Travel Splurges to Instantly Upgrade Your Next Vacation

What if you could travel like a rockstar even if you aren’t rich and famous?  That’s the dream — all of the travel, none of the stress.  As a frequent traveler, I can honestly say that often it’s the smallest purchases that lead to the biggest upgrades.  Stretch your dollar into VIP territory with travel splurges that save you time, headaches, and maybe even dollars (in the long run).  These purchases basically pay for themselves!

Travel Splurges you can actually afford
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Travel Splurges That Give You the Royal Treatment

Let Someone Else Navigate for You with a Pre-Arranged Airport Transfer

If you just stepped off a 12-hour flight, the last thing you want to do is figure out public transportation.  Things that are ordinarily simple — buying a metro ticket from an automated kiosk and getting off at the right stop — can be complicated if you’re jetlagged and sleep-deprived.  And for me, all bets are off if I have to ask for directions in a foreign language when walking the last 4 or 5 blocks to a hotel.

So if there’s one time to pay for a private driver, it’s right after a long international flight.  Of course this is always more expensive than taking a bus, but an extra $20 in the grand scheme of things goes a long way.  You’ll pull right up to the front of the hotel and probably save some time, too.

Vintage car private transfer
Our ride in a vintage car in Saigon

Plus, it totally makes you feel like a celebrity to have someone waiting at the airport holding a sign with your name on it.

Cost: In my experience, roughly double the cost of public transportation for two.

Come Home to a Clean House

After a week or two of clean rooms and turn-down service, coming home to the dust in my house is just one more reason to wish I was still traveling.  For awhile, I was making myself crazy trying to clean everything but honestly I’m busy enough with packing, double-checking travel arrangements, and trying to tie things up at work.

Hiring a cleaning service is the best of all worlds.  You don’t have to squeeze in a few more hours of work and frankly, they’ll even take care of the chores you normally skip (I mean, who really cleans their baseboards regularly?).  Schedule your service for the day before you leave and you’ll come home to fresh sheets and clean counters.

Hint: I’ve found deals on Groupon which definitely save you money, but if you go that route, you’ll probably need to call about two weeks in advance to schedule on your preferred date.  The added exposure keeps them busy!

Cost: $50-150 depending on the size of your house, how deep you want to clean, and if you use a coupon

Order Champagne at the Airport

Bubbles are so frivolous and fun that it instantly transforms your day from drab to fab.  I like to order my champagne in style — at airport lounges, that is.

On long layovers, lounge access can pay for itself.  I’ll order my free (included) glass of champagne, grab some snacks, and choose a comfortable chair to sit in with my free wi-fi.  Some lounges are better than others, with napping pods, private showers, or even mini spa treatments.

turkish airlines lounge

Here’s my rule of thumb to make it a good investment: never pay full price.  If you fly often, you’ll be best off with a Priority Pass membership valid at 1,000 lounges worldwide (hint: it’s free with several high-end credit cards).  Otherwise, check eBay for discounted passes.  If you can’t find any, I still recommend finding an airport bar where you can order a glass of champagne!

Cost: An annual Priority Pass membership with 10 included visits costs $299 (unlimited visits is $429).

Travel Products That Save You Time

Skip the Lines with TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry

If you’ve ever been at the airport during peak travel periods, you know that it can be complete madness.  Everyone hates waiting in line and even just one long queue can ruin that relaxed vacation feeling.

TSA Pre-Check gives you access to expedited security screenings at airports.  That means you can keep your shoes and belt on and leave your laptop and liquids in your carry-on.  It automatically makes you feel like a VIP and translates to time saved at the airport.

Global Entry gives you all the perks of TSA Pre-Check and lets you skip immigration lines every time you re-enter US airports after an international trip.  Passport control is a breeze so you can get on your way even faster.

global entry travel purchases
Global Entry Kiosks – super quick immigration processing in the USA

Cost: A five-year Global Entry membership is $100.  Even if you only fly once a year, that’s just $20/trip — but frequent travelers will make out like bandits.

PRO TIP: If you can get to a Nexus interview location, Nexus gives you all the benefits of Pre-Check, Global Entry, and expedited crossing when driving between the US & Canada for only $50.

Since most travelers won’t have a convenient Nexus enrollment location, Global Entry is your next best bet.

NEXUS interview locations
NEXUS enrollment centers are limited (but a great option if you can get there!)

Travel Splurges That Eliminate Headaches

External Hard Drive

external hard drive travel products

When you spend all your hard-earned money on experiences, you want to leave with great memories and photographs!  Sometimes, those photos are my only souvenir.

External hard drives are the easy way to store all your travel photos and video so that you don’t accidentally lose precious memories.  I like using the hard drive better than paying for cloud storage because it’s a one-time purchase rather than an infinite subscription (boy those add up over time!).

This Seagate model works right out of the box and doesn’t require any special tech knowledge: just drag and drop files to move them.  I don’t actually take it on my trips, but it’s one of those purchases I definitely want when I get home.

Cost: Most travelers will be fine with 1TB of storage, with models in the $50 range.  If you’re a professional photographer with tens of thousands of photos at high file sizes, you may want to upgrade.

Stay Nimble With the Perfect Carry-On Suitcase

In my opinion, checked luggage is more likely to add to your travel stress than ease it.  Yes, you have more clothes and shoes available, but it takes time to check bags at the airport (and pick it up after your flight), not to mention the risk of the airline losing your bags.

Having the right suitcase makes it so much easier to pack carry-on only.  What I look for: something lightweight with wheels and a sturdy handle.  I prefer one big compartment to something divided (which gives you more flexibility to pack differently for each destination) and maximum dimensions.

delsey suitcase
My carry-on suitcase is a Delsey Helium Sky

You could spend tons on high-end brands, but midrange brands give you 90% of the quality for 50% of the price.  That’s a good trade-off for me and one reason I love my Delsey carry-on.

Cost: $100 for a bag that will likely last you years if you buy during one of Delsey’s many sales.

If Your Feet Are Happy, All of You is Happy

If you don’t have enough money to outfit yourself in a whole new travel wardrobe (and let’s face it, no one does), you’ll get the most bang for your buck by just upgrading your footwear.  Good walking shoes are an absolute must and you should spend the money to buy the styles you’ll need on your trip.

On any trip, I find I can get away with just three pairs of shoes:

  • A good pair of sneakers (Try the Terraflex, which covers walking, biking, running, and hiking)
  • A pair of slip-ons (Wool Allbirds in winter; Vionic flip-flops in summer)
  • A pair of shoes nice enough to go from day to night (Tieks ballet flats are on my wishlist)

Unlike specialty travel clothing, you can wear your shoes in “real life”, too, making the cost more justifiable.  If even that’s out of your budget, just stick to a few pairs of really good socks (my favorite are Smartwool).

Cost: $15 for socks up to $250 for shoes.  Yes, that’s expensive…that’s why it’s a splurge.

Travel Purchases That Save You Money (in the Long Run)

Fake Wedding Ring

My real wedding rings have too much sentimental value for me to risk wearing them while traveling.  As family heirlooms, they are truly priceless and I’d have to have something custom-made if I ever needed a replacement.

That said, I’m actually less concerned about theft and more about damage: active travel means I’m hard on my diamonds!  Over the years, I’ve had three of my accent stones fall off and need to be replaced.  Those little stones are cheap, but labor is expensive.

fake wedding ring

Now, I wear a decoy ring instead.  There’s nothing to worry about if it’s lost or damaged and it cuts down on unsolicited flirtations when I’m traveling solo.  Most of all, it keeps my finger from feeling naked!

Cost: Depending on the style you choose, you can expect to pay $10-20.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff With Travel Insurance

If everything on your trip goes smoothly, travel insurance won’t do much other than give you peace of mind.  But if something goes wrong, it goes a long way toward taking the sting out of things.  Your baggage is delayed?  No problem: they’ll give you an allowance to buy a new outfit.  Flight is cancelled and you’re stuck in Panama 4 nights waiting for the next flight?  They’ll pay for your hotel (yes, that really happened to me).  Break your leg while sightDOING?  Well, at least you won’t have to pay all your medical bills.

travel insurance panama
A four day vacation in Panama sounds nice, until you factor in I had work/responsibilities at home and didn’t have the $600 to cover the bill.

The main advantage to travel insurance is that it lets you stay calm even when things go wrong.  There’s someone to help you, not just with money issues but they often have 24/7 help lines to assist with local laws or find a doctor for you.

Cost: Most of my trips have been insured by RoamRight for $50-150 (depending on length of trip & destination).

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What travel splurges do you recommend?

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11 thoughts on “Travel Splurges to Instantly Upgrade Your Next Vacation”

  1. Have the fake wedding set, and a collection of shoes just for travel.

    A few things I have and use on my trips: :
    1. Banjees wrist wallets – when I go to European cities in the cool weather, I can carry credit cards and photo id in these covered by my long sleeve tees. Safe, secure and easy to access. Got mine in blacks/greys to match the tops I wear. Invaluable in Barcelona (aka pickpocket central). Love these!

    2. Very small flat folding umbrellas – mine are about 6 or 7 inches long and about 2 inches wide by an inch high and super lightweight. Yes, the handle is short, but these fit in a jacket pocket. Or, the little covering case with the loop can be put on your belt – so light that it won’t bug you. Handy in case you get a sudden shower and you don’t have any rain protection. Carry them all the time when out.

    3. A string backpack that folds up small to stick in a purse or pocket in case you need to shed a sweater, etc.- lots of these are logo branded. Plain ones on Amazon ( a little thicker than some I have)

    4. Clothing that has some spandex blend – for tops, skirts, dresses, and a pair of black dress slacks – these can roll in a small ball and don’t wrinkle. Usually only take these when cruising when you need some nice clothes for evenings. Also work well for a tropical vacation where you might want to go to a nicer restaurant for dinner, but don’t want to pack any extra clothing that takes up room.

    And something I just got that I think I will like:
    5. Lindsay Phillips Switchflops – got a pair in black with black/white polka dot straps and 2 more straps (one in turquoise blue, the other pink). Taking on trip to Hawaii, so these should give me multiple looks w/o taking up space. Would be great for a cruise

  2. @Marilyn, Thanks for all the great product recommendations! I used to bring a string backpack with me all the time, but upgraded to a folding backpack about a year ago because the strings dug into my shoulders when it was too heavy. I agree that a small carry bag is an awesome option!

    I really love the idea of the switchflops – let me know how they end up working for you!

  3. I have never regretted spending money on good luggage that is appropriate for my trip. I recently went on a trip to indonesia where I knew I would be doing a ton of walking and boating back and forth to different places. My giant roller suitcases weren’t going to cut it so I invested in a backpack that was lightweight and could carry everything I needed. It was money very well spent.

    Another thing that has been worth the investment is a wallet that doubles as a passport holder. I tend to lose things and if I can keep all my important things in one place it makes it simple for me keep track of everything!

    1. @Erin, I also have different types of luggage for different trips and I think that having the choice makes things a lot easier! I haven’t decided yet on the passport holder – I have one but go back and forth between whether or not it makes things better or worse since I don’t like to carry my passport daily. Maybe I’ll give it another shot. Thanks for sharing!

  4. We sometimes travel with others and that means lots of re-charging at the end of the day. Staying in a Home-Away apt., we bring a surge protector that swivels, plugged into the converter. We can plug many units at once. Just be fussy about the quality, and get one that swivels, so clumsy devices will fit!
    Also, apps for train travel info. Yelp is great too! We always have charger thingy along in case your phone dies.
    The car service is brilliant. We have our car stop at atm away from airport, and it gives you time to check out your phone SIM card to make sure you iron out glitches on overseas phones, while you travel from airport.we don’t phone home. We use FaceTime. It is also more reassuring if you are connecting with kids to see your face!

  5. If you have multiple stops on your trip Shelves-to-Go are fabulous. Hang them on a closet rod while packing. There are 3 “shelves.” Fill each shelf and then drop the collapsible shelves into your suitcase. When you arrive, just hang them up. No more rummaging around looking for an item and messing up your carefully packed suitcase. Everything is visible and easily accessed. I have practically become a spokesperson for this product!

  6. I’m absolutely in love with my Eagle Creek compression packing cubes. Packing cubes are great for organization but I used to use a compression sack (similar to what sleeping bags go in) to have my clothes take up less space. The cylindrical bag was awkward to pack in my suitcase though so the compression cube are the best of both worlds.

    When travelling with a checked bag I also always take my luggage scale. I have a habit of shopping when I travel and want to make sure that I’m still under the weight limit.

    I also have no regrets spending some money on my Briggs & Riley luggage. It cost more but it’s been around the world for 5 years now with hardly any wear, unlike my Heys bag (which I thought was a good brand) which fell apart after 6 months and a few international flights.

    1. @Melissa, I’ve never used a luggage scale, but since I travel carry-on only, it’s kind of a moot point. My average bag is 20-22 pounds. Do you have a recommendation for travelers who might need one?

  7. I thought I was only one with a fake wedding ring! When my Wife and I went travelling we also couldn’t take ours for fear of losing them so we bought fake ones and still have them today. They’re such a good idea! I don’t care about losing my fake ring but would be destroyed if I lost my real one.

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