14 ways you can become a better traveler
Being an expert traveler isn't an exact science. The art of travel is multilayered, and being a savvy traveler can refer to being organized, knowledgable, experienced, eco-conscious and more.
While many TPG readers (and staffers) may be expert travelers by default, even the most seasoned road warriors have room for improvement. Something as simple as learning to be more patient, or considering how your travels impact the environment and locals, can help you become a veritable travel expert.
Best of all, travel can help you be a better person — you can have a positive impact on the places you visit and the people you meet on the road. Here are 14 ways you can be a better traveler.
Use Apps to Organize, Book and Plan Your Trips
Wasting paper is a thing of the past. Use apps instead so all your information is available in one place: on your mobile device (which should be backed up in case it gets lost or stolen). With access to accommodation and flight booking tools, maps, language translation programs, itineraries, currency and metric conversions, lounge information, photo storage, transportation apps and more, your travels will instantly become streamlined. Plus, your travel mates will be impressed that you've got such a solid handle on things. Check out this post for all the apps you need to download before your next holiday.
Plan in Advance for Better Rates
While you can occasionally score a last-minute deal, booking travel in advance gives you many gifts: typically, better rates, a vacation to look forward to and the peace of mind that everything is ready to go. This goes for airfare, lodging and even activities. There's no better feeling than heading to the airport knowing you're holiday is perfectly organized -- and that you got a great deal on it, too. If you aren't sure where to start, remember that you can set price alerts on Google flights that send you emails when prices drop. And here at TPG, we scour the internet for airfare deals so you don't have to.
Don't Let Your Points and Miles Expire
Keeping track of your points, miles and loyalty program balances may seem like work, but if you want to get (almost) free award tickets, than make the time. It's not very complicated, especially considering some programs even have miles that never expire, like Delta SkyMiles, and other programs have fairly lenient policies. British Airways, for example, gives you three years of inactivity before Avios expire, and you can keep them active by collecting, spending, sharing or purchasing the points currency. Set calendar alerts if you aren't traveling frequently to remind yourself to keep your balances active.
Never Hoard Your Points
Saving points and miles isn't like saving money. Frequent flyer miles and points can be devalued at any time -- sometimes without any notice at all. Or, airlines can go under, meaning you'll also lose any points you had with that program. While it's nice to have a small stockpile of points for an emergency trip or last-minute getaway, plan to use your points and get value from them while you're able. A solid plan of action can be to earn your points and miles with a goal in mind -- taking the whole family on summer holiday, or a far-flung safari honeymoon — or finally flying Emirates first class or Singapore suites. Once you have enough for your goal trip, cash in those points and enjoy.
Respect Local Customs
I'll never forget the burning shame I felt several years ago during a visit to Bangkok, when I inadvertently stretched my legs out in front of me when sitting down in a temple. The guard reprimanded me for pointing my feet toward Buddha, which is a sign of disrespect in Thai culture. With a little pre-trip research on visiting temples and Thai traditions, I would have known not to make that simple mistake. But at least my knees and shoulders were covered!
Still, lesson learned: When traveling abroad, take care to research local customs, traditions, rules and dress codes. Make friends with locals and take the time to learn about their culture. Ask questions and share stories. This will ensure you aren't offending locals, that you're respecting and learning about the culture of the country you're in and generally becoming a better, more conscientious traveler.
Research Scams to Travel Safer
Being a savvy traveler often means knowing a lot about the place you're visiting. Sometimes, that means understanding the cultural and societal norms of the destination you're visiting. But it's also important to be aware of possible safety issues or travel scams you might encounter in a give city or country. This will help you decide which areas to avoid and how to move around a city without being swindled or worse.
Be an Eco-Conscious Traveler
As the TPG staff is made up of frequent flyers, we know our carbon footprint may be larger than most. Perhaps yours is, too. But you can combat this by taking other measures, like staying at an eco-friendly hotel, giving your business to sustainable tour agencies and restaurants, and generally respecting the environment during your travels by leaving no trace.
Practice Patience and Smile Often
Being kind is free. So do it. Smile at stressed-out airport employees, grumpy flight attendants and frazzled hotel front desk agents. If you travel often, you know that means delays, long lines and plenty of general hassle. Your positivity will help you stay calm, and you never know: Your act of kindness and patience may come back to you in the form of an upgrade, or maybe just good karma. (But we'll accept either.)
Know the Rules
Before you travel, make sure to understand all and any rules and read the fine print of your ticket or fare class -- especially when flying a low-cost carrier. This will ensure you won't be caught off guard with an oversize carry on, having to pay to check in at the airport or enduring a long haul flight without a meal. The TPG guide to low-cost carriers may help if you're flying an airline like Ryanair, Jet2, easyJet or Wizz Air.
Pack Right and Light
When you're cutting it close by packing right before your fight and haphazardly stuffing outfits and full-size bottles toiletries in your suitcase, you tend to make mistakes and overpack. You're also very likely to start off your trip in a complete frenzy of stress and anxiety. So avoid showing up at your business meeting in mismatched socks, forgetting important items or ending up with an overweight carry-on (see above). Packing a few days in advance using a list, or even an app (my favorite is PackPoint) will ensure you have everything you need — but not too much — and time to run to the store for anything you don't have, like mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner.
Fight Jet Lag
Getting plenty of sleep before traveling, hydrating during the flight and syncing to a new time zone as quickly as possible are the best ways to combat the fatigue and insomnia commonly known as jet lag. While this is rarely entirely avoidable and affects everyone differently, getting light exposure during the day and eating proper meals at normal meal times, combined with the occasional short nap, will help you adapt to the new time zone as quickly as possible.
Pick Your Seat
Use a website like SeatGuru to check out the seat map of your aircraft. You'll be able to see if it's worth splurging for an exit row or to make sure you aren't selecting a seat without a window. You can read reviews of different seats and make sure you won't be stuck in a seat that doesn't recline or has reduced legroom.
Put Down Your Phone
Fully engaging will make your travels more meaningful. Once you've used your apps to navigate from Point A to Point B and snapped the necessary photos, live in the moment by putting your phone away and really immersing yourself in the place you're exploring. Be curious. Ask questions and take in the sights and sounds of a place. This is the true difference between being a tourist and a traveler.
Use Your Travel Photos
We're all guilty of snapping a bunch of shots and forgetting about them, so make it a point to keep your travel memories alive by doing something fun and memorable with all the pictures. Make a cool travel video or slideshow, get crazy with your Instagram feed, print out photos to frame them or put that photo on a geeky travel mug or calendar.
Photo by Yelizaveta Tomashevska/Getty Images