For today’s interview, we have Frank and Nicole from The Wondernuts, a couple of American travelers with full-time jobs. Even though they have one of the shortest vacation times on the planet, these two Americans have managed to visit 30 countries together so far.
Let’s find out how they do it!
What do you do for a living?
Frank is a designer and animator for film and commercials. Since he owns his own business, he’s often contracted for design jobs. So his income can change.
I’m a high school English teacher. Since my job is public, my pay is actually very well-known.
Our combined income gives us a comfortable standard of living in Los Angeles in a good neighborhood. We don’t want to divulge how much we make because readers who don’t make that amount may see that as an obstacle to travel, which simply isn’t true. If your goal is to travel—even just once a year—you will find a way to rearrange your priorities despite your income.
Did you guys travel before you got together?
As kids, we were lucky to have parents who traveled.
Frank’s father was a Doctor Without Borders and toted him along to developing countries. His family also immigrated to four different countries before settling in the U.S.
My parents and I used to go on good ol’ American road trips every summer.
Where have you traveled together?
We’ve been to around 30 countries together so far in our 6-year relationship. We typically stay about five days in each major city and usually about two weeks per country.
For example, we visited France for about two weeks and we stayed in Paris for five of those days. The rest of the time was spent traveling throughout France.
We will most likely revisit countries we enjoyed. Like France, because it’s where we got engaged. Or Taiwan, since that country is amazing.
30 countries in 6 years — that’s five countries every year. How many vacation days do you have each year and how do you maximize them?
On average, we both have three weeks of vacation. On top of that, both of us are fortunate enough to work in industries that shut down from the Christmas to New Year holiday season. The States also have a few three-day holiday weekends, which we utilize to travel within the country.
If you’d like to know how we maximize our short American vacation time, read our blog. But, long story short, we research and develop an efficient travel itinerary before-hand, which allows us to experience more destinations in a short amount of time without feeling rushed.
How do you spread out your vacation days?
It depends on our itinerary. Sometimes we combine multiple countries into one longer trip. Other times, we focus on just a couple of countries for a shorter trip. Things like transportation options, prices and journey times between cities are a major factor in deciding just how long our trip will be.
How much of your incomes go towards travels? Do you have a separate travel savings account?
We both save about 35 to 40 percent of our income every year. Of that percentage, we put 15 to 20 percent towards short-term investments and long-term retirement. Approximately 12 percent of our income goes towards travel.
We don’t have a separate savings account for travel, since an extra account on top of what we already have can be a headache to manage. But if having a separate travel savings account works for someone else, then that person should try it out.
How do you save up for a trip?
Setting a goal—whether it’s travel or, say, buying a house—is much more gratifying than just blowing your money on things that depreciate in value over time. Start with identifying what you want, how you’ll get it and what you’ll sacrifice to get there.
That means you have to rearrange your priorities. Start making your own home-cooked meals and be smart about it by shopping on sale, party less, cut out/ drink less alcohol. Arrange everything you purchase into “want” and “need” categories. Then eliminate 95 percent of the things in the “want” category. Put all those savings towards your goal.
How do you keep your travel spending within budget? What do you splurge on? What do you skimp on?
Frank sets up email alerts with various websites (such as AirfareWatchdog.com) to notify him of destinations that are on sale. We plan our travels based on these deals. Once airfare and accommodations are paid, we arrange a daily budget.
If we’re celebrating a special occasion, like an anniversary or a birthday, we will splurge on dinner. But that splurge means we skimp on the rest of our daily budget to offset that cost during our trip.
Do you use any unconventional travel arrangements?
We have tried Airbnb a few times. It has its pros and cons, but a positive experience usually depends on the host’s hospitality and knowledge. For example, we stayed in the center of Amsterdam. Our host was helpful and it really elevated our experience of the city.
But a hotel on sale is often cheaper than AirBnB accommodations, so be aware of this as you plan your bookings.
(To read more about how to use AirBnB and stay safe, read this post: The Crazy-Detailed Guide to AirBnB (With Pictures!) + Alternatives.)
What about frequent flyer miles?
We focus more on status achievement with Skyteam than obtaining miles. The amenities and comfort we receive from being Elite Plus Frequent Flyers are much more relevant to our travels. We use miles for international upgrades rather than free flights, which often come with annoying blackout restrictions.
We also have credit card points that allow us to receive many free nights per year at Starwood Properties.
(If you want to start collecting miles and don’t know where to start, check out this post: Travel Hacking Basics: 4 Easy Steps to Travel for Free.)
What credit cards do you use to these accumulate points?
After a considerable amount of research, we chose the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card with American Express as our primary card. We can use the points accumulated towards Starwood properties all around the world. We can also transfer points 1:1 (often more) to most major airlines. Our favorite airline is Delta. Both Starwood and Delta have an exclusive ongoing travel partnership that has allowed us to accumulate a lot of points and miles. This means we can redeem more hotel nights and international flight upgrades. The elite status benefits with one also cross over with the other. Plus, once you experience American Express’ customer service, you won’t go anywhere else…not too shabby.
We also have a CapitalOne Visa card as secondary that we use in other countries to avoid foreign transaction fees.
(End of interview)
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, say hi to Frank and Nicole on Twitter or Facebook! Also check out their website, The Wondernuts — it’s all about how Americans can maximize short vacation times, while still having a fulfilling career and life.