Best Website To Start A Travel Blog – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Linda who asks,

Q. “Alex, I’m going to study abroad this summer and I want to start my own little travel blog. Nothing fancy just something free and easy. What do you recommend?”

A. – I highly recommend everyone who finds themselves gearing up for an important trip take the time to start up a small blog. Even if you have little/no intention of continuing the project after the trip ends it is a great way to record the experience and to share it with friends and family. It’s also exciting and surprisingly informative to read back through old blog posts. A blog well written can bring back memories that would otherwise be lost. It always amazes me how some of these otherwise forgotten memories can be grand stories which in the moment seem completely unforgettable. When I started VirtualWayfarer these considerations were about the extent of what I had planned, so, you never know when the blog intended for one small trip may turn into something very different given time and opportunity.

Hands down the best, most universal, and widely used platform to blog on is WordPress. WordPress comes in two forms; a .com and a .org version. WordPress.com is free and provides free hosting with a somewhat reduced set of control options. Your website URL will be something like virtualwayfarer.wordpress.com and your chances of building effective search engine optimization and a large readership are usually more limited – though not impossible. However, it is perfect if you want an incredibly easy to learn, free to use platform that is good for some limited random discovery, and sharing with your friends and social network. The added benefit is that wordpress.com allows for a seamless export of all of your posts and data which can then be imported into wordpress.org if you decide to transition at a later date.

WordPress.org is also free, however unlike WordPress.com it does not provide hosting and instead is a free copy of the wordpress software. This means that you’ll have to subscribe and pay for premium webhosting – vendors like Host Gator and Blue Host are popular – and then install the software. You’ll also need your own domain name (eg: VirtualWayfarer.com). This option is good if you plan to do something more with your blog or want to use it long term. However, if all you want is a free solution that will sit there without need for maintenance between trips or a re-occurring annual cost this probably isn’t ideal for you. How popular is it?  Well, you’ll find that about 95% of all major travel blogs are using WordPress.

If you’re not a fan of WordPress then consider Tumblr or Blogger. Tumblr tends to be far more popular for sharing images, while Blogger has been making large strides to improve the appearance of their blog interface and the themes they’ve made available. Both of these are similar in format, form and function to the .com version of WordPress.

There are also a mixture of websites designed specifically to serve in a similar hosting capacity to WordPress.com.  However, unlike wordpress.com which is general these are tailored to novice travel bloggers.  These sites offer a certain level of increased exposure to the local community, but also provide less control and autonomy than the general blogging services mentioned above.

More specific questions about how to set up your own blog?  Let me know!  I’m happy to help.

-Alex

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Effective Ways To Research A Solo Trip – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Zhu who asks,

Q. “Hey Alex, what do you think might be an EFFECTIVE way of collecting info for a solo traveller? I mean, every time when doing my homework for my next destination I feel that the information is overloaded even messy: so many resources, from lonely planet to personal tips… How to get useful useful info and save time at the same time?

A. – Ultimately it all comes down to time, and how well prepared you want to be.  I’m a pretty laid back traveler.  I’ll do basic research on where I want to visit before hand, then leave most of the specifics up in the air.  About 40% of my planning/research comes from word of mouth and social media (I love and rely heavily on my network).  Another 20% is pulled from general blogs research and reading.  The final 40% usually comes from a mixture of resource sites, news articles, photo sites, and wikis.  It may seem odd but the resource I use most often is actually Wikipedia.  I use it to research a city, or a region and to look at what a lot of the main attractions are. Then I use it to research each individual attraction to see if they’re something I’m interested in.  There’s also WikiTravel which is similar but exclusively travel focused. I’ll spot check it for additional information, though I usually find it significantly more limited than Wikipedia. Another favorite is the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. I always review the UNESCO list when planning a trip, as these are typically great indicators of what you should make sure you see.

As you mentioned, there are also great resources like Boots n’ All and Lonely Planet which have a lot of online resources (and great discussion forums).  However, I have to admit that I haven’t bought or traveled with a guide book since 2007.  Which isn’t to say that I don’t reference them from time to time, but it’s usually only in passing or when someone shows me a “must see” from the guide book while in a hostel.

I spend a lot more time than most people reading about travel and the world.  As a photo addict, photos of places tend to help me decide where I want to go next.  For example, a few years ago I saw a photo of Preikestolen in Norway and decided it was somewhere I needed to visit.  The same happened more recently with my trip to Cappadocia in Turkey after seeing a series of shots of the region’s strange rock formations and amazing underground cities.  If you’re interested in selecting your next destination you can do searches for image blog posts like my 30 favorite photos post. You’ll find similar ones on a lot of blogs and even in major news papers and magazines – National Geographic and the Atlantic’s In Focus photo blogs are great starting points!  If you want to do “word of mouth” research before you take to the road indie travel blogs are a great starting point.  Keep in mind that the longer a travel blogger has been on the road, or blogging the more likely you’ll be able to run a basic search on their site for great info about the places you’re considering.

At the end of the day it depends on what type of experience you want.  Do you want a very organized one?  A food-centric one?  Urban?  Natural beauty?  These factors will all play an important role in shaping which resources you need to look at.    Personally, I prefer a middle of the road approach.  I do enough research to get a feel for the big things I want to see, then I do some quick research to help me plan out generally how much flexible time I will work into my schedule while leaving the rest up in the air.  Once the trip starts and I can talk to people in the country, or who have already been – I seek suggestions from them and do a lot of my research that way.  I find that last minute invitations or suggestions are often the most difficult to force ourselves to say “yes” to, but are also often the most rewarding.   I hope that helps!

Also, don’t forget to look at my Travel Resource List for a useful bookmark list of great travel resources!

-Alex

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The Dirtiest Hostel I’ve Visited – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Elijah who asks,

Q. “Where was the dirtiest hostel you’ve ever been to?

A. – Ahh, time for a hostel horror story, ehh?  While the vast majority of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been pretty good, there have definitely been a few that were memorable for all of the wrong reasons. Typically, I manage to do most of my research ahead of time using Hostelworld or HostelBookers. The reviews on these sites really help with the booking process, especially because they both have cleanliness ratings. However, sometimes you just don’t get the chance to research ahead of time or have to try a hostel which isn’t listed. That’s what happened to me in Greece.

It was December 2007 and I was traveling through Greece with a good friend.  It was off season and most of the hostels and hotels had closed for the winter.  Luckily those that were still open were willing to negotiate price.  As a result we were able to stay in private hotel rooms for the same price or less than we would have paid for a hostel.  That all changed when we arrived in Chania in Crete. We found a hostel, and checked in eager for the opportunity to socialize.  Unfortunately, the hostel wasn’t listed on most of the main resource sites (with good reason), was a European HI Hostel (which always makes me nervous) and as a result we ended up checking in blind.

The entrance and reception area was spartan and boring, but that’s the way of it sometimes.  The hostel was largely dead, which was a bit of a let down as we were hoping for a social atmosphere, but again, that happens. Especially in off season. The rooms, however, and more specifically the beds were where the hostel really failed and failed miserably. Now, usually in most modern hostels they provide you with clean sheets and freshly washed blankets, or at least a blanket cover. Some of the less hygienic just opt for a clean top sheet and bottom sheet while periodically washing the quilt/blanket. Many  modern hostels also have a plastic under sheet over the mattress for added sanitation and stain prevention. Unfortunately, the hostel we found couldn’t be bothered with any of that.  They offered us one sheet to go with the shaggy brown blanket already on the bed.  The status of the mattresses was…let’s just say, suspect at best.  Lumps were the least of my concerns as I very carefully spread my flat sheet out and did my best to avoid touching anything.  Then, there was the blanket.  It was still somewhat warm in the hostel, but December in Greece is still December even if you are all the way down in Crete.  I looked at the blanket, which boasted more than a few questionable spots and cigarette burns and decided to throw it on the ground.  It seemed much healthier to sleep wearing every warm piece of clothing I could scrounge up.  I suppose theoretically the stains could have been permanent, and that perhaps they washed the blankets after every visitor.  Given the general state of hygiene around the rest of the hostel though, I highly doubt it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the place was equally disgusting.  The bathrooms were grungy and the showers did little to leave you feeling clean and refreshed.  I think the hostel serves mostly as a drunken crash pad during the summer months for beach goers and drugged out party animals. It likely takes a lot of abuse as a result, and the management seemed to have just given up bothering  with the maintenance side of things.

I was also fearful we’d pick up bedbugs as it was that type of place.  Luckily we escaped with only a few mosquito bites and a strong desire to take a shower and a long nap at the next place we stayed.

Unfortunately, I can’t recall the name of the hostel.  Though I also can’t imagine it’s still there, or in business.

That was the worst one that comes to mind from a sanitary/dirty perspective.  I’ve stayed in half-finished buildings, in the middle of floors under renovation,  with slobs, braved group showers and of course had a naked old man towel off in the middle of the room…but when it comes to unnecessary filth.  That hostel is the one that stands out.

Still, even despite the occasional hostel disaster I find that I love them and will take them over a hotel stay in most situations!   If you’ve got a filthy hostel story of your own feel free to share it in a comment!

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How Many Countries For A Two Week Itinerary? – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Susanna who asks,

Q. “What pace do you suggest setting for a two week trip in Europe. what I mean is, how long in each city/country?

A. – Traveling abroad is usually a somewhat expensive and challenging undertaking. For many, your first trip can seem on-par with other major purchases you’ve made: moving into a new apartment, a down-payment on a car, etc. So, it’s only logical that most people want to cram in as many countries and stops as possible. When friends share their itineraries with me it’s not uncommon for them to schedule 7 countries (or more) for a 2 week trip.

Which makes sense. They’re taking a big trip and they want to see as much as humanly possible in the time they have available.  Which, I actually support – to a certain degree.   In general the advice tends to fall on one side of this issue or the other.  “Spend a lot of time in a few locations” vs. “See as much as you can as fast as you can”.  Which is inevitably followed by a debate over what counts as “seeing” a destination.  If you spent 6 hours in Paris and only saw the Eiffel tower did you “see Paris?” what about 2 days? 2 full weeks?   While there is some validity to these types of debates and they can be insightful, I think they neglect a far more important question which needs to be addressed on a case-by-case/personal basis. What is YOUR goal with the trip?  Contrary to what many veteran travelers might expect, I actually recommend my friends press forward with their whirlwind tours of Europe in about half the cases.  Blasphemy, I know!  This is because in talking to them, they’re interested in sampling a lot of different places and then following up with future trips that strive to revisit favorite locations while exploring them greater depth.  I look at these trips in the same way I look at ordering a beer sampler during your first visit to a new brewery or a wine tasting.  As long as you keep in mind that you’re just sampling a quick taste of each vintage and not familiarizing yourself with its complete history, richness and flavor then you’re in great shape. In fact, it can be a great approach!

On the other hand, I give very different advice to the other half of the group.  These are typically friends who are taking a rare trip, one which they don’t plan to follow up on any time soon (though I always hope the trip changes their future plans…radically). These are the friends who have saved up time off over several years and are taking their big trip abroad to Europe or Asia for the first time before going back to their more traditional cruises, or destination/all inclusive beach getaways closer to home.  For these friends, it’s very important that they get a rich experience in the places they do visit and I often advise them to aim for potency over diversity.  In these cases it’s often good to spend at least 4 days in a city.  I also suggest visiting at least one secondary city to go with the inevitable capital they’ve selected.  So, if they plan on Italy – I recommend spending a few days in Rome, and then exploring a smaller city like Florence or the Cinque Terra.

Regardless of which approach is right for you, I always suggest you spend at least 1 full day in a city and that you don’t count travel days as city time.  Travel eats up energy, it eats up time, and it will detract from the richness of your experience.  It’s easy to want to add as many new countries to your passport as possible, but at the end of the day remember that it’s far more important to relish and experience the moment while there, than it is to collect that extra stamp.

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Solo Travel and The Risk of Rape – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Emily who asks,

Q. “I want to try to travel solo as a woman, but am worried about my safety. Especially the risk of rape. Is this justified?

A. – That’s a rough topic, but a concern I hear regularly from a lot of young female travelers – especially in the US. Let me start by saying that as I try to tackle this issue I can only speak from general observation and conversations with female friends that have traveled extensively. As a 6’4″ 200 pound male the risk of getting raped is a rare issue and usually fairly low on my list of potential threats.

To the question – is there a rape risk as a solo female traveler? The answer is yes, but only because you are always at risk. However, I believe the nature of the actual risk is quite low, especially if you keep in mind several key factors when traveling. To start, let’s put it into context. For the sake of convenient illustration I’m going to pull statistics from this wikipedia article. The first thing to look at is the % break down for who the attacker is. Contrary to what most of us probably assume only 26% of rapists were complete strangers. While another 38% were friends or acquaintances. While 26% is still a significant percentage, it means that the vast majority of rape cases are occurring in situations where the victim knows and/or is familiar with their attacker. That’s pretty staggering. To me, this also suggests that in some way your exposure to situations that might lead to rape may in fact be lower while on the road where your guard is up, and most of your interactions are with strangers and very casual acquaintances.

Additional statistics about rapes in the US show that “over two thirds of all rapes occur in someone’s home. 30.9% occur in the perpetrators’ homes, 26.6% in the victims’ homes and 10.1% in homes shared by the victim and perpetrator. 7.2% occur at parties, 7.2% in vehicles, 3.6% outdoors and 2.2% in bars”. As a solo female traveler you will likely spend the majority of your time in hostels, or hotels. Again, this means that the time spent in “rape prone” situations may actually be significantly lower than your day-to-day activities at home.

Then there is the prevalence of rape in the United States which is an unspoken tragedy and huge issue. Statistics indicate that anywhere between one in four to one in six women in the United States have been raped. Putting aside the fact that this statistic is absolutely vomit inducing, it serves as a strong indicator to me that the view that the United States is somehow “safer” than spending time traveling abroad is likely little more than a misleading illusion.

With all of that said there are aspects of travel, especially solo travel which can lead to dangerous situations which you might not otherwise find yourself in when not traveling. One key consideration for women traveling is the need to be mindful of different social norms and rules. Unfortunately, women’s rights (especially sexual rights) are vastly different from country to country. While you may not need to (or necessarily want to) conform completely with the regional gender role norms in the places you visit, you should always invest some effort and time to research them and to keep in mind that you will be subject to them regardless of what you “want” or what is “right”. The same goes for a culture’s dating behavior. Sheer ignorance of how the dating/male-female dynamic in a country works can lead to potentially dangerous miss-communication and negative situations.

Another key area to be especially careful about while traveling as a solo-female is the danger of alcohol and drugs. A huge part of the social culture surrounding many youth backpacking trips and hostel experiences is the social/party scene. The rape article mentioned above notes that, “In the United States the use of drugs, especially alcohol, frequently plays a part in rape. In 47% of rapes, both the victim and the perpetrator had been drinking. In 17%, only the perpetrator had been. 7% of the time, only the victim had been drinking. Rapes where neither the victim nor the perpetrator had been drinking account for 29% of all rapes”. Which isn’t to say that you should not drink or enjoy yourself. It just means that you have to be particularly careful and take a more responsible approach to looking after yourself. If you’re the type that needs a full time babysitter to look after you, get you home, and make decisions for you when you’re drinking – then it’s either time for you to grow up, not drink while traveling, or find someone willing to babysit you for the duration of your travels.

As a footnote to this conversation also keep in mind that most male hostel-goers/extended travelers are pretty decent people. I know for my part I’ll make the extra effort to keep an eye on the female travelers that I meet through the hostel and go out to the bars with.   I know that a lot of the other guys tend to do the same. Perhaps it’s a bit old fashioned of us, but I think many of us view it as common decency to do our best to look out for each other with a little added consideration for female travelers.

At the end of the day travel (including solo travel) is much safer than many people believe. There are tens of thousands of women traveling solo on both short stay and extended duration trips every day. The experiences you’ll have and the lessons you’ll learn about how to carry and protect yourself will make you safer in all other areas of your life. At the end of the day, the risk of rape is a terrible thing that all women have to worry about. The nature of that risk, however, changes very little between time spent at home, and time spent on the road. Be smart, be careful and above all – don’t let overblown fears or Hollywood horror stories keep you from doing something amazing.

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

I would also love to hear insights from female readers to have or are currently traveling solo.  Please feel free to post your advice, suggestions, experiences, or general comments.

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Traveling With or Without a Schedule – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here.  To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later.  Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike.  In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week.  You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from Matthew P. he asks,

Q. “Is it better to have a planned schedule or just fly by the seat of your pants?”

A. – In my experience the more an individual travels the less scheduled/organized they become.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to travel for everyone but in this case, I think it’s a sound source of guidance.  While I’ve never been an overly organized traveler, I know I’ve followed this pattern as well.  I often travel without guidebooks, set itineraries, or advanced reservations whenever possible and have slowly pushed myself to accept people’s spur of the moment invitations to see a place, take a day trip, or embark on some new and surprising (though unexpected and unplanned) adventure. These last minute trips have often turned me onto some of my best and most memorable travel experiences.

I find that the geographic size of the destination(s) I’m visiting, transportation efficiency and cost of transportation play the biggest role in how much planning goes into my trip.  With my Turkey trip, for example, I only had 17 days and intended to cover a large geographic area.  After a little research I learned that flying would shave off three 14+ hour bus rides, for the same cost, if I booked ahead.  This meant that I had to choose my three primary destination cities several weeks in advance of the trip.  A fair trade off, and that’s where my planning ended.  With each destination I figured out what to do once in Turkey a day or two in advance, or once I had already reached my destination. These type of transportation considerations are a key factor when choosing the level of organization and scheduling your trip needs. Others include peak season accommodation and tour availability, or low season routes (eg: the Greek islands only run ferries 2-3 times a week in winter).

Ultimately, schedule disaster is bound to strike in the form of a strike, missed flight, weather cancellation, delayed ferry or something of the sort.  The more rigid your schedule, the more stressed you will be and the more damage these incidents will do to your trip.  Often you’ll find yourself forced to do at least part of your trip by the seat of your pants, no matter how thorough your planning and scheduling has been. So, evaluate your comfort zone and then choose a planning approach which is slightly outside of it and errors a hair more towards the seat of your pants approach than you’d initially like.  You’ll thank yourself and enjoy a much richer trip as a result!

Matthew, thanks for a great question!  To my readers – have a question of your own?  ASK IT!   Want to see previous questions? click here.

Credit Card Points and Frugal Travel – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here.  To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later.  Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike.  In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’m launching a new Wednesday feature here on VirtualWayfarer.  Starting today I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week.  Anyone can submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything  – as long as it is travel related.

This week’s travel question is from Lindsay B. she asks,

Q. “What’s the best way to use credit card points/miles to travel frugally? Recommend any cards/programs/strategies?”

A. This is a challenging one because it depends on a wide variety of different factors which vary from person to person, and are constantly changing. I’ve had a very mixed track record in the past, having gone so far as to swear off mileage plans after a particularly frustrating experience, before being lured back by Chase’s 100,000 mile British Airways signing bonus.

Let’s start with the basics.  Before you even consider getting a mileage/points card, you have to evaluate your spending and debt behavior.  Is getting a credit card something that  makes economic sense for you?  Can and will you pay it off completely each and every month? Keep in mind that if you carry a balance and are paying interest that’s airfare money going up in smoke.  You’re also going to need to tally up your monthly credit card expenses.  If you put less than $1,000 a month on your credit card you are probably not going to accrue more than 12-13,000 points a year without bonuses.  Given that many point-based cards cost $80-$150 a year and that mileage to fly internationally usually starts at 35,000 miles and is typically closer to 60-80,000 miles round trip, you may actually cost yourself money by getting a mileage card. Ultimately, this is the type of user credit companies are hoping for.  You should also keep in mind that many airlines are in the process of inflating the number of miles needed for various destinations which is in turn driving up the amount of miles you need. Others have discussed switching to a different methodology for counting how many miles are needed from destination to destination.  In general, as you might imagine, very few of these changes actually benefit us as consumers.

On the other hand if you’re flying regularly for business, have business expenses, or your monthly credit card total is over $1,000 then a mileage card might be right for you. These cards often offer airfare bonuses for frequent fliers and if you can accrue points fairly quickly that annual fee becomes less of an issue.  Most cards waive the fee for the first year and offer a hefty mileage reward for signing up for the card.  While most offer 20-40,000 miles for signing up periodic specials are offered where that can be more than doubled.  I mentioned earlier that I was lured back to a miles credit card after having sworn off of them.  Despite reservations the special that drew me back in was a super bonus through British Airways which offered me 50,000 miles for opening the card and another 50,000 miles when I spent $3,500 on the card within the first three months (be very aware that many of these cards have similar requirements).  These miles were roughly the equivalent of two round trip tickets to Europe. So far I’ve had fairly good luck with the British Airways frequent flyer program, and I was able to book my ticket to Copenhagen using these miles without any of the redemption issues I had previously.

As you might imagine, there are a subset of consumers who are focusing on accruing the signup mileage bonuses as an alternative to accruing points on a per-dollar basis.  Keep in mind that even though you may get your points through an airline branded credit card, the points themselves are actually held within the Airline’s mileage program.  So, I can technically sign up for a Chase British Airways card with a 50,000 point sign up bonus, and a Bank of America British Airways Mastercard with a 45,000 point sign up bonus giving me a collective 95,000 British Airways miles.  Many of these users then cancel the card after keeping it for most of a year (thus avoiding the annual fee) while also meeting the $3000-$4,000 minimum spend required to qualify for the points.  So far credit card companies haven’t been thrilled about these users, but have tolerated them. Given that a fair number of people no doubt read up about this way of generating miles and register for cards intending to churn them, only to end up keeping the card I imagine the banks are still doing quite well.

The verdict is still out on just how negative the impact of this type of credit card churning can be on your credit. From what I’ve read it seems that those who tend to put a fair amount of cash onto their cards each month and maintain several old cards with a long credit history haven’t had significant issues.  On the other hand, I’ve also read reports from a number of users who have been blacklisted by various credit card providers.

This space is constantly changing, and varies from provider to provider so you’ll want to do extensive research before deciding what approach you take.  To do that research there are a number of communities that are dedicated to making mileage plans work for you. Keep in mind it’s a game and a complex one at that which is structured in the airline and bank’s favor.  Doing your research, having a plan and sticking to it is fundamental if you’re going to be able to successfully use your miles as a budget travel technique.  For research I suggest reviewing Chris Guillebeau’s posts on using frequent flyer miles via his Art of Non-Conformity Blog.  Additionally FlyerTalk is dedicated to all things frequent flyer based and is a great place to find out what cards are offering the best signup bonuses, how to get the most out of your mileage program, etc.

A few final thoughts – keep in mind that frequent flyer programs may give you the flight for free, but they often do not include taxes which you’re responsible for. For my one-way flight to Copenhagen I saved around $800 BUT still paid $250 in airport taxes and fees.  Also, if your work schedule is very limited it can be extremely difficult to redeem your miles on short (less than 6 months) notice.   On the other hand if you have a very flexible schedule, mileage can be great.  Another key consideration is the quality of the card itself.  Amazingly many mileage based “travel” cards are surprisingly not-very travel friendly.  While it is changing, many older mileage cards charged a 3% international transaction fee on all purchases made outside of the US, in addition to various other fees.  That adds up quick when abroad.   Lastly, consider the possibility of using your miles for a RTW (Round-The-World) style ticket.  These multi-destination tickets can be incredible, and often only slightly more expensive mileage wise than a long-distance international ticket. Though you’ll need to have more than a week or two to properly utilize them.

Hopefully that gives you a crash course introduction to mileage cards.  Make sure to head on over to FlyerTalk for more in-depth information and to do your own research.  To be clear, I’m not providing any financial advice in this article, or suggesting you employ any of the tactics outlined within this blog post.  Only that you utilize the resources available to educate yourself and make your own decisions.

Lindsay, thank you for a fantastic question!

If you end up using these tips to book a trip I’d love to hear about it! Good luck and safe travels!

If you’re looking for additional information, you can also explore what Nomadic Matt has to say. Matt is a premium advertising partner and also one of the most well recognized and respected names in the independent travel advice community.  He has a series of guides and informative posts that cover most of the relevant topics you need to worry about when preparing for a trip.  Of particular interest based on this post consider taking a look at his guide to the best travel rewards cards.  As a long-term traveler who has circumnavigated the globe he also provides a number of insights on how best to book and research round the world tickets.