AAdvantage Elite Status Challenge 2016


American Airlines has initiated an elite status challenge for anyone looking to achieve AAdvantage Gold or AAdvantage Platinum in 2016. There is no status challenge for AAdvantage Executive Platinum at this time.

AAdvantage Gold AAdvantage Platinum
EQMs Required 7,000 12,500
Fees (by 16 June 2016) $100 $200
Fees (after 16 June 2016) $120 $240

If you register before by 16 June 2016, your status is good through 28 February 2017, but if you register after 16 June 2016, your status will be good through 31 January 2018. Elite qualifying miles (EQMs) must be earned within 90 days of registration, although AA will accept EQMs for qualifying flights flown no more than two weeks prior to the registration date. In order to qualify, EQMs must be earned on flights marketed or operated by:

  • American Airlines (AA)
  • British Airways (BA)
  • Iberia (IB)
  • Japan Airlines (JL)
  • Qantas (QF)

Note that it will be easier to complete these requirements flying on  AA marketed and operated flights as flying on partner airlines will earn only a fraction of the EQMs according to the new 2016 mileage earning tables. It will also be easier for premium cabin travelers to complete this challenge since you now earn:

  • 3.0 EQMs for Full-Fare 1st/Business Class
  • 2.0 EQMs for Discount 1st/Business Class
  • 1.5 EQMs for Full-Fare Economy
  • 1.0 EQMs for Discount Economy

To register, simply call the AA Help Desk at +1 (888) 697-5636. You cannot register if you currently have status. You can register for AAdvantage Gold if you currently do not have it, and for AAdvantage Platinum if you currently are AAdvantage Gold.


Buy an airline ticket and save some money

American Airlines at John F. Kennedy Airport

American Airlines at John F. Kennedy International Airport – from the Flickr Creative Commons

You’ve found a really good deal on airfare and you’re ready to book it. But is it a really good deal? You probably already know that you can find the same flights on different websites for less or more money, but did you know that the price can also differ depending on “where” you buy your ticket from or even what currency you pay with?

Let’s take an example of a flight that I’m looking to purchase. The flight is from Los Angeles to Johannesburg via London on British Airways from 04 Nov 2015 to 25 Nov 2015.


British Airways – LAX > LHR > JNB – $1034.72 RT

British Airways - LAX > LHR < JNB - $934.72 RT

British Airways – LAX > LHR > JNB – $934.72 RT

From the screen captures, you can clearly see that both itineraries are for the same flights on the same airlines, on the same exact days, but there seems to be a price discrepancy of $100. How is that possible? It has to do with “where” you buy the ticket; this is known as the sales city or point of sale. The first itinerary has the point of sale in the United States  while the second has the point of sale in the United Kingdom. So how do you change “where” you buy the ticket from on an airline website? Simple. Most airline websites like British Airways will show a “home country” near the top of the page; this will default to wherever you are in the world, so if you’re in the USA, it’ll default to USA. Simply click on Change country/language and choose whatever country and language you want. You could go through the whole country list and check fare differences but that’d probably be too much work.

Besides the point of sale, the price you pay for airfare can also differ just by simply choosing a different  currency. In this example I’ll use the popular Air Asia Asean Pass which let’s you travel throughout Southeast Asia using a fixed number of credits for each flight segment. The Asean Pass can be paid in a wide array of currencies including US Dollars (USD), British Pounds (GBP), Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), Philippine Pesos (PHP) and Indonesian Rupiah (IDR).


If bought in USD, the cost of the Asean Pass containing 20 credits is $290; not a bad price for 60 days of travel. Here is the cost of the Asean Pass in some of the currencies mentioned above and the USD equivalent:

Cost of Asean Pass USD Equivalent
GBP 180 $280.71
MYR 888 $232.35
PHP 12900 $282.59
IDR 3550000 $263.54

As you can see from the table, if you’re an American, it’s cheaper to buy the Asean Pass in Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) because it saves you almost $60! When purchasing something with a different currency, be sure to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees or else you’ll get slapped with an extra 3% on top of what you’re paying.

So the next time you’re looking to buy a ticket, make sure to check if the price changes in your favour by selecting a different home country or currency to pay with; it might just save you a fortune.


An ode to travel…looking back on my first solo trip abroad

Quintessential London, Tower Bridge

Quintessential London, Tower Bridge

It’s all about the people you meet along the way.

I took my first solo trip a little more than two years ago now, and all I can say is that I am definitely better off for having done so. I had just gotten out of a relationship and was pretty bummed out about it. You probably shouldn’t think of doing anything drastic after such life events, but I said, “to hell with it, I’m going to Europe!” And that’s when it all started, October 2012. I saved every penny I could. For six months, I wasn’t going to have any fun, or at least try not to. The goal was to save $1000 every month, which was pretty much half of my take home, it’d be hard.

I went to lunch with my manager one day, and brought it up. “So what would you say to me taking a five week vacation?” “When were you thinking of taking it?” “Next year in March.” “Okay.” Well shit that was easy! Who in their right mind takes a five week long vacation? Let me tell you….this guy. At least I didn’t have to worry about that anymore.

So the months rolled on and I was saving money like crazy, every penny that didn’t need to go towards paying bills went into my savings account. For the most part, I didn’t have any fun (though I did go to Seattle for New Year’s, that was awesome). I didn’t eat out, I mostly just stayed home and researched everywhere I could go and everything that I could do. I planned which countries I’d go to and how I’d get there. I renewed my passport in January, and bought my ticket to London not too long afterwards. My credit card was charged and the ticket was confirmed; this was happening. March was fast approaching. My Eurail pass arrived towards the end of February. By this point, I had everything I needed. I was anxious. I was excited. I was ready to go. There was no going back. Once I stepped on that plane, my life would never be the same again.

The flight from Los Angeles to London was about 10 hours; it was long and it sucked. The entertainment system on the plane was malfunctioning and I had absolutely nothing to do for the first few hours, “Damn you British Airways!” I just ended up sleeping, I was too tired to do anything else anyways. The flight stewardesses kept trying to wake me up to eat, but I just wanted to sleep.

We touched down in London Heathrow around 3:00 PM the next day. This was it. I was finally on a different continent, thousands of miles away from home. The first thought that crossed my mind was “Why the hell is Heathrow so big?! I’ve never had to take a train inside an airport in my life!” I remember walking to the UK Border Control, EU and UK passport holders this way, everyone else that way. I was everyone else. The immigration officer I went to was this short Indian lady. “What brings you to London?” “I’m doing a Eurotrip!” “I see, and where will you be staying?” “At a hostel called the Safestay. It’s near the….Elephant & Castle?” “The Safestay…” she chuckles, “I don’t think hostels are particularly safe personally, but…enjoy your stay.” Stamp. Phew, I made it.

Now the real adventure, how the hell do I get to the Elephant & Castle? My phone is dead so Google Maps is pretty much out of the question. I mean have you seen the map of the London Underground? It is humungous! There are lines going everywhere and anywhere.

“Excuse me, I’m a bit…lost. I can’t find the Elephant & Castle on this map.”

“No worries dear, you can’t be lost yet, you’re only in the airport. Now, the Elephant & Castle you say? Yes here it is. Go down the stairs to the Underground and take the Piccadilly Line to Piccadilly Circus and transfer to the Bakerloo Line and that will take you to the Elephant & Castle.”

“Thank you!”

I top up my oyster card and head down to the Underground. Finally I’m getting somewhere. I get off at Piccadilly Circus and realize that I am really regretting bringing a duffle bag, I definitely packed a little too much. There are long flights of stairs everywhere…ugh. And the worst part? Me and my duffle bag sometimes get caught in the gates…About fifteen minutes later, I make it to the Elephant & Castle. Now where do I go? It’s freezing outside and I am FUCKING STARVING! I hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours. I’m walking up and down Walworth Road, looking like some desperate hobo, searching for my hostel, but I can’t seem to find it. I know the building number, but it doesn’t seem to exist. The numbers descend and then ascend as I walk down the street. Goddamn it, where is this place?! I start thinking that it was some fake listing and whoever was running it just made off with a little over a hundred dollars. I’m frustrated and hungry, but really I just want a blanket and some hot tea, because it’s so fucking cold out. After about an hour into my frantic search, I finally find the Safestay! It was on the other side of the street! The number was on the building but it wasn’t lit! How is anyone supposed to see that in the dark!

I get inside, check-in, go to my room and lock my stuff away in the cage. It’a nice place, but everything is purple! Like really purple! I head down to the kitchen and dining room to let my parents know I’m alive. It’s sunny and warm at home, but cold as balls in London. At this point, I’m a little relieved, but still frustrated and hungry. I’m contemplating going home. Yeah…I am contemplating going home. After months of planning, I am thinking, “I can’t handle this, how am I going to survive five weeks here??”

I head back up to my room, and that’s when my mood changes. There’s finally someone else in there besides me. A girl walks out of the loo saying something like “If it smells in here, I swear it wasn’t me.” I laugh a little bit. Her name is Lena, from Portland, Oregon. Woot! An American, at least we have that in common. A guy stumbles into the room a few minutes later, kinda surprised that there were people actually there. We learn that his name is Quinn, and he’s American too, from Colorado. That feeling of wanting to buy a one way ticket and high tail it home is now all but gone. What the hell was I thinking? I was definitely overreacting, I can do this. I prepped and saved for six months, can’t quit now.

We decide to head to some Chinese restaurant down the street called the Dragon Castle. The food was alright but nothing to write home about. I learn that Lena works as a waitress in Portland and that Quinn worked as a chef in Colorado. He was actually headed to Sierra Leone to chase after a “girlfriend?” It was complicated. Compared to them though, my story was pretty boring. An engineer on a Eurotrip? Definitely not memorable. We finished up our dinner and parted ways for the night. They ended up going to some night club, and I just went to wander The City and take pictures on my own.

Quinn, Lena, and I in front of Buckingham Palace

Quinn, Lena, and I in front of Buckingham Palace

For the next few days, the three of us explored the city together. We went to Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and Greenwich to stand on the Prime Meridian. Can you believe that Lena’s London plans never included any sightseeing? Quinn and I thought it was pretty crazy. Who goes to London and doesn’t at least stop by to see Buckingham Palace or Big Ben?

I’m really glad that I got to share my London experience with these guys, couldn’t have asked for a better pair of people to share it with. If I hadn’t met them my first night there, I probably would have bought that one way ticket and gone home. I would have been out more than a thousand dollars and would have missed out on something not everyone gets to experience in their lives. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be so eternally infected by the travel bug as I am now. I wouldn’t have been to as many places as I have if it weren’t for them. Travel and life in general is all about the people you meet along the way, and I’m grateful to still be able to call Lena and Quinn my friends.


20 Tips on Becoming a Better Traveler

20 Tips to Becoming a Better Traveler

  1. Remember that nothing is impossible. Ignore the naysayers and everyone who tells you it can’t be done, because IT CAN. If I’d have listened to all the naysayers in my life (friends and family included), I would never travel anywhere. Keep your eye on the prize. Perseverance is key and it’ll get you anywhere. Don’t give up.
  2. Chuck the itinerary, seriously, you don’t need it. That schedule that you made where every hour and minute of the day is filled up, just toss it. If you try to cram too many things into your trip, you’ll be exhausted and won’t enjoy any of it. Sure there are lots of things to see where you are going, but that’s why you make future plans to go back. If you learn to relax and enjoy the moment, you’ll appreciate it more. I mean, you’re on vacation right? Do you really want to see another schedule?
  3. Patience is a virtue. Missed your train? Missed your connecting flight? Don’t freak out, there will be others. Life is way too short to be sad and angry over little things.
  4. Don’t eat near tourist attractions. If you eat near a tourist attraction, you’ll most likely be paying more for your food than you should and it’ll be of lesser quality. Why? Restaurants near tourist attractions know that you won’t be able to tell the difference, so the food won’t taste as good as it should and they’ll charge you more for it. How do you avoid this? If you see “tourist menu,’ it’s probably best to move on. If the people working there don’t speak any English, you’re probably in the right place.
  5. Meet locals. You’re in a foreign country right? What better way is there to experience the culture of a place than to meet people who actually live and work there. You’ll also get in on the local secrets like the secret bread of Florence (yes, it does exist).
  6. Learn to smile and say hi. The simplest things make a world of difference. If you smile, people are more likely to come up to you and talk to you. When was the last time you spoke to someone who was grouchy? And learn how to say hi in the local language. Sure you won’t be fluent in the local language but learning how to say hi goes a long way. In Spain? “Hola!” In the Philippines? “Kumusta!”
  7. Say yes. You should still keep your wits about you, but if you meet someone and they invite you over to meet their family and have dinner, you should go! Why wouldn’t you? This is your chance for an authentic cultural experience, and the opportunity may never come up again. It could be a wedding or a festival or a road trip to the family vineyard in the countryside to try the special reserve wine. Just go. These are the things that make traveling worthwhile. Don’t pass them up.
  8. Try couchsurfing. It’s beyond amazing. I’ve been couchsurfing since 2009 and I
    Couchsurfing in Paris with my hosts Gaëlle and Gaël and their friend Christopher

    Couchsurfing in Paris with my hosts Gaëlle and Gaël and their friend Christopher

    can honestly say that my life wouldn’t be the same without it. Couchsurfing is a large community of people around the world willing to host you and get to know you. They’ll also give recommendations on where to go and where to eat, and if they have time, they’ll show you around. The best part? You’ll make life long friends and gain a better understanding of the world and its people. If you’re looking for an authentic travel experience, couchsurf.

  9. Learn to laugh at yourself. This applies to all aspects of life. You WILL make mistakes along the way, and that is OKAY. Just pick yourself up and move on. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  10. Eat the local food. A big part of experiencing another country’s culture is the food. Whether it’s chinicuiles in Mexico, balut in the Philippines, pasta nero in Italy or that extra smelly cheese in France, try it all. Just because it looks funny or smells weird doesn’t mean that it doesn’t taste good. Don’t knock it ’til you try it I say.
  11. Don’t be afraid. The world is full of scary things sure, but that doesn’t make it a scary place. Don’t believe everything you see in the media, it’s only ever one-sided. The world is a beautiful place and its people and cultures nothing short of awe-inspiring. More often than not, you’ll find that people around the world want to get to know you just as much as you want to get to know them. In the words of my favorite president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
  12. Be open-minded. Leave your prejudices, inhibitions, and misconceptions about the world where they belong…at home! It is absolutely paramount in my opinion. Don’t judge people just because they do things differently from you or speak in a language you don’t understand. You’re there for the experience, take it all in.
  13. Take photos, and take lots of them. It can be tempting to buy souvenirs everywhere you go, but keep in mind that they take up space and eventually start to get heavy. If you’re on a multi-week trip, your pack will be chock full of them. Do you really want to be hauling it around? Instead, take photos, and take lots of them. Photos are the best souvenirs because they weigh nothing and you can take as many as you want (at least as many as your memory card will hold). With photos, you can relive the experience, try doing that with a shot glass.
  14. People watch. Go to a cafe, grab a coffee and just sit outside. See how the locals live. It’s a good way to take in the culture and relax at the same time.
  15. Be respectful. This doesn’t mean that you can’t fun but just be mindful of where you are. If you’re going to visit a church or temple, dress appropriately. Guys, that means pants and a shirt, no shorts and a tank top. Ladies, don’t wear anything revealing.
  16. Be frugal. Your trip won’t be as fun if you’re always on a budget. Know when to save and know when to splurge a little. Don’t miss out on something just because you decided to walk ten miles instead of taking the bus for $2.
  17. Travel insurance. Don’t leave home without it. If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of being robbed while abroad, you’ll know what I mean. It kinda sucks when you’re stuff is stolen, especially when it’s stuff like your camera, computer or even your passport. World Nomads is a good place to start.

    the ever iconic Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona border

    the ever iconic Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona border

  18. Wake up early (or stay up really late). Ever go to take a picture of a tourist attraction only to find that everyone is getting in the way? If so, wake up early. You can get a picture of an empty Piazza San Pietro or an almost empty Fontana di Trevi. The other alternative is to stay up really late and get some awesome night shots.
  19. Cash is king. You won’t always be able to debit and credit cards when you travel, so remember to always have some cash on you. This is especially important if you are traveling to less developed countries where ATMs are far and few between.
  20. Most importantly, DON’T WAIT. The only way to become a better traveler is to actually travel. Sadly most people that say they will travel, actually never do. It’s always one excuse or another. I don’t have enough money or life got in the way. The world is constantly changing and what might be there today may not be there tomorrow. Don’t miss out on it. Don’t wait.

Adventure Outlook for 2015

2015 Adventures

United States, Canada, France, United Arab Emirates, Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, United Kingdom, South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Spain, and Italy

Ridiculously ambitious? Yes! But I’m prepared (at least I hope I am).


Solo travel and why you should do it at least once in your life

Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park, Utah - 6 July 2014

Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park, Utah, U.S.A. – 6 July 2014

“Hey man, have you booked your ticket to London yet?”

“Yeah, about that…I haven’t, I decided I’m not going to go.”

“What?! We’ve been planning for weeks, we’re supposed to take off in a month!”

“I just got too much goin’ on right now man, it’s just not the right time. We’ll go next time, I promise.”

I’m sure many of us have experienced this before, it’s nothing new. You and your friend (or friends) come up with this amazing trip idea, maybe to Europe or Southeast Asia, to celebrate a major life milestone, a college graduation or maybe an engagement. You spend weeks planning where to go, what to do, where to stay, what to eat. Adrenaline is coursing through your body. Excitement and anxiousness become all too familiar feelings, you’re ready to board that plane and leave the world you know behind. It’s down to the wire and your friend…BAILS ON YOU. They give you some lame excuse along the lines of, “Something came up,” or “I’m just too busy,” or even more simply, “I don’t feel like going anymore.” You freak out, you don’t know what to do. You can’t find anyone who wants to take the place of that (said) friend. Have all those weeks of planning been for nothing? Rest assured, all is not lost. You CAN still go on your trip. And you don’t need your friend to come along to enjoy it.

If I’d have waited all those times for my friends to come along, I would have never gone anywhere. I wouldn’t have backpacked my way through Europe and I definitely would not have made it to Africa. Lesson #1, if you wait for others, you’ll never go anywhere.  There are so many places in this world to go and only so much time to experience it all. My bucketlist is miles long and I don’t have time to wait around and have people tell me that they’re finally ready. If I want to go somewhere, I’M GOING.

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Elliot

I refuse to wait for others. This is my dream and I won’t let anyone stand in the way of me achieving it. If you’ve been putting off your dreams of traveling because you’re waiting on others, here’s my advice to you: JUST GO. Don’t let anyone hold you back. Let the wind fill your sails and just go wherever it’ll take you. Traveling by yourself can be just as if not more exciting as traveling with friends. And once you start, you’ll never stop.

I’m not the first to say this, but solo travel can be scary. It forces you to step out of your box and out of your comfort zone. Solo travel forces you to live, I mean really LIVE. There’s no safety net to fall on if you fail. You’ll experience the ups and downs of travel. Some days will be so amazing that you’ll think that if you were to die right then and there, you’d die happy. And some days will just be down right shitty. You might miss the train from Geneva to Brig because the plane that was supposed to get you to Geneva four hours before the train departed actually got you there thirty minutes beforehand. You might have to wander all around the city at night to find a place to sleep because the last available bed in the hostel you wanted to stay at suddenly became unavailable. And as luck might have it, there’s a convention in town, so guess what? There are no beds available, ANYWHERE. Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect. In my opinion, everything that makes solo travel scary is also everything that makes it exciting. You’ll have experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have had if you had just stayed at home. You’ll meet people that you never in a million years thought you’d meet. And you know what’ll happen? You’ll get along! And you’ll talk for hours about anything and everything as you sip on wine in the Tuscan countryside or over beer in some hole in the wall bar in Seattle. So is it worth it? You bet your ass it is.

Skydiving in Seattle with my friend Devin, he's a few hundred feet below me. Skydive Snohomish, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. - 1 Sept 2013

Skydiving in Seattle with my friend Devin, he’s a few hundred feet below me. Skydive Snohomish, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. – 1 Sept 2013

When you travel solo, you’re on your time. You don’t need to abide by anyone’s schedule but your own, which in reality will be non-existent. You don’t need to check-in with anyone You don’t need to ask anyone if they’re okay with eating at some place or doing something that you’re interested in. No consensus needed when you travel solo; you can do whatever you want to do when you want to do it. You want to go bungee jumping? Do it. Skydiving perhaps? By all means, go for it! I did it. Maybe you want to get a taste for chapulines or chinicuiles in Mexico City or try that deep fried tarantula in Cambodia? Well you can. No one is going to tell you no, and no one is going to keep you from doing so.

When you travel solo, you don’t need to worry about actually being alone the whole time. It’s quite easy to make friends. Just learn how to say hi and talk about something interesting. This is actually my favorite part of the whole solo travel experience, meeting people, new people, and being immersed in a culture previously unknown to you.  I enjoy hearing about other people’s life experiences, their hopes and dreams for the future, and what they enjoy doing in their spare time.

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” – Life Motto from the Secret Life of Water Mitty (2013)

I mean, that’s really what it’s all about in the end isn’t it? To break down barriers and get a better understanding of each other.

So if you’re still thinking about solo travel. Stop. Just do it. Go explore the world on your own, it might just surprise you. If in the end, you find that it’s not for you…then oh well. At least you can say you did it and cross it off your bucketlist. No one can take that away from you. Just book your ticket, grab your backpack, and leave any inhibitions, misconceptions, and prejudices you may have at home, and travel.

*This post is dedicated to my friends Devin Ballif, Chuck Jackson, Gaëlle Munsch, Gaël Payet, Nicola Argirò, Nic Svetman, Lena Adams, Quinn Radway, and Lalo Téllez. Traveling wouldn’t be the same without you guys.


Money and avoiding fees while traveling abroad

So you’ve booked your ticket to your next destination…you’re stoked… excited… anxious, you’re ready to go. Then you ask yourself, what should I do about money? Should I bring cash? Should I exchange money? Maybe I should just use credit cards, will I be charged a foreign transaction fee? Can I withdraw money from an ATM abroad?

What should I do about money?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but this is what I do. Personally, I don’t like carrying cash. It’s harder to replace cash than a debit card if it gets lost or stolen. If I need some cash, I’ll withdraw it from an ATM. However, there are some instances where you won’t be able to use your debit or credit card, so you’ll need to bring cash and exchange it for the local currency. Be wary of withdrawing money from an ATM abroad as you may be charged a foreign transaction fee and additional fees for using ATMs outside of your bank’s network. Foreign transaction fees typically run 3% which may not seem like much, but it adds up; and it’ll add up quickly.

For debit card usage, it’s best to call your bank before you depart for your trip and ask them which banks and ATMs you can go to free of charge. Let them know which countries you’ll be traveling to and they’ll provide you with banks that you can use (if they’re available). If you bank with Bank of America, you’ll be able to use Barclay’s Bank in the United Kingdom, any bank associated with BNP Paribas on mainland Europe, Banco Santander in Mexico, and Scotiabank if you happen to be in Canada. The same goes for credit card usage, you’ll be charged a 3% foreign transaction fee unless you have a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.

Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card

Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card

When I travel abroad, the only debit card I carry is my Visa Platinum Debit Card from my High Yield Investor Checking Account from Charles Schwab Bank. Here’s what I like about it:

  • No ATM fees. You will not be charged a fee for using your debit card at an ATM
  • ATM Rebates. If the ATM you use charges you a separate fee, Schwab will refund you this amount at the end of the month. If at the end of the month, you find that you were charged an ATM fee and Schwab hasn’t refunded you, just call them up and let them know.
  • This account is interest earning. The interest rate isn’t much, but any little bit helps, right?
  • No account minimum. Enough said.
  • No monthly maintenance fee.
  • Free checks and deposit slips.
  • Great customer service. If your card is ever lost or stolen while at home or abroad, Schwab will promptly send you a new debit card free of charge. They’ll also accept charges for collect calls if you’re calling from abroad.

I love this card. Sometimes I think it’s the only debit card I’ll ever need. Chuck has your back, you’ll never pay any fees with Chuck. The debit card also a world map on it, it’s perfect for travelers. If you don’t have the High Yield Investor Checking Account from Schwab, you can go here to apply.

I carry three credit cards with me when I travel, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, AAdvantage Aviator Red Card from Barclay’s, and my BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card from Bank of America. These cards all have their added benefits but the most important thing is that they have no foreign transaction fees! Foreign transaction fees add up and can get pricey. There are plenty of credit cards out there that offer no foreign transaction fees but these are my favorite. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and AAdvantage Aviator Red Cards both have annual fees, but there are ways to get around this, you just need to be creative!


National Parks of the USA

U.S. National Parks

Are you a foreigner traveling to the United States? Are you interested in visiting any number of our 59 national parks or 113 national monuments? If the answer is yes, and you are planning on visiting at least 3, then I recommend you get the America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass from the National Park Service.

The 2015 America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass – from the U.S. National Park Service

Entrance fees to our national parks and monuments range anywhere from $15 to $25 depending on the park, and some, such as Crater Lake National Park in the Southern Cascades of Oregon, are even free if you visit during the winter. The entrance fees are good for the driver and all passengers  of a personal vehicle for up to (7) days. The America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass costs just $80 for the whole year and is available to EVERYONE. That’s right…EVERYONE! I figure most visitors to our national parks will end up visiting at least Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and maybe Sequoia or Zion. The entrance fees for all of these parks costs $25, so if you visit all of these parks, the annual pass has more than paid for itself! I have the annual pass and I can definitely tell you that it is worth the cost. Since I bought the pass in July 2014, I have had the pleasure of visiting four of the Mighty 5 national parks in Utah (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Arches), the Grand Canyon, Redwood National Park at the very north of California, Crater Lake National Park (twice!), Mount Rainier National Park in Washington (twice!), Olympic National Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The value that you get out of this pass far exceeds the $80 that you pay for it, and you can rest assured that you’ll be helping in protecting and preserving our national parks and monuments for future generations to come.

The annual pass covers entrance fees to all lands managed by the National Park Service and also the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. You can go to national parks such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, national monuments such as Grand Staircase-Escalante and Vermillion Cliffs, and national recreation areas such as Glen Canyon and Lake Mead. Though designated a national monument, this pass WILL NOT work at the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island as there are technically no entrance fees. For more information about the America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass, you can visit the U.S. National Park Service website here.


Travel Gear and Companies

Backpacks– I’m a store and brand loyalist, so I get most of my camping and hiking gear from REI. For two years I was using the REI Grand Tour 85 Travel Pack, it went everywhere with me. From the deserts of the American Southwest, to the Cascades of Washington and Oregon, to the savannahs of Southern Africa, this bag survived it all. I still have this bag and it’s in great condition, but I realized it was too big and gave me a reason to pack more than I actually needed. I recently switched to the Osprey Atmos 65, but haven’t had the chance to use it for any backpacking trips yet. Anything you buy from REI will be of good quality and last you a long time.

Camera Bag – When I travel, I take my Nikon D7100 and my Macbook Pro along with me, so my camera bag of choice is the Alpha Pro from Langly. It’s made of waterproof canvas and leather, so it stands up to the elements. It’s also big enough for all your needs. There’s a compartment at the bottom for your DSLR and lenses, a slot at the back for your computer, and a compartment at the top for everything else.

Travel Insurance – I never used to buy travel insurance because I figured the insurance offered by my credit cards was good enough…until it wasn’t. Last year during my trip to South Africa, I had the unpleasant experience of having all my belongings stolen in the middle of the night. My computer, DSLR, video camera, phone, passport, and wallet were all gone. The credit card companies were willing to cover the cost of most of my belongings if they saw a police report, only problem was that South African Police were unresponsive in my requests to obtain a copy of the police report that I had filed. Ever hear the saying “This is Africa”? Yep…From now on I will never travel without travel insurance from World Nomads. Their prices are competitive and they come highly recommended from both Lonely Planet and National Geographic. If it’s good enough for them, it’s definitely good enough for me!

Camera – Since my Nikon D5300 was stolen in Africa, I am now the proud owner of a Nikon D7100. Sure it’s a little larger and a little heavier than I used to have, but it’s awesome. It’s weather sealed and has all the functionality of an FX camera at the DX price. Until the price of the Sony A7 comes down, I’ll stick to my Nikon. I love my Nikkor 10-24mm wide angle lens too much to let it go for the time being anyways.

Video Camera – I use a GoPro, enough said.

Computer – I use my Macbook Pro for everything. It’s easy to use and hasn’t failed me yet. in my experience, Apple has great customer service when it comes to computer repair. The HDD failed on my previous Macbook Pro so they changed it out and gave me a 500 GB HDD instead of a 200 GB HDD at no charge. You’ll never go back once you go Mac.


Greetings from South Africa

So I finally made it to South Africa! It feels so good to finally be off that plane! It took almost two days to get here, but it was totally worth it. How many people get to say that they’ve had the chance to set foot on the African continent? In my group of friends, I can only think of two.

I started my journey on 8 Nov from Los Angeles and landed in Dulles some time early the next morning. I had expected to be able to check-in my backpack at the South African Airways counter so I could easily explore our nation’s capital for a little bit, but to my surprise, they only opened at 13:30 and it was barely 07:00! The baggage claim for American Airlines also took FOREVER! I think most of us were there waiting for our bags for almost an hour and a half, not cool. I ended up having to lug my backpack with me to Washington, D.C. (Dulles is actually in Fairfax, VA) on the shuttle and paying for a locker at Union Station; it was a pricey $25 (doh!). I got to walk around the National Mall for a few hours, and surprisingly there were still a lot of tourists even with the frigid temperatures and all the restoration going on. It was nice getting to see the Capitol Rotunda, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and part of the GWU campus. Unfortunately they weren’t selling anymore tickets to go to the top of the Washington Monument.

Up, up here we go! Washington Dulles International Airport - 9 Nov 2014

Up, up here we go! Washington Dulles International Airport – 9 Nov 2014

My flight to Johannesburg via Dakar, Senegal took off later that evening; a short 8 hours to Dakar and then another 8 hours from there to Johannesburg. Not gonna lie, it was a LONG ass flight, but at least South African Airways had a good selection of movies and pretty decent food. The curry was pretty good.

We ended up landing in Dakar some time around 07:00, just in time to catch the last few minutes of the sun rising. My first African sunrise, that was something special, even if it was from the confines of the airplane. Being in the Sahel (the transition zone from the Sahara Desert to the rainforests), you could tell that it was already pretty hot, but for some reason they had the AC on full blast and it felt like we were in Greenland. From my window Dakar International Airport didn’t look like much, just a bunch of non-uniform airplane hangars and airplanes with no proper gate. I assume there was a proper terminal somewhere, but I couldn’t see it. A new wave of passengers started boarding the plane about halfway into our fuel stop. There were lots of Senegalese boarding the plane but also some Mauritanians. You knew you were in Africa because a lot the Senegalese passengers were dressed in caftans (I think that’s what they’re called) with intricate patterns. As soon as they were settled, the cabin crew came through the main cabin spraying bug spray up and down the aisles. There were maybe five or six crew each holding two fairly large canisters of bug spray. It was still pretty cold on the plane, so you could see a cloud of bug spray span the entire length of the plane for a few seconds. They said it was for sanitary purposes or something, but I thought it was kind of rude that they did that after the African passengers came aboard. Oh well, that’s their policy I guess. Only another 8 hours to Johannesburg…time for more movies and curry.

We finally touched down in Johannesburg around 18:00 local time. A total distance of 10,445 miles and about 32 hours of travel time! Disembarking the plane wasn’t a long process and as we entered the terminal, we were shuffled into a separate line from everybody else. Those of us who were aboard the SAA flight had to sign an ebola waiver form of sorts; Senegal shares a border with Guinea which is part of the Ebola Zone. The form wasn’t difficult to fill out, just your standard questions: What is your name? Where do you live? What is your nationality? and the all important: Have you traveled to Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia in the past three weeks? Have you come into contact with anyone that may have been to Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia? The answers obviously being no and no. As I finished filling out my form, a couple of Mauritanians came up to me and asked me to help them. They didn’t really speak or understand English. I didn’t speak any Arabic but I helped anyways. I figured Spanish might work because the Moors did rule southern Spain for a good amount of time, and it surprisingly did. Meanwhile, all of the Mauritanians from the flight were lining up behind them waiting for me to assist them. When did I become a translator??

After all that, I FINALLY made it to the immigration desk. The girl at the desk didn’t look like she was having a very good day.

“Why did you come to South Africa?”


New stamp! O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa - 10 Nov 2014

New stamp! O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa – 10 Nov 2014

Stamp and done. Well that was easy. Woohoo! Another stamp in my passport, and another traveler’s badge of honor. I waited for my friend Justin in the terminal with whom I’d been communicating on Couchsurfing. He’s originally from Texas but lives in Salt Lake City (Sal Tlay Ka Siti). I had posted in the South Africa forum asking if there was anyone willing to meet up while I was there. He responded and we decided to travel together as we’d be arriving on the same day and staying for about the same amount of time. O.R. Tambo International Airport would be where we meet for the first time. Crazy right? But that’s what I enjoy about couchsurfing and solo travel in general; you never know who you’ll end up meeting, but it more often than not ends up being really awesome.

We finally met and took the Gautrain (that’s pronounced ‘hau-tran’, it’s Afrikaans so you really need to hock that ‘h’ haha) to Sandton where our couchsurfing host, Ben, would pick us up. First impression of Ben is that he is a very tall Afrikaaner with a thick Afrikaans accent. To be honest, even though we all spoke English, Justin and I had a hard time understanding him because of his thick accent. After a stop at Nando’s for dinner, we made it to Ben’s house. It was storming and there were lightning strikes as we passed by the University of the Witwatersrand; Johannesburg is located in an area of Gauteng province known as the Witwatersrand. Ben let us know that he might not have power at his home because the grid has a hard time handling power surges. We met his housemate and talked about life in America and South Africa, and how even though life in South Africa isn’t completely up to Western standards, it’s on the up and up.

After almost two days of traveling, I’m glad to have a safe place to sleep and somewhat of a bed to sleep on. Greetings from South Africa!

*By the way, did anyone catch my reference to the Book of Mormon?