Who are the world’s smartest travelers?

The world’s smartest travelers are not who you think. They are not the bloggers or talking heads on TV who refer to themselves as “experts” and “thought leaders.”

They are the inconspicuous passengers who sit next to you on a plane and share your armrest.

They’re the ones waiting patiently in line behind you at the car rental counter or at the hotel.

It is not necessarily their ability, but their attitude, that sets them apart. If you don’t pay attention you’d hardly notice them. But I do.

When I wrote How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler, these “real” experts quietly showed me what it means to travel smarter. The skills anyone can learn. But few travelers board the bus, train or plane with the right attitude.

And when it comes to travel, attitude makes all the difference in the world.

The world’s smartest travelers always mind their manners. Their carry-on luggage is small and light and fits easily in the overhead compartment. They share their space. They never check a bag. In a perfect world, they all agree, they would travel with no luggage at all.

The world’s smartest travelers are always prepared. They carefully read the fine print before they book a trip. They dot their i’s and cross their t’s. They always inspect their rental vehicle for damage and photograph it. They also take pictures of their luggage and their hotel, because you never know when something might go wrong and you’ll need a ‘before’ shot.

The world’s smartest travelers know how to save time at the airport. They check in online, avoiding the queues. They download an airline’s app to avoid awkwardly printing their tickets at work, and breeze through airport security because they know the liquid and gel rule. In fact, they have it memorized.

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They know that delays, diversions, breakdowns and meltdowns are part of the journey, and they anticipate them. They assume the best but prepare for the worst.

The world’s smartest travelers are grateful for this knowledge, thankful for the opportunity to travel, and willing to help less-experienced fellow travelers navigate their way through the sometimes confusing experience.

That is the secret to being the world’s smartest traveler.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Rebecca

    For those traveling with small children:

    I have a 1 and 2 year old, and we fly relatively often to visit family. We stumbled across an episode of a kids show my daughter loves called Mutt & Stuff. The have an episode titled “Dogs on a Plane” which very clearly explains, in a very kid friendly way, exactly how to behave on an airplane. I would absolutely recommend anyone flying with small children watch this a few times leading up to the trip. I promise, those sitting around you will appreciate it.

  • whatup12

    I would say that the world’s smartest travelers do use phones/apps for boarding passes, but also know to have a paper copy in case you run out of battery, internet issue, tech SNAFU, or whatever.

    It is rarely functional to help less seasoned travelers when something has happened. I have tried several times with seriously great advice that would allow for night’s sleep on bed rather than on floor of “enter any unairconditioned smoky airport here”–but people rarely listen and what you are saying gets drowned out among louder voices that are giving definitively terrible advice. And sadly the only thing that one can do is walk away and just settle your own travel plans.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    The world’s smartest travelers don’t bother travel web sites to try to get a refund on a nonrefundable fare!

  • BubbaJoe123

    The world’s smartest travelers also utilize frequent traveler programs to improve the quality of their travel experiences and lower the cost.

    As an example, the world’s smartest travelers would almost never BE in line behind you at the rental car counter, since they belong to the rental car company’s frequent renter program, and have already gotten in their car and left, without ever wasting time at the counter.

  • James

    If the world’s smartest travelers “never check a bag” why do the “head straight for the bag drop?”

  • RightNow9435

    And not checking a bag means you either (1)will only be gone a day or so (2)plan to do laundry every night and re-wear the same clothes. A week’s trip to Orlando with 2 kids is not possible with some checked bags.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I’ve done two weeks in Europe without checking a bag, and week long trips with a child without checking bags.

  • CasaAlux

    Expect the worst and hope for the best. It’s been my travel mantra for decades, and works every time.

  • yellowbird73

    I don’t agree. As noted, those programs require you to be a *frequent* customer, and there are plenty of savvy travelers who only go somewhere that requires a car rental once or twice a year. And not everyone who travels even travels *anywhere* multiple times a year.

  • joycexyz

    I recall standing on the boarding line for a flight behind a young woman whose boarding pass was on her phone, but it wouldn’t register on the scanner. So, the agent had her step aside. As I passed her I couldn’t resist saying (and I know it was snarky!) “Sometimes a piece of paper is a good thing.” As someone whose been involved with tech for many years, I know the pitfalls and fallibility. Have a plan B–a paper backup of travel docs.

  • Tom Reale

    I also do the “paper ticket backup” for the phone app, which always makes me wonder, Why the hell do I even have the boarding pass on my phone?

  • Jeff W.

    Bubba is correct. The rental car programs, although designed for frequent travelers, can be used by all. The main perk is not the free rentals or upgrades that may come with renting frequently. It is that you have a profile already established, with your preferences pre-defined. (No extra insurance, no GPS, etc…) And often you can bypass the counter or go into the express line where the agent just verifies your identity. No upsell. It’s a good thing…

  • BubbaJoe123

    The car rental programs don’t require you to be a frequent customer to avoid the counter, and don’t cost anything other than five minutes (max) to set up online.

  • whatup12

    a friend of mine is a 4 million miler on delta…and travels a LOT! He boarded a flight sitting in FC and then his iPhone dies. Someone comes on the flight and has crossed out (WITH A PEN!) his seat and then puts my friends seat in there. the FA asks to see his boarding pass and he cannot and they wouldn’t pull out the manifest. So they kicked him out of FC and gave him the seat that the man originally had. When he finally gets his iPhone turned on, they wouldn’t kick the old dude out of his seat even though he completely lied. And then when he wrote to Delta after the fact, it looked to them like he flew FC without evidence that he had been moved out. Takeaway: delta is rude to their most frequent travelers and always have a print out!

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