Is it Safe to Visit the United States?

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/united-states-travel-safety/

usa safety
Last month, I wrote an article about why, despite what you see in the news, Europe is safe to visit. Someone asked (with a degree of snark) if I would I write a similar article about the U.S. too?

Well, it’s a valid question. As an American writing for a mostly American audience, I tend to write mostly about what’s beyond our shores. But I have thought about this question before – especially since 45% of the people who read this website are outside the US. So let’s turn the tables on my post and ask:

“Is the United States safe to visit?”

When most people ask me this question, I feel they are really asking me two things: (1) Does gun violence happen so often I should worry about being shot? and (2) Will everyone hate me because I’m a foreigner (or, especially, a non-white foreigner)?

These are valid concerns. After all, just like how we in the United States have a perception that the rest of the world is unsafe and unwelcoming, so too the rest of the world has that perception of the United States.

In their news, they hear about our mass shootings and gun violence, as well as reports of police brutality toward minorities and murders (or beatings) of Indian students confused for Muslims and wonder if they are welcome. They see the election of President Trump, the huge rise in deportations, the (yet still illegal) Muslim travel ban, heightened security measures at airports, and people being detained and go, “Maybe the United States isn’t the safe and welcoming country we thought it was. How are much are those flights to Europe, honey?”

The media cuts both ways.

I won’t deny the statistics: The US has the highest rate of death by guns in the developed world (outside of war zones, of course), we have nearly the highest incarceration rate in the world, hate crimes have gone up since the election, and we average roughly one mass shooting five out of every six days (and 90% of the mass shootings in the world happen here).

And when these incidents and attitudes are projected around the world in conjunction with our recent political strife, it creates the perception of the United States as a dangerous and unwelcoming place.

Already tourism has fallen and airline bookings are down.

But, just like Europe, the United States is safe to visit.

There’s no reason to avoid visiting here — even if the TSA makes it more of hassle and, well, our political landscape is less than ideal.

First, the United States is very big and very, very diverse. It’s larger than Europe (the sovereign states not the continent) and Australia. You can drive 15 hours here in still be in the same state. It’s huge. A lot of visitors fail to understand that. A Chicago friend told me how two visitors from France wanted to go to Disney for the weekend. They thought it was a short drive because in Europe a multi day drive gets you most of the way across the continent! Most visitors just don’t understand how vast the US is geographically until they arrive. Even I never got sense of just how big the country is until I drove across it. You can see it on a map but until you’ve spent a few days driving, that sense of size is hard to comprehend.

And due to this size, there is a lot of cultural (and political) variation. While Americans do share common bonds and beliefs, it often feels like the US is really a collection of micro-countries. The culture of Alabama is different than the culture of NYC, which is different than the culture of Chicago, Hawaii, Alaska, middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, or Florida. Heck, southern Florida is a world away from the Florida Panhandle, and Austin is a blue (liberal) dot in the red (conservative) sea of Texas. Cuisine, slang, dress style, accents, attitude, how people walk – it’s all different from region to region and state to state.

Second, despite what you hear, crime in America is near a 20-year low. It’s been declining for many years. Here’s a visual representation of the article:

usa safety graph
Graph: 1

(And the recent uptick is mostly due to a increased violence in few cities. The broader nationwide trend is still down.)

For example, I live in NYC. Crime is down 50% over the last 15 years. I never worry about being robbed or mugged while in Manhattan. Sure, some of the other boroughs are still unsafe, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns throughout the city, but, overall, NYC is a lot safer than it used to be. Twenty years ago, you would never go through Central Park at night. Now, people go there regardless of the time of day.

Also, you have less of a chance of dying in a terrorist attack in the United States than dying by a bathtub.

I’m not saying there is nothing to worry about. There is crime (but most gun violence in the US is gang related, people killing friends, or suicides). Chicago, Philly, and Detroit have gang related crime problems. Racism is still a big problem. Police brutality is a problem. Mass shootings happen too often.

The United States is not perfect.

But, just as in Europe, the likelihood that something is going to happen to you is very slim. The media sensationalizes attacks throughout the world! When attacks happen in Paris, do you say, “Honey! Paris was attacked! Let’s not go to Lisbon”? No, because you know that these places are far apart and that an attack in one place doesn’t mean you can’t go somewhere else.

The United States is 9 million square miles and filled with dozens of climates, hundreds of cultures, thousand of cities and towns, and 321 million people. Problems in one state or city don’t mean you can’t visit another part of the country.

Not coming here because “Americans don’t like foreigners” ignores the fact only 26% of Americans voted for Trump, and there’s currently a huge debate between the right and left about so-called “sanctuary cities” (those that limit their cooperation with the federal government over immigration law enforcement). Remember that when the travel ban briefly went into effect, there were nationwide protests against it. It was never supported by a majority of the American people.

Not coming here because of what you read in the news is to say everyone is the same and not recognize the vast cultural differences in the country. It is like saying you won’t go to the Middle East because everyone there is a terrorist.

I know that as a white guy I can’t speak to what life is like here as a person of color. I’ve met many, many, many non-white travelers tell me how wonderful the found the United States and how welcoming everyone is, how people smile, say hello, and go out of the way to help but I don’t know what it’s like to travel around as a non-white person. I know there is systemic racism in the country, but just as people aren’t the government, so too we shouldn’t stereotype and say that all Americans are racist. Attitudes about immigrants, gays, Muslims, and everyone else vary a lot depending on where you are.

(But, rather than being some white guy talking abut race, here is a link to an article about traveling the U.S. when you aren’t white. It will give a better perceptive on the subject.)

What you see on TV is only a small, small, small sliver of the people who live in the country. Because remember if it bleeds, it leads and the stories that pain the United States as this violent place fits nicely into the existing narrative it has. (Just like the world being unsafe fits into the narrative we Americans have). The United States is not all filled with gun carrying, immigrant hating, racist, ignorant, fearful yokels.

Can I say there won’t be any gun violence while you’re here? No.

Can I say you won’t experience racism? No. (My friend’s Asian girlfriend was recently told to go back home.)

Can I say something bad won’t happen to you? No.

But all countries have their problems and the media hypes up everything. Americans, like people everywhere, are generally good people who are just trying to get through the day. They are people with friends and families and are welcoming towards strangers. We aren’t foreign haters – and we don’t live in Westworld where everyone is shooting everyone all the time.

Be safe. Be aware. Use your common sense.

But don’t skip this place I call home. It’s an often-overlooked destination that’s cheap to travel around and incredibly diverse (both culturally and geographically).

So, just like with Europe, ignore the news, book your flight, and come visit the United States!


Photo Credit: 1

The post Is it Safe to Visit the United States? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/united-states-travel-safety/

usa safety
Last month, I wrote an article about why, despite what you see in the news, Europe is safe to visit. Someone asked (with a degree of snark) if I would I write a similar article about the U.S. too?

Well, it’s a valid question. As an American writing for a mostly American audience, I tend to write mostly about what’s beyond our shores. But I have thought about this question before – especially since 45% of the people who read this website are outside the US. So let’s turn the tables on my post and ask:

“Is the United States safe to visit?”

When most people ask me this question, I feel they are really asking me two things: (1) Does gun violence happen so often I should worry about being shot? and (2) Will everyone hate me because I’m a foreigner (or, especially, a non-white foreigner)?

These are valid concerns. After all, just like how we in the United States have a perception that the rest of the world is unsafe and unwelcoming, so too the rest of the world has that perception of the United States.

In their news, they hear about our mass shootings and gun violence, as well as reports of police brutality toward minorities and murders (or beatings) of Indian students confused for Muslims and wonder if they are welcome. They see the election of President Trump, the huge rise in deportations, the (yet still illegal) Muslim travel ban, heightened security measures at airports, and people being detained and go, “Maybe the United States isn’t the safe and welcoming country we thought it was. How are much are those flights to Europe, honey?”

The media cuts both ways.

I won’t deny the statistics: The US has the highest rate of death by guns in the developed world (outside of war zones, of course), we have nearly the highest incarceration rate in the world, hate crimes have gone up since the election, and we average roughly one mass shooting five out of every six days (and 90% of the mass shootings in the world happen here).

And when these incidents and attitudes are projected around the world in conjunction with our recent political strife, it creates the perception of the United States as a dangerous and unwelcoming place.

Already tourism has fallen and airline bookings are down.

But, just like Europe, the United States is safe to visit.

There’s no reason to avoid visiting here — even if the TSA makes it more of hassle and, well, our political landscape is less than ideal.

First, the United States is very big and very, very diverse. It’s larger than Europe (the sovereign states not the continent) and Australia. You can drive 15 hours here in still be in the same state. It’s huge. A lot of visitors fail to understand that. A Chicago friend told me how two visitors from France wanted to go to Disney for the weekend. They thought it was a short drive because in Europe a multi day drive gets you most of the way across the continent! Most visitors just don’t understand how vast the US is geographically until they arrive. Even I never got sense of just how big the country is until I drove across it. You can see it on a map but until you’ve spent a few days driving, that sense of size is hard to comprehend.

And due to this size, there is a lot of cultural (and political) variation. While Americans do share common bonds and beliefs, it often feels like the US is really a collection of micro-countries. The culture of Alabama is different than the culture of NYC, which is different than the culture of Chicago, Hawaii, Alaska, middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, or Florida. Heck, southern Florida is a world away from the Florida Panhandle, and Austin is a blue (liberal) dot in the red (conservative) sea of Texas. Cuisine, slang, dress style, accents, attitude, how people walk – it’s all different from region to region and state to state.

Second, despite what you hear, crime in America is near a 20-year low. It’s been declining for many years. Here’s a visual representation of the article:

usa safety graph
Graph: 1

(And the recent uptick is mostly due to a increased violence in few cities. The broader nationwide trend is still down.)

For example, I live in NYC. Crime is down 50% over the last 15 years. I never worry about being robbed or mugged while in Manhattan. Sure, some of the other boroughs are still unsafe, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns throughout the city, but, overall, NYC is a lot safer than it used to be. Twenty years ago, you would never go through Central Park at night. Now, people go there regardless of the time of day.

Also, you have less of a chance of dying in a terrorist attack in the United States than dying by a bathtub.

I’m not saying there is nothing to worry about. There is crime (but most gun violence in the US is gang related, people killing friends, or suicides). Chicago, Philly, and Detroit have gang related crime problems. Racism is still a big problem. Police brutality is a problem. Mass shootings happen too often.

The United States is not perfect.

But, just as in Europe, the likelihood that something is going to happen to you is very slim. The media sensationalizes attacks throughout the world! When attacks happen in Paris, do you say, “Honey! Paris was attacked! Let’s not go to Lisbon”? No, because you know that these places are far apart and that an attack in one place doesn’t mean you can’t go somewhere else.

The United States is 9 million square miles and filled with dozens of climates, hundreds of cultures, thousand of cities and towns, and 321 million people. Problems in one state or city don’t mean you can’t visit another part of the country.

Not coming here because “Americans don’t like foreigners” ignores the fact only 26% of Americans voted for Trump, and there’s currently a huge debate between the right and left about so-called “sanctuary cities” (those that limit their cooperation with the federal government over immigration law enforcement). Remember that when the travel ban briefly went into effect, there were nationwide protests against it. It was never supported by a majority of the American people.

Not coming here because of what you read in the news is to say everyone is the same and not recognize the vast cultural differences in the country. It is like saying you won’t go to the Middle East because everyone there is a terrorist.

I know that as a white guy I can’t speak to what life is like here as a person of color. I’ve met many, many, many non-white travelers tell me how wonderful the found the United States and how welcoming everyone is, how people smile, say hello, and go out of the way to help but I don’t know what it’s like to travel around as a non-white person. I know there is systemic racism in the country, but just as people aren’t the government, so too we shouldn’t stereotype and say that all Americans are racist. Attitudes about immigrants, gays, Muslims, and everyone else vary a lot depending on where you are.

(But, rather than being some white guy talking abut race, here is a link to an article about traveling the U.S. when you aren’t white. It will give a better perceptive on the subject.)

What you see on TV is only a small, small, small sliver of the people who live in the country. Because remember if it bleeds, it leads and the stories that pain the United States as this violent place fits nicely into the existing narrative it has. (Just like the world being unsafe fits into the narrative we Americans have). The United States is not all filled with gun carrying, immigrant hating, racist, ignorant, fearful yokels.

Can I say there won’t be any gun violence while you’re here? No.

Can I say you won’t experience racism? No. (My friend’s Asian girlfriend was recently told to go back home.)

Can I say something bad won’t happen to you? No.

But all countries have their problems and the media hypes up everything. Americans, like people everywhere, are generally good people who are just trying to get through the day. They are people with friends and families and are welcoming towards strangers. We aren’t foreign haters – and we don’t live in Westworld where everyone is shooting everyone all the time.

Be safe. Be aware. Use your common sense.

But don’t skip this place I call home. It’s an often-overlooked destination that’s cheap to travel around and incredibly diverse (both culturally and geographically).

So, just like with Europe, ignore the news, book your flight, and come visit the United States!


Photo Credit: 1

The post Is it Safe to Visit the United States? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Willemstad to Middelburg, via Domburg

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/27/delicious-drives-in-the-netherlands-willemstad-to-middelburg-via-domburg/

On my second day of exploration with Hertz, it was time to explore Zeeland. It’s a place that is practically impossible to explore with public transport, which meant my car rental came in handy. Today’s mission? Scoring true Zeeuwse Mussels, and walking on the beach of Zeeland for some true holiday vibes. Willemstad After staying […]

Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Willemstad to Middelburg, via Domburg is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Willemstad to Middelburg, via Domburg appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/27/delicious-drives-in-the-netherlands-willemstad-to-middelburg-via-domburg/

On my second day of exploration with Hertz, it was time to explore Zeeland. It’s a place that is practically impossible to explore with public transport, which meant my car rental came in handy. Today’s mission? Scoring true Zeeuwse Mussels, and walking on the beach of Zeeland for some true holiday vibes. Willemstad After staying […]

Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Willemstad to Middelburg, via Domburg is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Delicious drives in the Netherlands: Willemstad to Middelburg, via Domburg appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Top 5 things to do in Dubrovnik’s Old Town

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/25/top-5-things-to-do-in-dubrovniks-old-town/

Towering medieval buildings meet warm Adriatic waters, it’s no surprise Dubrovnik has become increasingly popular for luxury travel. For those looking to plan a trip to The Pearl of the Adriatic, the evocative old town is by far the most attractive draw of this beautiful city. Narrow cobbled streets and impressive medieval buildings are enclosed […]

Top 5 things to do in Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top 5 things to do in Dubrovnik’s Old Town appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/25/top-5-things-to-do-in-dubrovniks-old-town/

Towering medieval buildings meet warm Adriatic waters, it’s no surprise Dubrovnik has become increasingly popular for luxury travel. For those looking to plan a trip to The Pearl of the Adriatic, the evocative old town is by far the most attractive draw of this beautiful city. Narrow cobbled streets and impressive medieval buildings are enclosed […]

Top 5 things to do in Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top 5 things to do in Dubrovnik’s Old Town appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

5 things to know about Amalfi Coast beaches

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/23/5-things-to-know-about-amalfi-coast-beaches/

Italy’s Amalfi Coast is one of the country’s most picture-perfect spots, but also gets extremely busy during high season. The iconic towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello attract many thousands of visitors between the months of April and October, when the weather is warm and sunny. Visitors might therefore assume that there are many fantastic […]

5 things to know about Amalfi Coast beaches is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post 5 things to know about Amalfi Coast beaches appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/23/5-things-to-know-about-amalfi-coast-beaches/

Italy’s Amalfi Coast is one of the country’s most picture-perfect spots, but also gets extremely busy during high season. The iconic towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello attract many thousands of visitors between the months of April and October, when the weather is warm and sunny. Visitors might therefore assume that there are many fantastic […]

5 things to know about Amalfi Coast beaches is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post 5 things to know about Amalfi Coast beaches appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Breaking Up with American: A Frequent Flying Budget Traveler’s Dilemma

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/airline-loyalty-status/

breaking up with American Airlines

I did it. I went back and forth on the decision for a long time. Like someone who just couldn’t let go, I continued with the relationship even though I knew, deep down, it was over.

But there’s always a tipping point when you must face reality — and that point was when I realized I’m just not going to fly all that much this year.

So I did it: I finally split up with American Airlines.

After years of being loyal to them and the Oneworld alliance, paying extra for flights to ensure I kept my status, and championing them on the web, it’s time to face the truth: they’ve ruined their once-stellar loyalty program and given me (and basically everyone else) no incentive to fly them over any other (crappy domestic) airline.

A few years ago, both Delta and United devalued their award charts — awarding fewer miles per flight (unless you bought high-priced tickets), requiring more miles when redeeming them for a flight (The Points Guy just recently showed a screenshot of Delta requiring 255,000 miles to go from NYC to LAX! Crazy!), reducing benefits, and requiring customers to spend a certain amount of money to maintain their elite status. Their message was clear: “We only value you if you spend lots of money with us.”

Yet (in part because of their merger with US Airways) American held out — often increasing benefits. American AAdvantage was a shining jewel in the airline industry, lauded by journalists, insiders, and consumers alike.

I went out of my way to fly American because I felt my loyalty was valued. I was upgraded often, their employees were friendly, customer service issues were often solved swiftly, it was easy to find award seats, and they were often generous in their benefits.

But in the last year, they’ve let their program go to hell.

What’s wrong with American AAdvantage?

  1. They now require elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs), but unlike United and Delta, they offer no waiver if you spend a lot on American’s branded credit cards.
  2. They have upped the cost of award tickets – a lot.
  3. They severely reduced saver rewards availability. It’s basically impossible to find saver rewards these days.
  4. Confirmed upgrades for anyone but the top elites is basically impossible. I can’t remember the last time I got an upgrade.
  5. They have slashed miles earnings on their partner’s flights.
  6. They now prioritize upgrades based on status and spending (take that, million-mile status folks!).
  7. How they calculate EQDs is opaque and not straightforward. One dollar spent is not one EQD earned, even if you purchase full fare business and first class tickets.

The list goes on. There have been so many blog posts written about the demise of AA’s loyalty program that I’ll just link to them here, here, here, here, here, and here. And here and here too. (Ok and here too!)

American AAdvantage was the only thing American really had going for it. It was the sole reason I flew them. Sure, their new 777 and A321T planes are nice, but even when they refurbish their old planes they still have many varieties you never know what kind of plane you’re stepping on. It could be a nice and new interior or it could be something last refurbished in 1987. (And you never want to get on an old US Airways plane — no power, no TVs, and a disgusting interior) Plus, the food in their lounges is terrible (as well as the lounges themselves), their partners are not as great as United’s, and their in-flight service/seats/food aren’t as good as Delta’s. I redeemed miles for a business-class flight from Paris with AA and this is the food I got:

What the hell is that? I mean seriously. McDonald’s would have been a better option. (It tasted as disgusting as it looks!)

I fly a lot — over 100,000 miles on over 50 flights last year. (Maybe more. I lose track.) I’m a frequent traveler — but I’m a cheap frequent traveler. I always buy the cheap economy-class tickets and use my status and miles to upgrade.

That makes me a low-revenue flier. I probably spend $6,000–10,000 a year on flights. That’s a lot by everyday standards, but when it’s your job to travel, you’re off to conferences all the time, and have team members to book flights for too, I think I’m actually coming in pretty low. And I also spread that around multiple airlines.

American now requires me to spend $6,000 a year on American alone just to get mid-level platinum status (the kind that gets you international lounge access). I don’t remember the last time I spent that much money on one airline.

And thus the current dilemma: If you are a low-spending but still frequent traveler, does it make sense to stay loyal to an airline in this day and age?

The answer, I’ve come to realize, is a resounding NO.

As someone who likes the concept and perks of loyalty, it saddens me to say this, but unless you are spending a lot of money on one airline, loyalty — at least to airlines — is an antiquated concept.

The major airlines in the United States do not value your loyalty anymore. They are only rewarding their high-spending clients with deep pockets — not their frequent clients. Travel 100,000 miles a year, but on just a few cheap tickets? Great — that will earn you a pat on the back. Spend $20,000 on a few high-priced tickets? The red carpet is rolled out for you!

Why? Because (a) they are flying fuller planes so don’t need to cater to customers as much, (b) people are shelling out for perks, and (c) they are assholes and don’t give a f**k…because they know you don’t have any many options, and (d) when X% of revenue comes from higher spenders, why should they care about low spenders?

I used to say that if you can fly 50,000 miles or more, it’s worth focusing on one airline and alliance because the perks are worth the extra price (especially the international lounges). But now, with the heightened spending requirements, reduced benefits, and overall “F U” attitude airlines have, it doesn’t make sense to be loyal to an airline if you aren’t a high spending traveler.

As we get close to the midway point of the year, I realize that, for the first time in a long time, I’ll end this year with no elite status. Most of my flights for the rest of the year are long-haul international flights — the kind I always use points on so I can fly for free in business class. Most of my paid, status-earning flights will be cheap domestic flights. With the new spending demands, I’m simply not going to be able to meet the status requirements – for any airline.

Sure, I could spend $25,000 on my American AAdvantage credit card to get partial credit toward the EQDs but (1) that’s a ton of money to spend and (2) if I did spend that much, I would get one point per dollar spent. Why would I do that when I could get three times as many points on other cards? It doesn’t make sense.

So I will lose my status — and, honestly, I have no desire to get it back.

This has changed how I fly. Now, it’s all about price. I’m not going to bother spending an extra $20, $50, or $100 for a flight to maintain my elite status. Why should I? Airlines aren’t giving me a reason to.

Just give me the cheapest flight.

I’m flying Alaska/Virgin, JetBlue, and Southwest a lot more. These airlines don’t have baggage fees, they do have friendlier staff, and better in-flight products (hello, free gate to gate Wi-Fi on JetBlue!).  I’ve been flying these airlines a lot lately and the experience is leagues better than the big three!

I still believe in the art of travel hacking and as such will continue to collect credit card points and airline miles so that when it’s time to fly overseas, I can redeem those miles for nice business-class seats. I mean, when you are flying premium, you’re treated well — paid ticket or not! Additionally, I’ll keep all the airline credit cards since they come with the perks of basic elite status, like priority check-in and boarding and free bag checking. When you’re being charged for bags and required to go all Hunger Games for overhead space, those perks are worth the yearly credit card fee.

Airlines always say that, since consumers fly on price, they have no incentive to offer better service or amenities. And, that’s true to an extent. Most leisure travelers fly only on price. They just want to go from A to B on the cheapest fare and have mostly accepted that service will be terrible.

But when you cut loyalty programs, you make frequent travelers like me also only care about price and you shoot yourself in the foot.

Because now I have no incentive to go out of my way to fly you. And the first rule of business is that is always cheaper to retain a customer than a acquire a new one.

So, simply put, in this day and age, there’s no reason to be loyal to any one airline. Collect frequent flier points and miles for premium seats on those long-haul flights (free flights are the best flights) and fly short haul flights based on price. Go with whatever is cheap!

Because screw these big airlines.

(If you’re super rich, fly a ton, and buy higher-priced tickets — then ignore all this advice because you’re now making out like a bandit! Please pass some champagne to us in coach!)

P.S. – Ever wanted to visit Austin? Next month, I’ll be leading a small group of people around my home city! We’ll be staying in the hostel I own, visiting my favorite locals bars and restaurants, hanging with some of my cool friends, and two stepping the night away! If you want to spend a few days down south, here’s more information!

The post Breaking Up with American: A Frequent Flying Budget Traveler’s Dilemma appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/airline-loyalty-status/

breaking up with American Airlines

I did it. I went back and forth on the decision for a long time. Like someone who just couldn’t let go, I continued with the relationship even though I knew, deep down, it was over.

But there’s always a tipping point when you must face reality — and that point was when I realized I’m just not going to fly all that much this year.

So I did it: I finally split up with American Airlines.

After years of being loyal to them and the Oneworld alliance, paying extra for flights to ensure I kept my status, and championing them on the web, it’s time to face the truth: they’ve ruined their once-stellar loyalty program and given me (and basically everyone else) no incentive to fly them over any other (crappy domestic) airline.

A few years ago, both Delta and United devalued their award charts — awarding fewer miles per flight (unless you bought high-priced tickets), requiring more miles when redeeming them for a flight (The Points Guy just recently showed a screenshot of Delta requiring 255,000 miles to go from NYC to LAX! Crazy!), reducing benefits, and requiring customers to spend a certain amount of money to maintain their elite status. Their message was clear: “We only value you if you spend lots of money with us.”

Yet (in part because of their merger with US Airways) American held out — often increasing benefits. American AAdvantage was a shining jewel in the airline industry, lauded by journalists, insiders, and consumers alike.

I went out of my way to fly American because I felt my loyalty was valued. I was upgraded often, their employees were friendly, customer service issues were often solved swiftly, it was easy to find award seats, and they were often generous in their benefits.

But in the last year, they’ve let their program go to hell.

What’s wrong with American AAdvantage?

  1. They now require elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs), but unlike United and Delta, they offer no waiver if you spend a lot on American’s branded credit cards.
  2. They have upped the cost of award tickets – a lot.
  3. They severely reduced saver rewards availability. It’s basically impossible to find saver rewards these days.
  4. Confirmed upgrades for anyone but the top elites is basically impossible. I can’t remember the last time I got an upgrade.
  5. They have slashed miles earnings on their partner’s flights.
  6. They now prioritize upgrades based on status and spending (take that, million-mile status folks!).
  7. How they calculate EQDs is opaque and not straightforward. One dollar spent is not one EQD earned, even if you purchase full fare business and first class tickets.

The list goes on. There have been so many blog posts written about the demise of AA’s loyalty program that I’ll just link to them here, here, here, here, here, and here. And here and here too. (Ok and here too!)

American AAdvantage was the only thing American really had going for it. It was the sole reason I flew them. Sure, their new 777 and A321T planes are nice, but even when they refurbish their old planes they still have many varieties you never know what kind of plane you’re stepping on. It could be a nice and new interior or it could be something last refurbished in 1987. (And you never want to get on an old US Airways plane — no power, no TVs, and a disgusting interior) Plus, the food in their lounges is terrible (as well as the lounges themselves), their partners are not as great as United’s, and their in-flight service/seats/food aren’t as good as Delta’s. I redeemed miles for a business-class flight from Paris with AA and this is the food I got:

What the hell is that? I mean seriously. McDonald’s would have been a better option. (It tasted as disgusting as it looks!)

I fly a lot — over 100,000 miles on over 50 flights last year. (Maybe more. I lose track.) I’m a frequent traveler — but I’m a cheap frequent traveler. I always buy the cheap economy-class tickets and use my status and miles to upgrade.

That makes me a low-revenue flier. I probably spend $6,000–10,000 a year on flights. That’s a lot by everyday standards, but when it’s your job to travel, you’re off to conferences all the time, and have team members to book flights for too, I think I’m actually coming in pretty low. And I also spread that around multiple airlines.

American now requires me to spend $6,000 a year on American alone just to get mid-level platinum status (the kind that gets you international lounge access). I don’t remember the last time I spent that much money on one airline.

And thus the current dilemma: If you are a low-spending but still frequent traveler, does it make sense to stay loyal to an airline in this day and age?

The answer, I’ve come to realize, is a resounding NO.

As someone who likes the concept and perks of loyalty, it saddens me to say this, but unless you are spending a lot of money on one airline, loyalty — at least to airlines — is an antiquated concept.

The major airlines in the United States do not value your loyalty anymore. They are only rewarding their high-spending clients with deep pockets — not their frequent clients. Travel 100,000 miles a year, but on just a few cheap tickets? Great — that will earn you a pat on the back. Spend $20,000 on a few high-priced tickets? The red carpet is rolled out for you!

Why? Because (a) they are flying fuller planes so don’t need to cater to customers as much, (b) people are shelling out for perks, and (c) they are assholes and don’t give a f**k…because they know you don’t have any many options, and (d) when X% of revenue comes from higher spenders, why should they care about low spenders?

I used to say that if you can fly 50,000 miles or more, it’s worth focusing on one airline and alliance because the perks are worth the extra price (especially the international lounges). But now, with the heightened spending requirements, reduced benefits, and overall “F U” attitude airlines have, it doesn’t make sense to be loyal to an airline if you aren’t a high spending traveler.

As we get close to the midway point of the year, I realize that, for the first time in a long time, I’ll end this year with no elite status. Most of my flights for the rest of the year are long-haul international flights — the kind I always use points on so I can fly for free in business class. Most of my paid, status-earning flights will be cheap domestic flights. With the new spending demands, I’m simply not going to be able to meet the status requirements – for any airline.

Sure, I could spend $25,000 on my American AAdvantage credit card to get partial credit toward the EQDs but (1) that’s a ton of money to spend and (2) if I did spend that much, I would get one point per dollar spent. Why would I do that when I could get three times as many points on other cards? It doesn’t make sense.

So I will lose my status — and, honestly, I have no desire to get it back.

This has changed how I fly. Now, it’s all about price. I’m not going to bother spending an extra $20, $50, or $100 for a flight to maintain my elite status. Why should I? Airlines aren’t giving me a reason to.

Just give me the cheapest flight.

I’m flying Alaska/Virgin, JetBlue, and Southwest a lot more. These airlines don’t have baggage fees, they do have friendlier staff, and better in-flight products (hello, free gate to gate Wi-Fi on JetBlue!).  I’ve been flying these airlines a lot lately and the experience is leagues better than the big three!

I still believe in the art of travel hacking and as such will continue to collect credit card points and airline miles so that when it’s time to fly overseas, I can redeem those miles for nice business-class seats. I mean, when you are flying premium, you’re treated well — paid ticket or not! Additionally, I’ll keep all the airline credit cards since they come with the perks of basic elite status, like priority check-in and boarding and free bag checking. When you’re being charged for bags and required to go all Hunger Games for overhead space, those perks are worth the yearly credit card fee.

Airlines always say that, since consumers fly on price, they have no incentive to offer better service or amenities. And, that’s true to an extent. Most leisure travelers fly only on price. They just want to go from A to B on the cheapest fare and have mostly accepted that service will be terrible.

But when you cut loyalty programs, you make frequent travelers like me also only care about price and you shoot yourself in the foot.

Because now I have no incentive to go out of my way to fly you. And the first rule of business is that is always cheaper to retain a customer than a acquire a new one.

So, simply put, in this day and age, there’s no reason to be loyal to any one airline. Collect frequent flier points and miles for premium seats on those long-haul flights (free flights are the best flights) and fly short haul flights based on price. Go with whatever is cheap!

Because screw these big airlines.

(If you’re super rich, fly a ton, and buy higher-priced tickets — then ignore all this advice because you’re now making out like a bandit! Please pass some champagne to us in coach!)

P.S. – Ever wanted to visit Austin? Next month, I’ll be leading a small group of people around my home city! We’ll be staying in the hostel I own, visiting my favorite locals bars and restaurants, hanging with some of my cool friends, and two stepping the night away! If you want to spend a few days down south, here’s more information!

The post Breaking Up with American: A Frequent Flying Budget Traveler’s Dilemma appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

How Travel Taught Me How to Not Give a F*ck

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/subtle-art-travel/

Mark Manson looking over a city
I vaguely knew about Mark Manson. He was a friend of friends, a fellow blogger, and someone I knew who wrote well researched (and always a little controversial) posts. When he and his wife moved to NYC, we finally met in person (I actually met his wife first). We became friends – we’re both nerds, entrepreneurs, writers, poker players, and lovers of whiskey. I blurbed his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. It’s a phenomenal book about focusing on what matters. Chelsea Handler and Chris Hemsworth (aka THOR) are huge fans. Mark is a phenomenal writer and, and in a long overdue post, he finally wrote something for the site. In this post, Mark talks about how travel made him the person is today – and laid the foundation for the book.

I have vomited in six different countries. That may not be the most savory statistic for a travel article, but when you’re huddled over a drainage ditch, spewing up what for all you know could have been sautéed rat meat, these moments have a way of staying in your mind.

I remember getting a flat tire in the Indian countryside and the locals being flabbergasted as I changed it myself. I remember staying up until 4AM in a hostel arguing with a drunk English kid who thought 9/11 was a hoax. I remember an old Ukrainian man got me drunk on the best vodka of my life and claimed he was stationed in a Soviet U-Boat off the coast of Mississippi in the 1970s (which is probably untrue, but who knows).

I remember climbing the Great Wall of China hungover, getting ripped off on a boat trip in Bali (spoiler alert: there was no boat), sneaking my way into a five-star resort on the Dead Sea, and the night I met my wife in a Brazilian night club.

Since selling my possessions in the fall of 2009, I remember a lot of things. I set out with a small suitcase to travel around the world. I had a small internet business, a blog, and a dream.

My year (maybe two) long trip turned into seven years (and sixty countries).

With most things in life, you know exactly what benefits you’re going to get from them. If I go to the gym, I know I’m going to get stronger and/or lose weight. If I hire a tutor, I know I’m going to learn more about a specific subject. If I start a new Netflix series, I know I’m not going to sleep for the next three days until I finish it.

But travel is different.

Mark Manson at the Grand Canyon

Travel, unlike anything else in life, has the beautiful ability to give you benefits you didn’t expect. It doesn’t just teach you what you don’t know, it also teaches you what you don’t know you don’t know.

I gained a lot of amazing experiences from my travels — experiences I expected and looked for. I saw incredible sites. I learned about world history and foreign cultures. I often had more fun than I knew was possible.

But the most important effects of my years of travel are actually the benefits that I didn’t even know I would get and the memories I didn’t know I would have.

For example, I don’t know the moment I became comfortable being alone. But it happened somewhere in Europe, probably in either Germany or Holland.

When I was younger, I would consistently feel as though something was wrong with me if I was by myself for too long — “Do people not like me? Do I not have any friends?” I felt a constant need to surround myself with girlfriends and friends, to always be at parties, and always be in touch. If for some reason I weren’t included in other people’s plans, it was a personal judgment on me and my character.

But, by the time I returned to Boston in 2010, that feeling somehow stopped. I don’t know where or when. All I know is I flew home from Portugal after 8 months abroad, sat at home, and felt fine.

I don’t remember where I was when I developed a sense of patience (probably somewhere in Latin America). I used to be the guy who would get angry if a bus was late (which often happens in Latin America), or I missed my turn on the highway and had to loop back around. Sh*t like that used to drive me insane.

Mark Manson talkig about travel

Then one day, it just didn’t. It ceased to be a big deal. The bus will eventually come and I’ll still get to where I need to go. It became clear that my emotional energy was limited and I was better off saving that energy for moments that mattered.

I don’t recall exactly when I learned how to express my feelings either.

Ask any of my girlfriends pre-travels and they’ll tell you: I was a closed book. An enigma wrapped in bubble-wrap and held together by duct tape (but with an extremely handsome face).

My problem was that I was afraid to offend people, step on toes, or create an uncomfortable situation.

But now? Most people comment that I’m so blunt and open that it can be jarring. Sometimes my wife jokes that I’m too honest.

I don’t recall when I became more accepting of people of different walks of life or when I started appreciating my parents or when I learned how to communicate with someone despite neither of us speaking the same language.

But all of these happened….somewhere in the world, in some country, with somebody. I don’t have any photos of these moments. I just know they are there.

Somewhere along the way I became a better me.

Mark Manson snorkeling

Last year, I wrote a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. The premise of the book is essentially that we all have a limited number of f*cks to give in our lives, therefore we should be conscious of what we’re choosing to give a f*ck about.

Looking back, I think that it was my experience traveling that subtly, without me realizing it, taught me to not give a f*ck. It taught me to not give a fu*k about being alone, the bus being late, other people’s plans, or creating an uncomfortable situation or two.

Memories are made from what we give a f*ck about.

I have all the usual photos from my travels. Me on the beaches. Me at Carnaval. Me with my buddy Brad surfing in Bali. Machu Picchu.

I gave a f*ck about those.

The photos are great. The memories are great.

But like anything in life, their importance fades the further removed you get from them. Just like those moments in high school that you think are going to define your life forever cease to matter a few years into adulthood, those glorious peaks of travel experience seem to matter less the more time passes. What seemed life-changing and world-shaking at the time now simply elicits a smile, some nostalgia and maybe an excited, “Oh yeah! Wow, I was so skinny back then!”

Mark Manson in Moshi

Travel, although a great thing, is just another thing. It’s not you. It’s something you do. It’s something you experience. It’s something you savor and brag about to your friends down the street.

But it’s not you.

Yet these other, memoryless qualities — the outgrown personal confidence, the comfort with myself and my failings, the greater appreciation for family and friends, the ability to rely upon myself — these are the real gifts that travel gives you.

And, despite the fact that they produce no photos or stories for cocktail parties, they are the things stay with you forever.

They are your real lasting memories….because these things are you.

And they will always be you.

Mark Manson is a blogger, entrepreneur, and author of the New York Times Bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. His book is one of the best books I read in 2016 and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s well written, funny, self-deprecating, and even works in a panda bear! You can read more of his work at MarkManson.net.

The post How Travel Taught Me How to Not Give a F*ck appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/subtle-art-travel/

Mark Manson looking over a city
I vaguely knew about Mark Manson. He was a friend of friends, a fellow blogger, and someone I knew who wrote well researched (and always a little controversial) posts. When he and his wife moved to NYC, we finally met in person (I actually met his wife first). We became friends – we’re both nerds, entrepreneurs, writers, poker players, and lovers of whiskey. I blurbed his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. It’s a phenomenal book about focusing on what matters. Chelsea Handler and Chris Hemsworth (aka THOR) are huge fans. Mark is a phenomenal writer and, and in a long overdue post, he finally wrote something for the site. In this post, Mark talks about how travel made him the person is today – and laid the foundation for the book.

I have vomited in six different countries. That may not be the most savory statistic for a travel article, but when you’re huddled over a drainage ditch, spewing up what for all you know could have been sautéed rat meat, these moments have a way of staying in your mind.

I remember getting a flat tire in the Indian countryside and the locals being flabbergasted as I changed it myself. I remember staying up until 4AM in a hostel arguing with a drunk English kid who thought 9/11 was a hoax. I remember an old Ukrainian man got me drunk on the best vodka of my life and claimed he was stationed in a Soviet U-Boat off the coast of Mississippi in the 1970s (which is probably untrue, but who knows).

I remember climbing the Great Wall of China hungover, getting ripped off on a boat trip in Bali (spoiler alert: there was no boat), sneaking my way into a five-star resort on the Dead Sea, and the night I met my wife in a Brazilian night club.

Since selling my possessions in the fall of 2009, I remember a lot of things. I set out with a small suitcase to travel around the world. I had a small internet business, a blog, and a dream.

My year (maybe two) long trip turned into seven years (and sixty countries).

With most things in life, you know exactly what benefits you’re going to get from them. If I go to the gym, I know I’m going to get stronger and/or lose weight. If I hire a tutor, I know I’m going to learn more about a specific subject. If I start a new Netflix series, I know I’m not going to sleep for the next three days until I finish it.

But travel is different.

Mark Manson at the Grand Canyon

Travel, unlike anything else in life, has the beautiful ability to give you benefits you didn’t expect. It doesn’t just teach you what you don’t know, it also teaches you what you don’t know you don’t know.

I gained a lot of amazing experiences from my travels — experiences I expected and looked for. I saw incredible sites. I learned about world history and foreign cultures. I often had more fun than I knew was possible.

But the most important effects of my years of travel are actually the benefits that I didn’t even know I would get and the memories I didn’t know I would have.

For example, I don’t know the moment I became comfortable being alone. But it happened somewhere in Europe, probably in either Germany or Holland.

When I was younger, I would consistently feel as though something was wrong with me if I was by myself for too long — “Do people not like me? Do I not have any friends?” I felt a constant need to surround myself with girlfriends and friends, to always be at parties, and always be in touch. If for some reason I weren’t included in other people’s plans, it was a personal judgment on me and my character.

But, by the time I returned to Boston in 2010, that feeling somehow stopped. I don’t know where or when. All I know is I flew home from Portugal after 8 months abroad, sat at home, and felt fine.

I don’t remember where I was when I developed a sense of patience (probably somewhere in Latin America). I used to be the guy who would get angry if a bus was late (which often happens in Latin America), or I missed my turn on the highway and had to loop back around. Sh*t like that used to drive me insane.

Mark Manson talkig about travel

Then one day, it just didn’t. It ceased to be a big deal. The bus will eventually come and I’ll still get to where I need to go. It became clear that my emotional energy was limited and I was better off saving that energy for moments that mattered.

I don’t recall exactly when I learned how to express my feelings either.

Ask any of my girlfriends pre-travels and they’ll tell you: I was a closed book. An enigma wrapped in bubble-wrap and held together by duct tape (but with an extremely handsome face).

My problem was that I was afraid to offend people, step on toes, or create an uncomfortable situation.

But now? Most people comment that I’m so blunt and open that it can be jarring. Sometimes my wife jokes that I’m too honest.

I don’t recall when I became more accepting of people of different walks of life or when I started appreciating my parents or when I learned how to communicate with someone despite neither of us speaking the same language.

But all of these happened….somewhere in the world, in some country, with somebody. I don’t have any photos of these moments. I just know they are there.

Somewhere along the way I became a better me.

Mark Manson snorkeling

Last year, I wrote a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. The premise of the book is essentially that we all have a limited number of f*cks to give in our lives, therefore we should be conscious of what we’re choosing to give a f*ck about.

Looking back, I think that it was my experience traveling that subtly, without me realizing it, taught me to not give a f*ck. It taught me to not give a fu*k about being alone, the bus being late, other people’s plans, or creating an uncomfortable situation or two.

Memories are made from what we give a f*ck about.

I have all the usual photos from my travels. Me on the beaches. Me at Carnaval. Me with my buddy Brad surfing in Bali. Machu Picchu.

I gave a f*ck about those.

The photos are great. The memories are great.

But like anything in life, their importance fades the further removed you get from them. Just like those moments in high school that you think are going to define your life forever cease to matter a few years into adulthood, those glorious peaks of travel experience seem to matter less the more time passes. What seemed life-changing and world-shaking at the time now simply elicits a smile, some nostalgia and maybe an excited, “Oh yeah! Wow, I was so skinny back then!”

Mark Manson in Moshi

Travel, although a great thing, is just another thing. It’s not you. It’s something you do. It’s something you experience. It’s something you savor and brag about to your friends down the street.

But it’s not you.

Yet these other, memoryless qualities — the outgrown personal confidence, the comfort with myself and my failings, the greater appreciation for family and friends, the ability to rely upon myself — these are the real gifts that travel gives you.

And, despite the fact that they produce no photos or stories for cocktail parties, they are the things stay with you forever.

They are your real lasting memories….because these things are you.

And they will always be you.

Mark Manson is a blogger, entrepreneur, and author of the New York Times Bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. His book is one of the best books I read in 2016 and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s well written, funny, self-deprecating, and even works in a panda bear! You can read more of his work at MarkManson.net.

The post How Travel Taught Me How to Not Give a F*ck appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

How to plan a gorilla trek in Africa

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/17/how-to-plan-a-gorilla-trek-in-africa/

There is something special about trekking to see mountain gorillas in the remote rain forests in Uganda Rwanda & Democratic Republic of Congo. That unique feeling and realization that they are just like us, living in closely attached family groups, evidently headed by a “parent”, the dominant silverback serving as their protector and defender. Though […]

How to plan a gorilla trek in Africa is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post How to plan a gorilla trek in Africa appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/05/17/how-to-plan-a-gorilla-trek-in-africa/

There is something special about trekking to see mountain gorillas in the remote rain forests in Uganda Rwanda & Democratic Republic of Congo. That unique feeling and realization that they are just like us, living in closely attached family groups, evidently headed by a “parent”, the dominant silverback serving as their protector and defender. Though […]

How to plan a gorilla trek in Africa is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post How to plan a gorilla trek in Africa appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Overland Travel: How Ryan Drove from Seattle to South America

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/overland-driving-across-continents/

A truck for overlanding
I hate driving. I don’t like driving in my own country, let alone foreign ones. It’s not that I’m bad at it. It’s just that I do it so infrequently that it makes me nervous these days. And so I’m always fascinated by people who travel by car. Back in the early days of this blog I met a group of guys driving a trip around the world. They had crazy stories. A few months ago, I announced we were going to start doing more reader stories to highlight some of your crazy stories. In our first reader spotlight, we’re talking to Ryan who is driving from Seattle down to the tip of South America with his girlfriend! (Which, let’s be honest, sounds like an amazing adventure!)

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone here about yourself!
Ryan: I’m 33 years old and originally from Seattle, Washington, but after college I spent five years working in Washington, DC in the halls of Congress. When my boss decided to retire in 2012 instead of run for re-election, I opted to take a yearlong sabbatical to road-trip across the American West and to hike and climb as much as I could. When the year came to an end, though, I wasn’t ready to give up the nomadic lifestyle, so I just kept going.

So how did you get into travel?
My first overseas travel experiences were thanks to studying abroad in college, with lengthy stays in Florence, Italy, and Sana’a, Yemen. Both trips instilled in me a sense of wanderlust that stuck with me through my years of working a desk job, and I believe they played a significant role in eventually getting me out there on the road.

Where has this amazing trip taken you so far?
Following my yearlong road trip through the American West, I headed down to Colombia with a buddy and we set out explore the country. We only made it as far as Medellín, where I settled down. I felt a need to slow down after living out of my truck and then a backpack for about 15 months — and then meeting a great local girl.

my girlfriend and I drove my truck from Seattle to Medellín, traveling overland through every country in Central America and having an amazing time. We had to ship the truck from Colón, Panama, to Cartagena, Colombia), since there are no roads through the Darién Gap (the missing link in the Pan-American Highway.

We stopped in Medellín for a bit again to regroup, but we are now getting ready to head out on part two of the road trip: driving all the way to the southern tip of Patagonia, which is a place I have long dreamed about visiting.

We will mostly be traveling along the Andean spine on this journey, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the mountain scenery.

What made you decide to go on this trip?
My solo road trip across the American West was an absolutely transformative experience, and the seed of driving to Patagonia got planted in my mind and took root over a few years. I began to think, why just drive across America when you can drive across all of the Americas?

I also like exploring new cultures and foods and immersing myself in different languages whenever I travel overseas. I long to get a little farther afield, to get off the well-worn tourist track, and that can be quite difficult. I’ve traveled the backpacker circuit and schlepped my bag around colorful little towns and hopped on and off public buses — but when you’ve got your own wheels, a whole new world of travel opens up and allows you to get away from the crowds and immerse yourself in local life.

Ryan standing in the ocean

What’s been the biggest lesson so far?
Just how doable this sort of trip is!

When you take in the whole scope of driving across Central America — traveling into “dangerous” Mexico, dealing with corrupt cops or protests and blockades, and contemplating the logistical hassles of crossing eight or nine international borders with your vehicle and then loading it into a shipping container to South America — it can all just be overwhelming. It seems almost impossible.

But when you break it down into a day-to-day journey, it was all quite easy. One thing flowed from another, nothing was as hard as we imagined it would be, and we came out more confident and capable with every little bump in the road.

What’s your number one piece of advice for a trip like this?
I’d say one of the best parts about travel is overcoming challenges and embracing the unknown, so just let go of the idea of waiting for things to be perfect!

In the overland travel community, I’ve seen countless people who plan for years and years, investing more and more money into their vehicles and accessories, and spending more time and money on the “getting ready” stage than they do on the actual travel and adventures. It’s as if the planning becomes the substitute for actually doing.

But as for more concrete advice for a new traveler, I’d highly, highly recommend learning as much of the target language you can before leaving. The first time I came to Colombia, I had the basics of Spanish: ordering food, getting around in a taxi, other formalities. But my travels have become so much more rewarding as my language skills improved and I could really communicate with the people I was meeting on a daily basis.

Overlanding in South America

What are the logistics of a trip like this? Is it hard to plan?
Logistically, there are a few basics you should have covered, which would entail having the originals (and lots of copies) of all the relevant vehicle documents: your title, registration, etc. But you don’t actually need much more beyond your passport, and a general idea of where you are going (or in some cases, places you shouldn’t go, for safety’s sake). But if you add in some equipment to allow you to camp and cook, you’ll be much more versatile on the road and have more options for saving money.

One incredible resource that initially planted the idea of driving all this way was the annual Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, where a few thousand people gather every spring to talk about all aspects of overlanding. They offer seminars and talks from experienced travelers on everything from safety and security to camp-cooking recipes to border-crossing tips and tricks. Attendees are a mix of people who have completed massive drives across the Americas or Africa, people in the planning stages for a big international trip, and those who just like camping out of their vehicles in the USA.

Being around so many like-minded people who had “been there, done that” was what initially made me feel like this was possible — though it was another two years before I drove across the border into Mexico.

Due to the sheer scale and uncertainty of a monster trip like this, it can indeed be difficult to plan everything out in advance in terms of where to go, where to stay, etc. Before leaving, we planned in broad strokes the route we would take, about how long we thought we would take in each country, etc., but we were open to being flexible throughout the journey.

Luckily there have been many travelers who have documented their trips on their blogs and can provide a good frame of reference on border crossings, where to camp, safety concerns as a driver abroad, and so forth.

One of my favorite resources while on the road was a website called iOverlander.com, where fellow travelers add prices, descriptions, and GPS coordinates to everything from free campsites to cheap hotels with secure parking lots. It has become the go-to resource for overland travelers.

What’s been the most difficult part of your journey?
The hardest part and the easiest part are both the same: traveling with your vehicle. An obvious foreign license plate can attract interest, both good and bad: friendly locals will take notice and chat you up about your travels — and more unscrupulous people might target your vehicle for the valuables inside.

Traveling with your own vehicle provides added worries at times. You must always be somewhat conscious of the general security of your vehicle so as to not expose yourself to potential break-ins when parking on the street — or even in some parking lots — and there are the added difficulties of traveling into small colonial cities with narrow roads. Then there’s finding a hotel that also offers secure parking for your vehicle when so many cater to the backpacker crowd.

That being said, we had no break-ins or anything like that on the whole journey, and while we were cautious, we weren’t overly so or paranoid.

The easiest part of this trip, though — again — is having your own vehicle, which means you are free to bring quite a bit more stuff than if you were backpacking. We travel with gear for cold and warm weather, for general camp comfort, and for cooking, as well as quite a few electronics: laptops, cameras, a small solar panel, etc. We also have the freedom to go when and where we want, without being tied to public transportation or the traditional backpacker circuit.

So there are two sides to the same coin, but I’d say the benefits of “overland” travel like this far outweigh the negatives.

Overlanding near a mountain

Does this cost a lot to do? How do you keep costs down?
The big up-front cost for overland travel is obviously the vehicle. Vans, trucks, or SUVs are generally the vehicle of choice for most overlanders, given their size and the ability to create a space to sleep inside the vehicle (or on top of it, with a roof-top tent).

If you already have a truck or van, you’ve overcome the biggest cost. I used my old 1991 Toyota 4×4 pickup — the same truck I’ve had since high school — and it served me well with the addition of an elevated canopy and a simple build-out of the back to create a sleeping platform and storage system.

If you have to purchase a vehicle, you would do well to look for an older rig that is sold all over the world, like a Toyota, so you won’t deal with more obscure vehicle brand or engine parts that might be hard to come by in other parts of the world.

If you’re looking to buy, you could also join overlanding groups and try to purchase from a fellow traveler who has recently completed the trip and is looking to unload the vehicle at a cheap price rather than ship it overseas to their home country. They typically sell in Panama, Colombia, Argentina, or Chile.

There are people who have done the trip with a traditional car and many who complete the drive by motorcycle or even by bicycle — so don’t let the fact that you don’t have the “perfect” vehicle stop you from this adventure.

Overlanding in South America

In terms of the actual costs during the trip, it can vary a lot from country to country and depending on the exchange rate, but I’d say our general rule of thumb for the entire trip thus far was about $75 per day, as a couple. That price is overall for everything, including gasoline, hotels or camping, food, etc. As always, you could do it for either less or more money, depending on the individual traveler.

The price breaks down to around $20/night for lodging, $20/day for food, and $35/day for vehicle expenses (gas, toll roads, paid parking, maintenance, etc.). But those daily averages can vary a lot from place to place.

Sometimes a country, like Mexico, is so cheap to travel in that we find ourselves eating out frequently and finding budget hotels. But other times a country is so expensive, like Costa Rica (for gas, lodging, food, everything!), that we spend virtually all our time camping and only occasionally eating out. Our strategy for keeping costs down is to sleep more often in the back of the truck at cheap or free camping areas, and to cook a little more often.

Surprisingly, there aren’t many costs associated with bringing your vehicle into each country. Some countries require you to purchase insurance, others don’t; some have small fees ($10-15) associated with bringing your vehicle across (temporary import permit, insurance, fumigation), some are free, some are kind of expensive, like Honduras ($40).

But overall it is quite affordable to cross international borders with a vehicle, and your biggest expenses remain the regular costs of gasoline and maintenance.

If you want to follow up on Ryan, he is the author of Big Travel, Small Budget and the blogger behind Desk to Dirtbag, detailing his travels and outdoor adventures after leaving his Washington, D.C. desk job. Right now you can find him road tripping across all of South America and follow his adventures on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

P.S. – Ever wanted to visit Austin? Next month, I’ll be leading a small group of people around my home city! We’ll be staying in the hostel I own, visiting my favorite locals bars and restaurants, hanging with some of my cool friends, and two stepping the night away! If you want to spend a few days down south, here’s more information!

The post Overland Travel: How Ryan Drove from Seattle to South America appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/overland-driving-across-continents/

A truck for overlanding
I hate driving. I don’t like driving in my own country, let alone foreign ones. It’s not that I’m bad at it. It’s just that I do it so infrequently that it makes me nervous these days. And so I’m always fascinated by people who travel by car. Back in the early days of this blog I met a group of guys driving a trip around the world. They had crazy stories. A few months ago, I announced we were going to start doing more reader stories to highlight some of your crazy stories. In our first reader spotlight, we’re talking to Ryan who is driving from Seattle down to the tip of South America with his girlfriend! (Which, let’s be honest, sounds like an amazing adventure!)

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone here about yourself!
Ryan: I’m 33 years old and originally from Seattle, Washington, but after college I spent five years working in Washington, DC in the halls of Congress. When my boss decided to retire in 2012 instead of run for re-election, I opted to take a yearlong sabbatical to road-trip across the American West and to hike and climb as much as I could. When the year came to an end, though, I wasn’t ready to give up the nomadic lifestyle, so I just kept going.

So how did you get into travel?
My first overseas travel experiences were thanks to studying abroad in college, with lengthy stays in Florence, Italy, and Sana’a, Yemen. Both trips instilled in me a sense of wanderlust that stuck with me through my years of working a desk job, and I believe they played a significant role in eventually getting me out there on the road.

Where has this amazing trip taken you so far?
Following my yearlong road trip through the American West, I headed down to Colombia with a buddy and we set out explore the country. We only made it as far as Medellín, where I settled down. I felt a need to slow down after living out of my truck and then a backpack for about 15 months — and then meeting a great local girl.

my girlfriend and I drove my truck from Seattle to Medellín, traveling overland through every country in Central America and having an amazing time. We had to ship the truck from Colón, Panama, to Cartagena, Colombia), since there are no roads through the Darién Gap (the missing link in the Pan-American Highway.

We stopped in Medellín for a bit again to regroup, but we are now getting ready to head out on part two of the road trip: driving all the way to the southern tip of Patagonia, which is a place I have long dreamed about visiting.

We will mostly be traveling along the Andean spine on this journey, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the mountain scenery.

What made you decide to go on this trip?
My solo road trip across the American West was an absolutely transformative experience, and the seed of driving to Patagonia got planted in my mind and took root over a few years. I began to think, why just drive across America when you can drive across all of the Americas?

I also like exploring new cultures and foods and immersing myself in different languages whenever I travel overseas. I long to get a little farther afield, to get off the well-worn tourist track, and that can be quite difficult. I’ve traveled the backpacker circuit and schlepped my bag around colorful little towns and hopped on and off public buses — but when you’ve got your own wheels, a whole new world of travel opens up and allows you to get away from the crowds and immerse yourself in local life.

Ryan standing in the ocean

What’s been the biggest lesson so far?
Just how doable this sort of trip is!

When you take in the whole scope of driving across Central America — traveling into “dangerous” Mexico, dealing with corrupt cops or protests and blockades, and contemplating the logistical hassles of crossing eight or nine international borders with your vehicle and then loading it into a shipping container to South America — it can all just be overwhelming. It seems almost impossible.

But when you break it down into a day-to-day journey, it was all quite easy. One thing flowed from another, nothing was as hard as we imagined it would be, and we came out more confident and capable with every little bump in the road.

What’s your number one piece of advice for a trip like this?
I’d say one of the best parts about travel is overcoming challenges and embracing the unknown, so just let go of the idea of waiting for things to be perfect!

In the overland travel community, I’ve seen countless people who plan for years and years, investing more and more money into their vehicles and accessories, and spending more time and money on the “getting ready” stage than they do on the actual travel and adventures. It’s as if the planning becomes the substitute for actually doing.

But as for more concrete advice for a new traveler, I’d highly, highly recommend learning as much of the target language you can before leaving. The first time I came to Colombia, I had the basics of Spanish: ordering food, getting around in a taxi, other formalities. But my travels have become so much more rewarding as my language skills improved and I could really communicate with the people I was meeting on a daily basis.

Overlanding in South America

What are the logistics of a trip like this? Is it hard to plan?
Logistically, there are a few basics you should have covered, which would entail having the originals (and lots of copies) of all the relevant vehicle documents: your title, registration, etc. But you don’t actually need much more beyond your passport, and a general idea of where you are going (or in some cases, places you shouldn’t go, for safety’s sake). But if you add in some equipment to allow you to camp and cook, you’ll be much more versatile on the road and have more options for saving money.

One incredible resource that initially planted the idea of driving all this way was the annual Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, where a few thousand people gather every spring to talk about all aspects of overlanding. They offer seminars and talks from experienced travelers on everything from safety and security to camp-cooking recipes to border-crossing tips and tricks. Attendees are a mix of people who have completed massive drives across the Americas or Africa, people in the planning stages for a big international trip, and those who just like camping out of their vehicles in the USA.

Being around so many like-minded people who had “been there, done that” was what initially made me feel like this was possible — though it was another two years before I drove across the border into Mexico.

Due to the sheer scale and uncertainty of a monster trip like this, it can indeed be difficult to plan everything out in advance in terms of where to go, where to stay, etc. Before leaving, we planned in broad strokes the route we would take, about how long we thought we would take in each country, etc., but we were open to being flexible throughout the journey.

Luckily there have been many travelers who have documented their trips on their blogs and can provide a good frame of reference on border crossings, where to camp, safety concerns as a driver abroad, and so forth.

One of my favorite resources while on the road was a website called iOverlander.com, where fellow travelers add prices, descriptions, and GPS coordinates to everything from free campsites to cheap hotels with secure parking lots. It has become the go-to resource for overland travelers.

What’s been the most difficult part of your journey?
The hardest part and the easiest part are both the same: traveling with your vehicle. An obvious foreign license plate can attract interest, both good and bad: friendly locals will take notice and chat you up about your travels — and more unscrupulous people might target your vehicle for the valuables inside.

Traveling with your own vehicle provides added worries at times. You must always be somewhat conscious of the general security of your vehicle so as to not expose yourself to potential break-ins when parking on the street — or even in some parking lots — and there are the added difficulties of traveling into small colonial cities with narrow roads. Then there’s finding a hotel that also offers secure parking for your vehicle when so many cater to the backpacker crowd.

That being said, we had no break-ins or anything like that on the whole journey, and while we were cautious, we weren’t overly so or paranoid.

The easiest part of this trip, though — again — is having your own vehicle, which means you are free to bring quite a bit more stuff than if you were backpacking. We travel with gear for cold and warm weather, for general camp comfort, and for cooking, as well as quite a few electronics: laptops, cameras, a small solar panel, etc. We also have the freedom to go when and where we want, without being tied to public transportation or the traditional backpacker circuit.

So there are two sides to the same coin, but I’d say the benefits of “overland” travel like this far outweigh the negatives.

Overlanding near a mountain

Does this cost a lot to do? How do you keep costs down?
The big up-front cost for overland travel is obviously the vehicle. Vans, trucks, or SUVs are generally the vehicle of choice for most overlanders, given their size and the ability to create a space to sleep inside the vehicle (or on top of it, with a roof-top tent).

If you already have a truck or van, you’ve overcome the biggest cost. I used my old 1991 Toyota 4×4 pickup — the same truck I’ve had since high school — and it served me well with the addition of an elevated canopy and a simple build-out of the back to create a sleeping platform and storage system.

If you have to purchase a vehicle, you would do well to look for an older rig that is sold all over the world, like a Toyota, so you won’t deal with more obscure vehicle brand or engine parts that might be hard to come by in other parts of the world.

If you’re looking to buy, you could also join overlanding groups and try to purchase from a fellow traveler who has recently completed the trip and is looking to unload the vehicle at a cheap price rather than ship it overseas to their home country. They typically sell in Panama, Colombia, Argentina, or Chile.

There are people who have done the trip with a traditional car and many who complete the drive by motorcycle or even by bicycle — so don’t let the fact that you don’t have the “perfect” vehicle stop you from this adventure.

Overlanding in South America

In terms of the actual costs during the trip, it can vary a lot from country to country and depending on the exchange rate, but I’d say our general rule of thumb for the entire trip thus far was about $75 per day, as a couple. That price is overall for everything, including gasoline, hotels or camping, food, etc. As always, you could do it for either less or more money, depending on the individual traveler.

The price breaks down to around $20/night for lodging, $20/day for food, and $35/day for vehicle expenses (gas, toll roads, paid parking, maintenance, etc.). But those daily averages can vary a lot from place to place.

Sometimes a country, like Mexico, is so cheap to travel in that we find ourselves eating out frequently and finding budget hotels. But other times a country is so expensive, like Costa Rica (for gas, lodging, food, everything!), that we spend virtually all our time camping and only occasionally eating out. Our strategy for keeping costs down is to sleep more often in the back of the truck at cheap or free camping areas, and to cook a little more often.

Surprisingly, there aren’t many costs associated with bringing your vehicle into each country. Some countries require you to purchase insurance, others don’t; some have small fees ($10-15) associated with bringing your vehicle across (temporary import permit, insurance, fumigation), some are free, some are kind of expensive, like Honduras ($40).

But overall it is quite affordable to cross international borders with a vehicle, and your biggest expenses remain the regular costs of gasoline and maintenance.

If you want to follow up on Ryan, he is the author of Big Travel, Small Budget and the blogger behind Desk to Dirtbag, detailing his travels and outdoor adventures after leaving his Washington, D.C. desk job. Right now you can find him road tripping across all of South America and follow his adventures on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

P.S. – Ever wanted to visit Austin? Next month, I’ll be leading a small group of people around my home city! We’ll be staying in the hostel I own, visiting my favorite locals bars and restaurants, hanging with some of my cool friends, and two stepping the night away! If you want to spend a few days down south, here’s more information!

The post Overland Travel: How Ryan Drove from Seattle to South America appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.