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14 tried-and-true hacks from world travelers — plus, their packing essentials

person with suitcase
Have hacks, will travel! (Photo: Getty Images)

If practice makes perfect, then I should be pretty on point when it comes to traveling: I've visited 29 countries and counting.

I also know plenty of globetrotters who've far surpassed that number, and all of us have picked up clever travel hacks along the way. From accruing credit card points to packing wisely to getting quality shut-eye anywhere, we've been there, learned that.

I asked a bunch of seasoned travelers to share their best tips for roaming around comfortably, efficiently and fairly frugally. I threw in a few of my own, too, along with some useful products to stock up on while you count down to take off. Now if someone can give us all an effective cure for jet lag, we'll be golden!

1. Pack solids and powders instead of liquids.

The TSA allows liquids up to 3.4 ounces (that's 100 milliliters if you're traveling outside the U.S.). Depending on your destination, you might even be required to compartmentalize your liquid toiletries in clear bags and remove them from your carry-on when going through airport security. Who needs the headache?

I've learned to pack non-liquids whenever possible. That includes shampoo, conditioner, soap, shaving cream and laundry detergent: I use bars for all of them. You can go the extra mile and invest in solid lotions, makeup and insect repellents, too. The added benefit is they're spill-proof, so no messy surprises in your luggage. Plus they use less packaging, so they're more eco-friendly and take up less space.

You get 10 times the amount of shampoo from this little bar than you do in a travel-size shampoo bottle — it equals 80 washes! It contains zero parabens, aluminum, waxes and dyes — just natural stuff like cocoa butter and coconut oil. And it's pH balanced for optimum scalp care. The brand makes conditioner bars, too.

$15 at Amazon

I call this my "magical Mexico soap" because I bought it on the island of Holbox after spilling chocolate all over my white shirt. It saved me! Now it goes wherever I go for scrubbing out stains and hand-washing clothes, which is another great travel hack to save space. Plus, it smells like heaven.

$9 at Amazon

2. Pack light-as-air resistance bands for exercising anywhere.

Travel is often an excuse to put your stretching and workout routines on hold, but it doesn't have to be that way. I like to travel with resistance bands, which are so lightweight, they're a blessing and a curse: you might not even remember you packed them!

These ultra-durable bands are beloved by more than 86,000 Amazon fans and suit everyone from beginners to advanced fitness freaks. These are the same bands that physical therapists use to help patients with mobility, so they're great if you're traveling while recovering from an injury, too. They come with an instruction booklet for exercise ideas and a carrying pouch so they won't get lost in your luggage.

$13 at Amazon

3. A handheld luggage scale makes airport check-ins a breeze.

The standard checked-bag weight for most airlines is 50 pounds, which is less generous than it sounds. Many airlines will charge hefty fees for overweight bags — or require you to unpack your suitcase right there at check-in and redistribute items to your carry-on in order to avoid the penalty (this, I can confirm, is a nightmare for everyone involved.) Weighing your bags in advance is the pro move.

This battery-operated device gives you an accurate read on your luggage's weight, so you're not in for a surprise at the airport check-in counter. Don't worry: This gadget weighs only one pound itself, and it's tiny so you can pop it in your pocket or purse.

$16 at Amazon

4. Distribute your weight wisely.

"I put the heaviest stuff in the carry-on because it rarely gets weighed. And I pack the most important things in my hand luggage, plus enough clothes and underwear for a few days in case the airline loses my luggage." —Cheily Ochoa

We're not saying your luggage will get lost. We're just saying: Better safe than sorry.

Pilots and flight attendants famously love Travelpro luggage. This 22-inch spinner is one of the lightest carry-on suitcases on the market, so it's great for all of your heavy-duty belongings. It's extremely durable and sturdy, plus it expands up to two inches just in case you return home with more than you left with.

$144 at Amazon

5. Switch out the hotel bedding for silk pillowcases that prevent frizz and wrinkles.

"I travel with a silk pillowcase for less friction on my hair and to maintain my skin. The silk pillowcase allows for a soft surface to maintain the moisture of my curls." — LaVasjah Will

Good news: Silk and satin pillowcases are also an excellent antiaging hack since they help prevent wrinkles. They take up barely any space and weigh next to nothing, so they might actually be the smartest item you pack.

This No. 1 bestselling silky pillowcase has more than 212,000 five-star Amazon ratings and comes in a slew of colors. 

$8 at Amazon

6. Save your spa treatments for overseas trips, where it's affordable to pamper yourself.

"A lot of people just throw away money on special massages, like anti-cellulite massages that focus on one specific area. But a full body massage works wonders not only on cellulite but also for circulation. In Thailand, a one-hour massage outside of the hotel spa is the equivalent of no more than $8. I was going for a massage almost every day!" —Karina Das

Why wait till you arrive at your destination? Get the spa started en route!

Color us obsessed with this Bluetooth eye massager that's excellent for soothing migraines and reducing puffiness, dark circles and dry eyes — and it can even stream music. This one's a perfect flight or train companion, and right now it's on sale. Clip the on-page coupon for the full discount.

$50 at Amazon

7. Drown out sleep-disturbing sounds with a white noise machine.

"My USB white noise box allowed me to sleep in Lisbon's party district and everywhere else I stay." — Graham Kendall

We already know that noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones are essential for sleeping on planes, but what about when you arrive at your accommodations? You never know if there's construction outside, a baby next door, middle-of-the-night sanitation workers or crack-of-dawn roosters in the 'hood (travel enough and you'll experience all of these and more). Come prepared.

This insanely popular white noise machine weighs just over a pound and is less than five inches in every direction. It won't cramp your packing style, but it will silence snoring, sidewalk noise and other disruptions, helping to lull you into a deep sleep using 10 fan sounds and 10 ambient noise variations. Yes, they're all different!

$32 at Amazon

8. Use luggage organizers instead of dumping everything into a 'black hole.'

"Packing cubes changed my life! It's way easier to find things in my luggage. I have one for small items (underwear, socks, bathing suits) and two bigger ones: one for tops and one for gym clothes so I can keep on training while I travel, which is super important to me." —Irene Gonzalez

A cavernous suitcase increases your chances of losing things when you're packing and unpacking in places you'll never return to. It's also a giant hassle to rummage through if you want to actually get somewhere on time. Organization is key.

Amazon's No. 1 bestselling packing cubes make space for it all, from T-shirts and jeans to underwear and toiletries. They're made of nylon to discourage wrinkling and have mesh top panels so your belongings can breathe — and so you can easily see your stuff without rummaging. They're built for wear and tear and are water-repellent, because you just never know. 

$21 at Amazon

9. Get rid of extra chargers and consolidate.

"My laptop charges over USB-C and so does my phone, so I got rid of the phone charger. My electric shaver has a proprietary charger, but I found a USB-A charger for it, and I now charge it from my laptop." — Todor Nikolov

Is it my imagination or do electronics somehow drain more quickly when you're on vacation? You simply can't afford the inconvenience and wasted time, so seek out a streamlined solution.

The universal USB cable your wandering heart desires is right here in this three-foot Anker Powerline II, which has built-in USB-C, micro USB and lightning connectors. Translation: it charges Apple products (iPhones, Macbooks, etc.), Android phones, PCs, gaming consoles (PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch) and more — all at high speed, to boot. It can take a beating, too: You can bend it 12,000+ times, and it lasts 12 times longer than typical cables.

$22 at Amazon

Invest in a compact universal charger to make your charging game complete. This one has four USB ports, one USB-C and an AC outlet, and it works in more than 150 countries throughout the EU, US, UK, Australia, Asia, South America and Middle East. It can charge up to five devices at once at high speed. Be sure to check the coupon to get the full discount.

$17 at Amazon

10. Freshen up your luggage for the long haul.

"I toss a couple of fabric softener sheets in my luggage to keep my clothes smelling like fresh laundry." —Merecedes Bezaury

Sachets, a bar of soap ... I've heard plenty of ideas for freshening up luggage (I toss the Zote laundry bar above into my bag), but this one is the most clever. You could always use more dryer sheets anyway.

They weigh practically nothing, but these all-natural, plant-derived Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day dryer sheets pack a major punch. Unzip a bag of lemon-verbena-scented clothes without any of the chemicals you'd find in traditional fabric softener sheets. The essential oil infused sheets won't damage your delicates, so scatter them with confidence.

$20 at Amazon

11. Bring your own collapsible to-go cup.

"The HuNu cup is my latest way to avoid unnecessary waste for coffee runs while traveling." — Mercedes Bezaury

Sustainably minded travelers will love this space-saving alternative to disposable cup waste.

If you're a coffee or tea lover, the fully collapsible silicone HuNu cup will be your constant companion. Just fill up the leak-proof cup and make a bee-line to your seat. It's BPA-free and microwave-safe, too!

$15 at Amazon

12. Tote along a lightweight travel monitor if you plan on getting work done.

"As a digital nomad who works with two screens, I had such a hard time finding a second monitor in the big stores. So I invested in this portable monitor which is the size of a tablet. It comes with a case, and it's super easy to just carry with you. I've opted for the touch screen version because I want the extra flexibility. This is a huge lifesaver." — Francine 

You probably never imagined packing an actual computer monitor, but in this work-from-anywhere era, lightweight, packable monitors exist. They connect to your smartphone to, providing a bigger screen for on-the-go entertainment.

This Asus model has a 1,920 x 1,080 full HD IPS touch screen. It has HDMI and USB-C ports and connects to your Macbook, PC laptop, smartphone and other mobile devices. It's also a great option for watching those movies and TV shows you downloaded to keep you entertained in trains, planes and automobiles.

$279 at Amazon

13. Use a Chromecast device to stream your smartphone to a TV.

"Streaming from my phone to my TV in any hotel room is so easy. I can't live without it." —Tony Van Bil

Not every accommodation has a smart TV, and even if yours does, you might not want to log into your account from a public device. This is the smartest, most affordable solution.

Just plug this baby into the HDMI port of your Airbnb's TV and stream media from your smartphone with a single tap; you can still use your smartphone as normal while you do it. Chromecast is a Google smart device, so it's compatible with Google Voice, too.t

$34 at Walmart

Just plug this baby into the HDMI port of your Airbnb's TV and stream media from your smartphone with a single tap; you can still use your smartphone as normal while you do it. Chromecast is a Google smart device, so it's compatible with Google Voice, too.

14. Bring a portable Bluetooth speaker to stream music and more from your smartphone.

This is a tip I hear often, and one I adhere to. Having a speaker in the house when you travel just makes the place feel more like home, and then you can just pop it in your tote bag and head out. No one has ever regretted the decision to BYOS (bring your own speaker).

If you're going to go for it, invest in the best. This portable Bose speaker resists water, dents, drops, cracks and scratches, and it has a tear-proof strap, so it's up for any adventure. It's Bose, so you can rest assured the sound is loud, clear and has deep, rich bass. It also has a microphone, so you can use it to take calls or link to your voice assistant. This one has a rare 4.8 overall star rating on Amazon, too.

$119 at Amazon