This week we would like to introduce Annalisa of Award Travel Wisdom. Annalisa is 29 years old and from Iowa, USA. She grew up in a small town but spent many years of her life traveling all over the world. She has been to 39 countries, but the list will grow to 44 by the end of this summer! She is currently traveling the world for eight months with her husband Aurelien. She is a health coach and yoga teacher, while Aurelien loves anything to do with finance, sports and collecting frequent flyer miles! They are able to fly around the world, in business class, because of all of the miles/points he collected. As they travel, they are blogging about their experiences, as well as showing other people how they can collect miles to travel.
1. What inspires you to travel, and how would you define the word ‘traveler’?
I love to travel because it exposes me to different cultures, people, food and experiences. Traveling pushes me out of my comfort zone, teaches me lessons and, most importantly, is really fun! I am always amazed at how much beauty there is in the world and how friendly everyone is. It’s easy to read the news and get worried about leaving your little “bubble” back home, but as soon as you head out into the unknown, you realize that it’s not scary. The world really is your family. J A traveler to me is someone who gains fulfillment from being in and experiencing other cultures versus someone who focuses mainly on finding their own familiar comforts wherever they are. (Example: tourists that eat at McDonalds in every country and only talk to their fellow tour mates.)
2. For those who don’t yet know you, can you explain your travel style?
I don’t have an overall travel style since the trips I’ve taken have been extremely varied in length and type. Typically, I take shorter trips ranging from one week to two months. Until now, my longest trip had been four months alone in India when I was 22. This current eight-month trip is the longest I have ever done. We have been moving around a lot and have visited over 22 locations in the past five months. When we do another long trip I would like to stay in one place for a few months at a time to settle in. Bonus if the place has a kitchen, I miss cooking and sharing recipes on my (health) blog!
3. How do you afford your travels?
We make our trip affordable through a combination of several things:
- We saved up money by moving back to Iowa from California. Living expenses in Iowa are much lower compared to California, so we were able to save up a nice chunk within a year.
- We are both working part-time while we travel. I do grant research and writing and Aurelien does financial freelance work. Income from this work covers about half of our expenses each month.
- We’ve been enjoying a travel budget app called Trail Wallet that has kept us accountable on our spending!
- Most importantly, we built up more than 2 million frequent flyer miles and hotel points! We use our miles to book otherwise expensive tickets for free (with a small amount of taxes and fees). In expensive cities we use our hotel points to get free hotel rooms. For shorter flights we use inexpensive airlines like Air Asia.
This combination has allowed us to experience the full range from backpacker to five-star luxury. We are comfortable with both styles and you can read more on our blog about the variety of experiences we’ve had while enjoying affordable travel.
4. Where was your first international trip and how old were you?
I went on my first international trip when I was 13. Our family went to Europe for six weeks. That trip definitely opened my eyes up to the world and all the unique cultures that can be experienced. Aurelien was born in France and moved to the USA when he was only a year old, so he started off early!
5. Where has been your favorite destination? Where has been your least favorite?
This is a really hard question; there are so many beautiful, amazing places in this world, so here is my short list! Each place has its charm and I like them for different reasons. I really liked Koh Lanta in Thailand for its pristine beaches and relatively few tourists. I liked Slovenia for its beautiful mountains and fresh air. I liked Taipei because of the amazing street food and I will always love Paris for it’s beautiful architecture, little alleyways and amazing food (this could be said for many other European cities like Barcelona and Stockholm).
My least favorite was Seminayak/Kuta area in Bali. I had read about the hordes of tourists and the party scene, so was expecting that, but the amount of trash on the beach was horrifying! We stayed for three days, mostly at our hotel working, and didn’t once go swimming. We went for a walk on the beach one day, and it was just so sad. In some places on the beach the trash was covering up the sand, and beginner surfers were swimming in plastic waste! We left as soon as we could and went to Gili Air.
6. If you had to settle down in one location forever, where would you choose and why?
Part of me wants to stay in Iowa to be near family and have a relatively simple life. Another part of me wants to live in an exotic city, be exposed to new cultures and learn new languages. Another part of me wants to live in a small beach town, somewhere warm and beautiful, where I could learn how to surf. One thing I know for sure, I will be traveling a lot regardless. Travel seems to be in my blood; I don’t tend to stay in one place for long! Thankfully my husband likes to travel and we travel really well together.
7. Have you ever had high hopes for a destination, tour, etc., only to be disappointed in the end? Or any travel mishaps?
On the way home from a bike trip in New Zealand, we stopped for a few days in Fiji. We were looking forward to tremendously, but our expectations ended up being too high. The only beach by our little resort had a lot of coral, so it was hard to swim. The other problem was it was super hot! By 6am we were already sweating, and the water was too warm, not refreshing at all!
We did get to go on an amazing snorkeling trip. I will never forget the rainbow of fish and corals we saw that day, but the rest of that trip was just a sweat fest! I would love to go back to Fiji again sometime to experience it properly.
8. What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
I think it’s ironic that people in Eastern cultures want to be fair-skinned (and going to the extreme of using whitening creams to bleach their skin) while Westerners always want to be tan and sun-kissed (by going to the extreme of using bronzers and self-tanners). This is an example of how many of us want what we don’t have.
9. What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations?
Aurelien is collecting one bill from each country. I plan on framing them when we get home. I am taking a ton of photographs from each place we go!
10. How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
My computer. I use it for researching travel, making money and more. It’s convenient to book tickets, hotels, transportation, and tours and to research our current and future destinations. We also use it to blog and share our adventures with the world.
11. Why did you begin blogging? And how did you come up with your blog name?
I started my first blog when I was in college. It had two readers and I can’t even remember the name of it. More recently we have become more serious about blogging.
On our eight-month trip we’ve been posting our experiences on Award Travel Wisdom. We wanted the name to reflect the best things we have learned (wisdom) about collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points and how to maximize them for award travel.
Last year I started my health coaching website, Annalisa Marie, which is a place for me to share my passion of health and wellness and the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. I also love coming up with vegetarian recipes.
12. What’s next?
We are finishing up our eight-month trip this June. The countries we have visited on this trip include: U.A.E, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia. As am writing this from Koh Chang, Thailand and then we are headed onto Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong (again) Doha, Germany, Greece, Spain, Slovenia, France and Italy. We are excited to go to Greece again because we started dating there on a college trip eleven years ago!
We will be home in June and then are thinking about going to Hawaii in the winter and possibly New Zealand (we sadly cut it out of this current itinerary because of cost and lack of time).
Backpack or suitcase? Suitcase. Sometimes I regret that decision, like when we have four flights of stairs at hotels or in the metro, but most of the time I’m glad I have my rolling suitcase!
Window or aisle? When traveling with Aurelien it’s a moot point because he always steals the window.
Solo or group? I prefer traveling with one other person, assuming we have similar travel styles! I get lonely when I’m solo and a group can be overwhelming and hard to organize.
Tapas or sushi? Tapas
Beach or mountains? Beach! Bonus, if there are both, like in Kauai.
Be sure to follow in the wisdom of Annalisa as she makes her way around the world:
Visit Annalisa’s site: Award Travel Wisdom
“Like” Annalisa on Facebook: Award Travel Wisdom