The 101 travel hacks to change your life: How to choose the airport security queue that is always fastest, the plane seat that gets the least turbulence and the secret to always getting the cheapest flights

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Whether it’s airport parking, queuing to get through security, bagging the best seat possible on the plane or getting yourself a hotel upgrade, planning for a holiday can be horribly stressful. 

But there are all kinds of tricks and quirks that can make all the difference. For example, join the left-hand lane at security because most people head right, as they are biased toward their dominant hand. And why you should always board a plane last…

We’ve spoken to industry insiders, airport and airline staff and people who spend much of their lives travelling – and come up with the ultimate guide to becoming a savvy traveller

AIRPORT PLANNING 

  • Don’t be too proud to take your own sandwiches, especially when everyone else is reeling from Pret’s airport prices.
  • Never get currency at the airport; rates are ruinous.
  • Use a meet-and-greet car parking service if you can. The price difference, particularly if booked well in advance, is often minimal. But make a note of the mileage before handing over the keys.
  • Fly to the smallest airport possible for your destination. Small airports are so much less hassle than big ones.
  • Never be rude to check-in staff at overseas airports. The same staff often reappear at the gate and can get their revenge by saying your hand baggage is too big to go on board for free.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands straight after security. Doctors say the trays that go through X-ray machines are constantly touched, rarely cleaned and a perfect breeding ground for bugs. 
Industry insiders have a handy trick: go to the left-hand queue at security. Most people head right, as they are biased toward their dominant hand

Industry insiders have a handy trick: go to the left-hand queue at security. Most people head right, as they are biased toward their dominant hand

  • Ask about twilight check-in if you’re staying in an airport hotel for an early flight. Hand over your main bags the night before and you can go straight to security in the morning.
  • Hydrate your skin in the Duty Free area with the help of all the beauty samples. The posher and more expensive the better.
  • If you haven’t got lounge access at the airport, head to the posh champagne bar.
  • If you have an evening flight from a London airport and are hungry, check the sandwich fridge at Boots — many sandwiches are slashed to £1 or 50p after 7pm.
  • When boarding requires a shuttle bus transfer to the aircraft, board last. You’ll avoid spending 20 minutes or so on an often cold bus and will be one of the first to board the plane.

SAVVY PACKING

  • If travelling with hand luggage only, pre-pack toiletries in a durable see-through wash bag (Boots sells these) to avoid the hassle at security of cramming items into flimsy bags.
  • Pack essentials for day two of your holiday (underwear, swimsuit, toothbrush, fresh clothes, etc.) in your hand luggage, just in case your suitcase doesn’t reach your destination at the same time as you.
  • Never pack more than three pairs of shoes: 1 x trainers, 1 x sandals, 1 x smart. These can be successfully rotated for the duration of the majority of holidays.
  • Unless you really love wearing a smart jacket or dress, don’t bother cramming them into your case — even the poshest restaurants no longer have dress codes.
  • Have a small bottle of your preferred air freshener or pillow spray with you — useful for stale hotel rooms and (especially) hire cars.
  • Packing cubes could change your life if you will be living out of a suitcase.
  • Save space with hand luggage-size multi-purpose products such as Green People Moisturising After Sun with Insect Repellent, £11 for 100ml.
  • Take along a Cabeau Evolution neck pillow, which, unlike other travel pillows, actually facilitates sleep, thanks to its ability to strap to the seat. 
If travelling with hand luggage only, pre-pack toiletries in a durable see-through wash bag to avoid the hassle at security of cramming items into flimsy bags

If travelling with hand luggage only, pre-pack toiletries in a durable see-through wash bag to avoid the hassle at security of cramming items into flimsy bags

  • Pop a slimline novel in a jacket, coat or backpack pocket — that way you’ll always have something to read to pass the time while queuing at the airport, waiting for a bus, or at the train station.
  • Take Vaseline in case of chafing if you plan to do a lot of walking or hiking.
  • Write out a comprehensive ‘What To Take’ list. Keep it with your passport and never again will you forget to take an adaptor, spare socks, etc.. 

TRAINS AND PLANES

  • Never board the Gatwick Express. The Southern train service from Victoria takes 15 minutes longer but is less than half the price. The same applies to the Heathrow Express — take the Elizabeth Line instead.
  • Order the veggie meal in advance on long-haul flights. It will be more freshly heated — and you’ll get it first.
  • Take noise-cancelling headphones. Not only for a better sound, but they blot out engine noise and screaming babies.
  • Take a light cashmere throw — useful when blankets in Economy are as effective as a dishcloth.
  • Tag hand baggage. The rucksack or handbag carries all the essentials (passports, money, gadgets, holiday info, etc.). And put your mobile number clearly inside the tag.
  • Put ‘fragile’ stickers on your checked bag. It should help it get to the carousel quicker.
  • Think twice about paying for extra legroom on a plane. You’ll find yourself sitting alongside big people, so while you might gain space in front of you, it’s likely you’ll be encroached on from either side.
  • When booking flights online, if you open your browser window in ‘incognito’, mode, the fares sometimes come up cheaper.
  • Act like Naomi Campbell when flying and moisturise, moisturise, moisturise your skin, because the cabin pressure and dry air can cause poor lymphatic drainage and poor blood circulation.
  • Download your airline’s app, which often posts timely updates on a flight’s status or gate changes before the airport announcement. EasyJet’s is particularly good and allows you to track the plane live.

 Act like Naomi Campbell when flying and moisturise, moisturise, moisturise your skin, because the cabin pressure and dry air can cause poor lymphatic drainage and poor blood circulation.

  • Go to the left-hand queue at security; most people head right, as they are biased toward their dominant hand.
  • Check out what side of a train the main sights will be — a coastline, a mountain range or lake — and reserve your seat there.
  • Buy Paris Metro tickets from the buffet car on Eurostar trains. Saves messing about with the ticket machines at Gare de Nord.
  • Avoid wearing any kind of tight clothing when flying; your body swells and retains water.
  • Always be friendly and polite to cabin crew. This often results in perks such as free-flowing wine and extra snacks.
  • Take a small silver stirrup cup for your wine — so much more uplifting than those plastic jobs.
  •  Washroom sizes vary on long-haul flights — worth checking out where the big one is, especially if you brought your soft trousers to change into.
  • Get on the plane last. You can scope out any free seats and potentially bag an empty row to yourself. 
Never pack more than three pairs of shoes: 1 x trainers, 1 x sandals, 1 x smart. These can be rotated for the duration of the majority of holidays. Pictured: Crane Beach in Barbados

Never pack more than three pairs of shoes: 1 x trainers, 1 x sandals, 1 x smart. These can be rotated for the duration of the majority of holidays. Pictured: Crane Beach in Barbados

  • Adjust your watch at take-off to the time zone of your holiday destination. It helps psychologically with jet lag. 
  • On your outward journey, wear that shirt or blouse you were thinking of throwing out. Bin it when you get to the hotel — one less thing to bring back.
  • Mid-week flights (Tuesday and Wednesday) are almost always the cheapest.
  • Couples booking an aisle and a window seat have a good chance of having a free empty seat between them. If anyone else does get put in the middle seat he or she will usually be happy to swap to the aisle or window.
  • When travelling long-haul in economy, bring your own luxury travel pack of cashmere socks, silk eye mask, lip balm, and hydrating facial mist. 

 Adjust your watch at take-off to the time zone of your holiday destination. It helps psychologically with jet lag.

  • For long-haul flights with young children, create a bedtime routine by taking PJs to change into and a favourite blanket to snuggle under.
  • Build Avios tier points with BA. If you get to gold status, the carrier will block the seat next to you in economy, giving you room to stretch out.
  • Chilli and chocolate can help reduce the effects of jet lag.
  • For less turbulence, pick a seat by the wing.
  • Book hotels and car hire with the airline you fly with — you can pick up some amazing deals and the extras turn the plane ticket into a package holiday, which comes with a raft of financial protection.
  • Pre-order an inflight hamper from a fancy restaurant at the airport — so you can dine like a business-class passenger in economy.

ONCE YOU’RE THERE

  • Learn the absolute basic local lingo: Even the most modest of efforts goes a long way. ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’. And, of course, ‘Sorry… but I’m British’.
  • Always pay for things in local currency when using debit or credit cards.
  • Do your souvenir shopping in local supermarkets — much cheaper than the tourist shops and it’s often the same goods on sale.
  • Remember that if you ever have time to kill, are bored, or alone, a massage is an almost universally available and self-indulgent way to spend an hour.
  • Even if you don’t follow football, pretend to support one of the top Premiership teams — it’s the easiest way to make friends with barmen and taxi drivers anywhere in the world.
  • Read a book on holiday that you don’t expect to read again. Leave it in the hotel when you leave.
  • Ditch your usual credit or debit card when travelling abroad in favour of a Starling card to avoid exchange fees and charges. 
  • Only Left-wing university lecturers worry about cultural appropriation. If you want to braid your hair or wear a sarong, just do it.
  • Given a choice, go for a country where tipping isn’t the norm. Sorry U.S., hello Australia and Japan.
  • Visit busy tourist sights, such as the Vatican, at lunchtime — they’ll be quieter.
  • Always look for restaurants that are popular with locals.
  • Ask your friends and friends-of-friends if they know anyone at your destination who could show you around for a couple of hours, so they can facilitate your jumping-off point for exploration. Many are happy to oblige.
  • Check cultural listings at your destination to find out what gigs, festivals and club nights are on that week, and party with the locals.
  • Pack your best self: always travel with a ready smile, good manners and patience. A gracious and happy tourist will get more from a trip than a grumpy, demanding one.
Don¿t be too proud to take your own sandwiches, especially when everyone else is reeling from Pret¿s airport prices

Don’t be too proud to take your own sandwiches, especially when everyone else is reeling from Pret’s airport prices

ON THE HIGH SEAS

  • Take a washing line — preferably one that doesn’t require pegs. They cost less than a fiver and are ideal for drying clothes on your cabin balcony.
  • Organise your own excursions. It’s always cheaper (sometimes by as much as 75 per cent) to book exactly the same thing independently. It might take a little pre-travel online research, but the savings will be worth it.
  • Avoid cruises that try to cram in too many destinations — less is more.
  • Spas are quiet on port days, so look out for any deals. Grab an early or late offer so you can still go ashore. 
  • Take part in any quizzes on offer — it is a great way to meet people. 
  • Have your excuses ready when anyone suggests a night of karaoke.
  • Expect to put on roughly a pound a day — cruises are notoriously hard on the waistline.
  • Under no circumstances wear a yachting cap to ‘look the part’.
  • Unless you drink from dawn to dusk, the drinks packages are not always worth it… so check out ‘buy as you go’. And remember that everyone in your cabin has to be on the same package.
  • If you do opt for a drinks package, be sure to book it well ahead of sailing. They are cheaper if purchased weeks (or even months) prior to departure.
  • Invest in some towel pegs — it can get blowy at sea and pegs come in handy for attaching towels to sun loungers. 
  • If you’re prone to seasickness, book a cabin in the centre of the ship — you tend to feel more movement at the ends of the ship than in the middle.
  • Save on soft drinks bills by using the dispensers in the buffet restaurants.
  • Choose a repositioning voyage when ships relocate from one part of the world to another (e.g. Europe to the Caribbean) as prices can be as much as 50 per cent lower.
  • Fancy a free tipple while on board? Go to the art auctions or captain’s cocktails where there’s normally a drink on the house.
  • Book a hotel near your departure port the night before you sail to avoid the stress of possible flight and traffic delays.

Avoid cruises that try to cram in too many destinations — less is more. 

  • Not all travel insurance covers cruises, so check that yours is valid.
  • Avoid cabins near the lifts, above the theatre or nightclub and below the running track — they can be noisy. If travelling with children, a cabin near the kids’ zones will make life easier.
  • Children travel free if sleeping in the same cabin as their parents on selected sailings with MSC Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Ambassador Cruise Line.
  • Don’t pay for excursions in cities such as Barcelona, Lisbon and Oslo (or Cologne and Avignon if river-cruising) as you can walk to the main attractions. Pre-book entry to galleries and museums online.
  • Most ships have a launderette (no charge on many ships) so you can go home with a case of clean clothes.
  • Using the stairs is almost always quicker than waiting for the lift on a cruise ship. And with so much good food, every bit of exercise helps.

GENERAL POINTERS

  • The ‘sweet spot’ for airfares is usually six to 12 weeks before departure.
  • Never assume a package holiday is cheaper than DIY. 
  • If crossing the Channel by car, try Newhaven-Dieppe rather than crowded Dover-Calais.
  • Tell your colleagues you are in New Zealand — even if you are in Bournemouth.
  • Always leave enough time to have a glass of bubbles at the airport — it’ll feel like the holiday has got started.
  • Always send one of your party on ahead to get in the car hire queue while someone else waits for the luggage.
  • Tell someone at home what your policy number is and who your travel insurance is with. If the worst happens, they can then kickstart a claim while you’re away.
  • Find out before you land what the average price of a taxi from the airport should be, so you can avoid getting taken for a ride.
  • Remember that a smile is understood in every language.
  • If you don’t have unlimited international roaming, write down the name and address of your hotel in advance to avoid being caught out without the internet.

HOTEL INTELLIGENCE

  • Always ask for a quiet room and one with a bath — it might lead to an upgrade.
  • Remember to remove your passport and your valuables from the hotel safe by putting one of your travelling shoes in it the night before.
  • Book a stay for a Sunday night to get the best deal.
  • Always use your credit card for the hotel’s cautionary deposit. If it’s a debit card, the ‘held’ amount is automatically deducted and you may have to wait days to be reimbursed after check-out.

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