28-31: Tips for Travel

Travel Tips + Hacks

From the friendly skies to the open road, getting out into the world gives us a deeper appreciation for what's out there, and a fresh perspective upon returning. While our own passports are fairly well-worn from a year as "digital nomads" bouncing around Asia, we're going about this set of travel tips not as travel experts, but as travel enthusiasts. We'll share travel-tested gear and hacks that our team has found useful or essential (often from learning the hard way).  

"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us." Robyn Yong quote

28. Planning Your Next Adventure

Traveling can be notoriously stressful, particularly when the stakes are high – like when you're traveling with a significant other. At a bachelor party, the esteemed Bill Murray advised: 

If you have someone that you think is The One... Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if, when you come back to JFK... you're still in love with that person, get married at the airport. – Bill Murray

The view of Hong Kong Island from the plane, shot by Distil Union co-founder Lindsay
Our relationships need not rest on the success (or failure) of a trip... Rather, the vibe of a vacation can have a great deal to do with how well you plan – combined with accepting the fact that things never go according to said plan! Still, planning has its perks, so here are our favorite tips:

  • Research travel requirements well in advance. United Airlines offers a handy quick-check, or you can perform a more thorough check of required visas and vaccines with the International Air Transport Association. If you've ever panic-purchased a visa from the ticket counter hours before takeoff, or worse, been sent packing on the next flight home, this is a mistake you make only once. Skip the panic (and the expense) by taking the time to be prepared for smooth sailing through customs. 
  • Think outside the hotel. From an affordable seaside studio in Portugal, to a family-friendly villa in Italy, to a luxurious photo-shoot ready mansion in Mexico, Boutique Homes has a vast range of styles and prices – luckily the creative categories like "Chic & Cheap" to "Living History" help to narrow down the inspiring options. Available in just over 30 cities from Detroit to Dubai, Sonder offers the fun and flexibility of Airbnb but with the consistency, ease and amenities of a hotel – like 24/7 customer service and reliable wifi. Fan of Floyd furniture? Check out their hand-picked Airbnb stays furnished by Stay Floyd. And if you've been burned by an Airbnb gone south, check that Airbnb Plus box next time to narrow your search results to stays "verified for quality and design" (which can also help avoid scams, like the popular bait-and-switch we've experienced ourselves).  
  • Love deals and feeling flexible? Sign up with Scott's Cheap Flights for customized alerts on affordable fares. Anyone can browse the helpful "guides" for tips and tricks for thrifty travel. Sidenote: If Scott's free plan isn't sufficient, you can spring for a paid membership (especially if area deals seem rare, which we found to be true for Charleston, SC). We also like Kayak Explore or Google Flights Explore to set parameters for a spontaneous money-saving getaway.
  • Need destination ideas? Keep a running wishlist of places that catch your eye on Instagram by creating a collection – and feel a rush of productivity amidst all that scrolling! 
  • Apply for the Trusted Traveler Program if you're a prolific traveler to, from, or within the US. It's well worth the one-time fee to enroll in TSA Precheck or a similar service for five years of keeping your shoes on while breezing through expedited security screenings.
Nate, co-founder of Distil Union rolls through the Shenzhen Bao'an Airport

29. Prepare For Takeoff: Pack Like a Pro

  • Organize and optimize your suitcase with packing cubes. One of our favorites from Peak Design is a compression cube with two compartments to separate clean from dirty. Compression cubes do save space but usually result in wrinkles, and for some trips I prefer mesh fronts to what’s inside; here’s a good rundown of features to consider from Pack Hacker. Throw in a tiny foldable laundry bag; consider the Isolate Set from Eagle Creek with an antimicrobial treatment to control the stink. 
  • Multitask and avoid liquids by packing a bar of solid shampoo that’ll clean your hair, body, and your laundry! We love this Matador FlatPak soap case for non-messy storage. Skipping liquids means no worries about spills or toiletry TSA delays, plus you avoid all those mini plastic bottles that end up being tossed.
  • Keep the WC tidy with a hanging dopp kit. Vertical storage keeps your stuff off the counter and keeps a small space from getting cluttered fast. Include a first-aid kit of essentials like bandaids, ibuprofen, Dramamine, Imodium, Pepto, etc. And pack your dopp in your carry-on so you’re prepared upon landing. Bonus: When you get home, simply keep all your travel-sized toiletries in your dopp so it’s ready next time you’re packing up.
  • Invest in a voltage converter for peace of mind when traveling with your U.S.electronics like AirPods, razor, straightener – anything that might be mildly expensive or annoying to replace. Choose one like this option with good reviews that includes a reusable bag and any plug adapters you may need.
  • Glide through the terminal with a four-wheeled roller suitcase. While backpack/suitcase combos were popular not that long ago, unless it’s a quick getaway we'll never go back to trying to fit it all into something with shoulder straps! There are plenty of suitcase options, from the popular AWAY with battery, to this foldable favorite from Muji that collapses for tidy storage between trips. Add a luggage strap for damage control against busted zippers, and a luggage tag – both will guarantee quick ID at baggage claim. 
  • Know how heavy your baggage is with a luggage scale to avoid the overweight bag fee or panicked repacking session at the check-in counter.

Traveling through the airport, photo by Distil

30. Making En Route Easier

  • Store notes in your iPhone with all of your travel details including passport scans and boarding passes so you don't have to dig through your carryon to reference them. On that note: having a pen with you is always a good idea to complete any customs forms or COVID entry worksheets on international flights – the Ohto Minimo is my favorite mini-pen so far. 
  • To keep the peace along the way, bring a pair of AirPod Pros or other noise-canceling headphones. Wearing headphones of any kind is also the universal sign for “no talky, thanks.”
  • Advice for fellow snackers! Pack a couple non-aromatic nibbles (almonds are great, leave the Funyuns at home) in baggies to save on overpriced buys and unwelcome stomach growling mid-flight. Oh, and grab some TummyDrops if you struggle with motion sickness! This set of reusables from Stasher also helps organize gear and small items often misplaced or left behind (like cables, chapstick, AirPods). These are good for toiletries, too, since see-through bags are a good security shortcut, especially at EU airports. 
  • Circulate and hydrate. If you’re going to be sitting for a long period, pick up a pair of compression socks and fill up your reusable bottle. Our go-to is from Pogo and fits in cup holders so whether you’re on the road or in the air, you stay hydrated without purchasing overpriced bottles en route (refill in the airport and for free at gas-station soda fountains). Bonus: Getting up to walk around is good for circulation, so guzzling water on a flight helps stave off jet lag and gets you up and out of your seat – a win win!

Nate, traveler and co-founder of Distil Union

31. When You Reach Your Destination

  • Withdraw local currency at an ATM after you land, and not at a currency exchange where rates aren’t great and fees are high. There are convenient ATMs at the airport, though opt for a bank ATM if possible for a better rate. You can also avoid unnecessary fees by checking what your card and bank policies are before you travel.
  • Get from here to there with Rome2Rio for mapping out your route. Be it local bus routes or country-to-country travel, Rome2Rio shows you myriad options and provides links for some transportation bookings. 
  • Don’t assume you can Uber all over the globe! Other countries use different ride-sharing services or prefer people-powered modes, so do a little research to see what's current before you set out.
  • Be prepared to wander off the grid. Download a Google Map of your area while on wifi so you can navigate if you lose signal. Do this from home if your destination has sketchy wifi (though in many places, a handy pocket-wifi will be available to purchase at the airport). If you’re extra, save must-visit sites and spots to a custom map with Google’s My Maps.

A Roadtrip with Wally Case and MagLock Sunglasses

  • Out on a roadtrip or renting a car at your destination? Take a pair of polarized sunglasses to ease eye strain – all Distil sunnies use a polarized lens which will cut glare on the water, the slopes, and the open road. A magnet mount will make hands-free navigating easier; pick a style that’s most likely to work in any vent. And be sure you’re stocked up on your favorite podcasts, Spotify playlists and power-juice! 
  • Honor your fitness goals with apps like FitBod, which gives you bodyweight exercise plans (since we doubt you feel like packing your dumbbells). Browse crowdsourced running and cycling paths on Strava Local – part of the free Strava app – or get a paid membership to access features like Beacon to “explore with confidence as you share your live location and route details with trusted family or friends.” Safety first, especially in unfamiliar places. Or skip the apps altogether and print out The Scientific 7-Minute Workout which you can do with just a chair, just about anywhere.

A boat in Hong Kong harbor, photo by Distil

BONUS Here's an unsolicited tip from someone next to me on the plane (I didn't have my earbuds in yet) with a smile that made me think they knew what they were talking about: To keep the adventures going, start planning – or at least daydreaming about – your next trip when you’re on your way back home! Reflect on your recent trip, what went well, what you loved and what went wrong... When you're in the getaway mindset, you're primed to plan for what's to come.

Strolling up a hill in Hong Kong, photo by Distil

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