Top 10 Travel Experiences of 2014

Top 10 Travel Experiences of 2014
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This has been an incredible year for me personally when it comes to travel. I set a new all-time record for miles flown, clocking in at a total of 38,808 miles. That’s not too shabby given the relative quiet of this Autumn and the fact that it doesn’t include several big trips in the final months of 2013.

Here’s a map of all the itineraries I flew in the past year:

Of course, the highlight of the year was Project Pacific Circle, a 25,000 mile journey from Florida through California to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, through Thailand on to Hong Kong and Japan, before heading home via New York. However, went I sat down to make a list of my top travel experiences of the past year, several other adventures made the cut, as well.

In no particular order, here are my top travel experiences from 2014, all of which share one key thing in common: points and miles made them all possible!

Went to Miami and Back in an Afternoon for a Sandwich


This Spring, Lew Turner from First Coast News approached me about doing a story on using points and miles to travel. He had what he called a crazy idea: what if we actually went somewhere as an example trip, to show how points and miles can be used effectively? I asked him if he would be interested in a trip down to Miami and back…the next day.

Sure enough, we flew down to Miami and back from Jacksonville the next afternoon for a grand total of $5 per person, even making it back in time for Lew to host that evening’s news broadcast.

Check Out the Report Here!

Saw My Franchise QB Get Drafted


I’m a Jaguars fan, which is a pursuit defined by a unique blend of eternal hope and sadness. I love my team, but like most teams without The Guy at quarterback, we’ve been listless as a franchise for far too long. I was convinced the NFL’s commissioner would step up to the microphone this year to announce we’d drafted a new quarterback with the third overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, and made the journey to New York City’s Radio City Music Hall to see it happen.

I traveled with over 100 other Jaguars fans, stayed in a suite at the Grand Hyatt New York with a couple friends and got a flight up to New York for a grand total of $2.50. Turns out, I was right: the Jaguars took a quarterback, just not the one I expected. This was the year to be there, especially with the Draft moving away from Radio City next year, so I’m glad I made the trip, as unglamorous as standing for hours like cattle in lines to gain entry often was.

See How I Did It!

Got a Tailored Suit in Hong Kong


During my three days in Hong Kong and Macau, I had a special objective in mind: I wanted to have a new suit hand-crafted by the world-famous Sam’s Tailor. What followed was a whirlwind 30-hour process that started from scratch and ended with a perfectly-fitting three-piece suit and two new dress shirts, all at a fraction of what it would have cost at home.

The Sam’s Tailor Experience

Grabbed Breakfast at the World’s Best Doughnut Shop


Early in the year, I took a trip to Portland, Oregon for Pioneer Nation. While I enjoyed a number of other spots in the city, including the incredible Ground Kontrol arcade, I made a point to visit Voodoo Doughnut this time, as well.

Here, you’ll find some of the best and most inventive doughnuts around, including this incredible abomination, which involved a marshmallow topping and Crunch Berries cereal:

On this trip, I also visited Las Vegas, ran into Siegfried at his white tiger habitat at the Mirage, reviewed Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select service for the first time and much more.

Learn More About this Trip!

Visited the Holy Lands of Gaming

While in Japan, I made a point to include two key stops: a pilgrimage to Tokyo’s famous Akihabara District and to Nintendo’s worldwide headquarters in Kyoto.

My time in Kyoto also allowed time to explore some of Japan’s oldest and most cherished landmarks in the historical capital of the country, but I’d be lying if I said any part of that day was more important to this gaming geek than seeing the wholly unremarkable office building where so much magic is created.

A Pilgrimage to Kyoto

Also worth checking out:
Exploring Akihabara

Rode the Secret Tram Under the US Capitol


If you didn’t know there was an underground tram system built to move Congressmen, Senators and staff expeditiously from place to place within the US Capitol and various congressional office buildings, well, now you do. We had the opportunity to take a ride as part of a tour of the Capitol arranged through my local congressman’s office.

If you’re planning to go to Washington, you can score insider access to the tramway and a variety of special rooms within the Capitol off limits to standard tour groups by simply contacting your congressman and requesting a personal tour. Most offices are happy to oblige constituent requests. Find out your local congressman’s contact information here!

On this trip, we also visited the coolest speakeasy in Philadelphia, caught a Phillies game, toured the Smithsonian, ate some incredible food and rode with Amtrak for the first time. Along the way, Ultimate Rewards points made it all possible for next to nothing.

DC & Philly Trip Review

Hugged a Kangaroo


While I was in Sydney as part of Project Pacific Circle, I took a day trip to a nearby habitat filled with indigenous animals like kangaroos and koalas, went sailing from Port Stephens on a dolphin-watching excursion and surfed down incredible sand dunes.

In a day filled with wonders, I was left delighted by how dog-like the kangaroos were I was able to interact with, soft and fun to pet. Koalas, much more wooly, were fun to see, but far too sleepy to play with.

The Port Stephens Day Trip

Rode in Some of the World’s Best Business Class Cabins


The destinations were only half of the story on Project Pacific Circle. As part of the voyage, I also rode in some of the world’s best Business Class cabins from place to place, including:

Business Class on Fiji Airways from Los Angeles to Nadi
Business Class on Fiji Airways from Nadi to Auckland
Business Class on LAN from Auckland to Sydney
Business Class on Thai Airways from Sydney to Hong Kong via Bangkok
Business Class on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Osaka
Business Class on JAL from Tokyo to New York City

Booked as cash fares, these would’ve combined to tens of thousands of dollars without breaking a sweat. By using miles and points, all of these flights combined cost me under $700 in taxes and fees. I highly recommend perusing the reviews of these flights, as each stood out in unique ways and found different paths to excellence.

Dropped Everything One Afternoon in Tokyo for a Disney Trip


I went to the museums. I went to the gardens. I did what I was supposed to do, until I didn’t. Then I went to Disney.

One of my favorite things about Tokyo ended up being DisneySea, one of the two Disney theme parks in the Tokyo area, and the one I visited on a whim with the curtains quickly falling on an incredible two week adventure. A mix of the familiar and foreign, this last-minute adventure was the perfect way to cap an incredible two week adventure.

A Day at DisneySea

Visited Hobbiton & the Shire


It’s easy to believe that Lord of the Rings and Hobbits and their home in the Shire are all just a make-believe fantasy. I have conclusive proof that you’d be wrong to think so, because I’ve been to the Shire, and it’s as real as can be.

One of the most amazing stops of Project Pacific Circle came early in the trip, when I drove from Auckland down to Matamata, the small town that’s home to the incredible hobbit homes built into the side of a farmer’s hill. Used originally to film the Lord of the Rings trilogy and later rebuilt to film the Hobbit trilogy, Hobbiton is simply incredible, more town than movie set. It’s all-encompassing, blending New Zealand’s natural beauty with Tolkien’s fantasy in a way that simply transports all who set foot within into a wholly different world.

A Journey to Hobbiton

The Year to Come

Who knows what 2015 holds? I have a few early plans in place – Salt Lake City in February, Las Vegas in March, the hills of Tennessee in June – but this is just the start. I intend to set a new mileage record next year, putting my points and miles to use once more to make dream trips a reality.

Perhaps a return to London to see the Jaguars play at Wembley again? An extended trip to both South America and Africa, so I can scratch off the two continents other than Antarctica I’ve yet to visit? Maybe a journey deeper into Europe than I’ve been before, or to tropical points unknown?

All are possible, and many are liable to happen. When you’re traveling like I do, money doesn’t have to stand between you and untold adventures!

Happy travels!

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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