“I Was a 220 Pound College-Recruited Middle Linebacker and I’ve Been Homeless Twice”

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Welcome to the next installment of our interview series where folks share their thoughts about Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview:   Six Weeks to Sunrise

Trevor writes Six Weeks to Sunrise to teach folks how to self-fund a travel lifestyle.  He’s also giving away a $75 Amazon gift card on his blog!

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

Trevor With His Bicycle and Trailer in Front of Che Guevara Graffiti in Buenos Aires, Argentina

How and when did you start collecting miles and points?

In May 2011, I completed a 2.5 year bicycle tour across South America.  What was supposed to be a sabbatical slowly evolved into the realization that I didn’t want to return to the office.  From my apartment in Buenos Aires, I started Googling different ways to financially sustain my nomadic lifestyle.

Poker, English teaching, translating, and various online businesses were all obvious choices, but I was most attracted to the miles and points game because it seemed like the quickest and easiest way to eliminate my biggest travel expenses: airfare and accommodation.

From Argentina I applied for cards, received sign-up bonuses, and became obsessed with everything mile-related.  Millions of miles later, I still view miles and points as tools that make a travel lifestyle possible.

Why did you start your blog?  What’s special about it?

Turns out creating a financially-sustainable nomadic lifestyle doesn’t happen over night.

From Buenos Aires, I returned to the United States to pursue a business opportunity that flopped.  Nearly broke and needing drastic change, I then moved to the booming oil fields of western North Dakota because the salaries were higher, companies provided food & housing, and rotating schedules were the norm.

When I landed a job with a 6 weeks on and 2 weeks off schedule, I began redeeming miles to all the places I most wanted to visit.  Using miles to visit these 24 countries only reinforced my desire to be able to live and work anywhere.  My blog documents this transition from employee to location independent entrepreneur.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

In Foodie Heaven in Singapore

In July, I’ll quit my oil field job to travel Eastern Europe, ride the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing, live in Southeast Asia, then find a job in Australia where I have a 1 year work visa.  Of course I’ll write about my experiences in these 16 countries on my blog.

What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?

Listen to celebrities pimp Capital One’s double miles.  Just kidding.  Credit card sign-up bonuses are the most efficient way to stockpile miles.  Nothing new there.

My strategy focuses on mapping out credit card applications 24 months in advance to ensure the hard inquiries are spread equally across credit bureaus and credit card issuers.  More approvals, more sign-up bonuses, more travel.

In my opinion, being methodical with credit inquiries is the best way to keep the miles and points gravy train going.  If this is a new concept to you, I offer a credit card application planning service on my blog.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

Tuna Vendor in Tokyo

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

My most memorable experiences don’t tend to be the postcard versions of the places I visit.  Good people, good food, that’s why I travel now.

In Bolivia, I was invited into a family’s mud-brick home for the night.  While potatoes boiled in a big black kettle the grandmother told stories in Quechua, laughing and smiling while the grandson interpreted in Spanish.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

I Enjoy Getting to Know the Locals When I Travel

In the Ecuadorian Amazon, I camped outside a shaman’s stilted-hut for a week while participating in ayahausca rituals, which are believed to cure illness and offer enlightenment.

And in the Albanian countryside I drank homemade raki, a grape alcohol drink popular in the region, with a man who recounted how his father spent a lifetime building bunkers for a corrupt communist regime.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

In the Albanian Alps Near Thethi, Albania

Motorbike rides in Hanoi, salsa nights in Havana, dinner parties in Lisbon…I could talk your ear off!  Most of these memories would never have happened without miles.  I feel fortunate beyond words.

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?

My brother thinks this hobby will land me in jail.  And my coworkers think I’ll wind up in a Russian gulag.  Most friends have no clue to what level I’ve taken this addiction.

My parents, on the other hand, are fascinated by what I do.

Recently I booked them business class to Moscow where we’ll begin our Trans-Siberian railway journey.  Booking these free flights and luxury hotels (including the 5 star Radisson Royal Hotel in downtown Moscow) convinced my parents to get in on the action.  I’ve since helped them be approved for 15+ credit cards while increasing their credit scores.

To my parents, buying gift cards to meet minimum spending is like a completing top secret missions.  It’s a thrill, a game.

My mom dances a celebratory jig at home every time she scores a $500 reload card.  I’m working with her on how to be more low-key and spy-like.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

Guinea Pigs in Puno, Peru

Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?

There is no shortage of free online resources for anyone wanting to take travel to a whole new level.  Since the rabbit hole gets deeper by the day, I continually return to the tools that save me time.

For example, Mint tracks credit card spending and Awardwallet tracks loyalty program accounts.  Feedly makes scanning hundreds of blog headlines easy.  Milez.biz calculates and compares flight redemption rates of different frequent flyer programs.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

Looks Just Like Big Mouth Billy Bass, the Talking Fish People Used to Hang on Their Wall

Wandr.me has a useful resource page.  Deals We Like sends text message alerts about limited-time deals.  And Loyalty Lobby lists current hotel promos and deals.

Most mile & point blogs also have airline and destination-specific Top 10 Redemption lists that are both inspirational and informative.  Remember: Google knows all.

What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?

When cancelling credit cards, I never expect retention bonuses because I’m not a big spender, so when agents validate my “valued customer” status with extra miles I’m always surprised.  I also wasn’t expecting a recent transaction to be approved, now that CVS is no longer accepting credit cards as payment for Vanilla Reloads.  But I was pleasantly surprised when it did.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

Water Buffalo Skull in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

In general, my earning strategies are deliberate so I don’t stumble upon too many miles and points that I didn’t specifically target.  If you have the time and patience, shopping portalsdining reward programs, and checking evreward before shopping can be worthwhile to top off accounts.   Especially when receiving bonuses for opening new accounts.  Or multiple “new” accounts with different emails.

What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?

Hindsight is a…learning opportunity.  When I 1st started applying for credit cards, I didn’t understand how to spread credit inquiries amongst credit bureaus and credit issuers, which negatively affected my credit score and ultimately lead to denials.  That was a setback.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

Food Vendor in Marrakesh’s Jemaa el-Fnaa Square

I also wish I would have spent more time on FlyerTalk to learn the ins and outs of this world.  There are highly-protected, highly-encrypted loopholes discussed there that I’m only now beginning to decipher.  Right or not, this is information that must be earned by throwing yourself into the learning curve.

I’ve recouped my time investment many times over with the knowledge gained.  A recent $48, 1-way flight to Europe was a direct result of my FlyerTalk detective work.

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

In a former life, I was a 220 pound college-recruited middle linebacker and I’ve been homeless twice.  Once I shipped a street dog from Costa Rica to the United States.  I spent the majority of my 20s in Latin America.

Six Weeks To Sunrise - Interview With Trevor

Catching Lobsters in Brazil

I know how to complete an undergraduate university degree for free (young people contact me!).  I’m legally qualified to transport radioactive waste.  I speak Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese but can barely order food in French.  Turbulence still makes my palms sweat.

Any parting words?

You can fly most anywhere in the world for almost free, then stay in luxury hotels upon arrival.  Let that sink in.  Even though I’m living proof, it stills feels surreal.  Get started now.

Learn how credit scores work, then how to spend at levels that are comfortable to you.  Learn from Dararius, from other blogs, from my blog, from FlyerTalk, and then methodically target the credit card sign-up bonuses that will take you to your next destination.

Only after redeeming that first award seat will you realize the value in all this, that it’s possible to visit even the most far-flung, exotic locale without breaking the bank.

The truth is, this hobby won’t be around forever.  And you won’t either.  See the world while you can.

Trevor – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!

If you’d like to be considered for our interview series, please send me a note!

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18 responses to ““I Was a 220 Pound College-Recruited Middle Linebacker and I’ve Been Homeless Twice”

  1. Seems like a pretty incredible life story, good to see more people are worrying about spreading inquiries between credit bureaus.

  2. Terry Burwell

    Great interview! I met Trevor ten years ago in Costa Rica. He is responsible for introducing me to miles, and has continued to mentor me through the process as I fall deeper into the rabbit hole. If not for him I would have fewer stamps in my passport and less money in my wallet. Thanks Trevor!

  3. Terry Burwell

    Great interview! I met Trevor ten years ago in Costa Rica. He is responsible for introducing me to miles. If not for him I would have fewer stamps in my passport and less money in my wallet. Thanks Trevor!

  4. Ugh huge pet peeve of mine. That’s not a “water buffalo” skull. The water buffalo lives in Asia, and usually refers to a domesticated animal. That’s a Cape Buffalo skull.

  5. Pingback: $75 Amazon Card Giveaway: How Many FF Miles Are Needed to Visit 6 Continents? – Six Weeks to Sunrise

  6. Hi Dararius,

    Can you shed more light on what Trevor said about the need to “spread credit inquiries amongst credit bureaus and credit issuers”? I’m a new follower of your blog, so I’d like to know if you have links to entries about this topic.

    Thanks

    Sam

  7. Great article. Thanks for posting. Trevor mentions the mapping out process for applications and credit bureaus twice in his interview.

    What are the associations with credit card issuers and credit bureaus to avoid these hard inquiries? Is there a posting on this anywhere?
    (eg. Citibank uses TransUnion, Chase uses Experian etc)
    Thanks

  8. @Ray, I believe Trevor’s statement about credit pulls/inquires is focused on understanding which banks pull from which agencies. You then apply for cards accordingly, so as to limit hard pulls and maximize when the pulls do occur. I do not believe you can avoid the pulls, you can only better maximize what you apply for before, during, and after a credit pull. Example: apply for multiple cards that all pull from the same source at the same time. This translates into one pull and multiple cards rather than spreading them out to individual pulls per card.

  9. I’ve looked at the site (thanks–love it!), but don’t see the credit card application planning service Trevor mentions. Like others, I understand the concept, but need a place that tells me specifics–such as Chase pulls from Experion, and Barclay’s pulls from TransUnion. Thanks in advance/

  10. @Jan: The info page for my credit card app planning service is not yet live on the blog. My current 12-hour-per-day, 42-day-straight work schedule unfortunately didn’t allow me to update the site before this interview. I’ll add some details tonight in the ‘About’ section. In the meantime, feel free to contact me at mrtrevorwright@gmail.com

  11. @James: I admit ignorance, I didn’t know the difference. Thanks for the education. My pet peeve is when people spell the country Colombia with a ‘u.’ Drives me crazy inside.

  12. @Jan and any others wanting to know where a company pulls (it varies by region)
    Look at http://creditboards.com/forums/index.php?autocom=creditpulls

  13. what a handsome fellow!

  14. Best interview ever. Traveling for the people? A white dude who takes time to learn another language besides English? And encourages readers to be proactive and careful in their applications. Great person, great interview, great advice. Thanks.

  15. WOW, one of the best travel bloggers, thanks for bringing this fellow to my attention. This is the point of travel!!! And to do it so well is a real value to your readers MMS is amazing.

  16. Pingback: How to Visit 6 Continents, 38 countries, for 215K Airline Miles – Six Weeks to Sunrise

  17. @BeautifulPeople:

    I’ve received many emails after this interview, everything from wondering how to spread inquiries across credit bureaus to I’m-kinda-cute to was I lying about that free undergraduate degree? Due to my work schedule I’m not able to respond as quickly as I’d like, and I’m starting to feel guilty about it.

    That’s why I write here with some general info that might help:

    1) How to Spread Inquiries Across Credit Bureaus?

    Read this relevent MMS post:

    http://millionmilesecrets.com/2011/08/23/credit-pulls/

    I’d add creditchecktotal.com and scoresense.com as two free ways to obtain credit reports for all three credit bureaus.

    Simply sign up for the trial period, get the reports, then call to cancel. Each report has a section which shows which bank pulled from which credit bureau. If you still live at the same address at the time of the inquiry, then it’s HIGHLY likely the same bank will pull from the same credit bureau the next time you apply for their credit card. This is how you match a bank’s inquiry to it’s most likely credit bureau.

    Of course, there are more advanced things you can do to increase your rate of credit card approvals. If like me you plan to do this for many, many years to come then spreading inquiries across bureaus is half the battle.

    Below are other factors to take into consideration (Note: these aren’t logical, they’re learned from following forums and staying updated on the latest news).

    Certain banks:

    -Have varying internal rules
    -Don’t like you to apply too often
    -Limit credit lines based on income
    -Limit the number of open cards
    -Trade or swap credit lines
    -Reverse denials with follow-up phone calls
    -Reverse denials with follow-up letters
    -Approve new cards based on old card activity
    -Pull from non-big-three credit bureaus
    -Can pull from different bureaus if one is frozen
    -Have one-card per lifetime rules
    -Approve the same card multiple times
    -The above rules change and evolve

    Knowing that I’m opening a can of worms and possibly confusing more than helping, I think it’s necessary to understand that the answer isn’t a one-sentence email response. That’s why award booking services and my (in-the-works) credit card application planning service can easily pay for themselves—there’s a lot of intangible knowledge at work behind the scenes. I think MMS has a few other articles about best practices.

    2) How to complete an undergraduate degree for free?

    I shouldn’t have been so cryptic. If you’re willing to study OUTSIDE the United States, then there are opportunities to do so cheaply, for free, or even at profit (e.g. have tuition and living expenses paid for by lesser-known scholarships, grants, or organizations).

    For example, in 2004 I paid around US$4,800 in tuition per semester at a US university. In 2005 I direct enrolled at a Costa Rican university for less than $500 per semester. No scholarship or special rate, that’s the tuition price. My credits transferred back to my US degrees (I had professors pre-approve to mitigate the risk).

    In Argentina, foreigners can direct enroll in undergraduate programs for free. In Norway, foreigners can complete a Master’s for free. Google will happily tell you which other countries also educate foreigners without burdening them with debt.

    But will the credits count toward a US degree program? Unless your future professon will require US accreditation (e.g. medicine, law, engineering, etc.), then I believe the upside of a foreign degree is far greater than any ‘perceived’ downsides. Honestly, most companies don’t care about your degree anyway (which is why few even validate it during the hiring process). 100K recent grads have that same piece of paper, nobody cares. Be valuable instead. You speak fluently our target market’s language? You can navigate the cultural/business landscape because you lived there for four years?! We don’t have to hold your hand on international business trips?! Yes, we want to pay you 3x US salary plus living expenses and benefits to live in a low-cost paradise. So many multinationals can’t find the talent.

    I’m not entirely up-to-date on all available opportunities, but I did work in international education for almost three years. You’d be surprised how little you can pay for a real education abroad IF you direct enroll or identify that grant/scholarship/organization that wants to help you financially because you’ll help them somehow in return. This last part, though not implicit, is important to remember when completing their paperwork.

    My biggest regret is going into debt to get an education when there are so many ways to study for free if you’re creative and persistent. If there is enough interest, I’ll try to compile a current list of countries that allow foreigners to study for free.

    If you wrote me a private message, I’ll respond shortly. Thanks again for understanding my work situation. Less than two months until I begin my half-RTW to Australia:)

  18. Wow! you are one interesting character! Love it!