How We Saw 40 Countries on a Poverty Level Budget

Posted by: 4realAdmin on March 25th, 2014

In the last two years my wife and I have visited 40 countries across 6 continents (every habitable continent).  And maybe it’s not surprising but the most common question we get is how we afford it.  Despite such global travel, we’ve committed to living on a poverty level budget (and post all our expenses to document the process).


When someone asks how we do this, (and when I’m feeling ambitious), I’ll explain the basics of “travel hacking” – the art of earning miles and points for free. The truth is, we would have never been able to see all the places we have without our mileage tricks.


We’ve taken 63 international flights that were paid for with miles. And these were miles we “earned” from credit card bonuses and the like. I can’t imagine how much that would have cost us in cash, earning the traditional way through paid flights. We’ve also stayed in 76 different 4 or 5 star hotels- completely free.
So the big question is how travel hacking works. And it’s a lot to answer, but I can sum it up in 3 points.


1) Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses


We’ve gotten cards that give 100,000 miles just for signing up. And in one year we’ve been able to earn 1,500,000 miles. That means a heck of a lot more when I say that it’s enough for at least 25 roundtrip flights to Europe.


Thus, we’ve gotten every single one of the best travel credit cards that exist. And the crazier thing is how it’s like steroids to your credit score. Most people have the misconception that having open accounts is bad for your credit score. This is why my friend was shocked that Credit Karma ranked him a “C” for “number of accounts”. A “C” for too few cards when he had 8 already!


The fact is, your credit is 0% based on how much money you have and 100% based on how trustworthy you are with credit. The best way to prove trust is to have credit and use it responsibly (no debt, no late payments, etc…).


So imagine now having 30 credit cards, a 780 credit score and 63 international flights paid for with those sign up bonuses.


2) Manufactured Spending


Okay, some of these cards have spend requirements – “Get 40,000 points/miles after spending $5,000 in 90 days”. This birthed a kind of hobby of earning miles through spending at no cost.


See when you spend money, you get miles. Generally you get at least 1 mile per dollar. So people figured out how to buy Visa gift cards and turn them back into cash. You buy gift cards with your credit card, and then use the gift card to pay off the credit card.


During special bonuses, this can net hundreds of thousands of dollars of “spends” for no to little cost.


3) Using those miles to see a ton of places.


Remember the goal here is to transfer from bank points to miles in an airline’s mileage program, or get a card that earns miles. This is because airline miles have such loose routing rules and allow “stopovers”. One time, for example, we flew from Guam to the Cooke Islands stopping in Singapore, Sydney, New Zealand and Tokyo. The roundtrip would have cost 40,000 miles for business class (with lie flat beds) either way, but we chose to see more for the same cost.


This list could go on and on, but these are the basics. When there’s enough time to answer questions, these are generally the fundamentals I give when someone asks how we can afford to travel the world all the time! And because of this hobby, we’ll continue to do so for a long time.



By Drew Macomber of


Image credit; Mark Harkin CC-A-2.0

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