Smart Packing

Sure, the world of travel can be complex, but finding sound travel advice can be even more difficult. USA Today travel columnist Christopher Elliot spoke with Jayne Clark about some of the best tips in his new book How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle).


Cast a wide net when researching destinations.

Consult guidebooks, social media and crowd-sourced sites when planning a trip. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses; crowd-sourced sites are constantly being updated while guidebooks are published annually, for example. But information researched by a professional can be more reliable than off-the-cuff remarks from a disgruntled tourist. Never make a decision based on a single source.

Don’t ‘game the system’

A subculture of bloggers have learned how to game loyalty programs with their inventive hacks and schemes. But, once they divulge the loopholes to the public, airlines and hotels act quickly to close them. The net effect is the programs become more restricted and completely worthless.

Find a good travel agent

Many will argue that travel agents became obsolete with the appearance of the digital age. Clark devotes a whole chapter in World’s Smartest Traveler on how to find a good one. A simple guide on when to use one: for a simple train ticket, book it yourself, but for lengthier trips to unfamiliar destinations, turn to a pro. Often, they’ll find you discounts you may not have discovered on your own.

Don’t rely on ‘secret formulas’ for getting the best airfare

Travel experts swear on the supposed formula to getting a great airfare, which mostly consists of purchasing on a weekday, when fares are said to be loaded. The problem with formulas is once they’re widely disclosed, an airline will raise its fares to avoid being games. What matters the most is your own formula and what you consider to be a good airfare. There’s always going to be someone on the plane who paid less, and you need to be at peace with that.

A good hotel deal doesn’t always come from the same place

Start with Kayak and Google Hotel Finder to get an idea of prices in the area, and make sure to hit the hotel’s site or call the desk to see if there’s a better rate by phone. If prices are still too high, turn to an opaque site like Hotwire or Priceline. Although they often don’t reveal the name up front, you can usually gain a good idea of which one you’ll end up with.

Read the fine print on insurance policies

If you can’t afford to lose the vacation, you should insure it. Experts often suggest a number somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000. The most common mistakes travelers make is glazing over the fine print. Don’t do it. Read every word with care.

Devise a packing plan!

Airline luggage fees aren’t the only culprit for overcrowded overhead bins. No one knows how to pack their bags! Although most travelers don’t have one, devise a packing plan. A ‘right way’ doesn’t exist. As long as it’s efficient, find a way that works for you.

Click here to read the full interview.