For the past 12 months, we’ve explored 16 cities in 11 different countries across 4 continents. We’ve taken 28 flights with 7 different airlines and visited more than 10 airport lounges. We’ve stayed at 17 different hotels during our travels and received countless complimentary meals and room upgrades thanks to my Hilton Diamond status, IHG Platinum status, and Hyatt Discoverist status. I’ve acquired more than 400,000 points/miles which helped us save close to $9,000 in travel expenses. What an incredible year it has been and I owe most of it to the travel hacking community. In this post, I’ll reflect on my year of travel and also choose some superlatives at the end.
Traveling hadn’t really played a huge part in my life until this year. Part of the reason is that I didn’t have the means to travel and the other is that I wasn’t really interested in traveling. For some reason, though, I just fell in love with it. From all the pre-planning when you decide where you’re going to go, what you’re going to do, where you’re going to stay, etc. To when you actually arrive at your destination and are confused, scared, and kind of want to go home. And finally to the moment when you feel like you’re AT HOME and can’t imagine leaving. When I reflect on WHY exactly I fell in love with traveling, I can’t pinpoint one single thing. Maybe it’s because I love overcoming the cultural and lingual obstacles that always accompany traveling. Maybe it’s because I like to imagine myself living somewhere other than Texas or the US. Or maybe it’s because I’ve grown so much by learning about other cultures, beliefs, and histories. There are probably a million reasons why I love fleeing home with just a carry-on in hand and Julia by my side, but all I know… is that we live in a beautiful world, and it’s meant to be explored.
My travels would have been impossible without the community of travel hackers here in the US. Unlike many other countries, our credit card companies choose to give us FAT sign-up bonuses for meeting a minimum spending requirement, which is usually easily accomplished with everyday spending. When I first looked up this hobby, I thought it was too good to be true… Wouldn’t I get into debt? Nope, because I’m financially responsible (maybe to a fault) and treat my credit cards like debit cards. Wouldn’t my credit score go down? Nope, 7 credit cards later and my credit score has jumped up 10 points. What about the fees? Well when I could pay a $50 annual fee but get a free night stay at any IHG hotel in the world along with 80,000 points and IHG Platinum status, why wouldn’t I sign up? As I’ve mentioned before, our hobby is slowly dying and I’m enjoying hitting all these sign-up bonuses before they go away. Plus, there’s almost nothing like the thrill of getting accepted for a credit card or finally hitting the minimum spend and seeing all those points getting deposited into your frequent flyer account. It’s very addicting…
I plead with my readers and I plead my readers to plead to their friends and families. Life is short, the world is huge. Spend your time in this life seeing everything our world has to offer. I have stepped foot on ancient Greek ruins, went paragliding above the mountains of Colombia, went snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean, proposed to my fiancee in front of the Manhattan skyline, saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, walked on Wrigley Field, and had so many other incredible experiences. I have met AMAZING people, tasted AMAZING food, and learned so many AMAZING things about each region. There will ALWAYS be a reason not to travel. But when we have such a limited time in this life, why limit yourself to the perspectives, ideals, and cultures that you are accustomed to? Get out of your comfort zone, find a way to travel, and tell me all about it because I would love to listen!
As I transition to a point in my life where I’ll be busy most of the time, I see this as an unfortunate temporary end to my travels. Rotations start in a few short weeks, and after that I’ll hopefully have a job. I have loans to pay back, a wedding to plan, and a family to start, but this will be a year I’ll never forget. I just wish that I continue to take my advice and remember that even though there is always a reason NOT to travel, there are way more reasons in favor of traveling. I also hope that I’ve done a good job documenting my travels. From my blog posts to my pictures/videos, during stressful times I want to be able to escape back to this year where I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences of my life. Thank you for being on this journey with me! Now on to the superlatives!
Favorite Destination: New York City
Yeah, you probably think this is an odd choice. But if you read my whole spiel above about how I love being around different cultures, then this is obviously a no-brainer. New York is one of the most diverse cities in the entire world. It served as a gateway for millions of immigrants in the past and continues to be the symbol that the international community associates with America. I had Persian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, Mexican food, Indian food, Italian food, and weird hipster American food. This city is a true melting pot of cultures and you see it in the people, their cuisine, and their beliefs. Getting around New York is also quite a joy as there is an amazing subway system, walkable streets, beautiful parks, shopping on every corner, and a grid system that makes it impossible to get lost. Plus, Julia said yes to me here so there’s that!!
Most Underrated Destination: Kotor, Montenegro
We have all heard about how beautiful the Greek islands are and people are still learning about the beaches of Croatia, but what about Montenegro? During our week-long cruise, we had the opportunity to stop by the scenic port of Kotor. When you first arrive, it just seems like any other coastal town but the further we went away from the port, the more picturesque Kotor became. In addition, food is cheap, the weather is amazing, and the people are friendly. So although I haven’t been to any other city in Montenegro, I CAN highly recommend making a stop in Kotor if you’re in the area!
Most Overrated Destination: Paris/Venice
I am between two super popular destinations for this one… Paris or Venice? There are similarities between both of them besides being popular. They are both overcrowded, expensive, and don’t appear as clean as their price tags suggest. However, Paris has iconic monuments like the Eiffel Tower, and historic museums like the Louvre. While Venice has colorful islands in close proximity and is itself truly beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I liked both places but I think my expectations were way too high coming in which made my experiences “meh”.
Best “Bang for Your Buck” Destination: Colombia
This was a close one between Kuala Lumpur and Medellin but I’m going to have to give the edge to Colombia. I wasn’t able to explore all Malaysia has to offer, but I did see a couple of the awesome cities in Colombia and I think it has more to offer travelers. You’ll save more money in KL but you’ll probably have more memorable experiences in Medellin. I usually didn’t spend more than $5 for taxi rides, we ate cheaply for less than $5 a meal at times, we got to go on a FANTASTIC free walking tour, and we went paragliding for under $35 per person!
Most Valuable Redemption: Chase Hyatt 2 Free Nights at the Park Hyatt New York
This hotel was the BOOOOOMB yo. Our nightly rate was quoted at $1,100 PER NIGHT! I know that’s nowhere near prices of hotels in the Maldives or whatever, but that’s kind of a lot! I got 2 free nights for meeting my minimum spend on my Hyatt Card, and with those two nights I got $2,200 in value. The hotel lived up to its reputation as Hyatt’s flagship property. Automated everything, a really cool pool, a decked-out fitness center, an accommodating staff, a beautiful/modern room, and it’s just… luxury at its finest.
Favorite Flight: China Southern’s A380 LAX-CAD
I’ve been wanting to fly on an A380 double decker airplane. I was lucky enough to get a seat at the upper deck where it was just me and Julia (no stranger next to us). We had decent leg room, really good food, and so much entertainment with their IFE. I like to stretch out my miles so I may never splurge for business or first class, but this flight was a really solid Economy experience.
Favorite Hotel: Doubletree Kuala Lumpur
Hilton status is everything here. I got double-upgraded to a junior suite, got access to their Executive Lounge where we stuffed ourselves for dinner most days, and even got complimentary breakfast buffet in their RESTAURANT which had a Chinese area, a Western area, an Indian area, and a Malaysian area. Yes there were THAT many food options. The hotel was close to KLCC, connected to a metro stop, and the staff was top notch. The Doubletree Kuala Lumpur is only 10,000 Hilton points per night and if you redeem enough points for 4 nights then you’ll get your fifth night free!
Favorite Experience: Hiking up the Acropolis in Athens
Sure it was 95 degrees outside and I was literally walking side by side to hundreds of complete strangers, but how often can you say that you hiked up to a 2000+ year old elevated citadel of ancient Greece? Looking at the architecture, I felt like I traveled back in time only to reach the top, look down, and found that I was surrounded by a beautiful modern city. The whole experience felt surreal!
Favorite Credit Card: Citi Prestige
The Citi Prestige was without question one of the best credit cards ever made. Unfortunately, a slew of benefit cutbacks will cause this card to lose some of its value. This card has allowed me to have access to lounges almost every time we traveled, including Admirals Club lounges when I flew American. This card also gave me the opportunity to get my 4th night free on several hotel stays which saved me close to $500. Finally, I got $500 worth of travel credits in the past 12 months along with over 50,000 Citi ThankYou points which really helped make airfare affordable. Sure the annual fee is $450, but I must have gotten over $2000 of free travel from this one card. I will be sad to part ways with it 😦
We’ve had it all this year from a Michelin star restaurant to street stalls, from escargot to a donut ice cream sandwich, and from Middle East Fusion cuisine to classic Colombian dishes. We love food… There have been SO MUCH delicious food during our travels which makes it really difficult to pick just one dish, restaurant, or cuisine. But I’ll try anyways… Favorite dish: Chili Pan Mee from Restaurant Kin Kin in Kuala Lumpur. You can find this dish at their restaurant on the outskirts of the city or simply go in the basement of Lot 10 mall, where you’ll find other famous street foods. Favorite Restaurant: Gotham Bar and Grill in Manhattan. The dining experience alone was incredible and it doesn’t hurt that the food was unbelievable as well! Favorite cuisine: Malaysian-Indian. Roti canai anyone?!
Although the year is over and I might suspend my travels for a little bit, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop dreaming and writing about my travel experiences, philosophies, and tips. Stay tuned for more and thanks for reading!