Points Panda has partnered with a variety of financial companies including CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Points Panda and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. For more information please read our full Advertiser Disclosure.
One year ago, Taryn and I were in the middle of our around-the-world trip. Our friends and family had lots of questions about our adventure, and I’ve compiled a handful of them below.
HOW ON EARTH DID YOU FLY AROUND THE WORLD IN BUSINESS CLASS WITH CREDIT CARD POINTS?
Hence the point of this entire blog. I explain how I earned all of the necessary points here: How We Made It Happen
There are so many places to go! How did you pick your destinations?
For the most part, we wanted to go where our credit card points would take us, and Asia offered the best value and availability. We had never been to SE Asia before, and since it is so far away, it was also a good opportunity to maximize the value of our business class award flights. I’d much rather have a lie-flat seat for a 13-hour flight from Tokyo to DC than flying that same flight in economy.
That also meant we went to a few destinations we wouldn’t otherwise have picked, which is part of the adventure. For example, we visited both Sri Lanka and Myanmar because of the award availability when we were booking flights. It was also a chance to see even more of Asia since it takes so long to travel to the other side of the world.
OK, but how did you go to nine countries in 21 days? That’s a lot of traveling!
Indeed it is. The key for us was to only schedule nonstop flights and as many overnight flights as possible in order to maximize our actual time at each destination. That way we wouldn’t have as many days completely wasted because of travel. Plus, since our overnight flights were in business class with lie-flat seats, we could get some actual rest on the plane.
What travel agent did you book your hotels and activities through?
We planned and booked everything ourselves. There is SO MUCH information out there on what to do and where to eat in cities around the world – it’s just a matter of sifting through it all to determine what’s right for you. I mostly scoured reviews were on TripAdvisor, and also looked at various magazines or blog articles as well.
I can’t imagine how much the trip would have cost with a travel agent. And I highly doubt the agent would have suggested the best activities for us. Booking everything on our own allowed us to avoid tourist traps and try new vendors/restaurants that were more up our alley.
Of course, there a fair amount of work that goes into planning things yourself. Here’s one of seven pages we made for our itinerary:
To maximize our time in each country, we made sure to plan out our entire trip while also allowing plenty of downtimes to actually relax on vacation. Over the top? A bit. But I would hate to learn only after arriving in Chiang Mai that we couldn’t go see the elephant sanctuary. Or the fountain show in Dubai. Or the fun millennial street food tour in Hong Kong.
I seriously live for planning trips. So let me know if you’re looking for a “travel consultant.” 😉
Three weeks abroad? How many suitcases did you bring??
Two carry-on suitcases. No joke. It was going to be a huge hassle to fly on 12 different flights while lugging around multiple 50+ lbs suitcases. We’ve learned over the years that we don’t actually use all the stuff we pack in our bags, so we’ve become more efficient packers.
Our secret? Cheap laundry. We only packed 10 days’ worth of clothes and planned to have our laundry done halfway through our trip. The laundry service in Cambodia picked up, washed, dried, folded, and returned our two suitcases of clothes within 24 hours. And it only cost about $25. WAY better than packing a heavy suitcase!
We intended to actually carry-on our bags, but since we needed lots of sunscreen for the Maldives, we ended up checking them for our first few flights. We learned that business class passengers receive their bags *very* quickly, so it was just as convenient checking bags for each of our flights. The smaller bags still made it much easier to travel through the 12 different airports though.
Um, three weeks with just carry-on bags? Are you crazy?? What were some of the most helpful items that you packed?
For me, the packing cubes were totally clutch. When you’re living out of a suitcase, they’re like tiny drawers that can easily be packed away in a matter of seconds.
But we also invested in a multi-functional power adapter, which was easy to use and didn’t take up much space. Besides, most hotels these days have USB ports all over the place, so charging phones was never an issue.
Something else we’ve learned in our travels: using your cell phone abroad doesn’t have to be expensive. With Sprint, high-speed data is only $5/day or $25/week, and signing up for the service was as simple as replying to a text message after landing in a foreign country. That made our travel much easier, from maps (a total lifesaver) to currency conversions to weather reports.
That’s a lot of different currencies to deal with! Did you exchange US dollars before leaving DC?
We took out cash in the local currency via ATMs at the airport.
Do people still get pesos or Euros before traveling abroad? That sounds like a huge hassle. Despite the scary news reports, ATMs abroad are very safe and often provide the best exchange rates. Just be sure to select to make the transactions in the local currency, which makes your U.S.-based bank the one who makes the conversion. And that’s a much better scenario than relying on the local bank’s exchange rate, which probably won’t be as favorable.
The hard part was actually knowing how much money to take out in the local currency in each airport. Some countries (such as Cambodia and Myanmar) took US dollars, so that was easy. But in a place like Sri Lanka, it didn’t make sense to take out too much money because we were only there for one night. So we calculated a rough estimate for how much we’d need in the local currency for each destination.
My friend’s less accurate strategy at the airport ATM is to randomly select an option and hope for the best. So to each their own. But this was also a good way to save money and avoid having leftover currency we can’t spend in the United States.
Were you able to get by in (fill in the blank country) ok with just English?
Yes, most places spoke enough English. Myanmar was probably where they spoke the least English, but being a former British colony, it still wasn’t an issue at all. Chiang Mai, Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia thrive on tourism, and we Americans are lucky that English is a popular second (or third) language throughout the world. A side effect of British imperialism.
How did you get three weeks off of work for a vacation??
Did we ask nicely? 😃 But seriously, we each gave each of our offices 6+ months of notice, so that helped. We usually take weekend trips, so asking for a week off (let alone three weeks off) was a special treat and an easier thing to request. We worked through the previous few holiday periods as well, which earned us enough brownie points to feel comfortable making the ask.
I too am always jealous of the folks who can spend months traveling the world and somehow have a career. That’s not realistic for most of us. But a one-time three-week vacay after saving up leave days for three years and not paying for any of the flights while booking cheap hotels/tours? That’s a bit more reasonable.