The booking of a ROUND THE WORLD TRIP – we did it!

On Sunday October 15th we managed to book our now wrapped up mini-RTW.  (Posts are on a delay because I did not want to advertise the whole “hey, we aren’t home for over a month, come rob us!). Our scheduled departure date was November 7th and we returned on December 13th! December 14th. We paid 160,000 aeroplan points each and about $550 each in taxes for 16 flights, of which 13 were business class flights and 3 economy. We traveled from the east coast of Canada to Europe, to Asia, to Australia, to the west coast of the USA and back again to the east coast of Canada, literally traveling around the world, in 38 days. (Our scheduled Itinerary was for 37 days but a lucky change allowed an extra day layover in Los Angeles resulting in a trip of 5 weeks and 3 days total.)

I wrote a little bit about it in my previous post on the planning of the whole thing and I’ll elaborate a little bit a lot more here.

2 key points;

  • I could not have done this without Tom. Impossible, never gonna happen. Tom has been a computer programmer slash full-on nerd for a good 18 years, he doesn’t like it when I call him a nerd… he also doesn’t know this blog exists (well, he likely does, but since it’s kind of a secret I get creative liberties to say whatever I want HA). His brain and my help enabled us to execute this crazy adventure.
  • We accumulated Aeroplan points rapidly through credit card signups and promotions. I’ve thrown some estimates out there and it’s most accurate to say that it took less than  a year to accumulate the points needed for my flight, without spending beyond my regular budgeted expenses.  Creativity is a wonderful thing. Aeroplan had a transfer promotion earlier this year and through the purchase of two Marriott travel packages (which will be used in spring 2018) and the subsequent points transfer from Marriott into Aeroplan and the award of bonus Aeroplan for transferring in we earned the miles needed to push us over 160,000 Aeroplan each. Take a breath now 🙂

For those not familiar with how Aeroplan works a great primer to get started can be found here.  The Flyertalk forum is a wonderful resource for total newbies as well as seasoned traveler. I’ve been creeping there for a very long time!

We were already brainstorming on how to use the points and 160,000 was the goal and we wanted to try this whole flying in business-class thing. We knew that we needed 160,000 points to travel in business class to Australia and everything started from there. If you’re going to attempt something like this you definitely need to be tenacious because this took many weeks of planning.

Our next steps and I’ve attempted to be brief;

  • Determine Aeroplans MPM of departure-destination to determine the leeway in our travel (your first hit on google will be this link, which credits FLy1234 on Flyertalk, Fly1234= Tom. I feel oddly proud of this, hehe 🙂 )
  • Sorted out which destinations worked within that mpm using Great Circle Mapper
  • Gathered data on flights to/from through Aeroplan (subpoint; we initially started simply searching on Aeroplan and working with a spreadsheet which turned out to not be sufficient for our plans, Tom created a database with the information and searchtool through which we were able to sort what we wanted… (i’m going to bold this; there are lots of people with lots of points but very few itineraries we’ve seen that have done, well, the extent of what we did, if you want more information about the technical aspect of how, send me an email, we are not unique in having booked with Aeroplan, you can do this on your own but if you don’t have the time or don’t know how.. there’s people crazy people like usthat can help with that!)
  • Picked which specific flights and planes we wanted since we wanted to include a flight on an a380 and we wanted to avoid certain companies to avoid high taxes. Avoiding high taxes is worth a post of its own! As flight availability changes daily, once we ironed out our ideal itinerary we;
  • Called in to aeroplan and talked to a supervisor (you need a knowledgeable agent, you can start talking to a regular agent and the odds are you’ll end up transferred to someone with more experience) we spent a few HOURS on the phone on a quiet Sunday and booked, but not confirmed, we had to wait for a call back the next day to confirm and after that another call as the charges went wrong on our cards. (double charge, double refund… yea!

We ended up choosing Perth as our destination, simply because we wanted to go to Australia and had no idea which place to pick IN Australia and Perth gave us the highest MPM to work with. After picking Perth our other destinations were partly determined by flight routes… we knew we wanted to fly across the Atlantic ocean as I wanted to go home to the Netherlands. This meant we needed to fly from Montreal into Zurich for the lowest taxes/fees. We had lots of other places that sounds interesting… Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok etc. We worked out what we wanted.

And so the start of our adventure was born, just for fun, the day we actually got this booked we went online and sorted out how much it would have cost us to book this outright on that day;

It would have cost $27,524.88. ^ This is what we actually booked with Aeroplan.

We flew from Charlottetown to Montreal and, after a quick breakfast in the Montreal at the lounge (Business class includes lounge access!) spent the day walking around downtown Montreal, shopping for the currencies needed for the rest of the trip. We flew overnight from Montreal to Zurich, spent the day in Zurich, flew to Amsterdam where we had a ten day stop Amsterdam was our first stopover. While we were in the Netherlands we hopped on the train for a weekend in London and after visiting all my family flew to Istanbul, where we spent a very fun 7 hours in the very large IST lounge. From Istanbul we flew to Beijing where we stayed the night and explored the Forbidden City the next morning. In the afternoon we flew to TaiPei where we met up with Tom’s nephew and went up Taipei 101, we spent the night in Taipei and spent the next day exploring Singapore… so humid! After Singapore we hit our destination; Perth.

It took a little while to get our bearings in Australia but once we did we LOVED it. After our time in Australia we flew back to Singapore for a day where we went for a short hike in the MacRitchie nature reserve, and on to Bangkok, Thailand, our second stopover. We spent 6 days in Thailand, loved it also! Then began making our way back home with a day in Shanghai, a day in Tokyo (totally bizarre), a night in Seoul, two nights in Los Angeles and home through Montreal. Due to winter weather in Canada we were able to move our flight and called in to stay an extra day in LAX. We spent the extra and last afternoon of our trip biking Ocean Drive.

The final cost of our trip was about $1,850CAD, including the Aeroplan taxes, car rentals, insurances, accommodations, food and everything not mentioned. We used points and credits from various programs to pay for things. You would think we’re all out of points now? They just keep coming… I’m almost up to 100,000 aeroplan again!

And that is how we booked and went on a round the world trip, for pretty cheap, with Aeroplan. 🙂 (And yes, we are working on the next big adventure!)

 

 

 

How I learned to backpack

If you follow me on instagram you know that something I’m just as enthusiastic about as personal finance is travel, more precisely travel hacking and seeing the world pretty cheaply. I’ve pretty much gone full on backpacker, minus the greasy hair and skipping showers and also minus the hostel vibe because we usually avoid hostels.

I was not always this way, just like getting out of debt and staying out of debt, backpacking is something I learned to do better over time and is something I learned to love. If you read this post you’ll see that once upon a time I actually traveled with a 28″ upright rolling suitcase. It was HUGE! That was back in 2005 and 2007 when I visited my friend in the Netherlands and stayed with her for a few weeks. Ten years ago! I remember packing various shoes and lots of clothing and socks and an extra purse, full size toiletries and yeah I did have room left over but I used it to bring home all sorts of stuff that I couldn’t buy in Canada and lots of gifts from my family in the Netherlands to my family in Canada. Honestly though looking back, I’m not entirely sure how to fit a suitcase that big full of stuff.

In 2008 – 2010 I didn’t travel at all since I had just bought a house and I was beyond broke, barely able to pay my bills. (In 2008 my income was just over $12,000 gross). I started blogging in 2008 and got my finances in order over the course of the years. This summer I achieved a $100k networth, I have no debt and now travel several times per year.  I must be a slow learner since it took me over ten years to finally get here.

There is one key occasion that stands out to why I really started backpacking. In 2014 I went to Italy with my sister, we both had a purse and last minute at the airport decided to check our carryon-sized 21″ rolling suitcase…. they ended up lost for the next week as we had to make our pprebooked travel arrangements. While we filed our addresses with the airline, and we had cellphones with a working connection, our luggage played a cat and mouse game with us as the delivery company tried to track us down. We stayed in Rome the first few days, in an apartment rented through airbnb on the fourth floor. We had a great time! The buzzer rang a couple of days in and we couldn’t get figured out how to open the door… by the time we made it downstairs the guy was gone. We decided to just continue on with our travel plans. We stayed in a hostel in Napoli where the barely-speaks-any-english-host was able to help us call the airline and talk to the delivery people in Italian to help get the luggage delivered… it wasnt until we got to the third spot we had rented back in Rome that our luggage FINALLY showed up.

We ended up buying a couple of shirts and a pair of shoes and underwear to get through the week… I then had to fight with the travel insurance that those were needed expenses. I decided then and there I would never check a bag again. While I have checked bags again (sometimes we travel with bikes), I’ve never again checked a bag containing my clothing.

After that I spent quite a long time searching for and deciding on what I wanted in a bag and ended up settling on the Osprey Farpoint 40. Seriously… you have no idea how many backpack videos I watched. The Farpoint 40 suited all my requirements; hip belt, sternum strap, front loading, not huge. At 40 litres it’s smaller than I’ve seen a lot of backpackers drag around but it is everything I need  and it forces me to pack relatively light. I generally still have one or two items in my bag each trip that have had no use. I bought the bag for $160 canadian off Amazon in June 2015. 

The belt and straps arent adjusted properly in these photos but show well enough that it’s not a big pack. I realize this isn’t everyones cup of tea but if you’re in the market for fantastic quality pack; get this one! I am (obviously) excited enough to provide free advertising… that;s how much I love this bag. Well done Osprey

Over the past 3 years my travels have become both more frequent and more complicated. From flying an open jaw ticket to our most recent 16-flight around the world journey in 5 weeks. Having a backpack enables me to have my hands free, navigate more easily and forces me to keep it light. Becoming a backpacker was pretty much mandatory to be able to see the world while not going broke.

TLDR; I became a backpacker because I’m poor and like being efficient and dislike lost luggage.

The planning of a MINI-RTW, continued travel hacking.

I figure I should start detailing a bit more about the adventures I go on and how we do it all on the cheap. (the “we” in this equation is my  hopefully -probably forever partner-in-crime and newly nicknamed Tom, because he is as persistent as Tom from Tom & Jerry when he sets his mind to something)    Most people don’t believe or understand,  It’s really actually possible to stay in a hotel for free for an entire week, to have lounge access in most airports, to fly in business class and to get 200,000 aeroplan miles in the span of a year and to redeem them for a round the world trip to many crazy destinations AND pay only a few hundred dollars in tax, without having to do anything crazy.

I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself. Your definition of crazy may also be different from mine 😉

I first read about travel hacking on Chris Guillebeaus blog and was amazed at this idea of signing up for credit cards, getting bonuses and flying all over the world for next to nothing. I was enamored. This was right around the time where I started getting in shape financially, probably back around 2008/2009.  For my birthday in 2010 I received a signed copy of Chris’ book The Art of Nonconformity from my boyfriend at the time. He got me a signed copy of it which was so sweet!

That book was what I needed to read at that time. I won’t turn this into a book review and the book isn’t a literary marvel but I took some  key points from it to apply to my life. I share similar ideas with Chris I suppose.  I make my own rules and that book helped me on my path towards what has become my biggest  and most enjoyed time suck; travel. From 2010 I worked on my finances and in mid-2012 went on my first solo multi-country trip.

That trip wasn’t travel-hacked a whole lot, I paid a fair market economy price and got a few deals here and there and definitely did it on a budget. I got rolling with travel hacking moreso in 2013 and took off running with it from 2014 onward.  Key to my success with travel hacking has been meeting my boyfriend and working on it as a team. Together we have accrued and used over $16,000 in points in the past few years, that value is higher if you translate the value of our flights and hotel stays into what they would have cost if bought out right. We keep track in a spreadsheet that most of the time is hopelessly out of date.  We are currently working on a fairly huge (for us) trip that will hopefully take us from Eastern Canada, around parts of Western Europe, to Australia, through parts of Asia and around through the Western coast of North America and back home again.  Here’s an idea of what the return leg of the journey is likely to look like;

Travel hacking isn’t for everyone. There are a two key ducks you need to have in a row to really get the ball rolling;

Income; On my own I was able to do all right, I was able to earn around $500-$1,000 in a year in points and slowly build up my aeroplan balance to somewhere around 30,000-60,000 over a year orso but my income has varied in past years and I’ve noticed I’ve really been able to kick up travel hacking a notch since I no longer have a mortgage and my income has increased. Additionally teaming up with Tom has been beneficial for us both. You can refer eachother for credit cards deals etc, and get around income requirements you don’t quite have yourself by claiming household income etc.  Having one member of your household earn in the range of 60-80k annually and the other 40-60k allows you to take advantage of the best creditcard deals due to income requirements, you can do it on your own, but together is a double whammy.

The other key to it all is TIME. You need a lot of time, and a lot of persistence and some skill to apply for, spend and then accumulate a nice pile of points to be able to take advantage of what you’ve earned.  It also helps to date a nerd. 😀 I’m sitting next to Tom right now who has programmed a java script to scrape itinerary results that we’ve collected to put together the best itinerary and times with our requirements; minimum stop over hours in certain cities, excluding certain airlines etc., which we will then be able to call in and actually piece together on the phone.

A very helpful thread to get started with is the FAQ: FAQ: The Complete Newbie Guide/FAQ to the Air Canada Aeroplan Mini-RTW on FlyerTalk.

Prince of Travel (a blog I don’t know otherwise) also has a helpful post on the basics of planning a mini-rtw

Obviously this has to be of interest to you and it definitely takes a certain type of personality, on the whole it’s very achievable for many people. That’s all for me today though, I need to get ready to head to Cape Breton for the weekend to do the Cabot trail! 😀