For most people, a foreign vacation means extra expenses as well as a lot of planning ahead. But Petr Novák, an expert in low-cost travelling or so called travel hacking, has managed to travel the world for a bargain. His cheapest journey so far was a one-crown return flight to Bulgaria.
“Travel hacking means a different thing in different parts of the world. It started in the U.S., where it was about getting free flight tickets connected to the collecting of miles, because it is quite easy to collect miles and travel for miles in the US.
Petr Novák runs courses for people interested in low cost travel and together with his friend he recently published a book called The Travel Bible, summarizing their travelling tips. I met with Petr Novák just shortly before he set off on another journey and I asked him to tell me more about the so-called ‘travel hacking’:
“In Europe it is very different. It is more about searching for some error fares and cheap flight tickets, promotions and similar things.”
So basically it is about cutting the travel costs as much as possible.
“Yes, cutting the costs as much as possible, so that you can stay on the road as long as you can.”
What was your first experience with travel hacking?
“My first experience was a few years when I bought my first flight for a really good price. It was for about one Czech crown to Bulgaria. I discovered that it was quite easy to find cheap flights, and I started searching for cheap flights and for more things about travel hacking and I really enjoy it.”
How is it possible to travel anywhere for just one crown? It seems impossible to me...
“It seems impossible, but there are quite a lot of promotions, especially in the local airline industry. This was Sky Europe, Slovakian airlines, and they were offering really cheap flights for just one crown. In these days, you can still find flights for say, one euro, especially in Poland, where it is quite easy and there are very well priced flights from there.”
“I am a web designer and coder and it is something you can do from any part of the world. The only thing you need is a place with good internet connection.”
From what you are saying it seems that travel hacking is mainly for people who are single, who are not fully employed, who don’t have families to support, so they are free to decide about their own time. Would you agree with me?
“Well of course it is easier for freelancers, who can work from any part of the world, but even if you are an employee or have kids, you can still make the journey much cheaper. For instance my wife is an employee and we are just planning a long journey, so she has taken seven months off work.”
How much time do you actually spend on the road, on average?
It is hard to say, but for instance last year we visited 16 countries. Somewhere we spent a few weeks and somewhere just a few days. But this year is going to be quite different, because we are planning to spend about five months on the road. So it will be slow travel.”
What exactly do you mean by slow travel?
“It means that we will spend at least a month in one country, so we can explore the culture, because it is obviously very different whether you spend two weeks for several months there. So that's slow travel.”
What do you make for living and when do you actually work when you travel so much?
“I am a web designer and coder, so I make websites, and I can do that from any part of the world. It is actually quite easy. The only thing you need is a place with good internet connection. So I am working on the road, and we always spend a few days in one place so I can focus on the work and then we can continue.”
Do you have to give up luxury if you want to start with travel hacking?
“Yes and no. The nice thing about travel hacking is that you can find luxury things for a really good price. It might be a cheap accommodation in a four star hotel, because there is an error in the booking system, or you can buy a business flight ticket for a regular economy class, so you can get luxury things for normal prices. But on the other hand it is also about not being afraid of trying new things and about occasional discomfort.”
How long do you actually spend planning your trips? How much ahead do you have to plan?
“It depends if the journey is going to be long or short. If it is just a few days in Europe, I am not planning it at all. I just find a cheap ticket, which is quite easy and you don’t have to spend so much time. If it is a long journey, I spend hours or even days searching.
“The good thing is that there is like 300 countries in the world and I would like to visit most of them, so if there is a good ticket or promotion to a country I haven't been to yet, it is a good opportunity to buy the ticket. So I do spend few hours a day searching for tickets, but it is because I like it.”
You have become such an expert on travel hacking that you have even started courses where you offer your experience and advice. Who attends your courses?
“It is mostly young people who have time to travel and search for opportunities, older people who want to travel more and want to get some experience, and sometimes even people from the travel industry show up, trying to find some new ideas for them and for their clients.”
You have recently also published a book called Travel Bible. Can you summarize the main advice that you would give to people who want to start with travel hacking?
“I think the most important thing is not being afraid of the world, because the world is quite a safe place and there is always a bunch of fellow travellers on the road.”
“The book is divided into three parts and it starts with basic questions such as: why you should travel and how to prepare for the journey, because if you want to spend a few months on the road, it is necessary to settle things at home. Of course how to find cheap flight tickets, how to find accommodation and so on.
“The second part is how to cut the costs on the road. It is mostly about the food, accommodation and other expenses you have got. And the third part is about what you can do after you get back, because you can also make money based on your experiences.
Quite a big part of the book is also dedicated to digital nomads and we are also looking at how to find an affordable luxury travel.”
What would be the one single thing that you would tell people who want to get on the road? Is it the fact that they have to be able to improvise?
“Improvising is important but I think the most important thing is to be open to new ways of travelling and not being afraid of the world, because the world is quite a safe place and there is always a bunch of fellow travellers on the road. So once you get on the road, it's going to happen.”
You said that your Travel Bible starts with explaining why it is good to travel. So what is so good about travelling?
“Travelling is good for you because it makes you learn new things, you get out of your comfort zone, you meet different kind of people and you get a completely different point of view of the world and other. And I think that now is the best time for travelling, because it is affordable, it is quite cheap, so there is nothing to wait for.”
You have already mentioned your cheapest flight ever, but what else wold you mention as your biggest success?
“One of the biggest successes was definitely getting to Hawaii for 4,500 crowns. One bank offered quite a lot of miles to the US or Mexico if you got a credit card from them and if you spent only 5000 crowns a month. And the good thing was that the mileage programme of the Czech Airlines, did also include Hawaii into the U.S.
“When you travel on a mileage programme you have to pay the airport taxes, so it still costs you something, but we went through Soul, because the Soul airport and Hawaii airports are very cheap, so we cut the cost to 4,500 crowns, which I think is quite good.”
Finally, what are your plans for the nearest future?
“As I have already mentioned, we are leaving for five months to Southeast Asia, so we will first start in Thailand, move to Laos, from Laos to Vietnam, then to Philippines and from Philippines to Indonesia. So this is the basic plan and we will see how it is going to work on the road. Five months is quite a long time so it might change. We will see...”