Travelers are playing the waiting game.
On one hand, much of the United States is still on some sort of shutdown in an effort to slow the spread of covid-19. Because of this, it’s hard to feel comfortable booking any sort of travel for the future.
On the other hand, travel suppliers are offering deals to entice travelers back to booking.
Janice Lintz is a world traveler (139 countries and counting) and is on her way to visiting every country.
She is also a writer and consumer advocate, and she has strong opinions about booking future travel now.
Short answer from Janice: Don’t….yet.
Janice shares the criteria she will be looking for to feel comfortable booking travel again, plus some general travel tips and advice from her many years of experience.
Selected Links from the Episode
- Janice Lintz Twitter
- TPG Reader Hall of Fame: The United Island Hopper, a volcano and a last-minute escape from Asia
- Untamed Borders adventure travel
Show Notes & Timestamps
- Janice’s derailed trip story 00:05:21
- On being acknowledged in ThePointsGuy.com Hall of Fame 00:07:25
- Why Janice got started traveling extensively 00:09:58
- Why Janice is not booking anytime soon 00:13:58
- The indicator she is looking for before planning again 00:19:13
- How about refundable travel deals? 00:19:52
- General travel tips including packing 00:24:53
- Common mistakes to avoid 00:26:17
- Travel myths to put to rest 00:28:44
Damian: Janice, thank you very much for joining us today.
Janice: Thank you for having me.
Damian: Janice, can you just share, for those who do not know, give us a little overview of your biography, what you do as far as travel goes, your area of expertise, and tell us a bit of yourself?
Janice: Well, I’m traveling to every country in the world, so I’ve been to 139 UN countries and 194 countries, territories and disputed nations. My goal is to visit every country in the world.
Damian: And what’s your timeframe for that?
Janice: I don’t have a timeframe because, as we’re going to discuss, I have no idea when I’m going to return to travel. I also never wanted to set a timeframe on because I didn’t want to speed around the world, with no judgment of people who are. It isn’t the right style of travel for me.
I want to spend whatever amount of time I think a particular country requires. There are some countries I might spend less time and others where I spent more like Myanmar, where I recently spent three weeks. To me, the country warranted the time. I don’t want to feel like I’m in and out of a nation. I have extreme FOMO, fear of missing out.
For me to go somewhere and miss something, gives me agita. I don’t want to miss things. Putting a deadline on my travels feels stressful. I’m planning to live a long life, so I view this as a life goal. I’m not going for a record. Others accomplished them, and foot planting is not my objective.
I’m too curious. I need to see everything.
Damian: And with that goal, and I’m sure you’ve done your research, does something stand out as what’s going to be the challenging country, which is going to be the one that’s hard to cross off the list?
Janice: You know, it’s interesting. I mean, there are some dangerous or perceived dangerous countries. I’m hoping that by the time I get to them, they will be less risky or not scary. Opportunities also arise.
So, for example, I went to Iraq with a group of extreme travelers. Untamed Borders organized the adventure, so I felt very comfortable and knew I was in good hands. The group had an incredible fixer. I was also on a trip with some of the most traveled people in the world who I felt knew how to manage situations in case anything happened. Although, I was there a year ago, a year ago October. Although everything seemed and appeared fine, was it? I am not a safety expert, but I didn’t feel unsafe.
I’ve also been to countries like Somaliland or Eritrea, which had the perception of being dangerous, and I never felt unsafe at any time. Although this is anecdotal evidence, which is not a basis to determine safety, however, it’s hard to know. I don’t know how many countries I have left to visit that other people perceive as dangerous are perilous? I think sometimes the media makes things out of nothing, and sometimes it’s warranted, but it’s hard to know until you’re there.
Damian: You do a lot of writing as a profession, is that correct?
Janice: I haven’t written for a publication recently. I did write one article, but I stopped writing because I am supposed to work on a book that has progressed slowly. It’s tough to travel simultaneously and write if you want to travel in a meaningful way.
When you’re traveling, I’ve seen the bloggers; they’re changing into different adorable outfits. I don’t want my clothes to be the focus of my travel. Also, spending so much time achieving the perfect photo detracts from my trip. I often travel solo, so it’s hard to achieve a great shot since I don’t have a partner who can take the picture. I have to rely on random strangers, which doesn’t always achiever the best photograph.
I want to travel. So it’s hard to do both at the same time. Taking photos consumes time, and I’d rather spend more time traveling.
Damian: Sounds like you’re talking about them focusing more on the content that they’re trying to produce than on the travel part of the trip.
Janice: Exactly, I want to focus on the travel part of the trip.
Damian: What was the last country that you crossed off the list? What was the last place that you visited for the first time?
Janice: Well, I just came back from a two month trip through that was a circumnavigation of the globe. I started in Hawaii and finished in Singapore. The trip had complicated routing. I flew to Hawaii to take United’s Island hopper, then to the Marshall Islands, all four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Saipan, and Palau.
I was supposed to go to the Philippines; however, I canceled because of the volcano eruption. Then, I was supposed to visit Australia, but I canceled before I departed because of the fires. I had to figure out where I can go after Palau because the country only has five direct flights, and the virus was percolating in China, although it wasn’t in other regions.
One of the five places I could catch a direct flight to was Macau, and I nixed that thinking, you know what, I don’t want to push it. I had already been to Korea, so I didn’t want to visit again. I decided I would go to Laos despite there wasn’t a direct flight. I had to fly from Palau back to Guam to Nagoya, Japan, where I spent the day in Bangkok, Thailand, where I spent another day and then to Laos. I traveled around Laos before I flew to Myanmar.
In Myanmar, I spent three weeks. I was supposed to fly at one point to Singapore but canceled because Singapore’s virus numbers increased. After Myanmar, I decided to go home via India. When I was supposed to catch my flight to India, India banned me from entering the country because I visited Japan on February 8th.
By this point, Singapore’s numbers went down. A friend recommended I go to Singapore. So I did. When I was in Singapore, President Trump announced the US was closing its borders to Europeans. So I cut my visit to Singapore short and flew home through Germany. That was my last trip.
Damian: That’s a complicated trip. It kind of leads to the next thing I was going to ask. You made ThePointsGuy.com Reader Hall of Fame, and it seems like someone that can make a trip like that, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Can you comment on that a little bit?
Janice: Well, you know, I adore Brian. I think he and his team, including Jasmine, who previously worked for Million Mile Secrets, published an article about my travels as well, are fantastic.
For me, the article was a personal accomplishment because I admire Brian and what he’s done with The Points Guy. I felt like they gave me the black belt of points. I thought I was doing well with points and miles, but it’s nice to have my success acknowledged. I’ve made many trips that are equally as complicated as the last one. My forte is traveling well, but smart. I was personally satisfied. I took the article as a huge compliment coming from the team, which I think is exceptionally terrific.
Damian: I agree, they produce a lot of great content. Very helpful.
Janice: Yes, they’re one of the blogs that I admire, and so it was really lovely for me to receive the acknowledgment. The trip was complicated because it changed so many times. However, it helped to have a fantastic group of friends who aided me along the way.
I belong to a WhatsApp group with some incredible people. Some of the people I’ve never met. I’m not sure I would even know them in person. They were so helpful, providing me updates from the countries they’re in and giving me local on the ground tips of where to visit. One person even suggested flying from Myanmar to Kolkata, India. I hadn’t considered flying home via India, but it was a creative way to reposition to get home. That was until the border closed.
I moderate a small group called Traveling the World with new and old friends who are very accomplished travelers. They were sending me messages to help me along the way.
Plus, my stash of points made the changes easier. The combination of everything allowed me to keep pivoting.
The staff at United was also excellent. One woman who helped me tremendously was a United representative who retired, and somehow, I had her cell phone number. I don’t even know how I had it. She’s the one that told me to go to the airport when I couldn’t get the United site to work. That was a great tip that I should have known.
Damian: That’s tapping into an old network. You don’t even remember how you got the number, but…
Janice: If you give me your number and I think you’re knowledgeable, it goes into my master list for each company. You become part of my network when I need a resource at some future point.
Damian: You’re on a call, you’re going to get a text at some point.
Damian: How did you get started traveling so extensively? Was there a trip or something that started this passion for being so thorough in your travels?
Janice: When I was younger, my grandmother was a voracious traveler. She consumed traveling and would sit and devouring tour books. She was older, and she would take trips with various tour companies.
Her brothers were the most incredible travelers, and they would send postcards. Many of them, I never met. I would receive their postcards from places like Nepal, which seemed so distant and far away.
I also watched a television show called Big Blue Marble; I had pen pals and a stamp collection. I was continually learning about these exotic places.
I also had a mother who loved deals. She was the Queen of the Deal because she did it pre-internet, and things are a lot easier now with the internet.
She once did this deal with Eastern Airlines, which doesn’t exist anymore, where a person could travel 21 days, anywhere Eastern flew so long as the person traveled in one direction. I don’t know how my mother managed to get tickets for a family of five on all these flights, but we went to Jamaica, Bermuda, two places in Mexico: Acapulco, Mexico City, and then Las Vegas.
It was this crazy…can you imagine this? We were just a regular family traveling as if we would jet setters. And this was before airlines had limits and charged for luggage. We had a giant box to add our souvenirs. By the end, it had Mexican sombreros, Jamaican Palm tree leaf hats, and stuffed animals from Circus Circus Hotel, which was then a great, fancy hotel. We would just keep adding things to this giant wardrobe type box. It was crazy.
Damian: It was a souvenir box?
Janice: Yes, we would dump everything in there, check it in, and the airline staff didn’t even bat an eye.
I also did a post-college, backpack trip, the iconic trip of $25 a day. That was when the travel bug bit me. I came home and knew I could travel without my family. Once I realized I could do this, that was when there was no turning back.
The turning point during that trip was when I realized I was eating cheese at home that wasn’t cheese. It was processed stuff that came with plastic around it versus real cheese; the cheese didn’t come out of a green can—the same for ice cream. I had incredible gelato in Italy, not in the flavorless ice cream that came in a half-gallon box.
I realized I had to see and taste everything myself. I couldn’t rely on other people for their opinions and tastes. I’ve traveled ever since that trip.
However, two and a half years ago, I developed thyroid cancer. After my surgery, I couldn’t speak for five months. I had an immobile vocal cord. At the same time, my house sold after my divorce. I realized that this was the perfect time to up my game and travel extensively. I could take what was a crisis for most people and turn it into the most incredible opportunity.
If I didn’t do it then, I probably would never do it. It’s like now if you don’t do those projects around your home that you are saving for someday, then you will never do them. I decided to seize the moment. And once I started feeling a little better, I made a trial trip to El Salvador to see if I could manage the traveling.
The trip was tough, but I could do it. I decided to take two years to travel as much as I could to epic locations and tick off my “must-see” bucket list. I pretty much visited all of them when I finished Singapore.
Damian: Let’s switch over to the topic that we got in touch about. Originally, I requested that I wanted to speak to those travelers who were thinking about trying to plan trips after the coronaviruses start to wind down. You got in touch offering to take the opposing view.
Can you describe what that opposing view is?
Janice: Yes. I’m somebody who’s visited 139 UN countries or 194 countries, territories, and disputed nations. I traveled for the last two years for pretty much every four to six weeks, give or take. However, I’m not planning any trips now, no matter what the deal is, and I look for the sale.
I’m somebody who, when a friend said, Oh, you could visit Easter Island because the airline added flights and they’re super cheap, I booked the trip in 10 minutes. Another friend emailed me and said, Did you see the sale to Antarctica? It’s 50% off if you go next month and I am going. I booked it immediately. I’m somebody who loves a deal.
However, now I don’t feel safe, and regardless of the deal, I won’t book a trip. There’s no consistent leadership in this country or globally. There’s pressure on politicians to open up places because people are hurting economically. I get that, and I’m not minimizing the dire financial situation that many people or companies are in, but if we open too soon, I believe there’s going to be another wave of deaths. Instead, we need to bite the bullet and buckle down to ride out the pandemic to get things under control the way New Zealand did. I think otherwise, we’re opening ourselves up for a real problem.
I don’t want to be part of that. We don’t know which countries are going to open up, and then say, whoopsie, we made a mistake and close their borders again. Then what? I could end up stranded. Look at the ships that were floating around and couldn’t dock. What do you do then?
What if you go to a country and you get sick? Medical care in first world countries is less of an issue, although they may not take you, but what if you’re in parts of Africa with dirt roads? It’s not a place I want to get sick. So that’s concerning to me. I need to know will I have the medical care I need, will my medical insurance, and evacuation insurance cover me?
Just because countries say there are no deaths, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Are they reporting them? Do the countries’ have access to test people and are they? What is the government doing to stop the virus?
The United States is a disaster. Americans are in for a rude awakening when they find other countries ban Americans from entering them. Americans are unaccustomed to not visiting where they want to go. However, the US is such a mess that governments are no longer going to want Americans entering their country.
I don’t think even traveling domestically in the US is any better. Which state is handling the virus best? The local governments are all fighting and making side deals.
I think this is a time to buckle down, keep the borders closed to get the issue under control. If we don’t, we’re just going to go from one wave to the next, to the next, to the next.
Damian: Well, it seems like people shouldn’t take your opinion lightly because of two things we’ve talked about your experience; obviously, you’ve been all over the world and done a lot of traveling and all types of travel. But then, as you mentioned, you’re open to those deals. You’d like to find deals, and you’d like to find opportunities. So it certainly says a lot that you don’t have a comfort level for that anytime soon.
Janice: I just want to emphasize that I am not a doctor, and I don’t have secret intelligence. However, I have my ear to the ground, and my friends are the most incredible travelers around the world. I listen to what they have to say.
That said, some travelers are cowboys and are just insane. There are some of them, I think, who are still traveling there. There’s one or two of them. I’m not sure how, but they still are. However, I’m not willing to take that chance because when I take a risk, it’s a calculated risk. To others, it may appear reckless, but I am not or hope I am not. Issues can still arise, but I try to minimize them.
I live down the block from the hospital in Brooklyn that is in the media all the time. I see the ambulances regularly. And then I see people right by the hospital walking, not social distancing, as they’re oblivious.
There is a lack of leadership in our country. We don’t have a proper CDC that built an infrastructure from the start. We weren’t prepared when the problem happened.
It’s kind of like what I said with my trip; I was able to pivot so well because I had built in the infrastructure. I figured out the tools I needed in advance. So along the way, if there were problems, I could shift. One of those tools I didn’t mention was I used Global Rescue as my Medical Evacuation and Extraction Service. I communicated with them the whole time about the virus and the eruption to decide if I should go to the Philippines? Their knowledge base was incredible. I would never have access to this information as a mere mortal, but I relied on experts.
Damian: So, with our situation now, what sort of indicator would you be waiting for that would give you the comfort level to look at traveling again?
Janice: A vaccine or medicine to controlling virus-like malaria or a vaccine to prevent it. I don’t need to be an early adopter. I want to see what happens when the doors open and what the waves are?
Damian: Both internationally and domestically as far as The States opening and countries opening?
Janice: Yes. Let other people test them to figure out the problems. I’m not willing to take a chance. I want to see what happens when the doors open domestically and internationally? Let’s see what happens for me to make a more educated decision then.
Damian: Yeah, we’ve discussed on previous shows ways to mitigate if you are going to travel, kind of mitigate your risk. You mentioned travel insurance. I think we’ve talked a little bit about refundable trip plans with airlines and things like that. There are a few steps to take there, but it’s certainly nothing at the level you’re talking about.
Janice: I think that’s where companies made a misstep. In the past, if there was a good deal and the company said refundable, I would have booked and said, you know, whatever, if it doesn’t work, I’ll just cancel. But, when companies start changing the traditional definitions of standard terms, like refundable and cancellation, that is a problem. Businesses are slicing and dicing words that give me pause for concern. The airlines were not refunding refundable trips. DOT stepped in, and that’s not cool.
Some airlines are saying, well, it’s not a cancellation if we reschedule in X hours. Well, not true because it’s a cancellation. If airlines do that, it impacts a person’s trip. If a person misses their tour or hotels, that’s not cool. Credit card insurance or trip cancellation insurance won’t step in as well.
Companies need to go back to using the traditional terms of refundable and cancellation, meaning refundable, meaning you have X hours to refund it or time, and you get your money back. Consumers are more confident booking if they know they can refund or cancel their trip. Then people can book trips and wait and see what is happening with the virus.
I think companies are making a big mistake by letting the lawyers play around with traditional definitions.
Damian: Instead of cut and dry refunds, credits, or expiring credits or anything in between, all of your money back and nothing. It can be very confusing for the traveler, I think.
Janice: Right? Let’s say you get credit, and then the company goes belly up, then what? Then get in line with the creditors or fight with your insurance company. I didn’t realize that none of the credit cards covered pandemics under trip cancellation insurance; I had no idea. Now I was lucky. I had no issues getting any of the companies to refund my money, so I got lucky.
I’m also one person, and I wasn’t traveling with a family of five. Imagine not receiving thousands of dollars back from a canceled trip? That is very costly. Is anyone willing to risk paying $10,000 for a vacation they can’t take?
Damian: Yeah, I agree. What do you mention about watching what happens in other places, when they start to ease. Concerns and kind of getting the data from there. I think that makes a lot of sense. Is there another piece of information that would make you change your thoughts on this?
Janice: I would like to see any money that companies accept going into escrow accounts. I would like to see the government requiring it. I know Untamed Borders mentioned this recently where people who are traveling with them shouldn’t worry because the UK requires them to deposit the monies into an escrow account. So, a person who cancels could get a refund.
That’s nice because then you know that money is secure. I think companies need to start putting money in escrow accounts to ensure creditors can’t get their hands on it if a company does go belly up.
Customers are going to remember how companies handle this situation? People have a good memory and will remember who dealt with the problem well. Hilton is one company that dealt with the issues well. Conrad Singapore canceled my reservation with no problem and gave me a full refund. Hyatt did the same for a reservation I made for my son’s graduation that I canceled. I understand IHG is also fantastic. I think people are going to remember that because when they are taking a risk and maybe booking something that is refundable, they’re going to remember who meant refundable for refundable versus refundable, but not always. There shouldn’t be a footnote by the word refundable.
Damian: Yeah. Don’t make people find loopholes.
Janice: Right. I think that is why some of the people in the frequent flyer world abuse some of the rules. They feel the companies are doing loopholes on their end, so it opens the door for customers to do loopholes. The companies complain about customers exploiting loopholes, but they do the same thing when they change the definition of words and say, refundable doesn’t mean refundable. If you want customers to treat the company right, the company has to treat the customer correctly.
Damian: Agreed. Well, thank you for taking the opposing view here. I think your take on this certainly as somebody with the experience that you have will be very helpful to the listener. So I appreciate it.
Janice: Oh, my pleasure. I hope it was helpful. It’s just a personal opinion.
Damian: But, It’s a viewpoint from someone with certain experience and. And you are someone that wants to go back and travel again. So I think that accounts for a lot.
Janice: Well, thank you.
Damian: We’ll switch away from coronavirus. I really want to finish with some actionable tips and advice. The show is about helping people travel, worry-free, any general essential tips for traveling that you’d like to share?
Janice: Well, I think one is preparation. Even if I’m going to a cold-or warm weather place, I take one outfit of the opposite location. I don’t bring something heavy, but items I can layer. I’m going to a warm-weather place; I pack a lightweight hat, gloves, and a polar fleece to layer. And so that this way, I never caught if there’s a change in temperature.
I do the same with medicine. When I’m traveling, I always bring medicine along for food poisoning. I travel with powdered Pedialyte packets, which saved me more times than anything else. That stuff is excellent. So it’s
Damian: For dehydration.
Janice: Yes, dehydration. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but they’re these like long tubes of powder Pedialyte, and you just dump it into a bottle of water.
Damian: Okay. Yeah.
Janice: The drink rehydrates you. Pedialyte isn’t available in every country, and it’s amazing when you are sick.
I also bring water shoes. So when I’m hiking, a lot of times, I don’t want to ruin my boots. Speedo water shoes make a big difference.
Damian: Any mistakes that you see a lot of travelers make that you can help them avoid?
Janice: One, I always bring multiple credit cards and ATM cards. If a machine eats my card, I have a backup plan. Not every country takes the same credit card. So I always have an Amex, Visa, and a MasterCard with me.
I confirm all flight times, especially the small airlines. The same is true for luggage weight. Airlines change the flights, and unlike an American airline where you get a notice on your app, small airlines don’t seem to notify people the same way. Double-checking is critical. An airline once changed the flight, didn’t inform me, I confirmed the flight and had no idea the time changed, so I was stranded. So check the flight time, even the morning of the flight.
Don’t pack like you’re going on a fashion shoot. No one dresses like Vogue layouts on a safari. I think the most important thing is realizing that the difference between a tourist and a traveler is knowing things are not going to go perfectly. It never does as, even if you have the best travel agent. Things happen. Trips aren’t perfect, and I learned a long time ago to go with the flow and figure out how to make it work rather than letting the problem ruin my entire trip over the aggravation. Fighting about the issue destroys the trip rather than embracing it.
My flight took off in Madagascar without me because the travel agency, through the credit card, made a mistake and used their email address instead of my email address. So when the flight time changed, I didn’t know about it, even though I confirmed with the agency the night before the flight. The whole reason I went to Madagascar was to see the Baobab trees. I now couldn’t because there was no flight, and I was upset.
The next flight available was to Nosy Be. I never heard of it at the time. It turned out to be delightful. There is a certain point where I had to suck it up if I didn’t want to ruin my trip. I was like, okay, whatever. I have no choice. I’m going to go, and I embraced it. I ended up having a marvelous time staying at this beautiful hotel.
The hotel heard what happened, and they went above and beyond for me. At dinner, I had giant shrimp and fantastic massages: $40 for two hours, which was terrific. I swam with sea turtles and saw whales. It was amazing. It was not what I expected, but it was different and extraordinary. I think learning to embrace problems makes my trips so much better.
Damian: That’s great. And how about myths? What do you hear travelers say over and over? Misconceptions that you can help debunk.
Janice: Well, I think places that seem dangerous aren’t if you work with experts as I do. I used an excellent guide in Eritrea, Tekeste, and Somaliland. Everything was fantastic because I had great people on the ground, helping me.
I’m also a solo woman, so I find hiring a guide is helpful, so that I’m always with someone, but yet I’m traveling by myself. I’m getting their expertise as well, which makes a big difference. I tend to like it if the guide can drive as well, so I have one person rather than a team.
I think traveling for enjoyment versus getting Instagram pictures. I think too many people these days are traveling for Instagram, and they just go from one place to the next to get the photo rather than enjoying it.
Damian: And finally, is there a final big idea, a piece of advice that you’d like to give to the listeners.
Janice: Well, my whole premise is about traveling well, but smart. I always recommend people to pick your destination based on the deal rather than I to want to go to X place. So when I went to Antarctica, I went because Quark was having a 50% off sale. Antarctica was off the table because I thought the trip was going to be too expensive. However, when the opportunity arose, I quickly changed where I would travel rather than saying, Oh, I want to go to this place.
Then don’t wait, because you never know what’s going to happen like now with the pandemic. There is never the perfect time to travel, so you have to seize the opportunity. Go off the beaten path because it’s going to be cheaper.
Rather than say, look, I want to go to X place in Paris, maybe go out of the city and figure out alternatives. Sometimes I will hotel hop to get the deal or pick locations based on currency. I use frequent flyer points for my flights. Don’t hoard them for a rainy day, because if you don’t use them, you lose them or they devalue.
I also use discounted gift cards for different hotels but don’t go too heavy into them. Especially now, we don’t know what companies are going to go out of business. So be cautious of that possibility.
Those are my best tips. My way of traveling is how to travel well but smart.
Damian: That’s great advice. What’s the first destination after this is all done.
Janice: Well, as I mentioned, I’m going to take a wait and see approach. I think it’s too soon to say, but I’m likely to go to the Pacific ocean territories if they let me in the countries. I think those countries are more isolated, so they are less prone to the virus, although they do have a lot of Chinese tourists. The countries shut down much quicker than the US.
And so I’m hoping I can visit them; however, I’m still taking a wait and see approach to see what happens? It’s too soon for me to tell really. But that’s where I’m leaning towards for now.
Damian: And what’s the best place where people can find your work online?
Damian: Thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. You’ve provided a lot of great information, and I appreciate it.
Janice: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity and especially to give an opposite viewpoint.
*The transcript was edited for clarity.