Every month (most of the time), Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes a guest column featuring tips and advice for solo female travelers as I obviously can’t talk expertly on the subject! She’s back this month with an awesome list of destinations for female travelers!
Traveling solo is a unique opportunity to find out exactly who you are in completely new surroundings and without anyone around from your past to influence you. That can be a scary prospect, but the good news is there are plenty of places out there that can make you feel safe and welcome. And when in the right place, a solo trip — regardless of how long it is — has the power to benefit you for years or even a lifetime thereafter.
Before I traveled alone, I was pretty terrified, mostly because I didn’t think I’d like my own company enough to be solo 24/7. I was delighted to find that I met new people constantly (something that’s true for solo travelers in general). When on the road, people are social.
While it was possible to feel inspired and delighted everywhere, a few places in particular stand out as great options for women traveling alone. Below are 10 solo travel destinations that you probably didn’t expect to be awesome for solo female travelers in particular, whether for their women-oriented businesses or for their safety, solitude, spirituality, or sociability:
1. The Karoo, South Africa
Most people who visit South Africa head right to Cape Town or Kruger National Park, and while those spots are both popular for good reasons, why not take a look at the orange, rocky, rugged bush called the Karoo as well? It’s safer than Cape Town and less crowded than Kruger.
It didn’t take long for the Karoo to feel special to me while I was staying on a farm there, appropriately called The Rest. As a solo traveler, a great way to get to know the area is to do some kind of workaway program at such a place.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: South Africa, with its high levels of crime, might not initially seem like a logical destination for solo female travel. However, the rural parts, like the Karoo, are so isolated and far from the sometimes-dangerous bustle of the cities that staying with a family there and learning how to work the land can be both a safe and character-building experience.
Plus, with all of that space and time to feel and think, it can promote a lot of personal growth. Such a desolate landscape, with almost nobody and nothing around, can give you much time and freedom to think and feel, which is one of the greatest benefits of solo travel.
2. Yubeng, China
Yubeng is a remote village in the Chinese Himalayas that can only be reached by foot or mule. During the hike in, I saw Tibetan prayer flags strung from tree to tree, snow softly falling, and animals roaming freely all throughout the town. There are stupas (mound-like structures containing relics and used for meditation) everywhere.
Yubeng is peaceful in a way that much of the rest of China isn’t. The feeling is hard to explain, but it’s felt by all who pass through. If you’re overwhelmed with the rest of China, seek refuge in Yubeng.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: In the big cities, scams often target young female tourists, but in the Himalayas, you’re more of an esteemed guest. The friendly people of Yubeng are so relaxed, patient, and welcoming, as are the younger tourists who flock there, often with some English-language ability and curiosity about foreign visitors.
As a solo traveler, I was worried that I would be completely going this one alone, but I was surprised and delighted to find that young and friendly Chinese people take this route too, seeking the same sacred place.
3. Maui, Hawaii
Maui isn’t typically what comes to mind when most people think of a solo trip, but with all its activities — from surfing and hiking to driving the road to Hana and taking boating and snorkeling tours — it’s actually a great place for those flying solo.
With its constantly changing microclimates, the beautiful island has pockets of sandy sunset beaches, sprawling resorts, quaint little camping spots, and hikes through the valley.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: The cool thing about Maui is that it feels like a different country than the States, what with the tropical weather and Hawaiian culture, but you don’t need a passport, an RTW flight, or to learn a different language to enjoy it. Plus, there are female-focused activities — like the Maui Surfer Girls camp, designed specifically for solo female travelers who are looking for a supportive group of women to take up a new sport with. It’s an experience that is both empowering and fun!
4. El Chaltén, Argentina
If you love nature, there’s almost no better spot in the world to enjoy it fully than in Patagonia. Much of the region can be quite remote, but El Chaltén is Argentina’s trekking capital, and as such there are plenty of hostels there, and the whole town is totally chilled out. It also draws plenty of solo travelers who are open and happy to meet others to share the trails with, some of whom I met and hiked with when I was there (albeit not solo myself), and we left as new friends.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: With its constant catcalls, South America can sometimes feel stressful for solo female travelers, but this trekking town is different. It’s full of nature-loving artists and hippies who are welcoming, as well as hikes that are full enough of people that even if you show up solo, you can easily meet others on the trails. So, you could spend time in town just chilling and relaxing, or you could join glacier hikes, learn how to rock climb, or go on camping excursions, all of which accommodate solo travelers.
It hit me as I was staring up at the Northern Lights in Iceland, watching them swirl and snake across the sky in flashes of green, that this has got to be, hands-down, one of the most unique and drop-dead gorgeous places on this planet, with its black sand beaches, icy fjords, and those huggable, iconic ponies. Where else can you see the northern lights, geysers, and incredible land formations all in one spot? I saw so many waterfalls, I stopped counting anymore or even paying attention. That’s how abundant the natural beauty is!
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: Iceland is the safest country in the world. Seriously, people leave their cars running, with the keys inside, when they go grocery shopping. That’s how high the level of trust between people is! Plus, the capital draws so many solo travelers on layovers from the US that it won’t be hard to meet someone cool at your hostel to split a car rental with for a day trip like the Golden Circle or even a longer journey like the Ring Road.
6. Ylläs, Finland
When thinking about an escape, heading to the Arctic during the winter was not exactly at the top of my list, but after experiencing how amazing the Arctic could be in Iceland, I went for it: Lapland, Finland, in January.
I found that when the weather is so cold that it drops to 30° below freezing, the air becomes incredibly crisp. Also, that far north, the sun barely sits on the horizon during the short time that it’s out, creating an an unusual combination sunrise/sunset.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: The locals are so darn amiable that you’re sure to make a few friends, especially if you head to the female-owned-and-run Aurora Estate, where the owners can help you plan some awesome excursions snowmobiling and snowshoeing. The region is also home to the only ski slopes in the country, which tend to draw solo travelers. Head to an after-ski bar, join a husky safari, or talk to the locals in Snowman World (ice bar and restaurant). Who knows? You might catch the Northern Lights, too!
7. Big Sur, California
I call California home, but for some reason it took me until I was 29 to finally visit Big Sur — and I couldn’t believe what I had been missing: the rocky coastline, whales breaching in the distance, dolphins just about every time I looked at the horizon, and waterfalls in the state parks. It’s no wonder that the Central Coast has long enchanted actors, poets, and writers (just crack open any book by Jack Kerouac and you’re bound to read at least a little bit about coastal California, particularly Big Sur).
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: Camping in Big Sur is the perfect opportunity to meet others, because campers are friendly. Chances are good you can make a pal at the very next camping spot, especially if you offer them a locally-brewed beer. The hustle and bustle of Los Angeles turns some visitors off, so if what you’re seeking is some incredible nature, just head five hours north and you’ll be in paradise. How can you stare up at a redwood tree (some of the largest and oldest trees in the world) and not feel moved?
8. Bayfield, Wisconsin
Those who have never been to Bayfield might be scratching their heads, wondering how Wisconsin made this list. But trust me on this one, because it’s a unique Midwest gem.
It’s a tiny town full of artists, and people are incredibly friendly, living up to that Midwestern charm. Just about every person I met there seemed to have the time to stop and talk to me.
And you absolutely cannot beat the amazing sea caves! There’s something really special about kayaking through them. Or jump on a boat, sail around Lake Superior, and live a bit like Robinson Crusoe.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: I was afraid that Bayfield might be lonely since it initially seems like a family destination, but I made friends easily on kayaking tours around the caves, which accommodated me as a solo traveler, and found it easy to speak to people working in the restaurants and even on the sidewalk. Plus, it’s a safe place with low to no crime, so as a solo female traveler, you can even camp alone and enjoy the solitude.
9. Sossusvlei, Namibia
It might seem like a barren desert isn’t the place to enjoy by yourself, but I have found it to be quite the opposite. That kind of space to think and feel can really be incredible for personal development. Plus, in Namibia it’s warm and dry, so the sky is absolutely incredible for stargazing.
Climbing up and around Dune 45 at sunrise was a beautiful experience for me. After everyone else descended, I stayed up top to explore a bit more — and I had the whole view to myself. Can you imagine sitting in one of nature’s biggest sandboxes and having it feel like it’s all yours? My inner six-year-old rejoiced.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: Namibia is adventurous and social without feeling dangerous. All of the backpackers and camping accommodations have pools and other common areas, which makes it easy to meet others if you’re solo. It’s also a gorgeous destination in Africa that isn’t crowded and chaotic, and is more about the peace and space than anything else. In a country of only two million people, your biggest worry is the scorpions (for real, though — watch out for those!).
You can also join a tour or safari and meet plenty of other solo travelers. It’s what I did, and what Matt did too when visiting the area.
10. Berlin, Germany
How did a big city make this list? Well, Berlin is not just any city; it’s full of artists and has been for the past 30 or so years. It’s hard not to feel inspired in a place where so many people make their living by creating and honoring their passions. This is why I’ve also made it my home base and became a resident of Germany. I just couldn’t be without this funky place for too long!
Though it’s the capital, Berlin doesn’t feel crowded because it is so spread out. And with so many big parks in just about every neighborhood, peace and quiet is easy to come by.
Why it’s great for solo female travelers: Berlin draws many solo travelers, and it’s easy to meet others. It’s also a socially progressive city with a low violent crime rate that’s simple to navigate and easy to love. Take a street art tour and combine everything at once! There are also tons of expats, so check out a Meetup.com group or a Couchsurfing event to get a mix of visitors and those who are more familiar with the city.
While solo traveling and soul-searching don’t lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all approach, generally the places that draw solo travelers are the ones that are the most interesting and unique, provide opportunities to enjoy nature and connect with others (and with yourself). Regardless of which place you’re targeting in the world, with these options covering just about every continent and style of travel, you can find a place that suits you.
Conquering Mountains: The Guide to Solo Female Travel
For a complete A-to-Z guide on solo female travel, check out Kristin’s new book, Conquering Mountains. Besides discussing many of the practical tips of preparing and planning your trip, the book addresses the fears, safety, and emotional concerns women have about traveling alone. It features over 20 interviews with other female travel writers and travelers. Click here to learn more about the book and start reading it today!
Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over four years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). There’s almost nothing she won’t try and almost nowhere she won’t explore. You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.
This week I am going to Sri Lanka and, outside a few facts I’d picked up by reading the news and talking to friends over the years, I recently realized I knew shockingly little about the country. I knew it was once ruled by the British, there was a long conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese, the country produces a lot of tea, it has beyond-delicious food, its capital is Colombo, and there are some amazing jungles and beaches to explore.
But, beyond that superficial understanding, I knew nothing.
I couldn’t tell you if the country was cheap or inexpensive, what to see, one famous ruin, safety issues, where is popular, how to get around, what their currency or culture is, or anything in between.
Sri Lanka was a blank slate to me.
That made me nervous.
While I have no intention of ever planning trips day-by-day or moment-by-moment, I never like to go somewhere blind — it’s a sure-fire way to get ripped off, eat the wrong thing, get sick, make a cultural faux pas, and generally have something go badly. Knowledge is power, and given that so much information about is available online, I feel like going somewhere without any understanding of that place shows a laziness in planning and a sign of an unskilled traveler.
(Read more: 12 Things Not to Do When You Travel and 27 Rules for Not Ruining Your Trip)
So, before I flew to Dubai two weeks ago, I sat down to plan my trip to this brand-new destination. Normally, if I have enough of a basic understanding of a place, I just wing it — I’ve been to neighboring countries, know people, or have read enough to have an idea. Sri Lanka required some work.
How I planned my trip to Sri Lanka
Faced with a knowledge gap, here’s what I did to fill it:
First, I bought the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka. I think guidebooks are still important for travelers. Even though their practical information is often out of date, I love looking over them to get an overview of how to get around, form ideas on what to see and do, suggest itineraries, and look at the maps and featured places. It helps me put together the foundation of my planning. Besides, there’s just something enjoyable about holding a book and highlighting places that reading a blog on Iceland doesn’t offer!
Second, speaking of blogs, I went searching for them, too. Guidebooks are a good foundation, but blogs can fill in a lot of gaps. You can find more up-to-date information and off-the-beaten-path destinations, and ask questions of the bloggers. I searched, read, and searched some more for content and stories that gave me a sense of the destination. For reference, these are the blog posts I read:
Third, I asked friends and family for their advice (or if they knew anyone who could give me advice). It turned out I had a few friends who had been there recently and a few with family there. They gave me advice, tips, and suggestions on hotels and restaurants, and they connected me to family members. Now when I land, I have some people to stay with, show me around, and help me get situated. Nothing beats a local host!
Fourth, I asked this community. With so many people reading this blog, I figured some would have been there. Tweeting, Facebooking, and my blog posts produced a flurry of messages with tips and advice, and some from locals looking to meet up. It was incredibly helpful, and now I have some people to hang out with when I go!
Since not everyone is a blogger, I would suggest Couchsurfing as an alternative. This website exists to connect travelers and locals, and there is a very active community in Sri Lanka.
Finally, I bought books. As I’ve said in the past, you can’t know a place if you don’t know its history. So with a long flight ahead, I bought two books about Sri Lanka’s history so I can get a better understanding of the country’s rich history:
(Note: I just started reading these books so I can’t tell you how they are yet! But, besides buying books, I also read the Wikipedia of a country and the history sections in a guidebook. They aren’t comprehensive but, for a general overview, they do the trick!)
Talking to friends, family, readers, and bloggers has now given me a sense of the destination: an affordable, safe place with friendly locals, delicious food, and slow transportation. “Everyone is incredibly nice and helpful, but don’t expect to get anywhere fast unless you rent a driver” was the common refrain.
For the first time in a long time, I am going to a place I know nothing about. I am going to be a fish out of water… and I’m thrilled! I can’t wait to try to backpack and figure things out on the way again! Sri Lanka sees a lot of tourists and it’s not completely “off the beaten track” but it’s different to me.
I’m sure my plans, route, and ideas will change when I hit the ground. But as of now, I feel I have a better idea as to what I am getting myself into. I have a sense of what to expect and that makes me more slightly comfortable about visiting. You never know what a place is really like until you go, but now the picture of Sri Lanka is not a complete blur – it’s come into a lot more focus.
Visiting a place you’ve know little about in a region you’ve been can be somewhat intimidating. To go some place completely different pushes you out of your comfort zone and that can be a tricky thing. Even after ten years of travel, I still have a small amount of trepidation before I go. Sure, it disappears right when I land and I think “What was I so worried about?” but there is that voice in the back of my mind that sometimes goes “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Doing a little research to get an understanding of a place mutes that voice.
This is not about scheduling all your days and all your activities. That stuff should be done after you touch down based on how you feel each day. This simply is about being a more informed about the destination you are visiting.
Because a smart and informed traveler is a better traveler.
There’s still much to learn about Sri Lanka but now I don’t feel as if I’m completely at a loss or ignorant about the place.
P.S. – If you’re in Sri Lanka and you’d like to meet up with me while I’m there, e-mail me [email protected]!
On the second Wednesday of the month, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes a guest column featuring tips and advice on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice for other solo female travelers!
There are a lot of unknowns before you travel solo for the first time, like whether it’s going to be safe, how to find others to hang with, and how to choose where to go.
While solo traveling is an amazing chance to be the architect of your own adventure, to see the world on your terms, and to get to know yourself, it can be scary, exhilarating, and bemusing all at the same time.
As someone who has been traveling and blogging about it for the last four years, I’ve seen all sorts of questions from first-time travelers. Many of them are the same questions I had when I first started.
Today, I’m going to answer the 10 most common questions female travelers have so as to help alleviate your anxiety and inspire you to get on the road quicker!
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew before you started?
I wish I knew back then that I didn’t have to stress so much about meeting people.
It’s normal to be afraid of being alone, but the reality is that when traveling, it’s possible to meet more amazing people than you could’ve ever imagined. Travelers are incredibly friendly people.
Even if you’re socially awkward, it’ll work out.
There are so many other solo travelers out there that you tend to find each other. It’s as easy as sitting in the common room of a guesthouse and asking the person to your right where they’re from. Even if you don’t break the ice, chances are someone more outgoing at the hostel will involve you in the conversation.
One thing I really appreciate about traveling is how much less shy it has made me. I used to find it hard to talk to people I didn’t know, and now I’m a lot more confident. That has been a huge benefit of solo traveling.
Have you ever canceled a trip because you felt a place had become too dangerous?
The best thing to do is to make the choice on depending on the severity of the situation. It’s hard when all you see in the media are images of destruction, but remember, this is how they sell their stories.
If you feel like it would be stupid to put yourself in harm’s way, then don’t go. But if it seems like an isolated incident, ask yourself if one bad story should scare you off.
What are some of your strategies for deflecting unwanted attention as a female on the road alone?
The most effective strategy for deflecting unwanted attention abroad is to learn about the modesty requirements and the meaning of gestures before you visit that country.
In Nepal, Indonesia, and Malaysia, for example, it is important for women to wear things that cover their knees and shoulders. That’s true in many countries and covering up is often a sign of showing respect.
It’s also important to avoid getting too intoxicated or going out alone after dark in certain areas — which goes for both sexes — and always remain respectful, but demand respect as well.
As someone who is planning her first solo long-term travels, what is the most important bit of advice you could give?
Be as prepared as possible. That doesn’t mean planning out every little thing that happens during your trip, but rather being financially secure, having things like healthcare, visas, and a strategy for earning on the road all in mind before going, and reading up on customs and scams first.
It’s all about doing everything you can to tie up loose ends at home before you go, so that you can be present when you are on your trip.
Do you know of any networks where women can find female traveling buddies?
You might be surprised by what already exists in your personal network. Put up a Facebook post to see if your friends know anyone in new places you’re traveling to. Even if your friends aren’t the type to travel, you might be surprised by who knows whom and where.
Forums are also a great way to meet other travelers. Check out Nomadic Matt’s forum, and the Thorn Tree forum by Lonely Planet is also good. Some people use regional Couchsurfing boards as well. There are often regional Facebook groups, like Chiang Mai digital nomads and Backpacking Africa, for example.
There are new apps as well, like Wandermate and Tourlina, that are designed to connect solo female travelers, but I have not personally tried any, so I cannot comment on how good they are (or aren’t).
How do you deal with loneliness?
Loneliness gets to me about as often as it used to get to me before I started traveling.
I think it comes down to remembering that life is still life and there are up days and there are down days. It can’t all just be perfect all the time, and traveling won’t change the nature of being alive. It’s a great chance to get to love time spent with yourself, and that’s a benefit of solo traveling at times.
Have you found it difficult to talk to locals?
Talking to locals is one of the safest things you can do, because they are the ones that know about the area and can tell you where to visit and what to stay away from. Bonus: I almost always get really good info about where to eat or where to go next when talking to a local person. It’s the best!
Couchsurfing, talking to the owners of your guesthouse, or hanging out in the places were locals hang out and eat — and especially showing an interest in their culture — are all great ways to meet and chat with local people.
Do you notice female inequality when you travel solo? Do you get the same treatment and opportunities as male travelers?
There is definitely inequality in the world for females, but the good news is that we are also living in one of the most progressive times to date, so I think it’s an exciting and important time to travel.
There’s also a lot of benefit to being a solo female traveler. The locals tend to really look after us solo travelers and often take us under their wing.
A lot of amazing things can happen when you’re solo because you’re free to be completely open to serendipity. And while I’m sure this happens for guys as well, I can say with certainty that traveling solo as a female opens up doors that wouldn’t open when with a group or in a duo. So many times there will be room for just one on a motorbike, or a plus one at an event, and you never know what exciting things that might lead to.
Is there a specific age (or age group) that you would recommend for traveling solo?
Not at all! People of all ages and of all walks of life travel, and there is no magic number for when you should travel solo. You should just do it when you have the opportunity and the desire to.
If you are an open, curious, and friendly person, your age doesn’t matter.
Do you ever think to yourself, “Shit, what am I doing? Shouldn’t I be back home now and own an apartment or house or something?”
Every now and then I have a little existential crisis, but I totally had that back when I did have an apartment and a 9-5 job. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m always going to pause and question things every now and then. Perhaps that’s just part of being human.
I think the way it’s traditionally done right now is backwards. Staying in one place when I’m young and fit and then traveling the world after I retire and can’t do as many crazy things just looks like the reverse of what it should be. I’m just happy I found a way to get around that.
So no, I don’t stress about not having a settled life, because I just wanted to have freedom and to be able to choose whatever is suitable when it’s the right time.
Finding travel deals is a matter of timing.
A lot of people think travel is just plain expensive, but in reality there are incredible deals happening all the time. They usually don’t last too long, and you have to act quickly. That can sometimes be a problem when a deal requires jumping on a plane tomorrow (how many people can do that?), but in fact most deals are for months in the future, giving you ample time to plan your schedule.
Often I will book a flight and then figure out my plans. Since you can cancel a flight within 24 hours without incurring a fee, I lock in the deal and then figure out if I can make it work. Sometimes I can (like the $1,200 business-class flight from LA to Stockholm round-trip); sometimes I can’t (like the $400 New Zealand flights I had to cancel).
I am always looking out for deals. Today, I want to give you a peek into where I go for deals, tips, and expert advice. After all, these are people who focus solely on this one aspect of travel, so why not use them? I can’t be everywhere and I can’t know everything, so I rely on the specialists. If travel were a hospital, I would be your general practitioner and these people below are the specialists I would consult with!
When it comes to flights, I use three websites:
I’m subscribed to all of their newsletters so I don’t miss any flight deals. Often you’ll find the same deal on all three sites, but getting all three in my inbox each day ensures I won’t miss anything in case one website doesn’t pick up the deal.
On Twitter, I am also subscribed to Airfarewatchdog (great general deals) and YVR Deals (Vancouver Airport deals. It’s a big airport hub!). You can subscribe to them via their website too, but they usually send out so many emails that Twitter is easier!
Read more: How to Get Cheap Airfare
When it comes to finding the latest in airline and frequent flier news, I turn to these sites, which give me the latest on the changes in the industry and loyalty programs, and any travel hacking news I can use:
(For family travel, I visit Mommy Points. For Australia/NZ travel hacking, I consult Points Hack. For Canada, I use Canadian Kilometers and for the UK, Head for Points.)
As a very, very, very avid travel hacker, and while I have my own special tricks and tips, when you’re overseas a lot, it’s hard to stay up to date on your own so I use these three sites to keep me in the loop.
Read more: How I Earn 1 Million Frequent Flyer Miles a Year
In my mind, there is only one cruise deal website worth following: CruiseSheet. This site consistently has some of the lowest rates out there, and their interface is beautiful. If I don’t find anything on CruiseSheet or want to double-check a price, I go to the second-best website, vacationstogo.com.
Read more: How to Take a Cruise for as Little as $30 USD Per Day
Hotels deals are pretty hard to find and often so limited that they don’t apply to a lot of people. Plus, as a hostel and Airbnb lover (if you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay), I frequently just use points for hotel rooms (they’re damn expensive!). While lot of the travel hacking websites list hotel sales for large brands like Hilton and SPG, I also subscribe to the following:
Getting their emails keeps me up to date on city sales. Often, I look up the rates on their websites and then go over to the hotel’s website to book directly, as there is usually a lower rate — and I can then get points too.
Read more: How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room: Sites to Use and Sites to Avoid
For tours and excursions, I keep an eye on the following companies by subscribing to their emails too:
These companies have very good last-minute deals, and if the price is right, I’ll jump on them!
Read more: Why Organized Tours are a Good Option for Travelers
The One Company I Never Use..
TripAdvisor! Though TripAdvisor isn’t a “deal website,” I want to mention it because a lot of people use it in their planning. This is one of the worst travel websites out there and I never, ever, ever use it in my research to or to look for awesome budget accommodation. While I am not against user-generated reviews, the TripAdvisor system is easily gamed and often inaccurate. The site is widely known to delete negative review; hotel owners post fake reviews; and users get demanding of owners and often say “if you don’t do this, I’ll post a negative review.” It’s an open secret in the industry that the review system is a joke. This is one website I would stay away from. Sometimes there is not wisdom in the crowds. In my professional opinion, stay clear of this website when planning your trip.
****So while I think my site is amazing for your on-the-ground tips, tricks, and advice needs, for deals to get you to where you want to go, use the sites above. They’re what I use, and they’ve never steered me wrong!
Editor’s Note: I wrote a comment down below about Trip Advisor but here it is so you don’t miss it:“There is a lot of TripAdvisor love out there! I get it. We’re all honest brokers. No one thinks of themselves as dishonest and I have no doubt that you all write honest reviews. I have no doubt many of you have had good luck with the site and found some hidden gems too.
But that’s one experience of many and, if there’s anything I’ve learned writing about travel for eight years, it is that your one experience is not always the norm.
TripAdvisor is an easily gamed service that is often mocked and laughed at by people within the industry. I can’t tell you the countless stories I’ve heard and data I’ve seen about bots, fake reviews and listings, removed reviews, and much more.
TA is a great service in theory. In practice, it’s very hit or miss and too much of a minefield. It’s not reliable tool when taken as a whole.
One person’s paradise is another person’s hell hole. In this age of user reviews, we all like to think of ourselves as experts but, in reality, the masses are a really poor judge of quality because we like the experience and frame of reference to really give a fair and unbiased opinion. The South Park episode on Yelpers really nails it on the head. As they say, everyone’s a critic!
Take it from someone in the industry, TA is a site to be avoided when choosing a place to stay or activity to do.
Use it but know that most people within the industry think it’s a hilarious joke. And if all the professionals don’t like it, maybe there is some credence to their opinion!”
I’ll also add this rhetorical question: If you take the reviews with a grain of salt, why spend time on the review site in the first place!?
Tripadvisor: Just say no!
One of the advantages of being a traveler from North America is that we have so many ways to travel hack. As you know, I’m a big, big fan of travel hacking (the art of collecting points and miles for free travel). It is way helps keep me in free flights, hotels, and other travel expenses. I earn over one million points a year and save many of thousands of dollars in travel expenses!
But, while North Americans have more travel hacking options than others, it’s not limited to just this reason. Today, I’m interviewing Keith Mason from PointHacks AU. Keith is the premier expert on travel hacking in Australia and New Zealand. In this interview, he shares his tips on how to collect points in miles in the lands down under!
Nomadic Matt: Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in travel hacking?
Keith Mason: I’m originally from the UK<, but now I live in Sydney. Around five years ago, when my first child was born, I wanted to visit family back in Europe and figured that there had to be a way to ensure I didn’t end up traveling in economy the whole way.
I researched the hell out of this one trip and ended up using points to get the three of us into premium economy or business class for a round-the-world itinerary, without paying more than we would have for economy.
In the process, I realized that a lot of the information out there for someone in Australia wanting to learn more about earning and using points was either buried in forums or more relevant to overseas travelers.
My day job was making and managing websites, so starting Point Hacks was a logical next step — and now it’s my full-time gig, which is astounding!
There are some great news sites out there, locally and globally, covering the latest routes, airline news, and speculation — so we don’t try to do that. Instead, we’ve created a vast amount of frequent flyer and rewards program guides to earning and using the key currencies for us (Qantas Points, Velocity Points, Asia Miles, KrisFlyer Miles). And while we have a focus on Australia and New Zealand, many of our guides will be relevant for folks outside Australia too.
In the U.S., we have a ton of travel hacking options. What’s the industry like in Australia and New Zealand?
I guess there are two ways to look that question: what are the opportunities when it comes to earning and using points effectively, and what’s the information on offer to help you do so like?
In terms of the opportunities, there are heaps. It’s a mature market. Qantas has half as many frequent flyer members as the total population of the country (how many of those are active, I don’t know!), a very advanced and profitable frequent flyer program, and a great and generally well-loved and well-known brand.
They have also done deals with almost every bank out there, so there a vast number of Qantas-branded credit cards. The competition between banks and retailers is generally good, so while there are only two local airlines and frequent flyer programs, consumers have a number of options to earn points.
On the redemption side, Qantas and Velocity are obviously the key players, and for the most part, burning points comes with a lot of carrier-imposed fees and surcharges. Using points for an economy flight to the US, for example, could add $500–700 in fees on what would otherwise be $1,200 cash fare.
That’s a common complaint, but it’s the first thing you realize and hopefully take into account when playing the points game here. It means it’s even more important to keep saving your points for premium cabins to get the most value from them — redeeming points for economy travel with either program is rarely great value.
There are a few outliers and hidden options to minimize fees, and this is one of the things we try to highlight on Point Hacks, when we can. For example, by using Qantas Points on American Airlines–operated flights to the US, taxes and fees are virtually nothing. Same applies for using Qantas Points on Fiji Airways to the US too.
That said, every Australian willing to look away from a Qantas-linked card has a heap of access to overseas frequent flyer programs from the various banks’ flexible points programs — Membership Rewards is a key player here. That puts Asia Miles and KrisFlyer firmly on the map for those earning points from credit card spending and bonuses.
In New Zealand, the market is quite different: the points earning and redemption opportunities seem to be a lot less lucrative, with Air New Zealand’s revenue-based program commanding a lot of consumer attention and brand loyalty.
What’s the #1 way to earn points where you are?
Like many places, it’s mostly about frequent flyer or bank rewards program credit cards. The credit reporting system here is not as transparent as in the US, so I think people need to be more wary about hitting many sign-up bonuses and constantly switching cards — it can impact their ability to get other forms of credit in future, which could be more important, for example, a mortgage or car loan.
But that said, the banks put a lot of good offers out there to convince customers to switch, so there is a lot of appeal to use card bonuses and applications to boost balances as fast as possible.
My focus is to try and help people choose the right card or card rewards program that will work for their preferences in the long term — and if a sign-up bonus is good too, then that’s even better. That seems more sustainable for everyone.
Otherwise the mix of points-earning opportunities — outside of flying, of course — is pretty diverse, with utilities, supermarkets, mortgages, bank accounts, cinema tickets, online shopping, and most other product segments all having a points-earning option.
I’ve noticed a lot of credit cards in your part of the world come with very high fees. Is that a hindrance to collecting a lot of points?
Generally the bonuses on offer are relative to the annual fee you’ll pay — though this is not always the case, as banks are trying to stimulate customers to switch a lot right now.
There are a handful with low fees ($0–100, say) that earn well, primarily American Express–issued cards. Otherwise, yes, you’re looking at fees north of $150 for the better points-earning cards, but if you’re a good customer, you can often get these annual fees waived or discounted.
It’s a small barrier to entry, but by no means a deal-breaker.
How can someone can get started?
Funny you should ask! I created a free email course to help people earn more points and understand the system better. There are around 10 emails that will get sent out over three weeks.
In short though, I’ve met a few ex-pats who have ended up staying in Australia and want to get cracking on building up their balances here, and there are a couple of levels of things to consider.
Given we all know the need to try and consolidate your attention on a key program to earn a large, usable points balance, the first decision is around how “all-in” with Qantas Frequent Flyer you are. If your (or your partner’s) job has you flying with Qantas a lot, or for some other reason you want to be loyal to Qantas, then that’s pretty much your decision — Qantas has almost no credit card program transfer partners here, with Qantas-branded and “direct earn” cards making up the bulk of the market.
Qantas is not a bad program — it’s easy enough to rack up a large number of points from retail purchases and credit card spending to offset their high points-redemption rates (when compared to Asia Miles, for example) — and Qantas Points are one of the best-value ways of redeeming for travel with Emirates, who have a key route network to and from Europe and the Middle East from Australia.
If you can afford to look away from being totally loyal to Qantas, then it’s usually worth doing so. KrisFlyer, as we know, has some great value redemptions on Singapore Airlines–operated flights, and Singapore Airlines has a massive presence here, while Asia Miles can offer some great redemption pricing to Asia, the US, and Europe too.
And finally, Virgin Australia’s Velocity program is slightly better priced, with generally better redemption availability for Australian domestic flights.
So in all, if you are earning the majority of your points in Australia from credit card spending, going for a flexible points program is usually the right way to go to get the most value.
Where do you see the future of travel hacking in your part of the world?
I hope we don’t move toward the US model! It seems US frequent flyer programs are forging a path toward revenue-based point-earning rates and redemption quickly, and we actually have it OK here by comparison if that fully materializes.
I also think that the relative simplicity in the Australian market is a good thing for consumers — there is some healthy tension and competition between Virgin and Qantas now — and this is relatively new, having grown over the last four years.
We aren’t at the point where we have a full roster of programs to choose from, so this actually makes life a lot easier in many ways: we have to look at how we maximize the opportunities from the programs we do have access to, instead of constantly hand-wringing about which program we should be using or splitting our hard-earned points across multiple programs.
For those earning from flying, it’s usually a choice between two carriers: Virgin or Qantas, which makes life pretty simple by comparison to many other markets.
As I mentioned before, both programs are very mature in their thinking and strategies in which they offer points earn opportunities, and the competition between them has generally kept redemption rates relatively steady. Qantas even reduced the cost of some economy redemptions earlier this year — I’m not sure I’ve seen that kind of move in many other markets.
So I feel like things are stable, and that’s a good thing.
When redeeming awards, how can consumers maximize their awards? Do you have three must-do tips?
I’m going to focus on Qantas Points for these, given that’s the currency most people have ready access to here. (We just wrote up our best uses of 100,000 Qantas Points here.)
The first key idea is to get your head around who Qantas’s best partners are, versus their Oneworld partners, who are higher priced. American Airlines, Emirates, Jetstar, and Fiji Airways are the key redemption partners where you can redeem your miles at a cheaper rate (the same rate as redeeming for Qantas flights). Given how few frequent flyer partners Emirates has, using Qantas Points for Emirates flights ends up being a great use for them.
Qantas also has a very good multi-sector round-the-world award chart, too. This is a great redemption to aim for, which can be used for up to 35,000 miles of travel in economy, premium, business or first class, with stopovers in up to five cities over a 12-month period.
Pricing seems high at 280,000 points in business class and 420,000 in first class, plus $1,000–1,550 in fuel surcharges and taxes per person. But this is only a little higher than a return redemption to Europe or New York from Australia, so it’s an easy way to add on a heap of additional flights and destinations. This works for any class of travel too, not just premium cabins.
Finally, don’t forget about Jetstar redemptions as a good use of Qantas Points. They are priced even more cheaply than Qantas’s own flights, given that they are a low-cost carrier, and they operate a “premium” cabin, StarClass, which is priced similarly to premium economy levels, in terms of points, on many international routes. Jetstar has a massive route network across Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan — and Qantas Points are one of the main ways to redeem for Jetstar flights, if cash prices for tickets are high.
Here in the US (and in Canada) you can multiply your points earned and “juice” your account via dining programs, gift cards, shopping online, and a ton of other bonuses. Do you have similar programs?
We sure do. I’d say we have as many as any other region. Qantas and Virgin’s Velocity program both offer the ability to earn points from dining, movies, wine, gift card purchases, and utility and phone bills — there’s probably a points-earn partner in almost every product category.
One of my favorite ways to pick up more points from everyday spending is by having the right credit card with bonus point categories to meet your spending habits. These are primarily American Express–issued cards, but Citi has an option too in the Citi Prestige Visa (which is a bit different here than the Prestige issued in the US).
We’ve run through some of the credit cards with bonus points for travel, bonus points for supermarket spending, bonus points for gas/fuel, bonus points for restaurants and cafés, and finally, one of my favorites, bonus points for overseas spending.
Supermarkets here have a lot of gift card partners, so you can then try and pick up three points per dollar in many, many other places too by being strategic about buying gift cards to use for other purchases.
Ok! Let’s end with some lightening round questions. First one, what’s your favorite airline?
It’s a tie between Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and, yes, Qantas, for me.
I’m not that mean! I’m not a fan of Jetstar’s economy product, but mostly because I’m not built to fit in their seats.
Window or aisle?
Favorite business class?
Qantas First Class Melbourne.
To stay up to date on the latest OZ and NZ travel hacks, follow Keith and his blog at PointHacks!
For more information on how to earn points and miles that you can use toward free travel, check out The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking. This book shows you exactly how to take money out of the travel equation and frequent flier programs to get free flights and hotel rooms. The strategies in this book will get you out of your house faster, cheaper, and in comfort.
Click here to learn more and start reading it today!