Category Archives: Travel Style

What Cards Did I Bring to Brazil?

I landed in Brazil a few minutes ago to see the World Cup in person. It’s a short trip, so I packed lightly including when it came to which cards to bring.

I only brought four cards:

  • Two credit cards
  • One debit card
  • One membership card

The cards are going to earn me miles, get me lounge access, and save me ATM fees in order to make my trip cheaper and more comfortable.

  • Which cards do I carry for international travel?
  • Why did I bring each one?

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How to Throw the Most Exclusive Party that People Will Talk about All Year

Moses Storm was caught up in the pretension of Los Angeles and felt the need for his birthday bash to be memorable. He mused: “Ideally…[a cool party] is something everybody’s talking about, it has very high security, and it’s exclusive. And what place do more people talk about with higher security that’s more exclusive that Los Angeles International Airport?”

The video is hilarious throughout.

I first saw the video on BuzzFeed, but I actually know Moses from my time in Los Angeles, so then I went to facebook to see if he had invited me to this ultra-exclusive event, and he had. Full facebook invitation below the fold:

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HELP! Can I transit Beijing for 72 hours on my way to Hong Kong or Taiwan?

Hopefully everyone has heard that you can stay in China for 72 hours without a visa if:

  • you fly into Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG or SHA), Guangzhou (CAN), or Chengdu (CTU)
  • fly out of the same airport
  • stay in the city/province the entire time
  • arrive with an onward ticket to a third country departing less than 72 hours after arrival
  • hold a passport from one of 51 countries including the United States

Here’s what the U.S. State Department says about transiting without a visa:

“If Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou Baiyun, or Chengdu Shuangliu airport is your international transit point, you may stay in mainland China for 72 hours without a Chinese visa if you have: a valid passport, a visa for your third country destination, an onward plane ticket departing from the same airport, and you remain in the same municipality/province in which you entered,.  Make sure you get an endorsement stamp at the immigration desk before you leave the airport.”

The Chinese Embassy’s site basically says the same thing except they add Shanghai’s other airport to the list of airports where you can enter without a visa for 72 hours.

But what I have not seen defined anywhere is what qualifies as a third country.

The requirement of heading to a third country from China basically means that you cannot fly Los Angeles to Beijing and then back to the United States without getting a Chinese visa. Nor can you fly from Los Angeles to Beijing and then on to Shanghai without a Chinese visa.

What I want to do is fly from the United States to Beijing and then on to either Taiwan or Hong Kong within 72 hours.

Does Taiwan or Hong Kong count as a “third country” for the purposes of transiting Beijing without visa?

I ask because I know that the official Chinese position is that both are part of China.

Please help me out if you have transited China for under 72 hours without a visa on your way to Hong Kong or Taiwan or if you can link to a definitive source saying whether it’s OK.


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Best Passports for Visa-Free Travel

I really like my passport. It’s gotten me into almost 50 countries and has a great plea from John Kerry to would-be annoyers:

“The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”

For almost all the countries I’ve visited, I just showed up at the border and handed over my passport to get in, sometimes having to pay for a visa on arrival that cost $20 to $100 (Tanzania!).

I’ve only had to do something other than show up three times:

  • Australia required filling out an Electronic Travel Authority form in advance online and paying 20 AUD.
  • Argentina required paying $160 in advance online and printing out the receipt. That payment is good for 10 years.
  • Paraguay required a $160 visa from an embassy in advance. (I got mine in Argentina for only about $100 due to currency arbitrage.)

Having a United States passport is excellent for travel since so few countries require a cumbersome visa for Americans to enter. Even when you do need a visa, it’s usually pretty automatic to get and just takes planning and money.

But we don’t have the best passport for visa-free travel. Which countries do? Where does the US rank? Which are the worst passports for access?

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My Second Best Travel Tip (Don’t Get Lost Abroad)

I actually haven’t ranked my travel tips, but I love this one because it’s super simple and saves me from getting lost all around the world.

But it’s not my #1 travel tip, which would probably be “use miles” or “travel more” or “travel solo” or something like that.

It may not even be my #2 travel tip because you can save a lot of money with these two:

Anyway, here’s how I avoid getting lost worldwide when I don’t have cell phone data. I used this trick in Slovenia last month because T-Mobile doesn’t offer free data there, and I’ve used it to navigate the dusty streets and alleys of Kampala, Uganda without issue.

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How to Get Free Texts and Cell Phone Data (Almost) Worldwide

T-Mobile offers an incredible deal for travelers. All of their monthly plans offer free text messages and mobile data in over 120 countries worldwide.

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On previous trips, I’ve done everything from buy a local SIM card in every country to pay AT&T upfront for way-overpriced international phone, text, and data packages. On this round-the-world trip, I kept my phone and phone number and got free text messaging and mobile data in five of the six countries I visited. In all my trips abroad, this was the most stress-free when it came to staying connected.

How does the T-Mobile plan work? What countries does it cover? What was my experience?

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How Did I Just Learn This Awesome Trick To Get More Space in Coach

I fly a lot of flights in economy class. While all my longhauls are in business or first, when I fly domestically or hop around Southeast Asia, Europe, or Australia, it’s almost always in coach.

It’s just not worth using airline miles to book short flights in first class. I prefer to book cheap economy flight with Arrival miles and save my airline miles for international first class.

Last week I read an article called “30 Pilots And Flight Attendants Confess Their Best Kept Secrets,” and one of the secrets was actually an amazing tip I can’t believe I didn’t already know.

It won’t quite give you this much space in economy, but it does make flying in the back a little more comfortable.


Cathay Pacific First Class

How have I given myself more room in economy this week?

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How I Pay Zero ATM Fees Worldwide

During my recent trip to New York, Macau, Singapore, Cambodia, England, Slovenia, and Germany, I had a wallet full of six currencies. For my several stops at ATMs, I paid zero ATM fees.

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I didn’t pay a fee to the bank that owned the ATM. I didn’t pay a fee to my bank for using some other bank’s ATM. And I didn’t pay a transaction fee for taking out foreign currency.

With all that fee avoiding, I saved at least $50. If I save $50 per trip for the foreseeable future, that will add up to quite a lot more money in my pocket.

The secret to the savings was opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. The account is free to open, has no account minimum, and no monthly service fees. Once you have the account, Schwab will never charge you an ATM fee no matter what ATM you use to access your money, and it will cover any fee that the ATM owner charges you.

The opening of the account may require a hard pull on your credit report. I don’t see one on my credit report, but other people do report seeing a credit pull.

How do you open one? What is my experience with the account and ATM card?

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My Top Ten Countries for Travel

I’ve had the good fortune to travel to 44 countries on six continents, many in the last two years since starting the blog.

I rarely write about my trips because I’m better at writing about how you can earn and redeem frequent flyer miles for your dream trips. And there are other blogs where people give actual travel tips.

But the week I’ve spent in Cambodia has been so fantastic that I want to share the top ten foreign countries that I’ve enjoyed the most.

What are my top ten? What are the best miles to use to get to them?

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Six Thoughts on Six Months in Buenos Aires

Most of this post was written in August as I left Buenos Aires, but I’ve edited it today. Thus the perspective is a mix of my perspective as I was leaving and my perspective as time has passed.

I arrived in Buenos Aires on February 19 with three 50-pound checked bags and two carry ons having flown from Los Angeles in American Airlines First Class. I’m typing this up on August 9 from the Star Alliance lounge at Ezeiza International Airport about to board South African business class to Johannesburg with one backpack and one overflow shoulder bag. (I’m cheating a little, but I am a one-bag evangelist.)

Trip Report: South African Business Class from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg

Other than 10 days in Paraguay and Uruguay, I’ve spent the last six months in Argentina. I took short trips to Bariloche and Iguazu, but I mainly spent the time in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

Here are my six takeaways from six months in a distant land.

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Six Countries, Seven Cities, Seven Flights, Six Days on One 12,500 Mile Award In Progress

One of my most popular posts was How to See Seven Cities in Europe on One 12,500 Mile Award.

In that post from June, I explained how to use the 23-hour layover trick to see seven (or more) cities on one United award for only 12,500 miles plus taxes (of $155 in this case.)

I am in Rome, heading to Brussels tomorrow, so I am already done with three of my goals for the week.

  • party in Zagreb–check!
  • cliff jump in Dubrovnik–check! (see below)
  • see the Colosseum in Rome–check!
  • hang out at the Grand-Place in Brussels
  • check out a fjord in Oslo
  • get into trouble in Amsterdam
  • and get to Munich in time for the end of Oktoberfest.

Here’s the route I’ll be taking visually:

I was apprehensive when I started this week of travel that it would be exhausting and I would see nothing except airports and hotels. I didn’t want this to just be about checking countries off a list to impress people later. I really wanted to do the best one to three activities in each place that I could fit into 23 hours.

So far Dubrovnik and Rome have been complete successes, and I have high hopes of having an over-topped waffle tomorrow in Brussels. I may be exhausted in a few days, but for now, I am very happy with this crazy award.

If you have any tips for fun things that I can do in one day in each city, please share them in the comments.

And make sure to check out How to See Seven Cities in Europe on One 12,500 Mile Award.


Here’s a video of my cliff jumping today at sunset. I apologize for the videographers’ shrieks. There’s just something about a man cliff jumping apparently.

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Are Under-Categorized Hotels the Best Use of Hotel Points : Review of the DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur

I am a lodging cheapskate. My ideal trip length is four weeks, so hotel bills would add up quickly. Right now I haven’t been in the US since February, so I’ve had to come up with creative ways to sleep cheaply.

But just because I’m a cheapskate doesn’t mean I don’t want to stay at fancy hotels sometimes too. I’m jealous that Rookie Alli has two nights at any Hilton worldwide. I have my own two free nights at Hyatts worldwide that I’ll be sure to use somewhere way outside my price range.

There is a third way, though, between the extremes of free ultra-luxury and cheap adequate accommodation: under-categorized hotels are a fantastic value play.

Free nights at hotels cost a certain number of points that are decided by which category a hotel places the hotel into. For instance, a Category 1 Hilton costs 5,000 points for a free night. A Category 10 Hilton costs up to 95,000 points for a free night.

The number of points needed generally tracks the quality, location, and price of the hotel, but some hotels are under-categorized and represent fantastic value with points.

Last night I stayed in one such hotel, the DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur, which is a Hilton Category 2 property that costs only 10k Hilton points per night.

Continue for my review with photos of the DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur and a rundown of all the freebies I got. What hotel award charts might have sweet spots? What are the best value free nights you’ve gotten?

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Greetings from Johannesburg, South Africa. My Impressions on O.R. Tambo Airport

I just arrived in Johanneburg, South Africa about 90 minutes ago from Buenos Aires, Argentina on a direct flight operated by South African Airways in Business Class (and paid for with US Airways miles.)

The flight was enjoyable–I slept for five of its nine hours by depriving myself of sleep the night before–but arriving in Johannesburg has already been an adventure.

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“I’m Deaf and Mute, and I’d Like Some Vodka.”

I’m preparing to spend my 26th birthday in Uruguay, which has me reflecting on past birthday locations, which have included Spain, Bolivia, Uruguay, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Virginia, and Hawaii.

One of my favorite memories comes from my 20th birthday in Copacabana, Bolivia, which featured a silent vodka purchase, stumbling into an international volleyball match, and being charged to use the shower by a ten-year-old.

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Trip Report: United BusinessFirst from Buenos Aires to Newark

Rookie Alli just flew her first international business class flight. I asked her to share the perspective of someone seeing the front of the plane for the first time. She flew United BusinessFirst, which is widely accessible to Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America with miles, so if you haven’t flown up front, pay attention to this trip report. For my perspective on the same cabin, see my trip report from London to Los Angeles.

I recently experienced my first flight that wasn’t in economy, flying from Buenos Aires to Newark in United BusinessFirst on my way to Washington, DC.

Was it worth the extra miles? What can you expect on your first trip in business class? How comfortable are those beds? Fly with me, and find out.

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