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Full-Story of How we got to be Full-Time “Travel Hackers”

Many people wonder how Caroline and I ended up living out of hotels. We’ve been married for 4.5 years and we’ve gone to 20 countries a year, 4 years in row, and we stay in luxury hotels (best hotels of 2014, 2013, 2012).

But how did we get here? And the truth starts back before we were dating. Which is fine, because I’ve been wanting to tell our personal story on the blog… but just never got around to it. So I’ll share our story now, and tie it in with how and why we live in hotels.

Backstory

Caroline and I met in Charlottesville, VA, my hometown, but she had moved back to Amish country Ohio – her home “town”.

One thing I’ll add that will give some context is that I dropped out of high school when I was 17. Years later (2010) I was taking classes at the community college, and a few classes away from getting my associates. I dropped out of college, again, with the goal of traveling the world.

I didn’t tell my friends explicitly that my goal was to travel around the world, as it would have seemed a little crazy. After all, I had very little money.

But my philosophy has always been that free travel is possible if you don’t have a timeframe. Walking, biking, or even hitch-hiking are free… and that’s what I did.

 

Dating

engagement photo 2

I went to visit Caroline in Ohio, since she had recently moved back home… and it goes from there.

My plan was to travel the States visiting friends, and then travel the world. But so far the trip involved Ohio.

To be honest, it was the first time in our friendship that we were both single, and at that point in time it was incredibly clear we were meant to be.

I mean, in hindsight it was insanely clear. We were two dreaded hippies, with extremely similar beliefs and values, who dreamed of one day traveling.

I’d never met someone who so clearly valued kindness and helping people about themselves. And to this day I would say I’ve never met someone more selfless than Caroline. But even on day one of dating, I knew. I knew for 100% certain we would get married.

Although this created a problem I’ll talk about in a minute.

 

It wasn’t clear how the next year would play out for a number of reasons, but I did want to continue traveling around the US. I hitch-hiked around the US. In fact, I once shared the stories of hitch-hiking from Ohio to my cousin’s in Nashville – which was crazy (read that here).

I kept going until I got to my parents’ house, which at the time was in south Texas.

 

Travel Hacking

At this point in time I had a predicament.

I knew I wanted to marry this girl… but, I also knew I wanted to keep traveling and didn’t have money.

Honestly, my plan was to hitch boat rides and camp/sleep outside. For whatever reason, I 100% assumed I would be fine doing this alone, but didn’t want to drag someone else into it. I seriously had nights thinking about worst-case-scenarios.

Ironically, now I’ve actually traveled the world and we have hitch-hiked together in Thailand, Germany, Austria, Chile, Rarotonga, etc… I know it’s actually not that dangerous. But at the time, I was getting cold feet.

 

During my time at my parents’ house, I went on a quest to find out how to travel for free… but I didn’t learn of anything new. Hostels were never my thing, especially if I was married, and nor were they free.

In fall 2010 Chris Guillebeau had just come out with the book, the Art Of Non-Conformity, and he must have been promoting it via guest posts on travel blogs.

The book opened my thinking to the idea of making money online, which seems obvious now… and in general it was about alternative ways of doing things. One way he mentioned in the book, was buying $1 coins on miles earning credit cards to get free miles.

The $1 coin thing lead me to Flyertalk.

 

It was a crazy time. You could order $1,000 of one dollar coins from the US Mint, and they would give you free shipping. It was basically a promotion to circulate the use of $1 coins, I guess?

You’d buy the coins, earn the miles, then take the coins to the bank and deposit them. The glory days.

At that time the US Mint limited orders to $1,000 per 10 days.

What they didn’t realize is that they only limited the $1,000 based on credit card numbers… which we quickly had multiples of.

The true symbol of the glory days is the following:

  • We signed up for 100,000 mile credit card bonuses
  • We’d order $1,000 in Amex gift cards via a rebate portal where you’d get like 5% back
  • There were promo codes to get free shipping
  • The Amex gift cards would come in, and you’d use those to order $1 coins

In other words, Amex gift cards was a way to get unlimited $1 coin orders, and you’d make 5% back via cashback portals.

The biggest credit card bonus I got was 100,000 Amex points, that I transfered to 150,000 British Airways miles (they weren’t called “Avios” yet). If I spent $5,000 to get the miles, thats $250 profit.

Earning cash and 100,000 miles at this time was super easy. Travel wasn’t free, it was profitable.

 

But imagine what my in-laws must have thought of me. This guy with no job, and dreads, has Caroline signing up for credit cards while they’re dating.

 

Marriage

wedding 5

I made my way back to Ohio, and eventually popped the question. 2 months later, in May of 2011, we got married. Yes, we were only engaged 2 months. And yes, most of our dating was with me somewhere else. But for the next years, it would be rare if we weren’t in the same room.

We got married in an old theatre in Killbuck, Ohio. The theatre was still closed but the owner said we could use it for $100. Caroline’s parents wouldn’t let us do a pot-luck, so they provided some food. And Caroline’s dress cost $25 from a thrift store. Those were the only expenses, and that tells you a lot about us. We’re both extremely frugal, but then again, we didn’t have much choice.

Our first four months of marriage were hardly normal, but we did have “normal” jobs. But yeah, that only lasted four months.

Then we used our miles to book a oneway ticket to Asia. Stopover in China.

wedding 1

The Travel Begins

It wasn’t really a plan. It wasn’t a gap year, and it wasn’t a plan to travel forever.

It was just a oneway ticket, millions of miles in our stash, and a goal to see the world.

The trip started by us visiting a friend in China, who was now teaching english. This is the story of the worst day of my life (read here). Basically, I assumed it would be easy to connect, and wrote down my friend’s address in English. We wandered around town trying to find taxis or people who could read the address and point us in the right direction. The few people who attempted to help sent us in the wrong direction.

It was a crazy trip, to say the least.

Yungshuo

Amed Bali

Then we went to Bali, and fell in love with the place. Maybe I was just glad to be out of the cold. From there we “backpacked around Asia”.

 

These were by far the craziest travels of our lives.

First of all we were super broke.

We hitch hiked at times, and on a few occasions slept outside. (All of our “craziest places we slept” stories, came from these months).

You’ve never met more frugal people. Hostels were too expensive. I remember one time in Bangkok we found a place locals stayed where you could get a private room the size of a twin mattress for under $3. The owner of the place thought it was the funniest thing ever that the two of us shared the room.

We also met and stayed with locals in Bali, Malaysia, Cambodia (although they were expats), Hong Kong, etc…

I’d be surprised if we spent $10 a day for the two of us. I wouldn’t believe it.

 

Stories from this time also include:

  • Being taken to a fake border, between Thailand and Cambodia.
  • Being stamped out of Cambodia and not having a visa into Vietnam (actually stuck in no-man’s land).
  • Sleeping in a really old rental car we rented in Guam
    • Until we made a friend who let us stay at his house
  • The time we landed in Rarotonga with no place to stay, found out even hostels were $60 per person per night, and the person who picked us up hitch hiking offered her rental house (in between leases) for the two weeks for $200.

Also, our two weeks in Sri Lanka included tons of stories. Amazing cultural ceremonies, these riots/protests that blocked off the road, and sharing a van with a local family across the island all night because they were taking a family member to the hospital to reattach whatever was chopped off.

The list goes on and on.

 

Sri Lanka protest

When we started the hotel thing

Even before our first flight, we had millions of frequent flyer miles earned for free from the $1 coin thing and a ton of credit cards.

But I rarely bothered with hotel points. Paying anything above $5 a night wasn’t an option for a long time.

There was a rare exception June 2011 when a promo by Club Carlson was ending. Stay one night, and get 50,000 points. And 50,000 points was worth more then.

We needed a hotel and this promotion was good enough that we justified the hotel. After we got to the hotel, I read up more on the promotion and then looked at the award chart. The hotel, which wasn’t that expensive, would earn as many as 5 nights elsewhere.

So I created an account in Caroline’s name, enrolled in the promo and booked the same hotel. A different lady checked us in this time, but when we switched to our new upgraded room, I can’t imagine what the staff was thinking when we rolled across the lobby. It had to be clear that just the two of us, had two rooms… one empty.

Well, this worked out really well not long after. Our 100,000+ Club Carlson points were put to good use when we got to China, because they ran a promotion that gave 9,000 points back, per award reservation. That’s right, 9,000 points refunded on any stay, and free nights started at 9,000 points.

There happened to be a cheap Radisson Blu in Shanghai at the time, and we alternated nights so every night the other was checking in. This meant every night got back the 9,000 points.

 

It wasn’t until later, in early 2012 that we did our second promotional earning. IHG ran the first promotion giving 50,000 points for 3 nights. Well, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the Holiday Inn was bookable for $30 at the time. The 50,000 points cost us no more than $100.

What did we do with the 50,000 points that cost us $100?

It was that May that the InterContinental Fiji went on PointBreaks – a sale where all the hotels on the list are only 5,000 points a night.

Being our anniversary, we spent 40,000 of those points for 8 nights at the InterContinental Fiji. The hotel was going for $400 a night, and we used like $80 worth of points.

I couldn’t stop running the numbers. Forget the fact the hotel was $400 a night. But think about the fact that we needed 3 nights in Thailand anyways, and that $100 got us 3 nights in Thailand, and then enough for 10 nights in the more expensive Fiji.

When something was a really good deal, we would start to justify it. But it was still rare. I had yet to think about scaling it up.

IC Fiji

Quitting

We switched from Asia and the Pacific to South America. See, back then British Airways miles were region based and allowed unlimited stopovers on a oneway. And better yet, Easter Island was a part of the same South America region. And better yet, a oneway ticket at the time would cost 20,000 miles.

In other words, a oneway ticket from Santiago back home, with stopovers in Easter Island, Peru, and Miami was only 20,000 miles. And remember, I previously got 150,000 BA miles from one Amex card.

Right before the big devaluation I offered some friends a free ticket to join us on the route. Chile, Easter Island and Peru. My friend Ben joined, and Caroline’s sister joined.

easter island tent

After they left, we decided to spend over a month in Peru. But we would have to visa run at some point, so we went near the border of Bolivia.

At this point in time, I can not tell you in words how broke we were. I can tell you in stories, but it can’t paint the feeling of desperation. $5 started to seem like “the expensive hotels”, and we wound up in the sketchiest of places. We kept getting sick in Peru, and I could tell Caroline wanted to go home, although she definitely never said it… I just knew. Who wouldn’t? It was cold, and didn’t feel like the Balinese adventure experienced earlier that year.

us in Cusco

 

I’ll never forget the day in Puno.

We went down to the bus station and got our ticket all the way to La Paz, Bolivia. It was less than $5.

We got our snacks. We waited for the bus. Then we waited in line to put our backpacks under the bus.

Before we put our bags in, the guy asked to check our passports. Then he wanted to know where our visa was. However, it didn’t matter because it was visa on arrival. It took a minute for him to communicate, because my spanish is poor, but after a few attempts it was clear. Bolivia charges a $160 fee for the visa (a reciprocity fee), and he was telling me that I need to go in to the ATM and get the $160 each before we could get on the bus, because there’s no ATM at the border.

$320.

I was crushed.

That was more than a month’s budget.

Plus, we needed to leave Peru to extend our 30 day visa before our flight home.

We walked over to the ATM and stood there…

Then I turned to Caroline and said, “let’s go home”. I’m not sure she knew what to think. I repeated, “let’s go home”. I don’t remember what she said exactly, but I could tell she was more than willing.

We didn’t bother trying to refund the $5 ticket, we just walked all the way back to the little homestay. We got on the wifi, loaded Skype credits, and called British Airways to move up our ticket.

For whatever reason, BA didn’t even bother charging us a fee. They just changed our ticket.

The next morning we went to Arequipa, where our flight out left the following morning. Then we flew home.

 

Taking a break

We went back to Charlottesville, (where we had first met) and stayed on friends’ couches until we got real jobs, and found a house on craigslist that did a 6 month lease. It wasn’t really on purpose that we got such a short lease, the guy just wants his lease cycle to be near the UVA student cycle. Summer.

This point in time was desperate in another way. The blog started getting traction, and I realized how much I hated working for other people. I was an idiot, who thought he could run everything better than my boss. Which, wasn’t true, but it was the narrative in my head.

It’s funny, because Carrie and I have always talked about what business we would one day start, but we never thought the blog we were writing would be that business. Although, the problem with most business ideas is that we wanted to do something we thought was super meaningful – mainly, create a technology that increases wealth (not just makes us money).

But, the blog started making money.

And then I started getting job offers… and I wasn’t really in a position to decline them. I was working my job in Charlottesville, coming home and working for other people’s websites, and then writing my own website.

Very little sleep was involved at that stage.

 

Our lease ended in July 2013, and at that point we had to decide. Was this a short break, or a new way of life where travel was something we did on vacations.

That spring was really the first time I got any income at all from the blog.

At that point we annualized how much money we’d make from the blog, set a budget for our travels (which didn’t leave much room for savings), and we took off again.

At this point we announced we’d be posting our stats publicly and what our goal was.

It was early June that I first saw a picture of Zakynthos, Greece. It was so stunningly beautiful that we just booked a ticket. After all, you have to book 21 days in advance with AA to avoid the close-in fee. We were going to go somewhere and we picked ZTH.

Drew Zakynthos

This is the context for the video we did on Zakynthos, Greece. There weren’t points hotels and we were on a budget, so we did couchsurfing. It’s one of the two times ever, and it happened to be that the host owned the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at… ever.

I love food. Like before we go someplace I imagine and highly anticipate what the food is like, and this was the best food ever.

This was like winning the lottery to me. Exploring this awesome island on a scooter, and eating amazing local food. The trip was off to a good start.

 

Full-time travel 2.0

Before when we traveled we had zero income. None. And even though it wasn’t a ton of money for the two of us, it was more than zero! It was a sustainable system, and that took a lot of stress off of us.

It means sometimes we just work, and we don’t go out and see the sights. And because of that, it means we travel a lot more slowly, so we can do both. We generally spend a week at a time every time we go to Budapest, for example. In Bali, we spent a month when we returned.

Hungary- Budapest- Awesome View- 1

Also, at this point I spent a lot of time thinking about sustainable points strategies, and keeping track of stats helped us understand this.

It was clear going into it that living out of hotels would require large amounts of hotel points, and therefore earning hotel points would have to be scaled up. On the rare event that a great hotel promotion came along, I would have to jump on it as big as I could. Things like that became rules, because we’d always need the points.

Before, we rarely did hotel promotions, and now we’d survive on hotel promotions.

 

It’s crazy to think that July 2013 was 2.5 years ago already. Like just round two was that long ago. Zaknythos feels like yesterday.

Everything since then has been documented on the blog, and even on video. Like every trip is on video (we’re still a year behind on video, but they will be!).

Here is our youtube channel.

And here are some videos (the ones in bold are my favorites):

Actually, that’s quite far behind, but hopefully in the next couple of months we can get back to editing those. We have dozens more countries to do just to catch up.

 

Jet-setting

Over time, travel started to look a lot less like homelessness, and a lot more like jet setting.

Largely, this has to do with sustainability. You don’t get anything done at a “hotel” that is $2 a night, and sometimes you don’t enjoy it.

 

Us to Africa, to Asia, back to the US, back to Europe, then Africa, then to Asia, etc…

Suddenly, it felt normal to be in a 5 star hotel, or an overwater bungalow.

Now, it’s normal to be in the middle east, or eating street food.

 

Our first time in Hong Kong, I remember seeing a specific part of town and being sketched out. Hong Kong was our stopover on the way to Indonesia, this is that first trip to China in 2011. We were in Hong Kong, then China for a month, and then Hong Kong again.

What’s funny, is that the second time in Hong Kong we saw that same street and were totally not sketched out. In fact, everything in Hong Kong looked like the Ritz Carlton to us, the second time.

Fast forward a few years later to our most recent country visited, Myanmar.

Myanmar1

Myanmar is soooooo cool. We stayed with our friends who live there now, and outside on the dirty streets at 8am you can hear the yell of a woman getting louder and louder. Well, not a yell, but more of a chant.

Then a little bit later, you hear this guy chanting a different word, and with a different melody. Turns out it was the milk man. He walks up and down chanting at the top of his lungs the word for milk.

Then the trash man goes by yelling “trash”.

Then the water guy came by and my friend Andrew jumped up to get his 5 gallon water thingy.

Such a cool and fun way of life.

Also, we went out to eat and ordered our lunch- we both got a curry and milk tea. We were seated across from two old men, and as weird as it would be to be seated at someone else’s table in the US, it’s normal in Asia. Anywho, one of the guys paid for us and then communicated that he paid for us while leaving.

Now, our meals together probably came out to 1 US dollar, but it was two people’s worth of food for him!

Myanmar2

On the other end of things, on our recent trip to Bora Bora it felt relatively normal. It definitely wasn’t our first polynesian island nor luxury hotel. When I remembered the room was overwater, it was cool… but the rest of the time it was relatively normal.

intercontinental bora bora thalasso 7

All this to say, it’s totally weird that it’s all normal.

I’m used to being seated at someone else’s table in Asia, or going into restaurants that don’t have english menus and ordering, or going into crowded restaurants with stools and no walls. It’s normal.

Finding our hotel using public transit, without previously looking it up? So normal.

Getting a random bus to a place I can’t pronounce to people who can’t speak english? Totally normal.

Makeshift map Thailand

It seems odd, but getting around in non-english speaking places is normal. Even without a taxi or looking up how ahead of time. Different is normal.

Think about it. How often do you go to the grocery store? A couple times a week? Is it hard?

Well, that’s how often we switch hotels or even cities.

People are always surprised that I don’t plan ahead at all, but at this point it’s auto pilot. I land and I go, and it’s normal.

 

Conclusion

We’re only 28 and 29, but we’ve already seen the entire world. Which is crazy if you consider that we got married in 2011 and hadn’t really done any travel. I had been to Mexico with friends, and Carrie had been to Europe… but not much else.

Then basically overnight we were all in. No learning curve, just pushed in.

We didn’t read blogs on what to pack or how to get around to our destination. We just assumed we didn’t need that much, and that we’d figure out the rest as we went.

It’s been that for over 4 years.

Crazy.

 

When I think of all the experiences we’ve had, I’m almost emotional. From overwater bungalows, to boat rides in Bali, to Safaris in Africa, to swimming in a heated pool in the snowy alps. It’s truly unreal.

There’s probably much more I could have shared about our personal lives, or specific travels if this weren’t already so long.

But at this point I should emphasize how grateful I am for the readers here. Like, it’s absolutely crazy that some people think to use my links when they need something. Since they aren’t in the posts, I know they aren’t “impulse buys”, but instead signs of support.

Wow. For that I’m honored.

And I also have to thank frequent flyer miles.

In 2014 we stayed in 4 to 5 star hotels and spent about $7,000 on hotels. You could spend $7,000 in one month of 5 star hotels! The fact that it’s what we spent in an entire year, is crazy. That’s less than rent in Charlottesville! Can you believe that?

And to be able to fly around the world on a whim, well I don’t know if I could add up the value of that. Our last First Class flight was probably more than our year’s budget in terms of retail value.

 

I’m still far away from my goal of seeing every country, and yet feel as though we’ve seen the entire world.

Perhaps I should take some time to be introspective and come up with a better ending to this post. But the last years have been a roller coaster. It’s like I blinked and woke up 65 countries later. That’s how it all feels, a dream.

 

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82 Comments

  1. Thank you Sir. I love you guys! Next time if you’re in SJC, let’s meet. Happy holidays to you and to more travel ahead!

    Reply
    • Thanks Danh!

      Reply
  2. What a wonderful journey..Just amazing. More than anything you had the guts to get into this..I probably would never have been able to do anything like this. All the best rest of the way !!

    Reply
    • Thanks much for taking part!

      Reply
  3. I’m glad I know you two :) One of the few out there that inspire me.

    Reply
    • Well shucks. Thanks Howie!

      Reply
  4. Congrats! I wrestle everyday with my love for travel vs my love for my job. Somedays I think I’m willing to give up the job to travel instead, a la you two, but then reality sinks in. Not sure if I’m brave enough to just jump off the deep end like you two did. Either way, thanks for all you do.

    Reply
    • Well, lucky for us the job and travel align, I guess. But I’ve always noticed a grass is greener even when traveling, about missing friends, routine, etc…
      Not that I can complain, I just also don’t think moderation is bad either. :-p
      Anywho, thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  5. You two are such a breath of fresh air in the point/travel blogging space, and it just makes me feel really happy to see people who seem to be enjoying life so much. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Thanks very kind. Thanks Andrew!

      Reply
  6. Just wanted to say thank you for the blog and the great perspective on travel. I’m in my sixties and one of my few regrets is that I didn’t do more traveling when I was younger…

    Reply
    • Thanks for the support. Also, yeah, I don’t figure I’d regret it. Jeff Bezos has a “regret minimization” framework that in this case would say: would I regret not traveling? Possibly. Would I regret traveling? Almost certainly, no. That framework was influential to me.
      But, so far I have no regrets. 😀

      Reply
  7. You are both inspirational in your freedom, kindness and generosity. As always – thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the extremely kind words and support, Smay. We appreciate it.

      Reply
  8. What a cool story. Should get a screenplay for that…
    Love your blog. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Well, so far there’s no ending. 😀 Not good for a screenplay.

      Reply
  9. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been following you guys since 2011! It’s been fun reading your stories and sharing them as well. In the mean time, I have learned a lot from your experiences and travel tips. I do have one questions: do you see yourselves traveling for the rest of your lives or is there a different plan in mind? Since you don’t plan, I’ll assume you will just let life decide. :)

    Reply
    • Wow, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for being supportive for so long!

      Definitely the long term goal is more moderation. We’ve always said we wished we had a home base.
      So when we moved back to Charlottesville, we didn’t last long without traveling. But when we’re gone so long we really miss people and things about normal life. So I see it likely that our lives could be a lot of back and forth.
      Like if one day we could afford to own a place and rent it out on airbnb for the months we were traveling, that would feel like the ultimate freedom. The ability to go, and also the freedom to return home…
      That’s a ways away, but definitely stages closer to moderation is at least ideal. We’ll see if moderation happens much in our lives.

      Reply
  10. Favorite post. Hands down. You are an inspiration, and everything about your site is fantastic. Thank you for always sharing your experiences.

    Reply
    • Wow, that’s awesome, and those are super kinds words! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  11. Serendipity, Randomly running into this blog 2 years ago.

    Let me know if you ever need a place to stay in DC.

    Just finished a 3 week honeymoon in Fiji & NZ courtesy of using resources on your blog. Thanks again for your genuine write ups and explanations, by far the best out there.

    Best of luck on future travels.

    Reply
    • A great time to be in NZ and Fiji! Must have been a great trip – congrats!

      Thanks for reading for 2 years ,and thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  12. Wow, that was a really great post. Thanks not only for the travel and award tips, but also the inspiration you give us readers!

    Reply
    • Awesome, so glad people like this more personal post so much! And thank for commenting and being supportive!

      Reply
  13. I’m so curious to know what the young you who just dropped out of high school would think of the you now. You’re traveling the world with an awesome companion and you’re one of the best in this game. Mega props.

    Reply
    • Hah, I’ve never thought about that.

      Well, the more surprising stage of my life was trying to get jobs in the years after high school. Like reality was that I’m always going to work a job I hate, and get paid very little.

      So it’s super mind blowing now that I actually decline job offers that come to me via the blog. Like, I’d never think I’d be declining jobs, I was begging!

      Ironically, in high-school I was absolutely convinced that if you do what you love and try to be the best at something, you’ll have a job. In high school I just justified my skipping class by trying to reason it, saying it was a lack of interest and therefore I would never use these skills.
      As stupid as I was, I was right about making my own way, and probably wrong about benefiting from completing school.
      But the last thing the arrogant 17 year old prick version of me needs is to be proven right. :-p

      Reply
  14. Another great post. Thanks! If you two are ever heading to TYS, let me know. How was it that an Amish ran across an English from Texas?

    Reply
    • Thanks! Truth be told I had to google TYS. 😀

      Well, if you’re referring to me, I’m not from Texas. I grew up in Charlottesville, VA and never lived in Texas. But I moved back to Cville when Caroline was moving there to work for a volunteer program.

      But also, she’s not amish. :-p Her dad left the amish as a kid because he wanted to go to college. So Carrie’s grandma, and aunts/uncles, and cousins are all amish. Many of them still live on the same road as her parents. So we see them often. 😀

      Reply
    • Heeyyyy you must be an insider! How did you know to refer to non-Amish as “English”? 😀 Are you a Yoder too???

      Reply
  15. Thanks for sharing your story. Slightly jealous. Can not replicate with a toddler and a baby on the way but that wont stop us from traveling when we can. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Hey, like I comment above, we miss moderation. We greatly miss the community aspect, and would one day love to take trips from a home. So it’s a grass is greener… but I can’t complain. 😀
      Definitely thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  16. You two are one of my favorite resources out there, and after reading this you seem like awesome people as well. Keep kicking ass!

    Reply
    • Thanks Stephen! I can definitely vouch that at least Caroline is super awesome. :-p
      Thanks much for continuing reading!

      Reply
  17. Original. This best describes your blog as well as both of you.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. The struggles, the growth, the audacity, the spontaneity. There’s no need for any introspective end to the post – keep writing the story.

    Reply
    • Great comment, and thanks for the kind words. I highly value originality, and so it’s a high compliment to me. :-)

      Reply
  18. Big Fan! Greeting from China!! Best wishes!!

    Reply
    • Thanks Yang!

      Reply
  19. Thanks for filling out the details. Your blog really inspired me to do what I’m doing, travelling on the cheap full-time now (since March this year). When I first started reading about travel hacking it seemed to be all about luxury. I just wanted cheapest way A to B and the amounts that were “cheap” to earn points were expensive for me. Then I found your site.

    I will have spent a bit over $7000 it’s looking like for a year’s travel, including some expensive things like- month in Japan, private jeep tour through out the Pamirs in Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan for a week, similar in Mongolia, a month in Oceania, and upcoming time in Israel and Europe, among all the places I went this year.

    I don’t know if I would have tried for this life dream of travel otherwise.
    Thanks guys!

    Reply
    • PS- Also I am now using the travel hacking principles to do other things. Next year I’m travel hacking the Appalachian Trail. To and from the trail is a no brainer, a mix of miles for flights and hitchhiking. There’s the occasional town night (you don’t have to sleep in your tent EVERY night) and there’s actually a surprising number of IHG hotels nearby the trail. Need gear? Even food? Amazon credits are easy enough to come by. How about mailing yourself said food along the trail? Do a stamps.com trial and get discount rates. Maybe use the right CC for office purchases. A lot of ways to be creative with ANY goal using these principles.

      Reply
    • Wow, that’s epic.
      It’s crazy that we haven’t crossed paths by now. And the Appalachian trail is my back yard… of where I grew up at least.
      Keep us updated on your trips!

      Reply
  20. Drew,
    I hope you take criticism as well. I am glad that you have travelled to other countries but do you justify that you have seen a country just by staying in a hotel for 7 days working on a laptop?
    I have been to more than 130 countries but I only count about 100 of them since I actually saw stuff in them. Your recent gig in the Balkans for example does not count.

    2nd the coins are not dead you can still buy coins and deposit them there is just a trick to get them, why do you think they are sold out now? :) A lot of the methods that you mention are still not dead they are still alive just through a backdoor.

    And travel hacker is not used correctly. I belong in a couple of real travel hacking groups where you actually hack the airlines/hotels website to get amazing rates, such as 60k round trip F class on UA, 15k RT AA miles SA to Europe in F on BA, 25k AC miles in F from US to Asia to name a few. To get those you need to know how to inject code and hack a site. Knowing how to read promotions and getting advantage of them is not hacking, just thought you should know. :)
    Hristo

    Reply
    • Hristo,

      You are so smart, so spill the beans on how to do the coin trick. Drew’s techniques have been peer reviewed as legal and reproducible by other regular people. Put up or shut up.

      You want to claim code injections and hacking websites then sure, just hack the bank and transfer $100,000,000 to your account. Why bother with a stupid airline website. If you are going to go black hat illegal hacking then go all the way.

      By the way the word “Hack” is not exclusively reserved for computer hacking but can be a generic term for a shortcut or easier way to do something. Drew is perfectly correct in calling himself a “travel hacker” in that he uses ways to pay for his travel without having to pay full fare. He has NEVER claimed to be a computer hacker.

      Reply
    • Thanks for the comment. I’ll add:
      1) We went all around Montenegro and visited small nowhere towns in Bosnia, etc… Then we went all through Bulgaria.

      So just because I spent 11 days working in Serbia, it doesn’t decrease the travels in the other place.
      Also, I’m not dead, and I’m not done traveling.

      2) I avoid anything illegal, and want to draw clear ethics.

      3) I didn’t make the phrase, but semantics and propriety aren’t my passions anyways. Good to have a more official opinion.

      Reply
  21. Thanks for sharing your story, Drew. It’s so inspirational as always. I really admire your approach and philosophy. Your blog has always so unique. Don’t change a thing! Keep travellin’

    Reply
    • Thanks much TrAAveller, I really appreciate the kind words and support. It’s inspiring to me to keep blogging.

      Reply
  22. All I can say is thank you to you two, you continue to educate and show others it’s all possible if you really want it. Your story is inspiring to say the least, especially knowing you started with the same club Carlson promo I did. I wish you two all the best in this next year and hope you have safe and wonderful new year.

    Reply
    • Thanks William. These kind comments like yours are super encouraging. Thanks for taking the time, and thanks for reading!

      Reply
  23. I want to personally thank you guys for helping me and my wife see a handful of places we’d never be able to afford otherwise. We also like the vibe of ‘seeing the REAL country vs just the Touristy stuff. (Tho thats usually fun too.) Connecting with locals is always more fun, and your site seems to push experiences over luxury, which I love.

    How’d you get your start in website development? Your site is put together well. I try to use your CC Links whenever possible… You’re the lest intrusive referer of all the Travel Blogs =)

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading and for the support Chris! Super kind and much appreciated.
      We definitely value experience of places and culture more than luxury. I’ve always been curious to see what people and terrain are like in every part of the world… and the luxury thing is an added bonus when it’s there! I mean, who minds it?

      Website development is all done by the wife, although it’s a general interest. We’ve definitely invested in those skills because we know they’ll translate well into a lot of other opportunities. But we read a lot about user interface and user experience design. Not applied a ton to this wordpress site, but this site is how we got interested.

      Reply
  24. Hristo Stoichkov is right. I read your last few pieces about you traveling through Bulgaria and Romania. I have lived in Romania and visited Bulgaria a few times. The fact that you only stayed in Sofia and Bucharest means you saw 1% of the two countries. There is absolutely nothing to see in those capitals, all of the good stuff is in the country itself. I would focus on seeing the most interesting stuff and not just increasing your number, its not about that.

    I am from Japan originally and have learned it when I travelled through the USA. When I started going to all National Parks then I saw that its not just the large cities, there are many more things that make up a country not just a hotel room in which you sit 24/7 and “work”. Also I would apply to all of your cc links but please try to have more posts. Having one post in 2 weeks is just not working in your favor. Just Lucky has had 10 posts today. Gary has had 7, and counting…

    Reply
    • Please, please, please, don’t do what these other bloggers do, as the post above suggests. I understand that they do it to increase their revenue (new posts, new visits), but most of the content is a waste of my precious time. Your content is stellar and I would much rather read a worthy article once a week, than multiple that have no use and are just a complete waste of time. And thank you for not pushing cc links like every other blogger does. It is the one reason why I keep coming back (plus your content).

      Reply
    • @Ethan – Thanks for the support, I appreciate it and the kind words. I definitely have tried to do something different in this blogs approach, and it’s probably not for everyone.

      Reply
    • Hmm, I musta done something to tick off people about the Balkans.

      Well, I can tell you that our last trip through the Balkans (which didn’t involve Romania) involved a lot more than Sofia. Even in Bulgaria alone we went also went to Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo. Both very interesting cities, although the term (like travel) is subjective. There’s no wrong way to do it.

      So… I think you’re confused about something.

      Reply
    • Let me tell you something…I also would like to see more posts from this blog. But I dont wanna see 10 post a day trying to sell me a credit card. I also ready Luchy, TPG, and others…they are all the same….you need to go and read 100 posts to find something useful and interesting. This is the blog that let you asking for more…quality over quantity always win.

      Reply
    • This blog isn’t written to please you– They need to make money to keep their gig going. Would you work for free? Didn’t think so. What if you got chastised every time you punched the clock or drove your desk?

      Any time I go to apply for a new CC I always check to see if you guys posted links up. Don’t pay attention to the people who want to “take, take, take”– you give away some of the best information on the web.

      Putting up some CC links would not dissuade your regular readers from coming to your site– it may weed out some of the losers though (80/20 rule, Drew).

      Why are people so turned off on giving you a commission? Especially one that doesn’t even come out of our own pockets… Look people, if Drew and Carrie can’t accumulate capital or flyer miles– the gig is up. Then you can all look forward to reading blogs about Virginia or Amish country.

      Stop complaining and give credit when due.

      Reply
    • So, Drew should not sit in a hotel room and work, but he should post 7-10 good blog entries each day. Not sure I understand.

      Reply
  25. Out of literally infinite websites out there, yours is one of the dozen or so sites that are bookmarked on all of my electronic devices.

    Brava!

    Reply
    • Awesome – a highest honor for a blog. Your probably right about the infinite number of websites.
      Big thanks for reading!

      Reply
  26. Drew/Carrie –

    This post (among many others) is why your site is the best travel/cc blog out there. Great mix of the “how to” and the results one can achieve from the how to.

    Ignore the Balkans critics and anyone else who tries to tell you that you travel “wrong”…travel is SO very individual, it’s a little like criticizing someone for breathing wrong. Just take comfort that you ARE and don’t listen to those who try to instruct you on how to breathe better. Or that your last breath didn’t “count” for some absurd arbitrary reason. Sheeesh…

    Keep up the great world traveling, and the wonderful travel blogging!

    Reply
  27. Drew & Carrie, you are always the last blog I read because I love saving the best for last! You couldn’t have picked a better name for your site, because not only do you explain how to travel for free in financial terms, but I find that I never feel as free as when I’m traveling and you both live that to the fullest! Thank you for all that you do and share and letting us experience your adventures (and hacks) through your blogs – we’re so grateful for you!
    And if I could be so bold, I wanted to make a suggestion for 2016 and beyond. I’m assuming that most of your followers, like me, are passionate about seeing the world but could never afford to do it without help like the blog you provide. However, I also cross over into another un-reached travel group out there in that we will be completing an international adoption in 2016. It’s because of people like you that we will be able to save thousands of dollars in travel costs associated with the adoption process. There is a world of people who travel for international volunteerism or charitable outreach who know nothing about traveling for free. I think that you two have a unique platform to reach them not only because of your expertise in the travel game, but also because of your generosity and kindness that many of the other commenters have already mentioned. Not sure how you could do it, but I hope you can find a way to help this group and possibly stir others to get more involved as well.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Reply
  28. Best travel blog hands down. Thanks for sharing your stories with us. Best wishes to you both for 2017 and beyond!

    Reply
    • And 2016 of course!

      Reply
  29. I share your blog whenever I get the chance. This post is a classic! Kudos to both of you for following an inner path and thereby becoming a beacon for others.

    Reply
  30. What an amazing adventure, Drew! Thank you for sharing your story with us, and for helping me maximize on my own travels. May the journey for you and Caroline continue to be happy, healthy, insightful, and free.

    Reply
  31. Your website helps people. I was able to give a couple an affordable 25th wedding anniversary trip with your info on IHG PointsBreaks. Otherwise, they were staying home. Your travels inspired me (a single Dad) to get back travelling with 2 young kids. Your info made it affordable. My friends think I’m a Super Dad. All I do is, just read your blog.

    Reply
  32. Excellent piece! reading thru the post, i could just imagine myself thru the journey that you went thru since college as i can relate to your situation a lot – only difference being that i’ve dont have the b**ls to quit my job and do what i like… especially not now after being married with 2 kids.. For that, my hats off to you for following your heart, and clearly, you have done very well !

    We briefly met during FTU Dallas, and meeting you in person, and also the other bloggers, it reaffirmed my view that your blog is different from others simply because you are more grounded, honest and relatable (is that even a word). You probably have a lot of friends in Houston, but if you ever were come to IAH, do let me know. Likewise, if your travels take you to Malaysia again (where i’m originally from), pls let me know – i’m sure my brother would love to meet you and help you in anyway.

    Merry Christmas !

    Reply
  33. Drew, thank you for the background! I have read your blog since you started keeping track of the stats. I don’t travel enough but I have learned to maximize my points from your blog posts.

    You and sfo777 are my favorite travel bloggers!

    Merry Christmas

    Karen

    Reply
  34. This seems like a first draft, a bit of a journal entry. There are a lot of great sentiments and illuminating insights: background and context are always fascinating to fans (myself included). But you maybe could have given it another readthrough, just to maintain your standards as blog WRITER. For example, and this is just a representative quibble, you describe “unreal” experiences making you “almost emotional.” I don’t know, if you’re publishing every couple of days, maybe take some time for editing or let an objective reader take a look.
    Cheers

    Reply
    • It felt like he was talking to me over coffee– not some filtered soliloquy.

      The reason people keep coming back is because Drew can spell things out in an informal, almost personal way.

      If it read like a law school textbook– people would get bored to tears.

      We don’t read this blog because Drew and Carrie are “Blog WRITERS”– we read it because Drew and Carrie are Story TELLERS.

      Reply
  35. Have you thought about getting a van and storing it in the USA so that way you could travel and live for free in the USA for a portion of the year?

    Reply
  36. Hey Drew and Caroline,

    Great article!! I have been following you for about a year now and I know that “Roomer” is a website you like so I thought I would give a heads up about a deal on there that seems to be hidden unless you do a very specific search. I would love to take advantage of it, but my schedule won’t allow so I thought one of your readers might enjoy it. 7 days at the Casa Magna Marriott Resort in Cancun, MX for only $74 per night. Here is the link and happy travels to some lucky person who buys this one! https://www.roomertravel.com/hotels/cancun-hotels/marriott-casa-magna-resort-cancun.h36923/44333845/book?rate_plan_id=2&rate_plan_token=d69520f41ab95f3638c02c704e7f12dc&&cp=0

    Reply
  37. Hey

    Thanks for sharing your story, it brings great insight as to how you and your wife got started.

    I stumbled across your blog (and a few others) early this year and it was instrumental in helping me get into the game. In just a short while, I have been able to take several trips (including flying F to Japan on JAL which was amazing) and several free hotel stays as well.

    Thank you for the site and all the info you share with us.

    Reply
  38. Great post, your blog has sensible posts and not just fillers. It’s one of my favorite.

    You should put c/c links as me and lot of other readers would like to support your travel journey!

    Cheers

    Reply
  39. So…. are you still a hippie? :)

    Reply
  40. Beautiful love story! You guys are doing amazingly. This to me, is what living is all about. Best wishes to you in 2016.

    Reply
  41. Okay, I’m pretty sure I’ll be jumped on (by other readers, not Drew) for asking this, but at 56 it’s in the front of MY mind: How do you plan to retire/ finance your later years? Starting to save later makes it much, much harder to accumulate a meaningful sum. It’s hard to imagine now, but one day sleeping on a futon and not needing medical insurance may not be acceptable to you. And deciding at 35 to start saving means it will be a lot harder to ever retire. Not trying to rain on your parade at all, just really curious. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply
  42. First .. love your posts! United mileage question … when you say Australia and Europe cannot be combined do you mean if you start in NA? What if you start in Europe and want to return to Europe??
    THanks for the help!

    Reply
  43. Love it! Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    Reply
  44. I can’t tell you how much I loved this post. I always wondered to be honest. Also…you tips are so incredibly helpful and usable by normal people. Thanks you two!

    Reply
  45. Caroline and Drew, it’s been awesome (and incredibly helpful) reading your posts over the year or so since finding your site. Thanks for all the time, energy and work you put into your posts, the invaluable resources you provide, and the website in general. If you ever need a place to crash in (or hosts to show you around) San Francisco, please feel free to reach out!

    Reply
  46. Have been reading your site for more than a year. Just want to say how much I like your posts, resources/tips, and your personality. Thanks very much for sharing your personal stories!

    As to mbh’s comment which is correct on “saving for later years”. However follow your heart, do what you and Caroline truly enjoy – travel and blog, keep the site up-to-date, then money will follow.

    Reply
  47. Hey Drew and Caroline, I’m deeply touched by your story and the journey that you have gone through so far. This is the first time I’ve somehow landed on your site here, but it felt like I was with you through the journey and, I could not leave the page without leaving you this message. Wish you and Caroline an awesome married life!

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
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