Traveling this holiday? If you can't take a car or a train, be sure to check out these packing and travel tips to make your life easier while booking flights, getting through security checkpoints, and beyond.
- TripIt — Once signed up for the free service, forward travel confirmation emails to TripIt, which will automatically create a master itinerary of an upcoming trip accessible through the web or a mobile device. The itineraries even include the tidbits we seem to forget like weather updates, local maps, and directions.
- Google Flight Search — Book that plane ticket before prices rise any further! Google's flight search engine incorporates travel basics like price point, maximum number of connections, and preferred airline with an easy-to-use interface.
- Hotel Tonight — If there are too many relatives in one house, scan the last-minute hotel deals at Hotel Tonight for a chic getaway at a discounted price. Every day three hotels in a city reveal their discounted rates starting at noon, and you then have until 2 a.m. to book the deal and take advantage of a peaceful room.
- My TSA — Can homemade fruit cakes go through security? How early should you show up to the airport for a flight on the eve of Thanksgiving? Answer the pressing travel questions that could otherwise cause delays or stress by adding the TSA's free iOS app to your device. The app's airport security line estimator may become the most crucial feature on your phone when planning your airport arrival.
- HearPlanet ($3) — Take the time to discover the cultural side of your holiday destination. This interactive app highlights attractions in over 300,000 locations and uses geolocation features so that you don't miss any of the nearby fun, plus it's a great excuse to get out of the house and move around in fresh air.
- GasBuddy — Hitting the open road instead of the air? Use the free GasBuddy app to locate the cheapest fuel on the interstate. Show your fellow travelers some love and share the low-price gas station you discover within the app.
- iPad or Tablet — If you have the luxury of spending upwards of $500 on a tablet, it's probably the only gadget you'll need to tote during travel season since it can hold your ebooks, surf the Internet, and keep you connected.
- eReader — If you're sans tablet, pack up your favorite ereader. Whether it's the latest Kindle or the new Nook Simple Touch, you can read the entire Game of Thrones series without all the paper weight.
- Compact laptop — Though the MacBook Air is arguably the most popular lightweight laptop out there, there's plenty of compact PCs and ultrabooks to choose from as well.
- Chargers — If you're toting all these gadgets, you're going to (obviously) need some chargers to keep things juiced. Thankfully, many airlines are offering charging stations in the terminal and even seat-side outlets on board, so you can stay 100 percent charged throughout your trip.
- Headphones — Keep the roar of 35,000 feet at bay with some nice sound-isolating headphones. If you're going over-the-ear, consider Skullcandy Aviator ($150), which offer great sound and deep bass and are even comfy for those geeks who wear glasses.
Get more tips on how to pack your bag and save some dough after the break.
Packing Your Bag
- Pack in layers. Layer clothes, electronics, then clothes again inside a carry-on so the TSA agent can quickly see what's in there. This strategy also works better than the cram-everything-in-your-bag strategy once you unpack at your destination.
- Wrap the cords. A tangle of cords could look like something potentially harmful if it's viewed a certain way, which could mean a more thorough and time-consuming bag check. Wrap cords around their devices, pack chargers together in one bag (ziplocks work!) and take advantage of rubber bands, twist ties, and other simple cord-management techniques to keep them tangle-free.
- Keep big items in your carry-on, not in checked bags. Laptops and DVD players have to come out of your bags at screening checkpoints, but they won't fare well in checked bags unless you're down with a TSA agent potentially digging them out.
- But know what can stay inside. Don't forget, tablets, ereaders, laptops, and gadgets smaller than a 13-inch laptop can stay in your carry-on. All other electronic devices need to come out.
- Get a TSA-friendly bag. Of course, you could just get a TSA-friendly bag for your laptop, which will glide right through the checkpoint without a problem. TSA-approved bags provide a clear and unobstructed view of the device through the X-ray scanner. These can be one of three styles: sleeve style, butterfly style, or trifold style. They won't have pockets, metal zippers, snaps, logos, emblems, or other branding that can obstruct the view of the laptop in the X-ray scanner, and they can only house the laptop. Other items like chargers, cables, and accessories should be packed separately.
- Track down free WiFi — There's a number of US airports that offer free WiFi in the terminals (and more being added all the time), which can save you big money if you need to stay connected. Also, there's plenty of WiFi options getting to and from the terminal. Just don't use that mysterious "Free Public WiFi" signal — it could spell trouble.
- Get a Google Voice number — Getting a Google Voice number can help you save big bucks on international and domestic calls wherever you are — rates start at just two cents a minute, and calls to US and Canadian landlines are free! Plus, you can use your laptop to make calls — no cell phone required.
- Prepare for data use beforehand — Making calls from your cell phone or hopping online using hotel WiFi can get really expensive if you're not careful. Thankfully, AT&T has recently introduced reasonably priced international data plan packages that will allow you to call home, send emails, and check the news online from hundreds of locations. You can buy data plans in advance and activate them when you're ready to leave.
- Get extra mileage — Location-based apps offer up a variety of rewards, and now the popular airline Virgin America is making it supereasy to earn extra mileage points by checking in with hospitality app TopGuest. Just check in using Foursquare or Facebook Places at any Virgin America kiosk, ticket desk, or baggage claim, and you can earn up to 25 points on each leg of your trip to use toward free flights.
- Clip those (virtual) coupons — Deals and discount sites can help you save big bucks on flights, activities, services, food, and transportation in your destination city. Check sites like Groupon for fare deals, load up on apps like ScoutMob, and check sites like TravelZoo for activities and deep discounts on dining options before you hit the road.