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6 travel tips and hacks you've got to know before summer vacation

By James Gelinas, Komando.com

Traveling the world is one of the greatest joys a person can experience. Between visiting historic places, meeting new people, and eating new kinds of food, travelers can learn a lot about themselves and their place in the world.

That being said, traveling can be a gateway to stressful and dangerous situations. Losing luggage, getting lost, getting robbed, food poisoning, and social awkwardness are just some of the threats travelers face every day.

Thankfully, there's a range of digital solutions to common travel questions that can help you make the most of any trip you take -- wherever you might be going.

Planning ahead and traveling smart are the best ways to make sure every journey you take is fun, memorable, and safe. We've put together a list of our favorite travel hacks so you can spend less time on logistics and more time kicking back and sipping your drink of choice.

Use Mobile Passport to speed through the security line

If you're like me, you know how frustrating the security check can be at the airport. The long lines and slow service are everyone's least favorite part of the trip, so imagine how convenient it would be to cut the process in half.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has released an app called Mobile Passport that greatly speeds up the security process. When you use it, you're essentially filling out your declaration forms in advance. The app lets you fill out profiles for you and your family, then asks you a few brief questions about your trip. After that, it submits the info to CBP and gives you a barcode for the airport.

When you arrive at customs, you'll now have access to a "fast lane" that's dedicated only to Mobile Passport users. This line is significantly shorter, and can help you get on your flight faster (so you can catch some shuteye before you land, hopefully.)

The app is available for both iOS and Android devices. Tap or click here to learn more and download Mobile Passport.

Check your airline's apps for alerts, flight delays, and standby options

These days, your airline offers more than just complimentary meals and in-flight movies.

One of the best parts about air travel in the smartphone era is the presence of apps from each of the major airlines. These programs offer plethora of useful features like flight check-ins, delay updates, and mobile boarding passes.

Depending on your airline of choice, every app will have different features to help you optimize your trip. In the United Airlines app, for example, you have the option to book tickets in the app. Seat availability updates are live, so in the event that you have a voucher due to a flight change, you might be able to snag a first class ticket on standby if you're fast enough.

Most important are trip notifications, which alert you to changes or delays in your flight. In the United app, the notifications are stored in the inbox. There is a way, however, to get notifications directly to your phone's lock screen -- so you're right on top of your flight even if you're not in the app.

To access your notification settings on iOS, open the Settings app and tap Notifications near the bottom of your screen. When you're in the Notifications menu, scroll until you see the name of your airline's app. Tap it and select Allow Notifications.  This will push any notifications from the app to your home and lockscreen.

To change notification settings on Android, open your Settings app and tap Apps and Notifications. Then, tap Notifications. In this menu, you can scroll until you find your airline's app. Tap it and enable notifications in the next menu.

To get the app for your airline of choice, open the iOS App Store or Google Play store and search your airline's name. It should be the first result that appears.

Speaking of Google, use Maps and Translate to get around

If you're traveling to a foreign country and don't speak the native tongue, Google has a free travel companion for you, which you can use on your smartphone or computer. Go to translate.google.com, enter the text, and you'll get your English translation. You can also use it to reverse translate, from English to another language, which comes in handy for very important questions.

Then, use Google Maps to navigate to "die toilette." Google is adding features to its maps app all the time. Use offline maps before you leave for your trip to download local maps; that way if you don't have cell service, you've got your map on your phone.

Google maps is packed with bus, light rail and even Uber and Lyft estimates that estimate distance, travel time and even costs.

 

Get cheaper tickets with Google Flights

Google always manages to worm its way into our lives in some form or another -- but this particular feature is worth it. Google Flights compiles a ranking of the best deals for whatever journey you're planning and lists it below the space where you buy tickets. This lets you compare and contrast ticket prices in the moment -- allowing you to make smarter decisions when booking flights.

Google Flights also includes a handy meter below your list of rates that shows how typical prices are for your given trip. That way, you'll know if you're actually getting a deal or not before you click buy and complete your order.

Google Flights is free to use, but keep in mind Google's penchant for data harvesting. If you're buying tickets through Google, advertisers and other tracking entities will know your travel destination. I would recommend using Google Flights in an incognito window, or clearing your search history once you've finished buying tickets for maximum privacy protection.

Translate the world with Google's vastly improved app

Travel smarter with these 3 clever apps

Make the most of your own smartphone technology (even if you aren't set up to make calls abroad.) There's a huge variety of useful travel apps, but we've selected three of our favorites.

XE Currency is a free currency conversion app that includes the most up-to-date exchange rates and clean, simply menus for calculations. You can convert multiple currencies at once, as well as see how exchange rates are currently trending. It's available for both Apple and Android smartphones. Tap or click here to learn more and download the XE Currency app.

Dark Sky goes above and beyond other weather apps to deliver "hyper local" weather conditions, temperatures, and forecasts. This lets you see the current climate in more remote areas, such as mountains -- making hiking or skiing much easier. It's available for both Apple and Android gadgets. Tap or click here to learn more and download the Dark Sky app.

Wi-Fi Map might be one of the most useful travel apps around. This program lets you scout for free-to-use networks in your general area, allowing you to connect while you're abroad. This is great if you don't have a phone plan and are relying on apps like WhatsApp to contact your loved ones.

The app is available for both Apple and Android devices. Tap or click here to learn more and download the Wi-Fi Map app.

Use Twitter for direct customer support and feedback from your airline

Twitter, one of the most popular apps in the world, isn't just for arguing online or sharing animated gifs. It's a useful tool for directly engaging your airline when you have complaints, comments, or questions.

Twitter allows you to notify other users in the form of a mention. This is done by making a tweet and using the @ symbol followed by the username you're trying to contact. Once you've tagged the airline's username, you can type out your question or comment, and hit send to post the tweet to your profile.

The real power of Twitter as a channel for customer complaints in any industry is that it is a public channel. Your complaints (and compliments, let's be fair) are there for all eyes to see. Brands hate seeing customer complaints aired on social media. JetBlu and Virgin (part of Alaska Air) are the quickest to respond to tweets, according to a study by Conversocial; they respond within 5 minutes. United was one of the slowest, taking longer than 5 minutes.

Almost every major airline operates a Twitter account. If you're not sure about the exact username, you can perform a search in the search bar in the upper left hand of the website. If you're in the app or on mobile, it'll appear at the top of your screen. For more information on using Twitter, check out our guide on how to use Twitter like a boss.

As you can see in the tweet above, the passenger mentioned @united to get in touch with his airline. The support team was notified and responded to him with support options.

Keep in mind: airline social media teams respond to a large volume of comments and requests. Due to high demand, it may take some time before they respond. Thankfully, the public-facing design of Twitter displays your comments on your airline's profile, so it's in their best image to respond as promptly as possible.

That's the beauty of Twitter support. It's like having a direct line to Customer Service -- minus the elevator music, of course.

 

More TRAVEL TIPS

Retain your boarding pass

After an airplane flight take your boarding pass home and shred it, as the bar codes on it contain personal information you want to keep to yourself. In the wrong hands, it could lead to identity theft, stolen credentials and banking information. There are many apps and websites that can extract the data stored on the barcodes.

 

Use public Wi-Fi? A new free VPN makes it secure

There may be malware lurking behind those suspicious links and ads, phishing scams can trick you into entering private information into a fake website, keyloggers can track every character you type, and more.

That's why it's never a good idea to use public Wi-Fi, especially if you're not being extremely cautious. But it sure is tempting, isn't it? While you're sipping coffee at a Starbucks or waiting for your plane at the airport, like anyone else, you want to jump on your smartphone, tablet or laptop to browse the Internet.

Because there are so many threats that could infect a network with viruses, or expose private information to unwanted individuals, many networks block certain types of content to reduce those risks. But there are ways to get around this, while still keeping yourself safe.

One of the best ways to keep your browsing secure is by using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. A VPN works by encrypting your connection, which keeps your activity private. It also hides your physical location and IP address when you browse.

A VPN service lets you create an encrypted connection with one of its servers and you use that server to browse the Internet. The connection is encrypted through the server, so the VPN can't see your traffic either.

You may have heard of something called a Virtual Private Network or VPN, for short, as a way to boost your online security, especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. It is also a good way to hide your internet tracks from would-be snoops.

Simply put, a VPN service lets you create an encrypted connection with one of its servers, and you use that server to browse the internet. The connection is encrypted through the server, so the VPN can't see your traffic either. OK, it's a bit more complicated than that behind the scenes, but that's the result.

Think of it as a middleman that provides a tunnel between you and the websites you're visiting. With a VPN, your IP address can be concealed from prying eyes, even from your ISP, so your browsing activity can't be readily tracked to you.

A VPN is extremely useful when connecting to public Wi-Fi spots since it prevents snoops from intercepting your web traffic. Using one can also cloak your activity from advertisers, hackers and even spying from government agencies or your ISP.

Although using a VPN is a good way to increase your security, there are trade-offs. First, since your connection is passing through the VPN service and making more stops, your browsing experience may slow down.

Second, depending on the country your VPN service is routing you to, some activities that are blacked out in certain regions may be inaccessible to you.

Third, using a VPN doesn't guarantee that your identity is 100 percent secure. Most VPN services claim that their connections are encrypted and they don't keep activity logs but it's still prudent to stay careful with your online activities even when going through a VPN.

Ready? Here are 2017's top free VPN services you can try right now:


Windscribe

Windscribe VPN is another service you can try. It claims to be "more privacy-obsessed" than its competitors and the company maintains that it deletes all your tracks three minutes after your session closes.

Their free service also has a high monthly cap of 10GB and a choice of eight server locations. It even has an ad-blocker and firewall built-in.

To start using Windscribe, you are required to sign up for an account by providing a username, password, and an optional email (required for the 10GB allotment). To get even more power-user features, you can upgrade to Windscribe's unlimited plan and get unlimited data and connections from over 45 locations.

Windscribe is available for Mac, Windows, iPhone or as a Chrome extension (unfortunately, no Android app yet).

TunnelBear

TunnelBear provides fast, simple, lightweight and easy-to-use VPN software and add-ons.

Its free version allows for only 500MB of data a month but you can upgrade and pay for its unlimited "Giant" premium plan. For safety, TunnelBear has a "Vigilant Mode" that blocks all traffic until the VPN service is reconnected, vital when moving from network to network. Users can also configure it to start automatically when a computer boots up.

To use TunnelBear's service, keep in mind that users are required to create a free TunnelBear account with a valid email address first.

TunnelBear is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and as a browser add-on/extension for Chrome and Opera.

Speedify

Speedify prides itself on its speed, even while on an encrypted VPN connection. It achieves this by combining all your available internet connections while still encrypting your connection with the latest technology available.

Aside from its speed, it also claims it has a strict "no log" policy, meaning they don't save any persistent user data on their servers.

Speedify's free version gives away 1GB worth of data each month (4GB worth of data for the first month of new users) but you can upgrade to its unlimited data plans.

It is available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.

Save Your data while traveling

If you're like most people, you can't imagine your everyday life without your smartphone. Sure, you might complain that your children or grandkids always seem to be staring at a glowing-blue screen.

But you probably stare at your smartphone, too. Don't feel guilty about that (but do be careful).

Smartphones are a fact of life. You use them for GPS directions in the car. You use them to take photos and videos and, of course, you get updates on your family and friends on Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites.

One great thing about smartphones is that it's so easy to use Wi-Fi for free, to avoid using up your data plan. You most likely have Wi-Fi at home but you can find FREE Wi-Fi just about everywhere these days, whether it's your hotel room, a restaurant or shopping center.

If you travel, you use Wi-Fi to stay connected when you're in an airplane or halfway around the world. The problem is, Wi-Fi isn't always free when you're overseas. In fact, you can get socked with big roaming charges.

Before you hit the road, call your cellphone provider to ask about extra charges you may incur when you're traveling. Then, follow these four steps to make sure you don't come home to a shocking cellphone bill.

1. Google Maps Offline

How often do use Google Maps? You probably use it all the time.

It's a great way to feel safe. You know you'll get to your destination without getting lost or stopping in dangerous locations to ask for directions.

You probably know that using maps churns through your data plan. So, if you're traveling where you will pay to access maps, make sure you download a map of your location.

You can do that at home, too. Once downloaded, you can use an offline map of your region without any internet access.

Download Google Maps on Android: Open your Google Maps app while connected to the internet >> choose the location where you'll be traveling >> tap the name of your location >> Download >> Download Offline Map.

Download Google Maps on iPhone: Open your Google Maps app while connected to the internet >> choose the location where you'll be traveling >> tap the name of your location >> Save Map to Use Offline (or it may say Download).

2. Turn Off Automatic Downloads

There's a good chance you don't even pay attention to your apps automatically downloading on your smartphone. Apps automatically download so often that it's just part of everyday life.

That's fine when you're using free Wi-Fi. It's not so fine when you're paying lots of money on your vacation to do it. So, turn off those automatic downloads.

Android: Google Play Store >> tap 3-line menu icon on upper left side >> Settings >> Auto Update Apps >> select Do Not Auto-Update Apps.

iPhone: Settings >> iTunes & App Store >> Automatic Download >> turn off Apps.

3. Download Music

Have you ever found yourself on a long trip and realized you don't have any music to listen to? Not good!

If you're on a plane, you can pay to use their Wi-Fi to listen to tunes. That can be expensive. But then you get desperate when you're in the air for six, seven, eight or more hours.

Don't find yourself in that situation. Instead, open your music app. Go to the menu and look for an option to download music. If you're home or you're safely using free public Wi-Fi, download the music you'll want to listen to on vacation.

Tip in a Tip: Apps to get the best musical experience

4. Turn Off Voicemail

If you're traveling to a part of the world where you'll be charged to receive phone calls, you will most likely be charged for calls that go to voicemail.

Instead, turn off your voicemail. The easiest way to do this is to call your cellphone provider's customer service line. Ask them if you'll be charged for incoming calls where you're traveling. If so, ask them to turn off voicemail for the duration of your trip.

There's a good chance your provider offers free international texting. If so, tell your family, friends and coworkers to stay in touch that way.


Bonus: Stay Safe When Traveling

No matter where you're using public Wi-Fi, whether it's at your local coffee shop or at a hotel in an exotic, faraway location, hackers and criminals can remotely watch what you're doing.

They can tap into your internet connection to see which websites you're visiting. They can see your bank account password and other personal information.

Instead, use a Virtual Private Network or VPN. These are encrypted web browsers like Opera VPN that scramble your information so that hackers can't see what you're doing. They disguise your device's IP address, so you can appear to be thousands of miles away.

Tech tips will change how you travel

If you love to travel, you can't help but notice that it's getting easier and faster to take a trip anywhere in the world. Sure, there is still a lot to groan about.

There will always be long security lines, over-zealous TSA agents, canceled trips and lost luggage, to name a few. Yet, the reality is that it's easier than ever to find cheap airfares and inexpensive hotels right from your smartphone.

You can see your entire trip on apps like Google Trips. And, despite the horror stories you've heard about lost luggage, the number of lost bags is going down as the number or airline trips is going up.

The improved conditions are due in large part to technology. Just think how time-consuming planning a trip used to be; before, you could schedule and pay for it online.

There's always room for improvement. But that's where these three fantastic travel innovations come in: They'll save you time, money and prevent headaches. That way, you can enjoy your vacation more than ever.

One more thing. Keep reading for a bonus travel innovation. This one will give you peace of mind knowing that all is safe back home when you're thousands of miles away.


Smart bag tags

Have you ever lost your luggage? If you did on an important business trip, it could ruin your entire trip.

If you lost luggage on vacation, you could be out hundreds of dollars. You can wait for days or weeks for airlines to find your bag and get it back to you. So, you're forced to spend money replacing lost clothes, toiletries and laptops.

If you're like most travelers, you write your name, phone number and mailing address on those little tags you find at the check-in counter. But that little piece of paper has never seemed like a good idea. Criminals can just tear it off. Your luggage can be gone forever.

In the 21st century, you can get microchip bag tags like SuperSmartTag. For just a few bucks, you can keep track of your luggage, no matter where in the world it is.

Each tag has a unique code. You input your contact information. If your bag is found, an airline employee or the person who finds it types in your code on the website to find your contact information.


You know that the airlines' frequent flyer miles are a great way to save money. The more you travel, the more frequent rewards you rack up. You might redeem your miles for an upgrade to first class or to take your wife on a trip to Hawaii.

One problem is that it's not that easy to keep track of all your frequent flyer programs. That's where 30K comes in.

You input all your frequent flyer programs into the web browser plugin. Then, when you're booking flights on airlines such as United on sites such as Expedia, you'll see how many miles you'll earn.


Samsara Smart Suitcase

If you travel a lot, this luggage is designed to make your life much easier. If you also love technology and live in fear of a dead smartphone battery, you'll absolutely want to give the Samsara Smart Suitcase a test run.

For starters, it's a lightweight and sturdy carry-on bag. It's made out of aluminum. It has four wheels - two on the top and two on the bottom. It moves where and how you need it to move.

But its tech features are its reason for being. It has a flat surface, so you can lay your laptop on it and comfortably do your work. You can charge your laptop and phone directly from ports in the bag. Plus, Samsara will alert your smartphone if your bag gets away from you or if someone opens it.

Note: Samsara has so far raised $276,000 on Kickstarter, far surpassing its $15,000 goal.


See what's going on at home

One of the greatest innovations for travelers is internet-connected home security systems. The best ones include webcams, so you can see what's going on inside your home when you're away.

You can watch and listen to live streaming HD videos from our sponsor SimpliSafe's SimpliCam. You can see what's going on at home from any internet-connected device, like your smartphone or laptop.

SimpliCam alerts you when it detects motion in your house. So, you have the peace of mind that everything is safe at home when you're not there.

There are many companies out there that offer 24/7 monitoring services, but we like SimpliSafe best because, not only does it provide superb protection, you don't have to commit to a long-term contract! In fact, you can protect your home and have peace of mind for as little as $15 per month. Click here to learn more about SimpliSafe's affordable 24/7 monitoring services.


If you love to travel, you can't help but notice that it's getting easier and faster to take a trip anywhere in the world. Sure, there is still a lot to groan about.

There will always be long security lines, over-zealous TSA agents, canceled trips and lost luggage, to name a few. Yet, the reality is that it's easier than ever to find cheap airfares and inexpensive hotels right from your smartphone.

You can see your entire trip on apps like Google Trips. And, despite the horror stories you've heard about lost luggage, the number of lost bags is going down as the number or airline trips is going up.

The improved conditions are due in large part to technology. Just think how time-consuming planning a trip used to be; before, you could schedule and pay for it online.

There's always room for improvement. But that's where these three fantastic travel innovations come in: They'll save you time, money and prevent headaches. That way, you can enjoy your vacation more than ever.

One more thing. Keep reading for a bonus travel innovation. This one will give you peace of mind knowing that all is safe back home when you're thousands of miles away.                                                                         

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