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Facing Fears and Traveling Alone: On the Road with Anna Zalazar

This is a travel hacking case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

A while back I asked readers to share their stories of earning Frequent Flyer miles to travel the world. I loved Anna’s story because it combined travel hacking and the love of seeing the world.

Introduce yourself!

Hi! I’m Anna. In 2011, I left for what was supposed to be a six-month trip around Asia that then became a thirty-month trip around the world. I share stories on my blog (where I’ve given myself the title “Chief Adventure Officer”) because I believe our personal experiences are our treasures, and sharing them with others is what makes life richer, interesting, and even more beautiful.

I fully believe every woman should travel solo at least once in her life—not only for the places she sees, the things she does, and the people she meets, but also to gather her courage, face her fears, and discover what she’s capable of.

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What inspired you to travel?

One of my biggest dreams as a child in the Philippines was to move to the US, in part because of the National Parks which I was enamored with. In 2008, I booked my first solo trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming – home of Grand Teton National Park. I will never forget the exhilarating feeling I had on that trip, and made a promise to travel alone at least once a year.

On top of that, I wanted to make the most of this one precious life I have to live. That commitment to living my remarkable life that got me facing my fears head on. The rest was history.

What was one of your most memorable trips?

After living in Madrid for three months, I spontaneously decided to travel to London for ten days. But before my ten day plan expired, I was invited to three parties and met a mix of travelers, expats and locals that I automatically had a small community of friends. This made me feel so at home in this city that I actually stayed for forty days!

My London experience taught me to not over-plan, to take things as they come, and be completely present. Sometimes you just have to follow the opportunities that present themselves along the way.

How did you earn the Frequent Flyer Miles and save money for your trip?

Learning to save miles for my long trip was an accident. Desperate to find cheap flights from New York back home to Manila every year, I stumbled upon the AONC blog and wound up buying the Frequent Flier Master book. After devouring the details and applying the concepts, I gained momentum and before I knew it was racking up the miles.

Saving the money for the long trip was actually a lot fun (and was a different journey on its own). It wasn’t painful, probably because I had a plan of attack and a positive attitude. My strategy was simple: I prioritized my savings and automated my income. I created sub-accounts for my finances to three categories: travel funds, emergency funds and retirement funds. I

I also ruthlessly unsubscribed to unnecessary expenses. And to grow my money in a bigger way, I went on a shopping ban for a whole year, then invested the extra money that I saved from cutting all these expenses.

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How many miles and points do you have banked right now?

All in all I’ve banked about 1.3 million miles.

The miles came from various cards and programs: United and Star Alliance, American Airlines and One World, US Airways, Starwood Preferred Personal and Business), American Express Platinum and Gold, Citi Thank You Points…(and more!).

I also opened business accounts with Chase and American Express.

The great debate: aisle or window?

Window (always!).

Has anything surprised you during your travels?

The biggest thing I’ve learned in my travels is to have an unshakable belief in myself and the decisions I make. One of the most important questions I asked myself when I took off to travel, and still constantly ask, is: What do I really want?

It takes a lot of courage and strength of character to answer this but the rewards are so worth it. If you don’t have your own agenda for your life, someone else will try to impose their agenda on you. Living your life on your own terms is never easy but it’s always way more fun.

Sure, my travels are comprised of the people and the places I’ve seen. But the main reason I travel is to take a journey into myself, and let the world show me who I am. I don’t travel for tourist activities or the number of countries to be in. For me, it’s all about the journey of learning who I really am, what it meant for me to truly live and be the kind of woman that I want to be.

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Best travel tips. Go:

1. Bring half the clothes and twice the money

2. Don’t forget the sarong. It’s the most versatile item you can bring on any trip

3. Smile! A smile is a universal language that will take you places

Whereto next?

Florida and the Bahamas.

Follow Anna’s journey on her blog, Annzventures, or via Twitter  @AnnaZalazar.

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