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In this episode, Chelsea talks to Julia Menez of Geobreeze Travel about getting back to travel post-COVID, how to start travel hacking, and the most BS money-saving travel advice on the internet.

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Financial Confessions.

It is me, your host, co-founder, and CEO of The Financial Diet, Chelsea Fagan-- also, someone who just loves talking about money. And today, I'm bringing on a guest who is hotly requested from you guys in terms of topic.

It's something that we have not yet covered on TFC. But it is something that I know that most people who are interested in personal finance to one extent or the other are also interested in learning more about. We are coming off of a year of basically very little-to-no travel-- all the less so via air travel.

And a lot of people are looking at their 2021s is a time to get back into traveling and possibly, if they were lucky enough to keep their primary income source, spend some of that money they were able to save from not really being able to do much through 2020. But a lot of people who are budget conscious like myself or basically, anyone else who's going to be watching TFD, want to know how we can do it in the most cost-effective way. Now, that doesn't always mean necessarily going with the cheapest option.

But it does mean learning a lot about the ins and outs of the travel industry so that you can make the best decisions and make your finances work for you. For example, myself, I fly quite a lot. And I like to fly Delta because they also partner with Air France where I'm going back and forth a lot.

So I have optimized all of my business and personal credit cards to be Delta aligned and reap the rewards of the money I was already spending. But the world of travel hacking goes well beyond just getting an airline credit card. And you guys asked us tons of questions for our guest who I'll be getting to momentarily.

But so you guys know, we're actually this episode going to do all audience questions. Because you guys had so many better than even I could come up with. While we may not be able to get to all of them.

We will be able to get to a lot. I'm particularly excited to welcome our guests who not only represents the travel-hacking community in a way that I find very unique and interesting and enjoyable to follow and listen to. But she also speaks primarily to groups who are typically left out of the travel-hacking conversation.

Anyone who's ever googled questions about travel hacking has probably seen that the space is overwhelmingly white and male and tends to focus on those travel interests. I'd like to move well beyond that and learn a lot about the ins and outs of travel hacking from all different points of view. So without further ado, I'm very excited to welcome my guest of Geobreeze Travel, Julia Menez.

Hi, Chelsea, how are you today? I am very good. How are you?

I'm so excited to be here. Thank you for having me on the show today. Thank you for coming.

So part of the reason I wanted to reach out to you, in addition to the fact that I love that you're speaking about travel hacking from a different perspective is that you have traveled a truly incredible amount yourself. And so I'd love to start off by getting a little bit of your travel story-- where you've been and how you got into travel hacking. Sure, so the first time I was ever on an international flight, I was six years old.

And we went back home to the Philippines. I grew up in Blue Springs Missouri. And then we took a flight halfway around the world at six years old.

And at that point, all airplanes-- even if you're in the most basic economy-- you feel huge and magical. And I wanted to do that over and over again. But my family didn't have really the money to do international trips each year.

So we took an international trip to the Philippines Navy every eight years. And that was our vacation whenever I was growing up. And then when I was in college, an opportunity came about to study abroad in China.

And I jumped all over this. Because it was covered by scholarships as well, which was incredible. So then I was able to study abroad.

I took an international business course. It was a summer course for about six weeks all throughout China-- Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai. We went all the way to Tibet.

We took a 50-hour train ride from Tibet back to Beijing. There was not a real toilet on the train. It was a hole in the ground.

And you could see the train tracks passing through. So that was an interesting travel experience. And then from there, I started full-time in my now day job as an actuary.

And the entire time, I kept asking our program director who assigns people to their different roles every couple of years, hey, can I go into the international team? Can I go into the global team? Because I really love to have work pay for me to travel the world.

And it became harder and harder. The roles were very competitive. You had to relocate to Delaware first, which I didn't understand, and I didn't want to do.

And so eventually, I was thinking, is there a way that I can travel for free without having to depend on my job to pay for me? And had that in the back of my mind of that would be nice if there was a way I can travel for free. Well, one day my husband came home from work, and he said, hey, somebody at work mentioned all of these fire blogs.

And I think you might find them really interesting. So he gave me a couple to read and did not realize how deep into fire and personal finance that I would get. Because I binge read Mr Money Mustache, and Afford Anything, and Go, Curry Cracker, Millennial Revolution-- all of these for weeks at a time.

And eventually, the topic of travel hacking came up where people were doing geo-arbitrage and able to travel the world for free just on credit card points. And my first reaction to this was, this is probably a scam, which is really everybody's first reaction to the thought of travel hacking and opening dozens of credit cards. And then you should be able to travel for free just off of the points.

Everybody thinks it's a scam. I thought it was a scam. And my husband definitely thought it was a scam.

So we said, OK, let's just do a lot of research and do one or two cards first-- slowly dip our toe in-- see if anything bad happens to our credit score. So we opened our first couple of cards. I think it was a Chase Sapphire Preferred was my first one.

And then we got one with SPG Hotels, which has since merged with Marriott and said OK, cool. We've met sign-up bonus. We have these points.

We'll use them eventually. And we were about to go on our trip to Morocco at the time. So then 20 hours before our flight, our tour guide had to cancel our entire booking.

And I was panicking, because we had no hotel, no excursions, no transportation, or anything. But we had a credit card points. So then I called American Express and said, hey, we have these points.

I heard I can get free hotels. What can I do with these? And they said, yeah, you have enough for, I think, it was three nights at the Sheraton Casablanca.

Here, we've made a confirmation for you. Just present this to the hotel desk when you land. And the entire time, we're thinking, this isn't going to work.

Something bad's going to happen. But then we got there, and they said, yep, you have a free room. We've actually upgraded you because you have status with this hotel.

You have free breakfast, free cocktail hour. And they were so nice to us. And from there, we were very much hooked to the life of getting free travel.

And then I started doing so much more research into all of the different credit cards into what has now eventually snowballed into Geobreeze Travel. That's amazing. And I think I read, 30 countries.

Is that correct? Yes, more than 30 countries at this point that we've traveled to pre-pandemic. And hopefully, one of these days, we will able to get back into traveling all over the world.

That is mind boggling. That is mind boggling. So as someone who started getting into this by reading a lot of those fire and travel hacking, as I mentioned at my intro, one of the things that-- because we wanted to get a travel hacker onto the show.

But it can be a very homogeneous community. And it can also be a community that I think doesn't actually speak very well to people who are living on a budget. It actually speaks much more to people who have a ton of money to spend on credit cards and are optimizing that.

So I have a two-part question. One, why do you think the world of travel hacking is often so homogeneous? And B, why do you think that it often doesn't speak to people at different budget ranges?

Sure, so way back in the beginning, the people who were able to take advantage of these different frequent flyer programs-- these different credit card programs. They were often white males-- white men who could travel a lot for consulting-- people who were in investment banking. And there's often that you're in the wake of homogeneous demographics in so many different industries.

And when you don't have a diverse or inclusive representation in banking or consulting or anything else, the people who you have in those industries who get to take advantage of that lifestyle or the people who are going to write about that lifestyle-- and it's going to attract more of that demographic into that lifestyle where you have to see yourself represented to believe that you can do this too. And so if you have a whole bunch of tall, white men who are always on these planes and always on Reddit or FlyerTalk or any of the forums, we're saying, oh, well, here's my experience. And you never see any other experience represented.

It can give off the impression of, oh, this isn't for me. I already thought this was scammy. And it may be for people like me, there's obviously a huge distrust of banks and credit card companies, lending companies, other financial institutions, when it comes to immigrant communities, women, people of color.

There's that financial distrust. And when you don't see anybody from your own community represented in these circles, it really does give off the impression of this is not for me. And as far as why they don't try to speak to these communities, part of it might be money where a lot of the bloggers will make their money off of credit card affiliate sign-ups where they'll say, please use my link.

Here's our best recommended credit cards. And every time somebody signs up using their link, they get some commission for that. Well, it's a lot easier to make money off of that model if you are pandering or catering to people who you know are going to get approved.

So people who are already wealthy and well-off and in the tech industry or the consulting industry, financial services industry-- so it's this closed loop of go where the money resides. And they were like, maybe there's not a lot of money to be made off of catering to women who want to do this or minorities who want to do this. Even though there very much is.

Yeah, I will say, I am someone who travels a lot. And I love watching my guilty pleasure. As I love watching videos of people reviewing flights.

I love doing it. And we really could use some women in that community. There's one or two women in that community.

But I'm so tired of watching 45-year-old men in a polo shirt tell me about their experience and the new Delta 1 suites. I can't relate to you. You're not enjoying any of this the way you should be.

I want to hear about what is the vanity mirror like? What are the bathroom amenities like? Anyway, so as promised, you guys sent tons of questions.

So we're going to dive right into them. And we're going to try and answer as broad a range as possible. So we got to start with the obvious one.

What credit cards do you recommend? So this one, it completely depends on what your travel hacking goals are. There is something called Shiny Card Syndrome, where people will get all the mailers.

And then they'll say, I want to get an MX Platinum. And I want to get a Chase Sapphire Reserve. And I want to get a Hilton card.

And then suddenly, people end up with 20 different pockets of points that don't pool together for any of the cool prizes. And then you don't know what to do with all of those points. So what you want to do before you start willy nilly applying for credit cards, work backwards and ask yourself what trip do you want to get for free?

Get really specific. If you want to go to New York, say, I want to stay in Manhattan in Times Square. Here are the airlines that go from my home airport to the airport in New York City.

And here's the hotel that I want to stay at. How many points is it going to take for you to get that free flight and for you to get that hotel? What kind of points do you need?

Do you need United points? Do you need Delta points? Do you need Hilton points or Hyatt points?

And then work backwards from there. And say which credit cards have points that will actually transfer to that program. Because if you're trying to plan a trip to Paris, and then you say, oh, there's this awesome Southwest card that just came out.

It has a really good promo. I'm going to use that. You can't transfer Southwest points to any airline that flies to Paris.

So before you start jumping on all of the different credit cards, do your research and work backwards from there. That being said, some of the most popular cards to start with are within the Chase family. Chase Sapphire preferred is really popular.

And then, I think because of the rule called 5-over-24, where if you've opened five or more cards in the last 24 months, Chase will just reject your application. So people normally will start with Chase before going to Amex. Because American Express and Citi and all of those don't really care if you've opened five or more cards.

So you can go Chase first then American Express. But you can't go the other way around-- open five American Express cards and then go to Chase. So that's how people tend to structure it.

But the most important thing, really, is to have a strategy and work backwards rather than getting Shiny Card Syndrome. Hot tip, indeed. So this person is asking a question that I actually am wondering if it's true too.

Is it true that flights are generally cheaper if you buy them on Tuesdays, i.e., is booking flights on certain days of the week a real hack? That is an absolute fake hack. What?

And anybody who says, oh, this is a real travel hack. You should book on Tuesdays. You should un-follow that person on Instagram.

They have no idea what they're talking about. And it's completely the luck of the draw. The airlines don't upload their flights on Tuesdays or anything like that.

That's not a real travel hack. That's like saying your car insurance goes up if you have a red car. That's also a myth and not at all true.

Damn, wow, well, I have already gotten my money's worth on this episode. Because I always thought Tuesdays were the cheapest days. OK, what is the peak time for buying a flight ticket and reserving a hotel room before a trip, i.e., how long before your trip should you be making those purchases?

So the nice thing about points and miles is, a lot of the times, depending on which airline you're flying, it could be distance based. So let's say it's going to take you 40,000 points no matter how far or how close you're going to the actual date-- same with hotels. If you're going to be staying during peak season, it's probably going to cost you, let's say, 10,000 points per night no matter if you book it the week before or months out before.

So that's something that's nice. It doesn't really matter how far ahead you are-- your booking. Because I know the answer they're probably looking for is, oh, there's this peak time of exactly six weeks before the flight that you should book.

And that's when you should go. People who say those things as travel hacks are also completely making it up. There's no peak time that happens six weeks ahead of time or so, especially if you're doing this on points.

If you really want cheap flights the cash way, sign up for flight alerts. You can either set them up yourself on Google Flight, you can sign up for something like Scott's Cheap Flight Alerts or Thrifty Traveler. There's a lot of mailing lists where you tell them, hey, alert me whenever there's a cheap flight to Japan, or something like that.

So that's how you can find cheap flights. It's not going to be a specific amount of time before your destination. It's more so, you need to be watching out for whenever a sale happens if you want to be doing cheap cash fares.

That's a hot tip. Also, I will say, now, I'm almost afraid to give my tip in front of the master here. But I'm going to take the risk and you'll correct me.

But right now, especially because I've had to fly internationally quite a lot this past year because my husband had to leave the country for immigration reasons. So we've had to go back and forth to be able to see each other. Those flights are almost entirely empty.

Because only family can go right now. So no one's going for leisure. The whole country's shut down.

Anyway, so every time I go, I go up to the counter when I check in. And I'm like, how much is it for an upgrade to first class? And international first class if you actually pay for a ticket beforehand is four grand.

Last time when I flew back, I got it after I checked in. And I paid for this entirely with credits I had on my account-- $280 to upgrade. And if a flight is not full-- because I've done this pre-pandemic.

If a flight is not full. And you're past like check in time, go to the counter. Go to the gate.

Because they're trying to get those little up-cells at the last minute while they still can. So worth asking. Yeah, it is always worth asking, especially with hotels too.

If you want an upgrade, it helps to have status with hotels. I also recommend people write to the hotel ahead of time to say, I'm on my honeymoon. Can I get an upgrade or something?

Give them time to prepare for you. Write to them a week or so before you're getting to the hotel. Don't drop that on them.

Once you're at the counter, say, surprise, we're on our honeymoon. Can you upgrade us? And they're like, oh, we already prepared your regular room.

So another tip is let people know ahead of time. That's a hot tip. Looking for an upgrade.

Also, worst case, if you them you're on your honeymoon and they don't give you the room, at least they'll probably put a bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates and stuff in your room. Can ever go wrong. How should I plan my financials out for two months of traveling abroad?

So it completely depends on your situation. If you want to sublet your apartment or something like that, are you still going to be paying rent as you're doing two months abroad? So that's one consideration to take into account.

What style of travel you're going to have when you're going abroad-- are you going to be doing this all in points and miles? In which case, you should have a strategy going in beforehand of how many points you're going to need and how you're going to get those points. Are you going to be staying in hostels and paying it all with cash before you go abroad?

So lots of different approaches that you can take before going abroad for two months. And it's all about formulating a strategy. We have so many different people on the podcast who talk about different strategies that they've had for traveling abroad.

There's a hack called the ANA Around the World Trip. You can get eight flights in business class for about 125,000 points, which is one or two credit card setups and then stop in eight cities around the world if you wanted to do that for two months. And there's are also a lot of people who talk about ways to stay in hostels or do cheap travel or stay in really, really inexpensive Hyatt Houses or something like that all around the world.

So it depends on what style you're looking for. I have a hot tip. I'm packing right now for six weeks away.

And I'm doing it in a carry-on in a duffel bag. I also have a dog. So it's like we're a bit of a Motley Crew.

But let me tell you one thing that I did not used to do before I would go away for long periods of time. And now I'm religious about is factor laundry into your trip. Because the difference between packing for six weeks or two months with and without frequent access to laundry is like night and day.

And you might think, oh, I'll wash my stuff in the sink and let it hang. No, you will not. It will be such a nightmare to do that.

At minimum, if you're not going to be-- I would say, try to factor in at least one place where you have access to on-site laundry like a washing machine in an Airbnb or like a hotel that will do your laundry. But at minimum, plan out-- am I near a laundromat? Can I block off a day to do my laundry?

Factor in laundry. Absolutely, and also a hot tip with laundry-- if you are washing stuff in the sink, lace dries a lot faster. Also bring one of these hair clippies.

Because then you can string underwear and bras and stuff and then hang it in the closet. And then you don't have to take up all the hangers. This will hold 10 pieces of underwear.

These hot tips are flying fast and loose. For those of you listening, she held up a butterfly hair clip. So OK, ooh, and I really want to know this one.

Because this is one of my favorite subjects. What are your tips for packing lighter, especially if you don't want to check a bag? So first of all, with checking a bag, a lot of the credit cards let you do that for free.

But if you absolutely don't want to do that like you mentioned, going somewhere that has access to laundry so you only have to pack a few clothes. And then you can wash them over and over again is really great. Avoiding liquids-- so if you can get a shampoo bar, a conditioner bar-- a soap bar instead of all of the different heavy liquids.

Because liquids are so heavy. Pack your own water bottle and then fill it up at the airport. Don't be bringing a whole bunch of liquids onto your flight.

That's going to save you a lot of weight. I totally agree. I would also say, I'm not normally one for this in real life.

But the capsule wardrobe method is truly when you're packing-- it is indispensable. Actually, I said I was going to only ask audience questions. But I do have a question for you now that you said this.

Where do you stand on building up status with one airline versus always optimizing for the cheapest flight? I would recommend if you're going the points and miles route, optimize for one program first. So maybe that program is Chase before expanding to American Express.

Because if you're always chasing the cheapest deal, you're spreading yourself really thin. And then you also can't focus as much on the good hacks to get business class flights, first class-- getting really, really good redemption's if you're trying to pay attention to every program at the same time. So it's really important to stay focused and say what is the trip that you're trying to hack and working backwards from there.

I would recommend focusing on one program-- first learning the ins and outs and sweet spots of that program instead of spreading yourself too thin. And what about individual airlines? So the nice thing about the Chase program is it transfers to a lot of airlines.

So if you're focusing just on the chase program, you can transfer that to United. You can transfer it to Southwest. You can transfer it to JetBlue or a lot of other ones.

And then if you are just focusing on American Express, you have a lot of other airlines you can transfer to. One of my favorites is A&A Airways for Japan or around the world trips or anything else like that. So focusing on a points currency that also has transferable partners gives you the best of both worlds where you don't have to learn 15 different programs at once.

But also, you still have options in case you want to do some domestic on Southwest with some international using Iberia or United or British Airways or something else like that. Love that. You know, I'm going to have to shout out my beloved sky team Delta Air France Air Korea.

I have some serious loyalty. Listen, every loyalty program is different. But I have to say, the Sky Team one is pretty good.

Also, you should look at what airlines the airlines partner with. Because that's, I feel, just as important as the airline itself. Who do they partner with?

Yes, airline alliances are so important. So there's this trick with Chase Ultimate Rewards whenever people want to go to Hawaii, they're like, oh, I'll pay through the portal. Don't do that.

Also, then we're like, oh, well, United flies there. I should transfer my points to United. But what you can do instead-- if you were to transfer your points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Program, you can fly on the exact same United flight for fewer points.

Because Hawaii is one of the sweet spots on their routes. So learning which airlines are in alliances with other airlines. And what those sweet spots are will save you a ton of money.

Wow, my mind is being blown every 30 seconds here. When it comes to booking travel and accommodations, the flight experience, the hotel experience, all that-- what should you splurge on versus what should you be more cheap about? Oh, this completely depends on the person.

So for me, I don't like to splurge on flights. I like to go for the hotels. Because I'll be sleeping in the hotel.

I'll spend more hours in the hotel versus the flight. But also, I am 5'1". So I can cram myself into an economy minus, minus seat and be perfectly comfortable.

A lot of my travel-hacking friends are guys who are 6'3". And they're like, there is no way I can get from the United States to Europe and not die in economy. I have to strategize how to get business class seats at least.

And they're like, whatever, a hotel room's a hotel room. I'm not going to be in my hotel room anyway. I'll just be walking around the city.

So it completely depends on what your personal style and preference is and then figuring out a strategy that gets you what's important to you. It's the same question of, what's the most important thing to spend your money on? It depends on your personal values and priorities.

I agree. Spiritually, I'm your 6'3" friend. Because I want to be able to sleep on a plane.

What is so important to me having to go back and forth to Europe a lot is frickin' jet lag. And if I don't sleep on the plane, I'm going to lose several days of sleeping badly, whereas in a hotel, it's like I'm with them. I'm like what do I care?

I'm not even going to be here anyway. And a hotel is a hotel. Although, a hilariously fun anecdote-- my husband who is-- survey says, 6'4"-- if anyone doesn't remember that from the many episodes I've mentioned it.

He could not care less. We have been on many flights in our day where I've upgraded myself. And he doesn't care.

He's in economy watching into the Spider verse for the 57th time crunched up. Goes to show. When traveling abroad, this is a good question.

And actually, I love to add a little bit of a gender element to it. So when traveling abroad, how do you go about researching societal norms and customs and especially when traveling as a young woman? How do you do things like mitigate safety?

Yeah, so it's important to research before you go anywhere. I'm very lucky that I almost never do solo travel. I'm always with my husband.

So that helps me personally. It also really helps to get to know some people in a country if possible before you go. So there's lots of different Facebook groups where you can ask, hey, is there a local person who can give me some tips or tricks or maybe play tour guide for a day?

I'm a chapter director for the New York chapter of Wonderful where they have women all over the world who are happy to play tour guide, show you their favorite place to eat, give you local travel tips. So just finding an organization like that or a community of women really helps to help you feel more safe and also have a friend wherever you are traveling. That's great, and in terms of societal norms and customs, where are good places that you know of to research that?

So I start with Google. But if you can find somebody who's actually there on the ground who can tell you the experiences, that maybe Wikipedia is not going to know, or again, a lot of these different websites are written by some probably white male who's like, oh, I traveled to the Middle East. It was fine.

They didn't make me wear a headscarf. I'm like, well, you're a dude. So yeah, it was probably fine for you.

So if you can find somebody who's actually local, message them on Instagram, find a Facebook group, find a community like Wonderful where you can ask these questions. That's where you're going to get a lot more of that societal norm thing. Also, another trick that we've used if we are looking for Airbnbs-- trying to figure out what they allow and don't allow in their homes can really clue you in to some societal norms.

Sometimes, if you're staying in a Middle Eastern household, they won't allow you to bring any alcohol into the home, or perhaps, if it's a mostly vegetarian culture, and they'll say please don't bring any meat into the home. And one time, my husband and I were staying at an Airbnb in Morocco. And one of the rules they had in their description was if you're staying in the same bedroom, and you're an opposite-sex couple, you have to show a copy of your marriage license.

Because they didn't want non-married couples sleeping in the same room. So those types of things can really clue you in on the different societal norms that you can expect when traveling to a foreign country. Wow, yeah, and I also feel like when it comes to traveling-- and I love your recommendation of trying to find locals.

Because I mean, when you think about like using New York as an example, people who come to New York and stay in midtown and go to Times Square and do that version of New York, any New Yorker's going to be like, that's such a shame. There's so much else to do and see. And so you imagine that.

But going into whatever city, you might be going into. You don't want to get the Times Square experience of whatever city you're going to. So this person says, I am young.

And I want to travel as much as I can but consistently find travel extremely expensive. Are there any destinations that are great for young people, which can be done very cheaply-- destinations that maybe aren't highly visited, hidden gems, anywhere super cost-effective, et cetera? I think there's this thing called the English tax, where anywhere you're traveling where they speak a lot of English and it's more predominantly a white country, somewhat correlated, tends to be a little bit more expensive.

So Europe's going to be a lot more expensive than, say, Central America, which I found to be really inexpensive. But also, Belize, in Central America, speaks English and is much more expensive than its neighbor, Guatemala, where they generally speak Spanish. A lot of the same pattern you'll find in Southeast Asia, where Singapore, everybody speaks English.

It's pretty expensive. Vietnam, probably not going to have a ton of English, super cheap. So that's something that you can weigh as you're trying to find different destinations.

But it's not always the case because Malaysia is pretty affordable to travel to. And the Philippines is really affordable to travel to as well. Yeah, I would also add that I feel like it's usually a good rule when you're going to a highly touristed country to look at the second and third tier cities in terms of size and how frequently they're touristed.

Because often, in a lot of countries, the areas that are super, super frequently touristed are going to be the most expensive, the least authentic, especially in high season, they're going to be nightmares to get around. And often, you find a way better experience, way better food, and a way better cost of living in some of these cities that are amazing but just less well known. Absolutely, if you can get out of the city center, don't pay attention to those bucket list travel things of go to the Eiffel Tower, and go to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and go to Big Ben Clock in London, and all of those very postcard things.

If you can stay away from those and then instead just say, where can I get a cheese? Then you'll probably save a lot of money that way as well. I totally agree.

Hot tip on that front-- anyone going to France? Anyone going to the South of France is always going to the East South coast of France-- things like Nice, and Cannes, and Saint-Tropez, and all that stuff. Waste of money, waste of time.

No offense to anyone who likes those places. But you go to the Southwest of France, the Mediterranean is just as beautiful. I would argue the food's a lot better, way more authentic, way more affordable, and not as many tourists go there, which makes for a way better experience.

That's my recommendation. And I've experienced that in several countries. The less tourist areas are way better, in my opinion.

My favorite was Estonia. So we were on a Baltic Sea cruise, mostly because we wanted to see Russia without filling out a whole bunch of paperwork. And so travel hack-- if you want to do that, just jump on a cruise ship because to take a 10 hour tour, you don't have to fill out any paperwork when you go to Russia.

But one of the stops was Estonia. They dropped us off in Tallinn City Center. Everything was expensive.

But then they said, oh, just go to the train station-- one train station away. Or we just walked it because it was so close-- where all of the college students hang out. And everything was so cheap-- drinks, sandwiches, snacks, souvenirs.

Go where college students hang out. And just ask somebody where these different places are because we saved so much money. And it was a lot better food than what they had in the touristy area by the castles, by the cruise ship port.

If you're landing in a cruise ship port, get out of the crucial port and then go somewhere else. Can I go-- You can save money that way too. Can I take one further step and say just don't go on cruises.

That's my take for a lot of reasons, but listen, everyone's got to do what they want to do. Out of curiosity, I would be-- you don't have to answer, but I'd be curious. What is your least favorite place you've ever visited?

It's probably this one place in Virginia. I don't even remember where in Virginia, but mostly because it rained the whole time, and we were in a horrible hotel. We were like, oh, we'll just take a day trip to this Virginia beach city from Washington D.

C. And nothing happened. It was just a terrible weekend.

But as far as international trips-- I don't really know if there's a place where I went and I just thought this is an absolute waste of time. There were certain cities in China, where there was just nothing going on and just difficult to get around logistically. It wasn't interesting.

There wasn't anybody to talk to. The food wasn't good. But those aren't really the cities that I would expect anybody to end up-- who's listening to this show unless you're taking a train from Xi'an to Tibet.

So those are really the only places that I really have not enjoyed going. I mean, I'm from Maryland and I can tell you that a lot of places in Virginia have that energy. Is opening up a bajillion new credit cards for all of their promotional travel points a get rich quick scheme or does it actually work?

And then what do you do with all those open lines of credit? So you have to make sure that you approach it strategically, and do it correctly. The first rule of travel hacking is whenever you open all of these credit cards, you have to pay off the balance in full before the end of the month, every month.

Or else you're going to end up paying interest. And those interest rates are crazy high on any points and miles cards. And it's just going to completely negate the value that you're getting from these points.

So that's rule number one, always pay off your credit card in full every month. Rule number two-- do not increase your spending just to me points. Don't look at a coat and say, oh, that's a $500 coat.

I think I'll buy it just because I want 500 more points. There's always a way where you can strategically earn more points without having to completely blow your budget. So that's rule number two.

Once you have those down, then the concern is, is this going to hurt your credit score? And it's not as long as you do those two things because you're being very responsible with your payment history. And then also, as you're opening up all of these other cards, your utilization is going to go way down from your credit, which is good for your credit score because your utilization is your credit that you're using divided by the total amount of credit that's available to you.

If you have a whole bunch of credit lines open, lower utilization, higher credit score. It can be a get rich quick scheme. And then you decide you don't want to do this anymore.

And then, eventually, close down the cards. Closing down the cards will hurt your credit score because it's going to have the opposite effect where your utilization goes up because your total credit lines shrink. But most people, I found, once they've experienced getting to travel for free, they want to do it over and over again.

So from there, it's just a question of justifying the annual fee each year. There are some credit cards where you're like, oh, this card really isn't worth keeping. I don't want to pay the annual fee on it.

I'm going to close down this card. But a lot of the cards will just pay for themselves. A lot of the hotel cards you'll maybe pay $95 in an annual fee each year.

And it comes with a free hotel night. And so as long as you can find one hotel that you want to stay with in that brand and that hotel would cost at least $95, then that hotel card pays for itself. It's worth keeping from year to year.

So in that sense, it's not a get rich quick scheme. Some people definitely do try to apply for a ton of cards really quick. You're not allowed to as much these days anymore because of rules like 5 over 24.

But it is a legitimate strategy. And it can be a long-term sustainable lifestyle and long-term sustainable game to do travel hacking. If you're treating it as a get rich quick scheme, you're probably going to get in a lot of other types of trouble anyway.

Yeah, in general, let's avoid the get rich quick schemes. What part of the travel industry is the hardest part to hack? And has there been a moment where you were traveling and you've had to spend a lot more money than you expected to?

So shopping probably-- if you're going to a lot of foreign countries, I really like night markets in Asia. They're not going to take taking credit cards. You're going to be paying cash.

And so that is difficult to hack in the current sense with points and miles. So if you enjoy shopping, it's just one of those prioritization things of is it worth it to me to go on a shopping trip and not get points and miles for it. If you're shopping only to get points and miles, then just do that online.

Stack Rakuten with your point and miles. But if you like going shopping in markets for the experience of shopping in markets, then you just say, OK, I'm not going to get points and miles for this, but that's OK. I like that.

In terms of the time suck, how much time does it really take, usually, to hack a vacation compared to just booking it normally? Oh, it's going to take a lot more time to hack it than to book it normally. But I think that's also the same mindset of how long does it take to set up investment accounts, or IRAs, or understand personal finance versus not understand personal finance and throwing money at every problem that comes your way instead of learning it.

So if you find that it's worth it to save thousands of dollars a year, then I can't really say how many hours it's going to take you to learn these things. Because the more time you spend on it and the deeper you go with learning the next level hacks, the more money you will save. And some people, if they just want to stay on the very basic route and say, I'm going to open two credit cards, one for flights, one for hotels, save a couple thousand a year.

That's fine. That's a completely legitimate approach to travel hacking. If you want to be the kind of person who wants to learn all the different award charts, and sweet spots, and everything, that's also a legitimate style of travel hacking.

And you just need to know, eyes wide open, what it's going to take to learn that kind of content. It very much helps if you join a community where there are other travel hackers who will just tell you about these kinds of things. If you're trying to DIY everything, it's going to take a long time to read through all of those blogs and watch all those YouTube videos, so find the community.

Also you can hire people like me or other travel hacking coaches who will just give you the answers, depending on what exactly trip you want to hack. It's probably about as fast as using a travel agent. Just use somebody who can tell you, oh, here is the different airline rules that you want to take.

Here's how many points you're going to need. Here's the two credit cards that you're going to need in order to get enough points. Here's your strategy plan.

And it'll save you a ton of time if you wanted to just hire somebody to do it for you. Actually, I did want to get-- well, since you just brought up, we can talk about it now. I was going to ask a little later.

So you do this for people? They pay you, essentially, as a consultant to help them plan out their travel hacking. What do you charge?

So right now I charge 125 for a 12 month strategy, which comes with a free call because I always screen everybody in a free 30 minute call first. And a lot of people they decide they don't want the coaching program. That's totally fine.

I just give them the first few steps where they can travel hack it on their own. But if they decide they want some more customized help, I put together a step-by-step every month here's what cards you should open, here's the milestones that you should be reaching in order to get the trip that you want for free. And it comes with two two video calls.

One is to debrief at the beginning with the strategy. And then another one at the midway point, where I teach them how to transfer their points and what the redemption strategy is with all of the different points they've earned so that they can get the free travel. Damn-- honestly, 125 for a whole year's worth of travel hacking strategies, that probably pays for itself really, really quickly.

Oh, you can easily save 10, 20 times that. Damn-- well, we can talk about this later. I'm on a life's mission this year to reach diamond status with Delta and could use some help.

The blogs are lacking, let's just say that, in their advice. This is actually-- this isn't a question, this is a discussion prompt, which I'm also very interested in. Airbnb versus hotels-- discuss.

I prefer hotels because I'm into points and miles. Also, I used to be in this belief that Airbnbs would help stimulate the local economy and you were helping a family who just needed some extra side income by renting out a room. I used to believe that.

And then we couldn't ever find Airbnbs where there was an actual host who was home because a lot of places we were traveling, mostly-- this happened a lot in Spain. Real estate developers would just buy-out entire neighborhoods. And they would kick out people who could afford those apartments.

And then suddenly they weren't affordable anymore. And so then I started to feel bad for using Airbnbs. I'm like, well, if I stay in a hotel chain, at least I know what I'm getting.

Whereas when I was staying at Airbnbs, I felt like I was trying to trick myself. It's almost like a greenwashing effect. Where I'm like, oh, I'm helping a local economy, but really, I helped kick out a local neighborhood.

So that's why I don't like staying in Airbnbs because unless there's a host who's there. Yeah, I agree with that. I also, unless-- obviously for a longer stay, an Airbnb is usually better because you just have a kitchen, and a washing machine, and all the stuff that you need.

But for shorter stays, I really do feel like we've lost touch of why hotels are great. And it's because everything's taken care of. And you can leave your bags there whenever.

And it's just like-- I don't know. It's a nice seamless experience that I feel like-- we've taken for granted that used to be a part of travel. And now, the number of times I've arrived somewhere at 7:00 AM and had to wait somewhere for hours and hours until I could drop off my bag is too many.

Actually, though, you didn't mention the greenwashing thing. And that reminds me. So we have a question about how do you balance travel hacking with the ecological concerns of flying?

Yes, that's a really good question. So whenever it comes to ecological discussions, it's like, for me, money, where you can't do everything. And if you tried, we wouldn't be having a travel discussion because then you just wouldn't travel.

And you wouldn't eat meat. And you wouldn't do anything else. So personally, what I like to do, I like to by carbon offsets to help myself feel a little better.

And there's little things you can do like packing your own water bottle. You may not eat meat as much if you want. So it just depends on how much you are dedicated to offsetting your own footprint whenever you travel.

There's lots of different calculators that can tell you what is the carbon impact of you taking this flight. Here's how much it costs to offset it. It's a personal preference of how much you want to offset your own travel.

But I do strongly believe in making it more widely known that these resources exist. And that people should be aware of how much their travel habits are contributing to carbon footprints and everything. Because there are some perverse incentives in travel where if you take 15 flights in 90 days or something that you get to level up your status.

And so people are just taking flights to nowhere to get these different mileage runs. And I'm like, oh, well, that's horrible for everything. So it's a lot to balance and a lot of it to take into consideration with the lifestyle if you want to do travel as well then.

Do you want to offset it with some other piece of your life, whether monetarily, or with your diet, or another piece of your lifestyle. Maybe scaling down your house or something else like that. Yeah, also, I feel like-- one of my biggest frustrations is how much Americans frickin' drive everywhere.

And I know that sometimes you can't not drive. And I know that I'm an urbanite who's not had a car in 10 years, so I'm not part of this conversation. But even when I lived in areas that were not as well furnished by public transport, I took buses all the time.

I rode my bike places. I walked places. I feel like we need to make it more of a norm that we don't have to get in our cars and drive everywhere.

And I feel like that's an easy place, also, that people can make a trade off is not driving as much. Absolutely, driving and air conditioning is apparently a huge one-- clothing. And if you can just buy things from Poshmark instead of H&M, that can make a huge difference as well.

Back when I lived in Boulder, Colorado I was really into zero waste. I made my own deodorant, my own almond milk, bread, everything. So I've been into the ecological thing a lot before.

I'm not as deep into it in New Jersey. Mostly because-- again, there's just trade offs with everything. If I said, I never want to get takeout because it produces trash, well, our restaurants are struggling really, really hard and could use people supporting our restaurants.

And yeah, they might give you a Styrofoam tray, but it's somebody's livelihood. So there's a lot to weigh whenever somebody is like, well, what about this concern or the societal impact. And I'm like, you can't look at anything in a silo.

And it's a holistic consideration with the entire industry of travel too where you have to say, OK, it could be bad for the environment. Do we want to shut down the economy at the same time? Is there a way to do it sustainably?

And coming up with those creative solutions. Totally-- what would you recommend for people who are looking to get into travel hacking, but maybe don't yet qualify for all the fancy dancy credit cards? That's a really good question.

So there's a lot of different travel hacks that don't involve credit cards. Some of them are just shopping portals. I love Rakuten.

And you can get a lot of cash back that way. You can start getting into the hacking mindset by learning some of these different programs. There's Hilton surveys that you can take to earn some Hilton points.

You can always just earn points the old fashioned way by taking flights, and staying in hotels, and getting used to monitoring the different sales that go on, putting on flight trackers, like we mentioned before. So there is a lot of different hacking things that you can do that don't always just involve opening a new credit card. And we have a lot of those episodes on the Geobreeze Travel podcast too, where maybe your travel hacking style is finding a job that will pay you to travel or doing some kind of geoarbitrage where you relocate somewhere to save money.

And then you get to travel, but you live in paradise the whole time. So lots of different creative solutions that you can take to that problem. I love that.

So as a last question, before I get into-- I wanted to do a fun modified rapid fire questions this time because I just wanted them to be about travel stuff since we're lucky to have someone who's got the expertise there. But someone is asking, and this is something that I've often wondered about, what are good ways to get the best rates, specifically, when booking hotels? This person is saying they've gotten a mobile discount by booking on a phone versus a laptop-- but like things like that.

So with hotels, there's lots of different discounts that you can find. Sometimes, obviously if you're an employee with a hotel, you have access to a lot of different industry rates-- same if you wanted to take on a side gig as a travel agent or something. I did that for a while.

Geobreeze actually started as a travel agency. And I had access to a lot of travel agent rates. So those are two ways to get some good deals.

I know this person's probably looking for like is there a website that just aggregates all of the good deals. And that's always the question with travel hacking, is there just a secret website that people need to know about? And that's never really how it works.

How it works is you want to position yourself strategically for what you are looking for. And if it's hotels, there's different places that also do hotel alerts for hotel sales. So lots of different ways to go about that one.

But I know that when people talk about travel hacks, they're always like, what's the secret website that tells me all of these answers for a award routes and what's going to be the cheapest one. And there's never one website for it because if there were, those cheap hotel rates are going to get taken really quick, as soon as anybody finds out about this website. So it's almost like having to know what all of the different resources are that are relevant to what you're trying to hack.

Totally-- I also would say-- this is about flights. But I've always been really-- I'm really interested in commercial flight. I think it's really cool.

And there's a really cool video-- OK, Holly-- I'm getting laughed at over here. It's interesting. Anyway, there's a really good video called-- I think it's called, How COVID Broke the Flight Algorithms or something.

But, basically, it's a video about how airlines price flights to maximize both capacity and total value per flight. And how COVID completely wrecked that because the algorithms were no longer able to understand why people were flying. And so it's not about hotels, it's about flights.

But it's kind of a similar concept and it's really interesting. And goes to show why there's no one simple way to do it because the companies have outsmarted you. And they have found ways to get around a bunch of people doing the same thing.

One other airline flight hack-- so some people will fly on holidays because they know it's going to be oversold. And they are looking for those airline vouchers to be the person who volunteers so that they can get the airline voucher. Airlines have already accounted for this for all hotels.

What they can't account for, 100%, is sports games and sports fanatics. So if you need to fly back and forth to a college town or a sporting event or something, it's going to be oversold. And if you don't care about the sporting event, you can be the one who raises your hand and gets the flight voucher.

And airline modeling is not sophisticated enough to account for all of the people who want to go to all of these different sporting events. Damn-- man, I've been lucky enough twice in my life to be that person. One time I got $2,000 for leaving a flight.

And they put you up-- I mean, to be fair, they put you up in the airport hotel. And that's like-- no one really wants to be staying there, but whatever, I got $200 free off of it. OK, so just a couple travel related rapid-fire questions, instead of our usual signature.

What is the hack that you are most proud of, where you got the best trip, the best deal? So one time we went to Maui. And I had a free night certificate with Hilton.

And so, of course, we were looking all over the internet to see what is the most expensive hotel where we can use this free night certificate. It turns out it's in Maui. It's the Grand Wailea, which is a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

It starts at $500. And then I used an email upgrade template to write to the hotel and ask, hey, if you have availability, could you upgrade me to the $650 room? I have status.

Just let me know if you have availability. They ended up getting me to be $900 a night room. It had an ocean view.

It had an ocean and mountain view at the same time, magically, with this wraparound balcony. We have free breakfast. They gave us free dinner, which anybody who knows about food prices in Hawaii, especially in the touristy areas, it gets expensive.

So that saved us a ton of money. And they wheeled in a tray of champagne and local Hawaiian snacks too. So that is probably one of the hacks that I am most proud of.

If you'd like, I can provide a link for your listeners to grab that free template as well. Hell, yes, we would like that. I've always wanted to go to Hawaii.

So that is very appealing. That's one of my favorite hacks. That's amazing.

Was the flight there and everything on points as well? I think we were able to get really cheap flights. There was a sale or something, so we were able to get some cheap flights.

As far as flight hacks, we have had these business class tickets to Spain, roundtrip, for probably one credit card sign up. My husband and I were able to get two round trip tickets in business class to Spain. And we've had to keep delaying it because of the pandemic.

And I so, so want to take this flight on Iberia business class. One of these days we'll actually get to take that flight. Soon enough-- what is the most underrated city that you think people should visit more?

Tallinn, Estonia is up there, like I mentioned before. How do you spell that? Nobody ever mentions Estonia as a great place to go.

They have beautiful castles that you can take photos with. If anybody is into Game of Thrones, the Volarian language is based off of Estonia. And so it just feels like you're in Game of Thrones.

People also speak English. They're super nice. The food is great-- so Tallinn, Estonia for sure.

I love that. Favorite airline favorite hotel line-- My favorite hotel line right now is Hyatt because I recently got globalist status, which means that I don't have to check out until 4:00 PM. I get free suite upgrades upon availability.

What else do I get? A lot of bonus points, free breakfast, free club access-- And the best part of being globalist is I can have a hack where I can book points-- I can book reservations for other people through my account. And then they get treated like they have globalist as well.

It's called the guest of honor program. So it really, really helps to have friends who are into travel hacking because they can share their hacks with you as well. As far as airlines, I've only flown Swiss Air once.

But the reason I love them so much is they have really, really good ice cream on their flight. And just the snacks on Swiss Air were so much better than anything I've had before. And I want to throw in one other category that I know they didn't ask for.

But my favorite airport is Singapore airport because they just have free luxury everything. I had free samples of $300 Cognac, Gray Goose Martini. They just gave it for free.

They have facials that they'll just give you-- La Prairie-- they had a $600 jar of face cream. And they gave me a free facial. I went to the Dior counter, they gave me a free makeover.

They have free massage chairs, butterfly garden, skating rink-- Singapore airport. I think we extended our flight. We paid extra to get on a later flight just so we could experience this airport for a longer period of time because the airport is that good in Singapore.

That is very aspirational. And lastly, are you working on any big travel plans, point hacking right now? We are-- so now that we have globalist with Hyatt, I want to go to as many Hyatt Hotels as possible where I can take advantage of this.

I'm definitely planning a staycation at the Park Hyatt, New York City because it can go more than $1,000 per night sometimes. And it's one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. So I want to experience that as a globalist.

There's also a hotel in California by Big Sur. It's called Ventana Big Sur. It goes for $2,000 a night.

And I have enough points to get a few free nights there. And the availability on that one-- it's the only time I've ever not found availability for a hotel because it sells out from the award availability so fast. But I would love to go there one day.

I have enough points to do an around the world trip in eight different cities all in business class. Everybody keeps telling me that I need to go to Dubai one of these days. So I'd love to be able to visit Dubai on my way around the world if I can ever convince myself to take three weeks or more off of work at one time.

So those are some of the travel hacking goals that I have in the future. I love that. Well, this has been such a fun conversation.

I feel like I've learned 100 things even in this short talk. So where can people go to find more about you, to listen to your podcast, and possibly work with you on their own travel hacking? Sure, so I'm most active on Instagram.

You can find me @geobreezetravel. My website is geobreezetravel.com. You'll find the podcast there.

It's just called the Geobreeze Travel podcast. And there are links on the website as well to sign up for a free 30 minute coaching call, where if you're like I learned so much, but I'm so confused about how to even get started with tribal hacking, we can get you all set in 30 minutes. And then if you want a customized coaching package from there, I can help you with that as well.

I love that. Well, thank you so, so much for joining us, Julia. It's been a pleasure.

And thank you guys for joining us this week. And I will see you next Monday on the next episode of The Financial Confessions. Happy travels. [MUSIC PLAYING]