June 13: Be Kind, Rewind

The famous words from 1990s advertising, pleading customers of video rental establishments to rewind their VHS tapes before returning them to the store, thus saving rental stores and subsequent customers from spending time to check and rewind every VHS tape.

Just think, back in the 90’s, the act of rewinding a video might have taken 30-60 seconds per video, yet so many customers finished a movie, hit EJECT and took the movie back to the store, figuring that someone else would remind it for them.

What if you were the person that rented a video from the store, got home to watch it, only to find it start up at the final credits.  Now, you have to take 30-60 seconds to rewind the video to start from the beginning. While 30-60 seconds does not sound like a lot of time, the perceived inconvenience and inconsiderateness of the previous renter is what caused the outcry that eventually led to that advertising.  Advertising that pleaded with customers to take 30-60 seconds of their time to BE KIND and think about others.

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”

I don’t know when it happened, but it seems that more and more, people are only looking out for themselves. For Number 1.  What happened to the general practice of human kindness?

Kindness is addictive. Whether you are the spark or simply paying it forward, simply being involved is what matters.

It is such a simple concept, yet so hard to implement for the vast majority.

  • When someone needs to merge into traffic, let them merge. One car length doesn’t matter.
  • When you are the one who needs to merge, and someone lets you, give them a wave to let them know you appreciate it
  • Ask someone how their day is. Actually care about their answer.
  • Hold the door open for the woman pushing a stroller.
  • Give the homeless guy on the street corner a buck or two. Even a 40oz will make him happy.
  • Never forget to say “thank you”

Small acts of kindness. Big impact.  Simple as that.

31 Days. 31 Ways. June 13: Practice Random Acts of Kindness

What does kindness mean to you?

What suggestions for random acts of kindness would you like to share with everyone here?

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June 5: Embrace Spontaneity

Too many times in life, we want, we need, a plan. I have even written about having a plan.  We have been structured by corporate america to plan everything.  Most of us live on a schedule, at least from 8am-5pm, Monday through Friday.  This becomes the norm, so we begin to plan our weekends too.

Unfortunately, to maintain some semblance of structure, this planning is needed.

To an extent.

But what happens when structure becomes routine?  Can you really plan for something different? Can you plan for adventure?

What better place than here, what better time than now?

When the opportunity presents itself that invites you to be spontaneous, TAKE IT.

Take the road less traveled.

Take a chance.

Take a risk.

Live your life.

What do you have to lose by being spontaneous?  My guess is probably something you wouldn’t have eventually lost somewhere else.

spon·ta·ne·ous –adjective

1.coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency, without effort or premeditation, natural and unconstrained, unplanned

The main point here, without premeditation. Act on impulse, see where the road takes you.

To some, it comes more natural than it does to others.  Some are scared of it, scared to break their routine, change their plans, take an adventure.  And then there are those that embrace it.

I like to call it the “ah, fuck it” moment.  What happens when the opportunity presents itself to take an impromptu adventure?  You say “ahh, fuck it, let’s do it!”

The best example I can give of embracing spontaneity is one of fellow blogger Jaime.  And I apologize up front, as I will probably butcher the story a bit, but the simplicity and awesomeness of how I remember it is what makes it special to me, and a great representation.

Jamie, after a tumultuous few years had felt a longing for long term travel.  So he researched and researched it, planned and planned.  All the white, going day in, and day out, to a job that was the means to his ends.  It supported his growing savings account that would fun his travel.  Originally planning to leave in August 2011 on an around the world trip, that all changed when he came across airfare to Central America for significantly less than he planned on.  The big difference, the flight left in March, not August.

The decision to buy that discounted plane ticket was Jaime’s “ahh fuck it, let’s do it!” moment.  Since then, Jamie has been traveling around Central America, meeting up with other travel bloggers as they travel the world too.  Opportunities that might not had presented themselves if Jamie would have kept to his plan and waited til August.  Jamie took a chance and it changed his future.

You can follow along with all of Jaime’s adventures on Twitter and his blog.

So now, on June 5th, instead of having this Sunday off work, dreading returning to work Monday morning, Jamie is relaxing on a beach in Mexico with 2 great friends and fellow travel bloggers, Erica and Shawn.

This is the power of embracing spontaneity.

Day 5. Way 5. Have an “ahh fuck it, let’s do it!” moment.

Do you embrace spontaneity?

Do you love the impromptu adventures?

Please share your comments, photos and other amazing spontaneous stories in the comments below!


Photo Credit – Jaime

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June 4: Hit the Road, Jack!

You heard me.  Leave. Scram. Go.

Get in your car, and go.  Drive.  Pick a destination.  200 miles away or 20 miles away.  The distance does not matter.  Hell, the final destination does not matter.  The journey is the true destination of a road trip.

Do not set a timeframe, do not set a milestone, just enjoy the open road.  Do your best to take the road less traveled, or the road that you have not traveled before.

Grab a friend, grab the wife, heck, grab the dog.  Pick a traveling buddy, point your car towards some open road and get going.

I really cannot recommend it enough.

As many of you might already know, my road trips, at least my last one, have been well documented.  Me, I do it big.

  • June 2006 – 2800 miles, 4 days, 3 friends and Interstate 40. Our first foray into road tripping. This was about the destination, though we got to see a ton of things along the way.
  • July 2007 – 3700 miles, 9 days, 2 friends and a ton of open road.  This time we took the long way, purposely going hundreds of miles out of the way to see the grandiose that is America
  • October 2009 – 800 miles, 11 days, 3 friends and some amazing scenery.  Purposely planning a few stops for a hockey game on the east coast as well as being “leafers” in New England. We spent days just aimlessly wandering and it was amazing.
  • March 2011 – 3800 miles, 9 days, 2 friends, 1 dog and some epic adventures.  Mardis Gras in 3 different states, one huge rainstorm, enormous world events and great friends across the country.

I have covered over 11,000 miles with my best friend since 2006 and it has been some of the best adventures I have ever taken.  You learn things about each other and yourself.  You get to see all that this country has to offer.  You are not under a timetable, so if you want to re-route your road trip to see a National Park, a National Monument, or heck, even a car stuck in the ground, you can do it.  There is freedom in a road trip.  Freedom in the open road, freedom in the schedule. Freedom in the mindset.

2006 California to North Carolina
2007 North Carolina to California
2009 New England Adventure
2011 Epic Road Trip 2011

Now, I understand that not all road trips can be open ended, but even given a few days, a road trip can provide a great source of entertainment, education and a lifetime of memories.  In any part of the country there are a plethora of roadside attractions, hole-in-the-wall eateries, dive bars, beaches, forests, rivers, mountains and everything in between.  Get away from your daily life.  Get away from the computer, away from the desk job, away from all that is familiar. Explore the world around you.

The road awaits.

To pass along a link to one of the number of blogs out there that detail available road trips, here are 4 great road trips that are food-centric.

Day 4. Way 4. Hit the road. Roll down the windows. Feel the wind in your hair.  Escape. Enjoy the freedom and experience our great country.

Are you a fan of road trips?

What have you experienced in your road trips?

Have any favorite photos, stories, travels, share them below!

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June 3: Say Hello to a Stranger

Yesterday, we talked about sharing a piece of yourself with others.  Now how about sharing something with a total stranger?

A Stranger is Just Someone You Haven’t Met Yet

Most people are scared.  Talk to a stranger?! For so many years now, a good chunk of American society has fallen prey to sensationalist media.  They watch the nightly news which is 60 minutes long and consists of 20 minutes of commercials, 35 minutes of killings, murders, war, terrorism and rapings, 3 minutes of sports and MAYBE 2 minutes of positive, uplifting, humanitarian stories, if we are lucky.

As I am writing this, the NBA Finals game just finished up and the nightly news came on, here are the top 5 stories:

  • Kid walks into a basketball arena and shoots multiple victims
  • Senator John Edwards being sued for misappropriation of funds surrounding his mistress
  • Shooting rampage in Arizona
  • Multiple robberies and stabbing victims in New York
  • Car crash kills 4 people

Not one uplifting story, not one story of victory, acclaim, humanity, nothing. Oh wait, a funny story that included officers shooting and killing… a concrete statue. Case. And. Point.

Not every stranger is this guy

With all of this filling our heads, it is no wonder that we shelter ourselves from meeting new people to our own self-detriment.  We get self-centered.  We are too busy in our own lives to notice the people and the world around us.  Typically, we want a pre-determined set of characteristics in common with someone else before we strike up conversation.  Our kids know each other.  Were fans of the same sports team. We both ride motorcycles…

What happened to just saying “Hi”?

Just the other day, while waiting at a coffee shop for our coffee, my nephew and I had our cameras on our shoulders, ready to head towards Manhattan for some exploration and shooting, when a fellow customer came in behind us and the 3 of us struck up a 5 minute conversation that covered topics from photography to travel, motorcycles to surfing.  We left the coffee shop with a smile on our faces, a map for some great places to see in Little Italy on the lower east side.

How did this all take place?  He walked in and said “Good mornin’ guys!”

Simple as that.

Day 3. Way 3. Meet a stranger.  Say Hi.  Maybe even smile. You would be surprised the power it holds.

Any good stories of meeting strangers?

Any advice for others on sharing a little hospitality and kindness?

Let me know about your experiences in the comments below!


Photo 1 credit

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June 2: Take A Photo

Again, just like yesterday’s advice, pretty straight forward and to the point.  Hopefully you see a trend forming.  Simple, easy items to inject a little bit of creativity and a little bit of something new into your mind that show you how to get the most out of life.

You don’t need to quit your job, sell everything you own and travel the world, living out of a backpack.  If you want to, great, I support you 100%, but not all of us are in the position to live to that extreme.  Some of us need something little, like a reminder to take a break every now and then and clear your head. Or in today’s example, go take a photo.

It doesn’t matter if you have an expensive Digital SLR setup or just your 5 year old camera phone, or heck, even an old instant film camera.  Go take a photo of something in a way that you would have never looked at it before.  Get close up, frame the photo a different way, take it in black and white.  The goal here is to find beauty and find something new and beautiful in the things that surround you.

Here is an example of me putting this into practice:

In reality, the photo is of a cup of water, the regular, run of the mill kind of water that is served in restaurants around the country, maybe even the world?  But taken at an angle, with a close up focus on the lemon wedge and where it is hanging onto the cup, gives this photo some drama.  It gives it an artistic way to look at something as mundane as a cup of water.

Do you strive to see life in a different way?

Is everyone artistically inclined?  No, and I understand that, but almost everyone has a camera and a Facebook page. Or email. Or a friend.   Share that photo with your friends, family and acquaintances.  Share your view on the world. Share your story of the photograph.  Share yourself with someone else.  By sharing yourself, you allow yourself the opportunity to positively impact someone else’s life, but you also allow yourself the opportunity to have your life impacted by others.

Day 2. Way 2. Take a photo. Share it with the world.  Share yourself with someone else.  Make it beautiful.

Are you an outgoing or a shy person?

Are you one to share yourself with others, or are you introverted?

I would love to see your photos, so please share them here if you feel so inclined!

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June 1: Stop Reading My Blog

Pretty straight forward and to the point.  In fact, stop browsing all of those websites you have open.  Close out Twitter.  Mute your phone.  Shut down Facebook.  Stop wasting time, at least for a few minutes.  I know you are human and well, I am addicted to Twitter too.

But go outside.  Take a walk. Smell the roses.  Pet the dog. Stretch your legs, clear your mind, and let the juices flow.  Just go.  Take 5 minutes.  Oh, and leave your phone here.


Back?  Good.  Feel better? Perfect.


It is amazing how problems seem to find solutions when thinking clearly, without the distractions of email, the phone and other distractions.

Creativity begins to flow when the mind is uninhibited.

I cannot tell you how many times that I would face significant issues at work, beating a dead horse for hours on end, trying in vain to find a solution that simply did not seem to exist.  It wasn’t until I got in the car, turned on the radio, rolled down the windows, and drove home.  No phone calls, no email, no twitter, no Facebook.  Just me, some background music, traffic and my thoughts. Boom.  The solution, or steps to come to a solution, would suddenly seem so easy.

Day 1. Way 1. Stop being distracted and let your mind exist uninhibited.  The things you will be able to accomplish in your life will amaze you.

How do you battle distractions?

Why do you let distractions get in the way of living your life to your utmost potential?

What are you going to do about it?

Let me know in the comments below!

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How I Earned 200k Miles Without Getting on a Plane

You read that right. In less than 4 months my wife and I have earned over 200,000 frequent flyer miles without ever stepping on an airplane. All 100% legal, all 100% legit.

I started out in the travel hacking game very slowly and with much trepidation, as I did not want to start sinking a lot of money or time into learning this whole new world of free travel. I had done some traveling, so I had a decent handle on which airlines flew where, which ones were part of which alliances, and so on.  So I started reading all I could read on the topic.  The Frugal Travel Guy‘s blog was the first resource that I really used to get up to speed on the topic, as jumping into the FlyerTalk forums was just too daunting of an endeavor.  It is information overload for the novice travel hacker.

The Ruse

Rick’s blog talks about the big wins of large credit card bonuses for signing up and spending a little bit of money on the card.  As an example (I am making this up), Chase Bank will offer you 50,000 United Airlines miles if you apply for, are approved for their credit card and spend $1,500 in the first 3 months. 50k miles on united is the equivalent to 2 domestic round trip fares.

First things first, here is why Chase Bank does this.  They WANT people to have their credit card with it’s 15-20% interest rate.  They WANT people to spend money on that card because most American’s will end up carrying a balance, which in turn they pay interest on to Chase.

Sounds like a good deal for Chase, if you ask me.  Dangle that carrot of 50k miles but end up with card holders that continue to carry balances and earn them interest.  But there is a way to rack up those miles without going into financial debt.

Beating the System

Ask any financial analyst or really, any financially responsible person, if you cannot maintain a budget, credit cards will be the death of you.  In today’s economy, your credit score is everything, and racking up credit card bills is NOT the way to improve that score.  With a bad credit score, you will have a hard time buying a car, renting an apartment, hell, even getting a cell phone. Unfortunately, your credit score has become the single most important factor in your financial stability and freedom here in the U.S.

So, why would I say all that, but still be professing the benefits of using the dangling carrot of rewards points in exchange for the risk of credit cards?  Because if you are financially responsible, with a good to great credit score, you can easily turn these credit card rewards into tons of free travel all while actually INCREASING your credit score.

Some credit cards offer the free miles rewards after activating and using the card just one time.  Others (most others) require what is known as a ‘minimum spend’ where they will give you the rewards points, but only once you have spent a certain amount of money on the card, in a certain period of time.  Some cards the minimum spend requirement is $1,500 in 3 months, some it is $5,000 in 6 months, still others, are higher than that.

To use their system to accrue your rewards miles, it is as easy as adjusting your budget for a month or two.  Instead of paying some bills out of your checking account, pay them with the credit card.  Once you do that, you take the same money from your checking account, put it in savings, and when the credit card bill comes due, you pay it off in full, carrying no balance, therefore, no finance charges.

If you can adjust your budget (and stick to your budget) accordingly, you can easily beat the system and rack up the miles.

How I Did It

Here is first hand proof that this can be done, and done easily.

To dip my preverbal toe in the travel hacking waters, I signed up for a Continental Airlines branded Chase rewards card which offered 50,000 Continental miles for using the card one time.  I read all the terms and conditions and even when I called to activate the card, I verified that I would be awarded the points after my first statement that showed (at minimum) one usage.  With everything all set, the card activated, I set out to Target to buy a few last minute items for the Epic Road Trip 2011.  Grand total, under $35.

Around the same time, Juliet and I decided to each sign up for an American Airlines branded Citibank card offering 75,000 miles for a $1,500 minimum spend in 6 months.  Juliet started using her AA card for groceries, gas and other items within our budget.  I used mine as my primary card on the Epic Road Trip.  Within 2 months we had each spent over the minimum of $1,500 on our respective cards with nothing more than items we would have paid for our of pocket. Items from our budget.

Another perk with the rewards cards is that in addition to the sign up bonus, they typically will offer (at minimum) 1 miles per dollar spent, so on a $1,000 charge, you also receive 1,000 frequent flyer miles. Read those details when you sign up, some offer higher rewards (such as 6 miles per $1 spent) on certain items like gas or groceries.

Logging into my Award Wallet account showed that after 1 month, my Continental Miles hit and after 2 months, both of our American Airlines points hit.  3 months, nothing out of pocket besides what was in our budget and we accrued over 200,000 miles.

Plan B

Everyone needs a plan B.  What if credit card bonuses are not for you.  Does that mean you are out of luck? NOT AT ALL.  There are tons of frequent flyer miles earning opportunities out there, and the Travel Hacking Cartel is one of the best resources to find those.  Options that range from online shopping to web-based surveys and even good, old-fashioned sweepstakes/giveaways.  Here are just a few examples:

For more options, I really cannot recommend the Travel Hacking Cartel enough. Give it a shot for $1 for 14 days.


Am I telling you to run out right now and sign up for every credit card with free miles offer? NO.

What I am telling you is that the credit card rewards game is VERY lucrative.  You can earn big rewards, very quickly, with nothing out of pocket. But with that being said, here is advice I give to anyone who wants to get started earning miles this way:

  • Know your credit score, it is the most important asset you have.
  • Understand how credit card applications and inquiries affect your credit score.  This is a big one as too many inquiries in a short period of time can affect your score.  Also, credit card inquiries fall off after a certain period of time, it is important to understand that too.
  • Do your research. Understand the credit card offer BEFORE you sign up for it.  Read the forums, read the blogs. Make 110% sure this deal is for you.
  • Know the rules.  Most times, if you own a small/personal business with a Tax ID, you can sign up for a business card as well as a personal card, essentially doubling your miles.
  • Shop around.  Just because you see an offer for 25,000 points to sign up for a card, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better one out there.  Even some “expired” offers can still be found with a little research.
  • Know your financial situation. If you are currently working on the minimum spend for 2 other credit cards, signing up for a 3rd one probably isn’t a safe bet.  Also understand that if the minimum spend for a card is outside of your budget ($25,000 in 12 months) or something you are not comfortable with, don’t do it.
  • Another deal will come along. In the past 5-6 months, we have seen a bunch of offers ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 points.  Airlines want you to fly, credit card companies want you to spend money.  The deals will come, just be patient.
  • Understand the alliances, as I pointed out a few days ago. If you can rack up miles on multiple carriers that are part of the same alliance, you are typically in better shape.

Further Reading

I cannot stress this enough.  Do your research.  Read the blogs. Learn about credit card churning, credit inquiries and things of the sort.  I am just getting into this whole world and wanted to make sure that I spread the love with some of my friends/family that read my site.

Here are a few good blog posts that should get you started:

I am by no means an expert in this game, but I am just figuring my way around.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask, I will do what I can to help or guide you.  The last thing I want to see is anyone ruining their credit over something silly like accruing miles.

If you are a fellow travel hacker, I would love to hear any tips, tricks, advice, stories, etc in the comments below. Otherwise, see you all on the beach!

Header Photo Credit / Photo 1 Credit

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6 Tools to Travel the World for Free

The vast expanse and unbridled beauty of the Alaskan wilderness is a destination that calls to thousands of travelers every year.  Not you, you say?  Ok, let’s try a few more reminders of why we are doing this:

Ahh yes, glad we are all on the same page now.

So now that you have done your research and are completely up to speed with the basics of airline routing, central hubs, rewards programs and your credit worthiness, now we will get into the top tools that I use to manage and participate in the travel hacking world.

Evernote: I use Evernote for almost everything, but in this case, I keep a dedicated notebook for traveling and travel hacking.  This notebook contains notes for upcoming vacations I want to keep an eye on, any research on travel that I am working on.  The main usage when it comes to travel hacking is a dedicated note that documents all of mine and my wife’s frequent flyer numbers and rewards numbers with their associated logins for quick and easy access when signing up for promotions or entering in contests to win miles/points.


LastPass: I use LastPass on my desktop and laptop so that no matter which computer I am on, my usernames and passwords are all available to be auto-filled and saved securely.  I also use LastPass’ feature to auto-fill forms.  This makes it easy when entering contests, applying for credit cards or filling out basic information.  Also if I am ever not on one of my computers, I have access to my vault online at http://www.lastpass.com, just like with Evernote.


GMail: GMail is my primary email client.  It syncs with my Android phone, my Mac OSX mail client and so much more.  It also allows me to use labels and filters to specifically filter out all of the emails I receive from the various rewards programs into a specific label/folder.  This comes in very handy as I can dedicate time to sift through the emails from the rewards programs at my leisure, not having every email hit my inbox.  This is also good practice with other services in which you get a lot of email from but is not 100% pertinent to your everyday productivity.


Award Wallet: After being turned onto Award Wallet back in January 2011, this site has been invaluable for tracking rewards programs points.  The website offers the ability to also track rewards information for more than one person too, so I can track all the rewards programs in my name, as well as those in my wife’s name, all from the same interface.  Currently, the site is web-based only, however, Android and iPhone applications are currently being developed as Award Wallet continues to grow and gain more ground as it garners more attention from the media and users.


Google Reader: Like Evernote above, I use Google Reader for a lot of things, but in relation to travel hacking, it is my insight into getting updates and blog posts surrounding the topic in and easy to read manner.  Google Reader makes it easy, I don’t have to remember to go visit 3-4 websites and read up on the daily updates, these updates are delivered to one central place and I on;y have to open 1 application or 1 website.   Here is a third party guide to getting started with Google Reader for Beginners.

Recommended Google Reader Reading

  • RSS Feed 1 – Frugal Travel Guy – Rick is one of the forefront experts in the Travel Hacking/Frugal Travel industry.  In his blog, he details his exploits and adventures in travelling frugally either through heavily discounted travel or free, rewards-based travel. He also makes it a point to explain things to “rookie travelers” and those just getting started in the game.  He talks about credit worthiness and how to effectively get the most points, almost always drawing on his own experiences to show the success stories.
  • RSS Feed 2 – The Points Guy -Brian is another expert in the field.  While him and Rick typically offer some of the same offers and promotions that are out there, Brian’s website is straight and to the point.  Just the deals and information you need, nothing more, and that is why I consistently read his blog, and why you should too.
  • RSS Feed 3 – View from the Wing – Gary is another go-to guy in this field.  Recently leaving the ranks of FlyerTalk to start up MilePoint (community based online forums).  His blog offers up various rewards that come across his desk, as well as reviews of hotels and flights he is on.  The site is more all inclusive reviews and rewards for the traveler, which also makes it a must visit on my travel hacking blog list.


Travel Hacking Cartel: The only tool or tip for travel hacking that I actually pay for. Founded by Chris Guillebeau, a renowned master in this realm, the THC offers 3 levels of membership. I am currently on the Economy plan, $15/mo for email updates the instant that new deals are released. I will spend $180 this year on THC, which is the cost of an off season, round trip, domestic airline ticket. In 4 months with THC, I have already racked up over 200,000 miles. That is the equivalent to 8 round trip domestic airline tickets.  Yeah, you get your money’s worth.


With all of these tools in your arsenal, you should be completely up to speed with all of your rewards programs, with easy access to all of them, as well as a straight forward method to track and maintain all the award points you are getting ready to rack up.

The real take away from all of these tools is Award Wallet and the Travel Hacking Cartel.  Award Wallet is an absolutely stellar product that centralizes almost everything and honestly I could not live without.  The Travel Hacking Cartel is what makes miles/points earning so easy and really helped initialize me into this travel hacking world by providing a constant stream of miles/points earning offers.  I cannot recommend their service enough.

Stay tuned for the next installment where I will detail how I have earned over 200,000 miles without ever leaving the comforts of my house and how you can earn EVEN MORE, as the points game is heating up with many new partners offering huge bonuses.

And just for grins, one more reminder.  You can go here for FREE:

I hope you are as excited about this as I am, because just talking about this makes me hungry for more miles and more travel opportunities!

Questions about these tools, how they are used or any related questions, please feel free to contact me and I would be more than happy to help you get started.

Header Photo Credit / Photo 1 Credit / Photo 2 Credit / Photo 3 Credit / Photo 4 Credit

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5 Simple Tips to Travel the World for Free

White sandy beaches, exotic locales, remote islands, foreign culture.  Just a few of the many reasons that people love to travel.  They want to experience things they see in photos like this:

The common complaint is the cost to visit these places, so many people put these trips off until retirement.  Then you end up like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List, rushing to do these things before you die.

Sound familiar? Then this is for you:

You CAN go to these places for CHEAP or FREE.

Yup, you heard me.


Airlines and hotels have been giving away Frequent Flyer miles and Hotel Rewards points for quite some time now, but what most people do not realize (and I really didn’t until recently) is that you do not need to actually be on an airplane or in a hotel to earn miles/points.

I had heard about the concept of Travel Hacking over the years, but really got involved in it this past winter.  Sure, my wife and I had always stayed at Marriott properties and had racked up some points there, but when I started my foray into this, we only had about 50,000-60,000 hotel points/airline miles combined.

4 months later, we have over 475,000 miles/points. More on that later.

Quite impressive, right?  Not really.  I am still an amateur in this game.  Others have been in this game for much longer and have easily racked up over 5 million points/miles, with VERY LITTLE out of pocket expenses.

In a series of upcoming posts, I will detail all of the tools I use to consistently earn miles from the comfort of my own home, as well as some recommendations for surviving in the travel hacking game.   To start off, here are my 5 simple tips for the newcomers to get started.

5 Simple Tips

Sign up for all the Frequent Flyer and Hotel points programs

All of the rewards programs are free, for every hotel, every airline.  The quick sign up form typically involves a name, email address and mailing address.  Yes, they want to send you marketing email and junk mail, but that is not completely a bad thing. Sure, there will be some SPAM, but there also is the opportunity to get last minute airfare deals that are only sent to hotel/airline rewards members, or emails that offer exclusive discounts for rewards members too.  Not bad when planning a last minute trip or searching for great deals, but the ultimate goal here is to have rewards numbers for all the programs so that you can quickly and easily partake in any promotions or giveaways.

Research which airlines fly out of your local airport(s)

It is important to know which airlines are based out of your local airport, as you have a greater likelihood of getting inexpensive airfare or rewards flights when dealing with an airline’s central hub, rather than with an airline that only has a few daily flights in and out of your local airport. AirlineRouteMaps.com is a good place to start.  If you are not located near a central hub, then it is equally as important to know who flies in and out of your airport.  This will make planning rewards trips easier.

Research which airlines fly into your destination locale(s)

If you are planning on earning some miles for a particular destination, it is also important to match up what airlines fly out of your local airport with ones that fly into the destination you are wanting to go to.  Non-stop travel is (at least for me) ideal, as much as I love flying, my goal is to get to my destination, not to spend hours in an airport.  Keep reading up on AirlineRouteMaps.com for a good primer.

Understand which airlines are part of which alliance

There are 3 major airline alliances in the world today, Star Alliance, SkyTeam and OneWorld, all with various U.S. Based and international airlines.  It is important to know which airlines are part of which alliance as it can increase your overall ability to earn miles towards a goal. For example, if you have the ability to earn miles on both American Airlines and British Airways, you can combine the two when traveling as they are both members of OneWorld. More details can be found on the Airline Alliance page of Wikipedia.

Check your credit scores

I know what you are thinking, but yes, credit scores can actually help you earn more miles, and faster, aside from being just good general financial knowledge for you to have. There are 3 credit bureaus that all retain scores on your credit worthiness, and all 3 combine to make up your credit score. There are a resources out there to check your credit scores with 1 of the 3 bureaus for free, every 6 months, or there is the only U.S. Government authorized credit score site, AnnualCreditReport.com.

Those are the 5 basics that really helped me get started in the travel hacking game.  Not only will this knowledge help you in identifying what your ultimate goal is, it will also help you focus your efforts on those that are important to you, ensuring that you will be successful in your goal.

Let’s face the facts here, if this concept of travel hacking was easy, everyone would be doing it and we would be putting the airlines out of business.  The truth is, it is very easy to go astray in this game.  Most people I know do not have lofty goals of travelling the world, they would just like the ability to not be completely in financial debt by taking their family of 4 on a week long vacation, and those are the people that I want to help.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series that will detail the tools I use to earn miles from the comfort of my home (or, hotel room).

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