Smooth Sailing: 13 DIY Travel Hacks for a Better Trip Abroad
September 09, 2021
There is a distinct difference between a smooth trip and a bumpy ride. A smooth trip is light, flowy, effortless and imminently enjoyable. You arrive home relaxed and spiritually satisfied.
A “bumpy ride” is the diametric opposite. It’s mired with hitches, inconveniences, struggles and setbacks. It weighs on your shoulders (literally and figuratively). And when you get back home, you’re every bit as tense as when you left.
We all want the first option. While it’s true that travel should be a little rough-and-tumble – just to wake us from the monotony of our day-to-day lives – we never want it to be bumpy to the point of unenjoyment.
There is no shortage of travel hacks online. Some are basic to a fault (another article expounding the merits of packing cubes), while others are too niche to serve the average traveller (A Buzzfeed list recently advised travellers to carry dog poop bags to use as garbage bags).
We wanted to present our own list – a sweet spot somewhere between common and niche that we hope speaks to the average traveller. Naturally, you’ll find merino wool travel clothes on this list. (Not only are we a dedicated crafter of merino wool, but we genuinely believe, as many others do, that it's an underrepresented travel hack). But we also offer a bevy of non-clothing-related hacks to make your next trip smoother.
Below, you’ll find 13 DIY travel hacks, broken into three categories: Packing Hacks, On-the-Go Tips and Air-Travel Advice.
Packing hacks run the gamut between useful and unnecessary. But the best hacks get at the heart of one of travelling’s central dilemmas: how to bring everything you need while still maintaining a light, manageable piece of luggage. Moreover, they may address flaws in the mechanisms of travel, like leaky soaps and luggage misidentification.
Here are five of our go-to packing hacks for a light, mess- and mishap-free journey.
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Use The Roll-Up Method
The roll-up method is an oldie but a goodie.
As mentioned above, some tipsters advocate for packing cubes (we’ve even mentioned them on the blog before), but they may actually cause more problems than they solve. According to this test run by a flight attendant (read: an expert-level packer), suitcases with packing cubes take up more space.
Instead, most flight attendants and frequent packers advocate for the roll-up method, tightly rolling your clothes instead of folding. Not only does rolling compress the clothing more than folding, but it also stops clothes from jostling in transit, which can help them remain wrinkle-free.
Pack Merino Wool
The New York Times recently pitched “The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Rule” for packing clothes. Five pairs of underwear and socks, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat. It was immediately apparent that they weren't packing merino wool.
You don’t need five merino wool boxers for a trip. Because merino wool is sweat-wicking, breathable and antibacterial, it stays fresh for very long periods. Some of our devoted customers wear their merino boxers for a week at a time, reporting no change in freshness or odour. The same is true for a merino t-shirt, merino socks, hoodies, sweatshirts, button-ups and sweat pants. Because the garments stay fresh for an outrageous amount of time, you only need a couple – a few at most. It’s a straightforward hack that saves you lots of luggage space.
But merino doesn’t stop there. It’s also wrinkle-resistant, comfortable and adaptable to weather swings. It can sometimes seem that merino wool was made in a lab by scientists looking to perfect the travel garment. But it’s 100% natural, renewable and sustainable.
Clearly Differentiate Your Dirties
Unless it's visibly covered in mud, most of the time, a dirty article of clothing looks identical to a clean one. So, you wind up staring at a pair of boxers for a full minute, weighing whether it’s still clean. Even after a thorough eye test, you may get it wrong.
Instead, establish a system to differentiate your dirties. Turn dirty articles of clothing inside out once you disrobe so you can quickly spot the difference later. Or pack a small laundry bag to separate the articles physically.
Luckily, if you’ve packed enough Unbound Merino clothing, you shouldn’t have to differentiate your dirty clothes – because they won’t be dirty. But on the off-chance you’re mixing your merino with a pair of cotton socks or underwear, it's a valuable tip to keep in mind. For more tips on how to stay fresh when travelling, check out our post on the subject.
Personalize Your Luggage Tags
There are several travel occasions when a luggage mix-up is possible. When you’re waiting at the airport baggage carousel, when you’re grabbing luggage from the underbelly of a bus, or when you reach for the overhead compartment on a train.
There are only so many luggage designs, and most people choose a sleek, inoffensive black suitcase or backpack. So, if you want to cut down on potential mix-ups, mark your luggage with a personalized tag. Choose something splashy – something undeniably yours.
Similarly, you can tie an accessory (like a scarf or handkerchief) around the handle, which cuts down on packing space at the same time.
Packing is half the battle. When you reach your destination, you’ll probably encounter a few obstacles and inconveniences.
In our on-the-go tips section, we tackle a few common pain points in the travel process: money, heat, security, staying fresh, travel workouts and lugging bulky electronics between destinations.
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Book Overnight Transport
This is an old backpacker’s tip that makes financial sense for any traveller. It holds that if you are a) already committed to the relative inconvenience of ground travel, and b) in need of overnight accommodation, then you should merge the two to save money.
Whether you view your overnight travel as a free night’s accommodation, or you view your overnight accommodation as a free trip, the result’s the same: a rare two-for-one deal. In larger countries, intranational train and bus systems tend to run overnight schedules. And in regions of smaller, densely packed countries (like Europe), international overnight options abound.
Again, merino wool comes in handy here. If you're lucky, overnight transport will have AC, and the worst you'll experience is a midnight chill. But for most places in the world, straddling the low latitudes, that overnight trip can get swampy and sticky. In either case, our clothing can help. Pack an insulating merino wool hoodie for brisk trips, or a breathable pair of merino shorts for warm weather.
Pack a Sponge for the Hotel Freezer
Speaking of heat, here’s a cooling tip courtesy of the aforementioned experts of travel: flight attendants. We recently came across a flight attendant hack that suggests packing a sponge in a small sandwich bag.
The sponge squishes down to nothing, taking up barely any room in your bag. Once you hit your hot destination, you wet the sponge, pop it in the bag, and throw the bag in the hotel freezer. There you have it: a portable ice pack, which you can use to cool your neck, nurse a twisted ankle or as a coaster for a cold drink on the beach. We haven’t road-tested this tip, but it sounds promising!
Likewise, you can use your hotel fridge to cool tomorrow’s clothing for a fresh start to the day.
Hand-Wash Your Merino Wool
If you’re like us, you avoid the Laundromat at all costs while travelling. Waiting two hours in a drab room isn’t our – or anyone’s – idea of travel time well spent.
Luckily, merino wool clothes benefit from a straightforward, quick hand-wash. In our Ultimate Guide to Merino Wool, we feature a section on how to wash merino wool in the sink. With a few spare minutes and a few drops of mild detergent or liquid soap, you can reset the clock on your merino clothes. Plus, merino dries relatively quickly, so you can pack your fresh clothes the following day.
Keep a Decoy Wallet
Reddit user u/inthenameofmine shared this tip on r/onebag a few years ago, and we still think about it. It’s simple, elegant and pragmatic.
Keep a decoy wallet with roughly $20 worth of the local currency and a few old, cancelled credit cards. Place it in your back pocket (with your real wallet somewhere more discrete). If you get mugged, simply hand over the decoy wallet. If you get pickpocketed, chances are they head straight for your back pocket.
Consider a Camera Rental
Tech gear takes up an inordinate amount of space in a travel bag. Of the tech gear, the camera and its accessories are the worst offenders.
If you’re interested in travelling light (and aren’t married to your personal camera), consider renting a camera instead. Camera rentals are relatively common in affluent countries with big cities (less so in rural or less affluent areas). For a modest cost, you can spend the day snapping your surroundings on a fancy DSLR and then transfer the photos to your computer.
Make the First Photo of the Day a Place Name
On the topic of photos, here’s an organizational tip. If you’ve ever scrolled through travel photos after the fact, scratching your head at where exactly you took certain photos, you might benefit from “context photos.”
Ensure the first picture you take in a day contains the place name (a Paris Metro entrance, "Welcome to Denver” sign, or Jakarta train station banner). That way, when you review your photos, you have an unmistakable signpost orienting your photos.
Air Travel Advice
Fast Company recently featured a 2000-person survey on airplane annoyances, collating the findings into the “17 most annoying things about air travel.” All the familiar gripes are present (crying babies, seat-kicking, etc.). But the fact that such a survey exists in the first place is a testament to how little the average person enjoys flying.
We might not be able to do anything about that crying baby, but here are a few tips to make your next plane ride (and the ensuing jet lag) a little easier.
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Avoid Turbulence in the Morning
One of the leading causes of a shaking plane is “thermal turbulence,” when warm air rises, mixes with descending cool air and creates a convection current. So, the experts say, if you want to avoid turbulence, you should fly before the atmosphere has a chance to warm the ground. It’s a sensical argument backed by numerous pilots and anecdotal evidence from frequent flyers.
If you’re turbulence-averse, consider booking a red-eye or early morning flight when the chances of thermal turbulence are lowest.
Kick Jet Lag with a Strict Hydration Regimen
Jet lag strikes in a couple of different ways. First, it messes with our internal clocks, disrupting our delicately structured circadian rhythm. That’s why we feel so beat when we hit our international destination. But what about the groggy, slightly ill feeling that accompanies the tiredness? That’s all about dehydration.
Airplanes are dehydrating environments. The air on a plane is dry, cool and circulated, maintained at a sub-sea level pressure. According to research, this atmosphere will “induce changes in blood viscosity which may accelerate dehydration.” To compensate, experts recommend drinking more than enough water to compensate.
Pack a collapsible water bottle, and don’t be afraid to bug the flight attendants for frequent fluid top-ups. Doing so can spare you the discomfort of the next 24-48 hours.
If You’re with a Travel Companion: Pick a Window and Aisle
Lastly, here’s another ingenious hack courtesy of Reddit. We won’t mention their username (it’s pretty lewd), but you can read it in full here. Essentially, they recommend that people flying in pairs, when they choose their seats online, pick the window and aisle seats, leaving the middle free.
So the logic goes: If it’s not a full flight, no traveller will want to pick a middle seat between two occupied seats. If it is a full flight, and someone books the seat between you, kindly claim that it was a mix-up and offer the person your aisle or window seat; no one wants the middle seat, so the person will gladly take it. At best, you get a row to yourself. And at worst,you fall back on a regular side-by-side seating arrangement.
As usual, let us know if we've missed any gems. Comment below so other travellers can see your hacks, and so we can keep the ball rolling on helping one another travel smoother.