How Travel Hacking Can Change the World


The habit of collecting points and miles started when I was a teenager. I never realized that this hobby would eventually change the way that I viewed my place in the world.

I’ve been doing a lot more work in the realm of travel hacking lately. If your shaking your head and wondering what that is, Travel Hacking is the practice of getting a whole lot of points and miles and using them to see the world. You can call it loyalty, you can call it frequent flying. I call it trying to figure out how to get airline miles and hotel points for everything I do. 

Since I’ve shifted from full time humanitarian work to consulting, I’ve also been paying more attention to what I’m saying Yes to in my life. I want everything I’m pouring my energy and effort into to align with my personal mission to be a world changer. But I kept saying Yes to opportunities to teach people how to earn mileage bonuses and book first class tickets for free. I worried I was losing focus.

And then it occurred to me. Travel had been the key to changing the trajectory of my life for good 20 years ago. There were many things I never cared about or couldn’t understand until I walked the streets of foreign places and took in the sights and smells and sounds with my own senses.

Travel Hacking opens a door of opportunity to the world. Points makes it possible for all of us who don’t have deep pockets to be able to fly to the Middle East or Asia or Africa. It enables those who otherwise can’t afford globetrotting to be able to see and touch and smell for themselves.

The last year that I lived in Cambodia, my youngest sister and my 17 year old niece flew on miles to come visit me for an Asian adventure. I drug them through smelly markets, walked them through temples, fed them street food and had them visit a drop in center for abused boys where I’d done some work.* (I even tried to get them to eat bugs but they refused.) For a brief window in their lives, they had an opportunity that they’d never had before: to understand that the world is much bigger and different than they’d ever imagined. 

Having them around that week was a bit magical for me. It allowed me to wipe the dust of 100 countries worth of travel out of my own eyes and relive the wonder of seeing things though the lens of a new traveler. Though Cambodia had become every day and ordinary to me after living there for 3 years, for a brief moment it was all rich and extraordinary (and smelly) again.

The week reminded me of how life changing travel is–especially when you’re new at it. Especially when it’s your first opportunity to see the world.

And so, I go on sharing my secret strategies for points and miles. Knowing that it isn’t just about the free ticket, it’s about giving to others the priceless opportunity to open the Pandora’s box of the world to the uninitiated. And once you’ve seen and smelled and tasted, I truly believe they’ll join me in my mission to make every corner of the world they touch just a little bit better!

Happy Travel Hacking.

PS. If you want to learn more about travel hacking, check out the Frequent Flyer Master (I was a contributing author to this), join the Travel Hacking Cartel (I moonlight at the content editor here), or sign up for the CreativeLive course I did last fall with my friend Chris. And stay tuned, there is something new and exciting I’ve been writing to share with you soon.

* Visiting orphanages and volunteering with children when you travel isn’t always the best idea. It may change your life, but it isn’t always the best for the children your visiting. The program we visited in Cambodia was a place where I had long term relationships with the staff.  Check out these two amazing resources for information before you volunteer overseas: Child Safe Tourism and Child Safe’s Children are Not Tourist Attractions Campaign.

#18 Rainy Day Wave Riding in Cambodia

It’s wet outside where I am wandering today, and the weather has me reminiscing about rainy days in Cambodia. Since it helps to laugh when the sky is grey, here’s an embarrassing tale about mixing monsoons and motorbikes.

Living in Phnom Penh, I drove a mildly beat up blue Honda “Wave” motorbike. When I first got my wheels I didn’t have much moto experience, but with fear of death as a great motivator I mastered quite a few skills quickly.

In just a few days I’d learned normal driving, riding in the dark, riding in rush hour, riding on the wrong side of the road, riding through roundabouts, riding with passengers and parking in a crowded line of other motos without knocking them all down like dominos. After a week the only thing I hadn’t yet attempted was riding in the rain. The rainy season was coming, but I wasn’t worried. I figured everyone else survives driving in the rain, I could too.

I was wrong.

The primary thing to know about riding a moto though a flood is that you must not stop once you start driving or your bike will stall. You also learn some other important things very quickly, like:  

–       you must learn which streets will flood

–       you shouldn’t wear shoes that fall off in the rain

–       you have to know where you’re going because you can’t turn around

–       you must know where the potholes are because you can’t see them

–       sometimes it is just better to stay home.

Here’s how I learned all of these lessons:

One afternoon in Phnom Penh the sky fell out just as I was leaving to go to a dinner at a friend’s house across town. I looked outside at the flooded street and thought, maybe I should skip. Then I looked at myself and said- to hell with it, you’re strong and brave and unstoppable, jump on your moto and go; the worst you can do is get wet.  I put on my flip flops and rain jacket and set out.

I got one block before I hit an intersection flooded too deep to cross. I turned around, reconfigured the route and headed a different way on streets with higher ground. Within minutes I was soaked, but feeling  exhilarated from braving the monsoon on a moto.

The wetter I got, the more problems I began having. My shoes were too wet to shift gears and my feet kept slipping off the pedals. But I drove on.

As I got closer to the neighborhood of my destination the waters started rising. Several times I drove down a street only to drive straight into a knee deep intersection requiring me to about face. After five or six denied crossings I was drenched and beginning to feel discouraged. I’d attempted every entrance to my friend’s street with no success. The last place I stopped was so deep that someone had tied a rope across the road to stop people from even attempting. I stopped my moto and stood there looking as I contemplated my next move. Someone watching me, thinking I might attempt to drive into the deep end came over to me and assured me with “No. No. No. No. Cannot go there”.

In my own drenched determination I decided to circumnavigate the neighborhood and enter her street from the opposite side. It it was still pouring and I was in very unknown and unmarked territory. While I claim to have a pretty savvy sense of direction, I was pretty much lost. I knew I needed to turn left into her street, but I had no way to know which street that was unless I drove down each one.

Every street was flooded. Flooding my engine was basically inevitable, and that’s exactly what I wound up doing. Knee deep in murky, smelly street water, I stood in the road on my dead moto contemplating my next move.

The electric starter was fried and I couldn’t see to kick start my bike because the pedals were underwater. A few people drove by, but no one could help because if they stopped, they would also stall.

I couldn’t get the bike into gear and kept losing my shoe into the grey water in the process. I got off the bike so I could use my stronger right leg to kick it into gear. It worked. Only problem was that my bike took off, and I wasn’t on it.

I lept forward to catch my run away moto with cat like reflexes. Although I was successful, I accidentally caught it with my right hand on the accelerator and just as I thought I might have control, it lept away from me and threw me backwards. Completely backwards onto my back in the flooded street.

I stood up, utterly drenched in stinky street water.  With tears in my eyes I picked up the Wave and attempted to push her to some dryer ground. The damages sustained were minor. My motorbike had a broken handbrake and my ego took a serious bruising.

And my lesson: sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself so you don’t add tears to the already flooded streets.

Just for the record, after three years in Cambodia I became a much accomplished monsoon moto driver. On the odd occasion when I did stall out in a flood I’d cue old school Milli Vanilla on my life soundtrack and hum “Blame it on the rain.”

#give10 kicks off with Traffick Jam Asia

The hardest part of kicking off the first week of #give10 year two has been deciding which of our 366 amazing year one causes to pick first.

Last year when I had the same starter’s dilemma, I followed the age old advice that “Charity begins at home.” Since this worked before I’m going with that mantra again and giving our first #give10x10 donation to a cause that is working right in the neighborhood where I live.

This week I met up with Alli Mellon, Founder and Director of The Hard Places Community in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We ate mango crepes and I asked her to give 10 answers about her perspectives on giving and a report back on what difference they made with the 10$ we contributed donated last March on our 25th day of giving to Traffick Jam Asia. Grab a cup of tea and check out what she said:

1. Tell us about your project. What is it doing to make the world better?

We started the Pun Lok Thmey Prevention and Restoration Center this year so young boys who have been victims of abuse and sexual exploitation have a safe space to find support within their own community.

We live in the hub of one of the world’s worst places for the trafficking and exploitation of young children. While there are many services available in Cambodia to reach out to girls who’ve been exploited, the issue of abused boys has been often overlooked or misunderstood. We want to make the world better for these boys to help get them established in a life where they can be safe from further exploitation.

The drop-in center offers education, counseling and social work for boys close to home without removing them for their families and the people they love. We try to do everything we can to address the issues of sexual abuse within a day center setting through counseling and therapy.

In the Khmer language, the center’s name means “new growth.” It symbolizes that moment when a seed is planted in the ground and begins to sprout. This dream of a new life for these boys is what motivates us.

2. Last year we gave $10 to Traffick Jam Asia. What difference has this made?

Traffick Jam is our annual fund raising event which mobilizes supporters to locally organize 10 mile walks. In the event you supported last year we raised enough money in one day to fund the opening the opening of the boys center and its operating costs for 11 months. Prior to this event, our project operated as a “club” in a local park, but the kind of work we want to do required us to have a permanent safe space for the boys. This center now provides a safe space for more than 70 children.

3. What project accomplished are you most proud of this year?

I’m proud that we now have over 70 boys in the program and the kids love it. They want to be there from the time the doors open until the doors close.

Even more than this, I’m so grateful that I’ve finally been able to see the very first two young boys we started working with two years ago finally being able to live a life where they are safe from exploitation and abuse. This wouldn’t have been possible without the perseverance and commitment of our staff and donors to this work.

4. How can a small 10$ donation make a difference in achieving your mission?

Everyday the kids come to our kids clubs hungry and malnourished. They all look about three years younger then the age they report to be. Our organization isn’t big enough to do a full feeding program, but what we can do with 10$ is buy enough fruit to make sure all of the kids have eaten a healthy snack before they go home.

The Traffick Jam movement is also built on a belief in a 10$ model. Each participant recruits 10 sponsors to pledge 10$ (1$ per miles of the 10 mile walk). The 10$ add up quickly. Last year we raised $72,000 through these 10$ pledges. This year our biggest walk raised $15,000 (although some people did give more than 10$, and some people paid NOT to walk!)

5. What is one thing you wish that your donors knew or understood better?

I wish the donors to our project could actually feel for themselves the immense relief that you feel when you know that a child is finally safe. If they could feel this even just one time they would give a million trillion dollars.

Since I know most will never be able to feel this, I also wish they’d be able to hear the laughter of the kids in the playroom coming into a safe place. If we can’t take them out of these dangerous and difficult places, we can ensure they at least have a safe place during the day

6. What do you think stops people from giving to a charity?

Fear and economic times. Many people are scared to give because they don’t know what is coming in their own lives tomorrow. In my own life there have been times when I’ve been terrified to give, but I’ve wound up being given back even more than I imagined- not always monetarily, but with a different kind of joy.

7. What do you think motivates people who donate to give again?

When people can see and understand our work for themselves and really partner with us they will continue to give. Donors must realize they are a partner in the outreach not just people who give and forget about it. We don’t take any of our donors lightly because we know what we can’t do what we do without them. The ones who understand this and stay engaged and take ownership to share the stories with others- these are the people who give more.

8. Doing world changing work isn’t free. Can you explain the model that your project uses to cover its operating costs?

Hard Places and all its projects are funded through private donations and the growing Traffick Jam movement. All of our international staff raise funds to cover their own costs, and funding from Traffick James pays the salaries of local staff and all of our day to day operation and program expenses.

9. What do you think is the role of the individual who can only make a small donation?

Small donors can encourage others to give small amounts. They are so important to us because giving doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Small donations add up to big donations. In this day and time people may say I can’t give 100 dollars or 200 dollars, but I can give 10. This is the perfect time for the small donor.

10. What are three projects would want other donors to learn about and support?

  • World Hope’s trafficking assessment center in Cambodia
  • Agape International– they also work in anti-trafficking and set an example for our work in our project’s formative years
  • Back to the Roots / Asha House is a children’s care center in India for children who have come out of horrific situations

To learn more  about Traffick Jam, or to #give10 (or more) to the work of Pun Lok Thmey, check them out at, or follow them over on facebook.

halfway to awesome ::

Big thanks to all of you who joined this week’s virtual birthday fun to raise our first $1260 to help girls and women in Cambodia by multiplying awesome.

We’ve made half way to our total goal. Since every single dollar you gave (or will give) will magically turn into two dollars through a matching grant, this means we’ve already have $2520 dollars going to educate villages in the prevention of human trafficking through the work of Sak Saum.


“If your birthday is over, how will we raise the second half?” you may be wondering. Do not despair, since I’m older and wiser, I’ve got a master plan. (But please keep reading because you’re part of it)


According to  my calculations it took only 25 of you to raise what we have so far in nearly one day! And whether the gift was 10$ or $100 it all added up quickly (and made for a very exciting birthday).


The best part about this is that there are still hundreds of you reading this who haven’t given yet, but have the will and the means to do so. (If this is you, you have permission to stop reading right now and donate immediately).


Sometimes we think, if there are hundreds of others doing this, maybe my single contribution isn’t all that important. But that’s exactly opposite of the truth. If everyone does something, big things happen. If everyone assumes someone else will do it, nothing happens and we’re all left to wonder why.


I’m going to keep doing my part and talk about our Multiply Amazing project for Sak Saum online and off for as long as it takes to reach the goal. Since I’m the kind of person who really likes to celebrate their birthday for as long as possible, I’ve set the online birthday fundraiser to go for another 38 days.I figure a 38 year old girl should be entitled to at least that many days to celebrate. And, in November, we’ll also be organizing the sale of some amazing Sak Saum bags in the USA to help our efforts. If you like handbags, you’ll love their fall 2011 collection.


Here’s what you can do:
  • If you haven’t given yet and want to join the exclusive club of people funding this project you can do that right now here.  (If you can’t give online for whatever reason, drop me an email and we’ll sort it out for you)
  • Share the love by sharing the link. You can help us multiply our reach by introducing the project to friends we don’t know yet.
  • Buy a bag or sell a bag. It’s almost Christmas after all, we can help you get your shopping done while you help change lives! (details coming soon).
Together we will make a difference. Thanks for being awesome.

Help Wanted: multiplying awesome

Today is my birthday and in addition to giving 10$, I want to raise $2490.

Every day in the #give10 world, we’ve done the same thing. We find an incredible project changing the world for good, give them a bit of cash, and then tell you about it, in the hopes that spreading the word of good work will in someway multiply its effect.  It’s been awesome, and because we’re in the business of multiplying awesome, today we’re starting out something brand new.

Drumroll: We’re launching our own little micro-project experiment and we’re asking you to #give10.

No, we’re not becoming our own charity or asking you to give money to us.  Something really amazing recently happened and  we want you to be a part of the rest of the story.

Here’s how it began: One day, many moons ago, in the early days of #give10,  I met up with a great organization in Cambodia called Sak Saum. “Sak Saum” is named after the Khmer language word for “Dignity”, and the people who run this project are in the business of restoring freedom and dignity to women who have come out of situations of human trafficking and forced labour.  They offer a one year program to rescued and at-risk women, and have built a place where women can heal and learn while gaining practical vocational skills.The women sew beautiful bags which are in turn sold to fund the project to help more women.


So, I liked them, gave them 10$, and posted it on Facebook like I do every day. But on the day I gave to Sak Saum, something different happened.  Someone else caught a vision. This vision turned into an opportunity for a matching grant for Sak Saum.


Like I said before, giving is contagious.


To make a long story short, our 10$ is about to multiply 500 times.  This is the kind of math that I like. If you’re quick with numbers, you’ve figure out that we’re helping Sak Saum get a total grant of $5000. How it works is that the #give10 community (that’s you and me) raises $2500, and the organization funding the match (The Antioch Group- a.k.a. TAG) doubles it. And, since I’ve already given the first $10, we’ve only got $2490 to go. More simple math.


And what difference will this $5000 make in the world?  Over the course of the year, the women of Sak Saum will organize and conduct events in poor villages where other women and girls (and even sometimes men) are at risk of being trafficked. Their goal is educate other people to prevent them from winding up in the dangerous and difficult situations they know first hand. At the price tag of about $200 per event, 25 communities will be reached.  I’d say that’s a bargain when it comes to changing lives.


So, what does this all mean?

It’s simple, I need your help to raise $2490 by mid November. In honor of celebrating my 38th today, I’ve set a 38 day goal for our campaign. I think we can do it quicker than that.

Here’s how you can help.
  • Go here and #give10 or 20, or 100.  If you’ve cared enough to read this far, you definately care enough to donate the cost of 2 mocha frappucinos.
  • Tell someone else about it. One thing we’ve learned through this project is that other people care more when you care too.
  • Give me money for my birthday. Since I’m turning 38 and mostly have everything a nomadic girl could need (other than a tall dark and handsome traveling companion) I’m going to give all my birthday money to this project.
  • If you want to give, but online giving doesn’t work for you, drop me a line ( a comment, or a tweet and I’ll make it work
And what will you get?
  • The joy of knowing you’ve made the world better today
  • Some follow up reports of how the project goes and how lives are changing because of it
  • My gratitude, a shout out on Twitter & Facebook, and even a special surprise for some of you hi-rollers
So, what are you waiting for? At 10$ a piece it will only take 250 of us to change someone’s world.

Check out the Sak Saum project & #give10 here ->

‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’ – Edmund Burke

rythmns of rain ::

it’s been raining a lot lately. Not drizzle rain or mist rain. But the sky turns into a sheet of water kind of rain that instantaneously turns the poorly engineered streets of Phnom Penh into a lake.

Tropical monsoon rains are just a part of life in Cambodia, and rainy season survival skills are something that every newcomer to Phnom Penh learns quickly.

Here are a few principles I’ve picked up in my first Cambodian rainy season:

Order in: Let someone else get wet. It puzzles me that Cambodia hasn’t figured out how to get clean water to a large percentage of its population, yet it has figured out how to deliver just about anything to anyone at anytime. In Phnom Penh, there is a magical book called the Door-2-Door guide which offers up about 30+ restaurants who will deliver anything on demand… from lattes to lahksa. Sometimes I feel too bad for the moto delivery guys to order a meal during a monsoon, but if you do, tip well.

Go out anyway: Cambodian rain has a way of trapping you wherever you are when it starts. As a newcomer you try to wait it out where you get stuck, but eventually you realize you can’t stay inside forever. You quickly learn which streets flood badly. You know the depth that your motorbike can make it through without stalling. You acquire a rainbow of 40 cent rain ponchos.  And you just keep living even if you get wet.

Sing in the rain: Of course, there are days when you want the rain to stop, but for all your wishing you get no results. On these days, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to hole up, stay dry, and sing yourself to sanity. Not sure how Noah survived for 40 days of downpour before the iPod, but I’d bet he’d have liked some of these songs from my Monsoon Music playlist.

Random songs I’ve been humming to get through this rainy season:

Les Mis- a little fall of rain
Fire and Rain- James Taylor
Rainy Season- Marc Cohn
Purple Rain- Prince
Banana Pancakes- Jack Johnson
Raining in Baltimore- Counting Crows
Rain- Patty Griffin
When the Rainbow comes- Shawn Colvin
Rain- Rachel Loshak
Flood- Jars of Clay
Caught in the Rain- Martin Sexton
Couldn’t Stand the Rain- Mindy Smith
Rain- Jackopierce
Somewhere over the Rainbow- Harry Nilsson

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. – Langston Hughes

What are your favorite rain songs?

mango ::

Mangoes remind me that the best things in life are the simple things.  Not much in life gets better than a ripe mango without some work… and the things that are already good like friends and hammocks and sunshine and sticky rice get even better with a little extra nectar of mango goodness.

When the men who sell mangos from baskets piled high upon their bicycles suddenly appeared on my street here in Phnom Penh this week, my street got better, my commute to work got better, my breakfast got better, heck even my attitude got better. Phnom Penh life can have its challenges, but hey, we’ve got the mangoes- best medicine of all.

I’ve got plans for these mangoes. In crepes, in jam, in icrecream, in yogurt, on scones and waffles and straight off the seed with mango juice dripping down my chin.

Who needs four seasons when there is mango season?

-Don’t expect mangoes when you plant papayas. – unknown