One Month Away: Asia Trip Preparations!


I am now roughly one month from boarding my Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, onto Paris, and finally Thai Airways to Bangkok. All in First Class!

Needless to say I am very excited!

I still have a lot to do in the month leading up to departure. I am planning my grocery purchases around using up stuff that will spoil while I am gone and not buying anything I don't need. I am also researching in more detail my planned destinations that I have not been too before. I am finalizing my budget for the trip and making sure I have the money in my travel account.

At the same time I still have 2 work trips to go in October and of course going to work full time. I head up to Buffalo, NY next week and then to Hartford, CT at some point in late October. It is a lot of work to be able to leave work for a month but most certainly well worth it. I am lucky to have the month off in the first place so I have to take full advantage of the time!

US Airways Grand Slam 2011: First Bonus!


I just got my first round of bonus miles, 3,000 miles, from the promo for getting my first 4 "hits". Being my first time around on this promo I was not sure how it would work. Now that I know they will post quickly relative to other promos I have done I am more motivated!

I wish other carriers would catch on to this kinda of promo. I would love to earn AA or UA miles for doing stuff like this. Good news is I can use my US miles for anyone in Star Alliance so I still have options. I am shooting for a free domestic ticket but may aim for Central America if I can find enough cheap "hits" to make it happen.

Keep the miles rolling in!

The psychological battle of being back home


I got home from traveling in 2007 in April. Needless to say I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to live, work, or if that was even going to be in the USA. Two months later I landed the job I have now in Atlanta. I have been on several great trips since then but it is just not the same. I still, to this day, miss the road.

World travel is an addiction with only 2 cures: travel more or death.

Option 2 does not appeal to me so I am left with 1 cure. Not a day goes by where I am not daydreaming about being back out there, with my backpack and the only material items I truly need, seeing the world one day and one place at a time. I cannot put in words the great feeling of arriving in a new place with new people, new smells, new sights, new food, and new cultural quirks. It doesn't ever get old.

The only way I can keep going is to keep my eyes on the goal of getting back out there on a more long term basis. Saving all that I can and shaping my life around that goal is my current work in progress. Unfortunately it is going to be a very long slog to make that happen but I have little choice in the matter. Just push through and hope for the best.

The Art of the Long Layover


If you travel overseas, especially to Asia, you are bound to end up with a long layover at some point. I have had a couple long layovers so far and have learned that there is more to it than the cost of the plane ticket. Cost is important but also where you layover is important too! I have even built in a long layover on purpose so I can have a brief visit to a new place for the same amount of money (or miles) out of pocket!

Airports around the world have different amenities and options for things to do while you are waiting for your next flight. Every time I am looking at booking a flight I always consider long layovers if I can do something interesting with my time there. Here are a few examples:

  • Seoul (Incheon/ICN) - Probably my favorite layover airport. They have great airline lounges, a spa(!) in the basement (think hot tubs and massage!), and offer 2 hours and up to full day tours. You can also take the new train to the city for a day of sightseeing. Layovers here are a no brainer!
  • London (Heathrow/LHR) - A lot of flights through London coming from the USA can leave you with several hours to wait. Why not take the tube into London to see a few sites and have a meal?
  • Amsterdam (Schipol/AMS) - Same as London. Amsterdam is a great city to see by food and the short train ride to Centraal Station makes it easy. Go to Vondelpark, take the Heineken tour, or see the Van Gogh Museum. Great food everywhere!
  • Frankfurt (FRA) - Connecting to Asia via Europe at FRA can be great. Lufthansa has excellent lounges in the airport worth spending a layover to enjoy. Day trips to the city also possible.
These are just a few that I can personally vouch for. I have heard great things about Tokyo in Japan too but have yet to try it. Most of my layovers there were shorter 2-3 hour waits. Not much time for doing much else!

The next time you are faced with a long layover for substantially less money or miles do a little research on the city. You may find that you can have an extra fun stop on your trip! Out of all the long layovers I have been through I have yet to regret the decision!

Finally getting my new sunglasses!


I never thought it would be this difficult!

One of the few things I do not skimp out on are sunglasses. I always get polarized lenses and top quality stuff. It is pretty much a requirement when I like to travel to beach destinations. I also drive a lot when I travel for work and like to protect my vision as much as I can.

I found a pair of RayBan sunglasses that I wanted nearly 3 months ago. My Oakley pair fell apart numerous times and the super glue has stopped working. I needed to replace them. I ordered from a website that had a great price and good ratings. They were $100 less than the local retail store for the same pair!

Fast forward to today and they still have not shipped. After several emails back and forth between the company I finally cancelled my order. I found the same pair on eBay from a highly rated seller in New York. I bought them and a day later I had a tracking number. They are due to arrive tomorrow!

Being patient has saved me over $100 in the end. It was annoying going without sunglasses for the past couple of months but that is now water under the bridge. I am getting the sunglasses I want, for the price I want, and can ensure a great time on the beach in Thailand as a result.

Trial Run: Taking lunch to work next week


In my constant battle with food and restaurant spending I am going to experiment with taking my lunch to work. I have mixed thoughts about it since I have the psychological need to get out of the office at least once per day to keep my sanity. Sitting in one place for 8.5 hours is simply not fun.

We shall see how this goes. On one hand it will certainly save me money over the long term which I can use for travel and other goals. On the other hand I am not sure how it will affect my stress level at work. I believe it is a step in the right direction so I can hopefully find a balance of money and sanity in this area. Eating out lunch everyday is simply too much spending for my budget.

I will see how this goes. I am also considering limiting the eating out to 2 times per week as a compromise. We shall see!

Turn loose change into credit


My local grocery store has coin star machines. These are great for counting your change but normally charge a staggering 9% for the privilege. I recently discovered that you can exchange your coins for gift cards from a list of merchants. is one of them and the most useful to me. Best of all you get 100% of your deposit on the gift card.

I have some change that has built up over the past year and I will cash it in. I currently plan to get a book on Easter Island for my upcoming trip as well as a copy of Marco Polo's Travels to read while I am in Thailand sitting on the sunny beach. It will end up costing me little out of pocket since I don't track the change in my net worth.

It is a win-win since I get a couple books I want and get rid of my loose change at the same time. I turn a hassle into something nice as well. All of the little tips and tricks like this add up over time!

Why do we spend so much money?


This is a question that I hear and read about a lot. The answer is simple and complex at the same time. It is not as simple as "we want to" or "I have it so I spend it". Most people do not even realize it which is a big part of the problem.

Spending too much money comes down to 2 major problems: marketing and ignorance.

Marketing is certainly responsible for at least 50% if not more of your spending. You bought a new iPad. You bought a new car. You bought a new shirt. I could go on forever. All of that is the result of subjecting yourself to marketing. TV is a huge player in this--and also why I don't own one. Marketing is very good at making spend money--even if you don't have it (debt).

Ignorance is another aspect to this problem. Most of the people I know, including most of those close to me, have no idea how they spend their money. They just know that it is gone before they get paid again. Overdraft fees come and they eat ramen for a week. They simply have no budget and do not care enough to monitor their bills/spending and end up broke. Again and again from cradle to grave.

Every time I hear some variation of this story I want to just shake my head. I personally blame it on them since they are the one carelessly spending their money and the fact that they can't even realize they are doing it because of the cable TV they watch. I find it baffling that people pay money to watch commercials. It is no different than walking up to a salesman at Best Buy and saying "Here is 5 dollars. Please tell me about the features of this laptop."

But this is America! Materialism has gone way overboard. We have 2 iPads while people starve elsewhere. We have an average of $18,000+ in household credit card debt on top of mortgages, car notes, and student loans. Marketing has told us that we need a 20 bedroom house with 5 SUV's, 4 dogs/cats, and every gadget that ever comes out. People continue to buy into it and here we are.

Saving Interest: Pay Mortgage Every 2 Weeks?


I have been giving thought to an idea I have read about online. I am considering paying my mortgage every two weeks. Basically I would line up the payment with my payroll deposits and pay half of each payment on the 1st and 15th. Over time this results in interest savings.

I decided to run the math on my idea. Here is what I found:

$100,000 @ 4.5% paid monthly: 82,406.71 in interest paid
$100,000 @ 4.5% paid Biweekly: $67,886.84 in interest paid

In this case, which is the same interest rate of my mortgage, I would save over $15,000 in interest. This is a significant amount of money back in my pocket! This would also help me balance out my cash flow a little bit at the same time. It looks like a winning situation all around.

Now I have to research my mortgage and make sure that I will actually save interest by paying early. We shall see!

The days are moving slower!


This is the beginning of week 2 off the road. I must admit that when I am traveling the weeks seem to go by faster. I miss that and the welcome change of pace versus being in the office all week. That said it is good that I am here as I have a lot of prep work for upcoming larger projects that I need to tend too.

This past weekend was entirely too short--a sign of my burnout catching up to me. I feel tired a lot more often as of late and this reminds of around this time last year before my trip to Cambodia. I have found that a year, at least in my line of work, is too long to have essentially zero time off aside from the odd holiday.  Next year I will do a week in April and then hopefully 3 weeks in November again.

Mondays are always the most hectic. For whatever reason things seem to come to head every Monday. Slows down some mid week and picks up again on Friday. My weeks seem pretty even split between slammed days and slow days. Such is life when you rely on a lot of other people to get things done.

US Airways Grand Slam 2011: I am on my way!


I spent some time getting my first few "hits" for the US Airways Grand Slam. I have done all of my free options except for the upcoming work travel in October that I will credit to US Air. It looks like it will only cost me $40 or so out of pocket to get my account up to 25,000 miles. I am planning on using this for a domestic trip of some sort next year. I can finally have a use for the 10,000 I got there from my Barclay's card.

I could earn up to 100,000 miles from this promo but a few of the ways to earn are expensive and something I don't really want. If I had more free income I would consider it but with all the points I have thus far I have more than I can currently use. This is a good problem but I have to work within my (very) limited budget.

I am glad I found this fun hobby where I can earn very inexpensive travel thanks to my good credit and attention to detail of program/promotional rules. I should have done this years ago but no better time than the present.

More Points: Another Card Churn!


I was originally denied a card because of "too many accounts" with Chase. I knew this was incorrect as I closed 2 accounts a month ago. I was going to forget it and move on but then I read a post on another blog about calling their credit department for reconsideration. I had a few minutes and nothing to lose so I called.

I was surprised how easy it was. Less than 10 minutes on the phone and I was approved. My card will be here in roughly in a week. This time I will get 50,000 points when I spend $3,000 in 3 months. These points, which are Chase Ultimate Rewards, can be used for a variety of things but also transferred to some miles programs. One of those happens to be Continental/United and so far that is my plan for the points.

If this pace keeps up for points earning I will have lots of inexpensive travel for the next year at least. I have to be careful now not to overdo it. I don't want to get flagged by Chase or any other bank for getting to greedy. I think at this point I will back off for 6 months or so to let things settle out. That may change of some really huge bonus offer comes up. We'll see!

Staying ahead in tough economic times


The bad economy in America is old news. We all hear about it day in and day out. A friend of mine was laid off recently. Things at my own job have been wishy-washy lately too. We have been busy but it seems when we gain ground we lose it elsewhere. All of this has renewed my focus on an adequate emergency fund.

My emergency fund is growing nicely but not as fast as I would like. I have lost a roommate and the income from that so I cut expenses as much as I sanely could and also am working on a side business. The slowness of my savings growth frustrates me to no end but there is no quick fix. I find myself very irritable lately and impatient most of the time. Nothing like the feeling of being stuck to put you in a great mood...

Another annoyance that is bothering me is the fact that I am going on 3 years without a raise in an already sub-par paying job. Costs have gone up on all fronts, especially food, over the past 3 years. Bundle in inflation and I am actually losing ground in real terms. I fear the days are numbered before I get completely fed up with it all.

Therefore I am going to start seriously looking for something else. One can only tread water for so long before change is imminent. It seems I need to find a larger company with more stability and hopefully a more interesting position available. Some benefits, such as health insurance, would also be nice. I need change. I am bored and stagnant where I am now. There has to be something better out there!

US Airways: Grand Slam Promotion 2011


When I first heard of this I got excited. Due to a bad churn and my inexperience with it I ended up with 10,000 orphan US Air miles that I couldn't do anything with. Now I have a chance to bring that balance to 25,000 so I can eat least earn a free domestic flight on the cheap.

After sifting through the terms of the offer, a few other blogs, and forums I have formulated my plan to get enough "hits" to earn the bonus miles I need (15,000). A lot of the stuff I will do is free or something work would pay for anyway. I will have to make a few small purchases but should come in under $40. $40 is not bad for a free domestic flight!

I have learned to steer clear of Barclay's bank credit card offers. They are definitely bait and switch with their offer terms. I just lucked out that I found a way to not have it be a complete waste of time and energy. The promo starts tomorrow so I have some homework to do!

Vacation 2012: Guatemala?


Here I am 2 months away from Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore and I am already thinking about 2012!?!

I have to plan in advance so I can get the most out of my trips. I have done some reading and heard stories about Guatemala lately and am leaning heavily in that direction for next year's extended trip. I have seen some great photos from there also.

Since I am already burning 6 days off to go to Easter Island I am considering a destination closer to home for my next extended trip. I will only have 11 work days off assuming I don't need them for something else. If I combine that with the 3-day Thanksgiving week I can make a decent trip of it!

With only roughly 2 weeks to work with I don't think the Asia jet lag will be worth it. Central America has little-to-no time difference. It is also inexpensive and has lots of interesting places. It is one part of the world I have seen little of to boot. As I write this I am further convincing myself this is a good idea!

Nothing is set in stone at this point as I will continue my research on a couple of other places then pick one from the top 3. I am planning on buying these flights as I can get complimentary upgrades on Delta and they should be a lot cheaper than going over the Pacific. It is all up in the air right now. Either way it will be fun to research and plan!

Using miles for travel: Plan, Earn, And Spend!


Now that I have been playing the miles/points game for some time now and have spent the past 6+ months learning about all the different programs I have learned one important thing: Have plans for your points/miles. Reward programs change constantly and you need near-term goals (say within 12-18 months) for your points. Opportunities can vanish!

When I first started churning credit card bonuses I was only interested in getting the points and finding a use for them later. This is good since bonuses tend to line up with my redemption needs (at least for now). There is certainly no down side to extra points on hand but there is a limit too it. I now plan on trips and try to earn useful points accordingly!

Why plan? A recent example is British Airways just announced that they will change their frequent flyer program redemption levels. I am so thankful I redeemed my 100,000 bonus miles before this takes effect. My girlfriend and I are going on a trip to Easter Island! With the new redemption levels in November this would no longer be possible with that amount of miles. Dodged a bullet!

Another great example is Delta. My initial vision was to hoard 1 million miles to use on a very long around-the-world trip at some unknown point in the future. Then they changed their redemption levels twice in the past 2 years. I saw the writing on the wall and now earn and burn Delta miles. This takes away a lot of stress and keeps my vacations cheaper!

This has all evolved into my current strategy. I essentially have no choice but to fly Delta for work since I am based in Atlanta. I now switched my spending to a United credit card so I earn United miles for my work/personal spending. This is with 1 goal in mind: diversification. My current goal for Delta and United miles are business class trips to Asia. This brings me the most value from miles earned at this point.

When I hit the milestone I set I then start planning my redemption of the accumulated miles and enjoy the benefits. I find that I plan about 12-18 months in advance so I have time to save money, research where I want to go, and of course find my preferred award seats on the flights. Spending the miles is that fun part of this game!

I am sure my strategy will change again at some point as time goes on. Programs and personal needs/desires change so I will adapt accordingly. Keep in mind that points are great but cash has the most value and flexibility. Mixing the two can give the best overall results for travel and leisure. Be smart and don't leave money (or points!) on the table.

Work Travel Week 4: The last one!


Today I am off to Boston for my final of 4 trips in a row for work in as many weeks. I have mixed feelings about this particular project and am hoping for the best. If all goes well I will be done after a long day today and have some free time and hopefully early flight home tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

I already know I have trips in October with one already booked earlier this week and the other still in limbo until exact dates can be hammered out. I am ok with that so I can have a couple of weeks at home without getting up at 5AM and flying and then working until 8PM that night. The travel part is great but the work is exhausting too.

Time to go catch my flight to Boston!

Work is catching up to me...


Today I am really starting to feel the sting of fatigue from quite a long stint of work with no vacation to speak of. Sure I have been on a weekend cruise to the Bahamas and a long weekend in Myrtle Beach. I consider those more of a long weekend fun trip. Vacation is when your mind is 100% off work. That has not happened since Cambodia in November 2010.

I remember a similar feeling this same time last year. A long slog from one extended vacation to the next. I have roughly 2 months until I depart for Bangkok via Europe. I am very excited and very much looking forward to it! The problem is that I am 2 months away from that day and I am tired.

This feeling is what keeps me working and saving as much as I can to earn enough money to not have to work full time and on someone else's schedule. Going 2 straight years without a raise doesn't help matters much either. I suppose I should be happy to have a job but at the same time things have to improve.

I am pushing through to November 5th for now and am saving/reading/dreaming about leaving. One of the best feelings I can think if is that feeling the day before a long trip to a fun place. It is a drug, a rush, and an emotion that I am addicted too. If I cannot travel and see new things then what is the point?

More Work/Fun Travel: Niagara Falls!


I just booked a trip for myself and coworkers to go to Buffalo/Rochester, NY Oct 7-8. We have an all day meeting on Oct 7 and a free day Oct. 8. I could not pass up a chance to see Niagara Falls for next to nothing!

From some quick and dirty Google searching I found that it is easy to navigate both the US and Canadian sides of the falls. I plan to do just that and take my nice Digital SLR camera with me. I just hope the weather holds!

Aside from the meeting it will be like a mini-mileage run. On the company dollar of course!

Frugal Labor Day Weekend


We have a long weekend here in America starting today. Monday is Labor Day when most of us don't have to work. I welcome the extra day off as we have been slammed at work for the past 2 months. I still have to travel again next week!

I have no real plans to speak of for the weekend except that I don't want to spend a lot of money. In fact I am making it a goal to not eat out at all this weekend unless it costs less than $5. I have had to reduce my "fun" budget by 25% since losing my roommate. I will be hanging out with friends, grilling out, watching some football, and having a few beers. I also have plenty of other stuff to catch up on at the house.

With only 2 months to go before going to Asia I am trying to save all I can for the trip. I will have a couple of unpaid days off so if I can scrape together another $100 or two to fill the gap it will help. Since I will be visiting some more expensive places this time around I am trying to hit my savings target for the trip also. You realizes the sacrifices you make now to afford the trip are more than worth it once you get there!

I am also toying with an idea for saving some money on food while being a little bit healthier. Starting Sunday I want to try to eat food only bought from the farmer's market. I will be traveling Thursday/Friday next week but I can still make it work. Cooking with fresh ingredients tastes better anyway! I think I can pull it off and will give a shot and see what happens!

September 2011 Net Worth Update


It is the 1st of the month again and it is time for my net worth report card. I had a good month due to reduced spending, increased savings, and more work travel. I also received some cash birthday gifts and a few rebates in the mail.

As of today my current net worth is $17,721.00. That is an increase of $1,661.82 over last month. The major contributing factors: saved some per diems, increased work travel, and slightly increased investment values.

I expect next month to good. I am focusing on sticking to my budget, exploring more ways to be frugal with food expenditures, and reducing car expenses by further combining trips and saving fuel costs. With loss of rental income I am more focused on the spending aspect of my budget.

Alternative Income this past month:

IT Consulting: $0
Focus Groups: $0
Rebates: $80