From those putting their hearts out on the field to those exploring the road less traveled, the SunglassWarehouse.com crew is pumped to introduce our latest series, where we highlight men and women committed to seizing the day and going Out & About. Check back each month as we interview individuals who have played, explored, lived, and gone the distance in the great outdoors.
Today’s Out & About interview tells the story of two brothers, Sheldon and Brad, and their adventures traveling the world at prices so low, they seem too good to be true. The guys share their travel tips and tricks on their World Wanderlusting website; they love giving advice and talking to people about their style of travel. Learn more about Sheldon and Brad in our conversation below — we’ll be shocked if you’re not bitten by the travel bug before you finish reading.
Our #1385s are well-traveled.
Could you give a brief introduction for our readers about yourselves, your families, and your passion for travel?
Sheldon: Brad and I come from a long family line of penny-pinchers. Our grandfather would drive 10 miles to another town so he could save $0.50 on a pair of gloves. We just don’t part easily with our money. At the same time, we have a wicked case of wanderlust. How do we reconcile those two passions? We travel and we do it a lot, but we do it almost for free. We’ve cultivated a special understanding of loyalty programs, and we gather up points à la chubby kid under the piñata.
We don’t let our young families inhibit us; we bring them along or we leave them at home. You’ve heard the old Mark Twain quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” That’s what we say, only we add on, “– and can be cheap as hell if you play it right.”
Can you briefly explain how you’re able to travel on such a low budget?
Brad: So my family of six is waiting in the lobby of a Sheraton hotel for an early morning shuttle to the airport. We’re about to board a flight to Panama that cost us $261. I take my son to the lobby restroom, and we find a homeless guy asleep on the floor of the bathroom stall. The thought occurs to me: I paid no more to sleep in the king size bed with incredibly soft sheets than this guy paid to sleep on the hard marble. What’s the difference?
I understand, gather, and use loyalty points. In the last three years, between Sheldon and me and our wives, we’ve accumulated more than 3,800,000 frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and bank points. We’ve done it largely by applying for credit cards with large travel bonuses and meeting the minimum spending requirements by making only purchases we’d otherwise make with cash, debit, or check.
Travel expenses no longer consist of airfare and hotel charges, so we can do amazing things like fly to Italy for $81 and stay 13 nights in hotels with only $17 in local taxes. When we pay with points, not dollars, we get to do a lot more (and a lot more often, too).
Brad trying to capture a panoramic at Civita di Bagnoregio, one hour north of Rome.
What are the benefits of the way you travel? Are there any drawbacks?
Brad: The benefits are abundant.
We travel more often to more places for longer periods of time. The world is our playground, and with millions of loyalty points at our disposal, there are infinite ways to use them.
We spend less on getting to places and staying there, so that we’re more comfortable splurging on things like preposterously expensive gondola rides, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, museum entrance fees, and delicious meals.
Life is richer. With more experiences and having admired a variety of cultures, I feel like I better understand the world and my place in it.
Accumulating so many points can often lead to elite status levels — granting us flight and room upgrades. When we went to our hotel in Germany last fall, we got a suite, free internet, chocolate, a fruit and cheese plate, and free drinks.
Sheldon: There are some drawbacks too, but we can see them as perks.
You tend to travel during off-peak and “shoulder” times, but this also results in fewer travelers, lower prices, and brighter colors.
Point-redeemed travel often requires leaving during the middle of the week, so you have to miss work, and we all know what a bummer it is to miss work.
We end up spending more time researching and planning for optimal point usage — but we love this kind of thing and share it on www.worldwanderlusting.com.
There’s the hassle of managing cards, accounts, and points, but it’s made easier with tools like spreadsheets, Google calendar, mint.com, and AwardWallet.
If you aren’t attentive to the way you use the credit cards, you can incur more debt and hurt your credit score, but doing it right can actually improve it.
You have both been able to bring your families on so many adventures. What have you been able to teach your children through all your travels?
Brad: When we went to Panama, my son had been studying the rainforest in his first grade class. We took him out of school for three weeks, and he experienced the rainforest and its plant and animal life firsthand. I snorkeled with my daughter riding my back and collecting the seashells I handed up to her. They have so much more of an appreciation for the world and its beauty.
In Colombia, we made friends with another family and they invited us to their very humble home for dinner. We rode a funicular over some very impoverished areas where our children got a sense of just how fortunate we are. These are things that only experience can truly teach.
What has been your favorite and least favorite place to visit and why? Can you share a few highlights from your travels?
Brad: I had an incredible experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The scenery in Africa is unbelievable, and climbing the world’s tallest free-standing mountain takes you through every kind of climate — a dense, green tropical jungle at the base, through sparse, moon-like boulder fields, and into a polar summit. For the bulk of the climb, you are above the cloud line and it feels other-worldly. It’s something everyone should have a chance to experience.
Sheldon: While it has a certain allure and the people are beautiful and cheerful, visiting Haiti was tough to go through. I was there just after the earthquake in 2010, and we were able to do some great things for a lot of people, but there was an overwhelming sense of despair. Even so, I can tell you that I met people there who were inspiring and unconquerable in their spirit, and there’s nothing like a Haitian smile.
Brad and his kids playing Candy Land with a group of kids in the San Blas Islands.
What (or where) is next for you and your families?
Sheldon: I’m headed to Florida for the first time in May. We’ll be taking our children and showing them places like the Kennedy Space Center, historic St. Augustine, and spending time on the beach.
Brad: As soon as school gets out, we’re taking our family on a cruise to Alaska. Cruise ships are fun for adults, but they’re really fun for kids. Not every trip has to be overly adventuresome.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start traveling similar to the way you both do?
Brad: Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the planning process. There are so many tools available on the web, and there’s no shame in copying someone else’s itinerary. In fact, we’ve mapped out itineraries that our followers have set out on before we ever did. Please use us and other travel bloggers as a resource. We’re arms dealers in the war of monotony vs. adventure.
Sheldon: Also, don’t believe the myths about international travel. You can go places where you don’t speak the language. It’s not near as dangerous as it’s sometimes presented. Do your homework and trust yourself to make good decisions.
Thanks again to Sheldon and Brad for spending some time answering our questions! Make sure you check out their website for more about their world travels.