Travel Tips–Must Haves, What To Avoid, Safety & More!

I travel every year and have been to Europe and the Caribbean numerous times. Not to mention, I drive and fly all over the US. Here are some things that I would recommend for travel and maybe even for every day life! And of course, lots of ways to save money!

Phone Apps

TooGoodToGo–We found this app while in NYC. Basically, at the end of the day many restaurants throw away a bunch of food. Instead of it being trashed you can get a deal and there’s less food waste!

In the above picture, I think we paid like $5 and got all those croissants and rolls. We just showed up, showed the cashier the screen in our app that showed we purchased it and they started filling bags for us. There was a pumpkin roll that smelled SOOOOO good. We did this about 3x over 2 weeeks at different places. We got some awesome snacks and pastries for breakast. We even got chocolate at a chocolate shop.

So if you have time, and the city you are in is on the app–try it out!

Groupon–I have a love/hate relationship with Groupon. I was on vacation once in Orlando and they had pirate dinner show tickets and our whole group of about 16 bough them through groupon but we found out after we paid for them that we could have gotten the tickets cheaper on the Pirate show’s website. So, for shows and such, def. check the website to verify if the deal is good.

However, I used it on our recent trip to NYC to find a local eatery that was by where we were staying. They had NYC bagels and cream cheese. We showed up and the place was packed (We had to sit on the sidewalk to eat) and authentic. My daughter LOVED it.

While traveling, I wouldn’t use groupon in advance unless you know for a fact the place is next to where you will be at. There is an option on Groupon to search based on location, you can use that to see what is near you and the offers. This is a great way to save money and try new things–as always, read the reviews!

Hotels, Flights and Bookings

For awhile, I was using exclusively to book hotel rooms because I would get a free night every 10 bookings. But they changed up their rewards program so I don’t always use them, but I will compare prices with them as they are often the lowest rate. And if you use them a lot they give you better rates overall.

Hopper and Kayak are two good sites/apps to use to compare cheap flights or hotels.

If you are looking for a cheap deal on hotels, I would recommend using a computer and pulling up different tabs. Check, agoda and then when you find a hotel and rate you like, go directly to that hotel, let’s say Hyatt and look on their website. You can see their standard rates as well as if they have some specialty rates. Sometimes just booking directly through the hotel can get you the best rate.

For example, I was supposed to go to Vegas earlier this year and I searched the discount sites but when I went to the Mirage’s website directly, I found that if I joined their rewards program I would get $20 in free food each day of my stay, for the same price the discount apps had for the room without food.

Airfare. To find the best rates, I typically pull up a couple of tabs on my computer, just like I do with hotels. Hopper is usually one of my go-tos for good rates. I would also compare rates I find on a discount site with the airline directly. Although, I have typically found that the discount sites have better rates than the airlines themselves.

A couple of the discount apps search multiple sites and apps and you need to watch the results. For example, this is a search for a roundtrip flight to Japan for July on SkyScanner. The companies on the left are the ones offering up the flights, and you can see they have bad reviews. A google search on some of them show bad reviews–possibly people getting scammed. So be careful not to book with companies that aren’t well known or if a price is too good to be true.

I had to fly out of state for a funeral one year and I found that Priceline had the best rate and saved me nearly half, even over calling the same airline directly and asking for a bereavement rate.

Travel Agent. Most travel agents won’t charge you anything to book with them. I am a pretty savvy shopper, but I will also email a travel agent I know and see what kind of rates they can get me. They usually can’t find that great of a deal on airfare, but they can often get you better deals on whole vacations or hotels.

Living in Fla I can often find good deals for the theme parks, but I have had a travel agent check and get me an even better rate for the same hotel and park. I have worked with Lori Osgood at Cruise Planners, if you want to shoot her a message. She has occasionally got me better deals than what I can find on my own. Let her know I sent you!

Flight Board. Want to track delayed and cancelled sites, this app does it.

SeatGuru. This site rates different airline seats. So if you want to know which free seats are the best on the plane, this is the site for you.

Travel Credit Cards

I went searching for the top rated travel credit card and ended up with the Capital One Venture Card. You can use this link to check it out.

I use this card for EVERYTHING. And you can book travel through their app. I haven’t necessarily found any great deals on their travel app, but I like the free travel insurance I get for using the card to book travel.

I have the Venture card. And one of the things that’s nice about that card is it covers the cost of doing the TSA Precheck. Which, if you fly much, it will save you time! (If you have small children they can go through TSA Precheck with you.)

At the end of the year they send me an email that tells me how much money I saved and how much money I got back. Last year I think it was close to $600 in cash back that I used towards my CC bill.

Extra CC Tip! Most credit cards allow you to add additional users to your card. Some of them will report to the credit bureau, so you could get extra cards in your children’s names to help their credit.

I actually have a card issued in my teenage daughter’s name. She keeps it on her in case of an emergency or if she needs to buy food or something while she is with her friends. When you get the CC bill you can see who did what charges–so you’ll know if they were using it for things they weren’t supposed too.

While we were in NYC she was able to use her CC to swipe and get on the subway while I used mine. At theme parks she can easily go get a drink or snack without me having to pull my card out.

Hot and Cold

So in the last year I have learned that I have a metabolic disorder. My body acts like I’m diabetic when I’m not. It makes me extremely sensitive to heat (which can drop your blood sugar). Here are a couple of things I pack with me now to help cool me and my family down!

I have started carrying Gatorade powder packs with me. You dump one in a standard water bottle and it tastes pretty close to the real thing. It helps keep me from feeling as bad in the heat.

I bought these before a trip to Legoland in the summer and I was shocked–even my husband loved them. Each member of the family gets a different color and they work great to help keep you cool. And they are fairly compact.

At the minimum, I try to keep an old school folding fan on me. I forgot mine in the Dominican Republic last month and had to buy one, and of course they wanted $10 when I can usually find them in the dollar store.

Just don’t buy the paper ones that are really cheap, they’ll break on you. I found these cute ones on Amazon that look durable.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

I feel like we never have enough cup holders in the back of our car. So I recently bought some of these:

It’s a super cheap and easy fix!

One of the big things most people buy is a travel pillow.

I tried this one and while it has rave reviews, I did not like it. I’m not sure if it’s the idea of sleeping forward like that or the fact that it was just bulky once blown up.

I personally, like this one below and will ocasionally sleep with it at home too since it provides neck support. It folds as well so that’s nice.

I’ve recently gotten paranoid about blood clots on planes and picked up some of these. I personally get overheated easy and hate to wear socks, so I didn’t want anything that covered my feet.

Bathroom Essentials

I bought this to keep my jewelry from tangling.

I have a hard time sleeping when there’s lights on or I can see light. I use one of these for travel and at home.


If you are prone to headaches and migraines, I recently bought this migraine stick (I found a three pack under a different name that was cheaper but it didn’t work as good) and it’s helpful. And it’s not much larger than a chapstick.

My friends and kids know to come ask me if they need allergy meds or anything else. But I do NOT want to keep 10 bottles of meds in my bag.

I have this cute little bag that is ideal if you want to keep bandaids and such on hand along with a selection of tylenol, etc. Small and fits in a purse or backpack. I use it for trips to theme parks, etc. where I want a good assortment and can’t necessarily run to Walgreens.

I also have these below as well. If you ever see me out and about, I usually have this type in my bag. It holds a small assortment of quick meds I might need. Super useful. You can take a Sharpie and write on the lids or use a label maker.

I have several meds and supplements that I have to take morning and night. I keep this one for trips that are more than just the weekend. I can also put my face mask and ear plugs in here. I like that it’s zippered so the pills aren’t accidentally going to go flying out into my bag.


I’ve seen people swear by luggage cubes and I wasn’t sure if I’d like them, but I really do. When I travel with my kids especially, I give them each one to put their clothes in. I can usually get their clothes each in one and mine in it’s own as well. We recently did a one week cruise and we were each able to get a week’s worth of clothes in our own luggage cube bags. I then put these inside the luggage and when we get somewhere each person can take their cubee out–super easy!

I also like this brand. They zip up around the edges to compress even more. And I like that it’s different colors so I can color code my kids’ stuff.

My daughter loves to shop so I like to have a bag I can take with me in case she spends all her money.

We bought one of these and I like that it goes down into a small flat pack and expands into two different sized bags.

If you really need to save space in your bag, you could always bring those vacuum bags. I found this in my pantry that I had bought for food storage and never used. Charged it up and took it to NYC and it worked like a charm and was super small. The one I bought is no longer sold, but I found these other small ones on Amazon. You can also use it to blow up pool floats!


How many times have you ended up in a hotel and there’s ONE plug? I usually need two usb plugs just for my watch and phone. I picked up some of these to make it easier on our family.

Also, trying to remember EVERYONE’s charging cable can be a task and someone always forgets theirs. These are neat cables that can be useful:

I recently bought one of these so now I only need one plug to charge both my phone and Apple watch.

I don’t have Apple Airpods, but if I did, something like this would be ideal:

Door Lock. I bought one of these, but I haven’t used it yet. I travel often alone or just with my kids, it’s small and easy to carry for peace of mind that no one’s going to get into your room.

Want to check for urine, bugs or other ickies? These flashlights are super small and portable.

I might sound a little paranoid, but did you hear about people who have gone to a hotel and died from carbon monoxide poisoning? I was reading that in the last 20 years, at least 1,090 people have been injured at US hotels from carbon monoxide poisoning, and 32 people died (And that’s just in the US!). So, I bought a version of these.

Theme Parks

I can’t recommend these bags enough if you’re going to a theme park or even hiking. I have back and hip issues so I get really weird about bags. These don’t bother me at all.

I have 2 of these at home (and bought some for my teenager’s friends who saw ours and wanted one too) and we use them for Universal and Disney. There is an insulated compartment where the water bladder is.

I highly recommend filling the bladder halfway with water and freezing it the night before your day out. Not only will you have a cold drink through out the day (add water to it the morning of) but if you pack sandwiches they’ll stay cold in this compartment and none of your other stuff will get wet! So it doubles as a cooler!

This also fits in the lockers at Universal Studios easily! And we’ve even shoved a wand in there!

Amazon has other bags, but many don’t have that insulated compartment! You get what you pay for and I recommend this brand. They have fun colors too.

Other Goodies

Don’t forget your chargers!

If you’re not going to be somewhere you can plug into you’ll probably need a battery pack. Click here to see a two pack for less than $20!

And if you’re always forgetting your charging cable, I just bought one of these bracelets. I think I’m going to attach it to my bag, it has a usb charger cable in it!

If you don’t want to carry a purse or just want your phone/camera out for quick and easy access, try one of these!

Speaking of your phone, I hate carrying a purse or wallet, so I highly recommend a phone wallet.

You can find one that sticks onto the back of your current case. There’s also some super cute full wallet styles:

Bag/purse alternative. I try to always keep a bottle of water on me, a folding cloth bag for shopping, lip gloss, and some basic meds. I have back and hip problems so I don’t want a huge bag. I found these to be a great fit:

I don’t carry a 40oz bottle in it, but I find the bottle holder area can hold a cloth bag at the bottom and at least one standard plastic bottle. I will often shove my phone and the water bottle in the top, no problem. It has compartments on the front for money and necessities. I sometimes turn it into a waist bag.

When we were in NYC, it started raining and we had to run into Walgreens and overspend on crappy umbrellas. You might want to pick up a travel one before you travel. I was able to shove it into the top of my bag (the floral one above) with my drink.

If you need earbuds but don’t want to fork out for airpods, my husband bought me these. Affordable and work great. And I don’t feel guilty that I don’t use them all the time.

However, if you have prescription glasses, you seriously need to go check these out. You can have glasses with built in speakers! I bought some and they are awesome! You can answer your phone with them and so much more! Go to this link and type in “Revel Tune 2.0”. Don’t be the annoying person the Subway or at the doctor’s office listening to their phone, grab you a set of these!

Shoes! Bring more than one pair of shoes on any trip. Just in case one breaks, or if after a full day it has just rubbed you raw, you’ll have an alternative. I would also recommend something with a back on it if you’ll be doing a lot of walking on questionable terrain.

The above is a photo of my poor feet on our NYC trip. We spent 2 weeks walking around the city and my shoes rubbed me raw! I wish I would have brought two shoes that had backs on them not one and a pair of sandles.

I often carry a small container of baby powder in my bag when at the theme parks or traveling to pour into shoes to absorb moisture to help guard against chafing and rashes.

In the above image I used medical tape to wrap around my poor toes and to act as a barrier on the top of my feet.

We bought this foldable kettle so that I could use it camping and not have to worry about glass breaking. Works great to make tea or hot chocolate. When we go Boy Scout camping and it’s cold, our campsites don’t have power but the bathrooms do! So I run down and while I’m brushing my teeth in the bathroom our hot water starts to boil.

Shopping bag ideas. When you’re out shopping, some places will charge you for bags or won’t provide one. I try to always keep a cloth bag in my bag.

You could also keep one of these on you so that you always have a cloth backpack to carry everything.

Do you travel with a cooler and don’t want to get your cheese or other food items soggy, but need to keep them cold? I bought a Drybag and put it IN the cooler! Added my fruit containers, sandwich meat, etc into that and it stayed dry but cold the whole trip! Plus you can use it by the pool or in a boat to keep your stuff dry.

Crazy enough, I also try to always carry a pack of cards with me. Usually Uno Flip or Spot It. Both are great for adults and kids to play together and Spot it is SUPER EASY and the little ones can play it along with people in their 80s easily.

This gives my kids something to do and if we’re ever in an awkward social situation it helps to break the ice and keep everyone busy.

We have the original Spot it, as well as the camping version. But you can pick up Disney Princesses, Harry Potter, Marvel and so many more!

NYC Specific Tips That May Apply Elsewhere!

With my worry about the heat, when I packed for a June trip to NYC I wasn’t expecing to need a jacket. But in the mornings, between the buildings and sometimes on really windy days, it got COLD! So make sure to pack a light wind breaker, even in the summer.

Paying for the Subway. We knew we would be using the Subway a lot so each person had their own credit card that they would use to pay for the subway. Basically, we would get to the turnstile and swipe our card and go. After each person pays for 12 trips, the rest of the trips during the week are free. Read more about the fares here. (No you can’t use the same card and swipe in 12 people and get the deal, each has to use their own payment.)

Getting Around/ Finding your way. There are several apps that have subway maps, etc. And after some trial and error we figured out that Google Maps really is the best and easiest way to find your way around.

All you have to do is put in where you want to go, and normally our maps show us via car, but if you look there is an option for walking or public transportation. Click the one you want and it’ll show you several different options near you for the bus or subway.

AmazonGo. There are several of these stores around NYC. And they had some cheap and quick food options. You will need your Amazon app or a credit card to enter. You just show it at the entry gate and then the store just knows what you buy–there’s no employee scanning you out. It was really weird!

For example, I like to pick things up and might change my mind. Also, they had things like donuts in a case. I grabbed one and left and checked my Amazon app and sure enough I was only charged for what I left the store with! They had some hot and cold options for food. However, we did find that many days they were sold out of some items.

Drinks. I’m used to going into a fast food place and getting refills. This was extremely hit or miss in NYC. We went to one fast food place and were able to get free refills, but other ones we couldn’t. If you drink a lot, keep this in mind–order a large.

Cash. I try not to bring too much cash with me when I travel within the US and I regretted it on our NYC trip. I needed $1 bills for all kinds of minor tipping and $5-20 bills for tour guides. Also, some stores ONLY took cash. China Town was especially a cash only society.

Homeless/Mental Health Issues.

Every single day we were in NYC we saw people talking to themselves and sometimes just acting crazy. One day we got on the Subway and we thought the guy next to us was talking on the phone. He was having a whole conversation with what we thought was someone else–nope!

One day while we were walking to meet up with a tour a big man came screaming at us and tried to get into a confrontation with me. I did not engage him and I basically tried to go into a store to get away from him. The store was just opening and at first didn’t want to let me in, but quickly realized something was off and this guy was harrassing me.

Riding the subway. My daughter hated it, it always smelled like pee. The photo to the right has a guy sleeping on the subway with a pile of bananas under him.

This happened around 9am during the week. So not even at night. My daughter was really upset and started to cry.

If you are traveling with people or just you and your kids, I would highly recommend sitting down and talking about safety. I explained to her why we went into the store. I told her to never engage with them and just go the other way. I let her know that if he had started attacking or hitting me it was NOT her place to try and stop him. Her job was to call 911 and to get to safety.

Safety/Getting Robbed

I often get asked about safety and if I’m ever scared to travel. The answer is no, I rarely have issues while traveling and have yet to be robbed. Out of ALL the places and countries I have traveled, Italy and Rome are probably my favorite. That being said, I saw the most crime there.

Riding in packed busses, etc. always have your bag on the front of you and your ID and money hidden. I remember someone grabbing my butt while on a bus, probably looking for money. In that tour we did have someone in our group lose their wallet on the bus to someone doing that.

I was walking past a restaurant in Rome and a woman was sitting outside with her purse at her feet and I could see a man trying to grab it, I had to yell at him for her to realize. Always be mindful of your things.

I recently bought a pack of little alarms. And boy are these suckers loud! You can get a 5 pack for less than $20, so hand them out to friends!

Make copies! Make a copy of the front and back of all your credit cards, IDs, passports, etc. Keep one copy in your luggage and leave one at home with someone you trust. That way if you get robbed or lose your bag you have some proof of ID and info to use.

Also, if your phone has a digital wallet, save a credit card there just in case you lose your other ones.

In conclusion

I hope you found lots of useful tips and info. One more money saving tip, join a site like Rakuten. Then whenever you’re shopping online just go to their site and see if the store you want is listed. You’ll get cash back for shopping this way.

At Christmas, I made a large purchase from one store through Rakuten and they sent me a check for $57 in the mail afterwards.

If you have any other great tips, feel free to comment!

I hope you found the information in this blog post helpful! Please note there are affiliate links in use. While you don’t pay anything extra for using my links, I do sometimes get cash back or rewarded for you using them. So thank you!

New York City Travel Tips — Hotels, Hostels & AirBnbs

Planning a trip to NYC by yourself or with kids can be daunting.

My daughter (12) and I recently took a 2 week trip and I wanted to share all the helpful information I picked up along the way. I am going to break this down into more than one blog, with the first one being about hotels, AirBnbs and hostels–because we stayed in each of them.

I’ve included cell phone photos and links to helpful information.

Housing: Hotels, AirBnbs & Hostels

I personally like to stay in a location for several days and get the feel for living like a local. Since we were there for two weeks, we switched lodgings every 3-4 days to experience different neighborhoods. Each was completely different, but we def. had our favorites.

If you’ve never been to NYC, something to keep in mind, most hotels under $200 a night will not have a private bathroom. If you’re lucky you might get a sink in your room. Some hotels will have two single beds and the room is going to be the size of closet with a bunkbed.

Times Square

Our room inside the Americana. Super small, but did have a sink.

We wanted to start in Times Square. I wanted to be where all the lights and action is. This is also one of the most expensive areas. I found a deal on a hotel right off Times Square. We stayed in the Americana Inn. The rooms weren’t horrible, they are older and the lobby was tiny and one of the managers that ran the front desk was not friendly. Some of the rooms were louder than others (we asked to see some of them as there was a noise in our room.)

They had a little breakfast, but the area is SOOO small, like one 2-person table. We never ate there because of the crampedness. There was a little mini kitchen at the end of our hall and we used that to store food one night. The bathrooms were super clean and they did have several bathrooms on each floor and we never had to wait for one. The bathrooms/showers also were private.

There was a boba shop next door and around the corner a little convenience store, so that was helpful to grab a cheap drink.

I wish I would have spent a little more and chosen something like Margaritaville. The location would have been better and that hotel was newer. FYI, Americana Inn does have a complimentary storage room if you do arrive before check in and need to stash your things.

Left: Girl Scouts near the hotel. Right: The view from our fire escape at the Americana.

On the same road, walking to Times Square we found a Girl Scouts shop with a little museum in it. They also made custom Girl Scout shirts. They had swaps and badges, etc. My daughter is a Girl Scouts so we def. had to do a stop in there.

AirBnB/China Town

Left: Part of the entrance to the AirBnb. Right:Around the corner from the Airbnb.

One thing to keep in mind with AirBnbs (at least when we went) is AirBnbs basically have to be an apartment-share. So you will be sharing the space, but this is also a great way to find an affordable housing and live like a local. And for us it was an educational experience.

We stayed with a woman who had come over from China looking for a better life. She lives in an old Tenement apartment, which if you’re unfamiliar, back in the early days of NYC a tenement would have multiple families in a room that is smaller than a standard hotel room—with multiple units sharing one bathroom down the hall. (There’s a tenement museum in NYC you should go to if you want to know more!)

She lived above the shops in China Town which gave us a rare opportunity to live like a local. Her apartment was smaller than a standard hotel room and like many old apartments in NYC, the shower was a metal tub in the “kitchen”, and the toilet was basically in a little closet just past her bed. The woman works as an actress and a Chinese translator.

If you have mobility issues, this probably would NOT be ideal. One of the things you do have to watch for is many apartments do NOT have elevators. The hallways were hot and narrow and going up and down the stairs every day was miserable.

We became friends with the woman in the apartment and she wanted to hear about our day every day and she would make recommendations. She also told us about 9/11 and what she endured living in NYC during that time.

While we enjoyed the experience, it def. is not for everyone.

Central Park YMCA Hostel

Left: Our bunk room, super small. Right: The hallway, it felt very much like a prison.

This was one of the cheapest accommodations and it was one of the best locations. However, the staff was often rude or too busy talking with their friends to pay attention. And the room was an oversized closet with bunk beds and thin pillows. I woke up in pain every day dealing with these beds, they were awful. The hallways and room felt like a prison. 

The word “hostel” though often scares people. I have stayed at many in my travels and they are typically rooms with bunk beds, and you pay per bed. There’s a communal shower down the hall. Some have huge rooms with like 8-12 beds, but there are private options with one larger bed or 2 beds in some of these places. Many have rooms just for women as well. If you are traveling with kids, many do NOT allow children, so keep that in mind.

If you are looking for cheap accomodations, also look into Capsule or Pod hotels, it is the same idea but slightly more private sleeping arrangements.

Paris Baguette, soooo good!

Heading towards the subway there was always multiple food trucks and we would pick up something for breakfast there or grab some delicious bakery items from Paris Baguette (seriously, you won’t regret anything you buy in there!) and head to Central Park to people watch and feed the pigeons.

This really became a highlight of our trip and we enjoyed it much more than I expected. My daughter begged to go hang out in Central Park every day, we enjoyed it so much.

We LOVED spending time in Central Park and I’m pretty sure we ended up in one of those prank fart videos you see online!

There were several AirBnbs on Central Park and if I had to do it again I would have gotten one of those. There was also another hostel farther down the park that had good reviews online and might be worth a look.

A note, the YMCA does have a luggage locker, so if you get there early or are staying late, they will hold your bags, but they do charge per bag and it took awhile to get the security guard to take our stuff and they weren’t friendly about it.

The Millennium/Near the 9/11 Memorial

Left: View from our hotel. Right: Our room

This was an affordable hotel, which was surprising considering it was newer and in a great location. It was right across from the PATH transit system and the WTC memorial and was probably one of the safest hotel locations of our trip.

The PATH had multiple subway lines and there was a subway entrance right outside the hotel door which was extremely convenient. This was also the only hotel we had that felt like a normal hotel room and had a private bath. We also had a fantastic view over the WTC site. The staff wasn’t always friendly and they didn’t tell us about hotel credit we got towards food or anything, so make sure to watch for that.

They do have a storage room if you arrive before check in and need to stash your bags, and there was no charge for this (just tip the guy, he was friendly).

Not only was there public transit and the 9/11 Memorial right out the front, but the church where Hamilton is buried is right around the corner. There is also a McDonalds behind it and an Amazon Go shop next door as well as lots of other great eatery options.

In Conclusion

Accomodations can def be one of the most pricey parts of your trip. I used several apps to search for rooms and find rates. I would HIGHLY recommend checking your room location and where it is to a subway line. You will be doing A LOT of walking every day and having a subway line right next to your room/hotel can be a lifesaver!

Apps I used to find rooms:

Agoada (had the hostels and really cheap rooms in general)

I’ll be posting more blogs in the next couple of days with more information and tips!