Travel Hacks To Simplify Your Life (30:58)
Research indicates that people will spend more time planning a vacation than they do their retirement plan. Why not make it easier? In our podcast, Travel Hacks To Simplify Your Life, guest Shiraz Dalal, a commercial pilot and a travel consultant, shares with host Brian Leitner travel tips and hacks that everyone should be aware of when planning their next vacation. These tips can save you time, money and frustration when you’re trying to book travel, hotels and excursions. Sometimes getting started with the planning is the hardest part. Shiraz also discusses seasons you should travel, when to use a travel agent and when to “do it yourself.”
Brian Leitner: Welcome to Your Life, Simplified. My name is Brian Leitner, and I’ll be the host of this podcast. And today’s show is a focus on travel and why travel? Simply because people love it. In fact, there are studies out there that talk about the fact that more people will spend more time planning their vacation than they will their own retirement plan. So it is just something that people really love to talk about. They love ideas and tips. We used to do it better, maybe even more cost efficiently. And that’s what this podcast is really about. On today’s podcast, we’re very lucky to have a guest, Shiraz Dalal. So, you are a pilot for a major airline, you have your own travel consulting business, and you are very active on social media, correct? So Shiraz, thank you for joining the show today.
Brian: Shiraz, first and foremost, not only are you a pilot, you have several different consulting services. You’re a travel expert, but you’ve also served in the Air Forces. So thank you for your service. The first time you and I spoke, I think I asked you how you’re doing, and you told me you’re living the life. You told me about your life, what you do, how you spend your time. You’re absolutely right. If anybody is living the life, you’re living the life. So, let’s talk a little bit about your life again. You’re a pilot today. How’d you get in this line of work?
Shiraz Dalal: Brian, that’s a great question. First of all, thank you for having me on today. I really appreciate it. You know, I’ve always wanted to be a pilot ever since I was four years old watching planes take off at the observation deck in Raleigh, North Carolina. Now I get to be the big kid that’s flying those planes. So it’s pretty cool. Around middle school is about the time I decided I wanted to go and be an astronaut, and I want to fly planes, so I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy. I just drove that direction. After the Air Force Academy, I got to fly the KC-135 for the military and then the C-130 and a few other planes while I was in the Air Force. Then I just decided to make that leap over to the airlines. And that’s what I did. After that I was just flying for the airlines and starting a travel business as we’re going to talk about later on today. I am truly, truly blessed and truly am living the dream, if you will.
Brian: When we first spoke, you told me what you were doing, where you were going, and I think I shared with you what my two-week schedule or three-week schedule was going to be, and then you educated me on what your schedule looked like. And I realized quite quickly that I am certainly not living the dream, whereas you are. So maybe just share with our listeners, what have you been up to over the past few weeks?
Shiraz: Well, that’s, that’s a great question. It’s funny because I just turned 40 a few weeks ago, and my biggest goal as I approached 40 was to hit six of the seven continents. I’m working for the airlines, more domestic planes, for the past few years. That was going to be a little difficult. So, I did hit a lot of the Caribbean, which was fun, a lot of the islands and everything, but this is one of the reasons why I volunteered to fly two bigger airplanes last year that were more international. At the beginning of this year, I went to Ghana and then two days prior to my 40th, I got down to Brazil. So, I’ve got the sixth continent, which was great. But other than that, like England, France, Iceland, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Mexico, I’ve got Denmark and Scotland even next week. I’m pretty excited about that as well. And I still do a lot of domestic flying as well—Los Angeles, San Francisco, all over the country too. So that is a good time.
Brian: That is unbelievable. If I told you the cities that I fit in the past three weeks, let’s just say they pale in comparison. So, good for you. That’s terrific. By the way, happy belated birthday. Having a travel consulting business truly does make you an expert on not only how to travel, where to travel, but had a plan for that trip. So maybe let’s open it up there. How should people think about planning a trip? We have listeners and clients and friends of the show who are interested in traveling. It is a goal of most clients at some point, whether it’s on an annual basis or more often than that. Where do you start? How do you plan that trip?
Shiraz: That’s a great question. So as I worked for the airlines, pretty much whenever I see a city that pops up on the schedule that I haven’t been to, I go to it. So that takes care of the work part. But when I’m vacationing though, it’s usually something that inspires me to go there. I’m active in a lot of travel groups on Facebook. The bucket list is just really always expanding. I took my wife to Cancun recently, and I promised her we wouldn’t do anything but relax on the beach. I accidentally showed her a picture of Chichen Itza, which are ancient Maya temples.
Shiraz: It was over after that. We just were like, yep, we’re gone. So just kind of chasing the adventure. Adventure awaited us. We went out there and spent the day wandering around one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World and some villages over there as well. So here’s another way. Have you ever heard of UNESCO travel sites? UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. They’re protected sites by the UN. When I see one of those, I chase after it. Those are protected sites. Those are cultural icons. If I see something that really catches my attention, I’ll go chase after it. If I’m in a city, it’ll kind of give me a focus of where to actually go in that city, which is kind of cool, but the biggest thing that a lot of people need to look at is their budget.
Shiraz: Then decide if you want to do a lot or very little. If you just want to go out and sit on a beautiful beach and do nothing. Don’t blow your budget, keep it close, and keep it simple. But if you want to do a lot of historic sightseeing, go to Europe. If you are really adventurous, go to Australia and New Zealand or even Africa. If you want to step out of your comfort zone, pick a country where you don’t even speak the language and they don’t speak yours and just go do it. That’s the biggest thing.
Brian: Just from some of the conversations I’ve had with you, I don’t envision you going to a beach sitting on that beach and doing nothing. Whether you’re with your wife or a child, I’m going to feel like you’re chasing the next adventure regardless of where you are. So that’s pretty awesome. So, you mentioned budget. So where do we start there? If we’re planning a trip, we’re thinking about where we want to go, maybe we’ve decided where to go, maybe we haven’t. But once we know what that budget is, where do you go from there? Is it the websites? Do you call the airlines? Where do you start?
Shiraz: Okay, so that’s a great thing. Since I’m plugged into the travel world, I usually see others and where they’re going and how they’re doing it and where they’re actually going. I keep an eye on that and get some inspiration from that too. But I also bought into a system a few years ago that literally takes the research out of it for me, which saves me a lot of time and money. My time is valuable. I took a trip to Ireland with my wife last year, and it literally took us all of five minutes to plan. And people are like, “Are you kidding me?” Five minutes to plan. Yup. Absolutely. And that five minutes was pretty much deciding where our two-year-old would stay, if he’d come with us, or if he’d stay with grandma and grandpa. Thanks to all the grandparents out there. They took care of him. And you know what? It saves a lot of money. No longer am I spending time looking for the best deals or the safest resorts out there. Through this travel club, it’s all right at the tip of my fingers. There are plenty of travel clubs out there, plenty of our travel groups that do this kind of thing and they’re specialized on that. Find those groups, hitch onto them and go wherever the group takes you, for example, or whatever inspires you the most.
Brian: So we refer to these travel clubs. Are you referring to timeshares or is this something different?
Shiraz: No, definitely not timeshares. Timeshares are almost the way of the past. I would say as far as the new generation of travel goes. You really have to either know someone in invite-only club and get to know some of these travel clubs and through that, get exposed to them, get in them and get traveling with them.
Brian: So, you really had to have the inside scoop and work with the travel professionals, right? If you weren’t going to do that, is there another way to make sure that I’m getting a really good deal? Because I know I want to go to Mexico next year. Maybe I want to go to the Caribbean the following year. Where do we start if we don’t have access to a travel club?
Shiraz: There’s such a variety of travel and the cheapest isn’t always the wisest idea and in the opposite direction, just because something costs a lot doesn’t make it the best. So flash deals, you know those ones that pop up in your email? They’re great because excursions and locations are always trying to fill up their places to pay the bills. Be flexible and learn to travel in the off season. That’s huge. A lot of people are always looking at peak times of season, but learn to travel in the off season, and sometimes you’ll find the best deals depending on the locations. A few years ago, after work one day, I was just tired and figured I needed adventure to clear my mind. And all of a sudden, an email from Iceland Air popped up to fly to Iceland for five days with a few excursions on it for a really low price. But it was January. And in Iceland you think, it’s really cold, but you know what, 40 degrees wasn’t bad.
Shiraz: And I got to see the northern lights and the blue lagoon and needless to say, I just went ahead and clicked, yes. And literally two weeks later, I was gone. And now when I go to Iceland, I’m seeing it generally during an entirely different season. So it makes it spectacular every time I go. Just be flexible in your time and go where the budget allows but change your mindset from once in a lifetime to simply, this is another country, another state, or even another national park, just to knock off the list, so let’s just go.
Brian: That certainly sounds like it’s part of your mindset based upon all the travel and exploration that you’ve done. It’s funny you talk about the pop-up ads. I’ve got a good friend of mine that, when we graduated college and he got married, there was a pop-up ad for a phenomenal trip to Bolivia and Ecuador, and it was for a phenomenal price. And I asked him about the conditions and what he could expect, what his expectations were. And he kept telling me, “You have no idea that the deal that I’m getting,” and sure enough they spent 10 days, and it was almost in a series of tents as he explained it, as opposed to hotels. There was lack of air conditioning. I mean he must’ve told me several different times. He probably suffers from dehydration. It was one heck of an experience. But at the same time, never will he ever make decisions based on price. Again, it was just after college, so maybe he didn’t have the funds to do something a little bit more grand, if you will.
Shiraz: And if you’re not part of a travel club or something like that, set your expectations low when you go with some of those things, because a lot of people have high expectations of some of these last-minute deals, but, you know what? They’re last minute deals for a reason. So just don’t keep your expectations through the roof, and you’ll always have a good time and no matter what, you’ll always find an adventure.
Brian: As it relates to getting a good deal. Is it, is it generally best to bundle these? So, I just booked a trip somewhere for work. But if it was to a major city, and I’m getting these pop-ups for the bundling and whether it’s coming from the hotel or the airline, just based on your experience, conversations you’ve had with folks, is that truly a better deal more times than not? Or is it just simply, it’s packaged, and you could do the same thing whether it’s bundled or unbundled? Do you have an experience on that side?
Shiraz: Yeah. You know what? Sometimes bundling works well, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes if you just price them individually, you’ll do fine as well. The bundling kind of saves you some convenience. And once again, it saves you some time. So if you’re looking at time and money’s not an option to you, the bundling is great. But generally, airlines do have a few good deals too, but usually they’re to where the airline flies. And you may not be looking at that, or you may not have that airline flying into your city. But if you love flying with a particular airline, then great. But if not, just be flexible. I’ve never heard of airline group deals being the best deals to be honest. But that doesn’t mean it’s not. I just think there may be some better ways, but if you’re a million-miler or something with the airlines, then obviously that’s different. Use your points, because the way the points work in the airlines, sometimes the value of those points change very, very quickly. So you have to watch out for that. So use it while you can.
Brian: Yeah, that makes a lot sense. Especially the fact that if you bundle, it’ll help save you time. So for someone like myself who doesn’t necessarily know where they want to go or sometimes care where they go, if it’s winter, and I can get out to somewhere hot, but if I know the airline, and I know where they fly, that can make it easy. I’d probably just go with that option. Whereas others, including my wife, will take the time to be a really deliberate in terms of where she wants to go and then then figure it out from that perspective. So that makes a lot of sense. You know, as we were thinking about travel, hotels, bundling, obviously Airbnb has just come onto the scene in a really hot way over the past few years. Have you ever stayed at an Airbnb?
Shiraz: Yes. It can be as something else, can’t it? I have absolutely stayed at an Airbnb. They are great. So, hotels should really, really be worried about how the Airbnb services work, just like taxis were scared about Uber and Lyft. It’s really, really building and building fast, and they’re literally disrupting the hotel industry in some strong ways. Then you’ve got other spinoff sites like BRBO and stuff like that that’s coming in and finding a particular niche. But I actually use those sites, and when I’m traveling with a group versus hotel points or with my travel club. We have great rates and deals, but for groups, Airbnb’s are great. You can get an entire house for 10, 20 people, and it’s just cheaper overall. It’s just the way to go. So watch out for those disruptors like that.
Shiraz: Sometimes they come out of nowhere, like Airbnb just came out of nowhere. Be open-minded enough to recognize the opportunity behind them and get in while you can. Some come and go, but you can tell the ones that will stick around. Usually a company that’s been around more than three years, they’ll make it a few more. So jump in and get those deals and start telling your story. Referrals, referrals, referrals, right?
Brian: So I think the Airbnb story makes a lot of sense. The growth they’ve had over the past several years has been nothing short of (and to your point, especially when you’re traveling with family or a very large family or a group of friends) the ability to have the entire house. You can do sort of what you want when you want to do it. I think it’s just to your point, it’s a really interesting development in the in the hotel business. So you mentioned just a minute ago, the use of points, and you can get points from credit cards, and you can get them a variety of different ways. We all know now, or in the past 10 years, how valuable points can be. So, do you use points when you travel and if so, how do you use them?
Shiraz: Actually, believe it or not, I do use points all the time. But this just goes back to finding a way, right? So, a few years ago I was introduced to the points travel world when I was watching some travel groups on Facebook and other stuff, and I looked into it more and found a group called 10 x Travel. Now this group had people showing how they went on literally $20,000 honeymoons to Thailand and the surrounding area in suite class on an airline, which is a little above first-class—you get your own, almost protected, room.
Shiraz: And they only were going for like $200 or $300, and I said, “Are you kidding me? How is this possible?” So I started looking into it a little bit more and you know what? After that it was like game over. I plugged into this group, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount over the years. And honestly, I haven’t even paid for a hotel in the past two or three years because of this—because of the hotel points and the way you acquire points. And so, if it’s outside of my travel club, I just have multiple ways of accomplishing the same goals of making sure travel stays affordable for everyone. So, points are amazing.
Brian: You know what they say, if something’s too good to be true, it probably is. I’ve never heard of suite travel, so that’s interesting. Thanks for educating me on that front. But how are they able to offer these deals at these prices?
Shiraz: Again, if it sounds too good to be true, these airlines and these hotel chains, they just use points. A lot of people just acquire points, points, points, but they don’t understand them, and they don’t really use them. I would say a majority, almost 80 percent of points go unused because people don’t know really how to take full advantage of them. All groups like this at 10 x Travel and the Points Guys, another one, all those groups do is teach you how to use these more effectively. They’ll teach you how to acquire points more effectively as well. And it’s mainly using your credit cards. Credit cards have these introductory deals that come out, and you get on these introductory deals and you get 60,000 or 80,000 points, but then you want to use them.
Shiraz: So what these groups tell you and teach you is, some points are more valuable than others. Finding those good deals and then using those points after that is pretty much what these clubs are all about. Even on Friday, they’ve got Friday story day. So, if you go to their webpage, they have a bunch of stories of people who are literally taking $15,000 or $20,000 trips for pennies. So, it’s pretty amazing.
Brian: So it’s strategies that you could leverage with the credit cards, not only how to gain those points, but how to leverage those points. That’s really interesting. And that is something to look into. So, what about when you book your travel? Is there the right time of the year? Is there that that old three-week window where you’re supposed to not buy tickets within that three weeks, otherwise you’re going to pay a fortune for those tickets? Does that still exist? When’s the best time to begin to book travel?
Shiraz: I actually get asked that a lot, and it seems to fluctuate. So, I see things like from the best time to buy an airline ticket is 59 days in advance. I agree with that. But I’ll widen it from two to six months prior at least. Also, you may have heard Tuesday at midnight, the computer systems at the airlines reset, and the prices drop to their lowest. And you know what? That’s somewhat true. But honestly I try to avoid getting in this, too. So it’s like the stock market, and we would talk about timing. Brian, when’s the best time to get in the stock market?
Brian: Yeah, I see your point. Generally, the earlier the better, all things being equal. So that’s great feedback and, no, I had never heard of the Tuesday night at midnight. Depending on my schedule, I may just go ahead and do that. So I appreciate that tip is as well. So Shiraz, someone once told me that, when you’re booking a flight or hotel, and you know the hotel you’re going to stay at, calling up that hotel to book your room may get you a better rate than over the internet. Is there any truth to that?
Shiraz: You know what, I’ve heard that as well and that is so hit or miss. You never know who you’re going to get on the other side, and you don’t know if they’re having a good day or they’re not having a good day. And you know, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I definitely don’t count on that. Now, something you can do for that, as possibly an upgrade or something like that, but for the most part, I don’t count on that technique as a good travel planning tool, if you will.
Brian: Hey, just a quick note to our listeners. If you have a topic that you want to hear on this podcast, or you have a question about your own personal financial situation, please don’t hesitate. Go ahead and send us an email at email@example.com, and we’ll have an advisor reach out to you directly. Now back to the episode. Travel insurance: that comes up quite a bit, right? Every time you book a flight, especially online, they asked you that question, what are your thoughts around travel insurance? What is it? What is this supposed to do? And your thoughts around it.
Shiraz: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, the bigger or more important the trip is to you, the more you need travel insurance. So just keep in mind now, for a lot of credit cards out there, if you book the trip with the credit card, it will actually cover trip insurance automatically. Know what you already have and then go from there. Overall, it’s like any other insurance, in that, do you want the peace of mind it provides? If you’re like that, then make sure it’s in your budget as well. I bought an 18-day trip to New Zealand before. I bought travel insurance for that, but I skip it to go to the Caribbean for a few days if it’s not hurricane season. By the way, be careful when you’re booking trips to the Caribbean during hurricane season, other parts of the world, make sure you know what’s going on in the world. Would you want to go tour a beautiful country as a civil war breaks out? So just look at a few other factors and see if you need the travel insurance. But mainly for the bigger, more elaborate trips, because if you miss one flight your entire itinerary can be upset. And if that’s the case, I’m definitely getting travel insurance.
Brian: That’s a really good tip. I rent cars when I travel, and they always ask you, “Do you want the insurance itself?” And I have it on my credit card, and so you’re really paying for it twice. Right. Very similar in that fashion. So I think that makes a lot of sense. So I know you spend a significant amount of time traveling overseas. What tips do you have for traveling overseas?
Shiraz: It depends on where you want to go. The summer months when kids are out of school is considered generally the higher season, for popular places like Europe and some other adventurous places where you would take families. So just do your research. That’s the biggest thing. Do your research of where you’re going, what’s going on in the area and what you want to do. And if you’re one of those who fills up your schedule, or if you’re one of those who just kind of sits back and lays out on the beach, that’s fine too. Just make sure you look into where you want to go and what’s going on in the area.
Brian: So, do you recommend making digital copies of your passport or driver’s license and those sorts of things?
Shiraz: Absolutely. Not only do I have digital copies of all of that, I’ve got some saved on my phone. There are some apps out there that kind of lock that, hide things behind, add another password or two. I’ve got it there. I also emailed some of this stuff to myself, so I can always access my email from anywhere. So, if I get caught in a country without my passport, I always have access to a picture of my passport or anything like that that I would need.
Brian: So that’s a great tip. We’ve also heard about maybe registering your travel plans with the U.S. State Department. You could do that online and you know, God forbid something happens in a location that you’re at, it’s possible that somebody within this country might know about your whereabouts and that might just be good information to have or as a tip. And another resource you may want to consider are entities such as International SOS and Global Rescue. These are different organizations that can provide medical attention when traveling abroad, as well as evacuation security and a handful of other services that might be useful depending upon needs.
Shiraz: If you’re traveling by yourself, depending on where you’re going, I do encourage that. That is important, especially if you’re going to a more dangerous part of the world, or you’re doing something a little unusual like climbing Mount Everest where there are sometimes earthquakes. You want America to be able to track you or your family or friends. So, that’s important.
Brian: It’s a great segue to security. Obviously, Mexico’s a very popular destination for folks to go down to and spend some time. Whether it’s Cancun or Playa del Carmen, some of the other areas and some of the resorts you’ve seen on the news over the past couple of years may not be, I guess as safe as it once was. Do you have any thoughts on traveling to Mexico right now?
Shiraz: I just took the wife to Cancun a couple months ago, and we were fine. It’s was a little out of the season, which was good. I know the travel warnings are out there, so be careful if you decide to go. Those warnings are very, very real. Mexico is an easy place to travel to, just pick the right spots. Like Nueva and Puerto Vallarta are good places just because of their location. They’re on the west coast away from some of this other stuff. But in Cancun, crime is picking up. So, stay at bigger hotel probably if you really need to go there. And then, basic travel tips for foreigners, like try to blend in, speak the language on occasion, pickpocket-proof yourself. If you’ve never traveled internationally, there are plenty of pages on the subject.
Shiraz: Just Google traveling to Mexico or Cancun or whatever and start rating. But Mexico is really a beautiful country with beautiful people. So I hope they can clean that up sooner rather than later, and we can start traveling there a little bit more freely.
Brian: So let me ask you a different question. With all the travel that you’ve done, either domestically or internationally, what’s your favorite?
Shiraz: Oh man, let’s go international first. A favorite country to travel to would probably be New Zealand. I’ve spent I spent 18 days there toward both islands. I joined a travel group at the time and toured both islands and was literally in a different hotel every night. I got to see some of the most beautiful places in the world. There’s something in the southwest corner of the South Island called Milford Sound. And that is a truly one of my favorite places in the world. But it’s a little hard to get to. I understand that. Iceland is closer, and Iceland is very, very beautiful. I actually just got back from Iceland two weeks ago, and I just saw it during a different season, and it’s as beautiful as it was the first time, just in a different light. And it was very cool. But domestically, this country is so vast and so beautiful, and people were like, “I want to go see the pyramids in Egypt” and go look in your backyard. I’ve been all 50 states and two of the territories, and I’ve driven across this country. A few years ago, I took a 12,000 mile, 30-day road trip all over the country and covered 24 states. It was absolutely amazing to just go from national park to national park and really see this country, which a lot of people just don’t do. And that’s unfortunate. So there’s so much around here. You don’t even have to travel internationally. Get in an RV, just get in your car and go.
Brian: Those are great points, without a doubt. This country is enormous and there are so many things to see, whether it’s the cities or the national parks and landmarks. I completely agree with you. So with the growth of the Internet, the travel websites that are out there, the airlines, the hotels, should people use travel agents anymore? Is there still a need to have travel agents?
Shiraz: It’s really just what you’re comfortable with. If you’re really technological savvy and you can get around the internet and know your way around, that’s great. There are plenty of travel clubs and opportunities out there that you can definitely latch onto and go with that. If you’re one of those that just wants that interaction and that needs that interaction to feel comfortable, then travel agents are great. If you travel once every few years, travel agents are great for that. But you know, the new age of traveling is moving toward more of the internet. So if you want to find some of the better deals and cut out that middleman, then there are other ways to do it.
Brian: You’ve given us a lot of great tips. We appreciate your time. I have one last question for you that we ask all of our guests, and that question is what’s the worst financial decision you’ve ever made?
Shiraz: That’s funny. Do you know what? I would probably say not starting a home-based business earlier. Just find something you love and chase after it and build a business out of it. There’s a book by Sandy Botkin called “Lower Your Taxes Big Time,” and the first chapter is why you would be brain dead, not to have your own home-based business. You know, Sandy is a former IRS attorney, senior tax specialist, and he definitely knows, but there’s so many ways these days to have your own business and all the advantages that come along with it. It doesn’t matter what your income bracket is. There’s always more money you can save. And if you don’t have that truly entrepreneurial spirit in you, then there are plenty of network marketing companies out there that are great. So just like the disruptors we were talking about earlier, like Airbnb, these folks are changing how the world buys, shops and travels. So just go find one you like and learn. Just get out there and do it. Have Fun though. Find the time, freedom to enjoy it all and, in the end, live a fulfilling life.
Brian: So the worst financial decisions you make was just not starting that home-based business early enough, right? I want to thank you again for your time, your expertise and all the tips you’ve given our listers. So, thanks again for joining the show. I want to thank all of our listeners for listening today. If you want to learn more about what Shiraz is up to, you can find him on Instagram and Facebook. So, if you have a topic that you’d love to hear on this podcast, please go ahead and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We know that your time is incredibly valuable, and we hope you find this podcast a worthwhile investment of your time. Thank you for listening.
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