"Why And How I Started Travel Hacking (And Why You Should, Too)" by Algis Tamosaitis


Algis Tamosaitis is the author of "Rock Your Travel" and has graciously joined up for a GiveGetWin deal -- where you'll get a copy of his book, time to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts, and then he'll show you the ropes during an intimate session of helping you and a small group plan travel itineraries, make sure you're earning mileage, and answer all your questions so you're traveling in style.

"Why And How I Started Travel Hacking (And Why You Should, Too)" by Algis Tamosaitis, as told to Sebastian Marshall

I was exploring and experiencing the world from the very beginning.

My parents were into travel, they were from Lithuania, married in Australia, and lived in California. So they didn't want to be "we live in Los Angeles and don't go anywhere. We had relatives in Australia, so I was going there as a little kid.

My mother became a travel agent eventually, and my dad was a private pilot. I was lucky. 

It's hard to describe the first travel experiences. You read about a place, and it never matches up to what you read. Some crazy tiny thing is what connects with you. My Mom and I were going to a farmer's market in Paris, and the food looks very imperfect to me. In Los Angeles, they pick and sell strawberries that have been colored and altered to be big and bright. 

The French strawberries looked funky to me. I said, "I don't want that!" But my Mom made me try it… and it was the most amazing fresh fruit I ever had.

I had a good start, but I slowed down from traveling. What woke me up to it and caused me to dive in so deeply was that both of my parents got cancer in a short period of time.

They didn't get to do a ton of stuff they intended to do. That was my wakeup call to get back into traveling, and do what I want to do with my life.

I was my parents' primary caregiver for seven years. After they passed away, it was one of those things where I was like, "What am I waiting for?" I was reading about people traveling, especially traveling long-term.

It was exciting to me. I booked a trip to go almost around the world through different countries that were very disparate, and it was one of the best things for my thinking and my attitude. I think it's the case for most people -- travel is the fastest way to make you feel alive and reassess where you are currently in life.

That might be because travel makes you realize how stoked you are to be alive, or maybe you want to rethink things and get new influences. At home, you've got your normal breakfast and your routines. On the road, you get new decisions to make all the time, all sorts of choices about even something like breakfast.

I really like one the posts Sebastian wrote, I liked the one where he was watching the people going by the station. Thinking about their lives and the set path they lived, and how his was different. Unless you're there, it's very hard to actually imagine that.

I didn't realize how much travel was changing me at first… I was upset both of my parents passed away… but right away it started to change how I felt. I started seeing hardship in other countries, and realizing certain things are going to happen in life. I began to feel like I should choose my own direction and life, and not just choose what's programmed into me by society. Choosing my own path.

I started being more selective about who I spent time with when I got back, and about what I did with my time… I didn't go on a trip and come back to my exact same life, I was changed afterwards.

I think everyone would benefit from pursuing this, but most people don't. The two main objections I hear is that they don't have the time or the money.

The goal behind my book was to help at least with the money option, to show how cheap it can be. If you want it bad enough, you could book a ticket for $1000 to $1200 from the US to Asia. That's actually not an unreasonable amount of money, and people don't think twice about buying more house than they need, or more car than they need, but there's this weird view that travel is an expensive luxury.

I want to show people how this isn't a luxury -- it's a necessity. It's worth it.

There's also ways to get flights for cheaper, or even for free, especially if you're an American.

Almost everyone in the U.S. has a credit card, and that card should do things for you beside just make money for the bank. That could be earning you miles. Small business owners in particular could be getting a ton of miles.

The airlines make it just barely difficult enough that you have to spend a little bit of time learning how to earn miles, and the people perceive that as being too difficult. But once they've done it once, they're hooked.

I wrote my book is to get people into the game. Once you read it, you're not clueless any more. And then it's just how far and how deep they want to dive into it. The payoff vs. the time invested is totally worth it if you want to travel. And then you realize, there's easily earned miles everywhere. 

The thing that'll move the needle the most is getting an airline-branded credit card, which gets you a free ticket the quickest.

Any of the following three cards is a really good choice to get, I recommend these three the most: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Starwood Preferred Gold AMEX, and the American Express Gold Card.

To get one of these cards, you need to get a decent credit score. Then literally, you Google any of these cards or go to the chase.com website or the americanexpress.com website, and they'll have all the cards with those benefits.

When you search, put "maximum signup bonus" -- the credit card company will give you a lot of miles for signing up. Often, you can get 40,000 or 50,000 miles for getting a card for the first time. A roundtrip ticket to Asia costs around 50,000 miles, so getting just one great card can get you a free ticket. And then, every time you put spending on that credit card, you get airline miles.

One card signup can practically get you to another country.

The next thing people need to know is about airline alliances. You can use American Airlines Miles to fly on Japan Airways or British Airways, for instance. People don't know about that. Basically, you do the best if you earn the most miles in one program, and then you can spend it on their partner airlines.

You can also earn miles when flying another program. Meaning, you could earn American Airlines miles while flying Qantas, British Airways, or Japan Airways. It's a little confusing, but the rule for the person who doesn't travel so much is -- get as many miles in a single program.

The reason I suggested the three above credit cards is because all of them earn points that can be exchanged for many different types of airline miles, so you can then transfer to your ideal program to get the flights you want. That Starwood card gives you a miles bonus and lets you choose between 30 different airlines.

Another thing I always recommend is opting into a dining program. It's free, and it means many restaurants you'll get 3x or 5x as many miles as normal. You're going to get extra miles at the end of the month for eating out.

I recommend you join dining programs with your credit card right away. Every major U.S. airline has mileage dining programs. It's free to join, you just need to be a member of their frequent flyer program which is also free. And you can link the dining program to as many credit or debit card as you want.

I recommend any credit or debit card you'd use at restaurants, you register with the airline you fly on. Tons of restaurants and bars are enrolled in dining programs. You don't even need to think about it after enrolling -- it just means you get free frequent flyer miles. You never have to think about it again after that, and it means you get free miles. It basically is a "set it and forget" kind of thing, it's a free bonus with no cost.

And where should you go for your first trip internationally? My personal favorite place to go is Tokyo, but I think the most important thing is to think about the thing you've always wanted to do since you were a kid. Did you see a movie you connected with, or read books on a topic? Or were your watching Animal Planet and looking at safaris?

The most important thing is not getting caught up in anyone else's recommendations, and instead following your own dreams. For some people, it's a gradual process. If you've never left the United States, maybe a non-English country is scary, and that would limit the options. But that's fine, and pushing the comfort zone even a bit lets you experience something new.

This entire thing is a gradual process. Travel, every single time I'll learn new things. It could be a miles thing, or something about myself, or something about a food I never tasted before, or how the mangoes are in Singapore, or something we don't have in the U.S.

When you travel, all of your senses are going to be engaged. Sometimes I land in a certain country, and Russell Peters does a joke about this when he lands off the plane and it smells totally different. I know a couple times I've landed in Bangkok and humanity is out there. It's not just the people out there, but all the different foods being cooked, the motorbikes, everything -- it's different.

It's exciting. Every new place is exciting. And the other thing I love is that when I go back to a place I really like, it's like visiting an old friend. You can see what spots are changed, you can see if your favorite hole in the wall spots are there. Maybe last time you went by yourself, and now you're going with a significant other and can share your favorite experiences with your SO and bond together. You bond together a lot faster when you're traveling than back home.

You can find Algis at rockyourtravel.com -- you can his book on Amazon. And of course, you can get a copy of Rock Your Travel plus work hands-on with Algis during an intimate group session through GiveGetWin, with all the proceeds to charity.

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