Travel writers’ must haves on every trip

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If you only travel a few times a year, it can be a little overwhelming. There are weird regulations and lots of different lines at the airport. Hotels and rental cars can have lots of confusing terms and conditions attached to bookings, and going somewhere unfamiliar can be disorienting.

But there are plenty of products out there designed to help make it all less stressful. I talked to my colleague Wilson Santiago Burgos, founder of and regular contributor here at USA TODAY. We brainstormed some of our must-have apps, gadgets and credit cards for when we’re on the road.

Here’s what we came up with.

What are some good travel apps?

Santiago said Google Flights is his go-to site for searching for the best deals, and added that it’s a good idea to research which platforms typically have the best hotel offerings in different regions.

He said Expedia is a good app in the US, but if you’re traveling to Asia, Booking and Agoda are the best.

Keep in mind that third-party booking platforms like Orbitz, Kayak and the rest may have good deals, but it can also be more complicated to deal with if something goes wrong, like a flight delay or cancellation. Just make sure you double-check the terms and conditions if you don’t book directly with the hotel or airline.

I’m pretty simple when it comes to the actual travel day: I typically just download the airline app for whatever carrier I’m flying and make sure to stay up to date on any changes to my itinerary. FlightRadar24 and FlightAware are helpful for that, too, and I know many other travel professionals who say the Flighty app is a big help on their own trips.

Here are some of Travel + Leisure’s top-ranked free travel apps:

  • PackPoint: an easy way to make a checklist, as Santiago recommended

  • search for hotel rooms that are available for odd-timed stays on long layovers

  • GasBuddy: find the cheapest gas prices for your road trip

  • Eatwith: grab a meal with locals and make new connections while you travel

  • Flush: for when you need to find a toilet

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What items do people need when traveling?

All the typical tech advice applies: having a smartphone with you can be a big help, not just for things like airplane boarding passes and mobile room keys, but also for keeping connected while you’re on the go.

“If you are traveling internationally, it’s very important to check if you have roaming. If you don’t have roaming, I recommend buying an electronic SIM card,” Santiago said. He added that an external power pack, AC adapters for international destinations, and his tablet and laptop are also on his list.

Even if you don’t have roaming service, you can download sections of Google Maps for offline use, which can be a big help if you’re navigating an unfamiliar city without cellphone service. Not all of the features are available in offline mode, but you can at least use the basic GPS functions to orient yourself.

Here are some of the best gadgets to have with you when you travel, according to Travel + Leisure:

  • Tile or Apple AirTag: to keep track of your luggage

  • Noise-cancelling headphones: Find the ones that you like the best and tune out those screaming children

  • Tablets and e-readers

  • An external power pack

  • Universal charging cables

  • Power adapters

A family waits for their luggage at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on May 26, 2023, in Austin, Texas.  (Credit: Brandon Bell, Getty Images)

A family waits for their luggage at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on May 26, 2023, in Austin, Texas. (Credit: Brandon Bell, Getty Images)

How do you pack things for a trip?

It’s always a good idea to keep essentials with you in your carry-on. Things like medicine and at least a day or two’s worth of clothes in case something goes awry with your trip. Of course, chargers are a good thing to bring with you as well, and most airlines prohibit many electronics from traveling in checked bags these days because of the fire risk they present.

“I recommend everyone should use a checklist every time you travel to make sure you travel,” Santiago said, noting that writing down what you need ahead of time is a good way to ensure you don’t forget anything.

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Which credit card to buy for travel?

Many credit cards are designed for frequent travelers and come with perks like lounge access, compensation or waived fees, and even cover registration for programs like Global Entry, TSA Precheck and Clear.

Some of the high-end credit cards like the Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve have annual fees that run hundreds of dollars, but there are less expensive cards meant for more infrequent travelers that have perks like no foreign transaction fees or bonus points for booking travel.

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“There is not (one) best credit card for travel, there are different credit cards for different kinds of travelers, and you should find the best option for you,” Santiago said.

He added, though, that enrolling in Precheck and Global Entry is a good idea even for infrequent travelers, so it’s worth considering exploring cards that include that benefit.

“If you have TSA Precheck and Global Entry, use the program to travel because you will save a lot of time at the airports,” he said.

What is your best travel hack?

Zach Witcher is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Your travel kit: Top tips for smooth adventures

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