8 Great Travel Hacks for Happy Travelers

These Great Travel Hacks for Happy Travelers help create the best possible vacation experience while saving money, time, and stress for every trip.

The most popular meaning of Travel Hacking is to pay no (or as little) money as possible for amazing travel experiences. To me, the best travel hacks create the best possible vacation. That might mean avoiding crowds, unique travel adventures, or just doing exactly what you want to do (and not what some article tells you to do).

The below travel hacks for happy travelers serve as a template, a guideline. Incorporate these powerful travel hacks into your routine one at a time or all at once, right away or over time. No one formula fits all persons or situations.

desert sunset over Omni Scottsdale pool
desert sunset over Omni Scottsdale pool in Phoenix Arizona

1. Spend Less, Be Happy

Happy travelers use discount codes to save money on travel bookings. From AAA and AARP for lodging and car rentals to Groupon and Entertainment for dining, you might have access to dozens of discount codes.

On a recent trip, I rented a car for two weeks through Costco Travel and the rate was 60% lower than any other discount code I tried. Yes, 60% lower! Where can you find sneaky discount codes for great travel hacks? One of my sources is the FlyerTalk Forums.

2. Lighten Your Load and Save Money, Time, and Stress

One of my favorite great travel hacks is very simple and will instantly save you money, time, and stress. Pack light! Bring less stuff on trips and reduce financial expense, physical stress, and emotional anguish.

By packing light, you can more easily navigate interesting cobblestone streets and alleys of Asia and Europe, fit in at most destinations, and be a happier traveler. Be a carryon traveler and experience no more lost, stolen, damaged, or delayed baggage!

>>> For more travel hacks for happy travel, see 3 Habits of Happy Travelers

3. Free Lodging: Travel Hacks to Save Money

Lodging is typically one of the biggest travel budget items. Besides staying with friends, other free lodging opportunities include camping, Couchsurfing, house swapping, house sitting, volunteering, working (on a farm or hostel, operating a lighthouse, helping resorts clean up during offseason), and using points (see below).

4. Lodging Amenities

On the other hand, when paying for lodging, make sure you get the most bang for your buck. Booking hotels with complimentary breakfast really helps slash your dining costs.

Reserve hotel suites (with at least a micro fridge and microwave) and buy some groceries at a local store. Both options help you control your budget and what you eat. I like vacation rentals—which could be a house, apartment, condo, boat, castle—because they usually offer more space, privacy, and amenities than hotels.

splendid yard at an Airbnb property
great travel hacks: Vacation rental Airbnb in Charlottesville, Virginia

5. Earn Points: Travel Hack to Save Money

Points are the modern travel currency. Earn points for everyday purchases in addition to travel. In fact, shift your current spending to a points-earning credit card and you might earn free travel without spending extra money.

Sweet deal, right? There are even multi-day conferences devoted to optimizing travel points. The motto for one conference, FTU, is “Learn, Earn, and Burn.” P.S. another points hacking term is churn, so add that to this list! In addition to earning points, many credit cards provide special benefits like early boarding, upgrades, or free checked bags.

>>> For more happy travel hack techniques, please see 8 Great Decisions to Help You Travel Happy

6. Be Special

One of my favorite travel hacks is free and simple. On flights with complimentary meals, order a special meal. Special meals are made by hand, rather than machine, and you eat relatively fresh food. A bonus is that special meals are often served first. Make sure you reserve such special meals at least 24 hours before your flight.

elegant omelette and grain salad on airplane
great travel hacks: order an airline special meal

7. Book Your Trip, Then Watch

AutoSlash is a powerful tool for car rentals. Use your discount codes to find the best car rental deal—see our McCool  car rental tips), register your rental details with AutoSlash, and they continue to look for better deals.

I have saved hundreds of dollars this way, plus saved a lot of time because I am not continually rechecking rates. It is done for me. Automatically. For FREE! There are similar resources for hotels but I have not used any. Has anyone else?

>>> For road trip travel hacks, see the article 8 Great Road Trip Habits of Happy Travelers

8. Use a Travel Professional

The best travel hack on this list might be to hire an experienced travel professional to find great travel hacks for you. Especially when your time is limited, letting someone else do complex trip planning for you may make sense.

Great travel agents, travel advisors, and other travel booking pros (ask around for recommendations) might know some great travel hacks but they will certainly save you time.

Do you use any great travel hacks not included on this list? Leave a comment below.

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These Great Travel Hacks for Happy Travelers help create the best possible vacation experience while saving money, time, and stress for every trip.

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52 thoughts on “8 Great Travel Hacks for Happy Travelers”

  1. Good post. I can attest to these tips, especially the travel agent one, because I am a travel agent. People really need to understand that spending less really can make you happier when you travel. You don’t feel as guilty when you come back home.

  2. Love staying with friends. We do this when we go to Europe and it always gives us a new perspective no matter how many times we’ve been to a destination.

  3. Great tips. Credit card points are definitely important to me. I mostly take advantage of airline miles, but we’re trying to be smarter with other points programs (like hotels), too. AutoSlash sounds very interesting — I’ll check that out.

  4. These are great tips! We’re hoping to try house sitting later this year. Have you done it before?

  5. I’d never heard of Auto Slash! That’s a great tip! It’s so great when things are automated and you don’t have to constantly keep going back.

  6. Perfect timing here for me, Charles. I just booked a rental car last night for a week next month. I had never heard of AutoSlash. I just registered that rental for them to watch. Great resource! Now we’ll see what they find. Thanks!

  7. Lots of wonderful tips Charles. Special meals on flights are a must! I also love the idea of traveling light – just don’t forget snacks!

  8. Great tips! I know of all of these but usually are in a hurry and just opt to do the ordinary. Gotta have lots of planning time to take advantage of the best bucks.

  9. Great tips! I need to get more savvy with car rentals for sure. I will sign up for that site today!

  10. I agree with the packing light tip, carrying around heavy bags is a real pain in the butt. Also, ordering a special meal on a plane really works. I ordered a vegetarian meal once and I got my food before everyone else and it seemed tastier and fresher!

  11. Looking for discounts at Costco and using a travel agent are both great suggestions. I’m aware of them but it never hurts to be reminded again.

  12. I agree with all of these hacks, and I hadn’t heard of the travelslash one yet. Thanks! I also use Hotwire for cheap rates on hotels and car rentals. It’s a bit of a gamble, but I usually can go 4-star through Hotwire when I can only afford 3-star.

  13. Some great hacks here… yes, free stays are always great when you can get them! 🙂

  14. Wonderful tips, Charles. But then, I always enjoy your posts. 🙂 I’ll have to order a special meal sometimes to see what they come up with!

  15. Great advice and some new ones I had not heard of…we love housesitting and couchsurfing (both hosting and surfing) give unique experiences money just can’t buy.

  16. I like to find any way I can to save on accommodations. We recently did a housesit and that was great. Good reminder about the use of travel agents. In this day of Internet self-serve, it is easy to forget that there are experts who could help us save time and money in some cases.

  17. No doubt using points is the BEST hack of all! Getting a Credit Card that maximizes every thing you purchase and one that comes with a free Priority Pass also increases the value (more free food at airports)! Nothing for nothing but I follow The Points Guy religiously and learn so
    Much from him…..

  18. Great tips, never heard of auto slash, will have to check that out. Being savvy allows for a lot more travel, the one thing we try to be is quite flexible, we don’t get hung up on one idea, so if the cost is too high for what we thought we’d do, we change our plans. Though this isn’t for everyone!

  19. Great tips, Charles! I agree with the free breakfast. I rarely book a property without free breakfast! Another money saving tip I use is always asking for a military discount, tons of discounts available if those who qualify ask.

  20. Great hacks here, some I’ve never heard of. Everyone has their own travel style, but can always benefit from a few tips here and there.

  21. Great tips. I haven’t heard of AutoSlash but definitely want to check them out. I love booking a home with a kitchen too – great money saver and way to enjoy the local ingredients!

  22. I wish I had started accumulating points right when I started traveling. That would be my top recommendation to anyone young just starting out. And I completely agree on the special meals; they’re almost always better than the standard fare. Great travel hacks!

  23. Great ideas! The only problem I have with the advice to “order special meals” is that there are people with life threatening allergies or diseases that depend on being able to have those. I have celiac disease, so I can’t eat gluten. I do usually plan ahead, just in case, but that’s one of those things I hate to see given as advice because some people need those meals to be available and not overused.

  24. Yes, great tips! Curious about the special meals — which one(s) have you tried? I’ve never ordered one, but I’ve heard some horror stories about people who end up with a bowl of plain rice…

    The only tip I’m 50/50 on is about cooking for yourself. A lot of times going to new restaurants and trying unique foods is one of my favorite parts of travel 🙂

    • I have tried Asian, Asian vegetarian, low sodium, seafood, and probably others. Only one time I can remember preferring the regular meal and in that case I was able to also get one of those. Just ask!

      A bowl of rice for a special meal? I have not heard that one.

      You know I love trying foods, too. Not even necessarily cooking yourself but having that kitchen space can save a lot of money. For instance, buy a box of Cheerios, bagels, milk, and OJ instead of paying $15 per person at the hotel. I will still go out and find the local bakery, though! Nom.

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