Nomad Series - 12 months out of a suitcase - Tips for Points and Miles Globetrotters

There is no way to use points on this island!

While it’s cute that Lucky is living a full year in hotels, some of us don’t have the cash flow to be paying nightly rates and it still hurts to burn 40,000 star points for 5 nights at a Category 4 Sheraton, even if you’re a savvy points and miles traveler and you recognize the value in that perk.

I’m of the philosophy that this game can project the dollars you spend on travel by about an order of magnitude. This means I stay in both Park Hyatts and sleep in water villages, fly international first class and take local Thai buses/vans to the Cambodian border and over the Andes when it makes sense. I am not a backpacker. I am also not a drama queen. I like and appreciate nice things, but never expect them. I also DO spend SOME money on travel. Gasp! Insert some appropriate meme here.

Here are some tips and realizations from 12 months on the road (I left SF August 27th last year and have been living out of a 20” carry on and laptop bag since then.) particularly if you want to make your balances go further, stay fit, get good value out of your hard-earned points and have a sense of a social life.

I’m breaking this up into parts for your sanity :)

Part 1 - Before you Go

Book with the hotel or airline directly if it’s within a few dollars of an OTA

Guess what happens if they can’t find enough volunteers!

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) can dramatically help with searching and finding the right flight or accommodations, but since they get a commission and are a more expensive sales channel, travel providers are loathe to use them. They make travel providers less money than direct bookings.

That means your Orbitz booking is at the top of the list when the hotel needs to walk people or needs to fill that crappy awkward room by the elevator. Similarly, flight changes are doubly difficult because you have to wrangle with the OTA, who has to wrangle with the airline and back. And the last flight out leaves in 25 minutes…

When at all possible (and particularly when it’s cheaper), book with the travel provider directly (,, to make sure benefits are recognized, reservations aren’t lost and you are accommodated in the event of things going sideways. On several occasions, I’ve stood next to people being told that they being walked while I’m checked into an executive suite.

You’re also first in line to be involuntarily denied boarding if your flight is oversold, because you are literally worth less to the airline. You practically told them you aren’t a loyal customer and will sleep around with whichever travel provider is cheapest. Still worth saving that $5?

Discount airlines, local options vs. burning points

Don’t get too caught up in burning points and miles if the local rates are reasonable. This scooter cost me $6/day and was way more fun than renting from Hertz

Points are an excellent option when you need to project the travel dollars you were going to spend, and absolutely phenomenal for long-haul air travel and when you have multiple people to house or need to recover from a grueling journey.

But it rarely makes sense to burn 25,000 miles to go to the next major city only 200 miles away. In many parts of the world, trains and buses (or even ridesharing services) are just as comfortable and considerably cheaper (from a points perspective - they do cost money, but don’t waste points) than flying. As much is talked about Avios in Europe or South America and sweet spots on award charts for travel within Southeast Asia, flying Air Asia, Easyjet or taking the train or BlaBlaCar can just make more sense from a financial and sanity perspective. Zipcar, Car2Go and DriveNow may be more fiscally savvy than Hertz, Sixt or Enterprise.

A local bungalow for $30/night may trump the W Retreat for 20,000 star points. Dead serious about this, there are some sick guesthouses that blow luxury resorts out of the water in value.

Avoid early morning flights and the last flight out

There is a reason why those 5am flights are cheaper. No one wants to take them! I’ve met many travelers that have to cut a night out short, figure out a wonky place to store their luggage or just stay up and be a zombie because they booked a flight at an absurdly inconvenient time. Remember that public transit isn’t generally open, so the money you saved by booking that red eye or early morning flight is just going to go into the pocket of a cab driver. Also, the lounge is probably not open.

Last flights out are similarly problematic. Again, transit might not be open or as frequent and you risk the very real possibility that the plane you were supposed to take is caught up somewhere in a previous city. Oh and it’s a weather delay, so wait in line, grab your distressed traveler voucher and schlep the 45 minutes each way on the shuttle to your off-brand hotel. And be ready for a 6am departure in 3 hours. Connecting flights? Totally screwed. Here’s to at least an hour on the phone sorting it out, ending up on worse aircraft products than you meticulously chose.

I generally find the optimal time for flights to be 11am-6pm, so you have time to leisurely get to the airport, enjoy a drink or two at the lounge and board with enough comfort knowing that you’ll have options even in the face of delays and cancellations.

Pack so you don’t check luggage

Even if you’re hitting multiple destinations or really just going for a week, there is little reason not to pack light. Girls can wear jeans, shorts and t-shirts too. We’re not out to win any fashion awards, it’s a matter of staying warm or cool and easily being able to do laundry. A great test before you leave is to run up your stairs at home carrying everything you’ll be taking on the trip. Three times. If you can do that without feeling like you’re going to die, you’ve done it right.

For trips over a week, plan on doing laundry. Most parts of the world have readily accessible laundromats and a surprisingly number of places can do wash and fold by the kilo. The turnaround is one day and a typical suitcase will cost less than $10. A godsend when things start getting stinky. Don’t bother with drainstoppers, sink detergents and stringing up your room with yards of clothesline. Outsource it.

The money and sanity you’ll save in checked bags fees and lost luggage is just the tip of the iceberg. You are also super-flexible when flights go sideways. Need me on a flight that departs in 10 minutes from the other side of the airport? No problem! Misconnect in Podunk? Guess who gets their hotel voucher first because he’s not at the baggage carousel.

Four-Wheeled Suitcase vs. Backpack

These babies glide across the terminal

I’ve gotten so many lecturers from backpackers about the virtues of a 50 liter backpack from REI. That’s great, it works for some people. I’m a suitcase guy.

Why? 99% of the places I go are flat and paved. I’m not camping in a jungle, I’m navigating a Seoul subway station or Atlanta’s airport. I also like to keep things organized, clean clothes from the dirty and generally don’t like making my bag explode every time I need to find a charger in it. Looking at you Hostel Harry!

Airlines are also far less likely to bat an eye on weight and size restrictions if you just have a roll aboard and they are generally better designed for overhead space, so there’s less competition. It’s the same “shape” as the sizer…

Are you a business traveler? Maybe…

Do you look less like a hobo when you slide into your suite on an SQ or EK A380? Absolutely.

I also feel far less ridiculous asking for a suite upgrade at a St. Regis or chilling in the Lufthansa FCT when I roll up toting Victorinox.

It’s also a matter of saving my back. After years of carrying a heavy laptop bag, my shoulders are tender and I’m only in my 20’s. If I push/glide a 4-wheeler carry-on around, I’ll only have maybe a slightly sore wrist (haha, yes make your jokes). I also like that it take me 5 seconds to gather my stuff than the 40-60 seconds it takes to clip everything onto a backpack. Using 5 carabiners makes it “one” bag, right?

I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but unless you’re planning on hiking, climbing a ton of stairs, camping or traveling on particularly draconian discount carriers, consider whether a suitcase or backpack is better for this particular trip.

15 Responses to “Nomad Series - 12 months out of a suitcase - Tips for Points and Miles Globetrotters”

  1. How do you find your local laundry service? Google maps? Search app? Thanks!

    • Just keep your eyes open when you are coming and going. When I lived in Asia we travelled to Bali and my Mom came along for a visit. I told her I was going to “do laundry” and gathered up the family’s clothes. She thought I was going to go downstairs at the Sheraton and look for a washing machine. No, I walked out to the road in front of the hotel, walked a few doors down and left it with a nice young lady. It was beautifully washed and pressed that evening for a few bucks. Also, went once to a laundromat in Munich and it was rather hilarious watching one man do his laundry. It was a fun people watching experience.

  2. Wow. You sound ridiculous. You getting any?

  3. I took a backpack through Europe for a month and didn’t care for it at all. I was already hot, and now I had an extra 30-40 lbs on my back. Being able to drag a bag behind me would have been much better.

    I can see a backpack if you need lots of stuff or are going to more rural areas. But these days I prefer to pack light and wash clothes along the way so I can use a reasonably-sized suitcase, which works just fine to reach city centers.

  4. Great tips - I haven’t checked a bag in probably 15 years. I typically have the hotel do the laundry when I travel, but most hotels can recommend local laundry places, some of which will deliver back to the hotel when they are done. Last time I stayed in a Renaissance Marriott in SE Asia, the hotel even discounted a couple items of laundry per day because I was a Marriott Rewards member.

    • I’ve done laundry through a hotel in a pinch (i.e. interview the next day), but it’s typically absurdly expensive no? Like $2-5 per article? Cool that they give you a discount, did it also earn points?

  5. I have a roller bag, nothing fancy (doesn’t rotate in circles). Never check. I also have a backpack that fits under the seat with everything I need to keep me busy on a flight, including my knitting (after all, I’m over 70). It’s much easier to heft the backpack and just deal with the carryon rolling behind me.

  6. You are a terrible writer.

  7. You can go to a TJ Maxx or Marshalls and get a 20″ Samsonite spinner for $60 or less. I favor the hard sided ones: if they get gate checked, things inside are less likely to break or get soaked if some other passenger’s wine bottle breaks.


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