This is the first guest blog on UponArriving. It’s written by Daniel Kao, the creator of Dan’s Travel Guide, who also writes about how to travel without breaking the bank. This article is about a round the world trip he took in business class, consisting of 12 flights and 12 bucket-list worthy countries.
At the beginning of 2017, I traveled around the world. I visited 12 countries on my bucket-list. And met countless amazing people.
I experienced Business Class seats on 12 flights, enjoyed over twenty lounges at various airports, and got to see cultures I have never seen.
I tasted food that I have never tried and I got to experience something I’ll never forget.
A lot of people who travel the world do it for an extended time. Many even leave behind or drastically change their careers, lifestyle, and home.
Hats off to those who can take such a big leap of adventure!
But if you’re like me, such a big change was just not realistic.
So I decided to take my own leap of adventure…and travel around the world without changing my life, using much of my savings, or quitting my job.
And I had an unforgettable experience.
Flights: Round the world flight on Business Class
For flights, I booked a Round the World (RTW) ticket on Star Alliance using points.
I used 240,000 American Express points transferred to Singapore Air for the RTW ticket on Business class.
The Round the World ticket allows up to 15 destinations on 28 of their airlines partners as long as you follow their round the world guidelines.
A couple of the main guidelines are:
- The journey has to start and end in the same country (though it does not have to be the same city).
- The journey needs to follow one global direction (East or West) and cross the Atlantic and Pacific only once.
- Have a minimum of 3 stopovers and maximum of 15 stopovers. A stopover is a stay of at least 24 hours.
- The journey cannot exceed 29,000-39,000 total flown mileage (depending on the ticket and class)
- You’re allowed 1 pc of baggage up to 20kg for economy RTW tickets and 2 pcs of baggage up to 30kg for business class and up to 40kg for first class.
In other words, the RTW ticket with Star Alliance opened the door to let me travel most anywhere I wanted to go!
But how did I accumulate 240,000 points in the first place? I really didn’t change much of my lifestyle or spending. And I accumulated those points in about a little over 1 year.
I signed up for three credit cards that gave me generous bonuses:
- Chase Business Preferred Card – 80,000 bonus
- Chase Sapphire Reserve Card – 100,000 bonus
- AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card – 50,000 points
(each card also gave me not only points but 2X or 3X points on certain categories such as gas, travel, restaurants).
I did have to plan my spending a bit more carefully to meet the minimum requirements.
So I would consolidate my bills onto one card in order to make sure I got the bonus. However, on most of the cards I only had to spend a little over $1000 each month to cover the minimum (most minimums are about $3,000-$4,000).
I chose Singapore Air because they had one of the best redemption rates for business class and their customer service was impeccable!
After only about a year, I had the amount of points I needed from the bonuses I got on three credit cards.
For cheap accommodations, I stayed with family and friends around the globe. It gave me a chance to reconnect with a lot of people!
In places I didn’t know anyone, I stayed in hotels and hostels.
In Asia, I stayed in several 4 star hotels for around $30-40 USD/night.
A few notable hotels I stayed at Asia –
Hotel Cosmo Kuala Lumpur: Beautiful, newly renovated hotel. It was extremely clean, new, and very spacious. There was complimentary breakfast and was located very close to a lot of great attractions. I was even able to walk to the KL towers from the hotel!
Posh Hotel in Old Quarter, Hanoi: What I loved about this $30 hotel in Hanoi was it was simple but very clean. The complimentary breakfast was excellent and always had a fresh assortment of fruit, local snacks, and a hot cooked-to-order entree. Service is also what you can expect from any high-end hotel. They had excellent concierge service, super cheap dry cleaning, and reliable hotel transport for inexpensive.
In Europe, I stayed in hostels for about the same price.
On a few occasions, I didn’t mind just staying in the lounge and airport at night. In Singapore, London, and Israel, I showered, ate, and slept at the airport the night before my flight.
In Singapore, I slept at the 24-hour lounge on one of the couches in the back. Sleeping there was popular enough that the lounge even provided free blankets!
In London & Israel, I had to be more creative. I’m not as fond as sleeping on the floor so I found a quiet place, pushed a few seats together, and slept on that.
Most airports don’t mind sleeping travelers. In fact, sleeping in airports has become some popular, there’s an in-depth guide (including tips from other travelers) on how to sleep in airports around the world.
Admittedly, it wasn’t the most comfortable staying at an airport but it was actually kind of fun! You don’t end up sleeping much but it feels like an overnight lock-in adventure.
If I could have done it any differently, I would have spent more time accumulating hotel points (on SPG, Hilton, Marriott, etc.).
All my other expenses consisted of food, basic necessities, some local transportation, and entertainment (which included admissions to museums, experiences, etc.).
Since a lot of my travels were in Asia, all of those expenses were very low. Typical meals averaged around $3. Transportation was a few dollars here and there. And experiences were very cheap also!
For example, I went on a day tour to the UNESCO heritage site Halong Bay in Hanoi for about $40 and went to the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur for about $5.
When I got to Europe, everything was a bit more expensive but I still save a lot of money by getting groceries instead of eating out.
I also rarely took transportation unless I really needed to. I chose to walk as much as I could because it gave me a chance to see more of where I was visiting.
Quite honestly though, I tried to save where I could but I really didn’t sweat the details. I wasn’t particularly trying to stretch every dollar since it felt more like a vacation.
At the end of the trip, I spent about $3,000 + 240,000 points for the entire one month trip around the world.
This included the airline fees & taxes you’ll need to pay for your round-the-world ticket.
Here are some (brief) highlights from the trip…
I flew on 12 business class flights and ate at 20 airline lounges around the world!
At my first stop, I spent almost a week along the beautiful shores of Northern Taipei in Taiwan.
I visited Hanoi, Vietnam – home of the UNESCO world heritage site – Halong Bay.
From there, I stopped by Bangkok, Thailand for coconuts and some incredible food.
I toured the beautiful and culturally rich Singapore. The food was quite amazing as well…
From there, I started my journey around Europe. But first, I went to the finest lounge I’ve ever seen in Istanbul, Turkey.
The lounge in Istanbul Turkey is massive. There’s two stories and each story is like a mall! There were at least 4-5 buffet areas filled with hot foods, snacks, local delights, and drinks.
There was a remote car race track for travelers to kill some time racing cars. There was a virtual practice golf swing area. A spacious movie theater with popcorn was available. And then all the best amenities: clean showers, luggage storage lockers, couches, workspaces, etc.
I experienced the incredibly rich history and beautiful architecture in Rome.
And met awesome entrepreneurs who brought me into the largest home & decor show in the world in Frankfurt, Germany.
I took a quick detour and toured the beautiful and historically-rich Tel Aviv, Israel.
Before heading back to Europe to travel the U.K. I went around London on a double decker bus and had the best scones.
And visited the British Islands to see the beautiful island shores of Guernsey while visiting family…
I explored Toronto, Canada and visited a few more lounges.
Before finally taking my last flight back home to Dallas.
I traveled to my heart’s content and saw the world in an unforgettable experience.
There were many stories I didn’t include in here and so many incredible people I met I did not mention.
Indeed, traveling opens your horizons to a whole new world outside of your own. And the world really is far more different than I could have ever imagined.
The best part was getting to experience all of this without having to drastically change my lifestyle at home.
Why? Because having traveled for about 6 years for work, one thing I’ve realized about travel is — as far as you can go, as much as you get to experience, as different as you see how the world is — one thing that still remains constant across every culture and place is having somewhere you can call home.
For some home can be wherever life takes them, but for me, home is here in Dallas, TX.
I hope you travel more for less. But always have a place you can come home.