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These days, the internet is chock-full of travel “hacks” that promise to help you book, pack, and fly for a fraction of the effort and expense.
Reading through some of these lists, however, can trigger an eyebrow raise from the savvy traveler. You may find yourself thinking, “There’s no way that really works.” Chances are, there’s merit to that gut feeling—many so-called hacks rarely play out as portrayed on Pinterest.
In an attempt to cut through the noise and offer advice you’ll actually use, below are a few time-tested travel tips gleaned from more than two years of full-time traveling (and more 10-plus-hour flights than I care to reflect upon).
1. Talk to strangers—and get creative.
Whether you’re talking to a local bartender, a tour guide, or a fellow traveler, there’s no more trite question than, “What’s your favorite [restaurant, city, etc.]?” Come up with at least two go-to questions that are a bit more inventive.
Getting more specific with these queries can lead to the discovery of true hidden gems. Try asking, “Where’s the best place for people-watching in this city?” or “What’s been your most memorable meal in the past six months?” instead of leaning on clichés, and you’ll be rewarded with equally thoughtful responses.
One downside of technology: an abundance of accessories. If you’ve ever spent 20 minutes digging through your carry-on for a portable charger, earbuds, or USB cord, you know how frustrating (and elusive) these items can be. A little pouch that’s specifically dedicated to these cords—and kept easily accessible in your carry-on—will save you serious headaches.
Pro tip: Some airlines give out little goodie bags with earplugs, an eye mask, and socks to every passenger. These baggies make perfect travel tech-cessory pouches. (I’ve been using one I picked up from Qatar Airways for the past year; it’s the perfect size.)
3. There’s an optimal number of alcoholic drinks to have while flying.
Downing four glasses of wine to relax sounds like a great idea during a three-hour layover or before a red-eye flight, but think twice before drinking half a bottle of Cab. Being on a plane causes dehydration and naturally messes with your circadian rhythm, and alcohol exacerbates both these things.
Too much booze can disrupt everything from your sleep cycle to your neighbor (who won’t be thrilled when you have to get up from the middle seat to use the lavatory six times). If you want a drink to take the edge off, that’s fine—but stick to one, one-and-a-half max. You’ll thank yourself later for having a little restraint.
Sometime after smartphones became prolific, the practice of carrying pens fell into sharp decline. Nobody wants to be the plane neighbor who has to ask the surrounding three rows to borrow a pen to fill out a customs form (or a particularly tantalizing crossword puzzle in an airline magazine).
This one is an easy fix: You probably have an entire drawer filled with pens somewhere in your house. Grab a couple, toss them into your carry-on, and leave them in there as permanent fixtures.
5. Keychains are amazingly useful.
Especially if you frequently stay in apartment-style rooms or Airbnbs, it’s a good idea to carry a keychain so that you don’t lose the keys to your home away from home.
6. You can use a hotel room kettle to steam your clothes.
Wrinkles are the bane of a frequent traveler’s existence, and unfortunately nobody has yet invented a truly effective wrinkle spray. In addition to using a hair straightener or steam from a hot shower as a quick fix for wrinkled clothes, using a portable kettle as a steamer when you’re boiling drinking water or making tea takes resourcefulness to the next level. (If you’ve got extra room in a suitcase, these travel-sized steamers are a more conventional option.)
7. Make it a practice to take in 20 seconds of tech-free silence every day.
In a world in which little white earbuds have practically become appendages to our bodies (and in which we’re constantly glued to Google Maps), technology can be as much of a distraction as it is a valuable travel aid. And while friends or family can certainly add to travel experiences, being engaged in constant conversation with your travel companions means you may miss out on important solo moments that will later come to define your time in a new city or country.
So, watch a sunset in silence without trying (and, let’s be honest, failing) to capture it on a smartphone; look up from Google and actually take in the street you’re walking down. Find a way to remind yourself to take 10 or 20 seconds of each travel day to truly soak in it all in. (Downloading the 1 Second Everyday app is a fun way to develop this habit.)
8. Stop stressing about “hacking” travel.
Sometimes travel hacks are quirky shortcuts, and sometimes they’re fabulous failures. Regardless, focusing too hard on having a seamless travel experience misses the point. Sometimes, the best travel memories come out of sheer happenstance—or even in the aftermath of a mishap. Learning to roll with the punches is one of the most valuable lessons that travel can teach, so channel your inner spontaneity and embrace the unfamiliar.
Gorgeous photos and shareable moments are the hallmark of any modern vacation, but when is the last time you actually took a trip just for yourself?
Instead of trying to keep up with wanderlust-inducing Instagram feeds, opt for a more laid-back approach to your next getaway. Treat yourself to a digital detox at these Forbes Travel Guide-approved stays that excel in JOMO (the joy of missing out), the antithesis to FOMO (fear of missing out).
You won’t find Wi-Fi in the heart of Wadi Rum, the rose-hued desert four hours south of this spectacular stay in Jordan’s capital.
Head for the dunes for an overnight excursion to Bedouin Lifestyle Camp — a tented complex run by the region’s traditionally nomadic inhabitants — where you can hike through the otherworldly rock formations that surround the sands.
After sundown, gather around the fire for a family-style meal of roasted lamb. Be sure to gaze up at the stars — the celestial bodies shine bright without Amman’s light pollution.
The Westin Palace, Madrid
Westin Hotels and Resorts
Across the map, Westin properties put self-care first with a host of health-focused offerings to keep you on top of your game during your travels — without the constant stimulation of digital devices.
At hotels like Forbes Travel Guide Recommended The Westin Chosun Seoul, look out for rest-enhancing amenities, such as bedside Sleep Well Lavender Balm or the superfood-packed Sleep Well Menu for late-night room service.
More active pursuits can be found at stays like The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, where you can trade in your phone for the day in exchange for bike rentals, kayak tours or spa time, or Forbes Travel Guide Recommended The Westin Palace, Madrid where you can follow the property’s running map for a 2.5-mile route around some of the city’s most popular sights.
In the spirit of dolce far niente (“the sweet art of doing nothing”), this Five-Star Venetian gem recently debuted an early morning experience you need to see to believe.
Scala Del Bovolo Sunrise begins with a shuttle ride to St. Mark’s Square, where you’ll stroll through the deserted city streets before climbing the spiral staircase of the 15th-century Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.
After conquering the 80-step ascent, you’ll be rewarded with sunrise views over Venice and a continental breakfast. Trust us when we say you’ll want to leave your phone behind — pictures won’t do these vistas justice.
A cliffside locale and VIP-approved amenities (past guests have included Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Aniston) are just a few of the reasons to unplug and soak in all that this Five-Star stunner has to offer.
Ditch your device for a bit of romance with the Cabo San Lucas property’s Sueños Spa Experience. Enjoy a steamy spin in the Five-Star spa’s grotto, where you and your partner will find a sauna-like cave and warm pools to luxuriate in.
An alfresco couple’s massage illuminated by starlight followed by post-indulgence finger foods and bubbles complete the enviable experience. You will want to keep the details of this romantic rendezvous all to yourselves.
Find your center among the scenic Swiss Alps with the Tibetan Healing Retreat offer from this Five-Star gem.
Available June 9 through September 22, the rejuvenating four-night escape begins with a personal consultation, pulse reading and questionnaire that will determine the course of your customized experience.
High stress levels? The spa’s Tibetan medicine amchi-naturopath practitioner might recommend a 60-minute singing bowl session. Need a pick-me-up? You’ll likely enjoy a 75-minute Ku Nye Massage.
No matter your treatments, you’ll be sure to enjoy gratis daily breakfast made especially memorable with a side of those breathtaking mountain views.
Perched in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended retreat is a JOMO paradise. If the Poipu Beach property’s saltwater pool, white sands and fire-pit-dotted grounds aren’t enough to convince you to unplug, its Kauai Wanderlust offer might just do the trick.
Customize your perfect day with your choice of indulgent Hawaiian dinner for two, an oceanside couple’s massage or an adventurous afternoon (surf lessons and a private luau), before retiring on your room’s cozy lanai — a scenic spot to watch the sun set.
Need a break from L.A.’s constant buzz? Head about an hour south to this rustic-chic Orange County retreat to recharge your batteries.
You’ll want to leave the devices at home at this tranquil spot. Tucked between two canyons on 87 verdant acres, the SoCal resort may as well be a world away from the bustle of Hollywood.
Home to Laguna Beach’s only golf course, the sprawling property begs for you to do absolutely nothing, whether by the gorgeous central pool, at nature-inspired Sycamore Spa or around the fire pit roasting s’mores after nightfall.—Sarah Chanin
When it comes to booking vacations, have we been doing it wrong all this time? For many of us, planning a vacation typically means choosing a destination, doing some research, comparing prices, and then reaching for a credit card. Once we’ve got our ducks lined up in a row, we go ahead and book our flights and hotel. A significant percentage of travelers always buys a package that bundles the flight and hotel together because conventional wisdom says that packages save you money.
Except that’s not true, says Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight, a platform for last-minute hotel booking platform. That’s because the optimal time to book the various different elements of your trip happen at different times – and this is the crux of how to save. “If you don’t book your flights early, you’re going to spend a fortune. With airline tickets, prices shoot up a lot if you wait too long,” says Shank. “But it’s the exact opposite with hotel prices, which decline the longer you wait.”
In other words, it makes zero sense to book your flights and hotel at the same time. To get the best price on both elements of your vacation, you should book flights six to seven weeks ahead and wait until much closer to your travel dates to book your hotel. This is a particularly good strategy if you’ve chosen a destination with a lot of hotels and your heart is not set on a particular property during the peak travel season.
Shank’s advice is founded in stats. The average hotel is only two-thirds full on any given night, so unless there’s a convention or some other major event going on, there is likely to be plenty of inventory available in a destination even on your arrival day.
You can book a hotel up to three months in advance on the HotelTonight website or app (available for iOS and Android), but the longer you wait, the more you save. Booking a week out nabs you a better price than if you book a month out, but the biggest savings of all go to last-minute Charlies who wait until the same day, when hotel rates are, on average, 10% less than the day before, says Shank.
Have you been told that travel packages always save you money? Again, you are booking your flight and hotel at the same time and only one of those elements will be at its optimal price. “Unbundling helps you save because you can get the benefit of booking the flight early and the hotel late,” says Shank.
There’s another benefit to booking your flight and hotel separately. “The selection of hotels included in these packages is often limited, so you’re often not able to choose the perfect hotel for you,” says Shank. “By unbundling, you’re going to get better choice as well.”
When I look back on the past decade of our travels, all I see are little city breaks scattered throughout the years. Instead of burning all the vacation days on one big, proper trip, we favoured spontaneous voyages around Europe and Ireland.
One thing I was surprised to discover- I found real satisfaction in planning all the trips and loved the anticipation of what might happen. Actually, when I think about it, I enjoyed organising weekend getaways and staycations even more than remembering them after.
I got so hooked that I needed this happy feeling in my life repeated as often as possible. I started planning prospective road trips and crazy adventures. Over the years I plotted pretty much everything I could, from a two-week Pacific Northwest adventures to The Great Ocean Road trip and even several Around The World Trips.
Some of the journeys and routes that I have planned are still bookmarked for later and some of them we had a chance to experience several times.
When it comes to pretty European getaways, Brugge is one place I always wanted to go. It was one of the first trips that I personally planned with great enthusiasm. Was I seduced by chocolate fountains that never dry out or inspired by long exposure pictures of the medieval city at night with silky smooth waters on my Instagram feed?
All I know is that since we had to cancel long weekend in Belgium a few years ago, because of Valters work circumstances, urge to go surfaced from time to time in my head.
The purpose of our visit to Bruges, that was founded in the 9th century by the Vikings, was to see its beautiful squares, hear folkloric tales and to climb 366 steps to the very top of the Belfry.
And even though we arrived in Bruges hearing rain pound on the train window and even though we never made it to the medieval bell tower, we were swept away by its laid-back ambience and delectable foods.
10 best things to see and do in delightful Bruges, Belgium
For those world wanderers who want to discover the best things to see and do in this city, we put together a list of some of the most beautiful places you’ll find in Bruges. If you ask me, there’s no denying that with the quirky houses, incredible Christmas markets, and the cobbled streets, Bruges is one of the Europes most beautiful cities.
It’s so beautifully unique and full of history that in fact, the centre of it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
After spending a full day in Bruges, we can recommend this medieval town to everyone. Bruges is a very walkable place, and you can fit all the major attractions in a day. So, bring your walking shoes and explore this place.
#1. Eat all the Belgian chocolate you can
On a quest to find the best sweets in town? You have come to the right place. White and dark chocolate, macaroons, pralines, truffles, strawberry ganache, waffles – whatever you fancy! Bruges is cheerfully dripping in sweets. For the most amazing chocolates in the World, go to The Chocolate Line. Lavender and the Cuban cigar flavour, anyone?
#2. Find the 18th-century windmills
The Koeleweimolen and Sint-Janshuismolen mills are located on the outskirts of town and are worth a visit. Out of four remaining windmills, these two are still used today to grind the grain. Each of the houses a small museum and if you are in luck, you’ll see the sails in motion.
#3. Look out for In Bruges filming locations
Before our trip I scrolled through the Netflix archives, looking for a black comedy starring Collin Farrel and Brendon Gleeson, In Bruges. Not only this movie was hilarious; it also revealed beautiful Gothic architecture, old bridges and lots of tourist attractions.
Most of the filming locations are freely accessible, and you can see Minnewater Bridge, The Groeningemuseum, the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, The Huidenvettersplein, The Jan Van Eyckplein and many more. Bring your camera, get the map of all the filming locations at the tourist information bureau and have fun finding them.
#4. Go for a Boat Ride
The canal boat ride was the very first thing we enjoyed in Bruges. The price of the ticket is around 8 euro, it takes 30 minutes for a round trip, and this trip allowed us to see the town from a different angle. Jumping into the boat with other travellers was a perfect way to see the city and our tour guide was quite the character, telling jokes and interesting facts about everything we saw along the way.
#5. Go for a walk
When you go for a walk around Bruges, the evidence why this place never needs to fight for visitors attention, unlike Ghent or Antwerp, is on every corner. Strolling through unfamiliar streets and squares filled with small cafes and shops, we stopped many times to gaze into the beautifully decorated shop windows, tried to imagine what the rooms look like behind those pink painted window frames, admired the unique architecture and tried to absorb its energetic vibe.
#6. Explore Bruges on bike
Bruges is a land of bicycles. ROour advice, rent the bikes, ditch the mid-day crowds and go for a ride. You can use the pedestrian/bike path that circles nearly all the way around town. If you enjoy hopping on two wheels and like to see the countryside too then go all the way to Damme, situated north-east of Bruges.
#7. Find cute door knobs
As we wandered from one cobbled street to the next one, we found many beautifully detailed doors often with symmetrical designs. One thing to look out for in Bruges is door knobs that come in all shape and sizes. We spotted everything from flowers and animals to beautiful ornaments. Knocking on the doors in this town sure is fun.
#8. See the impressive Town Hall
Located in Burg Square Bruges Town Hall is strikingly remarkable inside and out. Interior of this place is decorated with a golden ceiling and valuable paintings. 19th-century murals adorn the Ghotic Hall and may original documents can be found in the historic chamber.
#9. Go on a tour with a horse-drawn carriage
While walking around medieval town, we quickly learned that that Bruges was in a class of its own. Another fun way how to enjoy the sights and listen to the stories told by the coachman is to go for a half-hour carriage ride along beautiful streets. It is definitely one of the priciest things to do in this city, but its good fun!
#10. Send some love
Last thing before we left – postcards. I send one home to Latvia and to my friends from every place we visit. I love this old fashion way of keeping in touch as it’s an effective way to show you care. Who doesn’t want to receive a hand-picked card with a personal note from the other side of the world?
How to get to Bruges
Typically for most visitors, the first stop in Belgium is Brussels city. From here, you can take a train ride to Bruges with Belgian Railway. To make the most of your trip, especially if you are going on a day trip, you need to get an early start. It takes around an hour to make it to Bruges from Brussels by train, and it’s possible to purchase the ticket in advance. To do so, use the Belgian train online page.
Now, over to you!
Have you been to Bruges? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Bruges and have travel related questions!
First of all, there never was a glamour age of air travel. Second of all, get over it. It’s the right thing for society. Let’s get the myths out of the way first. When we talk about how great air travel used to be, are we talking about my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s, when roving bands of Hare Krishnas marauded passengers in smoke-filled terminals? Next to the gate for the Eastern Air Shuttle, there was a kiosk that sold last-minute life insurance in case you lost your nerve. To board that noisy DC-9 or 727, you schlepped your bags across the tarmac and up the air stairs, snow or shine……..