Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

Skip the jewelry roll, and use a wine cork to stash your earrings, says venture capitalist Hitha Palepu, author of How to Pack.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips
A tourist takes a selfie photograph as a man looks at his smartphone along the Thu Bon River in the old town of Hoi An, Quảng Nam Province, Vietnam (Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg)  

(Bloomberg) -- So it begins: The holidays are upon us, and with them, the crush of holiday travel.

Here, the best pearls of wisdom from Travel Genius, Bloomberg’s original podcast that delivers the cleverest solutions to your most common travel problems. Tips include our hosts’ original reporting, plus words of wisdom from Season 2’s guests, both recent and forthcoming. (Consider this your sneak peek to the weeks ahead.)

Subscribe to the Travel Genius podcast now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or your favorite podcast app to get a new episode every Wednesday.

With their help, you’ll be well-armed to tackle any holiday travel stress—whether you’ve yet to solidify your plans, are stuck on your shopping list, or simply need to keep the peace amid airport chaos. It’s a holiday survival guide on supersmart steroids.

Get Good Travel Deals, Even in the Highest Season

If you’re booking a last-minute holiday getaway, there’s still hope.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

1.  Lexie Alford, recognized by Guinness World Records as the youngest person to visit every country in the world, says Skyscanner is “definitely the best for booking last-minute stuff. It’s the most reliable, and it shows many different options: the fastest route, the cheapest route. How many stops you want to make.” She says it also offers an alternative for greener choices. For example: “This flight emits 32% less CO₂ than average for your search.” 

2. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If your dream hotel has rooms available, and the competitor down the street has better pricing, hop on the phone. Desk agents have a habit of giving in for the sake of a direct, guaranteed booking.

3. By the same token, ask what your hotel includes free of charge. Airport transfers, room service, non-motorized water sports equipment—Moti Ankari, a fashion influencer and co-creator of the menswear shoe brand, Ankari Floruss, has gotten all of these without adding a dime to the cost of his stays.

Ace Your Packing Game

This time of year, the last thing you want to do is check a bag.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

4. Skip the jewelry roll, and use a wine cork to stash your earrings, says venture capitalist Hitha Palepu, author of How to Pack. Chipping away bits of the cork also make for improvised backings, should one get lost.

5. Palepu’s other brilliant tip: Use a washed and dried prescription bottle to pack toiletries that don’t come in travel sizes. The shape of the bottles makes them easy to clean; tamper-proof lids mean they’ll never spill.

6. A tiny, tidy stain-removing kit will let you re-wear outfits with confidence. Include baby powder (for grease stains), dryer sheets (to keep everything smelling fresh—even your laundry compartment), and Shout wipes or a Tide pen.  

7. Don’t pack what a hotel can give you. Westins provides gym clothes on loan, points out Trevor Project Chief Executive Officer Amit Paley. Many hotels can offer up rain boots, hiking gear, dog beds, and other bulky goods your suitcase can do without.

Be Two Steps Ahead of Any Crisis

When everyone else is melting down, you’ll be cool as a cucumber.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

8. Bad Airbnb? Nasty forecast? When your vacation looks like it’s taking a turn for the worse, salvage matters with a strategic pivot. Don’t fall prey to the fallacy of sunk costs. You can always rebook, reroute, and file your complaints and disputes from a much happier place.

9. Nothing will fix a plane full of crying babies as much as a good, stiff drink. Linden Pride, founding partner of Dante, the World’s Best Bar, says the prime option is to mix your own 50/50 martini. “Take a full cup of ice in one plastic cup, then pour equal parts vodka and vermouth over the ice [on long-haul flights, the air team will have vermouth], stir it with a plastic stirrer, then pour it back into a second plastic cup and add a rind of the lemon they’d otherwise serve you with a soft drink. There’s nothing better.”

10. Worried about a potential flight cancellation? Book a hotel proactively, says  ABC News correspondent Rebecca Jarvis. Her logic: You can’t cancel a last-minute replacement flight, but refundable rooms are easy to come by. And once that announcement is made, everyone will be scrambling for the last decent room in town—except for you.

11. Use the Flighty app to learn about flight disruptions before anyone else. Yes, it costs $50 per year, but you can get a free trial and hear about delays, cancelations, and aircraft issues well before they’re officially announced.

Turn Airports and Airplanes Into Spa-Like Experiences

Family will be impressed when you land looking (and feeling) like a million bucks.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

12. Don’t have lounge access? Look for an airport yoga room. They’re free, underutilized, and usually empty, says Jarvis of ABC News.

13. Jen Rubio, co-founder and chief brand officer of luggage label Away, makes her own in-flight dopp kit to make any coach seat feel like business class: she uses perfumed, hydrating, rinse-free hand wash from Byredo instead of Purell hand sanitizer; Barbara Sturm antipollution serum to keep her skin clean and moisturized; and extremely comfortable silicone earplugs from Savears.

14. Do you shop at Sephora? Grab free samples and stash them in your carry-on bag. When you land, you’ll have a small, pampering surprise waiting for you, says Bobbi Brown.

15. Packing genius Palepu swears by coconut oil as a solution to all your beauty woes, for “everything from mangled cuticles to hangovers, dry mouths on planes—you might even be able to use it as shaving cream.” 

16. Actor, designer, and Wes Anderson muse Waris Ahluwalia’s secret sauce for bright, never-puffy eyes? Preparation H and ice water.

17. Ankari, meanwhile, sprays himself with Downy Wrinkle Release to erase creases after hours of sitting still.  

Get Around Like a Local VIP

Nothing ruins the holiday spirit like schlepping.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

18. The end of the year is the best time to take advantage of airline status-matching offers,  such as what Delta is currently offering. Jumping onto a new loyalty program now means you’ll get the benefits through the end of 2020—instead of just this year.

19. Considering train travel? Author Monisha Rajesh, who trekked 45,000 miles while writing the book Around the World in 80 Trains, suggests checking—“the Google for train lovers.” The site compares everything from routes to pricing data to amenities, all under one roof.

20. Peripatetic traveler Alford wants to make sure you never get taken for a ride again. “Email your hotel before you arrive and ask what the average price is for a taxi from the airport,” she advises. Knowing that price will help you dispute an inflated number. “If you get to the hotel, and the meter is unbelievably high, refuse to pay for it—or call the cops,” she says. 

Stay Entertained Anywhere—Without Rocking the Boat

When the conversation turns to impeachment news, divert to one of these strategies.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

21. Designer Alhuwalia says a pack of playing cards isn’t just for entertainment—it’s also great for learning a new language. (You can practice your numbers, at the very least.) He uses them to converse with seatmates from other countries of origin, but the strategy is just as good around a newly cleared dining table—especially if you’re considering a 2020 family holiday to, say, España or Deutschland.

22. Palepu, the author, turned us on to, a sort of indie Audible that supports indie bookstores. Just add headphones.

23. Want to plan a perfect day exploring as a plugged-in tourist, whether you’re in your hometown or somewhere new? Try out Journy, which creates a custom-tailored itinerary in most major cities for as little as $25.

24. Out of ideas? Have a pencil? Or a makeup brush you don’t mind washing out later? Order coffee or a glass of wine and start making art. The beverages are your paint, says Alison Mosshart, frontwoman of the Kills.

Shopping Secrets of the Rich and Famous (and Crafty)

Because Black Friday is just the beginning.

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

25. Splurging on a gift for yourself—or for someone on your holiday list? Try swiping that plastic abroad. The VAT savings on a very big-ticket item, such as a Birkin bag, can offset the cost of an entire weekend in Paris, says master chef Eric Ripert.

26. Don’t let kids buy everything they see and want on vacation. Have them take photos of souvenirs they’re coveting, and then revisit the entire list a day before you head home. This way, you’ll end up only with the one or two things they really love, says Disney expert Susan Veness.

27. Be strategic about airport shopping, says Away’s Rubio. “If you’re looking at a pair of Gucci loafers, the difference between buying them in New York and at Gucci at London Heathrow can be $200 to $300. It’s as much as 35% off—insane!” And if you’re passing through the same airports frequently—say, for Thanksgiving and Christmas—get a business card from the store associate. “Those airport boutiques have a limited selection because they don’t have a ton of space, but they can order things from any other store location and hold it for you.”

28. Another move she uses to get through her holiday shopping list: scoping out personal shopping services at international airports. (Yes, they exist!) “You book it ahead of time, and tell them what stores you want to go to and how much time you have. Then the personal shopper meets you after security and takes you from terminal to terminal to get the stuff you need.”

Make Any Place Feel More Like Home

Because not everyone is—or wants to be—“home for the holidays.”

Thirty-Three Genius Travel Hacks to Upgrade Your Holiday Trips

29. Broadway star Schele Williams has no time for bad coffee, so she packs a portable French Press wherever she goes. (We like this one; for espresso lovers, there’s also the “nanopresso.”) Want to bring your own grounds, too? Head to the baby goods aisle, where tiny containers meant to hold formula or purees will do the trick.

30. Bring your sleep routine with you. For exercise guru Taryn Toomey—who bans cellphones in the bedroom, that means a small, wooden alarm clock. For Away’s Rubio, it’s the small, USB-powered white noise machine from Aurola.There’s a Pavlovian quality to it,” she says. “No matter where in the world I am, or what kind of room I’m in, the machine turns on and my brain instantly relaxes.”

31. In hotel rooms, tiny closets with too few hangers drive fashion entrepreneur Ankari crazy. (He was Bloomberg’s fashion market editor.) He asks for a rolling rack with additional hangers to be delivered to his room so he can see all his outfits, organize looks, and never leave anything behind.

32. If you find yourself tripping over furniture in hotel rooms, do as beauty legend and new hotelier Bobbi Brown does: Ask staff to simply remove the offending item. More often than not, they can and will.

33. Pack an extension cord. Trevor Project’s Amit says it’ll come in handy well after you’ve juiced up at the airport. No matter where you’re sleeping, it’s a surefire way to make sure there’s an outlet just where you’re used to having one, whether that’s bedside, sink-side, or anywhere in between.

Want more travel hacks? New episodes of Travel Genius can be found each Wednesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or your favorite podcast app. 

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Justin Ocean at

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