I’d like to start off this post by sharing a bit about myself. I’m a normal guy with an 8:30-5:30-wheneverthejobgetsdone job who sometimes spends way more time away from home and checking work e-mail than is necessary. I also happen to love travel as it is often the only time I get to really unplug. I don’t have a huge stockpile of points/miles and never fly remotely close to 100,000 miles annually as is seemingly the prerequisite for a reputable travel blogger (eye roll). I suspect this is a similar story for you.
I write this blog because: 1) I like to write, 2) I like to learn, 3) I am genuinely interested in hearing what you love, and 4) I hope to provide you with solid value. Two of my favorite websites are My Morning Routine and Lifehacker’s How I Work series. I love to hear about how the best in the business operate on a daily basis. It’s inspiring and offers insight you can’t really get from anywhere else. When creating this series, I aimed to accomplish a similar goal — to provide you with insight from the travel industry’s most interesting people. There is a stigma in the “hobby” that bloggers are a bunch of exploitative minions who aren’t like the rest of the traveling public. I aim to shed some light on that in the effort of transparency.
Led Me To…
Musings on Travel is a new series I drummed up in response to this. The goal is to have a casual conversation with some of the more recognizable names in travel. I tried to source my questions from a number of places such as FlyerTalk and Reddit. Many of the questions you will see asked today are from direct responses. As always, if you see a gap in the line of questioning, drop a line in the comments.
Without further adieu, I’m super pumped to have Brian Cohen, author of The Gate, as the guest for the first installment of MoT (yes – I’m already starting with the acronyms). Brian is a legend in the travel industry with history that dates back to the O.G. FlyerTalk. In fact, The Gate was the first weblog of FlyerTalk and remained in that position for eight years before coming to BoardingArea in 2014. Brian has been a source of inspiration for me in my own writing ventures due to his no nonsense style and transparent nature.
Here are some of my favorite posts from The Gate:
Tell us a little bit about your work / career…
I studied communication design and photography at one of the top art schools in the world — and although I still do that on a limited basis, I now focus on writing about travel for The Gate, InsideFlyer, TravelZork and other blogs. This allows me to combine travel with design and photography — as well as with coaching when I give advice, as I am also a certified coach. I do acting on the side for fun.
Roughly how many miles do you fly annually?
This varies so wildly by year that to come up with an average would be impractical. I try to concentrate my travels in spurts so that I can enjoy quality down time at home. There are times where I am in multiple countries within two weeks; and there are multiple weeks where I am not traveling at all.
Do you have particular allegiances to any airline / hotel programs?
For many years, my favorite hotel program has been Hilton Honors; and my preferred airline program has been Delta Air Lines SkyMiles — but I am a member of most of the major hotel programs and many of the major airline programs based in the United States.
How do you afford to pay for your travel? Do you mostly travel on points or do you pay out of pocket?
I typically do a combination of both. To get the holy grail of using miles and points on everything in one trip — air travel, lodging and rental cars — is probable but nearly impossible to accomplish; so I simply try to get the best value through each trip. When paying out of pocket is inexpensive enough, using points usually is impractical.
Walk us through your process for replenishing points / miles balances after using a whole bunch. As you know, there are only so many credit cards one can open and I know many readers are curious as to how you keep your balances topped off.
I do not use credit cards for points because many things can inherently go wrong — even if I am leaving a boatload of points on the table — and I prefer to earn a universal currency such as cash back rather than be limited to what I can do with miles and points. Rather, I typically take advantage of bonuses offered by frequent travel programs while traveling to replenish miles and points — because I typically view miles and points as a side benefit and not as a main reason to travel. Lately, I have been taking advantage of good deals out of pocket and saving points for future use as efficiently as possible — especially as airlines have increased the difficulty of earning miles with programs now based on revenue instead of distance flown.
Do you ever need help booking award tickets? If so, what do you do?
I have never needed assistance in booking award tickets. In fact, I have helped other people with booking award tickets. The key to maximizing award travel is to research and spend time doing so. For those people who do not have the time, award booking services abound for a fee — but I have never used them.
Tell us about The Gate … what makes your blog different than the others and how do you keep readers engaged?
The Gate originally was the official weblog of FlyerTalk for eight years; but I wanted to inject more of my personal travels and experiences into it — so when it returned home to BoardingArea in August of 2014, I added trip reports and other topics which may not be found on FlyerTalk. I attempt to incorporate a mix of articles from which readers will either benefit or be interested — as well as write about topics which no one else is covering — but without the hard credit card sell; and I rarely delve into political issues unless they have relevance. I have also slowly shied away from sensational stories which do not benefit the reader in any way whatsoever other than to entertain him or her — although I may still write about one if I can add something of value to it. I do not like to simply regurgitate articles from other sources, as many blogs seem to do these days. I also strive to get information from original sources for the most accuracy in the articles which I write.
For folks looking to start their own travel blog, what advice could you offer?
Do it because you want to do it and have a passion for travel — not because you want to make money. Add your own “personal voice” to differentiate yourself from the literally hundreds of other travel blogs out there. Try to offer information which is unique — or, at least, from a unique perspective — and strive to be a source of information rather than parroting what other blogs are covering. Attract readers with quality content consistently and not with giveaways and “click bait” headlines.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve come across while traveling?
Wow — that is a good question. Although I am sure I will come up with something better when it is too late, the first thing that comes to my mind at the moment is this article I wrote pertaining to an employee of a hotel property in Egypt going out of his way to assist me and even paying for the gasoline to fill up my rental car.
Your favorite place in the world?
I cannot answer that definitively because every place has its advantages and disadvantages. I have enjoyed wonderful experiences all over the world: Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Alaska are only four which come to my mind for a variety of reasons. I enjoy nature; so the national parks in Kenya and the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the United States — as well as Milford Sound in New Zealand — rank highly. New York will always have a special place in my heart because it is where I was born and raised; and I still consider it the greatest city in the world for many reasons.
Author’s Note: I am constantly trying to improve this feature so if you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to let me know!