Our 10 favorite travel hacks

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Want to travel better? The Upgrade has your back.

The Upgrade is By The Way’s series offering guest writers a place to share their travel hacks and hot takes. For every edition, illustrator extraordinaire Min Heo animates the advice. Below are some of our most popular entries. Some may look basic, but ask yourself: Are you optimizing your travel routine?

Want to write your own Upgrade? See how to submit here.

Dress up for your flight

David Coggins longs for the Cary Grant era of aviation, wishing more passengers would step up their game to bring some dignity and glamour to the experience. The author of “Men and Style” argues that making a sartorial effort shows respect to gate agents and flight attendants in uniforms — and your fellow passengers.

“I realize this is a losing battle, but it’s still a good fight,” Coggins writes. “If a sweatsuit is your truth, then there’s nothing else I can say, other than nobody has looked good in a sweatsuit in the history of the world.”

He’s not sure if wearing that checked blazer will really get you upgraded to first class, but it couldn’t hurt.

Visit ‘second cities’ in Europe

Rick Steves is our favorite pétanque-playing philanthropist. He’s a respected travel expert, too. In his beloved Europe, Rick recommends you break up every visit to a capital with a final day in a “second city.” Think Porto vs. Lisbon, Glasgow vs. Edinburgh and Marseille vs. Paris.

“While lacking the popularity and the bucket-list sights,” Steves writes, “Europe’s second cities tend to enjoy a creative edge, a strong civic spirit, a Rust Belt toughness, fun-loving eateries with cutting-edge menus, entertaining street art … and far fewer tourists, which also means lower prices, a more authentic welcome and arguably a more honest cultural experience.”

Pick your travel uniform

Like Steve Jobs and many practitioners of quiet luxury, travel writer Jessica Poitevien is all about eliminating decision fatigue. Standardizing a set of clothes only for flying doesn’t just help you streamline your packing routine. Poitevien “doesn’t worry about leaving anything important behind, because I have two of everything: one that’s for home and one that sits in my backpack waiting for the next trip. All I add is my passport, laptop and current reading material, and I’m good to go.”

What’s her uniform look like?

“My top is always a long, loosefitting T-shirt or sweater, so I’m covered through all the bending and lifting that happens with luggage and going through security,” Poitevien writes. “I add a jean jacket to stay warm on those freezing planes and use its inner pockets to keep my phone, passport and boarding pass within easy reach.”

Cut your airport arrival dangerously close

It’s not for the faint of heart, but travel writer Brad Japhe wants to waste as little of his life in airports as possible.

“I live about five miles from Los Angeles International Airport,” Japhe writes, “and if my scheduled domestic flight is at, say, 9 a.m., I’m comfortable entering an Uber up until 8:32 a.m.”

Besides some serious bravado, pulling this off requires the use of PreCheck or Clear, among other conditions:

  • Traveling solo
  • Express security lanes
  • Familiar airport
  • No checked bags

Order the Hindu meal

Food and travel writer David Farley thinks we should reject the binary of chicken or pasta in favor of a plant-based meal that exudes spice. By reserving a Hindu meal on your next long-haul flight, you could be treating yourself to dal makhani and naan, or bhindi masala and raita. As long as your reserve your meal at least 24 hours ahead of your flight, airlines told us, you won’t be taking a special one away from anyone else.

Read also:
Take a buffer day after your next vacation

Get up early on vacation

Life is short. So take a cue from the dad playbook, and seize the vacation day with an early wake-up call. For Deputy Features Editor Amanda Finnegan, rising with the sun means hours of calm before your travel partners join you. And by 10 a.m., you’re ready for your first nap.

Make a fashion statement in black and blue

Rachel Tashjian’s job is cooler than your job. As a fashion writer, she flies to Europe three or four times a year for work, watching extravagant clothes appear in fashion shows for weeks at a time. It’s a dream, but there’s an understandable amount of pressure to look amazing every single day. Enter the black-and-blue hack. By mixing a pop of navy in with a collection of dark pieces, you’re making the daring choice to break one of the primary rules of fashion.

Her packing list:

  • Two skirts: something that flows and something that hugs.
  • Three jackets: a classic blazer, something weird and an open-front wool jacket.
  • One pair of trousers.
  • One black dress.
  • Three T-shirts
  • Black shoes

Stop eating airport food

Noah Galuten is a hero hubby. By the simple act of making his wife a sandwich to take to the airport, the Los Angeles-based chef and author had the epiphany that we should all swear off precooked egg patties forever.

Sure, you could get settle for upcharged coffee, a Dunkin’ wrap or a sad Caesar from “Weirdly Branded Bar & Grill You Have Never Heard Of.” Or, you could be the game changer for your household, whipping up breakfast burritos or English muffin sandwiches — or just buying a better sandwich in advance in the real world (see: Emily’s Pork Store, Brooklyn).

Take a solo trip

The secret to a happy relationship is compromise. And giving your partner time to travel solo — especially if you’ve got a kid at home. That’s the philosophy preached by writer Austin Graff, an extrovert who has learned to appreciate the benefits of going it alone: It’s easier to get into top-rated restaurants, there’s time to wander and you return to your family more thoughtful and present.

Take a buffer day

The weekend-warrior routine is for people in their 20s. Once you’re in your 30s, Rachel Orr writes, you know well enough to quit pushing so hard and give yourself an extra day to chill before rushing back to work. “Think of it as a mini staycation at the end of your vacation,” she suggests.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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