They say some of us are dreamers of an impossible dream. And while the dream of turning a great first date into a romantic 31-country trip around the world primarily funded by frequent flier points may sound impossible, Kyle Zuvella of The Faraway Guide made this a reality. I caught up with Kyle to find out more about dreaming big, love on the road and seeing the world with rewards instead of cash.
1. In high school you wrote an important wish in your yearbook. What was it, and how did you work to make it a reality?
I was always a dreamer. As a senior in high school then, it seemed natural to write out my life-long goals. The very first goal I listed was one that resonates with people everywhere: to travel around the world.
The problem with dreaming big is it takes big steps over a long period of time. So while the “around-the-world” dream still existed on paper, it seemed to slightly fade over the course of college and then a professional career.
Until I discovered the “Hobby.” While working for Visa, Inc., I learned about a massive secret: a way to earn frequent flyer points in mass without hurting your credit score — when managed correctly. The hardest part was trusting myself and actually applying to dozens of credit cards a year.
Ultimately, it worked out. Since that discovery about three years ago, I personally have earned over 2,500,000 frequent flyer points and just visited my 48th country (it was Belgium). Meanwhile, my credit score rose to over 800…30+ credit cards later.
2. On your first date with Andrea you talked about traveling to Argentina. At the time did you ever imagine that conversation would become reality? When did you know it would?
Strangely, I did think it would happen on that first date — but not on the scale that it eventually did. Andrea is a captivating person and that conversation was one of the most important moments of my adult life. I had this odd sense of certainty with this beautiful stranger, chatting in the snow in New York City. It was a certainty that everything we spoke about would happen.
And it did! We visited Argentina this year for Andrea’s birthday, including five nights at my favorite hotel in the world: the Palacio Duhau, a Park Hyatt property in the ritzy Recoleta neighborhood. What surprised me was Argentina was the first country we visited in a seven month, 31 country tour around the world. That was unimaginable on our first date and still shocks me to think about.
3. You and Andrea collectively earned 3,000,000 frequent flyer points — all while improving your credit scores — to visit 31 countries across 6 continents. What advice would you give newbie travelers looking to get into traveling on miles and points?
Honestly, the Hobby is so complex that no one piece of advice will be sufficient. But if I had to boil it down to three, they would be this: track everything, learn before testing, and set up “push” notifications. Let me explain.
Track everything means exactly that: keep all of your credit card and frequent flyer information on hand. If you aren’t organized, managing all of that data can quickly become a headache. I have a tool I use that is free to readers – I highly recommend using it or a similar framework.
Learn before testing is probably the hardest to follow. To put it in perspective, even after three years of doing this I consider myself a rookie on many levels. What makes The Faraway Guide effective is just that though: Andrea and I so recently began and we can clearly explain the steps to follow. So whether it’s our website or a forum like FlyerTalk, it is absolutely essential that you read up on everything before testing.
Push notifications are the final piece of advice. With multiple credit cards, you want to be alerted immediately any time something strange happens. By setting up transaction alerts, you can get emails and/or texts any time a purchase is made – highly valuable for cards you no longer use. You can also do this with bills that are due, late payments, etc. Also of note are all the websites on the subject: by subscribing to the TFG Newsletter and other blogs, you can get all of the latest news in your email inbox. Much easier than trying to find it all yourself.
4. What traits do you think make for a good romantic travel partner?
Someone willing to try new things. Andrea and I had a wide range of experiences: from tango shows in Buenos Aires, to African safaris, to nine-hour hikes in Norway. We camped, stayed in $10 huts and stayed in $1,000-a-night places — on points of course!
Andrea always was excited to try something new, which in turn made me even more excited. The romance wasn’t always the traditional wine and dine. It was deeper, the kind you get standing thousands of feet above raw nature with the perfect person by your side. Or the kind you get watching your favorite person jump out of a plane, then later that evening be dolled up at a 5-star resort. Not willing to try things would severely limit the experience, in my opinion.
One last note on this: trying new things means taking a leap of faith. Andrea would constantly find images of these faraway places and say: we are going there. By having an open mind, I would work with her to make it happen. Some of the best moments of our trip came from her searching Google Image and then
us me working out the logistics.
5. What was the biggest challenge with planning this type of trip, and how did you both overcome it?
Oh my, planning an around-the-world trip is not for the faint-hearted. It is extremely fun to plan things out, but also extremely hard.
Probably the biggest challenge was organizing all the bookings. For example, we took 51 flights in just under seven months — an extraordinarily high number. Keeping track of all the flight dates, confirmation numbers and baggage policies was a full-time job.
We both are very organized, so we kept track of everything on an excel document — a document we shared with family and friends in case they needed to reach us. We kept the hotel name, flight details and even the dollars we spent all in one place, saved offline in Google Drive. I also highly recommend using TripIt. The app saved us on more than one occasion.
6. For couples looking to plan their first long-term trip together, what essential advice would you give them for strengthening their relationship?
Be extremely respectful of the other person’s desires. In all likelihood a long-term trip will be a HUGE life decision for both parties. And while it is natural to think of everything you gave up to make the trip happen — a job, money, etc. — don’t forget that the other person did the same.
For example, I had been to a number of the countries Andrea wanted to see and vice-versa. In some instances, I didn’t have a strong urge to go back and wanted to try somewhere new instead. But that is just unfair and in many instances the places we re-visited ended up being totally different together.
Traveling works in the strangest of ways: the highlights of trips can occur anywhere at any time. By keeping a positive attitude and listening to your companions desires, you enable a much better experience.
7. Romance on a budget…is it possible? How?
Absolutely — use points! In all seriousness, Andrea and I have traveled far more romantically since we started accruing points. The points are not necessary — one of my favorite memories was seeing Machu Picchu with Andrea after a four-day hike — but they do make budgeting far easier.
It also depends on your travel style. For us, we like to live luxuriously from time to time, especially when traveling long term. Being able to walk into a two-story private villa with an 80-foot pool is incredibly romantic. Spending two nights there for free is incredibly practical.
8. What destinations have been your favorite/least favorite for romantic travel? Why?
That is a great question. This may surprise people, but Valparaiso, Chile is an incredibly romantic place, especially on Valentine’s Day. Pablo Neruda has a famous house there, who I consider to be a titan of romance. Another romantic place is South Africa. Driving from Cape Town to Stellenbosch is quite easy and tacking on a Kruger safari is magical. While this is extremely pricey, the experience can’t be matched anywhere in the world.
My least favorite for romance is Jordan. We both saw pictures of the Treasury building in Petra — the one from Indiana Jones — and thought it would be incredibly romantic. We also thought the Dead Sea would be enchanting. Both places were excellent in a historical sense, but the drive from Amman was too long of a journey.
9. What is your wildest story from you and Andrea’s round the world trip?
I have hinted at a few, but let me offer one I’m particularly proud of. We were in Singapore and had a flight booked to Cape Town earlier this year. The flight was business class in miles, costing about 50,000 per person. Andrea and I both really wanted to visit the Great Wall though, so made an impromptu change and re-routed our flight from Singapore to Beijing and then 22 hours later from Beijing to Cape Town — for the same amount of miles.
So we basically added about 14 hours of flight time and a night at the Fairmont Beijing, just to spend 2 hours walking the Great Wall. At first the weather looked like it would be severely smoggy for the one morning we had, but at the last minute it cleared and was a perfect sunny day. Meanwhile we flew in fully-flat beds, stayed the night in an excellent hotel, took advantage of a visa-free policy and didn’t spend an extra dime. Like I said, I was proud of that one.
10. For those who dream of finding a romantic partner to travel with, what would you tell them?
Don’t give up on your dream — the perfect person is out there, waiting for you, ready to go on an adventure.
Have you ever done a round-the-world trip using points? How about with a significant other? Share your stories in the comments below.
Also Check Out:
Why Traveling The World Is Important To Me [Blog Inspiration]
Notes of a Trip Round the World by Andrew Carnegie [Historical Anecdotes]
Global Gal Travel Wallet [Travel Style]