A Year in the Life of a Travel Writer
The world is small, but incredibly diverse. There’s always something amazing going on somewhere. So living less than two hours from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is a little dangerous for me. I’m always tempted to head off with at least one of my kids and see something new.
When I added up my miles flown last year, I was surprised to see that I was over 200,000. I don’t track mileage as I go, and I don’t particularly pay attention to flight distances or times. Whether I’m heading east or west, I get on a plane, watch some movies, fall asleep, and then wake up somewhere fun. And I’m not a road warrior. I’m at home more than I’m traveling. I even cut a few trips short last year to come home sooner, eliminating Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro, along with a few other destinations, with the click of a mouse.
I should note that my kids go to a normal school. In 2018 my 10-year-old and 12-year-old missed just two days for travel – when we were coming back from the Galapagos. My 8-year-old missed 13 days, since she took her one-on-one trip during the school year, and joined me on a couple of campaigns. But her teachers always gave her work to take with her, so she was never behind when she returned. Most of my campaigns, and all of our family travel, fell over school breaks. All of my solo personal travel (either going to see family or heading to conferences/events) was during the school year.
So how did I get to 220,000 miles?
One on One Trips
Starting at the age of four, each of my kids gets to choose anywhere in the world for a one on one trip with me every year. This year my 12-year-old opted out. My 8-year-old chose Japan – we flew into Tokyo and out of Kyoto/Osaka. My 10-year-old chose to go around the world, with stops in Copenhagen, Greenland, the Seychelles, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai and Singapore. Both were great trips.
- Total days = 28
- Total miles flown = 43,255
The World Cup
My son loves football, and wanted to see a World Cup game in person. I had never been to Russia or seen a men’s World Cup game (I caught the Women’s World Cup in Montreal), so it sounded great to me. We flew to St. Petersburg, Russia for a few days and attended the Sweden-Switzerland second round game. Fun trip. And we stopped in Stockholm for a night on the back for a great meal with a friend.
- Total days = 6
- Total miles flown = 11,868
Brazil and the Amazon
My son got to go to Russia on a bonus trip, so I took my 8-year-old to Brazil! We met up with friends in Manaus and explored the Amazon Rainforest for a week. Probably my favorite kid trip ever. And it doesn’t really belong in any other category here, so it gets its own!
- Total days = 9
- Total miles flown = 9,488
My 12-year-old daughter not only opted out of her annual one-on-one trip, she also voted to not travel as a family as much as in past years. And we obliged. We still made it to five countries (Ecuador/Galapagos, Belgium, Italy, the Maldives and Singapore), but we stuck close to home for most of the summer and for Christmas, and only headed to NYC for a few days for spring break.
- Total days = 39
- Total miles flown = 48,812
Travel to See Family
We started the year in Colorado with my family. I also took two solo trips to Colorado, and one to Rome/Vienna, to see family. A highlight was attending my niece’s baptism at the Vatican.
- Total days = 14
- Total miles flown = 19,621
Travel with Kids for Travel Campaigns
Probably my favorite category! I love that I’ve been able to craft a career where destinations fly me in with at least one of my kids to promote them. This year, in addition to Greenland (included in the RTW stats above), we had campaigns in Oahu, Jackson Hole (Wyoming), Wisconsin, Houston, and Trentino (Italy), and a couple in Florida, including a Caribbean cruise.
- Total days = 36
- Total miles flown = 34,160
Travel Events and Conferences
I went to a lot fewer conferences and events this year than in the past. I love attending them, but I hate being away from my family, so more and more I decline invitations and stay at home. Still I made it to ITB in Berlin, I hiked across Tuscany, I hung out with racehorses on the beach in Barbados at sunrise, I went wine tasting in upstate New York, and I attended The Points Guy’s travel awards ceremony in New York City. Oh and I got to play at Universal Orlando a couple of times, and I hung out with the Travelocity Roaming Gnome in Mexico.
- Total days = 41
- Total miles flown = 53,688
Frequent Flier Miles, Loyalty and Cost
I haven’t added up costs, but all of this flying cost a lot less than you probably think. My quick thoughts on how to fly for less:
When possible I’m loyal to United and Star Alliance. I had over 150,000 qualifying miles on United last year, and was barely over the $12,000 spending requirement – a lot of which was paid for by clients. This means that I have 1k status, which gets me 11 miles for every dollar paid and eight international upgrade certificates a year. It also gives me access to a separate inventory of tickets available for frequent flier miles, and nice flexibility to change award tickets with no penalty.
My backup is American and the Oneworld alliance. I’m mid-tier Platinum on American, so I get fewer miles for every dollar spent, and fewer upgrades. But the miles still add up.
I get miles for flying obviously, but most of my miles come from credit card spending and bonuses. I redeemed over 500,000 miles this year for free flights – mainly to Europe, but also for things like a helicopter ride in the Seychelles.
This year I wrote several posts for Capital One on saving for travel, saving when traveling, and maximizing miles. If you want to fly more for less, there are some tips in these that should help you:
- Tips for Optimizing Your Frequent Flier Miles
- Ten Ways to Travel for Less
- How to Save for Travel
- Looking at Travel as an Investment
- When to Skimp on Travel and When to Splurge
But all of this flying sucks, right?
I get this question/statement a lot. The simple truth is that I don’t think much about it. I don’t love flying and I don’t hate flying. The more I travel, the easier it gets. I know where to park, I avoid long check-in and security lines because of airline status and Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, and I get lounge access frequently. Airplanes are simply a way to get me/us to our destinations so that we can see the world. And compared to the difficulty of traveling 100 years ago, I don’t take for granted at all how amazing it is that I can hop into a metal tube and a day later be halfway around the world. I use my time in the air to sleep, read, write, and catch up on movies.
I actually had remarkably few issues last year. In 112 flights I don’t think my luggage was delayed once (I check bags the majority of the time). I had one missed connection in Newark because of a delayed inbound flight. Our flight from San Francisco to Tokyo was delayed seven hours because of a baggage count issue. Our flight from LA to Honolulu turned around mid-flight because of a medical emergency. We had to divert in Greenland for 24 hours because of weather, leading to an unexpected but fun opportunity to see a different part of the island. And I had to run through Munich’s vast airport a few times to catch flights. But otherwise no issues.
Airlines and Family Travel
United and American are the best airlines for us given where they fly. There are no issues with flights 95% of the time, and when there are, the airlines typically give us vouchers towards future flights. They annoy me though because they do nothing for kids other than maybe allowing them to board first (if the kids are under two). We flew a lot of airlines this year, including Swiss Air, Austrian, Qatar Airways, Silk Air, Air Greenland, Air Dolomiti, Maldivian, Etihad, Singapore, ANA, Lufthansa and SAS. Some of these airlines serve kids their meals first. Most give out travel packs, or even backpacks, to kids with toys and games. And some airlines, like Emirates, even have separate frequent flier programs just for kids. I’d love for the US-based airlines to catch on. It’s still possible to make kids excited to fly, and to develop brand loyalty early on!
I loved this year, but it was also just a little bit too much time on airplanes. I’m hoping for closer to 150,000 miles in 2019 – still enough to get to some new places and have fun adventures, but I’d like to be home more.
How about you? What was your favorite trip last year? Where are you excited to go this year?