To kick-off the “Meet an Indie Traveller” interview series, I’m chatting with Clint Johnston of Triphackr, an independent traveller who refuses to pay full price for a flight (ever). Clint has travelled to over 60 countries and along the way perfected this little thing called travel hacking that sends him all over the world without breaking bank. How does he do it? Let’s find out…
1. How would you define independent travel and how do you feel it differs from how most people view travel?
Everyone has their own travel style and there is nothing wrong with that. Personally, I have more than one travel style. Ten years ago when I started backpacking around Europe, independent travel was simply about flexibility and the option to go to any destination I wanted on a whim. Over the years I still travel independently but it is not my preferred method of travel. I enjoy sharing travel experiences with friends and family. I plan trips for others and encourage them to join my on my adventures. It is a lot more fun than simply coming home and telling stories when you can share them.
2. Could you tell us a little about your first independent travel experience?
My first independent travel experience probably isn’t that interesting. Backpacks, hostels, and drinking would probably sum that up. One of my favorite independent travel experiences was last year when I went to Cuba. I didn’t apply for a license from the US first and simply entered through Mexico. The planning and the execution of going to Cuba “illegally” was a lot of fun. I stayed with a family in Old Havana that spoke almost no English at all but that just added to the experience. I absolutely loved Cuba and can’t wait to return. The classic cars, the food, and the music were incredible.
3. How has your trip planning changed since you first started travelling?
Planning for trips has always been one of my favorite aspects of travel. It can actually be a negative characteristic of my travel style when I can’t let go of something that I planned for and wasn’t able to accomplish. However, I have learned to let those things go and be a more flexible traveler. Now I find myself reading a lot more personal experiences from other travel bloggers before making a decision. Browsing forums and asking questions are another great way to gather info. So many reviews and guide books are out-of-date or biased I find it best to base my travel plans from friends and my own research.
4. What do you feel is the number one travel planning pitfall for first-time travellers to avoid?
One of the biggest problems I see and hear about people not becoming familiar with local cultures, customs, and scams. Travelers should expect to adapt to the local culture and not expect others to accommodate their norms they experience at home. For example, people tend to speak a little bit of English everywhere you go today but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to pick up a few local phrases.
Another pitfall I see travellers making is not doing even the most basic research. For instance, not researching how to get to the city-center from the airport. What are the cheapest options, fastest methods, and how much should it cost? Many people will overpay a taxi to drive them without even inquiring about the fare before beginning their journey. A little research and preparation goes a long way.
5. What is the number one lesson you’ve learned through your travels? How has travel changed the way you view the world?
Having a travel budget is important for any traveler but many people can hurt their travel experience by not budgeting for amazing experiences simply because their budget does not allow for it. I remember when I was younger skipping out on amazing activities and restaurants in various cities because I wanted to save money. I have learned if you are going to travel half way around the world you better experience what that country has to offer. This can mean splurging on a day-trip or an amazing dinner instead of another night eating cheap back at your hotel or hostel. Budgeting is important but it needs to allow for the occasional splurge.
6. Elsewhere, you’ve written about becoming a minimalist traveller. What does minimalist travel mean to you and how would one become a minimalist traveller?
7. On Triphackr, you write extensively about travel hacking. Could you give readers a short primer on travel hacking? In which ways do you feel travel hacking best benefits independent travellers?
Well, I started travel hacking simply as a means to travel more often. Flights aren’t cheap and travel hacking allows you to fly for free, earn elite status, and enjoy more upgrades along the way. It can also earn you free hotel rooms but I tend to rent apartments and homes when I travel so that doesn’t apply to me as often. Travel hacking is basically earning miles and points to fly for free. Credit cards offer huge sign-up bonuses that travelers can redeem for award travel. Once you can cut the cost of a flight out of the equation it opens a lot of doors for long term travel and traveling more often. Travel budgets are always a factor for independent travelers and by eliminating some of the costs funds can be spent on other things.
8. In addition to travel hacking, you seem to love trying out new travel gear. What are some of your favourite pieces of travel gear? Which one item could you never leave home without?
I do love travel gear and it varies from backpacks to travel accessories. I never leave home without my Belkin Mini-Surge protector. This is probably the simplest and cheapest thing in my bag but it is a lifesaver at airports and hotels with limited outlets. It turns one outlet into 5 charging ports. I love testing out new travel backpacks. I am constantly searching for a pack that is lightweight, compact, and can accommodate my laptop, DSLR, and a few additional accessories.