42 flights to 12 Countries in One Year: 5 Great Travel Learnings
Reflecting on my upbringing as a military brat growing up in Europe, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been comfortable flying since age 3. Both my parents’ military careers, early divorce, and subsequent continental separation led me to rack up some serious amounts of miles flown (just under 1 million in the air so far) and becoming a regular in international air. This past year alone, after leaving my previous career, I’ve traveled to 12 different countries on 18 round trips over 8 months to satiate the addiction forged in me so young — and some so nice I visited them twice!
Here’s 5 travel knowledge nuggets I picked up or further validated from the experience:
1) Never, ever check a bag
(Amsterdam, Iceland, England, Ireland, Balearic Islands)
Avoids fees, saves time, and traveling light allows you to do so much more. Conservatively, I saved at least $1500 this year by only having carry-ons. There’s lots of tips out there on rolling your clothes, using vacuum sealed bags, and buying strategically sized carry-ons, so you’re armed with lots of information. With $200 round trip flights through Iceland on WOW Airlines 3 times last year, I even went so far as to wear all my clothing during check-in to avoid being charged a bag fee — an example of me changing in an airport bathroom to the left:
2) Budget Airlines are our Friends
(Balearic Islands, Ireland, Malta, Colombia, San Francisco, Mexico)
My travel often varies from elite airlines like Etihad Airways or Singapore Air to what some consider the bottom of the barrel — Spirit, Wow Air, and Ryanair. If you pack smart and light, bring your own food for the flight, and be on time for check-ins and departures, these airlines are literally no different to me than the middle grade carriers, but often are 75% cheaper in price. Pro tip: I used Wow air to fly into Europe three times, and then used Ryanair, Easyjet or Wizz Air to hit Italy, Spain, or the Balearic Islands — average total cost from NYC was $375 RT during peak seasons.
3) Hosts and Hostels have the Intel
(Spain, Italy, Mexico, Colombia)
A week in Barcelona and 2 weeks in Mexico wouldn’t have been the same without our AirBnB hosts. They made the trips unique and offered tons of local guidance and knowledge, like telling us where the Catalan independence parade and parties were going to be or even cooking us traditional cactus soup. Italy and Colombia’s hostels hooked me up with way more intimate details on local flavors to try and special experiences outside of touristy attractions. One of my favorites was net fishing on the ocean in a canoe with locals from a generational fishing village — their first time doing it for visitors. I would strongly recommend booking a room in an apartment or a hostel where you see local intel being provided to travelers as a popular perk. It can totally change a typical tourist experience to an extraordinary one.
4) Book Accommodations with a Kitchen
(Everywhere I went except cheap hostels in Netherlands)
Cooking your meals (or some) saves tons of money, time, and is a unique experience in its own right. With 4 weeks between Milan, Venice, and Rome it was great shopping at local grocery stores and learning the real local food culture. I bought amazing (and cheap) wine, made fresh homemade pizza, and brewed up pasta throughout Italy. We feasted on tasty grilled chorizo off a grill we used in Mexico. Our pastries and fresh salami sandwiches in Guadeloupe did just the trick. For each trip, this easily took off about $200–300 in food costs, and it made me that much more selective and reserved with my choice of fancy restaurant for dine in meals.
5) Get Outside the Cities
(Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Ireland, Mallorca)
If you’re visiting one city or only very specific locations for a short period of time, then stick with learning the cities. However, if you’re there for a week or two, it can be a hugely satisfying experience to rent a car and drive to outer areas. Driving around dramatic Ireland and rolling through the hills of Guadeloupe is absolutely a more unique travel experience (better, to say the least) than staying in Dublin or Point-a-Pitre. My most memorable experiences usually come from exploration . If you’ve got the time, and plan on getting out, be sure to rent a car early to save money, and plan out your days with a car strategically.
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