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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!
Miles & Points Interview: The Selfish Years
Kyle is an indie game developer and Christine is a lawyer. After living in Orlando for 8 years, they decided to rent their house, throw out all of their worldly possessions, and wander the world. I was looking forward to our Friday chat!
How and when did you start collecting miles and points?
Mr. Selfish: After a trip to Machu Picchu, I was hit with a serious bout of food poisoning. I spent the following week on the couch, browsing the internet and trying to forget the horrors brought upon my insides by Peruvian street food. Somehow during this sickness-induced haze of web surfing, I stumbled upon flyertalk and learned about the two-browser trick.
Two hours later, I applied for 2 American Airlines cards for Mrs. Selfish and I for 150,000 miles each, and we started planning a yearlong trip around the world! Since then we’ve accumulated over 2.7 million miles and points, over half of which we’ve redeemed on this trip.
Why did you start your blog? What’s special about it?
Mr. Selfish: We started the Selfish Years as an easy way for friends and family to keep track of where we are and what we’re doing. It’s less a travel hacking site, and more one giant trip report – with a lot of reporting on hotels and flights we’ve paid for with miles and points.
The number of miles and points we’ve earned in the last two years is nothing within the frequent flyer community, but I’d like to think we’ve burned those points well!
In the last 8 months, we’ve been to 66 cities and 20 countries. We’ve stayed in luxury 5 star hotels, ghetto motels adjacent to strip clubs, and rustic huts swarming with rats and rusty nails. We’ve flown on Lufthansa’s 747-8’s first class service, Ryanair’s sardine class, and everything in between.
Each day is an adventure and I have no idea what’s going to happen when we finally come home in 4 months.
What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?
Mr. Selfish: Read, read, read! The wealth of knowledge in the travel hacking community is mind-boggling – there are some really clever people out there doing some really clever things. A lot of the time we focus on earning miles, but burning them is ten times more important – and harder!
What’s your most memorable travel experience?
Mrs. Selfish: During our selfish year, Mr. Selfish and I have created memories to last a lifetime. The travel experiences that I remember the most though are when we interacted with strangers that we never would have otherwise met. During Oktoberfest in Munich, we met two older German gentlemen, who shared their table with us.
Although we didn’t speak German and they hardly spoke English, we all understood the common language of enjoying good beers. As Mr. Selfish and I were trying to figure out how to get dinner during our first night in Marrakech, Morocco, I heard American English and latched onto a family, who graciously invited us to dinner. That night, as we followed them through the zig-zagging streets of the souks, I knew that we never would have found anything to eat in the dark if it hadn’t been for this nice family.
What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby?
Mr. Selfish: My mom has been extremely supportive. Since leaving the States, Mrs. Selfish and I have done two different app-o-ramas: 4 cards each last Fall, and 5 cards each in January. Since we no longer have a US address, my mom ended up collecting all the credit cards and reading me the pertinent information – so we’ve been really, really lucky.
I’ve been trying to nudge my parents to take trips of their own, but other than meeting up with us in Barcelona last year, they’ve been reluctant international travelers. Slowly they’re coming to see the benefits of points and miles, but for them the amount of paperwork is a little overwhelming.
Is there any tool or trick which you’ve found especially useful in this hobby?
Mr. Selfish: Since we’re traveling for such an extended period of time, we run into problems we wouldn’t were we taking a 1-week vacation. We now use Microsoft’s Sky Drive to back up all of our photos after our external hard drive died in Saigon. For a lot of Asian countries, we use Google Translate to create documents of common questions to show to shopkeepers and cab drivers.
When ordering from restaurants without an English menu (usually the best ones!), Mrs. Selfish takes pictures of popular items to show to the waiter.
Mrs. Selfish: Prior to taking this selfish trip, I would spend weeks at a time planning a week-long vacation. I would meticulously read travel books, search for travel blogs, and plan a very detailed itinerary for each day of our trip.
Very early on in this trip, I started suffering from travel planning fatigue. Unfortunately, traveling for a year requires a great deal of planning and organization. In planning each segment of our trip, I typically do cursory research the night before arriving in the new city on Wiki Travel and Trip Advisor.
I then create a Google Map with the points of interest and plan our days according to the top sights. We have a Google Map for each city we’ve visited on this trip.
Mr. Selfish and I also use TripIt quite a bit. TripIt is a website to which you can forward all of your travel confirmation emails from airlines, hotels, etc. All of the information is stored online on the TripIt website, as well as on its app, which you can use offline.
What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles and points?
Mr. Selfish: Prior to our selfish year trip, I had to get two rounds of gum surgery, which was plain awful. Fortunately, my orthodontist’s office accepted gift cards, so I managed to pay for it all with visa cards I’d bought from Office Depot. It was horribly painful at the time, but I felt a lot better about it when I used the 10,000 UR points I earned to book two nights at the Hyatt Bali.
What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?
Mr. Selfish: I wish I had known about stopovers, open-jaws, and free one-ways. Before we started collecting miles and points, Mrs. Selfish and I used points for two round trip tickets from Orlando to Tokyo. At the time, using the points for a free flight was amazing, but it would have been even better to use the same tickets for a free stopover in South East asia, or a free one-way to New York City.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Mr. Selfish: People might be surprised to know I worked for a huge portion of the trip. The world is such a connected place that it was surprisingly easy. During the Europe portion of our trip, I was able to continue my daily meetings with my partners over Skype. Since we were already using Google docs, transitioning over to a nomadic lifestyle worked pretty well with our selfish trip.
Mrs. Selfish: People would be surprised to know that I actually miss Orlando quite a bit. There were times when Mr. Selfish and I were eating macarons at a Paris cafe or watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat and something would remind me of Orlando. I would think of eating a cupcake at my favorite cupcake shop or watching a movie at my favorite indie movie theatre and miss Orlando horribly.
Any parting words?
Mrs. Selfish: Quitting my job and traveling for a year was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. People on their deathbeds never wish that they had worked more, and I will never regret taking this selfish year for me and Mr. Selfish to travel the world.
Kyle – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!