Tech travel hacks to crack holiday headaches

Check out these tried and true travel tech hacks to ease your holiday headaches.

Planning to travel for Thanksgiving? It sure seems like everyone else is. Some 25 million people are expected to fly, while another 45 million will hit the open road in a quest for Grandma’s house. If packed planes and gridlocked highways aren’t your idea of good times this holiday season, check out my tried and true travel tech hacks to ease your holiday headaches.

I fly about 10,000 miles a month all year round for work. When it comes to booking a flight and looking for a hotel, Hipmunk has totally saved my life. Its “agony” filter sorts flights by a secret mix of price, length and number of layovers. Unlike a lot of other travel apps and sites, Hipmunk doesn’t stop at lowest price, it keeps digging for the trip that will cause you the very least amount of pain in terms of layovers, plane changes and all those other things that can make a low-price plane fare feel like a one-way ticket to hell. And in addition to standard hotel listings, Hipmunk shows you alternative accommodations like Airbnb and HomeAway. You can even book an Amtrak trip or — if you’re a real high roller — schedule a private jet just for you. If your departure and return dates are at all flexible, be sure to search Hipmunk’s pricegraph, too, for the lowest round-trip fares over a 90-day timeframe.

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While you’re getting ready to head to the airport, you can easily monitor the security line situation using MiFlight, which crowd-sources wait times from other frequent fliers. You’ll know whether you can breeze right through the security screening hub or need to brace yourself for a massive line, before you even set foot inside the building.

Oh, and if you find yourself experiencing the absolute worst of all holiday hiccups — a delayed or canceled flight — AirHelp will make sure you get every dollar back, and then some. AirHelp specializes in getting airlines to compensate travelers for messed up flights, so be sure to get what you deserve.

If you’re hitting the highways instead of the airways, you won’t have to worry about security lines, but if your car, truck or SUV breaks down, who you gonna call? Honk! Honk (iOS, Android) is a brand new on-demand roadside-assistance app that can get you a tow truck and a trip to the repair shop typically within 15 to 30 minutes, so you can get back on the road as soon as possible. Another plus? There’s no membership fees or hidden add-ons you might experience with a service like AAA.

If you really want to save cash and just need a way to get from point A to point B, check out Transfercar. All over the United States there are rental cars that need to be moved from state to state, or sometimes even from coast to coast, and the companies will let you drive them there for free — even RVs! Many include fuel, expenses and even insurance, which is music to my ears. Now I just need to learn how to drive a huge RV so I can have some real fun.

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Does driving sound like too much of a challenge on its own? You can find super affordable rides to all kinds of interesting places, along with some friendly travel companions, with Tripda. Tripda connects friendly drivers with anyone who might need a low-cost ride. It saves gas, reduces traffic and most important, saves you a whole bunch of cash.

• The travel hack to beat all travel hacks.

These awesome apps and websites are your ultimate tools for hacking your holiday travel this year, but let me offer you a sneak peak at what is going to be all the rage once it hits the airport scene in late spring 2015: the Bluesmart carry-on suitcase ($235, pre-order). This super smart piece of luggage is connected to your smartphone and can measure its own weight, tell you its location and even ping you when you’ve accidentally left it behind.

It also sports a huge battery backup pack that can recharge your smartphone a half dozen times, making it the ultimate airport accessory. I’ve gotten my hands on an early working prototype of this little beast and let me tell you, it’s the first Indiegogo project that I’ve instantly wanted to buy. That’s probably why its $50,000 goal has been absolutely crushed, and the pledge amounts are now over a whopping $1 million. Yeah, it’s that darn cool. Be sure to check my hands-on review of it in the video that goes with this column.

What are your secret tech travel hacks? Be sure to share them in the comments section below. Safe travels, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.

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