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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: Roam Far and Wide
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Eight years ago, I was desperate for a change in life.
In my late 30’s, scraping by financially, in debt, and battling depression, I was barely coping with an unfulfilling job and life. I’d been working nearly 20 years, dreaming of traveling the whole time, but only managing to get away for the standard American vacation (1 to 2 weeks) a few times in all those years.
In a moment of madness, I Googled “how to travel for free.” What I found were blogs that introduced me to a whole new world called “travel hacking.”
I couldn’t believe it could be possible. I studied these blogs for hours everyday, and hope replaced depression. Determination replaced stagnancy.
Because I had good credit, I was primed and ready to start. I’m kind of an all-or-nothing woman, so I set my goal high: I wanted to quit my job and travel around the world for one year. I thought it would take 3 years to collect enough miles and money to start the journey. Not so.
It took 5 years to climb out of debt and then scrimp and save enough for a very low-budget, 1-year tour of the world. By then, I had collected 2 million frequent flyer miles. In early 2013, I quit the job, got rid of nearly all my belongings and began the first leg of this epic adventure.
Three years later, I’m still going.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
I’m highly curious with an unconventional outlook. That said, I seem to get myself into highly improbable situations on a regular basis — which means I have good stories.
You won’t find any “Top 10” lists on my blog, but hopefully you’ll have a moment of entertainment or inspiration reading about my adventures. While I’m telling stories, I work hard to infuse them with local history and legend.
My regular readers have followed me through the highs and lows of nearly non-stop budget travel through 21 countries. As a 46-year-old solo female traveler, my perspective is vastly different than those on gap year or traveling in retirement.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
I never buy anything online without checking Evreward.com first to see how I can get the maximum points for the purchase. Obviously, I use my credit cards for all purchases and pay them off monthly.
In the beginning there is a lot to learn, because getting the miles is only half the equation. Using them wisely is the other half, and there are a lot of complicated rules associated with each airline and alliance.
Read a lot of blogs so you don’t miss short-term opportunities to earn. And understand how to maximize what you do earn.
These days, I focus on credit card bonuses and rarely have the time to put in the work for complicated schemes.
Slow and steady wins the race.
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
It’s hard to say because there have been so many thanks to this hobby. But once, using my earned miles, I was able to fly myself, my mother, and my best friend to the Peruvian Amazon and onward to Easter Island.
For someone like myself, who never made much money, being able to give such an amazing trip to people I loved was incredible. Sharing the wealth is really fun!
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
I get pretty geeky-excited when I talk about miles and often there are a lot of blank stares in return. My good friends seem to be impressed but not inclined to do it themselves. My mother thinks I’m a genius (but mothers are good for that).
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
I use AwardWallet for keeping track of miles. I use Google spreadsheets for keeping track of opened and closed cards.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?
Years ago I bought some useless property-tracking stickers which offered a huge number of miles per dollar spent. That earned me a couple hundred thousand US Airways miles. They converted into American Airlines miles and I’m still using them.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Things are very different now than when I started 8 years ago. Now, with rules like Chase’s 5/24 rule, you need to be strategic and make sure you apply for the most valuable cards first.
I started slowly and spent massive amounts of time learning from blogs like Million Mile Secrets so I didn’t make mistakes I’d regret. Err on the side of caution so you can enjoy the benefits over the long haul. Getting too greedy can get you shut down, and that’s no fun.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I’m 100% nomadic and travel full-time thanks to the freedom this hobby has given me. I didn’t expect that I would be able to sustain myself for so long on the road, but magically the universe has supported me and my wild dream. Having miles gives me so much freedom to follow my whims and interests, wherever they may be.
Any parting words?
Engaging in this strange hobby, combined with some grit and determination, has made my impossible dream come true. I have traveled all over the world which never would have been possible otherwise. If you’re American and have good credit and organizational skills, this can be the golden ticket.
On the more cautious side, I can not emphasize enough that avoiding debt is the key. The number 1 reason people tell me they cannot travel is credit card debt (gasp!), car payments, mortgages, student loans etc.. Do all you can to keep those chains off your wrists and you will have choices.
Do not travel hack if you can’t pay the balance off on your credit cards every month. Get out and stay out of debt, and true freedom, if that’s what you want, will be possible.
Laura – 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!