345 flights, 218 award nights, 132 cities: How I spent 3 years as a global digital nomad
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Three years ago today, my husband JT and I left for a gap year. But, we didn’t return to our normal lives after one year. Instead, we continued traveling and working as digital nomads. Now, three years in, I’ve lived at 243 different addresses, slept in 39 countries and flown 684,152 miles.
Granted, I’ve been grounded for over three months now due to coronavirus effectively halting travel. But, here’s what my last three years living on the road has looked like from a numerical standpoint.
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I track my flights using OpenFlights, so it was relatively easy to compile flight statistics for my 345 flights over the last three years.
I took 108 flights in my first year, including the AvGeek-favorite United Island Hopper. In my second year, I took 148 flights, including 18 Malaysia Airlines flights in 16 days to earn OneWorld Sapphire status.
And, in my third year, I flew 89 flights despite spending almost a month at an all-inclusive resort and over three months grounded due to coronavirus concerns.
Related: 12 things to know before flying the United Island Hopper
1,522 hours in flight
Over the last three years, I’ve spent 1,522 hours in flight. For this statistic, I defined “in flight” as the time the cabin door is closed. To put it into perspective, this means I spent about 63 days on a plane.
I was lucky enough to spend just over 44 hours across the last three years flying in international first class. I flew just over 30 hours in Cathay Pacific First Class from Hong Kong to New York (JFK) and back thanks to Cathay Pacific’s New Year’s deal. And, I spent almost 14 hours flying in Etihad’s First Class Apartment on the A380 from Abu Dhabi to New York for a 2019 TPG’s Awards flight review.
I’ve also gotten to fly just over six hours in Flagship First on American Airlines’ A321T from New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO). Over the last three years I’ve also spent just over 637 hours in international business class and domestic first class – mostly thanks to upgrades on American Airlines flights.
Premium economy accounts for slightly over 212 hours of flight time in the last three years. Meanwhile, economy class flights account for almost 622 hours.
So, over the last three years, I’ve flown international first class 2.9% of the time, international business class or domestic first class 42.3% of the time, premium economy 14% of the time and economy 40.8% of the time.
Related: 6 tips for picking the perfect airplane seat every time
684,152 direct flight miles
I flew 684,152 direct flight miles over the last three years. Specifically, I flew 205,846 miles the first year, 273,893 miles the second year and 204,413 miles the third year.
My shortest flight was a mere 11 miles from Papeete (PPT) to Moorea (MOZ). Although I could have taken a ferry, I flew this flight because it was included in the Air Tahiti Bora Bora flight pass.
My second shortest flight was perhaps more memorable though. It was a 28 mile Cinnamon Air flight from Mawella Lagoon Airport (DIW) to Koggala Airport (KCT) in Sri Lanka on a Cessna 208 amphibious caravan.
My longest flight was from Singapore (SIN) to Los Angeles (LAX) last fall in premium economy on Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR. Luckily, I was able to snag one of the best seats for this long flight.
My second longest flight was from Johannesburg (JNB) to Atlanta (ATL) on Delta’s 777-220. This flight was just over three months ago when I returned to the U.S. Little did I know this would be Delta’s second to last flight directly from JNB to ATL.
Related: 11 tips for surviving a long-haul flight in economy
46 airlines flown
In the last three years, I’ve flown on 46 distinct airlines. My loyalty to American Airlines and its Oneworld partners is clear, as seven of my eight most frequently flown airlines are part of Oneworld:
- American Airlines: 139 flights
- United Airlines: 24 flights
- Malaysia Airlines: 20 flights
- Cathay Pacific: 17 flights
- Qatar Airways: 11 flights
- British Airways: 9 flights
- Iberia Airlines: 9 flights
- Japan Airlines: 9 flights
Interestingly, there are 16 airlines that I’ve only flown once in the last three years: Air China, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, AirAsia, Emirates, Gulf Air Bahrain, Iberia Express, Royal Jordanian, SereneAir, Shenzhen Airlines, SilkAir, Silver Airways, Singapore Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Tiger Airways and Vueling Airlines.
Across the last three years, I’ve arrived at or departed from 126 different airports. Atlanta (ATL) – near where my parents reside – and Los Angeles (LAX) are tied for my most frequented airports at 50 arrivals or departures. Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) and Hong Kong (HKG) are tied for third at 30. And, Charlotte (CLT) and Kuala Lumpur (KUL) are tied for fifth at 24 arrivals or departures.
There are 20 airports that I’ve only either arrived at or departed from including Birmingham, AL (BHM), Eagle County, CO (EGE), Yampa Valley, CO (HDN), Hohhot, China (HET), Lahore, Pakistan (LHE), Polgolla Reservoir near Kandy, Sri Lanka (KDZ) and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (ULN). And, there are 53 more airports that I’ve only arrived at or departed from twice.
Related: Why I (almost) always book one-way flights
214 routes flown
In the last three years, I’ve flown 214 unique nondirectional routes. Interestingly, I’ve flown 141 of these routes only once – meaning I didn’t even fly a round-trip. And, I’ve only flown 21 routes more than twice.
So, what routes did I fly most frequently in the last three years?
- 10 times between Atlanta (ATL) and New York (LGA)
- 10 times between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KUL) and Medan, Indonesia (KNO) while flying 18 Malaysia Airlines flights in 16 days
- 9 times between Atlanta (ATL) and Charlotte (CLT)
- 7 times between Atlanta (ATL) and Los Angeles (LAX)
- 6 times between Da Nang (DAD) and Hong Kong (HKG) on Cathay Pacific’s New Year’s deal
244 locations lived in 132 cities
My husband and I track our hotel reservations in detail using a spreadsheet. So, it was relatively easy to compile statistics about my lodging over the last three years.
During that time, I’ve lived in 244 locations across 132 cities. As this statistic might imply, I’ve visited some cities more than once. But, the most I’ve stayed at any hotel is three times. And, I’ve only stayed at five hotels three times:
- Comfort Hotel Osaka Shinsaibashi in Osaka, Japan since it usually only costs 8,000 Choice points per night (which are worth $48 based on TPG’s valuations)
- Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel since JT and I usually get a nice upgrade and Club Level access due to JT’s Marriott Titanium Elite status
- Days Inn Guam-Tamuning since it’s within a long walk of the airport and hence was good for overnight layovers in Guam
- Staybridge Suites Austin Arboretum - Domain since it is near the Red Ventures office (TPG’s parent company) in Austin, TX and was on the IHG PointsBreaks list last winter
- Holiday Inn Express Bronx NYC - Stadium Area since it often provides good value in New York City when using IHG points
Related: The best cities for first-time visitors to Asia
39 countries and territories
I generally travel where flight deals, flight reviews, events and interesting airline products take me. In doing so, I’ve visited 39 countries and territories in the past three years.
In particular, here are the countries and territories as well as the nights I spent in each:
- U.S (549)
- Germany (68)
- Australia (44)
- Japan (43)
- Dominican Republic (31)
- Hong Kong (22)
- Spain (22)
- Serbia (21)
- Canada (20)
- South Africa (18)
- Italy (17)
- Vietnam (16)
- Malaysia (14)
- Indonesia (14)
- French Polynesia (14)
- Singapore (12)
- Mongolia (11)
- China (10)
- Pakistan (9)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (8)
- New Zealand (8)
- Liberia (8)
- Sri Lanka (8)
- Guam (7)
- Thailand (6)
- Fiji (6)
- Marshall Islands (5)
- Netherlands (4)
- France (4)
- UAE (4)
- Brazil (4)
- Bahamas (3)
- Taiwan (1)
- Saipan (1)
- Ethiopia (1)
- Belgium (1)
- United Kingdom (1)
- Ireland (1)
- Finland (1)
Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery
488 nights at 56 major hotel brands
I’ve spent 488 nights at 56 major hotel brands within the last three years. Here’s the breakdown of my stays by loyalty program and brand over the last three years:
244 nights at 13 IHG brands
- Holiday Inn Express: 80 nights
- Holiday Inn: 36 nights
- Candlewood Suites: 28 nights
- Hotel Indigo: 24 nights including four nights at the Hotel Indigo Berlin - Centre Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, five nights at the Hotel Indigo Austin Downtown - University in Austin, TX and four nights at the Hotel Indigo Birmingham Five Points S - UAB in Birmingham, AL
- Staybridge Suites: 21 nights
- InterContinental Hotels and Resorts: 14 nights including four nights at the InterContinental Hotels Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort in Vietnam, two nights at the InterContinental Fiji and two nights at the InterContinental Hotels Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa in French Polynesia
- Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts: 13 nights including four nights at the Crowne Plaza Beijing Wangfujing in Beijing, China and two nights at the Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan in New York City
- Regent Hotels and Resorts: 9 nights
- Holiday Inn Resort: 9 nights
- voco: 6 nights at the voco Gold Coast in Australia
- avid hotels: 2 nights
- Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants: 1 night at Kimpton Ink48 in New York City
- EVEN Hotels: 1 night
99 nights at 6 Choice Hotels brands
- Ascend Hotel Collection: 48 nights including 28 nights at Emotions by Hodelpa Puerto Plata, nine nights at Gowanus Inn & Yard and three nights at Bluegreen Vacations Fountains
- Comfort Hotels: 29 nights
- Quality Inn: 11 nights
- Cambria Hotels: 4 nights
- Rodeway Inn: 4 nights
- Clarion: 3 nights
69 nights at 15 Marriott brands
- Marriott Hotels: 11 nights including two nights at the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay and two nights at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
- Four Points: 11 nights
- Protea Hotels: 11 nights at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate
- Fairfield Inn and Suites: 7 nights
- Westin: 5 nights including two nights at The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort and two nights at the Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa
- Moxy Hotels: 4 nights at Moxy Munich Messe
- Residence Inn: 4 nights
- JW Marriott: 3 nights at the JW Marriott Hotel Medan
- Aloft Hotels: 3 nights
- Sheraton: 3 nights at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel
- SpringHill Suites: 2 nights
- TownePlace Suites: 2 nights
- Courtyard Hotels: 1 night
- Ritz-Carlton: 1 night at the Ritz-Carlton Osaka
- St. Regis: 1 night at the St. Regis Osaka
23 nights at 7 Wyndham brands
- Days Inn: 10 nights
- Ramada: 4 nights
- Wyndham Hotels and Resorts: 3 nights
- Super 8: 3 nights
- Howard Johnson: 1 night
- Travelodge: 1 night
- Baymont: 1 night
19 nights at 4 Accor brands
- ibis: 12 nights
- Mercure: 4 nights at the Mercure Nagoya Cypress when a typhoon canceled our flight
- Grand Mercure: 2 nights
- ibis budget: 1 night
12 nights at 4 Hilton brands
- DoubleTree by Hilton: 4 nights including two nights at the DoubleTree Resort Penang and two nights at DoubleTree Resort Fiji - Sonaisali Island
- Homewood Suites by Hilton: 4 nights
- Curio Collection by Hilton: 3 nights
- Conrad Hotels and Resorts: 1 night at the Conrad New York Midtown
8 nights at 3 World of Hyatt brands
- Andaz: 4 nights at the Andaz Capital Gate in Abu Dhabi
- Park Hyatt: 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Beijing
- Hyatt Regency: 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort
8 nights at 2 Best Western brands
- Best Western: 6 nights
- Best Western Plus: 2 nights
6 nights at 3 less-familiar brands
- 3 nights at Melia’s Paradisus Palma Real Resort
- 2 nights at a Red Roof PLUS+ in Mount Pleasant, SC
- 1 night at Loews Chicago Hotel
166 nights at other brands and independent hotels
During the last three years, I’ve stayed 166 nights at less well-known brands and independent hotels. From an aviation-themed capsule hotel to the Henn-na Hotel staffed by robots, I’ve stayed at some interesting hotels in Japan. And, the three Liberia hotels I stayed at when I visited Liberia for PeaceJam each provided a different look at the country.
I’ve also stayed at some unique hotels in the Pacific during the last three years. For example, the Hotel Robert Reimers in Majaro, Marshall Islands was dated and relatively basic but had many interesting guests. The Royal Huahine was an old-school resort in Huahine, French Polynesia that was perfect for us. And, Espace Beach Pension in Maupiti, French Polynesia provided two nights of awesome experiences and fresh home-cooked meals.
I absolutely loved the 11 nights I spent coworking and coliving at Coconat outside of Berlin, Germany. And, the night I spent in a twin cell at Fremantle Prison YHA in Australia was memorable. Plus, there was also the time JT and I made the jet-lagged last-minute decision to stay at the world’s only Hooter’s Hotel in Las Vegas -- which has since closed and reopened as an Oyo hotel.
307 nights with family and friends
Over the last three years, I’ve spent 307 nights with family and friends. However, this includes the last 101 nights since landing from South Africa on March 23. This number would have been closer to 215 nights over three years if coronavirus concerns hadn’t halted my travel plans.
One positive of traveling full time has been seeing my friends and family more frequently than I did while living in Austin, TX. JT and I have generally found that our visits are short and infrequent enough that we haven’t worn out our welcome anywhere yet.
68 nights at an Airbnb
I’ve had a few bad experiences with Airbnb. So, I generally book a hotel for more simplicity and quality assurance. But, there are still opportunities where I’ll seek out an Airbnb. Doing so led me to book Airbnbs for 68 nights across 20 stays in the last three years.
For example, I found three great Airbnb listings in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina when JT and I visited in 2017. And, these listings weren’t expensive either. We paid $25 per night in Belgrade for a studio apartment, $24 per night in Sarajevo and $20 per night in Novi Sad, Serbia for a large one-bedroom apartment. We absolutely loved all three cities.
We also stayed at Christina's properties through AirBnB for four separate stays in Da Nang, Vietnam. Each time, we paid between $17 and $56 per night for a studio or one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen. We stayed at multiple Christina’s locations and each time enjoyed the property and friendly hosts.
We’ve also had good luck with using Airbnb in expensive destinations. For example, I found the perfect Airbnb near Papeete airport in French Polynesia that included airport transportation and breakfast. We also utilized Airbnb on Moorea and Raiatea as well as in Auckland, New Zealand.
Related: How to negotiate (and save) on your next Airbnb stay
66 nights in-flight, camping or on a train
I’ve spent 57 nights in flight across the last three years. I’ve slept on flights ranging from Cathay Pacific First Class and Etihad’s First Class Apartment to United 787-8 economy, American Airlines 757-200 economy and Ethiopian Airlines 787-8 economy. Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten accustomed to sleeping on planes.
I’ve also spent six total nights camping. Three of these nights were while relocating an RV for $1 a day from Las Vegas to Denver. And, the other three were at the Above and Beyond Group Therapy Weekender last summer at the Gorge Amphitheater in Washington state.
Finally, I spent three nights on overnight trains in the last three years. Two of these nights were on Amtrak’s Empire Builder in a superliner roomette. And, one night was on a trans-Mongolian train from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Hohhot, China.
Related: 11 mistakes people make when taking a cross-country Amtrak
$94 average cost of paid nights
On average, I paid $94 per night for lodging when not using points or credit card free night certificates. Note that this is the cost for double occupancy in almost every case, as JT and I usually travel together.
The highest cost per night that I paid in the last three years was $362 at the InterContinental New York Times Square for a TPG special project. The second most expensive cost per night was $350 while reviewing the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and the third most expensive cost per night was $340 while reviewing The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. The fourth most expensive cost per night was $317 for an Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts stay at the Park Hyatt Beijing.
The least expensive rate per night that I paid in the last three years was $16.65 for a two-person studio apartment in Da Nang, Vietnam during the low season. This was one of the Christina’s apartments booked through Airbnb that I discussed earlier. However, note that I paid as much as $56 per night for a similar Christina’s apartment during high season.
The second least expensive cost per night was $18.35 for a private room with a shared bathroom at Stella Di Notte in Belgrade, Serbia. This hostel has a great location and the private room I booked was basic but had a good desk for working.
The third least expensive cost per night was $20 for a one-bedroom Airbnb in Novi Sad, Serbia. Although the exterior of this apartment looked a bit rough, it’s interior was spacious, well decorated and functional. Plus, the location was close to the river and in an enjoyable neighborhood.
212 nights paid for with points
As might be expected from digital nomads who write about points, miles and credit cards, we used hotel points to pay for 212 of my hotel nights in the last three years.
That’s a lot of nights on points, but JT and I usually purchase the maximum number of IHG and Choice points each year during sales. And, we carefully decide when to use cash instead of points.
119 nights using IHG points
In the past three years, I stayed at IHG properties for 119 nights using 1,440,000 IHG points. Based on TPG’s valuations, these points are worth about $7,200. We got a fourth reward night as a benefit of the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card on 18 of these stays, which saved us 280,000 IHG points.
Our most expensive IHG award night cost 30,000 IHG points to stay at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Austin Downtown - University in downtown Austin, TX during South by Southwest. And, our least expensive award night cost 5,000 IHG points to stay at the Holiday Inn Nola - Naples Vulcano Buono during a PointBreaks promotion. On average, we’ve paid 14,257 IHG points per night across the last three years.
63 nights using Choice points
JT and I have used 540,000 Choice points to pay for 63 nights at Choice properties over the last three years. Based on TPG’s valuations, these points are worth $3,240. Of these, 28 nights were from when we spent almost a month at an all-inclusive resort for 8,000 Choice points per night, which TPG values at about $48 per night.
Our most expensive points night cost 20,000 Choice points and our least expensive points night cost 6,000 Choice points. But, on average over the last three years, we’ve paid an average of 8,571 Choice points per night which are worth about $51.
20 nights using Marriott points
We’ve used 357,500 Marriott Bonvoy points to stay for 20 nights at Marriott properties over the last three years. Across these stays, we’ve used Marriott’s fifth award night free benefit three times: once at the Karachi Marriott Hotel in Pakistan and twice at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate in South Africa.
Our least expensive award night cost 10,000 points and our most expensive award night cost 40,000 points, but on average we’ve spent 21,029 Marriott points per night. Based on TPG’s valuations, this means we spent about $168 per night.
6 nights using Hyatt points
Over the last three years, we’ve used 42,000 World of Hyatt points to stay for six nights at Hyatt properties. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort for two nights at 5,000 points per night. And, I stayed at the Andaz Capital Gate for four nights 8,000 per night. Based on TPG’s valuations, the 5,000-point nights cost $85 and the 8,000-point nights cost $136.
4 nights using Wyndham points
Finally, we used 52,500 Wyndham points for four nights at Wyndham properties. We spent 15,000 points per night for three nights at the Wyndham Royal Garden at Waikiki in Hawaii. And, we spent 7,500 points for a night at a not-very-nice Days Inn just outside Charlotte, North Carolina when my points were expiring.
6 nights paid for with credit card free night certificates
Between JT and I, we’ve used six credit card free night certificates in the last three years.
We’ve used three uncapped IHG award night certificates, which we earned through the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card and IHG Rewards Club Select card (although the IHG Select is no longer accepting applications). Although these cards now offer certificates good for a night costing 40,000 points or less, we used uncapped free night certificates obtained previously for these stays.
We used one IHG free night certificate at Kimpton Ink48 when traveling with our cat, Grace. We used the two other certificates at the InterContinental Hotels Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa when I happened to find two back to back nights available using a free night certificate. Then, we planned a trip to French Polynesia around these two very difficult to find nights.
We also used the free weekend night reward that comes with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card for a night at the Conrad New York Midtown. And, we used two expiring Marriott up to 60,000-point free night certificates for a night at the St. Regis Osaka and a night at the Ritz-Carlton Osaka. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: How to use a Marriott Bonvoy 35,000-point certificate
With all this flying, I’ve been able to earn three airline statuses: American Airlines Executive Platinum, Asiana Diamond and Malaysia Enrich Gold. For me, the main perks of Asiana Diamond and Malaysia Enrich Gold are lounge access when flying United and American domestically. And, American Airlines Executive Platinum is a valuable status to me for many reasons, including upgrades, complimentary Main Cabin Extra, three complimentary checked bags and free cancellation and redeposit of miles on award tickets.
Since JT started working full time with TPG years before I did, we initially put most of our hotel stays towards earning hotel elite status for him. And, it’s made sense to continue to reap these status rewards and focus on re-earning status on his hotel loyalty accounts each year.
As such, he has Marriott Titanium Elite status, Hilton Diamond status, IHG Spire Ambassador status, Best Western Diamond status, Choice Diamond status, Wyndham Diamond status and Caesar’s Diamond status. Since we usually travel together, this isn’t an issue outside of the fact that I’m not progressing toward lifetime status with any hotel brands.
I maintain the following hotel status levels for use when I travel alone:
- Marriott Gold Elite status and Hilton Gold status through being a cardholder of The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required)
- IHG Platinum Elite status as a cardholder of the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card
- Best Western Gold as an AARP member
- Choice Platinum from earning Choice Gold in 2019 through stays and being boosted to Platinum status for the remainder of 2020
Related: The best credit cards to jumpstart elite status
It’s been hectic but rewarding to travel full time for the last three years, including while working full time for The Points Guy for the last year. While writing this post, I rediscovered some great memories and uncovered some interesting statistics. And, I have plenty of ideas for where to go next once we are able to hit the road again.