Interview with Clint Johnston of triphackr.com

Today's featured travel blogger is Clint Johnston – the brain behind triphackr.com

How, why and when did you get started to blog your thoughts on travel?

I had been traveling for years and never even considered starting a blog. It wasn't until I began reading other travel blogs that inspired me to start Triphackr. I remember reading post after post on Nomadic Matt's blog a few years ago. When I realized travel blogs could be a great resource for other travelers I decided to start Triphackr and start having some fun posting my experiences from around the world.

What is your blog all about?

Triphackr is about showing people travel doesn't have to be expensive and that anyone can do it. I share a lot of tips about travel hacking and how I have used miles and points to fly for free all over the world. I consider travel hacking to be about more than just miles and points. It is about maximizing every travel experience. I have always had a full time job while still making my way to over 60 countries, which means I don't have the free nomadic lifestyle many travel bloggers have. I have to use my paid time off and carefully schedule each trip to get the most out of it. If I can travel on a budget and with limited days off every year then anyone can do it.

Are you a full-time blogger? If so, do you live a rich lifestyle? 🙂

I am not a full time blogger but the amount of time I spend working on the site might suggest otherwise . I work full time for a non-profit that specializes in humanitarian aid relief. I work with our international partners, which is my favorite aspect of the job. They do not fly me to any exotic destinations but I am able to fly all over the world on a budget using miles and points to book free flights. I am a no-frills traveler and love finding deals or interesting ways to explore new places. Full-time blogging might be an option down the road but not quite yet.

What has been your most popular post so far?

My most popular post so far might be a little surprising. The post is about How to Use Your iPhone Abroad for Free. A lot of people don't want to deal with the hassle of picking up a local SIM card but want to use their phone to communicate with friends and family back home. I wrote the post just to explain how I use my phone for free but it has become a very popular topic.

Your most popular travel destination?

The most popular destination post is definitely Cuba. More specifically, how to travel to Cuba without a license (as an American). This is a very common question for Americans who want to travel to Cuba but do not want to pay for those high priced people-to-people tours. They want to see Cuba on their own terms. I flew into Cuba from Mexico, which is very common method. My guide aims is to take the fear out of traveling to Cuba illegally and calm some nerves.

What's your favorite country/place you have traveled to and why?

This is always an impossible question for me to answer but I love Brazil. I just spent some time there in March and I am returning in June for the World Cup. The country is so big with so many amazing cities I could return dozens of time and never see it all.

Where would you want to live if you'd have to settle on one place?

I think I will answer this question differently in 10 years but right now I am living exactly where I want to, which is in Brooklyn, New York. The city offers a taste from all parts of the globe and there are a seemingly endless amount of places to explore.

How many countries have you been to?

Around 65. I keep a map pinned with everywhere I have traveled in my house but have lost track of the exact number. I need to do a recount!

What places/countries are the most overrated?

I hate to call any place overrated. Some places may fall below expectations but I think that is usually due to unrealistic expectations of picky travelers. Even the most touristy places on Earth can be amazing if you step back and take it all in.

What's currently in your TOP 5 list to go to?

My top destination at the moment is Iran. Followed by Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, and #5 is tied with a lot of places like Turkey, Chile, Peru, and New Zealand. I don't always get to places in order of preference but those have remained at the top for a while and each is going to require a significant trip to make them happen.

What was the most rewarding travel situation you encountered?

The most rewarding travel experience to date was my 30th birthday last March in Brazil. Not because it was my birthday but because over 20 of my good friends and family all flew to Brazil to join. We rented a large house on the beach and had an amazing week. It is pretty amazing to see so many friends make such a large commitment and take time off work.

What is your most embarrassing travel pet peeve?

I hate when people in the wrong zones hover around the gate at the airport. However, sometimes when I am not flying an airline where I have elite status I find myself doing the exact thing I despise. I blame the lack of overhead bin space (due to baggage fees) and my fear of being forced to check my gear.

Have you encountered celebrities during your travels?

I have met a few over the years but it is most fun when groups confuse me for a celebrity and demand photos with me, which I find humorous. I usually try not to bother people unless it is at an event where it is expected. For example, meeting Anthony Bourdain last year was a big highlight for me. We were all drinking and socializing in a room before an event with only 40-50 people so it was expected for me to bother him for a few minutes .

What's the most recent food discovery from your travels?

I don't want to butcher any of the things I enjoyed but I can't say I had a bad meal when I was in Korea. I have since sought out some Korean restaurants in NYC to get my fix.

What was the most complicated flight itinerary you have ever booked?

I book a lot of complicated flight itineraries and they often look similar. For example, I will book multiple legs on different airlines or purposely book long stopovers to get an extra night in a new city on the way home. It just depends how much time I have or if I am using miles to book a flight.

What was the longest time you had no sleep/ hotel bed in a row? Tell us the story behind it!

Well in college I flew to London to surprise my girlfriend at her school for Valentines Day. It was an overnight flight and I did not sleep since I was pretty excited. I arrived around 9am and spent the day exploring London. That night I ended up partying with Chuck Liddell (former UFC champ) for some reason and wasn't in bed until 4-5am. With the time change I think I was seriously pushing myself to the limit. The next day was rough and I have learned my lesson to get on the new time schedule right away.

What is your favorite airline product you experienced and why?

I really appreciate the little things on airlines. No question Emirates has been one of favorite flying experiences.

What is your favorite hotel you stayed at?

I don't stay in a lot of hotels because I prefer renting houses and apartments when I can. But I would say The Hôtel Ritz in Paris was one of the most memorable. It was almost 10 years ago and still cool Lance Armstrong had just won his 7th straight Tour de France. I remember talking to John Kerry (my Senator at the time) in the lobby before the Tour de France after party. I certainly won't forget that night.

Do you have a travel product that nobody has ever heard of that is a real gem?

My favorite travel product is just a Belkin adapter. It turns one outlet into 5 with 2 USB ports.

What airline/hotel are you craving to try?

After seeing the new Four Seasons Private Jet I would love a ride around the world in that. Also, Etihad just unveiled the world's most luxurious jet with full beds and private cabins. Would be quite the experience to have just once.

What are your favorite travel websites and why?

Sites I read weekly are The Points Guy, Nomadic Matt, and a lot of other great travel blogs. I have made a lot of friends who have amazing blogs and I like to see what they are up to and where they are in the world. A couple other sites I frequent daily (not 100% travel) are Gizmodo and Lifehacker. They often have unique destinations featured and interesting new travel tech.

What gadgets help you out on your travels?

Travel tech is a big part of my travel style. I often have to decide between a lot of different gear so I don't over pack. I always bring my GoPro, DSLR, small point and shoot, and my laptop. I never leave home without them.

Where do you earn the majority of your miles? Credit cards, online shopping malls?

The fastest way to earn miles is through credit cards of course but when I am not signing up for a new card I stick to the little things that add up over time. Shopping portals are a great place to start your search for any product online and earn bonus miles. I also like the simple dining programs most airlines offer.

Do you have any simple advice for a beginner – how to collect and use miles easiest?

The best way to start is to pick a new co-branded airline card (or 3) with a large sign-up bonus. Then sign up for a points card. This will start you off with a lot of miles very quickly. From there you can earn miles from online shopping portals, dining programs, staying at partner hotels, and even car rentals. There are countless ways to earn miles so start reading travel hacking blogs and get started.

Can you share a secret with mightytravels.com readers about a less-known way to earn miles?

Many people overlook Amazon Payments. Amazon allows you to transfer $1,000 a month for free to anyone (like your roommate or friend). Use a card that earns you miles to send them money once a month for year and have them pay you back by check each time. You can use this service or many others to make payments to friends for rent, bills, or for dinner and earn miles. Purchasing reloadable gift cards are another great way to earn miles quickly but this requires a little more time to go into detail. The point is the little things add up every year to a lot of miles.

What is your biggest learning from earning so many miles and points?

It is never too late to get started. In my early travel years I was paying full fare for all of my flights. It wasn't until I discovered anyone could become a travel hacker that I started flying for free. Don't be intimidated by all of the credit cards and information. Start slowly and learn as you go.

Thank you, Clint, for joining us for this interview!

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