Travel Planning and Hacking

Doha, Qatar--Photo from the site
Over the past eight years, we've covered a lot of ground and there is still a long list of trips left!  The conundrum is balancing time and finances.  The logistics of our travels is something I haven't discussed before, but a lot goes behind our jaunts.  Traveling to South Africa, Dubai, and then on to Europe for our upcoming trip, there are multiple considerations.

The list includes, obtaining various currencies, at least a minimal amount for each country until we can visit an ATM, outlet adapters (we required 4 different ones for this trip), transportation between the destinations, booking accommodations, buying travel insurance,  gluten-free translations cards, for me, for each country, downloading books and maps, and figuring out how to pack in a carry-on bag and backpack everything needed for the various climates (from 40 to 90+ degrees F) we'll be experiencing.  Also, on international trips, I sign up for the STEP program.  Set up through the U. S. Dept of State, this provides us with emergency assistance and notifications, in case of civil unrest, natural disasters, etc.

Booking rooms means hours spent online for each destination to determine the amenities and location of accommodations and reading the all important reviews.  Airbnb, and multiple other sites are used to find the best deals.  In most cases, we are looking for a place that has some type of kitchen.  Eating out 3 meals a day for six week is not only expensive, it actually gets boring.  I love going to the local markets, stocking up and planning our meals.  Yes, we still want to go out and enjoy the local cuisine and ambience, but not for every meal.  Usually, lunch is our meal out, because that is when we are out exploring and typically that means a smaller check.  For Qatar, we need a transit visa and a copy of our marriage certificate for the hotel.  For South Africa's Kruger National Park, we need a prescription for an anti-malarial drug.  There are so many details.  Bottomline, it's a lot of work putting everything together!

Utilizing travel hacking for longer trips, such as this, saves a small fortune.  Economy seats for our flight can be purchased for as low as $800 p/p one-way, but that's still a lot of money.  Our initial flight from Miami is 14 hours to Doha, Qatar with an overnight layover and then an additional 8 1/2 hours to Johannesburg.  This is not something we want to experience in economy seating!  Business class seats run thousands of dollars, our business class seats--air miles.  Hotel rooms can also be obtained for no charge.  A stay for 2 nights at the Dublin Hilton would be $500, our cost---points.

If you're not familiar with travel hacking, I know it has the ring of being a quasi-legal activity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, this is the credit card companies trying to lure you into using their cards.  But, this way of traveling allows us to do a lot of things that otherwise might not be on the table.  Alan spends multiple hours tracking the best way to earn frequent flyer miles and juggling out how the miles can be used for our travels.  In a nutshell, there are multiple ways to earn miles.  One of the most common is bonus points or miles offered for opening a new credit card, but of course not just any credit card.  You look perhaps for the most points but you want to make sure they are points you will be able to use.  For example, some cards are affiliated with certain airline but have partnerships with other airlines.  If you are earning miles to travel on Alaska Airlines, and you would never travel to their destinations, then you wouldn't apply for that card.  But maybe one of their partner airlines would be something you would use.  Extensive research is required to figure out which card or cards will work best for you.  Most require that you spend a certain amount within a specific time frame, usually $1000 to $3000 within 3 months.  Each card is different, so if these requirement are unrealistic for you, look for something else.  Having cards that transfer miles to a variety of airlines or partner airlines is something to look for.

My synopsis of travel hacking is an oversimplification of a process we have used for years to travel on-the-cheap.  But if you are intrigued, and want to learn more, there are dozens of websites providing information on the ins and outs of hacking.  One of our favorites is The Points Guy.  By subscribing to his blog we receive updates of which cards are offering what, in addition to other general travel info.  For example, he had a recent tip to use twitter to contact Aer Lingus customer service.  Brilliant!  Calls to the airline to get clarifying info, for our flight from Amsterdam to Dublin, on the weight allowed for our bag or if we needed to pay for the luggage were not answered in a timely manner.  The confusion was because we booked thru British Airway,  which changes the weight allowance and payment requirement, but nowhere on their site did they share the specifics.  By going to twitter, I had the response within 24 hours.

We'll be taking off in a couple of weeks, but I'll be writing again soon regarding the why of this trip.

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