3 Powerful Habits of Happy Travelers

Whether you want to find great deals, avoid problems, or have memorable journeys, being happy when you travel is key. Here are 3 habits of happy travelers.

I have been on a multi-year—really multi-decade—quest to teach people how to save money, time, and stress on every trip. I enjoy teaching people how to find better travel solutions and become happy travelers.

It all boils down to (really, where did that phrase come from?) being happy when you travel. Here are my three favorite ways to avoid travel frustrations, the biggest travel problems, and huge travel mistakes.

3 Habits of Happy Travelers

1. Pack Light to Be a Happier Traveler

Happy travelers strive for less physical stuff and more memorable experiences.

Kenan Thompson boarding a flight with huge suitcase
pack light, happy travel strategy, photo credit: 1bag1world.com

Traveling with only a carryon bag (plus the ambiguous personal bag) is life affirming, paradigm shifting, and enlightening.

Happy travelers …

  • save money and do not pay baggage fees.
  • spend less time in airports because they do not have to arrive early to check bags or stay later to retrieve them from baggage claim; or stay even later to speak with customer service when bags do not arrive.
  • are less aggravated because their bags are not lost, delayed, damaged, stolen, or broken into. It is easier to manage less stuff in smaller rental cars or on trains, on day trips or long term journeys, and over cobblestone streets and up steep staircases.
  • are not worried about belongings being stolen, damaged, or misplaced while visiting new destinations because “stuff is stuff” and can be replaced.

Happy travelers pack a light itinerary, balancing between planning too much and allowing time to explore and make serendipitous discoveries.

2. Be Different and Be a Happy Traveler

Happy travelers are flexible regarding when, where, and how they travel.

They can be found driving on smaller roads rather than interstate highways and visiting local restaurants instead of chains. Unfamiliar tastes and smells are more memorable, so happy travelers can be found visiting local farmers markets and food stands.

Ford Mustang on a grass field in Florida
be different and be a happy traveler

Some travel strategies of happy travelers include:

  • Eat your bigger meal at midday and have a scenic picnic for dinner.
  • Negotiate a lower hotel rate at independently owned motels instead of paying higher preset rates at hotel chains.
  • Try Priceline, Couchsurfing, hostels, Airbnb, home exchange, or house sitting. Stay on a boat in Sausalito, in a lighthouse in Maine, a Pousada in Portugal, a farm in New Zealand, or a monastery in Nepal.

>>> Save $40 on your first Airbnb rental with my Airbnb discount code.

  • Don’t follow the crowds. Less people almost always means less angst and usually better deals.
  • Visit popular tourist destinations in the off-season, when the weather might actually be better (hello Orlando).
  • Maximize travel opportunities with alternate airports, open jaws, split tickets, and one-way flights.
  • Try new activities and expand their horizons on trips. Something as simple as walking to the grocery store is an adventure in a new destination.

3. Master the Travel Game and Be a Happy Traveler

Happy travelers are savvy but they also continually refine their techniques. They realize when they can find better travel value and when to “let go.” Happy travelers utilize automated processes to simplify travel.

  • Rather than always seek the lowest price, happy travelers recognize value. Rock bottom rates are often associated with inferior service. On the other hand, happy travelers are savvy and recognize when quality travel suppliers offer deals.
  • Happy travelers sometimes plan their own trips but also enlist the assistance of travel advisors, agents, or trip planners.
  • Happy travelers confirm trip itinerary components, at least the day prior to travel but often much further in advance. Many travel problems are preventable and it is easier to resolve issues before they occur rather than in real time.
  • Happy travelers use electronic checkin for flights. Combining this technique with carryon only baggage, minimize time in airports and optimize happy travel time.
  • When renting cars, use loyalty programs to skip lines and proceed directly to reserved vehicles.
"Charles McCool" name in lights
Happy Travelers love seeing their names in lights
  • In hotels, happy travelers register at the loyalty desk or pre-select a room and skip the checkin process. They often receive a better room (quieter, newer) or upgrade.

Are you a happy traveler? What other travel habits of happy travelers would you add to this list?

3 Habits of Happy Travelers was first published for McCool Travel on 15 April 2015.

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35 thoughts on “3 Powerful Habits of Happy Travelers”

  1. We’re full-time travellers and the biggest thing we’ve learned over the last 5 years is to travel lighter. When we started we have large suitcases and would often be fined for overweight baggage. We learned quickly and moved to carry-on sized suitcase and school-sized backpacks. We don’t have to check anything in. It’s saved us a lot of time and money. Worst case we buy clothes/boots for change of seasons…but we’ll usually find these things quite cheaply in the places we visit (cheaper than paying for that overweight baggage).

    The other thing we’ve learned is to avoid touristy places, times 10 in summer. We’ve spent the last 3 months in Ukraine which is fantastic and on nobody’s radar.

    Reply
  2. I love that Hertz sign too. Usually there is a massive line at the Hertz desk but with the gold card you just go straight to your car. After a long flight with kids and a ton of luggage (we do not practiced the travel light rule – each person has a bag), that is just a relief! I also like the ‘be spontaneous’ advice – sometimes things happen and you just can’t get to see or do something. Find something else to make you happy. It’s not the end of the world!

    Reply
  3. So true and full of great tips! I really need to work on packing light though. I know it would make me happier, but I’m so bad at it!

    Reply
  4. I REALLY need to work on #1. I always seem to have carry-on plus a bag to check. However, I will say that I usually like to check a suitcase just so I can have extra room to bring goodies home from my travel adventures. 😉

    Reply
  5. I go back and forth on whether packing light makes travel easier or harder. The only conclusion I’ve come to is that it depends on the trip and the traveler.

    I think if you are flying and traveling for a short period of time like a weekend getaway, packing in a carry-on suitcase is definitely the way to go. But, in the winter, that can be difficult with boots and bulkier clothing. For longer trips, I’d rather have enough outfits to get through the entire trip without having to waste valuable vacation time on doing laundry.

    I totally agree that packing in a carry-on streamlines the airport process, and for some travelers it certainly helps to avoid extra fees. For me, I’ve found other ways to still pack all that I want and avoid baggage fees. I usually fly Southwest, which allows two checked bags, or Delta since my AMEX covers my first checked bag.

    Overall, I think you’ve listed some great ideas here for happy (and stress-free) travel. It’s just a matter of finding what works best for you and trying different methods until you nail it!

    Reply
  6. All great tips, most of which we always incorporate in our travels. I am always surprised how many people travel with large suitcases or are willing to tolerate large group travel tours. Doing your research ahead of time and planning your own itinerary makes the entire trip so much more fun!

    Reply
  7. cool article good list. Everyone has a different style of travel and will subscribe to different things when travelling. We travel as a family with kids which means for me more planning and more luggage to tow along. I cant say i subscribe to theory that happy travelers are not concerned about lost or stolen items. cheers

    Reply
  8. I love your “happy” traveler tips. All great! I especially love the back roads. Most times we forego these beauties because it takes so much more time. Happy travelers know that it’s worth it!

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  9. Yes I like these 3 habits of happy travelers – I have been doing the carry-on only thing for years and it makes air travel so much easier. Global Entry also saves a ton of time!

    I am currently living out of Airbnb rentals as I road trip around the USA. Independently owned motels are great too, I just booked one for Ashland, Oregon and it’s much cheaper than the hotels.

    One other thing about happy travelers is that they don’t sweat it when they get lost – they think of it as just another adventure 🙂

    Cheers,
    Susan

    Reply
  10. I have the same ideas as you Charles. We tend to look for the road less travelled, stay at Airbnb 90% of the time when in Europe or the States, have house-sat in Spain and Australia and have just purchased a caravan to explore the road less known in Australia too! I’m visiting from Lifestyle 50 Facebook link-up.

    Reply
  11. Fabulous tips. I’m going to take your advice and try to pack much lighter than I do. If we travel with flexibility as you suggest then there’s no need to have clothes that match or shoes for different occasions 😉

    Reply
    • Are you saying my clothes do not match? 😀 Packing light is definitely a lifestyle choice and certainly not everyone can leave the mentality of “an outfit for every purpose.” My fashion blogger fan base (thousands of them, I am sure) surely must cringe at this advice.

      Reply

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