Best travel tips from real travelers

Have you checked out Gadling’s 100% reader-generated feature, “100 words or less.” In “100 words or less,” YOU — the expert traveler — get to share your expert travel tips with Gadling and all our readers. Know a sure-fire way to score a cheap hotel room? Confident you know a trick to get an airline upgrade? Share it with us!

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite tips below. Enjoy.

Hotel tips
If you often leave personal items in hotel rooms, remind yourself by writing it down — but write it on a mirror with a dry erase marker instead of on a piece of paper you could easily overlook.

Today’s tech-savvy world requires a lot of equipment to stay “plugged-in.” Cell phones, laptops, and MP3 players all require power cords to recharge. Since these items don’t need to be plugged in all the time, it’s easy to forget your power cords when checking out of a hotel. Increase your chances of recovery by writing your name and contact information on a piece of masking tape and securing the tape to your power cord.

If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of your pillow, the inside of your shirt is probably cleaner (or at least more acceptable) to lie on than a suspect pillowcase. Simply turn the shirt inside-out, slide it over your pillow, and you’re good to go… to sleep.

Sleep better with these other hotel tips.

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Cruise trip tips

Packing a dry erase board and markers and attaching to your cabin door accomplishes several things, including helping you to identify your room and providing an easy way for your family to communicate their whereabouts.
Take an insulated travel mug on your next cruise and it may become your favorite accessory.

If you’re cruising as part of a big group of family and friends, it’s a lot of fun to divide into teams for a scavenger hunt. Items for the hunt can be dares, found objects, and fact-finding missions.

Get a key chain necklace and put your room key on it. Wear this around your neck at all times to avoid losing it or having it stolen.

Whenever we go on a cruise, my husband and I always plan to snorkel on at least one island. On our first cruise, we went on a shore excursion that provided the snorkel, but then we got smart.

Most cruise ships today are multi-deck mini-cities carrying as many as 5,000 passengers. And, unless you’re traveling alone, you may find yourself separated from your traveling party at some point during your cruise. How to stay connected? Give each member of your group a two-way radio, all programmed to the same frequency to help keep you organized and in touch.

Visit our other cruise trip tips.

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Road trip tips

To keep maps and directions safe during a trip, laminate them. For around $30, a home laminating machine will seal standard letter size pages. (Copy and print stores have the capability to laminate larger maps for a minimal fee.) Alternatively, you can use contact paper to cover paper maps. In addition to being more durable, laminated maps offer the advantage of allowing you to draw your route on the map and easily wipe it off later, if you change your mind.

To avoid hours of boredom, plan a “scenic scavenger hunt.” It’s easy. Just write down a list of 100 things you might see along the way, like landmarks, buses or bridges. The first person to complete the list wins.

Before embarking on a road trip, map out two different routes — a slower, scenic route and a shorter, faster (less scenic) route.

Motor through more road trip tips.

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Dining out on vacation tips
When traveling to a foreign city, you can usually find the cheapest and best-tasting food by looking for menus that are written entirely in that city’s native language.

You’ve spent so much money on just getting to Hawaii or Florida, why pay more to sit inside a restaurant? Weather permitting, you should be outside on the grass! Or on the sand. Or at a picnic table.

Before you go out of the country, make a few wallet-sized cards that list what you can and can’t eat in the native language(s) of the country you’re visiting.

Devour more dining out on vacation tips.

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Souvenir tips

T-shirts have always been my favorite travel souvenir. Many of them were sized for an eight year old and most were dreadfully stained, but I could hardly get rid of them. They were my mementos! Instead of tossing them, I cut out all the images and logos and made a travel quilt.

A great take-home and space-saving souvenir for wine lovers are corks from bottles you’ve enjoyed while traveling.

When you find yourself not knowing exactly where you’re going, ask a local to draw directions for you. Keep a store of interesting napkins or papers and a pen on hand to take advantage of the opportunity of being lost. Asking for directions might also lead you to start some great conversations and to gain a deeper insight into the locale you’re visiting.

Save some of these souvenir tips for later.

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Airplane tips
During your next flight, be considerate of the passenger in front of you. When settling down into — or, getting out of — your seat, don’t grab the seat in front of you for leverage.

Sick of hearing about a stranger’s dysfunctional family or odd medical conditions? Avoid conversations all-together by doing a simple thing: wear headphones. They don’t even need to be plugged in.

Your seats are reserved. There’s no circulating air until the plane takes off, and even if you’re the first person on the plane, you’re going to be hot, you’re going to have to move, and you’re going to get elbowed — and maybe get luggage dropped on you. Also, if you’re not the first person to board, you’re going to spend 20 minutes slowly creeping down the crowded walkway. So… stay out in the relative open space of the terminal waiting area until the gate agents make the final boarding call.

Take off with these other airplane tips.

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Traveling with kids tips
Buy at least one disposable camera for each child on the trip. These are inexpensive and will keep your child entertained for a long time. Tell each child that they should take pictures of things on the trip that they find interesting.

The front passenger is always the navigator when I’m traveling with my family or a group. However, I discovered that you can turn your children into junior navigators while helping them learn geography at the same time. It helps eliminate them from asking, “Are we there yet?”

Rather than lug boxes of baby necessities around, consider ordering supplies online — diapers, food, etc. — and shipping them to your destination. You’ll have more room in your car; there’ll be less to pack and unpack; and your neck won’t be so sore from hauling boxes in and out of the house.

Grow up with these other traveling with kids tips.

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Packing for travel tips
Contact lens cases with screw-on lids make great travel accessories. When you want to take small quantities of hair gel, sculpting wax, eye make-up remover, an essential oil, Aloe Vera, or under-eye cream, you can’t beat contact lens cases. They’re small. They don’t leak. They can hold one week’s worth of lotion or gel in each little section.

When traveling over the holidays with gifts, never pre-wrap! Wrapped items may need to be inspected by the TSA, and that could mean they’ll be unwrapped by security before you even get to your destination.

Here’s a way to pack your smallest, but most expensive, items without losing them or space in your suitcase: find a typical pill box and place your precious metals in there. Anything from rings to necklaces will fit.

Store these additional packing tips.

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International travel tips
Guidebooks are all well and good, but they rarely take you off the beaten path. Before arriving in an unfamiliar place, pick an unusual food to track down in your destination; it’s even better if you can find the same food in multiple countries.

Always carry a small calculator when you travel internationally. It will save the day when you are trying to figure out how much things cost in “real” money.

When traveling abroad, get at least a small amount of foreign currency for tips and other unexpected cash expenses before leaving the airport or crossing the border.

Explore the unknown with these other international travel tips.

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To submit your own tips, sign up for a free account at Seed, filter the assignment list by the category “travel” and look for assignment requests with the words “100 words or less.” (And yes: if your tip is published, you will be paid!)

[Photos: Flickr | Fly for Fun; StrudelMonkey; StrudelMonkey]

Wait ’til the end – Souvenir tip

A way to save money (and free your arms) is to wait until the end of your trip to purchase souvenirs to take home.

This gives you the chance to scope out prices, which can vary greatly in touristy areas. It can also give you a better sense of what’s available, so you don’t wind up buying all junk.

If you find something unique, you should snag it, but otherwise set an afternoon aside for souvenir shopping.

Buy Christmas ornaments – Souvenir tip

Maybe you don’t need shot glasses, postcards, or (even more!) t-shirts cluttering your life. Perhaps a once-a-year reminder of your trip is enough. If so, consider buying Christmas ornaments, or other holiday decorations, on vacation.

Most vacation areas sell holiday items. You may find you appreciate your souvenirs more by unpacking them once a year and reliving your vacation memories. Plus, once you pack them away until next year, you don’t have to dust them all year!

Bonus: if you can’t easily locate a store selling holiday items, this means you’ve got to do some research and explore your destination more deeply. The reward will be tremendous.

Make a mock newspaper – Souvenir tip

Traveling with family on a budget often doesn’t leave much money for souvenirs. As an alternative, create an edition of “Family Travel Gazette” — a mock newspaper highlighting all the adventures you had while on vacation.

Using cut-out pictures from brochures and photos taken along the way, assign articles to each family member, including editorials on the trip; weather reports; food reviews; on-the-ground interviews; and headline news. What a great way to encourage kids’ critical thinking and enhance their writing skills!

Once home, assemble all the articles and photos using a scanner and computer. Be sure to date the souvenir edition, and make copies for Grandma!

Pro tip: Alternatively, create a paperback or hardcover book of your trip, using a service like Fastpencil.