We’ve been married for nearly 3 years and two of those years have been spent as full time travelers, nomads, vagabonds, gypsies, full time hotel livers, semi-homeless, whatever you want to call it.
Recently I did a post on Best Photos From 2 Years of Travel. Similarly I have a list of hotels we’ve stayed at in the last 2+ years. We’ve stayed at 113 different hotels and 74 were paid for by points (and a few on mistake fares). In an attempt to be transparent, I’ll share my [mostly] accurate spread sheet here (number of nights aren’t always complete and there are hotels all over Asia and South America that ran us ~$10 a night that I just haven’t included as I don’t even know what they are) but more importantly is the “how”.
And now my favorite blogger Ben (aka Lucky), at One Mile At A Time, is also moving out of his house and into Hotels. Ben is significantly smarter and more knowledgable than I in most ways regarding the industry…
BUT, I’m totally obsessed with the full time hotel thing. In fact, strategizing hotels has gotten to be a huge time suck. Sometimes I just have to say “screw it” and pick one at random, or suck it up and pay for one outside of my strategy.
So for anyone, including Ben, who has a location independent job…
1.) Chase the deals.
This one is the most obvious in some ways, but it’s the one that can save the most money.
Mistake fares and extreme deals (like IHG PointBreaks) can save a ton of money. Like a ton. For example, it’s easy to drop 50,000 points on one night, and then in 5 nights at the InterContinental Mumbai I spent only 25,000 points total.
What I’ve decided is that planning out a series of extremely cheap hotels is worth flying around the world for if you have the miles. $10 mistake fares and 5,000 points a night hotels are sometimes worth it.
Think about it. If you stay where you are and drop 10x more on hotels a day, how long until spending the miles is worth it?
2.) Don’t go just anywhere for a deal though!
And what justifies spending the miles even more, is that the deal is ideally in a place you want to go anyways. It’s miles you’d enjoy spending anyways. This applies to mistake fares for flights, hotels, or other deals.
My point here is that you should not go just anywhere for a deal. I would go some place I know nothing about but might be interested in, but wouldn’t go some place I know sucks.
Last summer we booked hotel mistake fares around Europe at this one brand and in Berlin the hotel was okay. Berlin is okay. And Hamburg, (the next city we booked the mistake-fare in), is also okay. At least downtown where the Park Hyatt is. But this mistake fare was in some industrial park on the way to the airport.
The hotel advertises itself as 4 star, but the internet couldn’t work from our room and was for charge. And what’s crazy is that the hotel didn’t have AC despite my room facing the sun all day in August. Even if it was an actual 4 star hotel though, there was just nothing around except one uber-expensive restaurant.
This may seem also obvious, but don’t stay in industrial areas for a deal. (Not that I think Lucky would do that).
3.) Stay awhile.
If it’s a place that you love, or super interesting to you, stay. Like if there was a mistake fare or extreme deal in Hong Kong, Vienna, Queenstown, Venice, Budapest, or some beautiful beach in Thailand, book a month. That may sound like a ton. But how long did you live in Seattle? Because Seattle is also a cool city. More realistically, I’d stay 2 – 3 weeks.
Anything less than 2 weeks in a great city will fly by. 3 weeks and it starts to slow down.
It’s also a lot harder to get work done on the go.
I guess when you’re constantly on the go, you start to miss a place that feels like home. Going slower gives you that feeling at least to some degree. You even start to refer to your hotel as home. Your bags are there, and you are completely unpacked, your family knows your schedule, and you start to actually meet people or at least you become a regular somewhere.
After a long trip, it can take a long time to recover. This is similar – less of a trip and more of a home… when it’s more than 2 weeks.
Without longer stays, full time travel is impossibly exhausting. With them, it’s easy.
There is no Right luggage quantity, but there is a wrong one.
While I’m genuinely curious as to what travel would look like getting around with 5 giant bags, it’s not wrong. People try to be elitist about this and tell you that real travelers only ____. Whatever, that blank is, don’t believe it.
However, your luggage should fit your travel style. In my opinion at least, the more luggage you have, the slower you want to go.
Again, there’s no right amount. Hauling 5 big bags around once a week (especially with taxis straight to the hotel) is hardly a big deal. Hauling 5 bags around every day to a new hotel on the local transports would be draining.
Although, I’m not judgmental about this. If you can do it fast-paced and it’s not draining, it wouldn’t surprise me. We’ve traveled with big bags, and it hasn’t been too bad.
That being said, we end up throwing away anything we don’t need.
4.) Do both the “draining” and the “recharging”.
The most rewarding travel experiences are draining. And on the flip side you will not meet people and have adventures from a 5 star hotel (generally). The flip side is that the recharging isn’t as rewarding in a travel sense, but it’s still necessary.
On a train we met a guy who lent us his BMW motorcycle and took us riding around the hills of Hungary and Slovakia. We’ve eaten in peoples’ homes, sitting on the floor, eating with our hands. We couchsurfed with a cool family in Saipan and a man who has the best restaurant in Greece and who connected us with awesome adventures around the island of Zakynthos.
These experiences didn’t come from the front of the plane or the hotel lounge. They came from being with the locals.
If you don’t put yourself out there and take the more exhausting road, you’re missing out on some of the best experiences of your travel life.
On the other hand, if you lived in hostels (which by the way, we do not do), couchsurfed constantly (we’ve surfed together twice, but we used to host often), and slept on long haul trains regularly… you would burn out.
And forget about getting any work done if you do it that way all the time.
Put yourself out there for small steps at a time and then retreat to a comfortable long term stay. After all, this is different than living somewhere. And it’s different than a backpacking trip. Working and full-time travel require slower paces and privacy.
Heck, even die hard backpackers get home sick after months and go home. Of course, hostels are exhausting social situations, and moving around that often is exhausting. The backpacker lifestyle is unsustainable.
5.) Look for scalable strategies.
I personally remember getting really homesick in Malaysia once. And even after I would still hop hotels every single night for the best deal promotions. I eventually realized that my pace was unsustainable.
Switching Marriott hotels every single night to get the referral bonus and the MegaBonus is great… for a while.
Just as I don’t do survey’s for miles, because of time vs benefit, I no longer hop back and forth between hotels. Well… I don’t do it often… Although I’m in my third hotel in three days in the same town. Obviously, exceptions apply.
When it comes to earning, think long term.
6.) It flips the way you view redemptions.
Maybe normally a great hotel redemption is an “aspirational” redemption at the finest of fine. But for me, I don’t want to burn all my hotel points on 1 night, because I have potentially 364 other hotels to book that year.
I’d rather burn all my points on PointBreaks and pay for expensive hotels (if that’s your thing).
I don’t at all think in terms of point values. Instead, I think, “how can I get the most stays out of what I have considering my current travel plans.” Plus, I also think about what paid stays I need for promotions and where I can cheapest fulfill those on upcoming travels. It’s almost a puzzle that involves the least amount of money spent, most free nights, and the most efficiently earning paid nights.
Further more, I don’t want to stay somewhere for only one night. Seriously, it does happen, but it’s no longer aspirational for me. A short stay is a necessity, not something I desire.
7.) Burn then earn.
This doesn’t seemingly make sense… but it’s practically what I do.
When the Hilton devaluation hit, I had just burned every last Hilton HHonors point. When things happen over night, I barely care, as I’m constantly out of points anyways.
I think I earn 1,500,000+ IHG Points a year from paid stays alone. How many do I have in my account right now? Like 100,000. And by the time the next PointBreaks comes along I may have more.
I’m constantly on the verge of points bankruptcy.
First of all, your points will never ever gain value. I’d love to see a list of award charts over time… because all award prices are going up. Period. It’s easier and easier to earn and therefore points are less and less valuable.
Now, I do save enough for the next big deal. But at the end of the day, I will always blow all of my points on a great deal. And then I’ll figure out how to replenish my stock. I don’t get the constantly trying to store up on points that aren’t being used.
So in a sense, I started out with a stash of miles/points, let’s say 1,000,000. From then on I’m trying to get as close to 0 as possible and then replenish.
8.) Why full time travel is incredible.
Full time travel is incredible. Want to visit family? Then do it. Want to stay in Seattle (or Charlottesville, or wherever your home is)? Then do it. Want to spend summer in Austria? Spring in Colorado? Fall in India? Winter in Bali? Then do it.
For those of you who live next door to your family, power to you. But our families are in Ohio, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. 4 states I couldn’t even consider living. While working in Charlottesville, we had two weeks vacation. This means we could see 2 out 4 and skip any vacation travel.
But now we can spend an entire month with our families. And I can choose to spend large amounts of time with my parents (now in Texas) for the winter. I hate winter so much that this is the time of year where the state has some appeal to me.
There’s no wrong way. While these are my opinions, it just doesn’t matter. Like packing – if you don’t like the way you packed, change it. Ship your favorite pants home or give them away.
Particularly under-packing, it just doesn’t matter. People worry about every little tolitery, as if you can’t buy toothpaste everywhere in the world.
And with travel pace, I do think a lot of people keep exhausting paces, burn out and then blame it on the travel lifestyle. However, book whatever pace you want. Going too fast? Then slow down.
That’s what’s beautiful about travel. Tired of the big city? Then leave. Tired of going too fast? Stay. Just be in tune with yourself.
And on the other hand, don’t skip experiences because they are uncomfortable. So many great things come from doing something beyond your comforts. At home you meet people in your natural routines. With travel it’s not so. You have to make some effort.
Often, the most rewarding places on earth can’t be gotten to by airline miles and they don’t have points hotels. Still go there. Still try. Then for the next 3 weeks afterwards enjoy the Hyatt.
For more specific hotel points earning strategies, read my post on Hotel Strategy for Full Time Travel.