Posts in Travel tips
My travel packing list

Here’s the latest version of my travel packing list. It’s a PDF that can be edited in Adobe Illustrator (because I don’t expect anyone to pack the same things I do). As you can see, my list is broken down into sublists of different bags: charger bag, meds bag, tool bag, etc. I keep the stuff in these excellent Japanese mesh zipper bags . Now I don’t forget important things any more like I used to. I recommend that you make a similar packing list for yourself. — MF

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Terrain maps

On Google Maps: in between the standard street view, and the realistic satellite view, lies another hidden view called Terrain. Terrain is an almost artistic rendering of a physical place without all the distractions of an aerial photograph. Its crisp clarity is tremendously useful as a base map — and beautiful. To get to Terrain mode, go the “hamburger” (stack of 3 lines) in the upper left corner of Maps in a browser, and click on Terrain in the pull-down menu. — KK

All the flights possible

I am often frustrated when trying to fly from one obscure place to another obscure place with as few stops in between. Most flight sites want you to keep the journey on the same airline. What I want is “show me ALL the flights from this airport,” and I’ll figure out a route on my own. No surprise, there’s a site for that, called appropriately enough I can assemble a route, sometimes with obscure airlines, that won’t show up elsewhere. — KK

Duplicate travel items

I have found it useful to purchase a duplicate set of cords, cables, chargers, desktop items, earphones, etc that I carry in a dedicated bag just for travel. Increasingly I’ve added duplicate articles of clothing, shoes, hats to my carry-on luggage. They never leave. That way I don’t have to pack, but more importantly, I don’t ever forget anything. The cost of duplication is minimal for the benefits. – KK

Free filtered water at hotels

I once walked into a hotel room and saw a large bottle of water on the desk. After I took a swig I noticed the $9 sticker on the bottle. Not wanting to pay the same price again, I started refilling the bottle from the cooler in the fitness center. Now when I travel I bring a bottle with me and head straight for the fitness center. — MF

Travel tip for Starbucks people

Here’s a tip I haven’t tried yet, but it sounds like a great idea. When you’re leaving a foreign country and still have some of the local currency, take it to a Starbucks and load it onto a gift card. You can use the card later in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and the Republic of Ireland. — MF

Another use for Starbucks cards

(This tip comes from Recomendo reader Andy Kegel) “More and more rebates come as prepaid credit/debit cards. It’s hard to find something for exactly the face amount, so I feel like I’m always gifting back part of the rebate via unspent residuals. So now I put the whole amount on a Starbucks card or similar and I can spend the entire face value.” — MF

Best exchange rates

It’s been true for a while, but some travellers don’t realize that the best currency exchange rates you’ll get will be at a local ATM, even with a fee. It is also by far the most convenient way to change money. I’ve gotten local currency from my debit card in every country I have visited (though not every local ATM will accept foreign cards — look for American credit card logos on the machine as a sign that it will.) I raised the limit on the ATM card to its max since this is my only source of currency. — KK

Global Entry guide

As I previously recommended, Global Entry membership is a great bargain if you fly a lot. Not just homecoming international travel but for TSA-Precheck domestically. With it I rarely wait in line in US airports. Here is a very complete, free, third-party, comprehensive guide to evaluating its perks (some premium credit cards will pay for it), and navigating its bureaucratic hurdles (the best airports to get an interview), the kind of info you won’t find on the government webpage. — KK

Forgot your charger?

If you lose or forget to bring a cable, adapter or charger, check with your hotel. Most hotels now have a drawer full of cables, adapters and chargers others have left behind, and probably have the one you are missing. You can often claim it after borrowing it. — KK

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Traveling with tubes

Most tubes of toothpaste, hair gel, and lotion have sharp corners on the crimped end. The sharp corners easily slice through the plastic bag I keep my gels and liquids in when flying. I started snipping the corners with nail clippers. I even fillet the corners of tubes at home, to prevent them from jabbing my fingers when I reach for them in a drawer. Just be careful not to cut the corners so much that it causes a leak. — MF

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Precise memorable addresses

What3Words divides the world into 3 x 3-meter squares and gives each square a unique, unalterable sequence of three random words. For instance the location of my writing desk is “smile.rocket.gates”. This global address is really handy for sending a delivery person to the right part of a building, or meeting someone on at trail head, or locating a home in the large parts of the developing world that have no operational address. It’s better than a lat/long sequence because you can remember it. Works in multiple languages. The phone app version integrates into Google maps, etc. — KK

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Where were you on October 21, 2012?

I’m not surprised that Google has been tracking my every move since 2009. I’m sure I allowed it when I accepted its terms of service at some point. What is surprising is being able about to browse this timeline of my location on a world map. This Google page has day-by-day reports of you where you where, the paths you traveled, the restaurants and stores you visited, and any geotagged photos you took on any given day. You can even edit the information if its incorrect. Wow! — MF

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Google map tips

Here are 12 really great tips for using Google Maps on your phone. How to share your current location, or share your trip progress, remember a parking space, invoke street view, estimate trip duration by departure time, or send a map search from your computer to your phone. I had no idea I had these powers. — KK

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Secure travel docs

I stow PDF scans of my passport, visas, itinerary and key travel docs in my Dropbox, which show up in the Dropbox app on my phone so I always have them in case of loss while traveling overseas. — KK

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
DIY guidebook

The cheapest bargain of any overseas vacation is the $25 for the travel guidebook, so I always get the latest version. And I have no qualms about cutting it up. I get the large country-scale guide, and then with a razor blade knife I excise only the portions I could possibly use. Then I staple and bind with clear packing tape for very durable, and lightweight, thin booklets. — KK

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Offline travel guides

Guides by Lonely Planet was so helpful on my recent trip through Central Europe. I had no cell service, but through the app I was able to download offline maps and navigate to points of interest (bars, shops, sights) while learning more about the cities I visited. Also invaluable was the currency converter, tipping etiquette, and local phrasebook. — CD

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Find street food tours

Before I travel to a new city X, I search for “street food tour for city X.” Almost every interesting city these days has someone offering this inside look. I find it a quick, fun, inexpensive, exhilarating way to get to know a place. — KK

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Explore cities by bike

I used the Red Bike service when I was in Cincinnati recently. A 24-hour pass costs a measly $8. You just grab a bike at any of the dozens of stations (an app shows you how many bikes are available on a map) and start pedaling. The bikes have baskets and locks. It’s a lot more fun than Uber! — MF

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Japanese transit

Japan is one of the most convenient places in the world to travel. Public transit — both local and long distance — is ubiquitous, frequent, fast, insanely prompt, safe, and reliable. However its ubiquity means there is a labyrinth of so many routes that your journey can be an impenetrable puzzle — not to mention the real hurdle of the language barrier. To the rescue comes Google maps. If you chose the transit option for directions it will provide you with brilliantly designed color-coded instructions on which subway/bus/trains to take, exactly where to catch each leg, which line, how many stops, how many minutes you need to walk between, the price, and all the alternative routes, in English. Since Japanese transit runs like clockwork, all this precision turns you into a relaxed native traveller. (Google maps provides similar instructions all over the world, but for Japan’s maze of transit, this is game changing.) — KK

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson
Cheap fast wireless for travel to Japan

I spent almost five weeks in Japan this summer. My T-Mobile plan includes international data but it is pretty slow so I rented a Pocket WiFi from eConnect. I ordered it in advance and picked it up at the post office at Narita Airport. I bought the 50GB plan for about $125. When I came close to running out (our traveling party of five used it pretty much non-stop on their phones and laptops) I bought more data for about $1 per GB. It was very fast and worked everywhere we went, including the remote mountain town of Koya-san. At the airport on the way home I put it in the return mailer and dropped it off at the post office. — MF

Travel tipsClaudia Dawson