Wandering With the Wows: Our Favorite Travel Hacks

As Mr. Wow and I prepare for our upcoming trip to South Africa, I decided to take a moment to highlight the travel hacks we’ve discovered to be extremely helpful throughout all of our travels.  If you are looking for a post about credit card hacking and reaping the rewards, this is not the post for you.  Instead, I’m going to discuss items deemed as “savers”, be it a space saver or a life saver.

Our biggest travel hack is that we only ever travel with carry-ons.  Unless, of course, we are bringing beer to a FinCon beer tasting event, in which we will gladly check a bag.  Whether it’s a one week trip to Iceland or 6 weeks in Europe, we limit our luggage to a wheeled bag and a backpack.  Because of this, space is limited.

Waiting for the train in Cinque Terre, Italy

Everything that we pack, must serve a significant purpose or it is voted off the packing list island.

In this article, I will lay out a few ideas that we use to help cut down on space, a few items that are downright must-haves while out on the road, and a few other considerations before you travel.


Getting By the Liquids Rule

First off, I wanted to mention the liquid restrictions, since that is one of the most limiting factors when using a carry-on.  According to TSA, you are allowed one quart sized bag, with travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces or less.

For most men, this probably isn’t an issue and I’ve never heard Mr. Wow complain about this.  His toiletry bag is extremely minimal, including toothpaste, sunscreen, deodorant and a bar of soap.  The last two don’t even really need to be in this bag, but he likes to keep all of his bathroom items in one place.  Space for him is no big deal.  I guess that is one of the perks of not having hair on your head; there is no need for shampoo, conditioner, or hairspray/ gel.

But I, like many other women (and maybe some men), have more liquid items to bring along. I’ve spent many a days trying to squeeze everything into the allowed ziplock bag, only to have the seal break during my travels.  It’s definitely not fun to open your bag to find that something has leaked all over.

So in effort to cut down on my liquids, I have sought out powder and solid bar solutions for as many items as I can.  Now when I travel, I use a shampoo barpowder face wash, and a bar of soap.  I also typically travel with a small amount of laundry detergent, especially when traveling out of the country, just in case I ever need to wash something in a pinch. I used to bring the liquid detergent travel packs, but switched to using powder detergent, thus saving space in my liquids bag. I also try to write “laundry detergent” in the native language in case security questions what it is (ya know an unmarked white powder may look suspicious).

Nowadays, I only have a handful of actual liquids that I bring with me including face lotion, toothpaste, deodorant, and hair spray (I’ll throw in bug spray and sunscreen, if necessary).  Oh and I also place the bag right on top so it is easily accessible to remove from my bag when going through security.

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Big Problem

Next on the list is clothing and shoes.  Being smart with these items is extremely important.  And in this case, size does matter.

This is especially important when traveling to colder climates that require thicker and bigger clothing.  We still only traveled with a carry-on during our one week trip to Iceland in November. Talk about mad packing skills!

Just a wee bit of snow

When it comes to shoes, I limit to 2 pairs.  Usually its a pair of running shoes and either chucks or flats.  I’ll wear the biggest pair on the plane and then only have to pack the smaller pair. I typically throw in a pair of sandals too, which slip nicely into the hidden back pocket of my bag.

Where I hide my sandals

Enjoying a tuk-tuk ride and modeling our travel footwear while in Phnom Phen, Cambodia

I always travel with a light weight jacket (this is a newer version that the one I have, but its pretty close) and it has been a great purchase.  It is light enough to be worn by itself or layered up with a hoodie or long sleeved shirt underneath when in colder weather.  I especially like that it has zippered pockets so I can throw in my phone and some money and not have to take a bag with me all the time.

Layered jacket and hoodie keeping me warm while hanging my feet over the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

For clothes, I limit to a few pairs of pants, tops, a hoodie, and a set of work out clothes.  I make every effort to pack clothes that can be mixed and matched with everything that I bring.  And despite only having a few items, I can easily create multiple outfits.  Typically, most items are simple, solid colors so you can’t tell that I am wearing the same shirt or pants all the time.  I also tend to wear the same things when I travel so packing is relatively easy.  Any one else have a go-to travel outfit?

Scott Rieckens from Playing With Fire: The Documentary mentioned in a voicemail on the ChooseFI podcast how he actually has a designated bag that is always packed and ready to go for whenever he travels.  I can’t say that I am at his level yet, but I’m slowly coming up with items that simply remain in my travel bag for easier packing.

He also mentioned how he uses packing cubes.  I’ve heard of other people using these, but I can not speak from experience.  I prefer to roll my clothing, as I feel that it creates more space and actually cuts down on wrinkles too.


I’ve got the power

One of the most important pieces of equipment that we always travel with is a surge protector and a multi-faceted plug adapter.

The real power couple

It has been a life saver for us when having to charge 2 sets of computers, phones, go pros, etc. all at the same time. The adapter is great because you only need one, everything else plugs straight into the surge protector.

These items have also been huge when traveling with other people.  When I was on my medical missions in Peru and Honduras, I roomed with a bunch of girls and we, unfortunately, only had one plug.  Needless to say, I was everyone’s best friend since we could charge all the devices at the same time.


The “Just In Case” Items

I also have a few items, even though the minimalists would disapprove, that I always bring when I travel  just in case. These include:

  • a small first aid kit including bandaids, q-tips, Neosporin, alcohol swab, floss, eye drops, hand sanitizer, probiotics, sleeping pills, Advil, and Ciprofloxacin (specifically when traveling abroad)
  • an umbrella and a poncho (been caught in the pouring rain one too many times)
  • a water bottle (to cut down on waste and costs.  I use a Hydroflask that keeps water cold all day)
  • 2 quick dry towels (one big one that can double as a blanket and a small one that I’ve used as a bandana to protect my face from wind or dust)
  • earplugs and an eye mask (specifically for the plane, as well as bright or noisy hotels/ hostels/ airbnbs
  • gatorade powder (easily mixed with water when going to an extremely hot place)


Other Things to Consider Before a Trip

I also wanted to mention a few other things that I always do before any trip, especially when going out of the country.

I never take my entire wallet.  I typically bring a small coin purse, just big enough to fit some cash, ID, ATM card, and a credit card.  When traveling to countries that tend to only take cash, I will usually bring a couple of coin purses and split the cash between them.  That way I do not have all my cash in one place and do not have to carry it all with me all the time.  Luckily, my luggage has a few hidden pockets which makes hiding the extra pouches easy.

I’ve found the gift card pouches from Lululemon work great for travel coin and card purses

Also before departing, I make sure to make copies of all the cards I take, as well as my ID and/or passport and then email them to myself.  That way, in case I lose one or it gets stolen, I have a picture of it.

I also back-up my phone and export all of the photos onto my external hard drive.  Again, just in case anything happens to my phone or computer.


Bon Voyage 

I think that’s about it for our travel hacks and hope you find some of these helpful as you embark on your adventures.  I’m also curious to hear your strategies and hacks so definitely hit me up in the comments if you have any other ideas.

One of my favorite views

Did I miss anything?  Do you have anything that you can’t leave home without?


  • Codrut @ AboutStrollersBlog.com April 25, 2018 at 4:45 am

    Cool hacks… we’re going to keep this post into account before we go in Lisbon, Portugal…

    warm regards from Bucharest, Romania!
    Codrut @ AboutStrollersBlog.com recently posted…Top 10 Best Stroller Travel System Reviews [2018] Comparison Chart

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 7:16 am

      Lisbon is one of my favorite places ever! You will have such a blast there. From the food, to the sights, and the people, everything is amazing. I highly recommend trying a bifana with peri peri sauce (if you like spicy), as well as a pastel de nada. We definitely want to go back to Portugal one of these days!

  • Kara@provincialtable April 25, 2018 at 4:54 am

    I’ve been using a shampoo bar at home over the last year to cut down on how much plastic I use. I’ve been really pleased with how well they work. I haven’t tried face wash powder yet, but I’m going to now!

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 7:19 am

      I recently made the switch to shampoo bars this year and really like them. You definitely have to try the face wash powder. The one I linked to is so amazing since you can use it just as a wash, an exfoliator, and a mask. Plus it smells delightful!

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach April 25, 2018 at 6:17 am

    I learned my lesson after last year’s Europe trip. While I did do only carry on and had the right-sized liquids, it got past LA just fine, but in London? Waaaay different story. You could only have ONE bag. I had to dump so many things. It was sad. So I like the powder idea. Although in this day and age you’d think that would be a problem too. Have fun on your trip!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…How to be Smart About Student Loans

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 7:20 am

      Haha right? I’d think the powder would be just as suspicious, but I’ve never had any security agent even bat an eye.

  • Fritz @ TheRetirementManifesto April 25, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Great tips, WoW’s. Scary pic with Mrs. WoW sitting on that cliff, tho!
    Fritz @ TheRetirementManifesto recently posted…Alone.

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 7:24 am

      The Cliffs of Moher is still one of my favorite places that I have ever been to. It is unreal that you can just walk up to the edge of a 700 ft cliff, no safety railings or nothing! I still get a funny feeling in my stomach even when looking at that picture.

  • Gwen @ Fiery Millennials April 25, 2018 at 11:12 am

    And I can confirm, having traveled for multiple days to multiple places with them, they don’t smell funny either! All fresh and clean 😀
    Gwen @ Fiery Millennials recently posted…The Never Ending Vacation

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 8:35 pm

      Well at least one of us more so than the other 😉

  • My Sons Father April 25, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    Great tips. I’ve always packed light and have gotten my wife on board as well, which has made traveling a lot easier (at least until we had kids). It’s great to be able to just walk past the people at the baggage carousels waiting for their luggage.
    My Sons Father recently posted…Introducing the Book Review & Giveaway Series – April 2018

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 8:37 pm

      Our home airport is the WORST at getting bags out within a reasonable time, and by that I mean within 1-2 hours after your flight lands. That’s reason enough to carry on, unless you like spending unnecessary time at the airport.

  • SharonW April 25, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    I like to travel with laundry paper. It comes in a small box, like the size of a tic tac box, and you just dissolve a couple of sheets in water to wash clothes. They are perfect for washing quick dry undies and shirts in hotel sinks.

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      I’ve never heard of those before, definitely going to have to check that out. Might cut down even more on space!

      • RunningThunder May 4, 2018 at 12:50 pm

        Yes! Double on the laundry paper. Used these in Kilimanjaro where we had to pack for 3 weeks in one carry-on. Did laundry a couple of times to get the unmentionables clean! And did splurge once on laundry service at the hotel. But, yes on the laundry paper!

        • Mrs WoW May 5, 2018 at 7:08 am

          Two votes for laundry paper means that I must try them

  • Mr. Tako April 25, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Fun set of travel hacks Mrs. WoW.

    We always like to travel with one of these small thermoses that are roughly the size of a water bottle. They fit in cup holders and backpack pockets, yet with only a couple of ice cubes you can have cold water all day long.

    It’s way cheaper than buying an overpriced vending machine drink!
    Mr. Tako recently posted…Investing Ideas: April 2018

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      I use a Hydroflask water bottle that I absolutely love. Even in 100+ heat, the water stays cold. I should have been more specific in my post, going to go back and edit it this into it.

  • wendy April 25, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    Nice hacks! I’m intrigued by the bar soap for hair.
    I usually pack with cubes/pouches, but often roll inside them… I just appreciate the extra (colour coded) compartmentalization.
    And despite using reusable everything when possible, I always bring a couple freezer grade quart & gallon ziplocks… they are just so useful for all sorts of issues, including helping out strangers.

    • Mrs WoW April 25, 2018 at 8:54 pm

      Maybe I’ll find someone I can borrow the cubes from and test it out. Can’t knock it until I try it right? I usually try to bring a couple extra ziplock bags too, just in case. Sounds like you have a good story (or two) about how you saved the day.

  • Ms. FI-ology April 27, 2018 at 3:01 am

    Great tips & pics, Mrs. Wow! I’ve always checked my bags, but with the thought of getting to some awesome destination sans luggage, it might make sense to embrace the carry on (and pack light) as you describe.

    • Mrs WoW April 27, 2018 at 6:25 am

      We definitely prefer to always know where our bags are at all times, especially since we travel out of the country a lot. I’ve just heard too many horror stories about bags getting lost or things being stolen when they are checked. You should try it and let me know how it goes!

  • My Early Retirement Journey April 28, 2018 at 12:45 pm

    “The real power couple” <<< hehe, luv it!

  • Karen April 29, 2018 at 7:57 am

    Our kid is studying abroad in south africa in July. We’re thinking about a vist in august. Suggestions? Johannesburg and Capetown are going to be part of our itinerary.

    • Mrs WoW April 29, 2018 at 8:53 am

      We’ll be there in a couple weeks so I can let you know our recommendations when we return. Really looking forward to it!

      • Mike May 30, 2018 at 2:49 am

        Cape Town, No Contest…. /\-/“““\-/“\ … 🙂

        • Mrs WoW May 30, 2018 at 5:57 am

          Writing up our experience as we speak. Let’s just say that Cape Town did not disappoint!

  • The Sunday Best (4/29/2018) - Physician on FIRE April 29, 2018 at 10:06 am

    […] You can shrink your budget with lots of nearly-free travel using travel rewards miles and points. This post from the wanderlust couple behind Waffles on Wednesday has nothing to do with that but does have a lot of great travel tips. Wandering with the WoWs: Our Favorite Travel Hacks. […]

  • FIRECracker May 1, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    Oh man, we are so alike when it comes to packing! I hate having to check in anything, so we only have carry-on–makes life so much easier! I have to admit I’ve washed my clothes with shampoo or body wash in a pinch and since then i’ve ditched the idea of bringing a small package of laundry detergent. As for warm clothing, we basically layer and bring a windbreaker (somehow totally worked for us in the UK in the middle snowy winter!). Any colder than that we just bail. I know, we’re such wimps.

    Great travel tips! Would love to travel together if we ever get the chance. We’d totally bond over the benefits of surge protectors, power bars, and travel squares 🙂

    • Mrs WoW May 1, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      That would be awesome! We definitely need to make that happen and also get a dive in while we’re at it!

  • Roxanna May 30, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    We pack just like you except any extra space in hubby’s liquid bag goes to me.

    • Mrs WoW May 30, 2018 at 6:43 pm

      On a rare occasion I will do that, but I really try to be minimalistic in what I take in the first place.


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