Traveling is amazing, but it can also be exhausting and stressful. Even a small inconvenience can turn into a major catastrophe when you’re a million miles from home. Don’t let that happen to you! We asked a bevy of frequent travelers to share their best travel hacks. These awesome tips will save you time, money, or a major hassle on your next trip.
42. Score some extra leg room.
If you’re flying coach with a companion and you can pick your seats online, don’t sit right next to each other in a row of 3 seats. One of you take the aisle, and the other take the window, leaving the middle seat empty if possible. When other people are selecting their seats, nobody willingly takes a middle seat unless there are no other options. Instead, they’ll go for a window or an aisle, or if they’re traveling with a companion, then usually any two seats available next to one another. If the flight is not full, then you are now much more likely to have an entire row together once the plane takes off. If, however, someone does show up for the middle seat prior to takeoff, simply tell them that you made a mistake when booking and that you’d prefer to sit next to your companion, and would you like to trade us for either the window or the aisle? No person in their right mind wants to sit in the middle seat between a couple if they have the option to take a seat on either side instead. Win/win.
41. Travel industry secret.
I book travel for a living.
If your plans change and you need to cancel your hotel reservation against the hotel’s cancellation policy, don’t call and cancel. I’ve tried to barter with hotels many times, but truthfully unless you have a good relationship with the hotel, they have no reason to refund you.
Instead, call the hotel and move your reservation to next week. Even if it is against the cancellation policy, most hotels will allow you to alter a reservation without issue. Then (usually a few hour later to guarantee you talk to a different hotel rep) call and cancel your “new” reservation.
40. Get shown around.
As soon as possible, become friends with a local. That will make everything 90% easier than it should be. Or, hire a local guide if you don’t know anyone. This is always 100% worth the cost.
Also, memorize or write down the important phone numbers of the place you’re at. Numbers such as police, firefighter, embassy, etc.
39. Not just travel advice.
Be a good person. Be polite. You are a representative of where ever you are from. If you act like a jerk, people will associate that type of behavior with where you are from and it creates a circle of resentment. Also, when in trouble/need, being polite is way better than being mean.
38. Google knows where you are, do you?
Learned this from a friend: If you’re traveling in another country (i.e. probably do not have cellular data), always zoom in on the map on Google Maps and scroll around to load as much of the map as possible whenever you have wifi, and then leave the application running (don’t exit/quit out of it). The GPS doesn’t require data to use (so you can turn off data and still use your GPS on Google Maps), so when you’re trying to get from point A to point B, you can just use the map on your phone to see where you’re going, and since you’ve already loaded the zoomed in map, you can see street names and other details.
37. Ride share everywhere.
Instead of buying expensive international roaming and data from your cell provider, just buy a cheap prepaid rechargeable SIM in what ever country you need service. Having both phone and data makes for a fun traveling experience, since you can keep in touch with your people and also post photos, use the GPS, and book Uber/Lyft rides, which are more convenient and usually cheaper than taxis.
36. Three’s a charm.
I travel internationally 1-3 times a month, and here are my top three tips. First, travel light – don’t bring “just in case” items. Plan to buy them at your destination if you really need them, which you don’t. Second, get a phone plan that allows free data roaming. Having a working phone is a game changer, and makes basically every aspect of travel easier. Third, having 2 inflatable pillows (one for the neck, one for the low back), an eye mask, and ear plugs make a HUGE difference sleeping on a plane.
35. Genius photo advice.
Make the first photo you take of the place you’re visiting a photo of the place’s name (Like the train terminal or similar). That way you’ll be able to work out later where you took all your photos that day.
34. Just relax and enjoy the mishaps.
Honestly, the best secret is not being a stick in the mud about anything. Seriously, if you just let the little delays and lost bags and wrong directions get to you the trip will suck. Just relax and take all of that as part of the adventure. Doesn’t matter how messed up your trip becomes from your original plan, it will still be awesome.
33. Go on holiday.
If you are leaving the country (United States) and can swing it, leave on Thanksgiving. It’s an American holiday and people are traveling state to state. Ticket prices go WAY down if you are leaving the country. Few years ago I wanted to go to Ireland and booked my tickets 2 months in advance. Tickets were around 1,200 dollars every day except Thanksgiving which dropped to $550. Have done this every Thanksgiving since.
32. Bring one of everything.
This is the top thing I’ve learned. I can survive on the road for three weeks out of one 20″ international roll-aboard case.
Part of it is becoming zen with not having the perfect outfit for every situation. Ladies, 2-3 pairs of shoes is plenty – pick your most versatile sneakers, flats and heels and you’re good. Similarly, pick outfits that dress up or down; travel dresses from companies like Toad & Co or ExOfficio are good choices. It may not be what you’d wear to a cocktail party at home, but you’re not going to get kicked out of that nice restaurant you want to try for being slightly more casual, I promise.
The other trick is that pretty much anything you need can be bought at your destination. I have a kit consisting of one use of a bunch of stuff (one bandaid, one little neosporin packet, one power adapter, one iPhone cable, etc.) that fits in a small case; any of the items in there would tide me over until I can find a store to buy more. No need to bring huge quantities of everything.
People don’t realize that most first world countries have exactly the same stuff for sale we do at home. As a bonus, shopping for it gives you a new perspective on the place you’re visiting outside the tourist world – I never would have seen the inside of a random Kiwi home goods store if I didn’t need to buy some essentials while I was there.
31. Stay hydrated.
Have a change of underwear, toothbrush, cash, and device charger in whatever bag will be on your body the entire time you’re traveling. Lost bags happen and a fresh pair of skivvies can make all the difference.
Also, take a water bottle with you to the airport, empty it before security then refill near your gate. Most airports these days have water bottle filling stations to make it easy.
30. Hotels are for more than just sleeping.
Don’t exchange money at one of those currency places. ATMs give you the best exchange rate. Also, many credit cards do not have international fees. Get one to use on your travels. Hotel lobbies have great bathrooms. Find a luxury hotel, and go to the bar, have an iced tea or a coke or something then you can use a nice bathroom. And most also have free wifi these days as well. Go eat where locals do, food will be better, cheaper, and you’ll meet cool people.
29. Don’t miss lunch.
Slow down. There is no need to see all the sights. Just see a few at a leisurely pace and you will enjoy them a lot more. Good examples of this are going from museum to museum in Paris and actually not seeing anything because the collections are so rich, or driving from one national park to another in the United States without realizing how huge and how far apart they can be.
Also plan your meal times according to local customs. Most European restaurants close at 2pm for a break. Good luck getting a decent lunch after that.
28. Make it your own.
Don’t worry about what other people would do in your place, or how somebody at home will enjoy the pictures that you bring. It’s your trip, do it your way, see what you want. Don’t go where you don’t want to. It’s OK to do things the majority wouldn’t, just like it’s OK to not do things the majority would. Like reading a book instead of looking out the window on a train all the time. Or just ignoring that big festival, because it’s too crowded.
27. Create a sense memory.
Bring new music with you when you travel, preferably by an artist or in a genre that you’re already familiar with.
If you enjoyed listening to it, over time the music will “imprint” itself to your memories of your destination. And so every time you listen to it again, your mind goes back to that place.
26. Packing light isn’t for everyone.
Remember, you are going to have to take time out of your vacation to do laundry every few days if you only bring a few items to wear. And if you are going to a hot climate, everyone will smell that shirt you’ve been sweating in for two days. Don’t listen to people saying you only need to bring three shirts and two shorts, bring as much as what fits in your bag. You can always buy clothes there if you need to, but why interrupt your vacation for that? I personally hate shopping.
25. An extra safety measure.
For peace of mind, bring one of those wedge door stops. Use it to prevent others from opening your door at night when you’re sleeping in a guest house, hostel, motel, someone’s apartment, etc. It’ll save you from being robbed, beaten up, or intruded upon at night when you’re at your most vulnerable.
24. Hoof it.
If you plan sightseeing a city, try to go by foot as much as possible. This way you will learn much more about the city and the people. My last time in Tokyo I was walking daily around 20 Km and it was amazing to see small neighborhoods and shops/restaurants which you wouldn’t see because they aren’t near any “attractions”. You get to experience the culture much more!
23. Small travelers should pack light.
If you possibly can, ONLY bring carry-on luggage. Went to Europe (from the US) with a family of 5 and we only had 3 carry-ons between us (plus each kid had a small backpack). Life changing. My kids insist on wearing the same pants all the time anyway.
22. Get the best local service.
This has worked for me in less developed nations – if you make a connection with someone providing a service (driver, daily tour guide, etc.), hire them. If I feel that a driver is doing a good job and doesn’t try to rip me off, I offer to hire them for the week. That way, it is one less thing to worry about. For example, I had a great rickshaw driver in India that didn’t try to hustle me or screw me over. I enjoyed his company and offered to hire him for the whole week. I said that I wanted to be picked up at 8am every morning and set a good price for his services that I would pay at the end of the week. It was awesome, no hassle, no haggling over the price after every taxi ride, and no hustle. He recommended places to eat for us, introduced us to his family, and gave us a genuine experience. He also hooked us up with his cousin in the next city we visited who we hired as well. I have done this in a bunch of countries (Vietnam, Egypt, Jordan, Nepal, etc) and it really makes the trip easier.
21. Backpacker’s lifeline.
Buy your food poisoning medicine at home and carry it with you. It’s not fun being in the middle of nowhere in a third world country feeling like death and not having the right medicine. Trust me on this one.
If you’re going to be unpacking and packing every day (backpackers), packing cubes are a godsend. I also like to carry some paracord. Learn some knots (bowline, 8 and taut line hitch ought to do) and hang your clothes anywhere.
20. Be clothes poor and cash rich.
Before you leave, unpack all your cloths and put all your money out. Bring half the clothes and double the money. On a serious note, if you’re travelling for a long time, go with the flow. I’ve had itineraries for a whole month and dropped all of it to do something new.
19. Save a few minutes at baggage claim.
Try to have an ugly, ugly suitcase. Or at least a unique one. Best to use bright, eye-torturing colors. Ribbons come off. Krylon spray paint won’t.
You’ll know when it comes out of the baggage carousel. By the screams. People will be kindly pointing at your bag, for you.
18. Clever way to skip doing laundry.
A friend once suggested an idea that I thought was great: bring old underwear, socks, etc. so that at the end of your trip, you can throw them away to make room for stuff you buy while traveling.
I always pack super light when I go to places like Japan, because I know if I end up needing something, I could just go out and buy it. It’s not some remote village where the nearest store is 50 miles away.
17. If you’re serious about avoiding Montezuma’s revenge…
Carry a sink stopper – the flappy, rubber one available at any dollar store. Hostels and backpack hotels often don’t have sink plugs, to prevent guests from flooding the bathroom floor. Takes up no room, and it sure beats having to stuff a balled-up pair of socks down the drain in order to shave or rinse out a few things.
Likewise, a collapsible plastic cup beats using hotel room or food stall glassware of dubious cleanliness.
A bar of Castille soap is not only longlasting and good for washing oneself, it eliminates the need to carry a separate container of laundry soap.
Finally, in third world countries where the “bottled water” served at restaurants and food stalls often isn’t, carry a little dropper bottle of 2/3 unscented bleach, 1/3 peppermint oil. Use 1 drop per large glass to ensure that any water you are served won’t make you sick. Stir well, wait 10 minutes before drinking. The bleach kills off any bacteria, amoebae, giardia cysts, etc., and the peppermint masks the faint residual taste/smell of the bleach, so it doesn’t resemble swimming pool water.
16. The right tour is worth the time.
Prior to arrival, schedule a food tour! It will save you hours and really open you up to the culture of the area you’re visiting.
I learned this trick in Amsterdam. Before we got there we scheduled a walking food tour our first day. Our tour guide took us to all these different places and we sampled a ton of really good food.
After we had a general idea how to get around the city, and we spent less time trying to figure out where we wanted to eat and felt more confident trying new foods.
Anytime we got hungry the conversation kind of went, “hey isn’t that place we tried on the food tour close to here?” And soon after we were fed and ready to continue our day!
15. Keep cool in Mexico.
In Mexico, you are not American when you’re in trouble. You are Canadian. A lot of nacos (rednecks) hate Americans and the police do too (in my experience).
Don’t say you’re British, either. I knew a ton of people in Mexico who had gone to the UK and will ask about your accent and where you’re from. I failed to meet anyone who had been to Canada.
Also, carry your own toilet paper.
Also, everyone is much nicer if you learn to speak an iota of Spanish and are friendly. I used a lot of outdated “cool” slang and made friends really easily.
14. How to solve an airline fiasco.
Be. Polite. To. Airline. Staff.
Almost any travel problem can be solved by a gate agent. Being pushy or mean is not going to inspire them to come up with that solution for you. I see this so often – yelling about how your vacation is going to be ruined is not going to get anything fixed.
Coming prepared with a list of alternate flights you looked up on your phone, however, has a much better chance of success. These poor folks have like 45 seconds to fix your issue. Be proactive. If their system just sees the obvious one stop connections but you find a two stop through Albuquerque and Milwaukee, they’ll probably be happy to put you on it and get another person where they need to go. Or if you see your flight is going to misconnect, you can even be proactive and try to get switched in advance.
Airlines are used to doing this stuff for their elite customers, so the tools are in the toolbox. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve helped an amateur friend by feeding them alternatives to suggest, and they end up being the only people on their flight getting to their destination at a reasonable time.
Also, give yourself as many chances for success as possible. The second you get in that line at the airport for rebooking, also pick up the phone and call the airline. Half the time you’ll get through before you get to the front of the line. And the seats on new flights are first come first served. If your airline has automated rebooking on their web site, that’s even better since you control your own destiny.
13. Stay national, in more ways than one.
I travel almost exclusively in the US and 99% of the time for work, but here are a few ideas, especially for business people.
Eater is an app that tells where great food is and it’s free and available for most major US cities.
Join every reward club right away. I missed the first few months of my travel job and it cost me some points.
Try to stick with one reward club and double up on miles or points by staying/flying with partnered companies.
National Rental Car is awesome and a good opportunity to test drive new cars.
For US travel, pick up a national Park System Map and Guide along with a passport and an annual pass. Just about everywhere has a Park System Area near by and they are all awesome. I wasted a lot of years driving past these places and I regret it.
Pick up hitch hikers. They won’t murder you and you’ll get some great stories out of it. Unless they murder you.
12. Score that free upgrade.
Always travel light. Certainly with no more than you can fit in an airline’s carry on bag. Always wear clean smart clothes and be freshly shaven (if you don’t have a beard). Confirm your flight at least 4 hours before departure. When arriving at the airport do not board as soon as the gate opens but wait until final call and then a few minutes more (best to sort of loiter by the gate). If the flight is full you may get a free upgrade. Especially if you have joined the airline’s loyalty club. Always carry a power adapter and a fully charged usb charging bank. Take no more than a 100 euros/dollars etc with at least two internationally recognised credit cards. Look up the number for your Embassy in whatever destination you’re traveling too and put it on speed dial. Be aware of the customs of the Country you’re traveling to. Do your research. Make sure that at least one person other than those traveling knows your itinerary.
Above all always always be polite and respectful. Ok to fume inside at some car hire receptionist or check in clerk but remember you need them more than they need you.
11. Friendship is worth the effort.
Be nice. To every single person. Talk. Learn about them and their culture. Most people are welcoming and happy to have you in their country. When you show interest, they are very happy to inform you about things you won’t learn in books.
I am an extremely inquisitive person so I like to sit in the front seat of the taxi and talk to the driver the whole way. There are two benefits to this behavior. Firstly you will expand your knowledge and find out nice spots and hacks about the place that you’re in. Secondly, I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten awesome deals just because I was friendly. In Netherlands, I took a taxi from Rotterdam to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. It was a big fare and the driver literally took 70% off the fare. I have had very similar experiences all over the world. The most recent one was in Dubai where the front desk upgraded my room to a business suite along with access to VIP lounge.
Just talk and be nice. It doesn’t cost anything and the payoff is great.
10. Not your typical local cuisine.
If you ever travel to India you absolutely must try KFC. The 11 herbs and spices they serve in India are not the same as they are in the US and I think KFC over there is about ten times better than over here.
Think extra crispy (they don’t serve regular recipe) with a hint of chili. Good stuff.
Also, if you have the opportunity to visit a Pizza Hut in India, chicken tikka pizzas are the best thing out there.
9. Head and shoulders above the rest.
Put important documents/money in an empty shampoo bottle when you aren’t using them. If someone breaks into your room, they aren’t going to steal shampoo.
8. The 7th point will shock you.
Try to get a hotel room below the 8th floor. Fire truck ladders typically extend just seven stories.
If you have a connecting flight, try to get a seat as far forward as possible, so you can deplane quicker.
Lock your checked bags, with a TSA-approved lock. Don’t pack anything valuable in checked baggage.
If there are two exit rows, try for the row behind. The first exit row won’t recline.
Bring a photocopy of your passport.
Confirm with your bank that your cards will work overseas.
Many hotels use prison labor to clean your room. Don’t leave valuables or medicine behind.
Leave your card numbers and their 800 numbers with a trusted friend in case you have to cancel them.
Bring a clamp-type paper clip to close those drapes in hotels that never seem to close all the way.
7. The real deal is right here.
Take photos of your documents such as passport, credit card, ID, and so on and email it to yourself. If you lose these items, then they are easily accessible. I met a lady at a police station in Rome who had her purse stolen with EVERYTHING in it and she had no backup at all. Credit card, check book, passport, money, all gone. She had her purse ripped off her neck in a bus. I was at the police station because my jacket was stolen.
If you are staying at hostels, bring ear plugs.
Bring a shamwow as a towel. It doesn’t take up as much room and does just as good of job.
If you have an old shirt or socks you are going to throw out anyway, bring it and wear it but throw it out before you come back that way you make room for souvenirs.
6. Stay at hostels like a boss.
I almost exclusively stay in hostels so my tips are for those.
Always bring a couple of clothes hangers. You never know if you’d need them to hang stuff.
I use a microfiber towel. Saves a HUGE amount of space, and dries quickly.
Be friendly in a hostel and you’d never have to make travel plans. I backpacked from Nicaragua to Mexico without making plans just by making friends and tagging along with their trips.
Even if you don’t smoke, have a pack of cigerattes with you. It’s a good icebreaker and is cheaper than actually giving money to panhandlers.
Make friends with locals to get a really authentic experience of the city.
Learn a few important phrases e.g. Greetings, asking directions, bargaining, ordering food, to help with taking to locals.
Bring a first aid kit. Mine is really bare-bones: asprin, charcoal pills, and band-aids. Just enough to get you comfortable enough to seek real medical attention. Of course if you are going to be in the wilderness where help is further away I would pack a more extensive first aid kit.
Always bring a padlock. Some hostels provide a locker, but no lock. Alternatively you might have to lock up your valuables just as a deterrent.
5. Don’t fall victim to this one thing.
Some people will encourage you to give bribes in third world countries where they are expected, to keep your trip running smoothly. I’d encourage everyone not to offer bribes unless you are in a truly dangerous situation and need to get out of there stat.
My first few trips to developing countries I was happy to pay the $5-$20 to whatever official was hassling me – if I’m being honest, it made me feel a bit cooler, like I was really having a “developing world” experience.
One trip I really bonded with our driver, who was a local. The first time we were stopped for a “random check” and I was about to grab a $20 from my wallet and move on, he shoved it back into my wallet and refused to pay. It took us an extra 10 minutes or so, but we left without paying anything. When we drove away he explained that offering bribes – especially when Westerners offer bribes – it helps perpetuate the vicious cycle of corruption that keeps many of these countries in extreme poverty.
When you act like it’s ok that someone is bribing you, it makes it ok for them to bribe you. Since then I’ve refused to pay anything in all but one situation (where the cop that stopped me was clearly intoxicated and waving his gun in the air) and it’s never been an issue. Yes, it takes a bit longer, yes, I look like a jerk in the process, but it really is the right thing to do.
4. Keep your passport out of lockup.
Take a paper photocopy of your passport with you. Firstly, I should note a US passport can fetch a grand on the black market. Also many hotels and guesthouses require you to deposit your physical passport, for collateral they will say. It’s easy pickens for them (especially in third world countries). They can also throw a bunch of bogus fees at you then hold your passport hostage.
Don’t let them. Always give them your copy and tell them your original passport was lost/stolen and you are awaiting a replacement. From Slovenia to India to Cambodia this has worked every single time.
Also be mindful of your traveler checks when your passport does need to leave your person legitimately. I had to leave my passport at a passport office in Vietnam for a visa extension. To avoid carrying lots of cash all my money was traveler checks which I would redeem for actual cash as needed. So anyway I ran out of money and with no physical passport (a copy might not work) I could not redeem any checks. I thought I was screwed but fortunately after a day of hunting around I found one bank that would do it.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS establish the cost of everything beforehand. Food, rickshaw fare, etc. I’ve heard so many people get burned with the $100 short cab ride, or $10 street food. Negotiate about EVERYTHING and do it in advanced.
3. Take it from an expert.
I’ve spent a bit of time in baggage reconciliation and bag rooms. Here’s my best advice for travelers:
Always take off old stickers and tags. Someone might read the wrong tag and send it to the wrong carrier. If this happens, while you will get your bag rushed on the next available flight, it’s probably not going to be there when you get there.
Your bag tag will come with three ‘bingo’ stickers. A good check-in agent will make sure one of them is on the bag itself, if not put one on there. When I fly I always keep one myself, so if the worst happens I have the exact details for tracking the bag. The other is for the throwers to use.
Know what your bag looks like. Know the exact colour of it. Put something distinctive on it like a ribbon. Know what type of bag it is and the brand name. Try to have a bag that isn’t black. 99.9999999999% of bags we had to track were “black suitcases”. If it’s blue, don’t tell us it’s black. If it’s grey, don’t tell us it’s black. If it’s red, don’t tell us it’s black (this happens). “It’s a dark blue Samonsite hard case with a pink ribbon on the handle” gets you your bag as soon as we see it. “I dunno, it’s a black…bag?” means you’re waiting.
For the love of everything holy if you need something to survive keep it in your carry-on. The amount of times people put medication in their checked luggage and hope for the best makes me despair for the future of humanity.
Have your name and phone number/email somewhere in the bag. When all else fails we look inside the bags for a way of identifying the owner. We get a lot of bags back home just by ringing a number we found in the case.
Check in on time. Check in opens three hours before the flight for a reason. It takes time for your bag to go through the tubes, get security screened, find the right place and get loaded on a plane. If we’re at -30 to wheels up and we don’t have your bag yet it becomes a simple numbers game, there’s 200 people on that flight that got their bags in early, we’re not delaying all of them because you rocked up late.
Baggage agents are real human people. We know it sucks for you to not have your luggage. We empathize, we actually want to get your bag to you as soon as possible. So help us help you and follow these tips and even if the worst happens and your bag isn’t on the same flight you are, we’re moving heaven and earth to get it there on the next flight.
2. Think outside the map.
My best advice is to just go. Just do it. Learn by doing. It’s okay not to have the best time of your life every trip.
It’s not as expensive as you think, and you can make it cheap by doing a home swap, staying in hostels or camping if you’re really on a budget. Also, go out of season; July and August are busiest. Try May or September.
Don’t think you have to ‘do’ a country or continent in 2 weeks. You’ll spend a half your time packing, traveling to the airport, being stuck on planes, disembarking, getting to your next hotel etc… relax. Do a max of 3 places well in 2 weeks, and you’ll enjoy it more, plus it’ll cost a LOT less.
You don’t have to go to big cities. I live in central London, and I love it, but it’s really sad so many visitors just come here and go to Stratford, etc. Stay at a small town in the countryside, visit a small city; that’s where you’ll get more of a real taste of life. Fewer tourists, so a higher % of natives. All cities have good transport into them, so sometimes it’s a good idea to stay outside (accommodation is cheaper too) and get the train in. Plus people in cities tend to be more rushed, so you’re more likely to be able to chat to people in smaller places. In the UK, Bristol, Brighton (which is by the sea), Manchester and Leeds all have great music, arts, history, food etc, but most Americans who visit the UK would never consider visiting any of them, which is really sad.
1. Only the pros know.
Take clothes that all match with each other, whatever combination you wear. Don’t pack anything you can only wear with one specific outfit. Also, obvious, but roll, don’t fold.
If you can avoid taking checked baggage, do. It’s really liberating not having to wait for it and then lug it around afterwards!
Photocopy all your important documents, credit card numbers etc., and email them to yourself and someone at home.
Have two credit/debit cards and leave one in your room so if you get mugged, you have a back-up.
Buy a Kindle. Seriously. I never wanted one, I was snobby about ‘real books’ and ‘the smell of books’, but you really can’t beat having hundreds of books on one tiny device when you’re on the road.
If you expect to stay in hostels, travel with a little padlock. They often don’t provide them for the lockers.
Get a microfibre towel. It dries about 500 times faster than a regular towel and folds up really small.
Solid shampoo and other traditionally liquid cosmetics are amazing for preventing leakages in your bag. Go to Lush or other similar natural shops.
Dry shampoo is a gift from the gods.