As a seasoned concierge with a passport full of stamps from far-flung corners of the globe, I know a thing or two about how to travel smartly.

In this blog post, I will peel back the curtain and reveal the insider knowledge that can help your next vacation transform from ordinary to extraordinary.

From navigating the intricacies of local customs to crafting the perfect itinerary, here are my top-secret travel tips and hacks.

1. Have a Backup Plan for Everything 

The holy grail of all travel wisdom?

Always have a backup plan for everything.

Trust me.

This is the Gandalf staff you always need to carry on your adventures.


Nothing always to go plan.

Things can hit the proverbial fan even with the most meticulous travel itinerary. Rainstorms might put a damper on your island-hopping plans in Croatia. Flights get canceled and delayed all the time. You might lose your passport or have to deal with an unexpected zombie invasion.

Okay, the last one is a tad dramatic, but the point is things can happen when you least expect them.

But when you have a solid backup plan in your arsenal, you’re ready to face any curve balls your vacation might throw at you.

So, how do you create a great backup plan? 

Research and preparation.

Remember, if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.

2. Double-Check & Reconfirm Everything 

It’s your ultimate travel insurance policy without those pesky premiums.

Here’s the deal.

Flights can get canceled or delayed when you jump into your Uber to the airport. Hotel reservations you thought you booked magically disappear. 

And the restaurant you have on your gastronomy bucket list? It might be closed on the one day you’re in town.

While time-consuming, re-checking everything can save you from unexpected travel mishaps.

…Like missing your flight because you were supposed to be at the airport yesterday.

3. Know Local Customs For Tipping 

Understanding the local customs for tipping is about more than being savvy with your travel budget.

It’s about respecting and blending in with the local culture.

Tipping is a way to show appreciation for excellent service, but what’s considered generous in one place might be met with raised eyebrows in another.

Let’s say you’re planning a vacation to Spain for the summer. Here, tipping is rare. It’s normal to round up the bill, or leaving a small gratuity is appreciated but not obligatory,

But back home in the United States? That’s a big no-no.

By familiarizing yourself with the local tipping customs, you’ll avoid potentially awkward encounters and make a positive impact on the people you interact with. 

A little research before your trip can go a long way. Online travel forums, guidebooks, or even a friendly chat with the hotel concierge (wink, wink) can provide valuable insights into the tipping practices of your destination.

And remember, tipping isn’t only for restaurants. Taxis, tour guides, hotel staff, and spa therapists may expect gratuity in some countries.

4. Speak To A Local Expert 

You’re in a new country, surrounded by unfamiliar sights, sounds, and flavors. 

Sure, you have your Lonely Planet guidebook, but you’re after something else. You want those authentic experiences and hidden gems that guidebooks might have missed.

The answer?

Chatting to a local expert like a concierge and tapping into their wealth of knowledge.

Discover the best-kept secrets, hole-in-the-wall eateries, and off-the-beaten-path attractions.

It’s the secret to making your next vacation truly remarkable.

5. Book As Much As You Can In Advance 

Trust me.

Even if you love spontaneity in your travel plans, booking in advance comes with a bunch of benefits and will save you from a few headaches.

Case in point: Peace of mind.

When your flights, accommodation, and main activities are booked ahead of time, stress goes out the window. You don’t need to worry about last-minute availability or missing out on your dream hotel.

That’s not all.

Booking in advance often means great deals and discounts. 

Many airlines, hotels, and tour operators offer early bird promotions and special rates.

Lastly, pre-planning your trip means you get to experience all the activities and attractions at the top of your bucket list.

I hear you skeptics whispering, “But what about spontaneity and flexibility?” Pre-booking doesn’t mean sacrificing the thrill of discovery. It means securing the essential components of your trip while leaving room for impromptu adventures and unexpected encounters.

6. Get Insurance. Always 

Travel insurance is your trusty companion. It shields your bank account from unexpected mishaps, lost belongings, and expensive hospital stays.

With the right policy, you’ll have peace of mind on your vacation and know that if anything untoward does happen, you have a safety net to fall back on.

The same goes for car insurance.

You never know what might happen while road-tripping between France and Italy. Your cover can protect you from theft, damages, and liability.

However, always read the fine print!

You need to understand the coverage limits and exclusions before you decide on a policy. Different plans offer varying levels of coverage, so choose the one that aligns with your needs and cushion yourself from any unexpected bumps along the way.

7. Start Your Day Early

Ready, steady, set your alarms!

When you kickstart your day early, you tap into one of the best travel hacks – avoiding the crowds.

If you’ve ever visited Europe in the summer, you’ll know how hard it is to get a picture in front of the Trevi fountain in Rome without a photo bomber or three.

But at 7 am?

The streets are still serene, and you can soak up the atmosphere of a destination before the hordes arrive.

Early risers also have the luxury of time on their side. Starting your day early can maximize your itinerary and squeeze in more experiences. You can venture off the beaten path, explore lesser-known neighborhoods, and stumble upon gems that may not be found in guidebooks. 

8. Know The Amenities Your Hotel Offers

If there’s one travel mistake I see happening over and over, it’s not knowing about the hotel’s amenities.

Why is this so important?

Well, it can really enhance your travel experience.

  1. The facilities: Whether it’s a sparkling swimming pool, a rejuvenating spa, a fully equipped fitness center, or a charming rooftop terrace with breathtaking views, knowing what your hotel offers empowers you to indulge in moments of relaxation, wellness, and enjoyment during your stay.
  2. Packing for your trip: If you know that your accommodation provides certain essentials like toiletries, hairdryers, or ironing facilities, you can leave those items at home and lighten your luggage load. This leaves more room for souvenirs and treasures you collect along your journey.
  3. Additional services: Does your hotel offer a complimentary breakfast? Great! That’s one less meal to budget for and more room in your travel budget for experiences. Some hotels also offer airport shuttle services and can save you from figuring out public transportation after a 16-hour flight.

9. Travel with an empty duffel bag 

Traveling with an empty duffel bag gives you the flexibility and freedom to indulge in shopping sprees without exceeding your luggage limits.

Think of it as your secret stash.

As you explore a new destination, your bag gives you room for those unexpected purchases or irresistible deals. Whether it’s a unique piece of clothing, a local artwork, or a bottle of fine wine, you have room to bring back souvenirs from your adventures.

That’s not all.

Your empty duffel bag can be a lifesaver when navigating airport security and baggage restrictions. If your main suitcase is already bursting at the seams, you can transfer some items into your duffel without paying any overweight luggage fees.

10. Plan But Don’t Over Plan 

Having a plan is essential for a smooth and well-organized vacation. It helps you make the most of your time and resources, creating an unforgettable trip.

But don’t get bogged down in the details.

The spontaneous encounters, the hidden gems, and the serendipitous discoveries make travel such a transformative experience.

Leave room in your itinerary for random adventures, and invite the unexpected to unfold.

Maybe you’ll stumble upon a local festival, a charming café tucked away in a hidden alley, or meet the love of your life. These moments breathe life into your travel tales, adding depth and richness to your journey.

Plus, it encourages you to embrace flexibility and adaption. Travel is full of variables, from weather conditions to unforeseen closures or delays. By not over-planning every minute of your day, you can easily adjust your schedule when necessary, ensuring a stress-free and enjoyable experience.

Wrapping It Up

There you have it! 

The best secret travel tips I have to share from all my years as a concierge.

Do you use any of these when planning your vacations? Let me know in the comments below.