Travel hacks are simple: how can you make your trips easier, more efficient, and cheaper over the long term. After traveling for over five months non-stop (with no end in sight), I offer my 11 best travel hacks I do - including a few products that I use every single day of my travels.
1. Streaming Services (With A Twist)
Long term travel can be daunting, as you are constantly surrounded by strangers without the old comforts from home. One way around this is to be able to access your favorite movies and TV shows - making that hotel room feel a lot more like your old bedroom.
Whether it is Netflix, Amazon Prime or another service, many offer "multiple account plans" that enable you to log-in to a family or friend's account for a discounted price. The one major problem is, despite Netflix's plans to expand to 200 countries, most of these services are exclusive to the U.S. Which brings me to #2...
2. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
If you are aware of VPNs, it is likely from logging into your employer's secure network. But few U.S. residents know that the same technology can be used to access location-dependent sites, like the above streaming services.
I use HotSpot Shield, but there are a number of other options. Turn the app on, select your country, and from there on out websites will recognize your location as being from the U.S. (or wherever else you need). Which means more of the aforementioned movies and shows at the end of long travel days.
3. TV Connector Cable
This is probably my favorite product in my checked bag, and it may be the cheapest too. Mirroring your computer desktop to a TV is infinitely easier with a device like Apple TV, but that is not practical while traveling.
Instead, buy a cord that connects from your computer to an HDMI port on that hotel room's TV, immediately tripling the size of your screen (or more). Since I have a Macbook - and never board a flight without it - I use a Mini Displayport to HDMI cable, but there are similar cords available for PCs.
4. Turkish Towel
OK, my first three "hacks" make it seem like I never leave the hotel room. While you inevitably will do just that on some days - think rain and feeling ill, which happens - the vast majority of the time will be spent exploring new places and seeing new things.
In terms of making life easier, the turkish towel has no equals. I have used mine as a bath towel in hostels, beach towel on every continent, and even a head scarf for Andrea in the Middle East. Andrea even uses it as something to sit on in public places or as a blanket on flights. That is hack worthy.
5. Multi-Purpose Rain Jacket
Sticking with the clothing theme, unfortunately long term trips require an adaptable wardrobe. Even on our around-the-world trip, which was planned to follow the sun, we have experienced cold days in higher elevations and unexpected, violent rain storms. That is just how things go at times.
Enter the multi-purpose rain jacket. I got mine from REI, but any major retailer will have options for you. The key is to get something light weight and waterproof. I've worn mine to stay warm on a windy hike in New Zealand, to stay dry during a Thailand storm, and even as a pillow while flying to Vietnam.
6. Battery-Powered Toothbrush
Listen, I love my Sonicare as much as the next person. But sometimes bringing a several hundred dollar toothbrush on the road is not practical. The space in your luggage is far too valuable and there is a heightened risk of forgetting it somewhere. The problem being I love the movement of the bristles and that "extra clean" feeling.
My solution: grab a low-cost battery powered toothbrush. I got mine from Amazon and have not been disappointed. The batteries mean that you don't have to worry about carrying another charger, it comes with extra toothbrush heads and it can be broken apart to fit into a small case. Biggest positive: you're still extra-clean!
7. Amazon Kindle (& Key Extras)
The Kindle itself is far from a travel hack - the e-book is about as mainstream as you can get. While the feel of a paper book is superior in my humble opinion, the ability to fit all of your travel books into a tiny device is absolutely essential for long term travels. I prefer Amazon's Paperwhite to reduce strain on the eyes, especially at night.
What makes this a hack is what you pre-load on the Kindle. Since I always have this in my carry-on, I've made a point to download different language and cultural books - meaning I can access how to say "hello" in the local language or how much to tip a driver while offline and in the air (especially before landing in a new place).
8. A Second Phone
This incredibly resourceful idea came by accident - a costly one. My iPhone 5 was running on it's last legs, so when I dropped it in Chile I took the cracked screen as an opportunity. After purchasing an iPhone 6 - in part because of the incredible camera the phone has - I immediately had a second phone in my carry-on.
What makes this so useful is being able to purchase a local SIM card upon arrival and not having to change your main phone's settings - important because iCloud is notoriously glitchy when you alter the carrier settings. A second phone - like an inexpensive Blackberry - means cheap internet access and local calls, right when you land.
9. A Second Wallet
I am all about saving space, but the phone and wallet are two duplicates that are worth it. By bringing extra credit cards - without foreign transaction fees, of course - you hedge yourself against the risk of fraud on your main card. In my four months on the road, three of my credit cards were hit with fraud - it would have been a nightmare to ship each card internationally, usually at a cost, and have to wait without cash access.
A second note on this: consider a coin wallet for destinations with coin-based currencies. In the U.S., change is few and far between since it is rarely substantial and most payments are made with cards. But elsewhere, like Europe and the Middle East, coins are of higher value and your Visa card may not work.
10. Know Your Checked Baggage Policies
Checking your airline's baggage policies can save you a tremendous amount of money when flying in economy. For example, I recently purchased a promotional fare to Norway in July. The weight restrictions are particularly low and costly, so instead of checking my luggage I shipped some unnecessary things back - for a cheaper price.
Another example is most travel within Asia restricts lithium batteries in your checked luggage. With several thousand dollar fines, it is a policy that is strictly monitored. My camera has extra lithium batteries and I narrowly missed a huge fine. Instead I had to go open my suitcase lock, remove them, and run back to catch my flight.
11. Use Credit Cards Benefits
My recommendations on this website seldom exclude credit cards. Besides from being an excellent way to access and store your cash securely - for example, fraudulent charges are always refunded - credit cards have a number of travel benefits beyond the bonus airline miles to get you there or hotel points for free nights.
Some honorable mentions: lounge access at airports means free food and waters before long flights, no foreign transaction fees means no-cost transactions, trip and car insurance means coverage for lost luggage and more, and complimentary hotel status means free breakfasts and room upgrades. The biggest hack of them all.