“If your aspiration is a lie-flat bed, you can always stay at home,” my FTU international travel presentation

I had the honor to present on international travel at Frequent Traveler University in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. We overcame the never-ending raffle to have a fun discussion where we shared, learned and laughed.

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  • The title sounds like it’s taken from Steve Belkin’s presentation 😉

    I also heard you say something against men wearing short pants while abroad!!! With some localities oppressive heat & humidity, a grown man like myself has no other choice but to wear shorts, but not short shorts and not Speedos 😀 In fact, we flew into DC for the FTU from Thailand and I was sporting short pants throughout the 3-days activities.

  • Sahib


    Unfortunately I could not make it to FTU (I had a ticket too)
    I hope you are going to have more presentations in the future FTU!

  • Sorry I missed you Stefan. Like Sahib I had ticket but too many days and weekends away from home meant I had to stay home with the family this time (which was by the way very nice!) But from what I can tell, yours looked the most interesting presentation and certainly the one that should have fueled the most thought. My only surprise looking at it is your favoritism of Thailand for SE Asia, which seems an odd choice given it’s over-development and pandering to westerners.

    @kalboz – light fabric light color pants will keep you cooler than shorts in hot countries while keeping you out of trouble too.

  • Andrew C

    Just wanted to say thanks for posting your slides – I hate how some treat these talks as if they’re top secret!

  • Thanks for the slides! This makes me actually want to finally go to FTU sometime.

  • Mike

    Thanks for sharng!

  • Eric

    Great slides. Great outlook on travel.

  • Awesome presentation slides!

  • jamie

    Awesome! I wish I’d been there. Looks like you’re presenting at chicago seminars, but on a different topic? I might have to track you down and ask you some questions about this talk.

  • Maybe you addressed this question at your talk: How do you deal with getting back to work after your rapid trips? I’ve started really taking advantage of my long weekends (partially thanks your inspiration). A lot of my flights get in late at night so I’m inevitably show up sleep deprived. Sometimes I can plan to work on a mundane data entry task, but usually I just lose productivity.

  • @Kay – I suffer the same issues and after work from those I drop into bed. During the day, like with jet lag, I try to take a few minutes’ walk outside especially if it is sunny, a bracing wind is great. Today I am off to PVG so there the goal at my walks is a bubble tea.

  • @jamie – At Chicago I am presenting on international tips but only have an hour so will adapt from this and customize for that event. I hope you can make it. On Sunday I am covering Hotwire/Priceline for the beginner’s track. Hope to see you!

  • Kay – It’s different for everybody. I take a lot of international trips in coach, and I have trained myself to sleep on the plane. Staying WELL hydrated (especially on the plane) helps quite a bit to ward off the effects of jet-lag. I’ve also found that I can nap for about 90 minutes when I get to my destination and wake up feeling refreshed. It’s super-tempting to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep, so you’ve got to have the discipline to not do that if you want to take a short nap. I’m sure that Stefan has his tips as well.

  • @kalboz – Steve stopped in the room before and said the same. He and I see eye to eye on a lot, though I am still addicted to airline elite status, but am indifferent on hotel status.

    As for shorts, and I wore shorts growing up in Minnesota winters, there are too many places where they are frowned on, whether explicit or not, so I have stopped wearing them outside the US unless on a beach or hike or similar. I agree with MilesAbound that pants can keep you cooler and also legs not so scrapped up.

  • Bummed I had to leave early to catch my flight (though I managed to catch some of the Star Wars in Tunisia trivia 😉 … this is one I wish I could have stayed for. Thanks for posting the slides … hope you do this again at a future FTU or Chicago Seminar.

  • aadvantagegeek

    Thanks for sharing your slides.

  • Acker


    Thanks for the great presentation. What you didn’t mention was that the presenters were flicking the lights to give everyone the heads up that time had run out…and no one in the audience moved. Your talk was fascinating and we all wanted to hear you talk for another 90 minutes. Great stuff. Thanks.

  • @Acker – thanks so much. I just thought for a moment the repurcussions if I ever tried the dimming lights move on my wife…I wouldn’t be around to give another presentation. : )

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  • Neil

    I was at FTU but missed this presentation. The slideshow is great – highly entertaining and 4 or 5 nuggets noted for future use. Thanks.

  • Sarah C

    Great presentation! Just got back from a solo trip to Myanmar and agree that Europe can be for retirement! There’s so much to see out in the world!

  • Jane S.

    I enjoyed your break out session yesterday afternoon. Thanks for putting it on.

  • Great slide deck – thanks 🙂

  • Great slides and info. I would’ve loved to have seen your presentation. You should present at next years NY Travel Festival! 🙂

    I like Namibia as your top choice of places to visit. We went there on our first trip to Africa and had an incredible time. It’s not what most would consider a typical trip to Africa but there is an amazing variety of things to see and do there.

  • RakSiam

    Thanks for talking with us and sharing your insights. It was a pleasure to finally meet you. I wish I had stuck around to chat with you all afterwards instead of heading to the Gary and Lucky show which was winding down when I got there.

    And I agree on the long pants thing. Get the lightweight/tropic weight variety and they’re not bad. If you get the UPF 50+ they block all the UV which keeps you cooler.


  • Stefan, great slides, I wish you had the whole talk on YouTube! Love the title, totally relate!

    Agree with biz class buses in South America but can you please explain about the “gummies”?

    I had the same problem trying to drive a manual in Brazil as I am not used to them, kept stalling and pissing off the local drivers. But automatics were too expensive.

    Love Copa, Taca and LAN for shorthaul South/Central America! For Australia, AA 10k awards are better for cross country but love Avios for shorthaul.

    What do you use the VPN Witopia for?

    Disagree about convertibles, I love my eBags Motherlode!

    High crime countries – yeah, Colombia has great birding but the crime rate has kept me away.

    Great presentation!

  • TWA44

    Having not been able to attend, I especially appreciate your sharing the slides. Thank you!

  • Amy

    I don’t mean to insult anyone else, but yours was the most interesting talk of the weekend. Having attended the Chicago Seminar in October and reading the blogs pretty consistently since (and flyertalk in fits and starts over the last 10 years), I felt I learned very little from the weekend. Most of the other presenters just summarized their recent blog posts. (With a few off-color remarks thrown in to try to get laughs, but that’s another issue.) One blogger said the best information was reserved for conversations in the hallway. Gee, how nice for them. . . .For us mere mortals, I felt like I wasted a lot of time and money on the sessions.

    Anyway, I really appreciated that you presented content beyond “get credit cards and use my links!” “the best deals are all gone!” and “booking award tickets is HARD — hire my company!” By Sunday morning I had decided to try to transfer my Chicago Seminar registration for this October, but after your presentation decided to reconsider.

    Thanks for the time and passion you brought to the session and for reminding us that a shower in the air is pretty pointless if you don’t actually see some of the world when you land.

  • Amy

    By the way — I assumed the lights issue was someone moving against the switches or the fact no one was moving and they were on a timer. If that was really the organizers, that is just plain rude. An announcement that the other sessions was wrapping up would’ve been just as effective and only 10% as irritating.

  • @Tara – ah, the gummies, this I learned on many Chinese bus trips with as many as 6-8 hours in between chances at rest stops. They serve as a way to feel full without needing a rest stop. Not nutritious, but they get the job done. I get smiles every time I see QQ糖, and still hunt for the elusive cola flavor.

    I tried to balance putting info and the slides versus too much info that people would just read and find it overwhelming, so sorry that some of it is cryptic.

    I have been intending to do a VPN post, in short the benefits for me are 1) secure browsing on public connections, 2) access to websites that are blocked, like in China where I am heading now, 3) US IP address for not triggering fraud alerts when I access US financial accounts (not usually a concern, but my standard practice), and 4) a IP address in other countries to circumvent things like geographic restrictions (BBC iPlayer) or ‘gringo’ prices on South American airline websites.

    For me I feel the extra weight and lost capacity of convertibles is not worth it. I will take a look at the Motherlode, it certainly has a great name.

  • @All – I am going to be rude and not name you all individually. I thank for you for the feedback and compliments. I confess I was nervous that I would have a bunch of walkouts when I made the disclaimer that I only had 1 slide on awards and 1 on credit card benefits. It is great to hear so many people have interest in exploring the world beyond the executive lounges. I will put out a series of posts expanding on these topics since the slides are necessarily brief to accompany the discussion rather than entirely stand on their own.

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  • RakSiam

    Amy I agree with you for the most part. I went to Chicago a couple of years ago and didn’t think I got much out of it beyond what you can read online. The main reason I went to FTU was that I live in Arlington so it was basically in my backyard. I enjoyed Chris’s talk about visiting every country and Stefan’s talk the most as well. But Seth’s United session had some interesting ideas in it too.

    I think for extreme extroverts who enjoy meeting a lot of new people these events probably have some more benefit. For an introvert like me these events are less valuable. There also seems to be a pretty well-established in-crowd which can be a bit off-putting to outsiders.

  • Stefan, thank you for the effort in putting all this useful information together. This could be a standard presentation before sending executives abroad on business trips. It’s that good.

    I appreciated the tip on a a “chip-and-pin” card: Andrews Federal Credit Union GlobeTrek Rewards Visa credit card. I’ve been looking for a U.S. card with that technology, that I could use overseas (especially Europe0 without worrying about compatibility. The fact that it earns rewards is a bonus. I’d be willing to get it for the chip alone. Is this card only available to military personnel, or can civilians get it too? I know with Pentagon credit cards, civilians can apply if they make a donation to a charity for troops.

    The section on “Would you go . . ” gave a lot of food for thought. For me, Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) was that dilemma. I went, and it was the highlight of my Southeast Asia trip.

    One tip I’d add. FrontierMEDEX has a daily intelligence summary called “Hot Spots.” The website describes the newsletter as having “Information and analysis on critical global developments with particular regard to terrorist threats, political strife, strikes, criminal activity, aviation incidents and health outbreaks.” Used by journalists, diplomats and other professionals who travel a lot. Good resource for current news on a danger zones.

  • @Marcus – thank you, interesting idea because I have occasionally toyed with what it would take to consult to businesses on this..part of the uphill battle is US executives in particular think they already know everything…I overhear them at my office and have to bit my tongue.

    And thanks for the tip on FrontierMEDEX, that is new to me and I will check it out.

    You can get the Andrews FCU card, the process is a tad cumbersome, a reader shared his experience in detail that should be illustrative. I have not gotten it yet because I seldom go to Europe and in a pinch I can use my legacy Dines Club card which is now chip and pin since BMO acquired it, though does have a 3% fx fee.

  • @MilesAbound – about Thailaind, I agree with your assessment, but I still recommend it along with Japan for first-time Asia, you get all the exotic Asia of dreams from glittering temples to elephants on the expresssway, up to Chiang Mai villages and down to Phuket beaches. I am partial to Bangkok. I have traveled SE Asia extensively and to be honest it is perhaps my least favorite region, despite the great value, so the pick was somewhat by default.

  • Stefan, the Motherlode is very lightweight and has no wheels. 90% of the time we use them in backpack mode, occasionally we use them as shoulder-carry bags but I gave up caring what people in lounges think when we walk in with backpacks.

    I use Hotspot Shield to access USA tv websites and some surveys for miles sites because I live in Australia. I never heard of Witopia before, was wondering if it is better? But they don’t have a free version.

    I personally wouldn’t boycott a country because of its government, usually with the worst ones they are rigged and the average person has no say in it, but these average people are helped by travelers like us.

    It’s interesting the comments people are making about FTU. I’m not the cliquey type so would probably hate it but if they ever did an online version with webcams, I might tune in. I live too far away to go to these events anyway.

  • @Tara – Witopia is the only one that I am aware that consistently works in certain countries such as China, and provides custom gateways when the blocking gets really tough. If your purpose is accessing from a country like Australia that is not actively blocking VPNs, a free program like HotSpot Shield can be sufficient.

  • ffi

    Great talk at FTU
    Yours and Seth’s were the most useful

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  • sushiguy

    Great slides, thanks. Hope to catch one of your presentations in person soon.

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  • Cedric

    Excellent slides — thanks for sharing.

  • Lindsay

    Thank you so much for posting this! I was at FTU, but missed your presentation. I have 4-day weekends with relative frequency, and I want to do some quick international trips – yours are great inspiration! 🙂

  • Kurt

    Just curious, why do you recommend the Schwab debit card? For the ATM fee refunds? What about currency conversion?

  • @Kurt – ATM fee refunds and no currency conversion fee. Other banks have limited partnerships but those are hard to keep track of, so I find Schwab to be the easiest to use. Only issues I have had are the occasional countries where ATM fees seem lumped into the sum withdrawn so I can’t see the fee and neither can Schwab, this happened to me most recently in Papua New Guinea, and at that point I was just happy to find a working ATM.

  • JasonH

    Just found your blog today and looked at your slides. It sounds like a fantastic presentation.
    I just just returned from Palau and Peleliu (saw it was a favorite place in your slides) and it was AMAZING.

  • RakSiam

    I have a TD Bank account that also refunds ATM fees. I got it specifically for when I am traveling abroad.

  • @RakSiam – looks like that is the Premier? Convenience charges $2.50. I like TD and have an account with them, but do not have Premier due to the $2,500 minimum balance to avoid monthly maintenance fees. Are there any fx charges, I can’t see anything in the account terms?

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  • Aptraveler

    Stefan again a great presentation very different from the rest of FTU. Hope you like at least one of the photos that I took, nice seeing you again at DCA, is always a pleasure, have a good journey in China and keep it real!

  • @Aptraveler – I was in such a rush to get the slides up and get off to China I didn’t have my camera cable with me at the office. I got it later and lent a great shot to Darius that he featured in his post, thanks for taking photos.

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  • LIH Prem

    great slides Stefan, wish I was at the preso.


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