And… the Annual Review continues! Today’s post is a travel roundup: everywhere I went in 2014, along with a few lessons and comments.
You’re welcome to share your itineraries or lessons. Next week, our cats and biased judges will award a $100 gift card from Powell’s for the best overall comment throughout the series.
Now that I’m retired from visiting every country in the world, my travel is a bit different. I’m still hopping around the globe, but to more typical destinations most of the time. In rough chronological order, here’s the list of countries I made it to to this year:
United States, South Africa, Qatar (x3), France, United Kingdom (x2), Hong Kong (x2), Indonesia, Japan (x2), Germany (x2), Spain, United Arab Emirates, Netherlands, Canada, and Mexico
First thought: wow, that’s a pretty short and boring list! Check out the travel roundups from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013—in previous years I went to as many as 42 total countries. We’ll return to this line of thought in a bit.
But first, I also did a lot of domestic (including both U.S. & Canada) travel. Thanks in part to a long (and awesome) book tour from September-November, I visited the following cities for events, meetups, or meetings:
New York City (x4), Dallas (x4), Denver (x3), Long Beach, San Diego (x2), Washington (x2), Philadelphia, Portland (Maine), Boston, Nashville, Huntsville (Alabama, x2), Miami, Tampa, Houston, Austin, Chicago, Milwaukee, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Los Angeles (x4), Chattanooga (Tennessee), Phoenix, Kansas City (Missouri), Seattle, and Reno
Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver
Personal and Subjective Airport Awards of 2014
Controversial side note: Everyone always says that they love YVR. I love Vancouver the city, but I don’t actually think its airport is the greatest. Canada can do better!
Least Favorite Airports of 2014
Overrated! Again, as with YVR and Vancouver, this is no criticism of Denver or Colorado in general. I just usually prefer not to travel through DEN, which is located far from the city and doesn’t have much to offer for connecting passengers either.
This one shouldn’t be controversial; everyone hates Pierson airport—especially the terminal for U.S. departures.
To clarify, DOH used to be awesome if you were in the exclusive terminal for Qatar Airways. The lounge even had a jacuzzi and sauna! But I was there for the opening of the new airport this year, and everything was a mess. Presumably it will be better soon, with a new First Class lounge opening up at some point in 2015. There’s no word on a sauna, though, so we’ll have to withhold judgment.
Lessons and Observations (From Merely 14 Countries…)
Even though the list of countries is fewer and far less exotic than in the past, I still enjoyed being out in the world for much of the year. I flew more than 200,000 miles and had a lot of great experiences. Here are a few observations from the process.
Do drink the water (usually). Surveying the list of “normal places” on the international list produces an interesting thought: you can drink the water in every one of those stops. And it’s not just there: most places that most of the people reading this blog will visit, at least most of the time, will be totally safe in lots of ways.
I mention this because I recently gave a talk at Frequent Traveler University, and one of the questions that came up more than once was, “But can you drink the water? How do you take precautions?”
I think this is a common concern of the beginning traveler, and a perfectly reasonable one for some destinations. If you’re heading out to West Africa, or parts of Afghanistan, or some parts of Latin America, for example, it’s true that you need to be safe and avoid consuming any local drinking water, including when brushing your teeth.
In plenty of other places, however—including the vast majority of countries that new travelers visit—you’ll be just fine. Travel is at least as fundamentally safe as staying home.
These days, my travel supports my life and work, not the other way around. For a whole decade, and in particular five hectic years from 2007-2011, I constructed much of my life and work around the imperative to visit at least twenty new countries a year. This took a lot of time and planning, especially after I’d been to the first 100 or so countries. I didn’t take trips just for the sake of taking trips; there was always a new country (or two, or three, or five…) to get to. Some aspects of this lifestyle were thrilling, and all were rewarding, but some were certainly exhausting as well.
Now that the quest is complete, I’ve started to take steps to make travel something that supports my other goals. In my old age of 36, I tend to make choices more suited to health and productivity. For example, whenever possible I don’t take short red-eyes anymore. A long-haul night flight of eight hours or more is fine, because I can usually eat a late dinner and still get at least six hours of sleep. But a typical transcontinental red-eye of four or five hours is terrible. I arrive worn out, with no hotel to check into early in the morning, and usually with something to do right away on the other side.
So these days I’ll skip that whole process, even if it means traveling to my destination a day ahead of schedule. I can work on flights, especially those with WiFi, and having an extra night somewhere isn’t as much of an issue as when I was on a super-tight schedule due to so many international connections.
If you’re just starting out or you don’t travel very often, you may not have to make choices like that. But for me, they’ve been a lot like the $10 rule—how you should always spend small amounts of money to improve your life when on the road. As I continue to travel for approximately half the year, I try to do whatever I can to ensure I appreciate the process and not be exhausted every day.
Somehow I missed Australia! How did that happen? My favorite city in the world is Sydney, Australia. Among Australians there’s a big competition between Sydney and Melbourne, but I like “Melbs” a lot too. I also like Brisbane and the sunshine coast further north—in short, I just love Australia in general.
But for some reason, I didn’t make it there this year at all. It’s funny, because I even said in my “Looking Back at 2014” post that I took a trip there, which I must have imagined or dreamed (a good dream, for sure, but just a dream). This is a big regret. Being in Australia contributes highly to my units of momentary happiness. I need to get back there as soon as I can.
The state of the travel hacking union remains strong. As has been the case for the past several years, in 2014 I earned more than one million miles and points. I re-qualified for the highest level of status with American Airlines (requires a minimum of 100,000 flown miles), Hyatt (requires at least 25 stays or 50 nights), and Starwood (requires at least 25 stays or 50 nights). For Starwood, I actually went above and beyond—I had more than 100 nights (!) thanks in large part to the fall book tour, which qualified me for my own Starwood ambassador who takes care of various requests or issues (thanks, Janet).
I could explain a lot more about why this matters and how it helps, but I know that not everyone cares about the details. The point is: travel hacking still works. It can help you a great deal if you’re willing to put in a small amount of effort.
If you’re new, these three resources (either free or low-cost) are a great introduction to the world of miles and points:
- Read the Travel Hacking Resources Page (A Detailed Overview with Lots of Links to Learn More)
- Join the Travel Hacking Cartel (Get a 14-Day Trial for Just $1)
- Get “Upgrade Unlocked” (A Brand-New Guide with Pricing Starting at $39)
As always, focus on experiences. The point of travel is to make discoveries, to experience new things, to lose yourself in a world far from home—or something like that. I guess the point of travel is whatever you make it, and people travel for different reasons.
No matter your motivation, I think it’s helpful to focus on experiences. The desire to see new places and focus on accumulating life experiences instead of material things is a somewhat universal value of travelers.
Some of the best travel experiences I had this year included:
Bali Birthday trip — paid for almost entirely with miles and points, including a Singapore Airlines First Class redemption on the way home
Abu Dhabi Sky Summit — as we were completing the launch plan for Upgrade Unlocked, my friend and travel hacking companion Stephanie and I held a “Sky Summit” by flying Etihad First Class from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi
Round-the-World on Qatar Airways (and more) – as part of my 100,000 qualifying OneWorld miles, I started a Round-the-World ticket in South Africa last year, and used it to fly several long-haul routes on Qatar Airways, one of my favorite carriers
Normally I have a half-dozen or more of these kinds of stories each year. This year, much of my time in the fall was taken up by the U.S. and Canadian book tour, which was a great experience overall but not really a travel-worthy one. On book tour, travel pretty much consists of moving from one hotel to another, night after night, and a series of one-way domestic flights or sometimes short train rides.
I don’t regret that at all, because it’s important to spend time with readers and I enjoy the aspect of going from city to city with a specific mission. As mentioned earlier, though, I do regret not going to Australia. One ticket to Sydney, coming right up!
Next year I think I’ll be traveling a bit less than this year, but presumably not much less. To kick things off well, I have another Round-the-World trip beginning in South Africa right after the holidays.
I’ll drink the water everywhere I go on that trip, I’ll find a way to get back to Australia, and I’m still excited to be able to travel on a regular basis.
How about you? Where did you go in 2014? What’s next?