Goodbye, Comfort Zone: On the Road with Marvin and Josephine Abisia

This is a travel hacking case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

From Portland to Singapore—and probably a few other places—I’ve hung out with Marv and Jo on multiple continents. They’ve been a big part of our community for many years, and have been actively traveling for most of that time.

Tell us about yourselves.

We’re an adventurous young couple originally from California. Three years ago we left the jungles of Silicon Valley because we no longer wanted to settle for a life of mediocrity. After hitting the reboot button, we went into semi-retirement and are now officially nomads, picking up freelance gigs as needed.

What inspired you to travel?

Traveling for brief glimpses of time wasn’t an option. We wanted the whole enchilada. An award trip to Italy on United Airlines miles opened our eyes to what was possible, and reading all the tips on the AONC site pretty much sealed the deal as far as making our dream of world travel a reality. Ultimately, we wanted to travel as a way of educating ourselves about the real world, experiencing what true freedom felt like, and enjoying the adventure all along the way.


What was one of your most memorable trips?

A completely self-supported and self-guided trek to the Everest Basecamp in Nepal. In the three years we have been traveling, this trip still ranks as the most memorable.

First , we learned so much more about ourselves, what we are capable of, and where we have our limits. For example, on day one on the trail we had to turn back after two hours. While Josephine was solid as a tank trudging up the mountain, I (Marv) was literally brought to my knees by altitude sickness.

Second, we never realized it but this trip would require us to incorporate skills we had acquired while traveling the last few years. Being independent self-guided trekkers, at the end of each long day of hiking we had to have our wits about us to triage potential rooms and to negotiate the rate. We had to quickly learn what was essential in our packs and what we must shed to save weight. By the time we reached basecamp, our belongings had been spread out between three different villages along the trail as we started ditching unneeded items as we got closer to the goal.

Finally, the trip was very meaningful as I had used it as a platform to raise funds for Charity: Water. We raised a modest sum, but we generated more awareness about the plight of those without access to clean water in the developing world.

We made it back down the mountain in one piece, albeit about eight pounds lighter than when we started two weeks earlier. Perhaps we’ve found a new weight loss plan? 🙂

How did you earn the Frequent Flyer Miles for your trip?

About a year out from our “launch date,” we started diligently collecting points and miles from every program we got a tip on, whether from the AONC site or from other sources on the interwebs. We amassed 99% of our miles from credit card bonuses, and within one year had an aggregate of over 1 million miles and points amongst the various airline and hotel programs. These points we consider our “intercontinental” travel fund.

Within continents, we use cash on low-cost air carriers or overland transportation options. The funds for this part of our two-pronged approach to travel were amassed through various income sources including: the sale of our household items and automobiles, existing savings, and supplementary income from freelance projects and coaching.


How many miles and points do you have banked right now?

Since we started this travelhacking odyssey, we’ve amassed over three million miles and points and continue to earn more as opportunities arise. We use United Mileage Plus, American Airlines AAdvantage, US Airways Dividend Miles, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. We assign higher value to air travel over luxury hotel stays… hence the emphasis on airline programs in our holdings.

The great debate: aisle or window?

We are perfectly happy with either aisle or window seats. We’re just grateful to be on a plane… especially in the business class cabin. 😉

Have you met any fun or interesting people on the road?

John and Michelle are a golden-aged couple we met on a train ride during our travels in Myanmar. They’d met on a train ride through central Africa a few years before, he a doctor, she an office manager. Both of them loved the their careers, and they shared a common passion for adventurous travel. Three years and many trip later, they became married adventurers… proof that it is never too late to meet your soulmate and to live an adventurous life!

We connected on so many levels, and little did we know we would cross paths again over a year later and trek in the French Alps together.


Best travel tips. Go:

Book just a night or two at your destination.

Often what you see or hear in advance is not exactly what you get when you arrive, so give yourself a chance to vet other places, get a better price, and relocate.

Learn a few common phrases before your arrive.

Without a tour leader, you will often need to handle communicating and negotiating with merchants and innkeepers on your own. Knowing the standard niceties will help you connect with locals on the right foot.

Research local dishes online before you arrive.

You will see local food that does not look like anything vaguely familiar to you, even though it might be just chicken or pork! Images and descriptions give you confidence to sampling local foods.

Where are you two headed next?

We’ve been to most of Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and parts of Europe. Our next adventure will most likely be somewhere in Africa.

Follow Marvin and Jo’s travels at Intrepid Motion or via Twitter @intrepidmotion

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