Travel tips, tricks and hacks

I love to travel, which has become one the best unintended consequences of my life as a writer, speaker and blogger. Travel always involves challenges. That’s why I have adopted an attitude that no matter how well I’ve planned, if something can go wrong, it probably will. And if it doesn’t, I consider that a travel bonus.

Over the years, I’ve collected a bunch of really great travel tips — some fun, some crazy, but all very useful, if only to avoid a headache or two.

ROLL; DON’T FOLD. Instead of folding your clothes, roll them tightly. They’ll take up less space in your luggage, and that can save you from having to pay extra baggage fees.

SCAN EVERYTHING. Before you leave, scan the front and back of every item in your wallet, including your passport. Email the images to yourself. Now you’ll always have a digital copy handy, in case you lose something. This will not be a substitute for your passport, ID or credit cards, but you’ll have all of the pertinent information you need to keep going.

EMPTY BOTTLE. Bring along an empty water bottle. Once you clear security, fill it up and you won’t have to pay $5.95 for a bottle. Refill as necessary during your trip. Just make sure it’s empty before you pass through security on your return.

NOTHING LEFT BEHIND. Make this the first thing you do when you walk in your room: Take a hand towel from the bathroom and spread it out on the desk or countertop. This becomes the de facto place for all of your things that you have a place for at home. Put your room key, car keys, sunglasses, rechargers, wallet — everything — on the towel. Now everything is visible and in one spot, rather than scattered about the room. As you come and go, return these items to their place on the towel. When you’re ready to check out, there’s no searching and nothing left behind.

SECRET USB PORT. If you should happen to forget (or lose) the wall plug for your phone charger, check the back of the TV in your hotel room. These days, most have a USB port in which you can recharge your phone or other device.

CHARGERS TO LEND. If you lost or forgot the charger for your computer or phone, go to the front desk. There will be a huge variety that others have left behind. You should be able to borrow the one you need.

HAND-WASHING. Need to wash underwear or other clothing items? Shampoo is the perfect substitute for detergent. It’s great for getting out a grease spot, too. After all, that’s what shampoo is made to do — remove grease from hair.

TRAVEL SAFE. A travel mug makes a great travel “safe.” If you must leave small valuables in your hotel room, pop them into the mug. It will be fairly inconspicuous and an unlikely target for thieves.

SIGN THE DOOR. When you leave your hotel room, even if for just a few minutes to get something to eat, place the “do not disturb” sign on the door. It will appear to housekeeping and others that you are in the room for as long as the sign remains. This adds a layer of security should you leave your computer or other valuables in the room.

ALWAYS COMPARE. When booking air travel, always use a flight-comparison website. There are several, such as Skyscanner and Kayak. These sites help you find the best airline and cheapest price for your dates and routes. But do not book your flights through these sites. Instead, delete your browser history, and then book directly with the airline. This way, if you have a flight cancellation or other problem, you can rebook right there at the airport (or train station, bus station, etc.) through customer service. If you’ve booked your tickets with an internet travel site, good luck. You’re going to need it.

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As you may know, and just because I mention it so often, I get a lot of mail. And up until just recently, it’s gone into one big out-of-control pile I call The Mailbag. Having reached the tipping point, where I was ready to pull every last hair out of my head, I’ve come up with a new three-category plan. From now on, all of my mail will be sorted into Questions, Comments or Tips.

Today we’re kicking off a new “Ask Me Anything” feature. I’ll answer as many questions as space permits.

Comments will be addressed in another new feature, “Letters to the Editor” (watch for it), and your awesome tips will continue to show up in “Great Reader Tips.”

DAWN POWER

DISSOLVER

Q: Years ago, you promoted Dawn Power Dissolver — a powerful product that cuts through grease and grime on appliances, removes baked on and burnt grease on bakeware and lots more. It works great! Well, it worked great. Dawn Power Dissolver does not seem to be available any longer. Was it replaced with a better product by Procter & Gamble or a competitor?

A: This is not the news you want to hear, but in March 2014, Procter & Gamble stopped making Dawn Power Dissolver. It was not popular enough with consumers to continue.

You can still get Dawn Power Dissolver on Amazon. It’s no longer cheap (costs about $21 for one bottle, or about $60 for a six-pack), and supplies appear to be extremely limited.

BEST INEXPENSIVE BLENDER

Q: What is your recommendation for the Best Inexpensive pick for a basic blender?

A: My pick for Best Inexpensive basic blender is the Ninja Professional Blender, (about $80). For the money I don’t think you can possibly beat this really great machine. It has 1000 watts of crushing, pulverizing and pureeing power, multiple speeds and a safety feature that prevents the blades from spinning until the lid is fully secured. And it’s nice-looking, too.

DECK CLEANER

Q: Our wood porch floor needs to be refinished, and I think you wrote awhile back about a deck wash to clean wooden decks before refinishing that was safe for bushes growing nearby.

A: I’m pretty sure you are recalling a product: Wet & Forget Mildew & Algae Stain Remover. You’re right about it being powerful to clean stains, moss, mildew and algae but completely harmless to vegetation, kids and pets. There’s no scrubbing, no rinsing and no power-washing required. It is bleach-free and nonacidic. You can use it on virtually any outdoor surface. You’ll have a hard time stopping at your porch! It cleans concrete, brick, stucco and even painted surfaces.

CLEAN

HOTEL ROOMS

Q: Any tips for checking out the cleanliness of the hotel room?

A: What an interesting topic. Regardless the brand, location or cost, I assume that despite the best efforts of housekeeping, there are some areas in every hotel room that are filthy with germs: TV remote control, telephone, door handles, toilet handle and the bedspread/duvet cover. I carry a small spray bottle of Nok-Out with me whenever I travel. Before I do anything, I sanitize those surfaces. I’ve never drowned a TV remote, even though I spray it very well and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before wiping it dry. I remove the bedspread, call housekeeping and request a fresh replacement. I’ve never been denied.

Is all of this necessary? I don’t know. I may be one to go overboard. What I do know is it makes me a lot more comfortable, and that’s not a bad thing. For links to Nok-Out and other products mentioned above, visit www.everydaycheapskate.com/ama1.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving. com and author of 18 books, including her latest, “Can I Pay My Credit Card Bill With a Credit Card?” You can email her at mary@everydaycheapskate. com.