One Epic Mileage Run

People say if you are planning a trip to Australia, you should plan for a 2-3 week vacation. I was deferring my trip to Australia because of this reason, but sometimes circumstances arise that cannot be ignored. Those circumstances? A round-trip business class ticket for $1,500.

Error Fare FTW

Back in January, I was alerted by one of my friends that there was a potential ‘error fare’ available on Expedia for trips to Sydney. An error fare is one that is posted and available for booking, but potentially is due to an error with the airlines systems or misaligned fare classes. I immediately started searching online and it was clear that the deal was real, but vanishing fast. A few times I tried to check-out and the process failed. I did not give up, and within 15 minutes I had booked three tickets - one for me and two for my parents. You cannot overthink situations like this, because within 30 minutes the deal was gone and fares were back up to their normal rate (~$8,500 EACH). Since there is normally a 24 hour grace period post-purchase, we had one day to confirm that we really wanted to take the trip. The only other catch is that the deal was only for one week itineraries to Sydney with a connection through Auckland. In these situations, there is a risk that the airlines decide to not honor the fare due to true system issues, but lucky for us, they chose to honor it, and we decided the deal could not be passed up!

A Note on Booking with Third Party Travel Sites

Booking airline flights with third party sites like Expedia requires a bit more administrative work because you need to verify that your personal information, including passport, PassID (for Global Entry), and frequent flyer numbers are properly setup in the reservations. In my rush to book the tickets, some of these fields were left behind, so I spent a fair amount of time adding and verifying everything was setup properly with the airlines directly. Regardless of circumstances, this is a critical step to ensure you get airline Premier Qualifying Miles for your flights and TSA Pre-Check at the USA airports. Similar to airlines, tickets booked with Expedia are non-transferable. This was a bummer since my Dad ended up not being able to make the trip. Fortunately, the flight was fully refundable (very unusual), but they likely wanted to sell these seats at normal price. Long story short: do not be afraid of booking on third party sites, but act quickly, double check your personal information, and always read the fine print during your 24 hour grace period.

Six Segment Journey

Air New Zealand, part of the Star Alliance, was the airline operating this mega six flight itinerary. That means I could add my United MileagePlus number to the reservation and earn United credit for all the segments. Flying direct would obviously have been way more convenient, however the major benefit of this itinerary is the Premier Qualify Miles earned. PQM’s are calculated based on the actual distance between locations, and are the way you earn status with United. When you fly business you earn a multiple of 1.5 instead of 1, which really can make an impact on overall earnings as shown below:

  • ORD - SFO: 3692 PQM

  • SFO - AKL: 9774 PQM

  • AKL - SYD: 2018 PQM

  • SYD - AKL: 2018 PQM

  • AKL - SFO: 9774 PQM

  • SFO - ORD: 3692 PQM

  • Total PQM Earned: 30,968

To put that in perspective, it would take 8 weeks of flying round-trip Economy class from ORD to SFO to earn the same amount of PQM’s, and likely more than $5,000 cash. To earn that amount for a $1500 ticket during a one week time frame is amazing! United’s Gold Status requires earning 50,000 PQM within a year, so with just one trip, I was well on my way to earning status for the year.

ORD - SFO; United Polaris Lounge

The first leg was an afternoon flight from ORD to SFO on United, arriving in SFO with plenty of time to enjoy the United Polaris flagship lounge. Access to lounge is available for those flying on business class itineraries that include a United leg. The lounge is beautiful, with many different places to sit, whether you want to work, relax, shower, or sleep. The food and drink does not disappoint. A great location to make a layover far less painful than normal.


SFO to AKL; Air New Zealand Overview

Air New Zealand flys the Boeing 777-300ER from SFO to AKL daily at 9:50PM PDT. The flight duration is approximately 13 hours, arriving in Auckland around 5:30AM NZST + one day. Therefore, a flight departing on a Saturday evening will arrive in Auckland Monday morning. The relatively late departure time aligns well with getting a good night’s sleep.


My overall experience on Air New Zealand showcased three major positives: amazing service, comfortable cabins, and good food. Starting with cabin, it is pretty space-age with purple-toned lighting in the evenings. The business class seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 on the 777 with a reverse herringbone layout, which offers less privacy than most business class products. However, given this was a night flight, once the lights went down, it was not really an issue. The seat itself reclines about half way down and has to be modified with the help of a flight attendant to lay flat. They make quick work of this task after dinner is served, and the bed itself is super comfortable - likely the best I’ve experienced to-date on an airplane.


The food options on the flight were numerous, and most were delicious. The noodle salad, fresh bread, Impossible sliders, and ice cream was a great dinner. The snacks during the evening were higher par than what I’ve seen on United. The breakfast options were great; I enjoyed the pancakes, which is not usually something you think would be tasty on a plane. Lastly, the service within the cabin is excellent, with all the flight attendants being very attentive and friendly throughout the flight.


The 13 hour flight flew by quickly, and with a relatively good night’s rest we arrived in Auckland. The Auckland airport is of moderate size, but beautiful. We had a 1.5 hour connection, which was just enough time to freshen up and get a quick snack prior to boarding our flight to Sydney.


AKL - SYD; A Quick Hopper

AKL to SYD is approximately a 3.5 hour flight. A window seat is the best choice for enjoying the great views on this flight! There is a two hour time difference between the two cities, so you gain a few hours back through this segment. We arrived in Sydney at 9AM local time, and headed straight to our hotel. Knowing that we would be exhausted from our travels, I booked a room at the hotel for the night before, which allowed us an immediate check-in. This is a good trick to use when you really do not want to wait for the normal check-in time of 3PM-4PM. Just be sure to call the hotel ahead of time to let them know you will be arriving the next day.



Overall, this epic mileage run included approximately 60 hours of travel time (round trip). While that may seem excruciating, if you view that time as part of your vacation, and spend time preparing activities (movies, books, music) in advance, it can actually be quite relaxing. Especially if you are sitting pretty in business class. Every one always asks me how I can afford to fly business class. And the answer is this - always, always, always be on the lookout for a good deal, and be willing to act quickly. Also, you must pick one airline alliance and stick to it! This is the only way you can gain leverage and miles for redemption to use on business class itineraries such as these.

Stay tuned for my Sydney Highlights blog post - coming soon!

One Week in Portugal

Just because you aren’t in school anymore doesn’t mean you can’t take a Spring Break! A week away in March is totally warranted after surviving the long Winter in Chicago. I usually start planning a Spring trip in the Fall, if not earlier. Depending on where you want to go, it pays to book early for better prices and availability of flights and hotels. Portugal has been on my Bucket List for awhile, and I figured the Spring season would be a perfect time to visit.


I booked my flights to Portugal last Fall during United’s Black Friday sale. I secured a round-trip ticket for 35,000 miles, which is almost half the normal rate (usually it’s 60,000 round-trip in economy). Now that’s my kind of shopping deal! :) As the travel date got closer, I re-checked flight options (highly recommend doing this, because new award redemptions can appear) and found a Lufthansa Saver Business class award for 70,000 miles one-way for the outbound flight (ORD - FRA - LIS). With a $50 change fee due to my United Gold Status, I was able to convert my flight and enjoy a Business class ride on the 747-800 (which has also been on my Bucket List for awhile). Flying on the Queen of Skies is an experience not to be missed! Sitting on the top deck was awesome, the service is fabulous, and the food/drink is great! You can catch this plane on daily trips from Chicago to Frankfurt.


Planning the itinerary for Portugal was pretty easy. My Mom and Dad visited Portugal almost 15 years ago and loved every minute of their trip. It was helpful to use their insight to build a shell and then do some research to fill in the details. This was going to be a relatively quick trip (one week total), so I had to prioritize cities to visit. The final itinerary looked something like this:

  • Day 1 - Flight (ORD - FRA - LIS) - Lufthansa

  • Day 2 - Arrival to Lisbon

  • Day 3 - Lisbon

  • Day 4 - Lisbon to Obidos to Nazaré

  • Day 5 - Nazaré to Porto

  • Day 6 - Porto

  • Day 7 - Porto to Lisbon

  • Day 8 - Flight (LIS - EWR - ORD) - United

This is the best itinerary (in my opinion) if you have one week for your vacation. If you have a few more days to spare, I would highly recommend adding an additional day to Lisbon (for Sintra and Cascais) and Porto (for more city time). If you have another week to spare, I would add the Algarve region so you can visit the scenic southern part of the country. More on the destinations later.

Driving in Portugal

Portugal is a driving-friendly country, which was perfect for this on-the-move trip. It’s easy to rent a car and their highway system is straightforward. Just make sure to book a rental car through your company policy or buy the insurance required in case of any accidents. Also a good tip to know is that most credit cards offer Auto Rental CDW insurance - check your policy before you rent to understand what coverage you already have, so you don’t over-purchase. Automatic cars will be a bit more expensive, so it’s a good opportunity to use those manual shifting skills if you have them! I scored an upgrade from Hertz for a Mercedes A-Class, which was a super fun car to drive! Quick important note: if you want to leverage Apple CarPlay, be sure to buy a USB-C to Lightning cable. Newer cars are moving away from the standard USB connectors, so this cord is super handy to ensure you aren’t without a charge or a connected phone while you’re driving.


There are many hotel options in Portugal, most of which are quite affordable, but it can be challenging to find the best place. For me, accommodations can make or break a trip, and I really enjoy having a luxury experience. As a Marriott loyalist, I was disappointed (and then excited to find out) there were not many options in Portugal. This became a good opportunity to use my Chase points. After reading Lesley Murphy’s blog post on Portugal, I decided to follow her recommendations for Lisbon and Porto.

Lisbon - Pousada de Lisboa - booked on Chase Ultimate Rewards, Family Twin Deluxe room for 26,000 points per night (52K total). This hotel has an amazing location right on the Praça do Comércio square. Ask for a corner room and enjoy a beautiful, safe, and impeccable oasis. Breakfast was included in the stay, and their interior atrium was a perfect place to start each morning. An overall GREAT hotel!

Porto - Pestana Vintage Porto - booked on Chase Ultimate Rewards, Vintage Grand View Balcony room for 26,000 points per night (52K total). Another gem of a hotel located in the best possible spot in Porto - right along the river. The room was spacious, beautiful, and luxurious - one of the best in my lifetime of travel! The views from this hotel are simply amazing!

Nazaré - Mar Bravo (Mom recommendation FTW!) - booked through direct contact with Hotel, Oceanfront Double room for $82 per night. Request Room 301 (front-facing) or 302 (corner) for simply INCREDIBLE ocean views. Enjoy a sunset cocktail on your balcony - you’ll never want to leave!


If you’re like me, when planning a trip, seeking recommendations from friends and family is the best route to go. If I know that a friend or family member has had an amazing experience somewhere, I will undoubtedly follow suite. So here goes…my BEST recommendations in Portugal:


1. Forno D’Oro; yes, this is an Italian restaurant in Portugal, but it’s run by an Italian family that serves up the most delicious pizza and pasta dishes you can imagine. It’s full of locals, the service is fabulous, and the pizza is top 3 best I’VE EVER HAD. Do not miss this place (and ensure you make a reservation).

2. Castelo de S. Jorge; following my Golden Rule - go to a destination high-up to get a glimpse of the city from above - this is a perfect place to venture on your first day. The views here are fabulous, so either come in the morning or early evening to catch the best photo opportunities.

3. Bike Tour of Lisbon; when you have limited time in a city, it’s best to find an activity that allows you to see the most sights in a short amount of time. This bike tour starts at the top of Lisbon and makes it way downhill the whole trip. You will see all the major parts of the city in 4 hours!

4. Fábrica Sant`Anna; ceramic tile is everywhere in Lisbon, although most is not authentic or hand painted. This place is as authentic as they come and produces tile according to the oldest handcraft techniques. Go early in the afternoon and they will likely be able to provide you a private tour.


1. The small walled-town of Obidos is a great place to stop on your way North from Lisbon for lunch and some exploration. Climb to the top of the wall for the best pictures, enjoy a freshly baked calzone at Capinha d'Óbidos, and stroll around sipping the local Ginjinha (sour cherry liquor).


1. Sitio Nazare; the viewpoint for the highest waves in the world. During the Winter months, the ocean trench just off the coast causes the ocean swells to be magnified 100x. Even if you have a calm day, it’s a gorgeous place to go regardless. Check out this 60 Minutes episode with Anderson Cooper to see the surfers in action.

2. Mirador Lookout; gives you a glance of the city of Nazaré and it’s amazing beach. Ride the tram up the mountain and spend time taking photos, shopping, and relaxing.


3. Nazaré Beach; a destination in itself. One of the most beautiful beaches I’ve experienced. If you happen to travel here in the Summer, plan to stay a few days and relax. It’s a perfect seaside village. Catch dinner at Pangeia for incredible sunset views and a fabulous seafood dining experience.


1. Douro Valley Day Tour; my favorite adventure of the whole trip. A small tour is the way to go, and this specific company is the best in the biz. You will learn so much about the wine region and see amazing scenery. Their tour is perfectly organized and includes a delicious lunch at DOC, a Michelin star restaurant by Chef Rui Paula right along the Douro River. And you will get to taste many great wines along the way, including all the various types of Port. This experience is not to be missed!

2. Intrigo; a fabulous restaurant with river views in downtown Porto. Come here for a cocktail on their patio to watch sunset and then enjoy an incredible authentic Portuguese feast. Sorry no pics of the food (it was that good). :)


3. Mermaid Beach; a quick 15 minute ride from downtown, this area is worth exploring via car and stopping for lunch on the beach. Just make sure you order a Port Tonic (1 glass full of ice, fill halfway with White Port, fill the rest with Tonic Water, add lemon or lime, and enjoy)! The PERFECT beach drink!


All in all, Portugal was amazing! It is now on my Top 3 list of travel to-date! The cities were full of culture, great eats, and history. The scenery was off the charts everywhere. The locals are genuinely friendly and kind. It’s safe. It’s affordable. And it’s a 6 hour flight from the East Coast of the US. All reasons why you should add Portugal to your Bucket List and plan a trip as soon as possible. You will not regret it! Até a próxima vez!

Long Weekend in NYC

Inspiration for travel can come from anywhere. In this case, it came from the good ole television. CBS Sunday Morning and CBS 60 Minutes are two of my favorite TV shows. Call me nerdy, but they both consistently deliver top-notch television including interesting stories, biographies, and entertainment highlights. In late 2018, there was a segment on CBS Sunday Morning for To Kill a Mockingbird and a segment on 60 Minutes about the New York Philharmonic. Both episodes highlighted the amazing talent of two men, Jeff Daniels and Jaap van Zweden. The stories were so compelling that my Mom and I decided we had to go to NYC to experience both shows for ourselves. We bought tickets almost immediately, and we were well on our way to building a fantastic long weekend getaway.  

Day 1

While there are three options for flying into New York - LGA, JFK, and EWR, we chose EWR since it’s a major United hub and there are well-priced flights multiple times a day. Also, based on our arrival times, travel to Mahanattan from EWR took only 30 minutes in an Uber. We landed at 2PM and were in the city by 3PM, just in-time for our hotel check-in.

In advance of this trip, I spent a significant amount of time looking at different hotel options. New York is one of those cities with SO MANY hotels that it can become overwhelming to pick just one. Also, many of the luxury hotels are actually quite old, small, and come with unreasonably high price-points. I was looking for a new or newly renovated hotel with a fair price (i.e., one that did not include a $50 resort fee that is essentially useless in NYC). The AC Marriott Times Square ended up being the perfect option. It is a no-frills, brand new hotel in the Garment District, which is close-enough, but far-enough away from the craziness of Times Square. The rooms are clean, modern, and spacious. We paid less than $200 a night - a great deal!


Once we were settled at the hotel, we started making our plan for the evening. We had heard through the grapevine that the musical Beautiful was amazing, however we didn’t buy tickets in advance. The musical has been running for over five years on Broadway, so we figured it would be a good candidate to find day-of tickets. TKTS is a half-priced ticket outlet that starts selling tickets at 3PM each day for shows that evening. We arrived at the Times Square location at 3:30PM and the line was already very long. We stuck it out, and within 45 minutes we scored 12th row Orchestra tickets for less than $100 each!  


For dinner, we had our eye on Le Relais de Venise, a no-reservation French Bistro in Midtown. To beat the crowds and ensure we had enough time before our show, we headed over at 5PM. This restaurant has a set menu of steak-frites, served with a house salad and your choice of wine and dessert. The green salad with walnuts and fresh French bread was amazing paired with their house red wine. The steak is brought out hot from the oven, sliced thinly, and covered with this amazing earthy, green sauce. It is served with piping hot, thin-cut frites. The combo is to die-for. They keep extra steak and frites over candlelit flames in case you want seconds (duh)! For dessert, we opted for the crème brûlée and chocolate profiteroles. Such a great dining experience - I would highly recommend this restaurant! 

After dinner, it was showtime at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. We arrived 30 minutes early and settled into our amazing seats. It was shortly after the opening piano sequence that I quickly realized that we were in the big leagues of NYC Broadway. The lights, the costumes, the music, the acting — AMAZING! Beautiful tells the life story Carol King and her adventures in song writing, friendships, love, and family. Both the story and music are compelling, emotional, and fun! My Mom and I both LOVED it!


Day 2

Hotel blackout shades make it very difficult to get up early (amiright)? We took the opportunity to sleep in on Saturday since we had brunch reservations at 10:30AM. We headed down to Lower Manhattan to Locanda Verde based on recommendation from my friend Alex. It was an upscale, cozy spot that was full of families enjoying their Saturday morning together. Their lattes were incredible; paired with the lemon curd pancakes and French toast, we had a great start to the day.  

After brunch, we headed to the SoHo shopping district and wandered in and out of stores for the afternoon. One of our favorites was the Kendra Scott store. I had recently listened to an episode of Poppy Harlow’s podcast, Boss Files, that featured Kendra and told the story of how she built a billion-dollar brand. It made me very interested in trying out one of her stores in person. Their customer service is friendly and non-pushy, they serve champagne while you browse, and there is a jewelry bar in the basement where you can make custom jewelry combinations! Lastly, I received a hand-written card from them in the mail a few weeks after our visit. This brand is onto something…


Another great store in SoHo is the MoMA Design Store. Whoever is in charge of curating their art and design products does an amazing job. I bought a tray set for my condo that I love! Our last stop in SoHo was the Nolita Milk Bar. This location is a small walk-up coffee-stand setup. We bought a few cookies and their famous BDay Cake Truffles. The truffles are delicious! 


After a quick afternoon nap, we got ready and headed out for dinner at The Smith which is perfectly located right across the street Lincoln Center. This restaurant is an establishment in NYC with a few different locations throughout the city. For my Chicago friends, it has a very similar vibe as Quartino’s. Making a reservation is totally necessary, especially for busy weekend nights. We split the Caesar Salad and Braised Short Rib Cavatelli for dinner and loved the Caramelized Apple Pie for dessert.  

Now it was time for the main event - the New York Philharmonic! David Geffen hall is truly remarkable, both inside and out. Plan to get there at least 45 minutes before showtime so you can walk around, get settled, and watch the musicians warm-up. Seating closes five minutes before showtime, and they do not allow late entrance. The show was built in two segments. The first segment was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the grand piano being the star of the show. It was incredible for piano lovers like myself. The second segment was Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 with the horns and drums adding an amazing intensity. The musicians are remarkable, and likely the most talented in the world. The theater itself was a sight to see. Day 2 was in the books and it was nothing short of amazing!


Day 3

While there is no hotel lounge or restaurant within the AC Marriott itself, the hotel provides a $10 breakfast voucher for Gold or Platinum Elite members for the restaurant next door, Boqueria. It’s a Spanish tapas place that is highly rated overall, however their brunch selection was not ideal. The food was not great and the price point is too high for what you get. I would suggest declining the breakfast voucher and taking the points instead.

After breakfast, we headed out for a longer walk up towards the art district. We redeemed our breakfast game by visiting Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center. The latte and vanilla scone were great! If you can snag a bar stool, you will have great views of the TODAY show right across the plaza.


From there, we headed to our main stop for the day, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The museum holds a special place in my heart since the first time I visited several years ago to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which is my absolute favorite painting. We could never miss a chance to see it again. We focused our time on the Impressionist wing, including Van Gogh’s Starry Night and others, Monet’s Water Lilies, and a few good Picassos. There is nothing better than a Sunday afternoon and art!


Sunday evening, we had 4:30PM reservations for Toloache given our 6:30 showtime. They open early for guests with reservations, and we were one of the first few groups to arrive. Within 20 minutes the restaurant was FULL! Mexican food was a good shakeup for us; the margaritas were strong, the guacamole was fresh, and the food was full of flavor! Pretty much perfection in the Mexican food game!  

We headed out around 5:45PM to walk to Schubert Theater for the main event. To Kill a Mockingbird is a book I barely remember reading in grade school. I did not have a chance to re-read the book prior to our trip, but I knew seeing the play first would inspire me. The theater itself is quite small and vintage, but super cozy and fun. The show tells the story from a different perspective than the book, but follows the story line pretty much spot-on.  I was blown away by the acting of Jeff Daniels and the whole cast. Multiple times throughout the show I was laughing, crying, and/or getting chills. If that’s not a sign of a great entertainment experience, I do not know what is! Getting tickets to this show is not easy or cheap - but it is TOTALLY worth it! A lifelong memory, for sure!

Day 4

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, so we were able to extend our weekend and travel home that day. We slept-in, packed up, grabbed a quick bite at Starbucks, and headed back to EWR. We had a relatively pain-free flight back to Chicago, and just happened to dodge all the snow and rain that happened that weekend!  

New York City is a perfect long-weekend getaway. Having the shows each night gave us just the right amount of structure, while still allowing exploration and experiencing new things during the day. The hotel, meals, and shopping were excellent - not surprising for the Big Apple! New York will always be a place to return, so I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for future inspiration! 

Check out my full list of locations on my shared NYC Google Map below!

Year-End Photo & Travel Maps

The end of the year provides an opportunity to reflect back on your experiences, travel destinations, and day-to-day happenings. There is no better way to capture memories than through photographs. One of our family traditions is creating individual slideshows that we share at the holidays. Putting together the slideshow is not a menial task. Of course it requires taking photos in the first place, organizing photos across your devices (camera, iPhone, family photos), getting rid of the non-useful ones (hello, iPhone screenshots), and putting them in order to tell a story. I highly suggest going digital with this activity (I use Adobe Lightroom), but creating photo books on a site like Shutterfly is another option. If you are ever feeling like your year was non-eventful, build a slideshow or photo book and you will be amazed at just how much you experienced and accomplished.

A snapshot of my 2018 Slideshow in Adobe Lightroom.

One of the ideas I had this year to elevate my slideshow was to build a visual and digital representation of the great places I visited. I love the idea of creating an annual travel map that I can save and refer back to at any moment. I always think I will remember where I have flown to and where I have stayed, but year over year, it becomes blurry. In the past, I’ve built an airport map on the Great Circle Mapper website. However, this site is limited to airports and is static once created. I wanted to expand my visual to include airports, hotels, cruise destinations, and campgrounds. So this year, I did some research and decided to build out my 2018 Travel Map with the Google ‘My Maps’ feature. If you are interested in doing something similar, below are the steps you can follow.

1. Go to Google Maps on your desktop or laptop computer and login to your account. Once logged in, click the 3-bar button on the top left, and select ‘Your places.’ Important note: while you can view your Maps on your iPhone/Android app, you cannot create a Map. You will need to do the creation step on a PC.


2. Click the ‘Maps’ tab, and then click ‘Create Map'.


3. Rename your map to whatever name you choose. Keep the year in the title for easy searching in the future. The layers feature allows you to add different types of icons to your map and label them accordingly.


4. Start building your layers and creating your locations. You can upload a Excel or CSV file of information or you can simply search for the location in the map search bar. If you search, select the plus sign next to the location to add it to your map. Once selected, you can also rename it. For example, when I added airports, I renamed the airport to be the airport code (i.e., CPH, ORD, etc.) to keep consistency across the map.


5. Continue adding locations to your layers. I used a different layer to denote airports, hotels, cruise locations, and campgrounds. Once you’ve added all your locations within each layer, choose the ‘Uniform style’ option which will ensure all icons placed on the map appear the same. From there, customize the icon and color by clicking the paint icon. Click on ‘Base Map’ at bottom of the screen to customize the color of your overall map.


Here’s a few screenshots of the layers close-up:


My favorite feature is the interactive globe view where all layers are combined. You can spin the world and see all the places you’ve gone. You can easily zoom in or out to see more details. AWESOME! To share the map, you can take screenshots to include in your slideshow or photo book or you can simply share it live on Google.


You can my view Get Out There 2018 Travel Map on my website.

The Google My Maps feature can be used for several different purposes. You can create location-specific travel itineraries where you leverage the layers to be days and include hotels, restaurants, and attractions. You could create one map that is your comprehensive travel map (all countries, cities you’ve ever been). If you use Google Photos, you can add your photos to each location on your map.

Additionally, Google Maps has a feature called ‘Timeline’ where if you allow Google to follow your location by setting Location Settings to ‘Always’ on your iPhone, then it will automatically record the locations you’ve visited. You can easily search by month, year, or day to see your location history. The downside of this approach is Google tracking your every move. However, it is an option to consider!

For 2019, I am going to test out the ‘Timeline’ feature on Google Maps, but also proactively build ‘My Map’ throughout the year, so it will be ready once the year-end comes around. I am also committed to reviewing and organizing my photos on a monthly basis to make the year-end slideshow creation more efficient. Whatever you choose, I hope you take this opportunity to reflect back on your adventures in 2018 and make a plan for how you will capture 2019 memories to come. It’s never too late to start!

10 Things I Learned in China

My favorite part of traveling is the opportunity to learn and expand my perspective of other regions and cultures. A top travel destination to do just that is China. China represents a complex, growing, unique, and ambitious country that is changing rapidly. A superpower in the global economy, China is going to be a massive part of the world’s future. There is no better time to gain a better understanding of this distinctive destination.

1. China’s airports are spectacular; they really put our disgraced U.S. airports to shame. I will never forget the moment I stepped out of the plane from Chicago and into the PEK terminal. My first reaction was “WOW…” The airports are insanely clean, bright, modern, and easy to navigate. China continually delivers new infrastructure in a fraction of the time as the U.S. government. Yes, infrastructure growth is successful through blatant force of the government to purchase land and leverage cheap labor, but it is done mostly out of desire to showcase China to the world in a positive light. And it shows. U.S. take note.

Beijing’s PEK Airport International Arrivals Terminal

Beijing’s PEK Airport International Arrivals Terminal

2. Luxury hotels are top notch and fairly priced; they make staying in the heart of the main cities easy, affordable, and fun. You can find all the major hotel brands in each city. While the inventory is high, not all hotels are created equal (even the luxury brands). For example, the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai is actually quite out-dated even though it’s one of the most expensive places to stay. Look for options in the best city center location, while also being new construction or recently renovated. Top picks from my trip include the JW Marriott Hotel Beijing Central, Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre, and the Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View Hotel. Make sure to analyze whether cash or points makes sense before booking.

Amazing lobby of the JW Marriott Beijing Central

Amazing lobby of the JW Marriott Beijing Central

3. While staying in China as a tourist is affordable, buying property in China is quite expensive; buying an equivalent-sized condo in China (compared to my Chicago condo) would cost over $1.5 million USD. So how do people afford to live there? Most property is handed-down through generations. This is especially true for properties in the major city centers that were purchased before the economic boom, therefore the cost remains relatively neutral for the families that have owned the properties for several years. For the owners that get displaced based on new construction efforts, the government provides fair payouts to buy replacement properties. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to have 4-6 people living in small condos in effort to keep their housing costs low. Unlike a lot of other countries, foreigners cannot easily buy property in China, which helps maintain availability for Chinese citizens.

The ‘Hutongs’ are some of the most historical and expensive properties in Beijing

The ‘Hutongs’ are some of the most historical and expensive properties in Beijing

4. Air pollution is still a problem, but the Government has plans to fix it; most of China’s existing air pollution problem has sprung up based on the manufacturing boom in the last century. The government initially placed no restrictions on companies because they were so focused on growing and scaling their economy to support trade around the world. Also, a lot of homes in rural Chinese areas still burn coal to heat their homes. Unfortunately, both aspects have had a significant negative impact on their air quality. However, new government regulations on manufacturing emissions and newly placed coal burning restrictions are part of their ‘2020 action plan.' Read more about it here. Air pollution should not be a deterrent to traveling to China because not every day is bad, but it is something to keep top of mind.

Morning sunrise highlighting partial smoggy conditions in Shanghai

Morning sunrise highlighting partial smoggy conditions in Shanghai

5. China is formally the People’s Republic of China; established in 1949 and currently governed by the Communist Party of China. The paramount leader of China is General Secretary Xi Jinping. China is deeply rooted in communist and capitalist socioeconomic practices that can be overly restrictive and prevent citizen freedoms. With that said, China is very orderly and safe with a crime rate that is significantly below worldwide averages. While I personally do not agree with most of China’s governing principles, I believe that the ideal state of society is found somewhere in the middle-ground of complete restriction and complete freedom. In other words, there is always something to learn from varying global cultures to continuously improve society.

The portrait of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People's Republic of China, hangs on the gates of Tiananmen in Beijing

The portrait of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People's Republic of China, hangs on the gates of Tiananmen in Beijing

6. The Great Wall of China is just as epic as you have imagined; you must add Beijing to your destination list, if not solely because it allows you to get to the Great Wall of China on a day trip. Seeing the Great Wall was actually the primary motivation for my trip to China. As I continue practicing to become a better photographer, the Great Wall provides the perfect backdrop. Not all days are proven equal weather-wise, but we got extremely lucky with a sunny, clear day. Hire a private driver to take you to the Mutianyu portion of the wall, take the chairlift up, explore for 1-2 hours, and then take the toboggan down. A truly epic experience all around!

The Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall of China is well maintained and easy to explore, but there are other more rugged portions of the wall if you are up for an adventure

The Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall of China is well maintained and easy to explore, but there are other more rugged portions of the wall if you are up for an adventure

7. I love Xiaolongbao; also known as the Shanghai soup dumpling. In preparing for China, I read about them in almost every food blog I came across. I was blown away at how TASTY they really are. A thin and decadent dumpling shell is filled with pork, vegatables, and other spices and mixed with broth. Chefs perfectly connect the shell into beautiful formation. Pop the whole thing in your mouth and be ready for amazement. I highly recommend Din Tai Fung, which is a chain serving up the best dumplings in town. And if you are lucky enough to live in California or Washington you can check out the goodness closer to home.

Couldn’t even snap a picture before the first one was gone… :)

Couldn’t even snap a picture before the first one was gone… :)

8. Shopping in China, particularly at their ‘markets’ is a fun experience; and the goods do not disappoint. The luxury counterfeit market in China is quite prevalent, but not all counterfeits are created equal. Southern China is known for the best quality; almost no imperfection/difference can be found in most luxury goods. While I do not completely understand how they operate behind closed doors, I do know that we had a ton of fun exploring and making a few awesome purchases. And if you are looking to build your negotiation skills, there is no better place to practice. Check out the Xinyang Fashion & Gifts Market in Shanghai or the Ladies Market in Hong Kong.

The bustling Ladies Market in Hong Kong; pick up a beer at a local convenience store and have a stroll through for an entertaining evening

The bustling Ladies Market in Hong Kong; pick up a beer at a local convenience store and have a stroll through for an entertaining evening

9. Hong Kong is a.m.a.z.i.n.g.; to state the obvious, Hong Kong was my favorite destination in China, and likely the one I’ll be returning to for future visits. Why? Most notably because the scenery is off the charts. It reminds me of Hawaii with the rolling green mountains, but it also has massive high-rises and urban development. This unique combination is unlike any other place I’ve traveled to. There is a great food scene, good culture / nightlife, and opportunities to be one-with-nature. I followed my normal travel best-practice by heading to the highest point in the city upon arrival, which is Victoria Peak. Buy your ‘Peak Tram Sky Pass’ ticket online and go early in the morning for lower crowds and cooler temps. Enjoy those views!

Unbelievable views from the highest peak in Hong Kong Island at 1,818 feet

Unbelievable views from the highest peak in Hong Kong Island at 1,818 feet

10. Beauty is everywhere, especially in China, so Get Out There; I could not think of a better destination than China to highlight my blog tagline. I’m continuing onward with my journey to travel to destinations that will expand my horizons and perspectives on the world, and China fit the bill perfectly. China is surely not at the the top of everyone’s Bucket List, however it represents so much culture, adventure, history, and beauty, that it should be. I have a whole new appreciation for China now, and I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to visit this year. A travel investment that reaped high returns. Now we’re talking!

Sunset at the Summer Palace…unforgettable

Sunset at the Summer Palace…unforgettable

The Perfect Carry-On

The perfect carry-on; it’s been 10 years in the making and something I’m always attempting to optimize. However, I feel pretty confident that I have crafted the perfect carry-on, also known to the airlines as the ‘personal item.’ My philosophy is based on buying great product, using pouches to consolidate small items, ensuring you always have the fundamentals handy, and packing everything in the most efficient way possible. People that dislike flying are probably missing a few of these essential items in their carry-on bag. Flying can be fun if you invest in great products that work for you and spend time thoughtfully packing them.

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The elements of my carry-on are broken into different categories.

  1. Purse-in-a-purse

  2. Notepad/pen

  3. The ‘Essentials’ pouch

  4. Electronics

  5. Comfort items

  6. Photography


Purse-in-a-Purse + Travel Notepad/Pen

Purse-in-a-purse; I’m a strong believer that just throwing a wallet into your bag is not the most efficient way. Instead, pack a slim cross-body bag that can hold your wallet and all the fundamentals inside (passport, credit cards, travel cards, etc.) plus your phone and small cosmetics. When you arrive at your destination, you can easily pull out the purse and throw it over your shoulder for easy access. For international trips, I also carry a small coin purse, because most countries do not embrace paper bills for small currency, and having loose change strewn about your bags is super annoying.

Notepad and pen; this is a travel must-have in my book. Perfect for making quick notes or journaling during your trip. Physically writing things down never gets old. I love to shop for unique notepads at my travel destinations. The one pictured is Monet’s ‘Impression Sunrise’ purchased at the Musée Marmottan in Paris.


The Essentials Pouch

The ‘Essentials’ pouch; this has been a practice in-the-making with my Mom and I over the years. There’s so many little things you need on an airplane that you want to be able to access easily without digging through your bag. Mine always includes:

  • Stay clean: Clorox wipes (for those disgusting tray tables and arm rests), Shout wipes (for any unplanned spills on clothing), hand sanitizer (always)

  • Stay fresh: hand lotion, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, chapstick, gum, tissues

  • Stay healthy; multiple forms of Vitamin C. I always take a lozenge before departure and drink an Emergen-C in a water bottle upon landing to instantly re-hydrate.

  • Don’t get hangry; snacks (high in protein) but easy to pack

  • Just in case; blister band aids, nail file

  • The pouch; Container Store Aqua Vinyl & Mesh Pouches are the absolute best pouches for travel (I use the small size for my carry-on essentials and the medium size for my liquid cosmetics).



Electronics; it is critical to have entertainment on airplanes. Do not rely on the airline for having in-flight entertainment (otherwise you will be sorely disappointed if it happens to be down) and the journey will seem never-ending. Also remember to charge your devices fully before departure and bring your critical charging cables on-board. Nothing is worse than running out of charge on an airplane.

  • iPad; my rule of thumb is only one device, that is full of multiple forms of entertainment (eBooks, Netflix, Prime Video, Games, Magazines), but just make sure you download everything in advance. I always test play-back by turning my iPad into Airplane Mode at home and make sure everything loads as expected. Also bring a small microfiber cloth to clean your screen for an optimal viewing experience.

  • Noise-cancelling headphones; this is critical. Invest in a great pair and you will not regret it. I prefer the corded Bose in-ear headphones as opposed to the over-the-ear ones, which are not space friendly and prevent laying down comfortably. The only downside of the Bose headphones is that you will need iPhone/iPad adapters to connect to your devices. I also bring along my AirPods for phone calls and listening to music while walking through the airport.

  • Charging devices/cables; someday our devices won’t all require different cords, but until then, get organized with Ribbon Cable Ties. Also bring a charging stick in case of emergencies. Lastly, do not forget your country-specific travel adapters. I always buy the smallest ones possible on Amazon and have at least 3-4 handy.


Comfort Items

Comfort; it is imperative to bring things in your carry-on that will make you comfortable on your flight. For me that includes:

  • Travel pillow; the pillows provided by airlines on long flights cannot be trusted. They are usually flat, lumpy, or completely useless. When flying in Business I bring a flat pillow that can be used for my head or back. When flying in Economy I bring a neck pillow no matter what. Pillows are not-super space friendly, however a trick I recently discovered are these compression packing cubes that will take anything flexible and bring it down in size.

  • Compression socks and water-resistant slippers; I was never a true believer in compression socks until I tried them out a few years ago. What a difference they make on long flights! Also, these water-resistant slippers are clutch. You can slip them on instead of your shoes when walking around the cabin or going to the bathroom. Walking around in just your socks is dangerous territory on a airplane full of nasty forms of liquid on the floors.

  • Sleep essentials; ear plugs and an eye mask are required for good quality sleep. Again, bring your own. Usually the airlines will provide a blanket for long flights, but also have a super-comfy sweater handy for when they crank down the air in-flight.



Photography Equipment; this is an extra category super important to me. I take two approaches for my camera equipment based on my travel scenario.

  • Approach 1: Carry-on only; if I’m carrying-on both my personal item and suitcase, then I will fit my camera equipment safely inside my roller-bag with my clothes (since I have control over the bag the whole flight and it won’t be tossed around haphazardly by others). This makes my personal item much lighter and easier to carry.

  • Approach 2: Checked-bag; if I’m checking my bigger suitcase, then I will fit my camera equipment into small spinner that also acts as an easy way to push around my personal item (instead of carrying it on my shoulder). This is usually my approach for any international flights, because I will pack an extra outfit and some toiletries in the spinner as well, in case my luggage gets lost or delayed.

Consolidating all your items through the use of great pouches and bags is the fun part. It’s amazing just how much you can fit inside if you are thoughtful about it.

Click image to enlarge

My purse-in-a-purse, notebook/pen, essentials pouch, electronics, and most comfort items go into my Lo & Sons OG bag. My camera equipment goes into a small Travelpro spinner as previously described. I also use the spinner to hold my travel pillow for extra cushion and protection for my camera equipment.


If you are thoughtful about what you put in your carry-on and spend the necessary time packing it efficiently, your flying experience is guaranteed to improve! Hopefully these product suggestions, tips, and tricks are helpful for you. Sound off in the comments if you have any other awesome packing tips to share!

Bon Voyage!

My Favorite International Business Destinations

10 years ago, I was just starting my last year of college at the University of Illinois. The Fall semester was focused on interviewing for full-time jobs. After a few ‘industry’ internships, I knew I was ready to try something different. I focused my search on consulting firms and interviewed with all the major players. After all was said and done, I chose Deloitte because of their great culture, competitive salary, and super-organized recruiting process. I couldn’t wait to graduate, move to Chicago, and start traveling…

Flash forward almost one year, and I was in the basement of a hotel in Orlando going through a hellish week of SAP training during a tropical storm…wondering exactly what I got myself into. This also happened to be the week they were announcing our initial staffing assignments. I was ready for my first traveling client, and I had all my frequent flyer/hotel accounts ready. And then, wham…in my inbox comes the email. ‘Your client assignment will be at Caterpillar in Morton, Illinois.’

They always say you never know what to expect in consulting. After four years on the Caterpillar project, I had accumulated way more car miles than airline miles, but I did have a good stash of hotel points. While it was long, it was still a fabulous experience and a great way to start my career (hindsight is 20/20). After Caterpillar, I had the opportunity to travel abroad and domestically with Deloitte. However, I was still doing the Monday-Thursday gauntlet of business travel and the ‘burn-out’ was real.

An opportunity arose for me in the summer of 2013 to interview with West Monroe Partners. Still a consulting firm, I interviewed for a role that was at least 50% travel, which sounded perfect (compared to 100% at Deloitte). I made the leap of faith, and landed in a perfect position that allowed me travel, but also gave me time at home. Since then, I have been so fortunate to travel to some amazing international destinations for work.

It is my personal mission to make consulting sustainable for myself, and I definitely try to live by the mantra ‘work hard, play hard.’ Translating that mindset to travel is a no brainer - leverage any/all opportunities for business travel as a means to incorporate personal travel and exploration. I’m always looking for ways to have fun and explore new territory during a business trip, specifically when traveling internationally. Here are a few of my tips:

  1. Piggy-back your business meetings with a free weekend; this allows you to spend time exploring on your own and gets you over jet-lag so you can show-up to work like a boss!

  2. Aim to pick a reasonably priced hotel that is in the best possible location (close enough to the client, but near-enough to the action); sometimes this is easier said than done, but it’s always worth a shot.

  3. Research a few fun activities in advance that you can slot in your visit; some of my best experiences have been during the week when the crowds at major attractions are minimal.

And now for the fun part, here’s a look-back at my Top 5 favorite international business destinations:

Tokyo, Japan

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Where to Stay: The Peninsula; OK, maybe this wasn’t the most affordable option, but YOLO!

Best Non-Work Activity: Explore the gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen in the morning; for an evening adventure, enjoy a night out for cocktails in the Roppongi neighborhood.

Restaurant Suggestion: Isetan Shinjuku; also known as an ‘epachiku’ (a food hall found on basement or top levels of most department stores), a perfect place to relax for a tasty, but informal/inexpensive meal.

London, England

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Where to Stay: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London; a perfect location next to the King’s Cross train station with a beautifully historic exterior; enjoy your morning coffee in their fabulous lobby.

Best Non-Work Activity: Go for a morning walk in Hyde Park or stand outside of a pub for happy hour (like a true Londoner) .

Restaurant Suggestion: Franco Manca; a UK chain serving up the most delicious sourdough pizza. Hip, casual, and fun. Sit on the patio at this location for great people watching.

Toronto, Canada


Where to Stay: Delta Hotels Toronto; perfectly situated downtown with great city and lake views; the executive lounge is top-notch as well.

Best Non-Work Activity: Even though it is touristy, take a trip to the top of the CN Tower for fabulous city and lake panoramic views.

Restaurant Suggestion: 360; kill two birds with one stone and have dinner at the top of CN Tower; the restaurant slowly spins so you do not miss-out on any views from your table.

Paris, France


Where to Stay: Renaissance Paris Arc de Triomphe Hotel; a great central location to all major attractions in Paris while still maintaining affordable rates.

Best Non-Work Activity: Climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe early morning or early evening for my personal favorite views of Paris.

Restaurant Suggestion: La Cuisine de Bar; sister restaurant to the Poilâne bakery; come here for the most fabulous croque monsieur.

Copenhagen, Denmark


Where to Stay: Copenhagen Marriott Hotel; perfect waterfront hotel with easy access to the city center; the Executive Lounge serves up great wine and delicious appetizers.

Best Non-Work Activity: Explore Nyhavn with the beautiful colored houses; take a canal tour to truly appreciate the city sights by water.

Restaurant Suggestion: Kødbyens Fiskebar; delicious seafood in the historic meat packing district; ask for a table outside for the most authentic experience.

Traveling internationally, especially independently, has been one of the best character-building exercises of my life. Next time you have the opportunity, take the time to plan in advance and give yourself a few extra days at your international destination. The time and monetary investment will be well worth it. Cheers!

The Points Low-Down

Have you signed up for a new credit card recently, but you are unsure of how to maximize your point earnings?  Have you selected alliances within the travel industry, but it is not clear how much your points/miles are worth? Are you ready to redeem your points/miles, but have no clue how to ensure you are getting a good deal?  

For simplicity sake, I am going to universally refer to miles/points as 'points' in this article.

Understanding how to best leverage your credit cards to rapidly accrue points, knowing the value of your accrued points, and learning how to optimize your point redemptions is critical.  By doing this well, you will reap benefits and enjoy fantastic (free) vacations.  Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of nuisance in this process and the answers are not all black and white. However, there are some tips and tricks I will share with you to make the whole process a little more efficient.  Let's break it down...

How can I rapidly accrue points for travel?

You do not have to be a full-time traveler to accrue points within various travel programs.  It's the day and age of travel credit cards and not all cards are created equal.  If you carefully select your credit cards, pay them off every month, and leverage them appropriately to pay for travel and non-travel expenses, the results can be fantastic.  Not only can you increase your credit score (by having a larger amount of available credit), but you can ensure that you have the right card and benefits to maximize earnings.  Here are my top suggestions for leveraging your credit card portfolio to build a hefty slush fund of points:

Select your preferred travel alliances and stick with them; all travel companies are price competitive these days, so it's best to pick your alliances and stick with them.  Instead of simply buying the cheapest flight or hotel, do your research and book early within your selected alliances.  You may not always find the cheapest fare/rate, however the extra money you may spend will be an investment in your next trip.  Every trip is an opportunity to earn points, so any one-off trips on non-core alliances can hinder your earning potential over time.  Focus your spending within core alliances and watch your points add up rapidly!   

Align your credit card portfolio with your travel alliances; there limitless options for credit cards and rewards these days.  If travel is your #1 priority, I highly suggest getting the program-sponsored credit cards.  There are several benefits, most notably, using the card for purchases within the program itself.  For example, the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card earns 6 points per dollar spent on Marriott hotel stays, which is triple what you would normally earn using other cards.  With the United Explorer Credit Card you get priority boarding and a free checked bag for you and a companion.  These things matter when you travel, and can really make your experience more enjoyable.

Get a work-horse credit card that gives you flexibility; there are times where you may not have enough points within one specific program to buy your next flight or hotel stay.  By expanding your credit card portfolio to include a good flexible option, you can transfer points as-needed or redeem within the program specifically.  Chase Sapphire Reserve is the absolute best card in this category.  It provides 3 points per dollar spent on all travel and restaurants, with most competing cards only offering 2 points per dollar.  Furthermore, the Chase Travel Portal has limitless options for flights, hotels, and rental cars redemptions.  

Here are some of the most important 'rules' I follow for booking and paying for my travel expenses based on my credit card portfolio:

For Hotels: 

  • Always pay for hotel stays with the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card to earn 6x points for every dollar spent 

For Flights: 

  • With United Silver Status or above: always pay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card to earn 3x points (since you already get priority boarding and free checked bag based on your status alone)
  • With no United status: always pay with the United Explorer card card to ensure free checked bag, priority boarding, and access to EconomyPlus while earning 2x points per dollar spent

For All Other Travel Expenses (Rental Cars, Taxis, Restaurants):

  • Most times you should pay for your rental cars with the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card to earn 3x points for every dollar spent; but keep a look-out for special promotions within other programs (i.e., Marriott-Hertz)
  • Always use Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card for dining to earn 3x points

What are my points worth?

Once you've accrued points across your travel alliances, the next step is understanding how much they are worth.  Calculating the value of points across travel programs is an art, not a science.  The Points Guy does a fantastic job of calculating valuations and keeping them up-to-date as things change.  The key variables that can affect valuations include:

  1. What is the value of the points when you redeem them?
  2. How much do points cost if you want to buy them?
  3. What are the award availabilities, fees, and change/cancellation policies?

Every month The Points Guy publishes the new valuations and includes 'Notes' on what has changed since the last month/year.  Check out the September update here.  Every month I read this update and focus in on my travel alliances (Marriott, United, and Chase).  

So let me explain how the valuation works.  Each point earned within a program is worth a certain percentage/multiple of a CENT.  In order to accurately estimate the value of your points, you need to first translate the cent to a dollar.  

*Note: For Chase, I've lowered the value to 1.5 cents since that is what is used on the Chase Ultimate Rewards site when redeeming points; the Points Guy values it higher because there are a lot of other benefits besides just the redemption value that should be considered.  

As you can see, Marriott is the least valuable and Chase is the most valuable.  Why is that?  As I explained above, determining valuation looks at a combination of factors.  Chase Points are very valuable because their availability to redeem is high, they can be transferred 1:1 to several travel partners, and their redeemable value gives you a great bang for your buck.  Marriott on the other hand, is lower because availability to book with points is moderate and redeemable value is relatively low (i.e., it takes a lot of points to book a one-night stay).  This is not to say you should avoid banking points with these programs, though.  Each program has it's pros/cons and it's always good to have a balanced program portfolio. 

Keeping a hearty amount of points across your programs will give you flexibility when it's time to book your next trip.  To calculate the 'Value' of your points, simply multiply your 'Points Accrued' by the 'Point Valuation ($)'.  This 'Value' will now help you understand how much 'money' you have to spend and is the first step to determining how to leverage your points for redemptions. 


How Do I Optimize Redeeming?

Now that we have discussed point valuation, let's talk about how to redeem points.  If you are like the example above and have points in your accounts across programs, the good news is that you have options when redeeming.  A common misconception is that you should always redeem your points isolated within one program.  Another common misconception is that transfer-ability across programs is always advantageous.  Both are not true!  Here are my top options to consider when redeeming points within my core programs:

Earn Marriott Points - redeem Marriott Points on Marriott Website

  • Only good if:  you've confirmed you're getting a good deal (more on this below)

Earn Marriott Points - transfer Marriott Points to United (3:1 ratio); 30,000 Marriott Points = 10,000 United Miles 

  • Only good if:  you do not have enough United points for your flight and the transfer value is high (i.e., your flight is quite expensive to pay for in cash and point redemptions for the flight are available) 
  • Important Note:  the reverse transfer (United to Marriott) does not exist 

Earn Chase Points - use Chase Points within the Chase Portal

  • Only good if:  you've confirmed your desired flight/hotel is available in the Chase Portal, you've confirmed you're getting a good deal (more on this below)

Earn Chase Points - transfer Chase Points to Marriott or United (1:1 ratio); 10,000 Chase Points = 10,000 Marriott Points or United Miles

  • Only good if:  you desperately need the points in your other accounts, your desired flight/hotel is NOT available in the Chase Portal
  • Important Note:  Since Marriott and United point valuations are LESS than Chase, when you transfer 1:1, you are LOSING valuation by transferring; therefore, this option is highly discouraged!

So what is the best way to apply your redemptions and how do you confirm that you are getting a good deal?  I've created an example below focused on hotel redemptions.  In this example, I searched for a one-night stay at various hotels across the Marriott program during the Thanksgiving holiday.  The first step is to note down how many points are required per night - both on Marriott's website and the Chase Travel Portal. 


At first glance, it may appear that Chase Points are more advantageous because they require lower points across the board.  However, remember that the value of these points is different!  You must calculate out the points by the '$ Valuation' multiple we calculated above to understand how much it really costs you to redeem these points.  

*Note: For the Chase Valuation multiple, I used 1.5 cents instead of 2.0 (from Points Guy), since this is the true redeemable value on the Chase Site

*Note: For the Chase Valuation multiple, I used 1.5 cents instead of 2.0 (from Points Guy), since this is the true redeemable value on the Chase Site

Simply multiply the number of points by the 'Point Valuation' multiple to see how much it 'costs' you to redeem these points across both programs.  Run down the list and highlight the lower cost option for each, and that is the program you should use to redeem your points.  For example, redeeming with Marriott for the W Hotel in Miami is a better choice since it costs $315 worth of points versus $429 if you redeem with Chase.  On the other hand, the W Hotel in Barcelona is significantly more advantageous to redeem with Chase points ($228.32 versus $540 with Marriott).

But let's not stop there.  One additional factor that I always encourage people to validate is the CASH option.  Sometimes using your points does NOT make sense because you won't be getting a great bang for your buck.  


In the example above, I searched for paid stays on the Marriott website and noted the cost per night (green column above).  Then, line by line, I highlighted the lowest cost option and noted the recommended 'Choice' for redemption.  As you can see, the Renaissance in Hong Kong and the Sheraton in Beijing are both better suited to pay for in cash because the point redemption options are more expensive.  While you may prefer to use points regardless of how much cash it costs to redeem, it is always important to check in advance to see if cash may be a better option.  Also, Marriott often includes a 'Cash + Points' option whereby you can use a combination of points and cash to pay for your stays.  Cash options are often overlooked, but should be considered when determining how/when to redeem your points.    

In Summary

Determining your travel alliances upfront and sticking with them, leveraging your credit cards to accrue points strategically, and doing simple math to optimize your redemptions can be game-changing tactics.  Put all of these strategies together and you have the formula for increasing your leverage to book amazing vacations -- for free!  Next time you are getting ready to book travel with your points, spend a bit more time analyzing your options to ensure you are getting a good deal.  That way, you can feel confident in your decisions and sit back and relax your well-deserved vacation!

Reach out to me directly for a copy of my spreadsheet to help you do these calculations in minutes!  

My 'Not-So-Obvious' Cruise Packing List

Hey all!  It's been a hot minute since I've written a blog post.  The first half of 2018 has been a whirlwind, most notably wrapping up a major project at work and making a condo move.  While I have not spent much time traveling and blogging, it was a season focused on home.  

This was a season of refinement, of acknowledging there were multiple sides to me that were equally true...most significantly, I love to travel and I love my home.
— Tsh Oxenreider, At Home in the World

But alas, here I am, three days away from jetting off to Europe for a summer vacation that I have been looking forward to for a long time!  We booked our cruise two years in advance.  Crazy?  Maybe...but the glory of booking early is that you can always reschedule if the dates do not end up working for you.  We could not pass up the opportunity to experience the newest and biggest ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas!  We secured optimal flights, amazing rooms on the ship, and have had plenty of time to plan for our trip.  

Cruising does require some pre-planning in terms of packing.  With a variety of excursions (beach, land, sea) and plenty of activities on-board, you want to be prepared with everything you need to make it awesome.  For clothing, my best advice is the following:

  • Pack a daytime outfit that aligns well with your planned excursion/activity.  This could be a swimsuit/cover-up/flip flops for a day at the beach or hiking shorts/tank top/walking shoes for a day on land. 
  • Pack a few comfy outfits for afternoon relaxation.  You will usually come back to the ship ready to shower and chill out before dinner.  Something good for a siesta or enjoying a cocktail on your balcony is key.
  • Pack a dressy outfit for dinner every night.  Cruise ships have scheduled 'smart casual' nights and usually 1-2 'formal nights.'  Getting all dressed up and enjoying great food and wine is one of my favorite parts of cruising! 

I've highlighted some of my other cruise essentials below, which I believe are not so obvious when you think about packing for a normal trip!  These are all things that have personally come in very handy on past cruises.  While you do not want to over-pack, there are certain things that are very practical and will make your trip more enjoyable.

Cruise Luggage Tags:  You will receive tags that you have to print in advance and attach to your suitcase.  Buy these plastic covers to protect your paper tag and you won't have to worry about your tags or bags getting lost.

Sea Bands:  These pressure point wrist bands are a life saver if there are rough seas.  I usually wear them for the first few nights to adjust to being on the water, but they are useful at any point during the trip if you start to feel sea sick!

Pool Towel Clips:  All cruise ship towels look the same.  Differentiate your chair with these clips so you remember where you sat.  They also are very handy to keep your towel in place for top-deck lounging where it can be very windy!

Lightweight/Collapsible Backpack :  This is key for daytime excursions. A collapsible one will take up little space in your suitcase and also can serve as an extra travel bag for any purchases made along the way.    Sunglass Cord :  These are so clutch.  If you have invested in good quality sunglasses, make sure you have these to protect them from falling off.  They also come in super handy when you are popping your glasses on/off to take pictures.     Waterproof iPhone Case :  Ok, this might be a little nerdy, but having a waterproof iPhone case will allow you to snap away during water activities and not worry about your phone falling in the drink! :)

Lightweight/Collapsible Backpack:  This is key for daytime excursions. A collapsible one will take up little space in your suitcase and also can serve as an extra travel bag for any purchases made along the way. 

Sunglass Cord:  These are so clutch.  If you have invested in good quality sunglasses, make sure you have these to protect them from falling off.  They also come in super handy when you are popping your glasses on/off to take pictures.  

Waterproof iPhone Case:  Ok, this might be a little nerdy, but having a waterproof iPhone case will allow you to snap away during water activities and not worry about your phone falling in the drink! :)

Sea Salt Spray : Getting up every day and fully doing your hair is not always feasible or a good use of time.  Use sea salt spray to bring out the natural waves of your hair for daytime activities!     Tinted Sunscreen :  Same story applies.  Fully doing your makeup every morning is not practical, especially given the outdoor activities you will likely be doing.  Use a tinted sunscreen as a foundation and keep the rest simple.     After-Sun Lotion :  This stuff is clutch.  It smells heavenly and will make your skin feel great after a day in the sun.  Take the time to apply it daily...your skin will thank you.  

Sea Salt Spray: Getting up every day and fully doing your hair is not always feasible or a good use of time.  Use sea salt spray to bring out the natural waves of your hair for daytime activities!  

Tinted Sunscreen:  Same story applies.  Fully doing your makeup every morning is not practical, especially given the outdoor activities you will likely be doing.  Use a tinted sunscreen as a foundation and keep the rest simple.  

After-Sun Lotion:  This stuff is clutch.  It smells heavenly and will make your skin feel great after a day in the sun.  Take the time to apply it daily...your skin will thank you.  

Versatile lightweight scarf :  For the evenings, you will likely want a scarf or light jacket to bring to dinner.  Pick a neutral color like black or grey that will go with many of your outfits.    Small Clutch :  You do not need a purse on the ship.  However, pack a clutch for your phone, camera, lipstick, room key, etc.  I bought this specific one for my trip and I love it!     Wine :  Yes, you can bring your own.  Most ships allow you two bottles per stateroom. Pickup a few bottles before you board the ship...and excuse my shameless plug for Kimmy. :)

Versatile lightweight scarf:  For the evenings, you will likely want a scarf or light jacket to bring to dinner.  Pick a neutral color like black or grey that will go with many of your outfits. 

Small Clutch:  You do not need a purse on the ship.  However, pack a clutch for your phone, camera, lipstick, room key, etc.  I bought this specific one for my trip and I love it!  

Wine:  Yes, you can bring your own.  Most ships allow you two bottles per stateroom. Pickup a few bottles before you board the ship...and excuse my shameless plug for Kimmy. :)

While this is not my full packing list for cruises, it should give you a head start for the things that may not be so obvious!  And just remember, the glory of cruising is that you can bring a larger suitcase, unpack ONCE, and enjoy your amazing floating hotel for the duration of your trip!  

Follow my adventures over the next two weeks on the Symphony of the Seas in Spain, France, and Italy on Instagram at Get Out There Travel


Debunking Cruise Myths (Keeping You From Your Dream Vacation)

It was 2012 when I first discovered the glory of cruising.  My family wanted to do a Spring Break trip together, so we researched and headed off on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (at that time, the biggest cruise ship in the world)!  We cruised through the Eastern Caribbean and visited Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Martin.  It was a fantastic vacation and one that kicked off a lifelong love of cruising. 

2012,   The amazing Allure of the Seas, part of the Royal Caribbean Oasis-Class, docked in Nassau, Bahamas

2012, The amazing Allure of the Seas, part of the Royal Caribbean Oasis-Class, docked in Nassau, Bahamas

Since that cruise in 2012, I've been fortunate enough to experience four more cruises that were all unique and equally enjoyable.  In t-minus 56 days, I will board the newest and biggest ship in the world, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas for it's debut season!  This upcoming trip has inspired me to a write a series of blog posts to share my love of cruising in hopes that it may inspire you to take the plunge and experience what may be your best vacation yet!

2012,   Cruising through the Eastern Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas

2012, Cruising through the Eastern Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas

You may wonder where all my excitement about cruising comes from because 1) you've had a bad cruise experience in the past or 2) you're skeptical of cruising from what you've seen/heard or 3) or you've simply never prioritized cruising as a vacation option.  I hope that this post will debunk those myths that are holding you back and help you see cruising in a different light.  

2017,   Royal Carribean's Jewel of the Seas sunrise arrival in the US Virgin Islands 

2017, Royal Carribean's Jewel of the Seas sunrise arrival in the US Virgin Islands 

Cruise ships are crowded, confining, and can't possibly hold thousands of people comfortably.  

This is my favorite myth because it was one of my biggest fears early on.  I do not particularly like crowds and I assumed it would impossible to not be surrounded by people at every moment (in the dining rooms, at the pool, getting on/off the ship, or simply walking around).  The truth is, cruise ships are specifically designed to drive efficient movement of people and to ensure that no space ever feels crowded.  The corridors, stairways, and elevators are thoughtfully located to move people through the ship.  Additionally, the newest ships are taking innovation seriously and coming up with ways to make their spaces light, airy, and wide open.  Specifically, Royal Caribbean has done a fantastic job adding elements that truly make the ship feel like a city on the water.  The Oasis-Class ships have a park-like atrium (with real greenery and flowers), open-air theaters with wonderful views of the ocean, and my all-time favorite feature, the Solarium.  The Solarium is a spa-like, kid-free zone, perched at the front of the ship that is truly unique.  It is a slice of heaven that keeps me coming back time and time again!  

2015,   Anthem of the Seas Solarium view in the Bay of Biscay (Spain)

2015, Anthem of the Seas Solarium view in the Bay of Biscay (Spain)

I'm either going to get norovirus or seasick.

While norovirus stories make the news every year, the total number of passengers who fall ill on cruise ship is a fraction of one percent (1).  The truth is, the sanitary regulations on ships are very strict and every part of the ship is cleaned consistently.  Cruise ships are in fact much cleaner than most of the public spaces we visit on a daily basis.  Be prepared to use hand sanitizer before all your meals and plan to wash your hands more than normal to be safe.  But all in all, cruise ships are usually completely spotless and the crew is always hard at work making the spaces clean and comfortable!  Ok, so I might not get the stomach flu, but what about seasickness??  This was my second fear prior to cruising.  I tend to get motion sickness, so I was a little apprehensive.  I proactively use Sea Bands on all cruises for the first 1-2 days to get my body adjusted and I'll pop them on if the seas get rough during the trip.  While predicting and preventing rough water on your cruise is impossible, my most important advice is to make sure you are cruising in locations during their peak season.  Yes, it is more expensive, but there is a reason for that.  For example, you might get a smoking deal on a cruise in the Western Caribbean in August-September, but that is the heart of hurricane season, so you will be taking your chances!  Doing your research in advance and picking the right time to cruise is very important!

2015,   Anthem of the Seas sunset near South Hampton, England 

2015, Anthem of the Seas sunset near South Hampton, England 

People go on cruises to overeat bad food from mediocre buffets.

Cruise lines have made significant strides in elevating their dining experiences over the last several years.  In fact, cruising has now become a way to enjoy fine-dining at sea.  Cruises now offer multiple restaurant choices on-board.  From your morning pick-me-up at Starbucks, to your quick salad from the buffet for lunch, to a five-star dining experience for dinner...there is seriously something for everyone.  While the traditional approach is to have a set dinner time every night in the main dining room, cruise lines are starting to introduce flexible dining times and specialty restaurants.  My suggestion is to use the set-dining time for days you are at-sea (no excursions) and book reservations for the specialty restaurants when you have a full-day excursion or want to enjoy a later dinner.  Hands-down the best dining experience I've had was at Jamie Oliver's restaurant on the Anthem of the Seas.  It was so good, we went back twice during a one-week cruise!  Another interesting fact is that cruise line portion sizes are actually quite small compared to America's standard restaurants.  They do this to avoid wasting food, but it also can prevent you from over-eating.  You can always ask for seconds of anything, but their standard portions are just perfect!  And do not worry, you will be getting plenty of steps in during your cruise vacation to curb your calorie intake and there are a multitude of options for exercise on-board!  

2015,   Anthem of Seas dinner at Jamie Oliver's with epic charcuterie boards

2015, Anthem of Seas dinner at Jamie Oliver's with epic charcuterie boards

I won't spend much time in my cabin, so I should book the cheapest option. 

I have had the chance to experience a wide variety of accommodations on cruise ships.  From the sofa bed in my parents room, to staying in an interior room with no windows, to a balcony room with an obstructed view of the lifeboats, to a prime balcony room with perfect ocean views.  Picking the right room is imperative!  After experiencing all the different room types, I now know that mid-ship (length and height wise) is the ideal location to avoid noise or wavy conditions and balcony rooms are must.  Save your pennies and splurge for a balcony -- it is worth it, I promise you!  Rooms are small, but spacious and have perfectly sized closets and storage for all of your belongings.  One of my favorite aspects of cruising is the ability to unpack your suitcase once and spend the next several days arriving at amazing destinations without having to exert any effort or planning!  Do not get me wrong, I love vacations where you have a logistical plan to get from one place to another and enjoy planes, trains, and automobiles along the way.  However, there is a great luxury in having the cruise ship be your floating hotel.  It takes away the stress of packing/unpacking and puts the onus on someone else to get you where you need to be!  In addition, there is great joy in opening your curtains every morning and being SO excited to see where you have arrived overnight.  New ports, new sights, ocean views...just amazing! 

2016,   Celebrity Reflection selfie from our balcony room

2016, Celebrity Reflection selfie from our balcony room

A one day excursion is not nearly enough time for me to enjoy a destination. 

Planning excursions is one of my favorite thing about cruises.  There are so many awesome things you can do during your day on land.  Cruise lines offer many options, but you are always open to researching and finding your own excursion for the day.  My strategy includes doing my own research on Trip Advisor to learn what the best attractions are in the location.  Since you only have one day, you need to be picky.  Find the excursion that showcases the highlight(s) of the place you are visiting and pick the best option (which is usually not the cheapest or shortest by the way)!  From there, I will check out what the cruise line is offering, and if I don't find anything that lines up with my research, I will book independently.  Many local tour companies cater to cruise visitors, so they are familiar with the schedule and always ensure to get you back to the ship on time!  Finally, if you visit a location that you feel like one day was unjustified, you can always add it back to your list for a future visits.  For me, that was the island of Antigua in the Southern Caribbean.  One day on a catamaran circling the gorgeous island was just not enough -- I will be back there one day to soak in the beauty for a longer duration!

2017  , the beautiful island of Antigua during a daytime catamaran excursion 

2017, the beautiful island of Antigua during a daytime catamaran excursion 

Well hopefully by now I've convinced you to book a cruise or at least consider it for your next vacation.  SO many of my favorite vacation memories are from my past cruises.  It's always an adventure!  You get to see and experience so many interesting things and you come home rested and rejuvenated from the loads of fresh air.  Whether you are a cruise newbie, had a bad first experience, or simply need some inspiration, reach out to me!  I'd love to help plan your next dream (cruise) vacation.  

2017,   Jewel of the Seas doing a 360 degree turn to see the sunset in St. Lucia.

2017, Jewel of the Seas doing a 360 degree turn to see the sunset in St. Lucia.

The ocean is waiting ...Get Out There.

Defining Your Travel Philosophy


Travel Philosophy

Defining your own personal travel philosophy is a critical step in achieving fantastic vacations.

Auguste Rodin, a famous French sculptor, was on the forefront of modern art in the late 1800's.  Ever since I visited the peaceful Rodin Museum Gardens in Paris in June 2010, I've come to love his work.  His sculptures are unique and emphasize the individual.  The Thinker, one of his most renowned pieces, is often used as an image to represent philosophy and celebrates the greatness of individual character.  I can only imagine what The Thinker is pondering, but I really hope it's travel...  


Defining your unique and individual travel philosophy is an important foundation to set.  How you think about travel, and all things that go along with it - money, timing, structure, and locations - will define how successful your vacations become.  You do not have to have all the answers or a detailed plan for every vacation, but the fundamentals matter.  Your unique travel philosophy will evolve as you reflect and determine what makes you happy.    


The most common barrier to entry for travel is money.  Unfortunately, travel gets a bad rap as being expensive, which, no doubt, it can be.  However, a little planning can go a long way.  Determining how much you want to invest in travel is very important.  If you are serious about it, 'Travel' should be a line item on your monthly budget.  If you are receiving a paycheck twice a month, there are two chances to save money for travel.  Multiply that across 12 months, and you have 24 opportunities to invest.  My philosophy is to start small and make it formal.  

  • Create a separate savings account:  Use an existing savings account or setup a specific travel account.  I prefer the latter, giving me the peace of mind that I have a nice stash protected for travel purposes. 
  • Setup a direct deposit from your paycheck:  Start with $25 a pay period, and you have $600 a year for a major domestic flight or three nights at a nice hotel.  Increase to $100 per pay period, and you have $2,400 a year for an amazing week-long trip.  
  • Be smart about it:  For the months you are traveling, plan ahead for additional wiggle room in your budget. You will remove the anxiety that comes along with money, which will allow you to focus on enjoying your well-deserved vacation!


No, not your outfits.  My definition of a travel 'style' is specific manner in which you desire to experience travel, no matter the destination.  Travel is a very personal experience; one that looks, feels, and transpires differently for each of us.  Lay out your fundamentals in advance, especially when you are traveling with others.  The success of your vacations will improve dramatically with a little upfront strategizing.  Your travel style will evolve to your own unique philosophy over time.

  • Planning:  Do you prefer a set itinerary with pre-planned activities or do you prefer playing it by ear and defining your itinerary as you go?  My philosophy is to always have an itinerary drafted in advance, with the must-do activities scheduled prior to departure and plenty of open time slots to be flexible!  Create a visual itinerary that allows you to see the trip come to life.  I like to use Excel to drive a nice structure.  
  • Activities:  What specific types of activities would make you most excited about your trip - adventure, outdoors, relaxation, culture, shopping, food/wine?  My philosophy includes researching a location for what it is known for most and incorporating those activities first.  I'm a big proponent of booking in advance - a lot of time the major attractions require this, so plan ahead to not miss out. 
  • Structure:  What does a perfect travel day look like for you?  Do you wake up early and hit all the hot-spots before they get busy or would you prefer to sleep-in, enjoy a great breakfast, and plan your day accordingly? My philosophy includes building a daily itinerary with one major activity, at least one great dining experience, and always setting aside time for a nap or relaxation.  


The traditionalist ideal that that you have to be ready to 'kick the bucket' before you can start planning and executing your dream vacations is a falsehood.  However, nowadays, our millennial-filled society seems to have gone to the extreme.  Alas, the overflowing bucket.  There is an abundance of people with really long bucket lists, and no plan to achieve.  Why? 

  • Now or bust:  People view a bucket list as a comprehensive list of activities, experiences, or opportunities to achieve within a lifetime, and we end up worrying about how to accomplish them all.  Or, even more common, we start thinking about what may change in our lives preventing us from actually making it happen.  Get clear with yourself on your most important travel desires and start forging a path with them in sight.  
  • 3-5 year horizon:  Assess a mid-term horizon to understand which trips are realistic to take based on where you are at in your life.  Draft a 3-5 year travel plan that includes 'bigger picture' trips and smaller trips that can be executed more nimbly.  Every year evaluate where you stand.  Will they all happen within 5 years?  No.  But get them written down and your chances of execution will be much higher.  
  • Plan:  Bucket list trips do not come to life overnight.  Spend the time doing your homework, saving your money, and aligning the trips to what is happening in your life.  Research the months that are ideal to travel to those locations and align this with your own personal calendar.  You may have to put some stakes in the ground in advance, and hold to them, but the preparation horizon will result in a fantastic trip.   


Just as Rodin celebrated the individual, each of us deserves to invest time in defining a travel philosophy that is unique to us.  Feeling great about your vacations does require investment, planning, reflection, and some trial and error.  There is always room for continuous improvement in travel, even for the most seasoned traveler.  In the meantime, start stashing those precious dollars, begin defining how your dream trip would transpire, and dump your bucket and start anew.  The world is waiting, Get Out There.