14 Inexpensive & Essential Items to Bring on Your Trip

These items should make your trip smoother and more comfortable without breaking your travel budget.

Packing for a trip can feel like playing Tetris, trying to squeeze irregular shapes into a carry-on so you can avoid luggage fees.

Just like some shapes are more useful (the ‘I’) than others (those stupid, blocky ‘S’ and ‘Z’ shapes), there are a few mission-critical items that will make your next trip smoother and more comfortable.

Luckily, many of these items are also affordable and won’t hamper your travel budget too much. Here are a few things to make sure to bring on your trip.

1. Luggage Tags

Luggage tags are easy to overlook, but they become very useful when disaster strikes and your luggage goes missing. A luggage tag can then fulfill its purpose of helping whomever finds your bag get it back to you. Some luggage tags can let you store your information in a QR code, but any tag with space for your contact information should suffice.

2. Flip Flops

The ultimate portable footwear for breezing through airport security, protecting your feet from a dingy bathroom or lounging around a hotel room, flip flops are also dirt-cheap. Old Navy sells flip flops for $5 or less a pair, as one example.

3. Detergent

If you’re truly committed to packing light, you’ll want to do some laundry during your trip. If you’re traveling through airport security, you’ll only be able to carry a bottle of 3.4 ounces or less, per Transportation Security Administration Rules. There are a few options, though, including Tide travel sink packets, which contain enough detergent for a sink full of laundry ($1.39 a packet at Bed, Bath & Beyond), and Travelon biodegradable laundry soap sheets (50 sheets for $6.90 from Jet.)

4. Clothesline

How to dry those wet clothes? A good travel clothesline has loops or suction cups to secure it at either end. It should also be made of braided rope so you can hook your clothes to it without clothespins. You can find travel clotheslines at REI for around $10.

5. Toiletry Bottles

As we mentioned before, TSA only allows you to take liquid containers up to 3.4 ounces through security. You can re-use travel-sized versions of your shampoo, soap or lotion (or reuse hotel product bottles), or you can buy some sturdy travel bottles. Samsonite sells a six-piece bottle set with spray, pump and pour tops for $10, while Walmart carries a four-pack of iGo travel bottles for $2.94.

6. Toiletry Bag

A toiletry bag is one of the more expensive items on this list — L.L Bean sells a small bag for $24.95, while Samsonite’s version is $22 at Macy’s — but it just makes sense to have something separating your toothbrush and other toiletries from your underwear. Some of them can even be hung over a shower rod, towel rack or door handle, making your morning routine while traveling that much easier. A separate bag will make your essentials easier to find on the go. A good toiletry bag should be slim, organized and durable.

7. Neck Pillow

Unless you’re flying first class, any long trip will require you to get your beauty rest while sitting almost upright in a cramped space. A neck pillow can provide some small comfort during this trying time. Bed Bath & Beyond carries a Memory Foam neck pillow for $15.99. For those truly committed to saving space in luggage, REI sells an inflatable pillow for $19.50.

8. Earplugs

Babies: Adorable right? Just wait until you’re on a long flight with a bundle of joy screaming directly into your ear the whole time. Secure yourself some peace with a solid pair of earplugs. Look for a pair that not only reduces the decibel level but also feels comfortable. Target sells Mack’s earplugs in a package of 50 for $9.99, though fancier earplugs are sold elsewhere.

9. Sleep Mask

On long trips you may have to try to get sleep while it’s still light out (or while your neighbor reads for hours on end). A good sleep mask can clear all those distractions, leaving nothing but rest-inducing darkness. Walmart sells sleep masks for as little as $3.99.

10. Plug Adapter Set

For some reason the rest of the world won’t submit to the American standard on electrical plugs. Until they come around to us being right, you’ll need a plug adapter to keep your electronics whirring on your international adventure. You can buy an individual adapter for your destination, but plug adapter sets or all-in-ones are affordable and you only have to buy one once. Walmart carries a Travel Smart plug adapter set for $9.99.

11. USB Battery Pack

If you’re using your phone regularly to navigate and look up fun things to do during your trip, you may end up needing more than one charge a day. In that case, be sure to carry a USB battery pack to keep your device powered on. Battery packs come in a variety of sizes and capacities depending on how much power and portability you need, and they usually go for $15 and up.

12. Travel Credit Card

Make sure you’re carrying the right plastic. A good travel credit card should reward you on your purchases but also not charge foreign transaction fees and provide travel protections like trip cancellation or interruption insurance and baggage delay insurance. Some cards will also get you free Wi-Fi on your plane or grant you access to swanky airport lounges.  We rounded up a few travel rewards card choices here.

The best cards also, however, require a good to excellent credit score. Before applying, it’s a good idea to check two of your scores for free on Credit.com to see whether you can qualify.

13. Reusable Water Bottle

Why pay for something you can get for free? As we said before, the TSA won’t let you pass through security with a fully loaded water bottle, but once you’re cleared you can head to your nearest water fountain and fill up for free rather than paying out the nose for a plastic bottle. Reusable bottles can be ridiculously cheap; heck, you can just reuse one you’ve already drained, but a sturdier metal bottle may last longer.

14. Notebook

Maybe I’m a biased writer, but I find it’s helpful to have a place to jot down anything I need to remember, whether it’s directions, places I need to visit or stray observations about the place I’m visiting. Of course, you can use your phone, but I find I retain things better when I rely on good old pen and paper.

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

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Millennials: Will Work for Travel

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It’s better to work to live, rather than live to work. Millennials are taking that sage advice one step farther, according to a new poll: They work to travel.

The ability to travel is nearly as essential a work motivator as food and shelter, millennials told surveyors recently. It’s a result that employers should consider carefully.

In the same online poll, conducted by job search site FlexJobs.com, young workers said they would take steep pay cuts — as high as 20% — in exchange for more flexibility at work. And nearly two-thirds said they’d be more productive working at home than at the office.

Meanwhile, 34% said they’d left a job because it didn’t provide enough flexibility. And another 24% said they are currently looking for a new job with more flexibility.

“Since millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor workforce, it’s critical that companies pay attention to how, where and when they work best,” said Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs.

Fully 70% of millennials identified the desire to travel as a primary reason to work, second only to paying for basic necessities (88%), FlexJobs said.

Only 47% of Baby Boomers said travel was a primary reason for work.

Other less-cited reasons that millennials work:

  • Passionate about success in my field (60%);
  • To have a professional impact on the world (49%);
  • To pay for continuing education (36%);
  • To pay for child-related costs (29%) or support their parents (21%).

The FlexJobs online poll was self-selected, and included about 3,000 responses: Millennials (678 respondents), Gen Xers (1,358 respondents), and Boomers (845 respondents).

The Boston Consulting Group says that millennials have particular travel habits, too. They want to see the world, clearly. In a survey, far more millennials than non-millennials told BCG they want to visit every continent (70% versus 48%) and to travel abroad as much as possible (75% vs. 52%).

Traveling More, Longer & Smarter

Because millennials are marrying older, they tend to take trips in groups with friends. They also book further in advance, book fewer (but longer) trips, and work hard to find good deals, BCG said.

“(They) tend to see booking as more of a game and respond opportunistically to low prices and interesting packages,” BCG wrote in a recent report.

It makes sense that younger workers with less income would be more deal sensitive … and more inclined to hop on a deeply-discounted, last-minute, four-day Europe trip. It then follows that young workers want the ability to make sudden requests for four-day weekends.

That’s partly why, in the FlexJobs survey, work flexibility was cited by 82% of millennials as important when evaluating a job prospect, well above factors like as health insurance (48%), company reputation (45%), and retirement benefits (36%).

It should also be no surprise that millennials are twice as likely as boomers (11% to 6%) to show strong preference for working at a coffee shop or other place outside the office.

Flexibility = Loyalty

“Millennials said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options and nearly a quarter would be willing to work more hours,” Sutton Fell said. “So offering millennials work flexibility isn’t just a strategy to avoid negative consequences like losing talent — employers have a lot to gain by modifying their strict, traditional, office-based model of working.”

Remember, if you love to travel, the right credit card can make all the difference. If you’re shopping for a new airline credit card or travel rewards card, it’s a good idea to consider how often you travel and whether you tend to patronize a particular carrier. If you do fly a single carrier, or its partners, that company’s mileage card can be the right choice for you. But if you don’t have a hub in your area or your flights are varied, you might to look into general travel rewards credit cards.

You can also consider maximizing rewards by accumulating airline miles via loyalty programs, and complementing that balance by earning credit card rewards that can be transferred to those airlines.

If you’re in the market for a new credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit before you apply, as a good credit score can help you qualify for better terms and rates. You can see where you currently stand by viewing two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund

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7 Ways We Spend Less on Vacation

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Our family loves to visit new places. We get asked all the time how we can afford to take our family of nine on a vacation every year. I must admit, it hasn’t been easy, but we have learned a few tips and tricks throughout our 20-year marriage.

Here are seven ways we’ve learned to save.

1. Go Camping

Staying in a campground can save you $100 or more per night off of local hotel prices. When we go camping, a typical night with water and electricity costs between $20-$25 per night at a state or federal campground. While private campgrounds can be a bit more expensive, they often offer more amenities that will keep you busy.

2. Use Hotel Deal Sites

If you must stay in a hotel, consider booking on some of the online discount hotel sites. Keep in mind, though, that you will not always be able to request two beds, so if that is a requirement, you may not be able to book on certain sites.

3. Pack Your Food

Packing your own food helps you to save money and time, especially while you’re traveling. A typical meal that we pack will include a sandwich, chips and a piece of fruit. This is so much cheaper than having everyone go into a popular fast food restaurant and order a large combo. When I was a child, for dinners in hotel rooms, my mom would bring her crockpot and cook up a tasty feast.

4. Find Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free

Since we always travel with children, we often search for the restaurants that advertise that kids eat free. Typically, before we leave on the trip, I will do a search online for the town we will be in that day, followed by the words, “kids eat free.” There are websites that regularly update which restaurants do this. On one of our past vacations, we were able to eat out on a daily basis, due to all of the free food my kids were getting.

5. Subscribe to Restaurant Newsletters for Money-Saving Coupons

About five to seven days before you leave for vacation, visit several of your favorite restaurants’ websites and subscribe to their newsletters. Typically, they will email you a coupon for something free from their restaurant. Sometimes it’s just a dessert, but other times, it’s a full meal. Be sure to do it well before you leave on your trip, because sometimes, you won’t receive your coupon for a few days. Keep in mind that the coupon will often expire within 14 days of the date that they send it to you, so you don’t want to sign up too early.

6. Find Things You Can Do for Free

With a family of nine, we typically cannot afford to spend money on all of the attractions that you see others spending money on. Instead, we usually pick out one major activity that we want to do, and the rest are activities found by searching the web for free or cheap things to do in that area. We have had many adventures relying on these free (or cheap) activities, including at our regular vacation stop, Branson, Missouri.

7. Drive, Instead of Fly

Most of the time, if you are traveling with a family, it will be much less expensive to drive, instead of fly. We like to research where the cheapest gas prices will be and fill up in those locations. We have also researched how to save money on gasoline and have implemented many of these tactics while traveling.

Hopefully, these ideas can also help you to stretch your vacation dollars while still enjoying fun activities.

[Editor’s note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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3 Ways to Keep Vacation Pet Care From Costing a Fortune

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Deciding how to care for the family pet while you’re away can be one of the hardest parts of planning a vacation. Not only does it add to the stress of preparation, but proper pet care is a difficult expense for many people to afford. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to lessen the strain that pet care can put on your wallet. Here are some budget-friendly tips on how you can care for your pet while away on vacation.

1. Know What Kind of Care Your Pet Will Need

It’s important to take into consideration how much time a caretaker will need to invest in watching your little friend while you’re away. Some pets are going to require a greater degree of attention than others, and the cost of care will fluctuate accordingly. For example, while most fish are relatively low maintenance and can probably get by with a few visits from a neighbor, an energetic puppy will probably need more frequent interaction. Once you’ve decided on the best style of care, you can start to gather estimates and set a plan in motion to save money.

2. Plan Ahead of Time

While you might have already considered the cost of airfare, lodging, and day-to-day expenses for your vacation, you’re going to want to take the cost of pet care into account as well. Adding the cost of a kennel, pet sitter, and pet supplies into your vacation savings plan will make it easier on your wallet when the time comes to leave. (It can also make it easier on your credit since high credit card balances can affect your credit score. You can see where yours currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.) Plus, the earlier you start planning, the more time you’ll have to save. That way you’ll be able to make sure your furry friend is comfortable while your budget remains intact!

3. Consider All the Options

While it might be tempting to just throw money at the first pet-sitting service you see, taking the time to hunt down the most affordable option will pay off in the long run. While kennels might be the simplest option, you can probably save a pretty penny by reaching out to a nearby friend or family member. Alternatively, you can check pet boarding sites like Rover to see if there are any professional pet sitters in your area. Regardless of which option you choose, make sure you’ve done a good deal of research before opening your checkbook.

Providing you take the proper amount of time and plan accordingly, you should be able to make sure your pet is well cared for without spending too much money. However, if you still find it difficult to find proper pet care while you’re away, it might be best to look into different trip options. There are tons of great vacations you can take that won’t require you to leave your pet at home, saving you money and giving you more quality time with your little buddy!

More Pet Care Reads:

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