’s carpet or linens, you might have to pay for cleaning or replacement costs.

Keep your pet in a crate. Hotel employees, neighbors and your pet are probably best served by this step. Your pet can relax in familiar surroundings, the room stays clean and you can relax as well. Don’t leave your pet loose and unattended.

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Use the “do not disturb” sign. If you do have to leave your pet in your room, put the “do not disturb” sign on the door so hotel employees don’t enter and become frightened — or get accosted — by your pet.

Walk your pet in approved areas. Ask hotel management where they would prefer that you walk your pet.

Consider a vacation rental. If you’re having trouble finding pet-friendly hotels in your destination, consider a vacation rental through a site such as Airbnb or FlipKey; some owners allow pets.

Consult your vet. Many pets are simply not suited to air travel due to health, age or breed concerns. (Breeds that have restricted breathing, including short-nosed dogs such as Boston terriers and bulldogs, as well as Persian cats, are considered at risk when flying.) Animals under 8 – 12 weeks, or older than 10 years, might not be physically prepared for the stress of air travel.

Is Your Pet Safe Flying the Friendly Skies?

Get the required documentation. You need a health certificate if you want to get your pet on an airplane, usually issued within 10 days of your flight. Most veterinarians can supply you with everything you’ll need. If you’re on the road and your pet gets into a fight or bites someone, you’ll want documentation that the pet has had rabies and other vaccinations.

Carry your pet on the plane. If your pet is small enough (typically about 10 pounds or less), your airline may permit you to bring him into the cabin. (Fees apply.) This is typically safer than checking your pet’s carrier and having him fly in the cargo hold. Remember that many people are allergic to pet hair or simply do not care to be forced to deal with an animal during a flight. Be considerate and keep your pet in his carrier for the duration of the flight.

Watch the temperature range. Airlines generally will not transport checked pets if the temperature is below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, it is best to travel early in the day during the summer, and at midday during the winter.

Purchase nonstop or direct flights. Your pet is at the most risk for mishandling during connections, especially tight connections. A direct or nonstop flight is your best safeguard against these types of problems.

Should Pets Be Allowed on Planes?

Feed with caution before flying. Avoid feeding your pet large meals before flights. A small meal will stave off hunger, and you can feed your pet again at your destination.

Walk your pet. Imagine if you had to be inside a cargo hold with no bathroom for a long flight. Your pet will be most comfortable if you take him out as close to flight time as possible. (As a bonus, exercise can also help tire your pet out so he’ll sleep better on the plane.) Similarly, walk your pet immediately upon arrival.

Get to the airport early. Arrive well in advance of your flight to allow time for any necessary special handling by the airline and for a last-minute walk. Your pet may also need a little extra TLC if he’s nervous or afraid when flying.

Administer drugs with caution. Sedatives for pet air travel create risks for some animals, including difficulties at high altitudes, and are not recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Consult your vet. If you decide to give your pet a sedative, the timing and dosage are critical. Bring your veterinarian’s instructions with you to the airport.

cat in crate

Prepare the crate. Colorful, large, easy-to-read labels and sufficient water and food are essential for your pet’s well-being. Some travelers label crates with their pet’s name, and you should always make sure that your pet, as well as her crate, has identifying information — such as a baggage address label and a name tag on the animal’s collar including your contact information both at home and at your destination.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Follow crate/kennel requirements. Most airlines stipulate the following:

– Kennels must be enclosed, with enough room for the animal to sit, stand and lie down. The crate must be strong enough to withstand normal travel usage.

– If the crate has wheels, they must be removed or made inoperable before travel.

– Kennels must have a leak-proof floor lined with some absorbent material.

– Kennels must have handles or grips that do not force handlers to put their fingers inside the crate in order to move it.

– Kennels must be marked with the words “live animal” in lettering at least one inch high, with directional arrows indicating the proper orientation of the kennel.

– Airlines may have additional restrictions on the number of animals per kennel, as well as other requirements. For specific policies, visit your airline’s website.

Air Canada * American * Delta * JetBlue * Southwest * Spirit * United

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Editor’s Note: is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns FlipKey.

10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security


Airport security is a necessary nuisance travelers must accept if they wish to be able to fly around the world safely. The best any flier can hope for is to get through security as quickly and painlessly as possible. That means being prepared and avoiding mistakes that will slow you and everyone else down, and maybe even get you into trouble with the TSA.

Our 10 suggestions of what not to do at airport security will make you a savvier flier, capable of breezing through the checkpoint like a pro.

airport security checkpoint

This may be obvious to regular fliers, but even though the so-called 3-1-1 rule went into effect back in 2006, infrequent travelers still show up with full-sized bottles of shampoo, perfume and more in their carry-on bags. Each time this happens, a TSA agent has to pull the bag off the security belt, call the passenger over, search the bag, scold the passenger and throw the bottle out, thus slowing the security line down — and earning the offender annoyed head shakes from those stuck waiting.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, including medications, breast milk and baby formula. Also, if you’re flying to the United States via a connecting flight from overseas, you may carry full-size duty-free liquids as long as they’re sealed in a secure, tamper-evident bag by the original retailer.

For more information on what you can and can’t bring through airport security, check out our Airport Security Q&A.

One surefire method to slow a security line down is to be stuck digging through your carry-on for items that need to be placed in the bin individually. Putting travel-sized liquids into a clear, see-through quart-sized bag is not enough. Keep the bag stored in a handy place so all you have to do is unzip your carry-on and grab it.

Similar to the above, you don’t want to be pulling out your wallet to grab your ID while you’re standing in front of the security agent. Do that while waiting in line or, better yet, before you even get in line. You’ll not only make things faster for yourself and those behind you; you also won’t annoy the security agent.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

If you haven’t caught on to our “be prepared” mantra yet, here it is again. The best way to move through security as fast as possible is to have everything you need out and ready to be placed on the conveyer belt as soon as you get there. If you’re wearing a belt or watch, take them off while you’re in line. Same thing with your jacket and even your shoes if possible, especially if they’ve got shoelaces — at the very least have your laces untied so all you have to do is slip your shoes off. Caveat: Seniors over the age of 75 and kids under may leave their shoes and light jackets on.

One of the most common mistakes people make at airport security is to take out all their electronic devices to be X-rayed separately. You don’t need to do this. According to the TSA, only electronics the size of a standard laptop or larger — like a PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo — or video cameras that use video cassettes must be removed from their carrying cases and X-rayed separately. Tablets, e-readers, cameras, handheld DVD players and phones can remain in your carry-on. Just make sure they’re out of your pockets!

tablet computer

Do you really want to expose your bare feet to whatever’s on a filthy airport floor? Yes, sandals are easy to slip on and off, but they’re not worth a potential case of athlete’s foot. If you can’t give up your flip-flops, consider bringing a pair of disposable booties to protect your feet.

10 Things Not to Do When Checking a Bag

Most large airports have multiple checkpoint entries for any given terminal, and some may be busier than others at certain times of day. The TSA offers travelers an app called My TSA that you can use to check security wait times. Just be sure you actually can reach your gate via the checkpoint you’ve selected.

You may think your trial shampoo bottle is smaller than 3.4 ounces, or maybe the last time you went through security, no one cared that your mascara wasn’t in a clear bag. All that matters is what they’re telling you this time. While the particular TSA agent demanding you give up your “contraband” very well may be in the wrong, at that moment he or she has all the power and arguing isn’t going to get you anywhere but possibly detained.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Technically, cracking jokes about national security at an airport is not illegal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble for doing it. Take the case of Edgar Fabian Navarrete, who was arrested in September 2013 after joking that his friend had a bomb while they were at the Miami International Airport. Another man, Frank Hannibal, was arrested at LaGuardia Airport for joking that the TSA was looking to confiscate his explosives while screeners were double-checking a jar of peanut butter. You may think your joke is funny or harmless, but remember, the TSA has no sense of humor when it comes to doing their jobs. Always err on the side of caution.

The TSA’s PreCheck program is a risk-based prescreening system that allows frequent fliers to apply for access to a restricted — and faster — airport security lane. The application process is essentially an in-depth background check, but once cleared, PreCheck fliers no longer have to remove their belts, shoes or lightweight jackets, nor must they place their 3-1-1 compliant plastic bag and laptop in separate bins. PreCheck lanes are currently available at more than 180 airports across the United States.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay


Travelers can find cozy, convenient places to stay for $50, $20 or even free in virtually every destination — as long as they know where to look.

log cabin

Aside from airfare, lodging is typically the expense that takes the biggest bite out of a vacation budget. But there’s no need to rack up hotel stays for $100 – $200 a night or more. Creative travelers who are willing to consider alternatives to hotels could pay a fraction of that price — or nothing at all.

Below, we review 10 hotel alternatives and evaluate the pros and cons of each. Read on to see if these affordable alternatives to hotels are something you’ll dig or want to dump.

This is a popular and ever-growing trend in the travel world — a cross between vacation rentals and homestays. Using websites like, and, travelers can rent a room in someone’s house, a cottage or a private studio apartment for low nightly rates (it’s not uncommon to see prices under $50 per night). It’s a way for hosts to open up their homes and make a little extra money, while giving travelers a great deal and a local’s-eye view of a destination.

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Do you love a chance to meet people, see how they live, maybe play a midnight game of Scrabble or Call of Duty? Although you may score a cottage all by yourself, the cheaper options are usually a small bedroom with a shared bath. If that’s cool with you, a short-term room rental is your thing.

Dump It

If uncertainly keeps you awake at night, you may sleep better at a chain hotel.

7 Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them

Depending on where you’re traveling, there may be affordable lodging offered by religious organizations — such as convents and monasteries in Italy (see, or Christian or Jewish guesthouses in Jerusalem. An Internet search or a visit to the local tourist board’s website can help you find these options.

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If you long to be welcomed with no judgment and no questions into a calm, clean environment — perhaps even have a private bathroom, as promises — religious housing is for you. Many even welcome children with open arms, often having larger rooms set aside for families.

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Your room will be clean and functional. If you want luxury, look elsewhere. Same goes if your kids are hellions, accustomed to running up and down halls screaming at the top of their lungs. Also, if you’re a night owl who likes to party into the wee hours, chances are you’ll miss curfew and be locked out.

Though they’re commonly known as “youth” hostels, this form of accommodation can be ideal for budget travelers of any age. Even if you’re not up for the cheapest option — a bed in a shared dorm — you can often get a basic private room at a hostel for significantly less than the cost of a low-end hotel.

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Hostels are perfect for the unscheduled traveler or backpacker, and for those who like an adventure — read: those who don’t mind plenty of company. They often have communal kitchens for those interested in making their own meals.

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Some hostels can be sketchy — lacking not only privacy, but also safety. Consider checking sites such as or for reviews and recommendations. Or see if the property is a member of Hostelling International, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization with more than 4,000 properties worldwide that meet a minimum standard of cleanliness and safety.

Not Just for Backpackers: Nine Amazing Upscale Hostels

Sleeping in someone’s spare bedroom or on the living room couch is by far one of the cheapest ways to travel. In many cases, it’s free, and it’s also a great way to meet locals. You can organize a homestay through long-established hospitality networks like Servas International, or check out sites like For more information, see our guide to Homestays and Farmstays.

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If “life is an adventure” is your motto, this mode of traveling is for you. You stand the chance of meeting interesting people and getting a close-up look at local life. If you’re social and socially conscious, Servas, an accredited NGO that encourages members to get involved in their host’s communities, could be for you. Just super-social? Go with a option.

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You must be trusting and trustworthy, flexible and friendly for homestays to be an appropriate choice for you. You also have to be patient — the Servas interview process takes at least three weeks. is looser and much more in touch with social media — providing plenty of opportunities to connect with locals and other travelers.

The Kindness of Strangers: Interview with a Couchsurfing Host

attic bedroom

A Paris apartment, a villa in the Caribbean, a log cabin in Vermont … vacation rentals offer unique and affordable lodging around the globe. Because they tend to be more spacious than hotel rooms, they’re a particularly good bargain for families and groups who can divvy up the cost. And having your own kitchen can save you big bucks on restaurants. Learn more in Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide.

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The many options in vacation rentals means this choice is great for a variety of trips. If you appreciate the convenience and savings of having kitchen and/or laundry access during your trip, a vacation rental is for you. And if you’re traveling with a group of friends or family, having everyone gathered in one home can be priceless.

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If there’s going to be a fight over who gets the master suite, avoid holiday havoc by checking the floorplan of your rental and deciding ahead of time who gets which room. A rental agreement is a binding contract, so if there’s a chance your vacation plans may change, stick with a hotel.

15 Things You Don’t Know About Vacation Rentals

When students go home for the summer, many colleges and universities open their dorms to visitors. Expect basic but very affordable accommodations (bathrooms may be down the hall, for example). There are few central databases of this type of lodging — is one to try — but it’s worth calling a few local campuses directly to see if anything might be available during your trip. The local tourist board may also be able to help.

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Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues often surround college campuses, so there should be plenty of action nearby.

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Most college kids are hard on their dormitories, and rising tuition costs means not much is being invested in new carpets, furniture or finishings. Elevators and air conditioning are uncommon in older buildings too.

Bed and breakfasts can often save you money over hotel rooms, especially if you’re willing to use a bathroom down the hall. And it may be less inconvenient than you think: Sometimes the room you’re supposed to share a bathroom with might not even be booked — giving you the facilities all to yourself.

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The coziness and camaraderie of a B&B is appealing to many travelers — enough so to overlook the possibility of having to share a bathroom. You’ll save not only on accommodations, but also on meals since breakfast is covered.

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B&Bs, especially those with shared bathrooms, may lack modern amenities such as flat-screen televisions or multiple outlets for charging electronics.

farm in austria

From rural B&Bs to working ranches and cattle farms, this type of stay can cover a wide range of accommodations — and you don’t necessarily have to be willing to milk a cow to take advantage of it. Farmstays are particularly popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Learn more in Homestays and Farmstays.

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If you enjoy waking with the sun to feed a bottle to a lamb or cornmeal to chickens, a farmstay may be right for you. You could enjoy a hearty breakfast, learn to make cheese or spin wool. The quiet, bucolic setting is perfect for relaxation, catching up on reading or finishing handicraft projects.

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It can get very quiet, especially in the evening — so if you’re a night owl, your only companions may be the mice. The type of lodging can vary widely — although if you’re traveling in Europe or Down Under you’ll have more choice than in the U.S. If you need to know exactly what you’re getting, this isn’t for you.

Sleeping under the stars can be a magical experience — and it’s one of the cheapest options on our list, especially if you cook your own meals over a campfire instead of eating in restaurants every night. And don’t worry … you can opt for cabins or luxury tent camps if you’d rather not be slapping mosquitoes away all night.

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Camping is a great choice for anyone seeking a digital detox. A campfire beneath the night sky can be relaxing and mesmerizing — you won’t miss your TV or tablet. And you can’t beat a perfectly toasted marshmallow as a bedtime snack.

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Cooking a meal over a campstove or fire, washing dishes in a bucket, waking up to rain-soaked sleeping bags — those who choose camping should be open to doing without a few comforts and conveniences.

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Swapping houses with another traveler is an ideal way to enjoy the comforts of home while traveling — and it’s practically free. To become a member of a home exchange network, you’ll typically pay an annual fee that costs about as much as a night in a hotel room, so after the first couple of nights of your vacation, your membership has paid for itself and then some. Learn more in Home Exchange: A How-To Guide.

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All the conveniences of home — kitchen with all the gadgets, laundry with detergent, Wi-Fi — and usually a location away from tourist traps and traffic. What’s not to love?

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There’s always a chance something might happen — power outage, burst pipe, the homeowner’s angry ex banging on the door at 3 a.m. — and there’s no one around to take responsibility except you. Home exchange isn’t for the worried traveler: Will I break something? Will they trash my house? Am I safe in their home? Is my grandmother’s china safe in my home? If these concerns keep you up at night, sleep in a hotel.

Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash


Travel supply stores have made a fortune selling things you can get for free. A number of items you might typically throw away, from old towels to empty yogurt containers, make excellent replacements for expensive specialty travel products. Trash — yes, trash — can help you organize your suitcase, stay clean on the road, protect your valuables and more. Plus, finding something to do with your garbage other than tossing it in the bin is an excellent way to go green. Recycle, outsmart the travel supply companies and save some cash by getting creative with your trash.

globe with trash

To protect packed bottles from breakage, you could shell out nearly 20 bucks plus shipping on for protective sleeves from WineSkin — they’re basically bubble wrap in the shape of wine bottles to cushion your merlot and cabernet. Here’s how to make your own: Put a bottle of wine on that sheet of bubble wrap that has been hanging around in your closet. Fold over the bubble wrap so it covers the wine. Cut the wrap to fit the wine, and staple the side and bottom (leave an opening at the top). You’ve just saved a Jackson.

Most comforters, sheets and pillowcases are sold in sturdy, rectangular, clear plastic casings. These casings, which are quite durable and usually have a zipper, closely resemble “packing cubes,” zippered containers that help travelers organize luggage. In fact, they’re pretty much the exact same product. You can save some money by saving your sheet casings: a set of four packing cubes retails for $30 to $40 plus shipping on Amazon. I actually prefer using plastic sheet casings to retail packing cubes, which are usually opaque, because the clear casings allow me to easily find my belongings.

10 Travel Essentials You Can Find at Your Drug Store

Ever notice how the rows of travel-sized toiletries at your local drug store resemble free samples? The only difference is that travel-sized bottles aren’t free. They can cost upwards of $4 apiece, and those costs really add up if you purchase a handful of travel-sized items. Instead, stock up on free samples. I’m willing to bet you have a number of sample-sized toiletries sitting in your bathroom cabinets that are fated for the trash can. If you don’t have free samples sitting around, it’s easy to score some. A number of product websites offer free product samples available through the mail, and sites like ChaChing on a Shoestring and Complimentary Crap will show you how to get them.

Keep in mind that most companies require you to submit your email address and other contact information in order to obtain a free sample. Be sure to uncheck the “Yes, I’d like to receive product news and offerings” box if you want to stay spam-free, and don’t enter your contact information on a company website without reading (and feeling comfortable with) that company’s privacy policy.

Commandeer your teenage son’s drool-soaked SpongeBob SquarePants pillowcase — it’s time he advances to more sophisticated bedding anyway. But don’t throw it out! Travel supply stores sell similar sacks and pouches for $10 or more. Use that ratty pillow case as a dirty laundry bag (secure the top with a rubber band or tie it with something stringy if you want some closure), a shoe bag or a disposable just-in-case-this-spills bag to protect your liquid-filled bottles and tubes.


At home I reuse my old towels untold times; they’re good for dusting, cleaning up messes, lining animal beds and much more. On the road, my old towels take on new and exciting roles as airplane seat cushions (just fold it a few times) and suitcase padding (wrap it around your breakables).

Quiz: What’s Your Packing Personality?

If your local nail salon gives you a pair of paper shoes with your pedicure, don’t toss ’em the moment you exit the salon. Air travelers must remove their shoes and walk in stocking feet or barefoot (yuck!) through the airport security checkpoint … unless they have disposable paper shoes, which are permitted by the TSA. You can purchase disposable shoes from Amazon, or you can snag a free pair of TSA-approved disposable shoes while treating your feet to some pampering before your next getaway.

If you go through a new wallet every couple of years, hang on to the worn-out wallet and use it as a decoy when you’re traveling. Keep most of your money and credit cards in a second “real” wallet or in a secure money belt, and then put some small bills in the dummy wallet. If you run into thieves in a foreign land, throw the criminals your dummy wallet and make a quick getaway. (For more ideas, see Money Safety Tips for Travelers.)

A half-dozen egg carton tray makes an amazing travel jewelry box. It doesn’t appear enticing to thieves, it has segregated compartments to keep your necklaces from getting tangled and, best of all, it’s free. For an even fancier jewelry box, allow your child or pet to decorate the carton. The plastic container in which wet wipes are sold also makes a handy jewelry box, sans separate compartments.

11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without

Duct tape is the ultimate fix-all travel item, but nylons are a close second. You can use old nylons to bind up a broken suitcase, to tie around your luggage for easy identification at baggage claim, as a laundry line in your bathroom or to use for washing delicate items (instead of a mesh bag). Keep your old soap scraps, stuff them in an out-of-use stocking and you have a free exfoliating soap scrubber to use in the shower!

What Not to Pack

Browsing on travel supply websites, I came across the innovative Tie Caddy, which keeps packed ties wrinkle-free. It’s a clear tube filled with a “patented winding mechanism” that curls ties into neat rolls. While empty yogurt containers don’t have an inner winding mechanism, they work fine as a scarf- or tie-protector if you don’t mind taking the time (it took me about 60 seconds) to roll the thing up yourself. Just be sure to clean and dry the yogurt container thoroughly first, of course.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold


Many travelers would swear that they get sick after every trip or vacation. They wonder if it was the food, the water, the pina coladas — or, like me, the airplane ride. While I don’t think you can count out the pina coladas (or that burrito you bought on the street), it turns out you could be right about airplanes.

woman blowing her nose

Studies vary, but most show that airline carriers are formidable carriers of the common cold. The Wall Street Journal cited a study that found an increased risk of catching the cold by as high as 20 percent, while another study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that colds may be more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than during normal daily life on the ground.

The publishers of the second study investigate a panoply of possible causes for the increased chances of getting sick after flying, including close quarters, shared air and, as I will explain, the most likely culprit: extremely low cabin humidity.

The Journal of Environmental Health Research study runs through several potential sources of higher transmission, but settles primarily on a single likely cause: extremely low cabin humidity caused by low humidity at high elevations. (A review of the study reveals the conclusion that aircraft that actively recirculated air actually showed slightly lower transmission rates than those that did not.)

Most commercial airlines fly in an elevation range of 30,000 to 35,000 feet, where humidity typically runs at 10 percent or lower. At very low levels of humidity, the “natural defense system” of mucus in our noses and throats dries up and is crippled, creating a much more tolerant environment for germs to infect us.

This protective system, called the mucociliary clearance system, is your first line of defense against harmful germs and bacteria. To wit, if the common cold is pounced on by a sufficiently moist and percolating proboscis and throttled by your throat, you remain uninfected. Shut down those systems, and you’ll be suffering within days.

Best Ways to Prevent Jet Lag

1. Stay hydrated. It turns out that drinking plenty of water will not only counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, cramps, fatigue and more, but can actually fortify your preemptive natural immune mechanisms to function considerably better. Of course, this is the case in normal daily life — when exercising, during prolonged sun exposure, etc. However, in an airplane, where your nose and throat are on the front lines of the war with exceedingly dry air, these are the first places to suffer.

Sipping water or some other fluid regularly throughout the flight may be more effective than drinking a lot of water at one time before or during the flight; this will keep your protective system from long dry spells. (And we do mean to single out water here — alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee or sodas can actually dehydrate you.)

Nasal mists have been found to be very effective in keeping this system working in your nose. (We like the ones from Ayr.) Additionally, hot drinks are a good way to keep your protective mucous membranes working — first, to assist in keeping you generally hydrated; second, by triggering the system into gear; and third, by directly providing moisture in the form of steam. Note that this is not a treatment per se. Rather, it just keeps your defenses strong and functioning.

washing hands

2. Keep your hands clean. Your hands are the most consistent point of first contact with cold, flu and other germs on planes and elsewhere. It is a direct line from armrest/ handshake/seatback to fingers to fork to mouth to full-blown fever a few days later. Scientists report that the viruses that cause colds and flu can survive for hours on your skin or on objects such as armrests, TV remote control handsets, tray tables and other similar surfaces. However, the simple act of washing your hands with hot water and soap is a formidable rampart against this transfer of harmful microorganisms.

If possible, wash your hands before any in-flight meals, and after your flight as well.

Of course, airplane cabins are tight places; getting out of your seat to wash up before and after every snack time can be almost impossible, as the flight attendants command the aisles, your seatmates are trying to eat, tray tables are down cabin-wide, and no one involved really wants to have folks getting up and down and roaming around the cabin. (Even on the ground, the water in many locations can carry water-borne bacteria that may not agree with all Western constitutions.) In these cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends alcohol-based products made specifically for washing hands.

9 Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling

3. Don’t forget the dental hygiene. Just as keeping your hands clean can prevent transmission of germs, using a germ-killing mouthwash in-flight may add another layer of protection while simultaneously helping to keep your throat moist. Just make sure your mouthwash bottle is three ounces or smaller to comply with the latest carry-on rules for liquids and gels.

4. Take your vitamins. The rapid response effect of vitamins is unproven, but many travelers swear by them. Charles Westover, a retired VP of fleet management for a major shipping company, starts taking vitamins two days before flying. “I have no idea if it helps at all, but of the hundreds or thousands of flights I have taken, I rarely get colds,” he said. “I just take a standard multivitamin, and it has never let me down.” The NIH concurs, sort of, stating that no conclusive data has shown that large doses of vitamin C will prevent colds, although it may reduce the severity or duration of symptoms.

Travel Hygiene Tips: Staying Fresh on the Road

5. Wear a face mask. The NIH cites airborne germs as one of the top two sources of cold virus infection; some travelers have taken to wearing masks either to prevent infection, or when they themselves are already infected. Personally, I wouldn’t last more than a half-hour or so behind a hot mask, but this may be an effective prevention tactic nonetheless.

7 Tips for Traveling with Back Pain


Back pain is one of the most common ailments on the planet, with millions of sufferers in the U.S. alone. Traveling with back pain can make sitting on a long flight or lugging a heavy suitcase feel like torture. But that doesn’t mean your backache should prevent you from seeing the world. The following tips will help you support your spine and reduce your pain when you travel.

man with back pain

Note: These tips are general guidelines only; they do not apply to all back problems and should not take the place of a doctor’s advice. We recommend consulting with a medical professional before deciding to travel, especially if your back pain is severe.

Flying is the most difficult part of a trip for many people traveling with back pain; being shoehorned into a cramped economy-class seat for hours on end can leave your spine feeling like a Slinky. Some travelers prefer to minimize their time in the air by booking nonstop flights whenever possible. (This also helps you reduce the number of times you have to heave your carry-on into an overhead bin.)

Other back pain sufferers find that it’s actually more comfortable to split their trip into multiple shorter legs, broken up by layovers in which they can stretch and stroll around the airport. Which strategy is right for you depends on the total length of the trip and your own body’s limitations.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Unless you sleep well on planes and plan to conk out for the entire flight, you’ll probably want to request an aisle seat on the plane. This will allow you to stand up regularly and move around the cabin without disturbing your seatmates. Sitting too long in the same position can cause stiffness and pain.

You can do some simple stretches in the back of the plane, but be sure not to get in the way of the flight attendants. (Letting them know that you have a back condition might make them a little more accommodating.) If the seatbelt sign is on and you can’t get up, do some stretching in your seat, such as neck rolls or raising your hands as high as you can above your head. For more ideas, see How to Stretch on an Airplane Without Looking Like a Crazy Person.

The same advice goes for long train, bus or car rides: Get out of your seat as often as possible to change positions and walk around. Your spine will thank you.

Every extra item you put into your suitcase is one more thing you’ll have to hoist into the overhead bin or drag from your car to the airport. Make it easier on yourself by packing less (our What Not to Pack can help), and consider checking any bags you can’t easily lift into an overhead bin.

This advice applies after you’ve arrived at your destination too. When you’re out exploring, consider bringing a small backpack that distributes weight evenly rather than a shoulder bag that will burden one side of your body. Tighten the straps so the pack is as close as possible to your back, which will make the bag feel lighter. If you must carry a single-shoulder bag, switch it regularly from one side to the other throughout the day.

Consider exactly how much you need to carry in that daypack. Do you really need a tablet, a phone, a guidebook, two large bottles of water, an umbrella, a fistful of random coins and a stack of tourist brochures from your hotel lobby? Spare your spine by paring down your pack to the bare essentials.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Many people who suffer from back pain find that how they sleep has a huge impact on how they feel. If you need a firm mattress for support or plenty of pillows so you can put one between your knees, check ahead of time to be sure your hotel can accommodate you. If your back pain makes it difficult to handle your luggage, you’ll also want to make sure the hotel has an elevator and/or bellhops to help. Finally, if your pain is eased by gentle exercise, check to see whether the hotel has a fitness center and pool you can use.

Call or email the hotel with specific questions, and read reviews from previous travelers to get a sense of what to expect.

hotel bellhop with suitcase

Yes, we preached the virtues of packing light above, but one area where you shouldn’t scrimp is anything that helps ameliorate your back pain. Lumbar pillows, seat cushions, heating pads … whatever will help you feel comfortable during your trip is worth packing.

To save space, consider travel-friendly versions of your favorite accessories. For example, Therm-a-Rest offers a self-inflating lumbar pillow that weighs less then half a pound and can be flattened out between uses. (In a pinch, a rolled-up sweatshirt or jacket can also support your neck or lower back.) Massage Track makes a travel-size foam roller that’s just 12 inches long.

Instead of a plug-in heating pad, consider ThermaCare HeatWraps, which provide up to eight hours of heat and can be worn under your clothing. If ice works better for you than heat, bring a zip-top plastic bag that you can fill from your hotel’s ice machine — it’s cheap, and it adds no weight to your bag.

Test out any new products well before your trip. You don’t want to discover on an eight-hour transatlantic flight that your shiny new pillow isn’t comfortable or that you can’t figure out how to inflate it.

Of course, you’ll also want to bring along any medications that help you manage your back pain. Bring a few days’ extra in case of flight delays or other circumstances that could unexpectedly extend your trip.

9 Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling

Some people find that emotional tension makes their back pain worse. Most people’s travel stress starts at the airport, so be sure to arrive well before your first flight and allow plenty of time for any connections so you’re not racing to your gate. (Check out 16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster and 18 Best Airport Hacks for more advice on moving swiftly and confidently through the airport.)

Once in flight, settle in with your favorite tunes or a lighthearted book or movie. Deep breathing, meditation and positive visualization can help you manage both stress and pain.

Finally, don’t overschedule your itinerary. Build in a little wiggle room so that you don’t feel rushed and will have time to rest if your back flares up during your trip.

For more advice, see 9 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful.

If you’ve got the means — or the miles — consider upgrading your seat on a long flight. Your back will feel much more comfortable in a roomy business-class seat (or even in premium economy) than you will in the back of the plane.

Another treat to consider: a massage. Visiting a local spa on the first day of your trip is a great way to soothe any lingering aches from your flight. If a full spa day is too much to ask, consider a quick, pay-by-the-minute chair massage at the airport between flights.

Tipping Etiquette: A Guide for Travelers


A question and answer session with etiquette expert Lizzie Post

Even the most experienced traveler can sometimes be tripped up by tipping etiquette. Sure, you know you’re supposed to tip your tour guide something — but how much? When you’re calculating the tip for your dinner, do you need to include taxes and that pricey bottle of wine? And is it ever acceptable to withhold a tip for poor service?

lizzie post

For help, we turned our tipping questions over to an etiquette expert. Lizzie Post is an author and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, an organization that promotes etiquette in the U.S. and around the world. Lizzie, who is the great-great-granddaughter of the famous manners maven, shares secrets for tipping right every time (and reveals why bribing the maitre d’ won’t get you the best seat in the house).

Q: What’s the most common tipping mistake?
A: To not tip. That’s probably the worst tipping mistake. Usually if you know to tip, you’re tipping around 15 – 20 percent so you know you’ve tipped something, and that’s great. But not tipping at all is probably the worst mistake.

Q: If you’re unhappy with the service you’ve received, is it ever okay not to tip, or is there a better way to handle it?
A: No. You should never let your money talk for you. If you get good service, in addition to leaving a good tip, you would want to thank your server, bellboy, etc. When it goes the other way, you still should leave the customary 15 percent. If you had horrendous service and it was the service provider’s fault, some people might go as low as 10 percent. But we suggest that you leave 15 percent and then immediately speak to a manager to express your dissatisfaction. Say that you’re unhappy with how you were treated and that you’re reluctant to return after such an experience. That will speak volumes to a manager.

10 Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid

Q: Whom should we never tip?
A: Never tip your doctor! We tip waiters and waitresses because they don’t make a livable wage. Our tips are helping to subsidize substandard wages. Try to avoid tipping those who aren’t in the service industry — doctors, dentists, therapists. You also don’t tip your dry cleaner. You’ve purchased their service and it’s one that traditionally doesn’t have a tip associated with it.

In a foreign country, different rules often apply. We recommend that you visit country-specific websites to find out what the local customs are.

Editor’s Note: Guidebooks and visitors bureaus are also great sources for country-specific tipping information. See Tips for Tipping Abroad for more advice on how to tip overseas.

Q: Is there such a thing as overtipping? Could you offend someone by doing so?
A: I don’t think anyone would be too offended by overtipping, but they might think you’re a little stupid. (I always wonder if that happens with celebrities — you hear about them leaving an $800 tip on a $2,000 bill. The waitress must be thinking, “Do you know how many hundreds you just dropped?”)

However, the manner in which you give a tip could be insulting. The classic is trying to get the maitre d’ to give you a better table. A lot of people think that by flashing a $10, $20 or $50 bill, they’re going to get that kind of service, but the waitstaff we’ve talked to say they find that insulting; they’re not going to change the way the restaurant is run just because you’re waving a few bills. You don’t want to bribe for good service. You want to tip afterward to reward good service.

Q: When is it okay to tip in anything besides the local currency?
A: If the choice is that or nothing, then leave the foreign currency. But otherwise, try your best to leave a tip in the currency of that country. Run out and grab some change on your lunch break, or visit an ATM. By leaving a tip in a non-local currency, you’re giving your service person work to do, and they’ll likely have to pay a fee to change it into their own currency. So you should only leave a tip in your own currency if you don’t have time to get something else.

tip money cafe

Q: At restaurants, should you base the tip on the total bill (including tax, alcohol, etc.) or just the cost of the meal?
A: You shouldn’t tip on the tax because who wants to tip on what the government gets? But yes, you do tip on the cost of your meal and any alcohol. If I order a bottle of wine from a sommelier, then I would tip him or her directly. But if I order the bottle from my server, that’s the person I tip. And if I have a few cocktails before dinner, I make sure to tip the bartender specifically before I go to my table.

Q: Do different rules apply to tipping at hotels vs. bed and breakfasts? For example, at a small B&B where you’re not sure if there’s a housekeeping staff and you think that the owner may be the person to clean your room, do you still leave a housekeeping tip?
A: If you don’t know, leave a tip on the side of the bed. There very well could be a maid who comes in for a couple of hours a day, an off-site person that does the housekeeping so the owner can handle the bookkeeping or other responsibilities. Even if it is the owner [who does the cleaning], he or she is doing the work — so I don’t think you would be insulting anyone if you did leave a tip.

A Guide to Hotel Tipping

Q: What’s a good rule of thumb for tipping tour guides (and drivers)?
A: On a short bus tour (several hours or less), tip your guide 10 – 20 percent of the cost of the tour. Give it to him or her when you say goodbye. Charter and sightseeing bus drivers are also tipped in certain cases: when drivers double as guides, $1 per person per day. When the driver has been particularly amiable, the person in charge of a private charter sometimes asks each passenger to contribute $1 or more to a tip pool. On a longer tour with no built-in gratuity, each passenger should give $5 – $10 to the guide and another $5 – $10 to the driver.

You should not tip tour guides at national parks or other government sites.

Q: Should you always tip the driver of the airport car rental shuttle? How much?
A: Yes. Especially if the driver helps me with my bags, I’ll leave a dollar or two (typically a dollar per bag). It’s also nice to tip if the driver has held the shuttle for you. Similar rules apply to drivers of airport parking lot shuttles.

Q: If you give a bellman your bags for storage at the front desk, do you tip when he takes the bags away, when he returns them to you later or both times? And how much?
A: Tip when the bellman brings the bags back — again, because we’re not bribing for service. I’d recommend $1 or $2 per bag.

15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You

Q: If you could only offer one tidbit of tipping advice, what would it be?
A: Remember to tip! Beyond that, my advice would be to keep one- and five-dollar bills on you [or the local equivalent]. Whenever you leave for a trip, go to a bank or convenience store to get change so you always have it on hand.

Check out more travel interviews!

Which Travel Clothes Are Worth the Money?


If all you knew about traveling was what you saw on dedicated travel gear sites such as or, you might think that you could never take a trip without a wardrobe purpose-built for globetrotting. Think shirts and pants made out of wrinkle-free, waterproof, bug-repellent, UV-protective microfibers, equipped with dozens of hidden thief-proof pockets. But do you really need to buy expensive, specialized travel clothes just to explore the world?

packing a suitcase

For those of you who’d rather wear the clothes you already have instead of blowing half your travel budget on a new wardrobe before every trip, there’s hope. We took a look at some of the most common types of travel clothes to determine whether they’re actually worth the money.

Commonly produced by outdoor outfitters, these pants, shirts, jackets and boots are meant to protect you from damp weather.

Worth It? If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in a changeable climate (think kayaking in New Zealand, fishing in Alaska or hiking in the Scottish Highlands), waterproof clothing is worth its weight in gold. We’re not as fond of water-resistant clothes, which don’t stand up to prolonged or heavy downpours.

Buy It: Amazon offers a wide variety of waterproof clothes.

Instead of packing both shorts and long pants, buy convertible pants, and you’ll get both in one garment. (The pant legs zip off to create shorts.) They’re usually lightweight and made of quick-drying material.

Worth It? These pants won’t win you any style points, and you’ll look out of place wearing them on city streets or in quaint European villages. But if you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, you value practicality over fashion and you have limited space in your suitcase or backpack, they’re worth a buy.

Buy It: Check out Columbia’s convertible pants for men and women.

11 Travel Essentials That Do Double Duty on The Road

Many travelers seek to avoid insect-borne illnesses such as Zika, malaria and dengue not only by packing bug spray but also by purchasing clothes that have been treated with permethrin, an insect repellent designed for fabric, not skin.

Worth It? If you don’t want to shell out money for new clothing, you can pick up a bottle of permethrin and spray your existing wardrobe. While this can save you money in the short term, keep in mind that clothes you’ve treated yourself are typically only protected for about six weeks or six washings, while some factory-treated clothes will keep you bug-free for up to 70 washings. (Read the details from the manufacturer before purchasing.) If you travel regularly to places where insects are a problem, factory-treated clothes are worth the investment.

Buy It: You can buy permethrin spray to treat your own clothes or shop the full line of ExOfficio insect repellent clothing.

These clever garments have tons of pockets where you can stow just about anything — cell phones, passports, wallets, cameras, keys, tablets and more. This can save you valuable space in your carry-on, as well as keep you from having to put valuables in easily accessible places such as a purse or pants pocket.

Worth It? Maybe, if you don’t feel that your usual jacket has enough storage. These garments tend to be pricey, but wearing them regularly at home, not just on the road, can justify the cost. They’re particularly well suited for photographers (who can stow things like extra lenses, memory cards and lens cloths), people who travel with lots of gadgets or women who don’t want to carry a purse.

Buy It: The industry leader for travel vests and jackets is SCOTTeVEST, which offers a range of options for both men and women.

scottevest vest and jacket

When you’re on vacation, who has time to iron? There’s an array of clothing in wrinkle-free (or at least wrinkle-resistant) fabrics that will come out of your suitcase looking as fresh as they did when they went in.

Worth It? Honestly, you probably already own a few wrinkle-resistant clothes — just take a look at your wardrobe and pick out the garments that don’t look like a disaster after they’ve been sitting in a drawer for a few weeks. Rolling clothes or separating them with layers of plastic in your suitcase can help reduce wrinkles too. In a pinch, hang rumpled clothes in your hotel bathroom while you shower (the steam will ease out most creases) or use a wrinkle-releasing spray.

Buy It: Our favorite product for zapping wrinkles is Downy Wrinkle Releaser.

4 Packing Mistakes You’re Probably Making

For travelers hitting the beach, going on safari or otherwise spending a lot of time outdoors, a wide-brimmed hat is vital to protect your face and eyes from the sun.

Worth It? Some travel hats have extra-long back brims and mesh in bizarre places, making them look a little goofy. Just go for a simple option that can be folded or rolled without losing its shape, whether or not it’s marketed as a “travel hat.” We recommend buying one with a chin strap to keep it from blowing off your head.

Buy It: Here’s one unisex, foldable hat from Tuga Sunwear.

These garments aim to thwart casual thieves by offering hidden pockets secured by multiple fastenings (a zipper covered by a button, for instance).

Worth It? A little extra security is never a bad thing, especially if you regularly ride public transportation, walk around busy city streets or visit crowded tourist attractions when you travel. The clothes may be worth the expense if you like them enough to wear them at home too. That said, it’s cheaper to buy a money pouch or belt that you can wear under your clothes to conceal valuables.

Buy It: The leader in pickpocket-proof clothing is Clothing Arts. If you’d prefer a money pouch, consider this one from Lewis N. Clark.

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You might not realize it, but it’s possible to get sunburned even through a T-shirt. That’s why some companies now make special clothing that blocks ultraviolet light from the sun, including shirts, pants, rash guards and swim tights.

Worth It? Most people probably get enough protection from their normal clothing, but fair-skinned travelers spending a lot of time outdoors might find these products useful. If you’ll be snorkeling or swimming for prolonged periods on your trip, even travelers less sensitive to sun might want to pack a rash guard for protection (since sunblock washes off fairly quickly).

Travel Warnings and Advisories


These days, you’re probably not planning a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan — the United States and other developed nations are currently advising citizens against all non-essential travel to these countries. But a government travel warning doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad idea to plan a trip to a particular part of the world. In fact, within the past few years the governments of the U.S., Canada and the U.K. have also released advisories about the following countries: Thailand, Mexico, China, India and the United States.

traveler angkor wat

All of these are popular tourist destinations (if not home!). But before you decide to avoid these countries altogether — or to move to Canada — it’s worth taking a closer look at what a government’s travel warnings mean, why they’re released and how to evaluate them.

Governments issue travel advisories to let their citizens know about safety concerns that may affect travel to a particular country or region. In the United States, these warnings are issued by the State Department.

Travel advisories are released for a variety of reasons, including terrorism, natural disasters, political unrest, wars, health emergencies and outbreaks of crime. Travel warnings may also cover areas of the world where a government does not have the ability to respond to the problems of citizens traveling there — for example, if the government doesn’t have an embassy in a particular country, or if the functioning of its embassy is threatened by local violence.

Many governments make a distinction between long- and short-term travel advisories. The U.S. State Department issues travel warnings for ongoing problems such as civil wars and unstable governments, while travel alerts cover temporary issues such as natural disasters or election-related demonstrations.

A travel advisory — no matter how strongly worded — cannot legally stop you from traveling to a particular place. After reading an advisory, it is up to you to decide whether to heed or ignore the advice. While your government will try to help you if you run into trouble abroad, you will always be traveling at your own risk.

Hotel Safety Tips: What You Need to Know

Not all travel warnings are created equal. When deciding how seriously to take a particular travel advisory, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Is the entire country affected? In many cases, violence, unrest or natural disasters are confined to a particular region while the rest of the country is still safe and welcoming to tourists. For example, in recent years the U.K. has cautioned visitors against traveling in Gulf Coast states of the U.S. during hurricane season. And while Mexico’s recent struggles with violence are well publicized, government warnings apply only to select states; many popular tourist destinations such as the Mayan Riviera have remained safe.

While your well-being always comes first, keep in mind that the fallout from an isolated act of violence can affect an entire country’s tourist industry — and have a disproportionate effect on the economy of a developing nation.

2. What’s the danger? For travel advisories dealing with violence or terrorism, pay attention to what kind of attacks are taking place and who the targets are. Assaults that specifically pinpoint foreign tourists should raise a bigger red flag than civil unrest among locals. If violence generally happens away from primary tourist locations, there may be less risk for visitors.

3. How long ago was the warning posted, and when was it last updated? If you’re looking at a warning that’s more than a few months old, it may be worth doing a little research to check the current situation on the ground and see if there’s been any improvement. The websites of international newspapers are often a good source of accurate and up-to-date information. Searching Google News or Twitter can help you find these.

magnifying glass on world map

4. Is the warning corroborated by other governments? To get a fuller story on what’s happening in a particular country, check travel warnings from multiple sources (see our links below). Critics have speculated that some advisories are unduly influenced by politics, so checking a U.S. advisory against a Canadian or an Australian one can give you a fresh perspective — or confirm that a threat is cause for a change in your travel plans.

5. Is there a safety net? Find out whether your home country has an embassy or consulate in the place you want to visit, and make sure it’s fully staffed and functioning. If the worst happens, you don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country without an embassy to help with emergency evacuation or to get you in contact with family and friends at home.

6. Is travel insurance an option? Keep in mind that travel insurance may not cover you in all countries or circumstances. According to, most policies do not cover acts of war, riots or civil disorder. Other exclusions apply too, so read your policy carefully before purchasing.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

Each year, many tourists choose to visit certain countries despite their government’s warnings. If you decide to do the same, consider taking the following safety precautions.

1. Register yourself. Let your government know when and where you will be traveling so that you can be reached in an emergency. U.S. citizens can register themselves here; Canadians can do so here. Other countries have similar programs.

2. Check in. Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that they know where you’re supposed to be and when. Stay in touch on a regular basis by email, phone or Skype.

3. Keep an eye on the news. It can be tempting to take a complete break from the world when you’re on vacation, but if you’re in a place where conditions are unstable, you’ll want to keep yourself posted on what’s happening by getting online, watching the news in your hotel room or picking up a local newspaper.

4. Be prepared. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Find your home country’s embassy or consulate in the area you’ll be visiting and carry its contact details with you at all times. But be aware of what the embassy — and your home government — can and cannot do. (For example, if you’re injured, the State Department can help get you back to the U.S., but you or your relatives will have to foot the bill.)

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5. Protect yourself. Purchase a travel insurance policy after reading carefully to see what is and isn’t covered. Consider getting a policy with a “cancel for any reason” option so you can back out of your trip without penalty if you feel uneasy. Check out Money Safety Tips for Travelers to help shield yourself against crime. Finally, do your research; read up on the political or cultural situation of the area you’re visiting and know exactly which threats you might face. For more information, see How to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel.

Below are a few governments offering travel advisories in English. (Keep in mind that the State Department does not offer information about U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, so you’ll need to turn to foreign governments for any advisories about these destinations.)

United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand