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Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money!
Napoleon is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Napoleon for sharing his story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
I go by Napoleon Streisand and have been collecting miles and points since 2011.
What was the goal of your trip?
To go to all 7 continents with the help of miles and points. Obviously, I went to Antarctica on a ship. I had a 4 month window and went to 10 countries.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
In 2012, I was in my tiny Brooklyn apartment fantasizing about taking a backpacking trip. I aimlessly accumulated miles over the year from various sign-up bonuses.
When I got more serious about taking the trip and saw what miles I needed, it took me 3 months to collect the rest of the points.
Which points did you save to take your trip?
I saved and used:
I signed-up for 3 or 4 credit cards to earn that many miles.
How did you search for and find the award flights?
At 1st, I searched the old-fashioned way and spent hours typing in searches for where I wanted to go.
My 1st leg of the trip was with United Airlines to Montevideo, Uruguay. Every day there was a new route and different times. It was fun to see what each day was going to have.
One night I couldn’t sleep and all of a sudden had an urge get out of bed and go to the computer to search “Travel Hacking” on YouTube.
The 1st video I watched taught how to book an open-jaw and stopover for only 62,500 United Airlines miles. Then I went on the United Airlines website and couldn’t believe what I saw.
Originally, I wanted to go to Antarctica and Australia to complete my goal of visiting 7 continents before turning 30.
With the new United Airlines trick I learned, I could slip in a trip to Southeast Asia and I would be happy. Then another thought popped in my head saying I should got to all 7 continents in 1 trip! I thought that would be too crazy.
A few searches later, I realized it was possible. I stayed up all night until I had to rush to work in the morning.
For 62,500 United Airlines miles, I went from Australia to Cambodia (open-jaw), Thailand to Ethiopia (16-hour layover), Ethiopia to Egypt (6-day stop over), Egypt to Austria (14-hour layover), then Austria to New York.
It was the best redemption I ever had. Unfortunately, this trick isn’t available any more.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
For a 4-month trip, I knew hotel points weren’t going to cover my accommodations. I mainly did Couchsurfing and stayed in the cheapest hostels to stretch my dollar.
Couchsurfing was fun because I got to stay with local people and learn more about the culture. Because I hitchhiked and spontaneously took bus rides to different cities, I utilized emergency Couchsurfing.
It’s a resource that allows you to ask for a place to sleep the same night you request. After arriving in Mendoza, Argentina, at 8:00 am, I found Wi-Fi and sent a few couch requests and I got a place to stay by 8:45 am.
Hostels are great to save money and to meet other travelers. In addition to the cheap beds, there are usually travelers who are willing to make new travel plans. If traveling solo, you will never feel alone.
In Bariloche, Argentina, I met two Israelis at a hostel and we decided to take a 3-day road trip through Patagonia. It was a fun time with strangers who soon became friends.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
There were times when a route wasn’t available 1 day and showed up the next. This was frustrating because I missed out on certain flights.
If there is a great flight or route you want to book, call right away and reserve it. It’s free. Once reserved, then you can assess whether or not it fits in your plans.
Another challenge was when I booked the open-jaw stopover on United Airlines. It took me 3 calls.
The 1st operator said it would be 120,000 United Airlines miles and I didn’t have enough in my account. I insisted it should be half that because of the open-jaw and stopover.
He could have cared less and stubbornly resisted to help. I could have stopped right there and given up, but I remembered Daraius saying to hang up and keep calling. The 2nd operator scoffed at me and said it wasn’t possible.
I asked to speak to the supervisor and even she agreed it couldn’t be done. I was starting to doubt myself. I decided to give it 1 final try.
The 3rd call I got an operator who booked it no problem and even congratulated me on the fun reservation. The lesson here is always call back.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
The most common question I get asked about is Antarctica. I took a ship from Ushuaia, Argentina, to various parts of Antarctica.
The voyage was 5 days at sea and 5 days on land. The cost for me was $5,000 which is much lower than the price for the public. It’s usually $8,000 to $10,000, but I got a discount through a friend who had a popular travel blog.
Knowing someone with a big following can definitely be used as leverage for a cheaper price. Do not book through 3rd parties, only through the operating company itself.
There is a law in Antarctica that only 100 people from the ship can be on land at a time. Therefore, it’s best to be on a ship that has 100 or less non-crew passengers.
If you plan to go to Antarctica, go sooner than later because they are allowing fewer people to visit and increasing the price every year.
The best thing to do at any destination is go to the city or town center and people-watch on a bench for an hour. Leave room for someone to sit next to you and be open to converse with a local.
People are surprisingly friendly outside the US and enjoy talking to strangers. It’s a great way to learn about the area. I’ve made many friends this way.
Another tip is when you go to a hostel or hotel, find someone who speaks English (or the language of your choice) and ask them where they have been and what they recommend.
Be open to changing plans and finding a new travel friend. Some of the best memories came from meeting random people and making spontaneous travel plans!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
The best lesson learned was how to be calm in stressful situations.
During the trip, I went to Australia and did a 10-day silent meditation. It consisted of 10 days of no talking, reading, writing, or eye contact with everyone else. I meditated for 10 hours a day with only eating and sleeping in between.
Even though it was very difficult at times, I came out of it with a unique perspective on life and more control on how I reacted to external situations. What would have been perceived as stressful, simply was not as stressful anymore.
I learned how good of a problem solver I was. My backpack was only 17 pounds with no room for warm clothes. One pair of hiking pants, a light sweatshirt, and a windbreaker were the warmest clothes I had.
With only a week before my Antarctica trip, I bought a light jacket from a thrift store in El Bolson, Argentina. It was the only jacket I could find and somehow it all worked out. Most people in Antarctica brought heavy winter jackets and snow pants for the cold weather. I was the only person in Antarctica wearing all my t-shirts and a light jacket!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
Don’t limit yourself.
Think of a dream trip and know it’s not a question of whether or not you can afford it. The important question is when you will accumulate the miles and points. You may only need as little as 3 credit cards to have a long-term trip like mine.
If you are new to miles and points, talk to an experienced traveler about your dream trip.
There is so much information out there that it can cause paralysis by analysis. I think it’s best to research the information you need to know rather than waste time on irrelevant data.
When you have a direction of what to read and which tasks to complete, you will learn with a purpose. Then of course, branch out and learn about all the gems this dynamic hobby has to offer.
Most importantly, have a plan. Learn every day and keep up with all the deals and strategies on Million Mile Secrets.
Speaking of dream trips, our next family trip is to Fiji, Australia, Bali, and Thailand. We used American Airlines miles to fly in Business Class. It only cost us $182 in taxes!
If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send me a note! Emily and I would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!