I ran across this Ted talk a few months back and found it quite inspiring. As I have been looking for a new job, I’ve used the techniques she talked about quite a bit to get my head in the game for my interviews. It really works! I’ve had some of the best, most confident interviews ever, leaving me walking away with my head held high, honestly feeling great!
The video will only take a few minutes of your day, so I highly recommend you take the time to watch.
Also I’ve stalled a bit, but my readers should look forward to a post with photos of my Kwanjula in the next few days. It was a SIX HOUR CEREMONY so writing about it and trying to condense it all down has been difficult, mostly because half of it was in the Luganda language and I’m still trying to process it all myself! However it the post should be up by New Year’s Day!
However I will leave you with a little picture preview of me and my lovely lady for now. We really did have a wonderful day, filled with some of my favorite people, special memories, some new clothing styles and a new adventure to tell!
P.S. I got that great job I was looking for, I’ll be starting January 15th.
Happy Holidays everyone!
In earlier posts I’ve talked about some of the simpler tools for travel hacking and earning miles. Once you’ve earned all those miles, it can be challenging to find award tickets. Airlines don’t always make it easy to book that dream vacation. Trying to book the award tickets you want through your favorite airline site is hard and calling the airline can be even harder. One of the things I’ve found most helpful is to do so pre-searching. Pre-searching is finding open award seats on the flights you want before calling the airline for booking.
Most of the used which can be used to search for open seats are not free. However they allow also allow you almost the same level access to airline flights as a travel agent. You can check for open seats, view fare rules, look at fare bucket availability, see flight schedules and much more. You can also look for the lowest advertised fare between city pairs and using fare bucket availability and book it.
- KVS Availability Tool is my preferred fare search engine. It takes a bit of time to figure out and it really helps if you know airline language, you know, little things like airport codes and two digit airlines codes. Also the tool runs on windows only. There is an online and mobile version, but I find the functionality limited. However the core tool is fantastic, with highly customizable search options you can find just about any flight combination you like. If you subscribe to KVS tool, you’ll also need to have your frequently flyer login to plug into the tool for award searches. The tool is also great for finding low published fares and then finding flights which qualify.
- ExpertFlyer.com is also a great web-based search tool. It is a lot more user-friendly then KVS Tool, but the search also seems more restrictive and confining. On the positive side, it’s much more like using tools like expedia or orbits, so more beginner friendly. One other nice benefit you get with the Expert Flyer tool is the ability to try it for five days free! Because Expert Flyer is web-based, you are not limited to windows systems.
All said and done, I still prefer the KVS tool as the most flexible for to find the seats you’re searching for. I could go into many more tips and tricks on travel hacking but want to wrap this up. The most important point is that you can change the way you travel with just a little time invested in research and trial and error. Go out there, look up some of the sites I’ve mentioned in my other posts and develop a travel hacking style of your own!
Normally I haven’t posted a whole lot of personal stuff on my blog. I’m a rather private person and while I like telling my travel stories and adventures I haven’t gotten into all the other details of life. However as I have enjoyed reading an increasing number of travel bloggers, I’ve found that I most enjoy the blogs that include the personal ups and downs of the travel life. Personally I’ve had a hard time wanting to write about my African work experiences as it was sometimes difficult to paint my daily challenges in a positive light. Sometimes the highs and lows of running a company in Africa can make the experience really difficult to write about while it’s all going on.
However there have also been some positive things happening as a result of my time in Uganda. The biggest of all is that now I am engaged to a wonderful Ugandan Gal! As I write this post I’m sitting at the Washington Dulles Airport waiting for a flight to Brussels and then Entebbe. We had a wonderful time getting to know each other in Uganda and I proposed shortly before my return to the states. We’ve enjoyed some travels together and hopefully will have many more adventures in the near future.
I’m going down flying down to Uganda to attend the traditional Kwanjula (Introduction) ceremony. The best way to discribe it would be a very large engagement party, but cultrually more important than that. See more about the ceremony here. Our Kwanjula will not actually include the wedding ceremony, as we will wait for Fiona to get her visa and then get married in the US.
I’ll have to catch my flight shortly, but I hope (if the internet is not too bad) I will have time to blog about the preparations and the ceremony itself. It should be an interesting cultural event. I’m just glad that her family is not requiring me to bring cows as a dowry! Airlines seem somewhat hesitant when it comes to checking in livestock.
Now I’d like to get into the meat of my travel hacking tips.
There are several reasons it’s important to choose the right airline partner.
- If you fly a moderate amount, you will earn “Elite” status on that airline and all the partner airlines. Elite status gives you access to unlimited domestic upgrades (not guaranteed, but given on a space available basis), access to priority lines for security and check-in, phone numbers which require a lot less waiting and bonuses on the miles you fly, allowing you to earn miles much faster.
- Major airlines partner with other airlines in groups called alliances. United has the Star Alliance with Lufthansa, Singapore, ANA and a host of other airlines. Delta has SkyTeam and is partnered with airlines like KLM and Air France. American is part of OneWorld which also has British Airlines, JAL and Qantas along with other major partners. When you travel a lot to a particular region, it’s important to find an alliance that has may partners which cover your area. Several years ago the Star Alliance had poor coverage to South America and great coverage to Africa, which fit my travel patterns. With recent airline mergers, the world has become a bit smaller and most alliances cover the world, but it’s still important to do your homework particularly if you are traveling to a specific region often. When you fly on any alliance airline, you earn both status and redeemable miles on your partner airline.
- As I mentioned in my earlier post, your home airport will have great influence on the alliance you choose. If it’s a hub to a major airline, you’ll probably want to seriously consider that airline.
I could go on and on about airline partners and alliances. One thing to remember, once you decide what airline partner you are going to fly with, the road to earning status can be a little bumpy. Most major american airlines have the best frequent flyer programs (for those who like to travel overseas) but the worst customer service for the average traveler without elite status. So you might fly American, Delta or United and have a bad experience or two and be tempted to switch to an airline such as Southwest. However once you earn status, the headaches largely go away. Benefits like priority lines for check-in and security. No baggage fees on up to three bags and increased baggage weight for free. Domestic upgrades, lounge access and priority customer service to name a few.
Most airlines require that you fly about 25,ooo miles to reach their first tier frequent flyer level. That’s about 13 round trips between Chicago and Miami. However most airlines offer credit cards which not only give you a massive amount of mileage (i’ve seen some offering 60,000 for sign-up) but will give you 5000 elite miles as a bonus as well. Add that to the elite miles you earn on airline purchases with the card and the number of miles you have to fly starts to shrink.
Sometimes if you’re flying and have time, you can add an extra segment to your trip if you are short on elite or redeemable miles. I frequently travel for business conferences to the west coast. Usually these conferences start at 8am Monday, requiring me to leave Sunday and end around noon-ish two or three days later. Seeing that I have a little extra time on both ends, I’ll add an extra segment each way to up my mileage.
A trip to San Diego is a good example of how this works. (San Diego is one of my favorite cities and also has a great selection of sailboats which can be rented cheaply.*) If I fly direct Chicago to San Diego I earn 1723 miles each way. However if I fly through San Francisco I will earn 2346 miles each way, 623 additional miles. That’s 1246 extra miles earned in a single trip. If’ I’ve reached the end of the year and need to earn a few more miles I’ve been known to start out in Milwaukee, connecting in Chicago and San Francisco. That’s 500 extra miles each way, because United elites earn a minimum of 500 miles on any segment. The best part is that often these miles can be earned at no extra cost, because Milwaukee – Chicago – San Francisco – San Diego is considered a legit route for some fare rules. Some think I’m crazy, but I won’t deny I love flying!
So how do you go about finding all these fare tricks and routes? Here a few tools to get you started. Again, let me remind you this requires a little legwork, but it’s worth it.
- If you feel that wanderlust urge but are not sure where to go, FareCompare Where-to-go Maps are the place to start. Add your home airport, set your budget and then feel free to drill down to your heart’s delight in search of your dream trip at a great price. My only complaint with the FareCompare model is that it can be hard to find the advertised fare on their site. I’m not sure why they offer such a great tool and then make it hard to book. However if I see the fare on their site, I know it’s being advertised and I’ll go to the ITA Matrix site to find it.
- ITA Software’s Matrix is truly a hidden gem. ITA software is a travel software giant and provides the back-end for many sites like Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz and many of the airlines. The thing I love about “The Matrix” is that your search options are limitless. I can force city connections, pick flights on preferred airlines and even choose to search only within my preferred airline alliance using the “/alliance ” switch. You can also do a 30 day search to find the lowest airfares and their bar chart display of individual flight options is unbeatable. You can’t actually buy from ITA software, but once I’ve found my ideal trip, I can almost always book it directly through the airlines site using an advanced search and the multi-city options. ITA also gives me advanced routing codes so I can call up my travel agent with the info they need to book. FlyerTalk has great threads on using the ITA tool. This site can be buggy sometimes, so you may need to restart your browser.
- Another site I’ve recently heard good stuff about is Skyscanner. I haven’t had much time to play with it, but it seems to have similar features to ITA Matrix, but you can also book your flight from it.
In the next post I’ll write about more advanced tools and some tips and tricks for using those hard-earned award miles to get great flights!
* If you’re curious about Sailboats in San Diego, check out Seaforth Boat Rentals. You do need to know how to sail, unless you want to fly me out to be your skipper!
I read quite a few travel blogs and almost all of them have a section with travel tips, hacks, ideas and the like. Most of these focus around the cheapest travel possible. These posts on travel hacking won’t focus as much on cheap flights, even though I will touch on that, but on building a good overall travel experience cheaply. While cheap travel is great, I love to fly and therefore try every trick in the system I can for free flights using miles, upgrades, lounge access and the like. Call me an airline nerd. I’ve never been a heavy sleeper and have always struggled to sleep while flying. So if I’m not going to sleep, I prefer to sit a more comfortable seat further forward in the business or first class cabin of the plane.
When you come right down to it, wouldn’t you rather sit in a nice seat which turns into a nearly 7′ bed, has a 17″ pick whatever you want TV and full five course menu like this:
Or perhaps you would like to continue flying like this:
Miles are the answer my friend. If you figure out a few tricks of the system, it’s not that hard to earn many miles! Fortunately I’ve had jobs that entail reasonable amounts of travel for the past few years, so earning base miles is not all that hard. Not everyone can fly as much, but there are a few things you can do which really help. Firstly, don’t waste your miles on domestic trips. I know so many people who spend 25,000+ miles on a airline ticket that would cost less than $300. This is not good value for the money. For 50,000 miles you can get a roundtrip to anywhere in Europe during summer. A summer ticket to Europe will probably cost $1,000 to $1,500, depending on where you go, which represents better value. For only 80,000 miles you can visit Europe in Business Class, which is going to set you back around $3,500 to $8,000. The trip above to Australia cost 120,000 miles (it’s quite a few more miles now). At the time I priced out the same trip at $18,500. You’re probably starting to see my point.
The best cost value for miles is definitely flying first class. However I much prefer to save some of my miles and get business class awards if I can. Many times business class runs full, case in point it’s almost imposible to find award Business Class seats to Australia, but there may be First Class award seats available. Most major airlines have lie flat, or flat bed seats in business class for long haul flights and unless your tastes are super posh, it’s still a great experience.
One of the other perks of the NomadTravels flying style is airline lounges. There’s nothing like coming off a long international flight and heading straight for the shower. I travel to Africa A LOT and that usually involves a stop-over in Europe. Given the choice I always prefer longer layovers, there’s just that much less chance of getting stuck because of delays and mishaps. Even before I started “Travel Hacking” I preferred longer layovers, but that usually entailed sitting around in a noisy uncomfortable terminal if things went well or rushing to a long customer service line if they did not. Now when I connect to my next long flight I walk straight to the lounge. It’s quiet, with comfortable seating, internet, day beds, more good free food and beverages than you could ever hope to consume. Most important are the before mentioned showers. When you’ve just gotten off a long flight and feel greasy and rather matted down, a shower makes all the difference in how you feel before you walk onto your next long flight. In places like Zurich, the staff will even press your clothes while you wash up! While in Frankfurt the First Class lounge is actually in a different “Terminal” complete with it’s own baggage check and security. From there you’re driven directly to the plane in a Mercedez or Porsche.
One of the other MAJOR advantages of lounge access is the customer service. Most lounges have their own ticket agents and the line to reach them is very short. So instead of waiting around for two hours to get to a tired over worked agent, I can skip the queue and have my issue resolved. This is not always the case, Washington Dulles airport is notorious for having surly lounge agents, but a friendly smile can go a long way! Also see my other post about the fabulous lounge in Istanbul. Almost all the lounges in the world are described on this site LoungeGuide.net.
Enough of me bragging about my traveling style. If you want to “Hack” your travel experience, it’s going to require some work. One of the things I constantly tell people is that if they really want to use miles to travel well, there’s going to be many hours of homework to prepare. I would start out at the absolute mecca of the savvy business traveler, frequent flyer and travel nerd, FlyerTalk.com. I will give you fair warning, there are many, many complaining posts on this site. The frequent flyer world has a lot of spoiled folks who love to complain about how their steak wasn’t just so or the seat had a lump or about the flight attendant who yawned three times on a 14 hour flight. However if you read the glossary, FAQ and learn how to use the SEARCH function, you will find the holy grail of travel knowledge. On that note PLEASE read the FAQ and learn to search. Every single day there are people who come to the forum and ask simple questions that have been answered thousands of times before. The FT community is friendly and helpful, but prefers to help those who help themselves!
I’m going to split this post about travel hacking, ’cause it’s going to be a long one. However one of the first things you need to start researching is what airline to sign up with. There are many frequent flyer programs out there, so you need to research what works best for your needs. You may love to fly on Southwest Airlines, but if you want to use their programs for good international flights, it might not suit your needs. Where you live is also very important, I live close to Chicago O’Hare airport which is a major United Airlines hub, so it makes it easier and cheaper for me to earn miles in their program. FlyerTalk has a lot of information about choosing your airline partner.
To be continued…
New Years Eve 2010, on a hilltop, very cold and snowy. Might not sound like fun to some, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Honestly I don’t like winter all that much. However there are times and places when it can be oh, so right! In a woodsy cabin with a fireplace and a pile of blankets. In an old general store with a pot belly stove. AND in Slovakia. I don’t know what it is about that place (probably having good friends there helps) but I love Slovakia in winter. From my cosy hotel in Bratislava to my friend’s house by Stará Turá, it’s just a cozy place to be in winter.
The original plan for New Years was Vienna with Miro, my good Slovak friend. I’ve heard many great things about the Vienna holiday celebrations, especially the symphony concert broadcast for the whole city! However the “best laid plans” thing kicked in when I arrived at Miro’s house and he announced that we “would be climbing up a mountain to celebrate.” Naturally I had all my city winter clothes with me, so the idea of traipsing up a “Mountain” (which turned out to be more hill like) in 18″ of snow didn’t have a lot of initial appeal. However we dug through the coat closet and cobbled together an outfit which would work, with the exception of my over large feet, which had to make due with city boots.
It turned out that we didn’t have to climb as far as I had imagined, as we drove partially up the hill to a friend’s house. There we warmed ourselves around the wood stove and enjoyed many baked treats and the like. I was a little worried about keeping up with all my Slovak friends, with them living on all that fresh country air and all. However this was a non issue, as everyone stopped on the trail every 20 minutes or so to say “hi” to friends hiking up faster (or slower) and dipping into the refreshments which included baked goods, warm drinks and the ubiquitous round of Slivovica. After about two hours of hiking we reached the hilltop. To my immense surprise and delight, I found that we were standing on the Czech / Slovak border with several hundred people other people who had done the same. Miro told me that it was tradition in those parts to hike up that hill every so often on New Years, he said that many times friends who hadn’t seen each other for years would meet there. I certainly saw this many a time, with old friends having warm, boisterous greetings. Some people hiked up from the Czech Republic, others from various villages in Slovakia, it was almost like a giant family reunion.
Miro was a fantastic host and introduced me to various people all around. Everyone wanted to share their home-made, baked, brewed and cooked delights which was fantastic. I felt rather bad that I didn’t have something from Chicago to share, but I’ve found deep-dish pizza rather un-portable, so I had to stick with sharing the good spirit. People somehow lugged their instruments to the hilltop, so singing and music filled the air. One of my new Slovak friends wanted to share a story from times past, so he took me to a part of the hill which had a good view toward the town. According to the story, during communist times the Soviet officers dragged the Mayor to this spot and asked him to point out which houses were secretly brewing Slivovica. The Mayor thought for a moment and pointed out a tower in town. ”It looks like a church?” the officer replied. The Mayor said “Yes it is! There is the only place I guarantee they don’t brew Slivovica.”
Later we hiked partway downhill to a small ski lodge and all piled in. There they served hot chocolate, cider and other snacks. More meeting people, singing and general festiveness. I was probably the only outsider in the group, but felt right at home. I’ve known many Slovaks over the years and they are decidedly some of the most friendly people you could hope to meet.
That evening we headed back to the village and enjoyed a wonderful fish dinner that Miro, his father and brother prepared. I was already stuffed from a day of eating, but couldn’t say no to more. After dinner we walked down to the neighborhood pub to count down the hours to midnight. Over the years I had the opportunity to visit Miro at his place several times and got to know some of the locals. It was great seeing everyone again and waiting for midnight. At the strike of twelve people lit fireworks in the street, greeted each other and it was all wonderful times.
I stayed on for a few more days before sadly departing for Africa. I’ve visited Slovakia several times and can hardly wait to go back. I miss the good food like halušky and the wonderful warm people. In all my trips there I haven’t seen the High Tetras or really anywhere but the western part of the country. Just writing this post makes me want to jump back to see more of that beautiful country and meet some new Slovak friends!
One of the best things about having friends all over the world is having the opportunity to share incredible cultural experiences together. I would never have had anywhere near as much fun as on a day trip to Vienna as I had with Miro, his family and friends from the village. Every time I think of those few days I spent with Miro I wish that everyone could share such rich experiences. So have you have friends overseas keep those friendships strong! Share a little of your life with them and more often than not, they will share right back.
A new day. Sun rising over the Alps, bursting with a new hopeful brilliant light. Chasing away the shadows that lurk in fear. The dreary clouds fade in its brilliant radiance.
I see the Matterhorn, strong and bold, jousting with the sky. These mountains aren’t old and rounded by time, but are jagged as a knife, almost appearing to cut the heavens with proud confidence.
This I see out my window as the plane floats down. I turn the eyes of my mind inward. What do I see?
I see hope, bursting up like the sun. Yet I also see the shadows of fear, still clinging to the valleys of my heart.
Why I ask, do the shadows not retreat? Why fear when God has been faithful and provided all my needs during each time of my life?
And so I remember, as my time in Africa has passed, night is also finished. I stand on the horizon of a bright new dawn. A new page in this next chapter…this new day of my life.
Morning has Broken! As the sun rises I hear “Fear not, for I am with thee.”