I’m a big fan of travel gadgets and gizmos, but it turns out that the best travel accessory is absolutely free—and takes up no precious space in your carry-on. It opens up countless doors and opportunities, can get you upgraded and even makes you happier and healthier. It even helps you live longer. So what is this amazing, free-for-nothing must-have accessory? Read on to find out.

On a recent flight from Hilo, Hawaii to San Francisco, I noticed that the airport was fairly empty and that my flight would likely be under-booked. When checking in, I chatted with the attendant and asked if, because things were slow, there would be a discount on upgrading to first class.

After checking with a supervisor, he said that the upgrade fee was only $75—and that it was well worth it on a flight of this length. But after reviewing my seat assignment and discovering that I already had my own row in coach, I decided to save myself the upgrade expense. I thanked him again—and smiled.

A few minutes later, after passing through security and waiting at the gate, the same attendant came up to me and exchanged my boarding pass. My new ticket was for a first class seat—and he gave me the upgrade for free. Did I get the upgrade because of my friendly smile? While no one can say for sure, it may have sealed the deal.

As a friend of mine likes to say, a smile can go a mile. Beyond making you instantly sexier and more attractive, I think a true and sincere smile is a great travel tip. When you smile, people are drawn into—and attracted by— your energy. And people are a million times more likely to help you out.

Beyond the freebies, smiles also have a number of other travel-friendly benefits. For one, it boosts your immune system. If long plane rides and overcrowded subway cars are in your travel future, studies show that smiling helps improve immune function—possibly because it makes you more relaxed and reduces stress. And as traveling is often full of stressful situations and circumstances, spending a few minutes smiling can make a world of difference. It also lowers blood pressure and releases feel-good endorphins.

But wait, there’s more! In 2010, researchers examined pictures of baseball players from back in the 1950s. They found that the smiling players outlived their non-smiling counterparts by seven years. Seven more years means a whole lot more traveling!

The moral of the story is clear: Next time you take a trip or go on an adventure, a simple smile is the single, most important, must-have accessory.


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