Life Hacks

Myth or Magic? 4 Travel Hacks We Tested Out For You

August 10, 2015

We read lists of "hacks" all over the internet—and some seem too good to be true. So we put the best travel tips to the test, and here are the verdicts.

myth or magic travel hacks  travel hacks myth or magic

Homemade Food for an In-Flight Meal, tested by Kenzi Wilbur

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For a recent trip to Seattle, I took a page from Heidi Swanson’s book and tried making spring rolls before my flight—a food already leagues ahead of what I’d make for myself with much more time on my hands. I chopped carrots into neat little matchsticks; picked delicate leaves of cilantro; slivered avocado; felt really twee.

Normally, airport food for me isn't some beautiful little snack I've diligently packed away—it is bodega yogurts and bags of pretzels and peanut butter cups. Why, Heidi, would you ask me to gently sauté a ginger onion paste while I’m supposed to be packing? I hardly have the time to fold my laundry, let alone swaddle herbs in barely warmed oil. 

But here's what I learned: Making proper food for yourself before a flight will likely be an emotional roller coaster. You will be annoyed, sometimes angry. If it’s late enough and you are behind enough, some of this may manifest into tears. But just make the damn spring rolls—the next day you will feel full, happy, and, most importantly, smug, like you’ve beat all the other meals sitting at your gate. And it’s because you have. 

 myth or magic travel hacks lavender for stress

2. Lavender Oil for Stress, tested by Samantha Weiss Hills

I'm a nervous flyer—especially if I haven't flown in a while—and I admit to being skeptical when Amanda handed me a bottle of lavender essential oil to "soothe" my discomfort during takeoff and landing. As it turns out, dotting a few drops of it on the inside of my wrists does do the trick (especially if it's too early to have a glass of wine), as I recently discovered when testing it out on a flight to Chicago that required leaving home before sunrise.

To be fair, the lavender oil might have been a stretch for the violent discomfort I've felt when flying in the past, but I've gotten better with more frequent travel and the bit of oil is kind of nice to smell instead of the person sweating in a suit next to you. I think you could also mix it with some unscented lotion for extra coverage!


spray wrinkle remover   Spray Wrinkle Remover Travel Hacks

3. Travel-Sized Spray Bottle for Wrinkled Clothes, tested by Maryam Shamlou (friend of Ali Slagle)

Whether you’re a master packer, who makes lists and consults the weather forecast to pick out the perfect, portable wardrobe, or one who exercises less foresight, throws caution to the wind and packs 20 minutes before you’re out the door, you’re bound to encounter a shared enemy among all travelers: the wrinkle.

To keep from looking a ruffley and wrinkly mess: a travel-sized spray bottle. When filled with water, this unassuming travel hero works sartorial magic. Simply place the wrinkly garment on a hanger, hold it up or hang it up, and spray away the pesky wrinkles. I like to aim for the wrinkles and dampen the bottom of the garment to weigh it down, but any strategy will work. Once the garment dries, the wrinkles are long gone—and this works for all fabrics, too! It’s just too easy not to do. 


myth or magic domestic hacks food52

4. Pack in a Small, Open Bag to Simplify, tested by Amanda Sims

I wasn't always a smart packer, more the type who would rather lift a whole stack of shirts from the drawer and slip them into a duffel rather than thinking critically about which two I actually might need. 

But that system recently changed when I started taking simpler, more spontaneous trips. The reality of day trip travel from New York City, which frequently requires more than one mode of transportation, is that you really cannot be bogged down by a suitcase the size of your body. There are lots of tips for paring down when you pack—from rolling clothes so more will fit to mapping out your days by outfit and packing them in Ziplocs. But the most foolproof method I've found is to limit the size of the bag you travel with: Pack in an open tote bag and you will take less, feel freer. 

You'll have room for one pair of presentable shoes along with a kick-around pair on your feet, a few bottoms and a few tops. Your laptop, if it insists on tagging along, can slip inside. Toiletries? Get the minis. Even on plane flights, an open tote bag can slip right under the seat in front of you, and the feeling of freedom as you stroll past baggage claim will last well beyond the return trip home. 

Spring roll photos by Kenzi Wilbur, lavender photo by James Ransom, clothes photos by author

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Denise S. May 6, 2017
Solid shampoo from Lush is a great weight and space saver. Buy unscented baby wipes. Open about 6 (6 last me for 15 hour flight) out and let them nearly dry out. Then squeeze out the amount of handcream you use for your hands onto each wipe. Spread the cream out into about 6 cm square in the middle of the cloth. Fold the cloth into 1/2, 1/4 and one more fold then slide them into a snack size zip lock bag. Can be used instead of using your liquids limit on a tube of hand cream.
Lazyretirementgirl July 10, 2016
+1 on the lavender/ perfume issue. Sneezing all through a flight thanks to irritant fragrances is no fun. A nervous flier has my sympathy, but could calm herself/ himself with a meditation podcast without immiserating others.
NotTooSweet August 31, 2015
I agree with AntoniaJames about the lavender. While I am not allergic to scents, I know others who are and I have been subjected to strong perfumes in small spaces - not fun! When I travel by plane I wear unscented lotion and no perfume (same when I go to the theatre or a movie). It is a small sacrifice for the comfort of those around me.
M August 31, 2015
These are all fine (albeit not mind-blowing) tips for traveling, but an open tote for packing? Please amend that to a tote that has some kind of snap or clasp or preferably a zipper on top. As someone who travels every few weeks, I am through airports all the time and would never want an open-topped bag. The minute you set it down it could topple and dump, and then everything you've got for the rest of your trip (think of underwear!) is sitting on an airport/plane floor. Ick. Not to mention making it far easier for someone to reach in and grab things. Also, can a tote really fit everything you'd need for even just a weekend away? Unless it's a few days at the beach, I'm packing more than what a tote can hold. Maybe that's just me.
Deborah May 27, 2016
kimberly June 20, 2016
I agree completely. Always need to have a closure preferably a zipper and LOL about the undies falling out of the bag.
Food O. August 13, 2015
Zip loc bags! One (or two) zip lock bags-at least 2 gallon size for each clothing category, like underwear and socks, t shirts, gym clothes etc. clothing stays wrinkle free and organized. Especially good when travel takes you from place to place.
chris August 13, 2015
The rice paper wraps sound delicious, but I wouldn't choose to take them on an airplane. Garlic and onion are way too aromatic to unwrap in a confined space. (Perhaps no worse than an over-ripe banana, but gag-me stinky, nonetheless.) Enjoy them in the terminal, before boarding.
Becky P. August 14, 2015
Yes, please! I agree. Be nice to your fellow travelers :)
702551 August 11, 2015
My best travel tip: A few years ago I went to an audiologist and got custom made earplugs, for the primary purpose of wearing them to rock concerts. It turns out that they work great for long flights; since they are molded from my ear canals, they don't get uncomfortable after prolonged wearing.

I don't travel on business anymore, but I often fly out with a partially empty suitcase if I plan on shopping at my destination (the strong US dollar makes this a complete no-brainer right now). That generally means I check at least one bag that's too large to carry aboard. I'm fine with that.

The hot shower steam trick is a time-honored tradition. Rolling is better than folding in preventing creases; even at home, I don't fold shirts (they live on hangers). If you have the extra baggage allowance, an old-school garment bag works great (which is why they had them in the first place). As a guy, I will often put jackets, dress shirts, and dress pants in a checked garment bag.

The water spray bottle is a very well known trick. Caterers use these for softening creases in table linens at off-site banquets where they might not have access to a regular ironing board.

Stick your nice shoes in an old sock; use that for polishing/cleaning.

I also take along a bunch of empty quart, 1-gallon, and 2-gallon ziplock bags. They come in very handy (like hauling back three pounds of chocolate).

Making lunch for a flight is not a big deal for me, I just need to have ample time to make it (i.e., not be on a 7am flight). It's always a sandwich full of leftover goodies and generally speaking, the remaining bread and ingredients can be frozen until my return. Fresh fruit is cut up and put into ziplock bags. It's basically a sack lunch that I might take to the ballpark. Sure, the bread might end up a bit soggy, but that's not a big deal in the big picture.

Oh, the best travel hack I've discovered in recent years? Global Entry. Spending $100 every five years to not have to stand in stupid INS lines on your return trip is worth it. Global Entry also gives you access to TSA Pre-Check on domestic flights from many carriers.
gigiaxline August 14, 2015
totally agree on Global Entry, it was the best $100 ever spent on travel.
AntoniaJames August 10, 2015
These are great ideas, generally. The steam from a hot shower often works wonders on wrinkles; and, they can be avoided to some extent, as you note, but rolling the item tightly.
When I travel on business (and many short vacations, for that matter), I always take just a briefcase that has a roomy interior compartment designed for large notebooks etc. I don't take any notebooks (Does anyone any more? Maybe litigators do . . . ) so I put my clothes in there. I carry a large Pliage as my second carryon piece, which contains a small knitting project, book for pleasure reading, tiny handbag for going out in the evenings, quart bag with toiletries, and a shawl for the plane ride and over A/C'd restaurants.
The two items together fit under most airline seats if steerage is the option that day.

About that lavender oil . . . . . some people (including yours truly) are allergic to lavender. The person sitting next to you might greatly appreciate not being subjected to the lavender oil dabbed for the sake of your nerves. Just something to keep in mind.
FoodFanaticToo May 27, 2016
Yes, please leave the smelly things -- scents, stinky food, etc -- at home or in your checked baggage! I get violent migraines from certain scents, though not lavender, and it is a terrible thing to be trapped on a plane with a problematic scent. Perhaps an alternative would be to make a tiny sachet of lavender flower buds to hold up against one's nose?
Anja August 26, 2017
yes, migraines! and they can last for days, completely ruining a perhaps expensive vacation.