So after 14 days of travel, my 40k To Far Away adventure finally came to an end last night. I might have technically traveled the shortest distance, but by a bunch of other metrics I feel like I traveled the “farthest”.
Not convinced? Here are 15 reasons why you should vote for me as the winner of 40k To Far Away.
1) I Made It Home
First off, returning home wasn’t part of the challenge, so Greg and Nick certainly shouldn’t be dinged for physically finishing far away in the Seychelles and Niue respectively.
Knowing that Greg had access to United’s Excursionist Perk and Nick could fly from the east coast to Hawaii for 7,500 miles though, I knew it’d be hard to beat them on actual distance traveled. To be honest, I did get a little psyched out by them as I thought they were going to both travel 30k+ miles. Greg in particular had mentioned flying 40k miles in one of the videos he and Nick recorded. It turns out that was a slip of the tongue as he was referring to using 40,000 miles rather than giving away anything about his plans!
Anyway, after booking the incredibly cheap round trip ticket to Europe, I decided to make my multi-pronged strategy one that included returning home for 40k points + $400. This was a little tricky as my wife and I travel full-time and so don’t have a home (hence why “No Home” is the first half of our website’s name), but Shae and our dog Truffles were staying with her parents in Portsmouth VA while I was gone. Portsmouth was our home for 7 years too before we set off on the road trip, so it seemed like an apt place to regard as home for the challenge.
Managing to travel for so long and still get home under budget was a decent achievement.
2) I Traveled 14 Days
After booking my round trip flight to Madrid, it took me a couple of months to piece together some kind of itinerary beyond that. I ended up deciding to tour several European cities, but once those flights and coaches were booked I still had a significant chunk of my budget left.
I was flying back on October 10 which put me at 9 days of travel, so it made me wonder how much longer I could travel for. I settled on 14 days of travel for a couple of reasons. First, getting to travel for two whole weeks on only 40,000 Membership Rewards and $400 would be pretty impressive. Also, I needed to be back in Virginia by October 15 as we were due to resume our 50 state road trip the following day by heading to West Virginia in time for Bridge Day (we’d already booked our accommodation to start October 16 before 40k To Far Away was planned). I’m actually writing this post in the car on our way to WV.
As you might have seen from my accounting post yesterday, I redeemed my 40,000 Membership Rewards for 1.25cpp using the Schwab Platinum card. That gave me a total of $900 to play with, so spread out across the 14 days that came to less than $65 per day. Spending less than $65 per day when traveling is excellent, especially when you consider the next few points.
3) I Visited 6 Countries
On the trip I visited Spain, Belgium, France, the UK, Denmark and the US. I think Greg might have spent time in more countries, but six countries is still a decent tally.
I haven’t counted Canada and Switzerland seeing as I didn’t leave the airports. With 5-6 hour layovers in each place though, I could conceivably have left the airport, but wanted to take advantage of the showers, food and Wi-Fi in the Priority Pass lounges instead.
4) I Visited 9 Cities
Although Greg might’ve visited more countries than me, I think I’m the clear winner in terms of number of cities visited. I spent at least 4 hours in each of the following cities, although in many cases I spent even more time than that exploring them:
- Atlantic City
- Washington D.C.
5) I Ate Excellently
Before the trip, I thought I might be living on tuna wraps for much of 40k To Far Away. It turns out I needn’t have feared that as I think I ate better during the challenge than I do normally! I’m not saying I ate healthily, but I did eat excellently.
Another part of my 40k To Far Away strategy was to try food from every city that I visited. That meant I got to eat a lot of tasty and authentic food in each country and city, getting a quintessential taste of each location:
- Madrid – Empanadas (I’m a little disappointed in myself that I hadn’t realized that’s what the “hand pies” were when I wrote about them initially! In my defence, I’d never eaten empanadas before)
- Boom – Curryworst & fries
- Paris – Ham baguette & hot chocolate
- London – Scotch egg, pork pie, sausage roll, bacon roll, Monster Munch (chips)
- Guildford – Scones & clotted cream, cottage pie and apple crumble with custard (at my parents’)
- Copenhagen – Kylling frikadeller (chicken meatballs) and Danish pastries
- Atlantic City – Casino buffet (because what could be more Atlantic City than that)
- Washington D.C. – D.C. didn’t have its own food from what I could think of. However, I was so close to the White House that I figured a hamberder from Bolt Burgers would do 😉
- Richmond – Similarly, Richmond doesn’t really have its own food although it does have a good craft brewery scene, so I went for a couple of beers at Third Street Brewing. I also ate at Kuba Kuba based on the recommendation of a guy working at the hostel I was staying at and their Cuban sandwich topped with chorizo was delicious. (n.b. I’d also highly recommend Bottoms Up Pizza, Buz & Ned’s BBQ and Cary Town Burgers & Fries – all restaurants Shae and I ate at back in August when visiting Richmond.)
In addition to that, I think I ate in Priority Pass lounges nine times, plus got to enjoy that home-cooked cottage pie and apple crumble when visiting my parents.
6) I Got Lots Of Exercise
In November 2017, I ran my first ever half marathon in 2 hours 22 minutes and was the healthiest I’d been in many a year. Since starting our road trip a couple of months later on January 1, 2018 though, I’d put on 30 lbs as I worked out less frequently and we’ve enjoyed trying out local food in all the places we’ve visited around the US (you might be sensing a theme here).
I’d made a concerted effort to exercise over the couple of months leading up to 40k To Far Away and had gotten up to 6 miles at a time on the treadmill and lost 10 lbs as a result. I was therefore a little concerned I’d lose some of my exercising momentum on the road trip as I’d not be jogging.
It turns out I needn’t have worried. I walked 10 miles at a time in Madrid, Paris, London and Atlantic City, plus 6 miles in Boom, Guildford and Copenhagen (despite having a rental car in the latter city). Many of those places I was carrying 25 lbs on my back, so it proved to be a good workout. Even better….
7) I Lost Weight
It’s not often you can go on vacation for two weeks and lose weight, but I lost 2-3 lbs while I was away. That’s despite eating more bread and bagels over the course of two weeks than I normally eat in a year and also despite the high fat content in food like Scotch eggs, pork pies, sausage rolls, clotted cream, etc.
The 40k To Far Away Diet Plan will therefore be coming to all good bookstores shortly 😉 It basically consists of cheat days every day, but balanced by plenty of exercise.
8) I Stayed Under Budget
By the end of the challenge, I still had almost $20 left in my budget – more than either Greg or Nick.
I actually had enough in my budget to travel for a couple more days if I hadn’t had to get back by October 15th and despite the fact that…
9) I Was Able To Splurge On My Trip
Heading into the last few days of my trip, I still had more than $100 left in my budget. That meant I was able to splurge during my last couple of days by going on a Segway tour around Washington D.C., take an Uber, take several scooter rides to take it easy on my feet, have $10+ lunches in both D.C. and Richmond and more.
Being so responsible with my budget ahead of time meant that when my Atlantic City accommodation plans fell through, I was able to book two nights in an Airbnb without having the risk of going over budget.
10) I Took The Most Modes Of Transport
In addition to returning back home, visiting the most cities and trying the food of each place I visited, another part of my strategy for winning 40k To Far Away was to take the most different modes of transport.
Now, modes of transport might be subjective. For example, I’ve classed a rental car as being different to an Uber despite them both being automobiles. I’ve also classed the car ferry I took from Calais to Dover as being a different mode of transport than the paddleboat passenger ferry between Norfolk and Portsmouth.
Here’s a list of all the different modes of transport I took:
- City bus
- Rental car
- Car ferry
- Paddleboat ferry
- AirTrain/Monorail (everyone sing the Simpsons Monorail song)
- Shuttle bus
My parents also picked me up from Guildford and dropped me off at Gatwick airport the following day in their car. I’ve not included that in the tally above, but seeing as it wasn’t a rental car or an Uber, it’s sort of a 15th mode of transport.
I’d been hoping to take a regular train and rent a bike to make it 16 modes of transport, but I didn’t get around to doing either of those unfortunately.
11) I Spent Longer In Each Location
I wanted to actually experience each city I visited during the challenge, so I deliberately built in plenty of time to walk around each city to see its sights, try its food, etc.
Greg and Nick both managed to include some cool stops during their trips, but I spent significantly longer over the course of my two week journey exploring the places I visited.
12) I Created An Itinerary You Might Want To Replicate
An additional feature of my strategy was to create an itinerary that you all might want to replicate. Sure, you might not want to sleep on airport floors for a few nights, but in real life you could use additional points or credit card free night awards to stay at an airport hotel.
Every plane journey or bus ride I took served a purpose though as it took me somewhere that I – and hopefully you – would want to visit. I’m quite a practical person, so the functionality of my journeys appealed to me.
Touring Europe for a week and then spending time down the east coast of the US are both things I figured many people might want to do for themselves.
13) I Went Troll Hunting – Twice!
This was one of the activities I was most looking forward to, but which was probably unexpected for most of you.
Shae and I visited The Morton Arboretum just outside of Chicago last year and loved hunting for the trolls that Thomas Dambo created there. We were then in Kentucky for 6 weeks earlier this year and found out that there were some new trolls at Bernheim Forest, so we visited them too.
I don’t know why, but I love these trolls so much. Despite being made of reclaimed wood in a similar way, each one looks noticeably different and he’s designed them in such a way that it’s like they each have their own personality.
I therefore had a blast getting to find 7 Trolls & The Magical Tower in Boom, Belgium and the 6 Forgotten Giants around Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s definitely quirky, but based on comments some of you have made on my posts and social media, it looks like I’ve inspired some of you to go troll hunting yourselves which is awesome.
14) I Got To See My Family
I’m British and my wife’s American. For the first five years of our marriage we lived in the UK and most of our vacation time involved heading back to the US to visit her (and now my) family and friends. We then moved to the US in 2009 and although I don’t visit the UK quite as frequently, a lot of our travel over the last 10 years has involved visiting friends and family around the US, UK and Australia. We’ve also been fortunate to use some of our miles and points to help friends get to travel to Europe with us in recent years.
All that to say – visiting friends and family is a commonplace feature of our travel as I’m sure it is for many of you too. A few readers seemed to regard me visiting my parents and getting a free bed for the night and a home-cooked meal as cheating, but this was something Greg, Nick and I had already agreed was fair game ahead of time.
It was especially good to see my Dad during the trip. He and my mum were on vacation overseas earlier this year when he got extremely sick and had to be hospitalized in a foreign country for a couple of weeks. It was therefore great to see him looking much more healthy now. And side note – I hope I look as good as him when I’m almost 80 years old!
15) I Found The Best Fare
Greg and Nick both found some good deals on their paid flights, but I feel like a net cost of $230 for my round trip flight from Newark to Madrid was the best fare obtained during the course of 40k To Far Away. Getting transatlantic flights for only $115 each way was an absolute steal, even if it did end up affecting the rest of my strategy. Even better, despite it being a Basic Economy fare I received meals on all my flights other than Newark to Toronto, plus I earned United MileagePlus miles (albeit only a modicum of them).
Why I Maybe Shouldn’t Win
OK, so I’ve shared 15 reasons why I should win, although there’s one feature of my trip that I’m a little disappointed with. I ended up redeeming all my Membership Rewards for 1.25cpp apiece (thanks to having the Schwab Platinum Amex) rather than transferring any of them to any airline partners.
I did try to make some actual award redemptions. I wanted to fly from Hong Kong to London for only 12,500 Flying Club miles + ~$42 on Virgin Atlantic, but couldn’t get the dates to work in order to get back to Madrid in time for my return flight to Newark.
Nick had suggested in one of his posts that I could book an ANA round trip award between Europe and Africa, but I couldn’t make that work budget-wise due to how much I’d already spent on the flight to Madrid and my Greyhound bus from Washington D.C. to Newark.
Another possibility was taking advantage of the 40% Membership Rewards to Avios transfer bonus. Even with the transfer bonus though, I couldn’t justify going that route when buses and other paid flights proved to be better value.
Upon my return to the US, I’d hoped to take advantage of some deals using SkyMiles seeing as Delta is another Amex transfer partner. I’d found some screaming deals during my research such as New York to Denver for 9,000 SkyMiles +$11.20 round trip…
…and Boston to Seattle for 10,000 SkyMiles + $11.20 round trip.
There were similar transcontinental deals like New York to Portland OR for something like 12,000 SkyMiles + $11.20 round trip. All of these had a key feature though – they all required making the outbound journey on October 9. I didn’t arrive back in the US until October 10, so I couldn’t take advantage of any of those deals. Redemption rates shot up after October 9, presumably because it was heading into Columbus Day weekend, so that option went out the window.
I guess this does show a limitation of Amex points though – while Membership Rewards can be great for premium award flights, you can often get much better deals for economy travel by taking advantage of low paid fares versus transferring to travel partners.
Why should I win? I traveled for twice as long as the other guys, visited 9 cities in 6 countries, made it back home within my budget, went troll hunting twice and tried food from every place I visited, all while staying under budget more than Greg and Nick and hopefully putting together a trip that you yourself might want to take.
I’d therefore love it if you voted for me as the winner of 40k To Far Away, but I certainly can’t begrudge you voting for Greg or Nick as they both put together excellent trips and made great use of award redemptions. I had an amazing time over the last fortnight, so it was two weeks well spent whatever the end result of the voting.