9 Hacks That Made Us Better Travelers This Year

These are the AFAR editor-vetted tips and tricks (and apps and gear…) that changed the way we traveled in 2019.

9 Hacks That Made Us Better Travelers This Year

Traveling can be hectic, to say the least. These are the hacks AFAR editors started using in 2019 to make their lives easier.

Illustration by Shutterstock

Like you, AFAR’s editors are always looking for ways to make traveling more efficient and less stressful. Whether it’s finding new tips for getting better sleep on an airplane or tricks to make our frequent flier miles go further, we’ll try anything in our quest to become better travelers. Here are the hacks—including the best apps and gear—we discovered in 2019 that made our travel lives easier than ever before. —Lyndsey Matthews, destination news editor

Packing hacks

Love it or hate it, you can’t avoid packing when you travel. Here’s how AFAR editors streamline the task.

Love it or hate it, you can’t avoid packing when you travel. Here’s how AFAR editors streamline the task.

Illustration by Shutterstock

A luggage rack for my apartment

For years I packed and unpacked my suitcase on top of my bed, until I realized just how dirty my suitcase was after being wheeled through New York City train stations, airport bathrooms, and unpaved streets in Egypt this year. Thankfully, a quick Amazon search showed me that I could get my very own luggage rack—just like in hotel rooms—for less than $40. My duvet has never been cleaner. —L.M.

Buy Now: $35, amazon.com

An always-packed dopp kit

This idea sounds so obvious I’m almost ashamed it took me until 2019 to realize it. But in the interest of the traveling public, here goes. After years of unpacking (and repacking) my toothbrush and deodorant, refilling mini bottles of shampoo, and making sure I don’t forget my Tiger Balm, I lit upon an idea. Why not just have two of everything? Not only would I never forget anything again, but I would save time—and some of my sanity, too. Today, my dopp kit is blissfully packed and ready to go with a set of “away” toiletries, meaning all I have to do is throw it in my bag and hit the road. When I return from a trip, I do a quick audit of what needs a refill, so I can avoid any last-minute scrambles ahead of my next vacation. Hey, it’s never too soon to start thinking about it, right? —Katherine LaGrave, digital features editor

Ziplocs to keep the creepy crawlies out of shoes

As a tree-hugging eco-warrior, I hesitate to recommend that people pack their shoes in Ziploc bags when reusable cloth bags work just as well. However, on a recent trip into the jungle, I packed my shoes in Ziplocs for one reason only: I could easily seal them up at night in said bags and free myself from the fear of getting bitten by a poisonous spider or scorpion that had crawled into my boots overnight. Was it a little over the top? Maybe. Did it make me feel better? Absolutely, and that’s what matters. And I now keep those same Ziplocs folded away for my next jungle adventure. Look for the jumbo two-gallon size, which are roomy enough for hiking boots. —Maggie Fuller, digital associate editor

Buy Now: $5, amazon.com

The absolute best moisturizer with SPF

One of the biggest and most damaging mistakes I made during my frequent travels as a young adult was not protecting my skin enough—especially my face—from the sun. Travel means being outside a whole hell of a lot more than you are in your day-to-day life. What I realized is that I needed sun protection built into my daily moisturizer so that I always have a base layer of protection no matter what my day brings, whether I’m on the road or at home. I have tried numerous lotions and potions, but this year stumbled upon a brand that is perfectly light and not too greasy, which I find is the biggest problem with moisturizers with SPF—Revive Moisturizing Renewal Cream with SPF 15 sunscreen. It’s a bit of an investment, but honestly, I wish I had been buying this for the past couple decades. —Michelle Baran, travel news editor

Buy Now: $210, reviveskincare.com

A Rent the Runway Unlimited subscription

Before a particularly busy period of travel this late summer, I bit the bullet and tried out Rent the Runway’s Unlimited clothing subscription service. For $159 a month, I can borrow up to four things at once and swap them out as many times as I want. This allows me to cut back on buying new things before I travel, like ski gear for winter trips and nice dresses for conferences. They also do dry cleaning for you, so when you have back-to-back trips planned for wildly different climates, packing and unpacking is as easy as selecting a few things online and then dropping them off at UPS when you return. —L.M.

Subscribe Now: $159 a month, renttherunway.com

Family travel hacks

Two AFAR editors who had babies in the past year swear by these family travel tips.

Two AFAR editors who had babies in the past year swear by these family travel tips.

Illustration by Shutterstock

A cool and versatile laptop backpack that doubles as a diaper bag

When you’re traveling with munchkins, there is so much gear. And juggling the kids on top of all that stuff is a lot. So, I actually really try to pare everything down to the basics. I also make sure that I have a handy carry-on that can double as my on-the-go carryall and diaper bag once I’m in the destination. Enter the Herschel Supply Classic Backpack X-Large in Raven Crosshatch (there are a bazillion color options, but I love this sleek gray because it can get plenty dirty without it showing and seamlessly transitions to a work backpack or nonparent scenario). It has a padded laptop pocket and is just big enough for all the kiddo and diapering essentials. I’m already on my second one (the first, in light blue, did not withstand the test of filthy children). —M.B.

Buy Now: $60, herschel.com

Getting a passport for my kids as soon as they’re born

I know, I know, a passport doesn’t seem like a must-have for the same year you’re learning how to bathe and feed a newborn, but if you need—or want—to leave the country anytime soon, I highly recommend you apply for a baby’s passport as soon as the baby is born. When that birth certificate arrives, gather all your relevant paperwork (the DS-11 form, parents’ driver’s licenses, copies of everything) and make an appointment at a passport agency or post office. Both parents and the kiddo need to be present when you apply, and there’s a better chance of pulling that off during parental leave. The baby may barely be able to hold its head up as you take the passport photo, but you’ll be happy you did it. It’s a cascading effect: It takes weeks to get the passport, then weeks to apply for Global Entry, which your newborn also needs. (They can’t ride on the backs of their parents’ Global Entry as they can with TSA PreCheck—learned that the hard way.) —Laura Dannen Redman, digital content director

Travel hacks for flying

Flying doesn’t have to be terrible if you follow these editors’ tips.

Flying doesn’t have to be terrible if you follow these editors’ tips.

Illustration by Shutterstock

The Mobile Passport app

There are times in a traveler’s life when nothing is more appropriate than the Golden Girls theme song. For me, breezing through immigration at SFO last month, courtesy of the Mobile Passport app, was one of those times. I was traveling with someone who didn’t have Global Entry and we wanted to stick together. So we downloaded Mobile Passport, an app authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Control, in hopes it would help us bypass the lines. Boy, did it ever. We passed through customs in less than five minutes, thanks to a few minutes of data entry on the descent into SFO: passport number, DOB, and one terrible airplane selfie (but every gift has its cost, doesn’t it?). There are downsides: The free version only stores data for four hours, requiring you to re-enter your info for each trip. (The upgraded version, which stores your data, costs $15/year.) Either way, you don’t get TSA PreCheck, which comes free with Global Entry. But if you don’t want to shell out the $100 fee for Global Entry, or you’re traveling with someone who doesn’t have it, or you want to skip the immigration lines while waiting for your Global Entry screening appointment, you’ve got a friend in Mobile Passport. —Aislyn Greene, senior editor

Download Now: Mobile Passport (iOS, Free | Android, Free)

Spray-on hand sanitizer for a quick refresh on long-haul flights

I hate hand sanitizer. I hate the way it smells almost as much as I hate the way it feels. But earlier this year, on a very long flight to Mumbai, a friend of mine spritzed some EO Organic Hand Sanitizer on her hands and suddenly the smell of French lavender filled the cramped cabin. Instant spa vibes. When I got home, I bought the same 0.33-ounce bottle for myself. It contains 62 percent organic ethanol (which is more than the alcohol content recommended by the CDC), doesn’t leave my hands feeling sticky or gross, and it smells amazing. I bring it with me everywhere, and it can make me feel clean and refreshed (if only momentarily) during the longest flights. Plus, after learning about how gross airplane water really is, I’m even more grateful to have it. —M.F.

Buy Now: $12 for a four-pack, amazon.com

>> Next: 10 Biggest Travel Stories of the Past Decade

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