Why I Quit My Job at The Onion to Become a Full-Time Travel Nerd

Jan 25, 2018

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It all started because my friends were traveling like idiots.

“I got a great deal on flights to Bangkok — only $850,” a friend texted me.

“Oh… good,” I replied, not wanting to burst his bubble. “Which airline?”

“Umm…”

I winced preemptively.

“China Eastern?”

Sigh.

My obsession with cheap flights started in 2015 with a $1,600 roundtrip Emirates business-class trip from Warsaw (WAW) to Auckland (AKL). As I luxuriated in the A380’s garish faux-marble seat and nibbled warm nuts for the first time, I realized I had been traveling all wrong.

I had tasted the forbidden ramekin of warm nuts, and there was no going back.

I had been a writer for 10 years — first at The Onion, then at Woot, and then at The Onion again. But with every $400 ticket to Asia and premium cabin award flight I booked, I found myself drawn further and further down the path of travel nerdery. I didn’t want to travel occasionally for fun — I wanted to travel all the time.

But how?

As I tried to explain points, miles, and fare codes to my friends, I realized something: Not everybody had the time and patience to become a travel nerd, but everybody needed a travel nerd in their life. My friends weren’t idiots (necessarily) — they just didn’t know better.

So last year I quit my job at The Onion and started a company that helps everyone travel like a nerd without being a nerd.

How? I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule — that 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. So if you can focus on the biggest money-saving travel hacks and not get bogged down in the small stuff, you’re 80% of the way there.

As a TPG reader, you’re probably as obsessed with the small stuff as I am. But if any of your friends are looking to dip their toe in these nerdy waters, I recommend these 3 Ways To Travel Like A Nerd Without Being A Nerd™:

1. Never pay retail for flights

When you shop for clothes you make a bee-line for the sale rack, right? You can (and should) take the same approach to airfare. In 2017 I booked 3 round-trip flights to Asia for $1,216 — the amount many would pay for a single ticket — because I built my travel plans around cheap flights. Familiarize yourself with the many ways to browse the airfare sale rack and never pay retail again.

2. Get a Chase Sapphire (Preferred or Reserve)

Assuming you can stick to a budget and pay your bills on time, you should get an all-purpose travel credit card. And it’s hard to argue with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card if you’re an infrequent traveler, or the Chase Sapphire Reserve if you’re a frequent one. I have both cards in my wallet and have earned a quarter million Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which offer a great combination of value and flexibility. You could read a billion blog posts about why the cards are great, wait for a higher signup bonus, or just follow the 80/20 rule and get one already.

3. United’s Just Not That Into You

United and I dated for a while and let me tell you: She’ll only break your heart. First she’ll lure you in with her “cheap” Basic Economy fares. Then you’ll get a credit card together. Then she’ll give you elite status. And before you know it, she has her claws in you and you’re fighting over pillows and sundaes. Save yourself the heartache and steer clear.

That’s it. Traveling smart is, as it turns out, stupidly easy.

So what’s the answer to this article’s clickbait-y headline. Why did I quit my job at The Onion to become a travel nerd?

Because my warm nuts are now tax-deductible.

Sam Kemmis is a writer and the founder of MyTravelNerd.

Feature photo by @fate423 via Twenty20.

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