There is no better time than the New Year to dedicate yourself to experiencing rewarding travel experiences, says travel expert Matthew Stone, a travel writer and professor from California State University Chico.
Pack light. Nearly all airlines charge checked bag fees and bigger bags are a bigger burden. Travel compression bags like Ziploc Space Bag will help you squish your sweaters and bulky clothes to fit more. Keep a packing list to refer to for future trips.
Buy new luggage. Check the carry-on sizes for all airlines and get a bag that is about an inch in each direction under the limits to allow for bulge. It doesn’t need to be expensive to be useful.
Dine with a stranger on vacation. Having a homecooked meal in a local’s home helps you to learn about the local culture firsthand for about the same price as dining out. Vizeat and Eatwith (now the same company) offer thousands of options.
Sign up for airfare specials and alerts. Scott’s Cheap Flights, Airfare Watchdog, and Kayak are my favorites.
Buy as soon as you see a super cheap flight offer. Current U.S. law allows you to cancel most flights within 24 hours of booking (but airlines want to end this). Specials like $400 flights from California to Japan can evaporate within hours. Don’t regret the cheap trip you missed out on.
Sign up for TSA Pre Check or Global Entry. If you take more than two flights a year, TSA Pre Check is the best value in travel ($85 for 5 years). If you plan on taking even one international flight, Global Entry gives you Pre Check benefits and lets you use a kiosk instead of the long immigration lines ($100 for 5 years). Some Global Entry locations are open seven days a week until 11 p.m.
Read the fine print. Hotels are adding ridiculous “resort” fees, even in large cities, and parking fees can be over $50 a night. They are also increasing their cancellation policies to 72 hours or more before arrival. Airlines are notorious for hiding fees for baggage and seat assignments.
Take a trip overseas. The U.S. dollar is weakening, which means you’re running out of time to get great overseas deals. The Euro is still reasonable, but it is up over 10 percent in the last year. Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, and Australia still offer great rates.
Download the TripIt app. It will keep all of your travel details in one place for free. Frequent air travelers may want the TripIt Pro version ($49 a year).
Get your flu shot. Flu season tends to peak in the first three months of the year, and nothing derails a trip like being sick.
Use your vacation days. The U.S. Travel Association reports that Americans waste over 650 million vacation days, and travel offers health, relationship, and educational benefits. If your bosses decline your vacation, ask them for a raise because you are clearly essential to the company’s survival.
Practice patience. The first nine months of 2017 saw 22 million more air passengers than a year earlier, and AAA has reported that Americans are on pace for the most vehicle miles driven in 2017. Expect it to get busier.
Matthew Stone is a travel industry veteran and professor of Recreation, Hospitality and Parks Management at Chico State. His work has appeared in USA Today, The Los Angeles Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as online outlets like Smart Money and WalletHub.com. He’s also on the board and Vice President of the Greater Western Chapter of the Travel and Tourism Research Association, and has conducted international research for the World Food Travel Association.