Whether you’re an experienced traveler or about to embark on your first international vacation, it’s normal to feel some unease about the unknowns and the “what ifs” of a new place. The key to enjoying the journey, including its unexpected twists, lies in mastering a few crucial international travel hacks.

In this post, we’ll dive into the essential strategies for saving money abroad, flying internationally, staying safe, and even more hacks to feel ultra-prepared.

The Best International Travel Hacks

Save Money

Book Accommodations Direct

This international travel hack was contributed by Sally from Sally Sees.

Your accommodation is one of the most important parts of travelling. It’s also one of the most expensive!

The bulk of most people’s travel budgets is allocated to accommodation. Whether you’re staying in dorms beds in hostels or in luxury resorts, you’ve got to have a place to sleep every night, and those costs add up fast.

If you’re willing to commit a bit more time and effort to booking your accommodation, you can save a ton of money with this handy tip.

Third party booking engines like Booking.com or Airbnb are fantastic ways to find accommodation options. However, they all take a decent cut out of the price you pay for your room.

Airbnb is particularly bad for this, and if you checked out the invoice for any of your recent bookings, you’ll most likely find $50 + of Airbnb fees.

By booking directly with the accommodation provider, you can usually get a cheaper rate and save the extra fees whacked on by the booking company.

This can be a little tricky when its an Airbnb, and it generally only works when the host is actually an accommodation business, rather than a spare room in their house. It’s usually possible to work out how to contact the host directly and organize your stay outside of the app, if it’s something you and they are comfortable with.

This trick works particularly well in countries like Mexico, where there are a lot of accommodation options that aren’t big enough to advertise on sites like Booking.com or Expedia. They use Airbnb to list their property, but are happy to receive bookings directly from travelers.

international travel hacks book direct

Exchange Money Before Traveling

Recommended by Eleanor of Elevate Your Escapes

Before leaving for your trip, go to the bank or AAA and order local currency. Many banks will allow you to specify what bills you order. I recommend ordering mostly smaller bills. These bills are very useful for tips, taxi rides, water bottle purchases from corner stores, souvenirs from street vendors, and so much more.

Many travelers know to get local currency before traveling but end up with larger bills that they then have to spend time and money breaking. Though credit cards are accepted more widely now, it’s not always the case. I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve had to pay taxes on hotel rooms and entrance fees for historic sites in cash.

Most banks, like Chase and CapitalOne, will exchange money with no fees. Some banks do charge fees, so always call ahead to be sure. You’ll also need to order the money 3-5 business days in advance of when you need it.

international travel hacks exchange currency

Avoid ATM Hidden Fees

Now, let’s say you didn’t get around to acquiring foreign currency before your trip. Whatever you do, don’t exchange currency at the airport! The airport vendors charge enormous fees.

Hopefully you can make it out of the airport and to your accommodation with the use of a credit card without foreign fees. When you do, look for a bank ATM. The small ATM use fees will be far more economical than currency counters.

While using the ATM is the preferred option for withdrawing cash during travels, sometimes the prompts can be misleading. The machine will ask you whether to process the transaction in local currency or in your bank’s currency. Always choose local. Read more on this below.

Pay in Local Currency

Contributed by Jess from Uprooted Traveler

When traveling abroad, you’ll oftentimes have the option of paying for things at restaurants and businesses in either the local currency or United States dollars. 

While it may feel tempting to pay in your more familiar home currency, this almost always comes out to be the more expensive option for you in the long run. In fact, studies suggest that not paying in the local currency results, on average, in paying anywhere from one to three percent more than the bill actually costs—which will not be clearly disclosed to you on the receipt itself! This is almost always higher than what your home bank would charge for paying the transaction in a foreign currency (but you should be traveling with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees anyway!).

This practice of charging customers to spend their home currency, called dynamic currency conversion, regularly occurs in destinations around the globe.  So whether you’re paying for a wildlife spotting tour in Costa Rica; riding the Hogwarts Express in Scotland; or going to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and have the option to choose how to pay, always remember to use the local currency!

international travel hacks pay in the local currency

International Flight Hacks

Locate Children’s Areas in Airports

Contributed by Sara of Big Adventures With Little Feet

If you’re a regular traveler with kids then you know how hard it can be to entertain them at the airport.  Especially when you’re connecting between flights and might have a layover of a few hours or more.

Did you know that some airport lounges have children’s play areas in them?  Yes, small play areas with loads of fun things to do, and they’re never as busy as the main airport ones.  Or, that most airport lounges have large windows over the runway?  This is perfect for watching the planes takeoff and land.  Plus, the obvious perk for both adults and kids – unlimited food and drinks!

It used to be that airport lounges were reserved for first-class and business-class travel.  However, not anymore.  Airport lounge access can now be found as a regular perk with some bank accounts and credit cards.  If you shop around you can sign up and get instant access to hundreds of lounges all over the world.

international travel hacks childrens play areas

Save Time at Immigration with Global Entry

Submitted by Karissa of In Old Cities

You may already know that lots of travel credit cards offer tons of points and miles, making it possible to fly around the world for free. But did you also know that many of those same credit cards can also help you speed through immigration when you return to the United States after international trips?

It’s through a perk related to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program called Global Entry. If you’re approved for Global Entry, there’s no need to stand in long immigration lines after landing in the U.S. — just pop over to a Global Entry kiosk, get your photo taken, and breeze right past that crazy line for passport control. Plus, you get automatic access to TSA PreCheck!

The application for Global Entry costs $100, and your membership is valid for five years. Here’s where the travel credit cards come in: they’ll reimburse you for the full cost of Global Entry. Just pay for your Global Entry application with one of these cards, and you’ll get a $100 statement credit.

Popular travel credit cards offering this perk include the Capital One Venture cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and AmEx Platinum.

international travel hacks usa

A Free Alternative to Global Entry

Mobile Passport is a shortcut through immigration when entering the United States because it bypasses the need for the paper immigration forms.

Travelers who can show their Mobile Passport Control App are often redirected to a shorter line.

Packing for International Travel

Know the Liquid Requirements

Contributed by Rachel of Barcelona Uncovered

Trying to get to Europe from America? There’s a strong chance you might be flying through London’s famous Heathrow Airport (LHR). Heathrow connects many US flights to popular cities such as Paris, Rome, and Barcelona

Unfortunately, this layover means tons of travelers lose their travel-sized liquids to Heathrow’s strict liquid requirements daily. Don’t let that be you! You may have to slim down quite a bit of your current travel liquids in your carry on to adhere to this one.

Per Heathrow’s requirements, liquids must be carried in 100ml or less containers separately in a single, transparent bag measuring 20cm x 20cm. That’s not a lot of liquid! 

Even if you have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck leaving the States and get out unscathed, you’ll want to remember to pack accordingly and bring your Ziploc baggie for when you arrive at or depart from LHR. 

international travel hacks liquids

The Item You Never Thought to Pack

Olga, from A Girl in Istanbul, says that bringing a portable carbon monoxide detector is the best way to gain peace of mind anywhere in the world. With several incidents reported at hotels and rentals in very popular destinations, taking this preventive measure could be a smart choice for every traveler.

But what is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that’s usually used in households for water heaters, boilers, gas stoves ovens, etc. but can be dangerous and deadly.

It is known as the “invisible killer” according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, as CO is odorless and tasteless that makes it undetectable by our human senses.

How does it work: The carbon monoxide detector is a safety device that monitors the air for carbon monoxide levels 24/7. When detecting carbon monoxide beyond the safe level, it activates the alarm warning the traveler to take action and leave the place on time.

Most portable Carbon Monoxide detectors can be found on Amazon or Walmart for as little as $18. They’re typically around 4-5 inches, making them suitable for every budget and every luggage.

international travel hacks - carbon monoxide

Filter Your Drinking Water

Submitted by Claire of Tales of a Backpacker

As international travel hacks go, having safe access to safe drinking water wherever you go has got to be the most useful.  A reusable water bottle with a built-in filter means that you can fill up from any fresh water source and know that you can drink the water safely.

It works for everything from muddy ponds and streams to bathroom sinks and non-potable tap water, so you can save yourself from all the nasties that can come with drinking tap water abroad.

Once you’ve got one of these filter water bottles you’ll never look back – as well as keeping you safe and well you will also save money as you won’t need to buy bottled water, and you’ll reduce your plastic waste too so it’s great for you and the environment. 

There are various brands that make filter water bottles, and they use different techniques to clean the water.  For international travel make sure you choose one which filters bacteria and viruses as well as other particles like dirt heavy and metals, like Water-to-Go or Grayl.

international travel hacks water filter

Documentation to Carry

Recommended by Ann of Packing Light Travel

Have you been asked by service providers to present your passport while abroad? It might have been when checking into a hotel, purchasing a SIM card, buying alcohol, seeking medical attention, or confirming an online purchase of a hiking permit.

In each of these cases, and other scenarios except when crossing a border or visiting an embassy or diplomatic mission, a laminated copy of the information page of your passport will likely satisfy the needs of the person making the request.

If this is your experience, carry a laminated copy of the information page of my passport in your purse, personal item, and travel bag. What issue does this resolve? Each time you hand over your passport, there’s no guarantee it will be returned in the same condition (or returned at all).

Someone purporting to be a law enforcement officer attempting to extort money for the return of an actual passport will be foiled when presented with a laminated copy. If a service provider’s coffee is spilled on a laminated copy, you won’t be denied boarding an aircraft because of a damaged passport. A copy can also be useful if you can’t speak for yourself because of an accident and your passport is locked in a hotel safe. It provides first responders with your name, age, and citizenship. These can be invaluable in getting medical attention and consular support.

For more information, see 9 simple reasons to carry laminated copies of your passport.

international travel hacks documentation

General International Travel Hacks

Ensure Accessibility Needs are Met

Kristin from World on Wheels shared this crucial international travel hack.

If you have special mobility requirements, it is important to remember to ask about the accessibility of a hotel or attraction you want to visit as not all countries have accessibility laws that require accommodations to be made.  Furthermore, simply asking if something is accessible will likely lead to misinformation due to people’s perceptions of what that word means (which may also be influenced by cultural differences). 

Instead, ask specific questions based on your abilities.  For example, ask whether there are stairs required, if there is an alternative step-free route, whether a bus has a wheelchair lift, etc.  This will help avoid disappointment from being told something is accessible, only to find out it doesn’t meet your needs.

Similarly, another example of things to consider is the size of elevators.  Often outside of the US, if elevators (or lifts) are present, they may be significantly smaller than what you are accustomed to.  

So, for example, if you are looking for wheelchair accessible hotels in London, you’ll want to ask questions such as “What are the dimensions of your elevator” and “Is your elevator currently working” as even if you find a lift that will fit your mobility device, due to age or maintenance, an elevator may be out of order and you don’t want to be stuck once you arrive, expecting that it will be working.

Asking specific questions about accessibility when traveling internationally will not only help to ensure that your needs are met but avoid disappointment from being given incorrect accessibility information as well.

international travel hacks accessible requirements

Apply for Visas Online

Victoria from Guide Your Travel recommends this international travel hack.

Applying for visas online has revolutionized the travel process, offering convenience and efficiency for travelers worldwide. For example, in Bali, travelers can now apply for a visa online, streamlining the once tedious process.

Bali’s online visa application process eliminates the need to visit a consulate or embassy, saving time and effort. travelers can complete an online form, upload the required documents, and pay the visa fee electronically. Once approved, the visa is emailed and ready to be presented upon arrival in Bali.

This innovation solves the problem of long visa application queues and complex paperwork, which is particularly beneficial for travelers on tight schedules. It is helpful for those who wish to avoid jet lag by reducing time spent at airports or embassies.

international travel hacks visa application

Invest in a Universal Adapter

Suggested by Catherine at Day Trip Nomad

Packaging a universal adapter may be one of the most easily forgettable travel hacks, but this simple device solves a problem many travelers encounter when venturing abroad: the vast array of electrical outlet types and voltage compatibility issues.

The last thing you want is to arrive at your destination late at night and be unable to charge your devices, leaving you disconnected from your maps and travel guides or missing a picture-perfect moment on your camera or phone.

Electrical outlets and voltages vary around the world. Universal adapters are designed to fit multiple types of sockets. Most models feature a range of sliders or detachable parts that adjust to fit the specific socket type of the country you’re visiting. Before you travel, check which plug types your destination uses, although a well-designed universal adapter should cover the most common variations. 

international travel hacks power adapter

Get Educated on Vaccinations

Recommended by Shweta from Zest In A Tote

The essence of international trips is to go to far-off lands, where the culture, food, traditions are different from your home country. It sounds exciting and is. But with most countries, you do need to check on health safety and requirements. One key aspect for health safety is vaccination. This is especially true if you are travelling outside of the US and Europe: to countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Let me illustrate this with an example of a recent trip to Jamaica. Before finalizing the Jamaica itinerary, I read on general safety and health safety on this tropical island. Some vaccinations are recommended before your Jamaica trip: Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Rabies, Measles, mumps & rubella (MMR), TDP (tetanus, diphtheria & pertussis), Pneumonia.

Being Asian and living in a tropical country, I and my family members were already vaccinated for the above list. But if we weren’t given the dose for any particular vaccination, we would have scheduled a doctor appointment and done the necessary medication before the trip. There is absolutely no reason to endanger health when common tropical diseases can be easily prevented by vaccination.  A no brainer when it comes to international travel hacks.

international travel hacks vaccinations

eSim Cellular Coverage Abroad

One of my favorite international travel hacks (that I only found out about in 2022) is the ability to install an electronic sim card to my smart phone before even traveling!

Gone are the days of me trying to hunt down a corner store to purchase a physical sim to use while I’m in a specific country.

I’m a huge fan of Airalo’s eSims so far. Their prices are fair and I love that there are regional sims so I don’t need multiple as I cross borders.

Here are some sample costs, as of March 2024.

Cost for a 3GB, 30 Day eSIM on Airalo (Lesser plans are available.)

  • European Region $13
  • USA $11
  • Japan $8.50
  • Costa Rica $22
  • Mexico $21

We’ve purchased European-wide Sim cards a couple times now and also one for Tunisia. My friends and family said Airalo worked great in South Korea and Brazil as well.

It’s easy to add an eSIM under your cellular settings.

Language Translation

Submitted by Sharon from I Travel Peru

One of the travel hacks I wish I had known sooner is how useful the Google Translate app can be. 

I regularly travel internationally, including to countries with a very different alphabet, like Thailand, where it doesn’t matter if you understand a bit of the language: if you can’t read it, it’s useless. 

And even in countries with the same alphabet but where you just don’t know the language. 

But the magic of the Google Translate app is not about translating a long menu word by word. This can take ages and, even though it’s useful, it’s something most travelers already know about. 

What makes it really useful and special for travelers is that they can just point at a text with the camera, and it will automatically translate the text on the screen of their phone. 

This happens in real-time, as you move your phone along the text. Imagine how easy it can be to understand the food menus during your Peru itinerary or the train signs when traveling around India.

international travel hacks language translation app

Keep the Change

Depending on where you’re from, it may be an adjustment to get into the habit of keeping coins on you while traveling.

Check out these most common reasons to need coins while in Europe, specifically.

Download Maps Offline

Contributed by Louise from Travel With The Whitrows

Trying to navigate somewhere you’ve never been before can be tricky even with the entire internet inside your phone, but what do you do if you’ve got no internet connection? Perhaps you’re visiting a place with slow or non-existent internet, mobile data is too expensive to run Google Maps, or you don’t want to drain your battery. Rather than having to buy an oversized map that screams tourist, plan ahead to ensure you always have access to a map in the convenience of your phone. 

Use Google Maps to download the area you’re visiting and it can be accessed even when you have no internet. You’ll have access to the map view and directions as long as you stay within the area you’ve downloaded. To download a map that can be used offline you need to head to the Google Maps app. You can easily do this by searching for the place you want to download the map for, click more or the ellipses and ‘download offline map’. Once you’ve downloaded a map they’re stored in the Google Maps App and can be found by clicking on your profile picture or initial and ‘offline maps’.

international travel hacks download map

Beating Jet Lag

Use the tips below to help fend off jet lag after long travel days or when your destination is in a drastically different time zone than you left.

In addition to the tips in the caption below, try your best to gradually adjust your sleep and food schedule in the weeks prior to travel.

Safety Related International Travel Hacks

Join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

Recommended by Michelle from The Trav Nav

While traveling, staying abreast of local news events is often challenging, especially when the situation in a particular area changes daily. However, understanding the safety situation is essential in planning a trip

Fortunately, the United States government has a system called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP for short) to help alleviate some of these concerns. The free service for U.S. citizens/nationals traveling abroad lets travelers enroll with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate for up to date information during your visit. So, for example, you could receive an email notifying you that a protest is expected at the local airport and that you need to arrange alternative transportation.

In addition, by completing the provided form, the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate will know where you are staying in case of an emergency and you need to be evacuated. 

To enroll in this program, visit the STEP homepage and travel safely.

Shoe Safety

Melanie, a seasoned traveler at The World Travel Girl, has encountered her fair share of wildlife adventures. She has visited the Amazon rainforest, explored African savannahs, and volunteered in wildlife sanctuaries in Asia. One trick she swears by, especially when visiting places with lots of creepy crawlies, is a simple yet effective shoe hack: placing them vertically against the wall.

She learned this hack from her mom when she was in South America. She felt this stinging in her shoe and thought it was a rock. She took off her shoe and shook it, and out fell a scorpion! Ever since then she started setting her shoes up a certain way.

Unwanted critters seek dark, sheltered areas, making shoes a prime target for them to hang out. This solution addresses this common problem faced by travelers, when visiting an insect-rich place. She relies on this method to keep her shoes critter-free.

All that is required is to simply put your shoes vertically against a wall instead of on the floor. This simple adjustment denies insects easy access, reducing the risk of unwelcome surprises when slipping into footwear. For Melanie, it’s a small but essential precaution that ensures her travels and shoes remain insect free.

international travel hacks shoes

Look More Confident Thanks to Street View

Submitted by Ashlea – She Roams About

Nothing screams “tourist” quite like someone who is lost trying to read a map. Exuding confidence is a part of personal safety when it comes to international travel, but it’s hard to be confident in a new place. The good news is, Google Street View is like seeing into the future for that walk to the restaurant or museum.

Along with Google Maps’ Directions function comes a Preview feature that provides turn by turn walking directions along with photos of what each area should look like. So instead of looking for that street name in a foreign language, travelers can just remember to take the third left at the statue of the man with a big hat.

Google Street View is also a great way to find entrance doors, identify a location before the Uber drives away, check if an area looks safe to walk, and scope out accommodation surroundings before deciding to book.

This is a travel hack every traveler should have in their arsenal so they can spend less time being lost and more time feeling confident.

international travel hacks streetview

Access Your Documentation Anywhere

Rebecca, from Veggies Abroad, suggested this hack.

No matter if you’re backpacking across Europe or taking a vegan small group tour to Asia, you have to be prepared for a terrifying situation — your passport getting lost, damaged, or stolen. Most people think this will never happen to them as they are super careful and keep a close watch on all of their belongings, but it can happen to the most vigilant.

Prior to leaving home take a clear photo (so you can read the passport number) of your passport and upload it into your Google Drive. It is better to save it in the drive so it doesn’t get buried in your email or camera folder. In the event that your passport is lost or stolen, you need to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. If you can provide them with a copy of your original passport, it can sometimes help expedite the replacement. 

international travel hacks

Final Thoughts on International Travel Hacks

From saving money without sacrificing experiences, to packing like a pro, and ensuring your safety in unfamiliar territories, these tips are designed to pave the way for a smoother, more enjoyable adventure.

International Travel Hacks Pinterest Pin

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