15 Reasons Stephen Should Win The #40kFaraway Challenge

Frequent Miler's 2019 40K to Far Away Challenge is done! Greg, Nick, and Stephen competed to see who could go farthest with 40,000 points and $400! Click here for contest results and next steps.

So after 14 days of travel, my 40k To Far Away adventure finally came to an end last night. I might have technically traveled the shortest distance, but by a bunch of other metrics I feel like I traveled the “farthest”.

Not convinced? Here are 15 reasons why you should vote for me as the winner of 40k To Far Away.

Me and one of the trolls

1) I Made It Home

First off, returning home wasn’t part of the challenge, so Greg and Nick certainly shouldn’t be dinged for physically finishing far away in the Seychelles and Niue respectively.

Knowing that Greg had access to United’s Excursionist Perk and Nick could fly from the east coast to Hawaii for 7,500 miles though, I knew it’d be hard to beat them on actual distance traveled. To be honest, I did get a little psyched out by them as I thought they were going to both travel 30k+ miles. Greg in particular had mentioned flying 40k miles in one of the videos he and Nick recorded. It turns out that was a slip of the tongue as he was referring to using 40,000 miles rather than giving away anything about his plans!

Anyway, after booking the incredibly cheap round trip ticket to Europe, I decided to make my multi-pronged strategy one that included returning home for 40k points + $400. This was a little tricky as my wife and I travel full-time and so don’t have a home (hence why “No Home” is the first half of our website’s name), but Shae and our dog Truffles were staying with her parents in Portsmouth VA while I was gone. Portsmouth was our home for 7 years too before we set off on the road trip, so it seemed like an apt place to regard as home for the challenge.

Managing to travel for so long and still get home under budget was a decent achievement.

Reunited and it feels so good

Reunited and it feels so good

2) I Traveled 14 Days

After booking my round trip flight to Madrid, it took me a couple of months to piece together some kind of itinerary beyond that. I ended up deciding to tour several European cities, but once those flights and coaches were booked I still had a significant chunk of my budget left.

Flixbus at Brussels Nord station

I was flying back on October 10 which put me at 9 days of travel, so it made me wonder how much longer I could travel for. I settled on 14 days of travel for a couple of reasons. First, getting to travel for two whole weeks on only 40,000 Membership Rewards and $400 would be pretty impressive. Also, I needed to be back in Virginia by October 15 as we were due to resume our 50 state road trip the following day by heading to West Virginia in time for Bridge Day (we’d already booked our accommodation to start October 16 before 40k To Far Away was planned). I’m actually writing this post in the car on our way to WV.

As you might have seen from my accounting post yesterday, I redeemed my 40,000 Membership Rewards for 1.25cpp using the Schwab Platinum card. That gave me a total of $900 to play with, so spread out across the 14 days that came to less than $65 per day. Spending less than $65 per day when traveling is excellent, especially when you consider the next few points.

3) I Visited 6 Countries

On the trip I visited Spain, Belgium, France, the UK, Denmark and the US. I think Greg might have spent time in more countries, but six countries is still a decent tally.

I haven’t counted Canada and Switzerland seeing as I didn’t leave the airports. With 5-6 hour layovers in each place though, I could conceivably have left the airport, but wanted to take advantage of the showers, food and Wi-Fi in the Priority Pass lounges instead.

Palacio de Cristal in El Retiro Park

Palacio de Cristal in El Retiro Park, Madrid

4) I Visited 9 Cities

Although Greg might’ve visited more countries than me, I think I’m the clear winner in terms of number of cities visited. I spent at least 4 hours in each of the following cities, although in many cases I spent even more time than that exploring them:

  1. Madrid
  2. Boom
  3. Paris
  4. London
  5. Guildford
  6. Copenhagen
  7. Atlantic City
  8. Washington D.C.
  9. Richmond
St Paul's Cathedral, London

St Paul’s Cathedral, London

5) I Ate Excellently

Before the trip, I thought I might be living on tuna wraps for much of 40k To Far Away. It turns out I needn’t have feared that as I think I ate better during the challenge than I do normally! I’m not saying I ate healthily, but I did eat excellently.

Another part of my 40k To Far Away strategy was to try food from every city that I visited. That meant I got to eat a lot of tasty and authentic food in each country and city, getting a quintessential taste of each location:

  • Madrid – Empanadas (I’m a little disappointed in myself that I hadn’t realized that’s what the “hand pies” were when I wrote about them initially! In my defence, I’d never eaten empanadas before)
  • Boom – Curryworst & fries
  • Paris – Ham baguette & hot chocolate
  • London – Scotch egg, pork pie, sausage roll, bacon roll, Monster Munch (chips)
  • Guildford – Scones & clotted cream, cottage pie and apple crumble with custard (at my parents’)
  • Copenhagen – Kylling frikadeller (chicken meatballs) and Danish pastries
  • Atlantic City – Casino buffet (because what could be more Atlantic City than that)
  • Washington D.C. – D.C. didn’t have its own food from what I could think of. However, I was so close to the White House that I figured a hamberder from Bolt Burgers would do 😉
  • Richmond – Similarly, Richmond doesn’t really have its own food although it does have a good craft brewery scene, so I went for a couple of beers at Third Street Brewing. I also ate at Kuba Kuba based on the recommendation of a guy working at the hostel I was staying at and their Cuban sandwich topped with chorizo was delicious. (n.b. I’d also highly recommend Bottoms Up Pizza, Buz & Ned’s BBQ and Cary Town Burgers & Fries – all restaurants Shae and I ate at back in August when visiting Richmond.)

In addition to that, I think I ate in Priority Pass lounges nine times, plus got to enjoy that home-cooked cottage pie and apple crumble when visiting my parents.

Tea & scones in Guildford, UK

Tea & scones in Guildford, UK

6) I Got Lots Of Exercise

In November 2017, I ran my first ever half marathon in 2 hours 22 minutes and was the healthiest I’d been in many a year. Since starting our road trip a couple of months later on January 1, 2018 though, I’d put on 30 lbs as I worked out less frequently and we’ve enjoyed trying out local food in all the places we’ve visited around the US (you might be sensing a theme here).

I’d made a concerted effort to exercise over the couple of months leading up to 40k To Far Away and had gotten up to 6 miles at a time on the treadmill and lost 10 lbs as a result. I was therefore a little concerned I’d lose some of my exercising momentum on the road trip as I’d not be jogging.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Paris is a great city to explore by foot

It turns out I needn’t have worried. I walked 10 miles at a time in Madrid, Paris, London and Atlantic City, plus 6 miles in Boom, Guildford and Copenhagen (despite having a rental car in the latter city). Many of those places I was carrying 25 lbs on my back, so it proved to be a good workout. Even better….

7) I Lost Weight

It’s not often you can go on vacation for two weeks and lose weight, but I lost 2-3 lbs while I was away. That’s despite eating more bread and bagels over the course of two weeks than I normally eat in a year and also despite the high fat content in food like Scotch eggs, pork pies, sausage rolls, clotted cream, etc.

The 40k To Far Away Diet Plan will therefore be coming to all good bookstores shortly 😉 It basically consists of cheat days every day, but balanced by plenty of exercise.

Bacon roll and sausage roll from Greggs in London

Bacon roll and sausage roll from Greggs in London

8) I Stayed Under Budget

By the end of the challenge, I still had almost $20 left in my budget – more than either Greg or Nick.

Hard Rock Casino & Hotel showing me the money

All my winnings from Hard Rock Casino & Hotel

I actually had enough in my budget to travel for a couple more days if I hadn’t had to get back by October 15th and despite the fact that…

9) I Was Able To Splurge On My Trip

Heading into the last few days of my trip, I still had more than $100 left in my budget. That meant I was able to splurge during my last couple of days by going on a Segway tour around Washington D.C., take an Uber, take several scooter rides to take it easy on my feet, have $10+ lunches in both D.C. and Richmond and more.

Being so responsible with my budget ahead of time meant that when my Atlantic City accommodation plans fell through, I was able to book two nights in an Airbnb without having the risk of going over budget.

Segway tour of Washington D.C. for less than $22 Don't mind if I do

Segway tour of Washington D.C.

10) I Took The Most Modes Of Transport

In addition to returning back home, visiting the most cities and trying the food of each place I visited, another part of my strategy for winning 40k To Far Away was to take the most different modes of transport.

Now, modes of transport might be subjective. For example, I’ve classed a rental car as being different to an Uber despite them both being automobiles. I’ve also classed the car ferry I took from Calais to Dover as being a different mode of transport than the paddleboat passenger ferry between Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Here’s a list of all the different modes of transport I took:

  1. Airplane
  2. Coach
  3. City bus
  4. Walking
  5. Rental car
  6. Uber
  7. Scooter
  8. Tram
  9. Car ferry
  10. Paddleboat ferry
  11. Subway/Metro
  12. AirTrain/Monorail (everyone sing the Simpsons Monorail song)
  13. Segway
  14. Shuttle bus

My parents also picked me up from Guildford and dropped me off at Gatwick airport the following day in their car. I’ve not included that in the tally above, but seeing as it wasn’t a rental car or an Uber, it’s sort of a 15th mode of transport.

I’d been hoping to take a regular train and rent a bike to make it 16 modes of transport, but I didn’t get around to doing either of those unfortunately.

Elizabeth River paddleboat ferry in Norfolk VA

Elizabeth River paddleboat ferry in Norfolk VA

11) I Spent Longer In Each Location

I wanted to actually experience each city I visited during the challenge, so I deliberately built in plenty of time to walk around each city to see its sights, try its food, etc.

Greg and Nick both managed to include some cool stops during their trips, but I spent significantly longer over the course of my two week journey exploring the places I visited.

Guildford Castle

Guildford Castle

12) I Created An Itinerary You Might Want To Replicate

An additional feature of my strategy was to create an itinerary that you all might want to replicate. Sure, you might not want to sleep on airport floors for a few nights, but in real life you could use additional points or credit card free night awards to stay at an airport hotel.

Every plane journey or bus ride I took served a purpose though as it took me somewhere that I – and hopefully you – would want to visit. I’m quite a practical person, so the functionality of my journeys appealed to me.

Touring Europe for a week and then spending time down the east coast of the US are both things I figured many people might want to do for themselves.

Faberge Egg at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA

Fabergé Egg at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA

13) I Went Troll Hunting – Twice!

This was one of the activities I was most looking forward to, but which was probably unexpected for most of you.

Shae and I visited The Morton Arboretum just outside of Chicago last year and loved hunting for the trolls that Thomas Dambo created there. We were then in Kentucky for 6 weeks earlier this year and found out that there were some new trolls at Bernheim Forest, so we visited them too.

I don’t know why, but I love these trolls so much. Despite being made of reclaimed wood in a similar way, each one looks noticeably different and he’s designed them in such a way that it’s like they each have their own personality.

Another of the trolls

One of the trolls in Boom, Belgium

I therefore had a blast getting to find 7 Trolls & The Magical Tower in Boom, Belgium and the 6 Forgotten Giants around Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s definitely quirky, but based on comments some of you have made on my posts and social media, it looks like I’ve inspired some of you to go troll hunting yourselves which is awesome.

Oscar Under The Bridge

Oscar Under The Bridge in Copenhagen, Denmark

14) I Got To See My Family

I’m British and my wife’s American. For the first five years of our marriage we lived in the UK and most of our vacation time involved heading back to the US to visit her (and now my) family and friends. We then moved to the US in 2009 and although I don’t visit the UK quite as frequently, a lot of our travel over the last 10 years has involved visiting friends and family around the US, UK and Australia. We’ve also been fortunate to use some of our miles and points to help friends get to travel to Europe with us in recent years.

On the ferry to the Isle of Arran

With our friends on the ferry to the Isle of Arran in Scotland

All that to say – visiting friends and family is a commonplace feature of our travel as I’m sure it is for many of you too. A few readers seemed to regard me visiting my parents and getting a free bed for the night and a home-cooked meal as cheating, but this was something Greg, Nick and I had already agreed was fair game ahead of time.

It was especially good to see my Dad during the trip. He and my mum were on vacation overseas earlier this year when he got extremely sick and had to be hospitalized in a foreign country for a couple of weeks. It was therefore great to see him looking much more healthy now. And side note – I hope I look as good as him when I’m almost 80 years old!

My sister didn't want her photo taken

Me, my sister and my parents

15) I Found The Best Fare

Greg and Nick both found some good deals on their paid flights, but I feel like a net cost of $230 for my round trip flight from Newark to Madrid was the best fare obtained during the course of 40k To Far Away. Getting transatlantic flights for only $115 each way was an absolute steal, even if it did end up affecting the rest of my strategy. Even better, despite it being a Basic Economy fare I received meals on all my flights other than Newark to Toronto, plus I earned United MileagePlus miles (albeit only a modicum of them).

Economy meal on Swiss Air Lines

A tasty meal in economy on Swiss Air Lines

Why I Maybe Shouldn’t Win

OK, so I’ve shared 15 reasons why I should win, although there’s one feature of my trip that I’m a little disappointed with. I ended up redeeming all my Membership Rewards for 1.25cpp apiece (thanks to having the Schwab Platinum Amex) rather than transferring any of them to any airline partners.

I did try to make some actual award redemptions. I wanted to fly from Hong Kong to London for only 12,500 Flying Club miles + ~$42 on Virgin Atlantic, but couldn’t get the dates to work in order to get back to Madrid in time for my return flight to Newark.

Nick had suggested in one of his posts that I could book an ANA round trip award between Europe and Africa, but I couldn’t make that work budget-wise due to how much I’d already spent on the flight to Madrid and my Greyhound bus from Washington D.C. to Newark.

Another possibility was taking advantage of the 40% Membership Rewards to Avios transfer bonus. Even with the transfer bonus though, I couldn’t justify going that route when buses and other paid flights proved to be better value.

Upon my return to the US, I’d hoped to take advantage of some deals using SkyMiles seeing as Delta is another Amex transfer partner. I’d found some screaming deals during my research such as New York to Denver for 9,000 SkyMiles +$11.20 round trip…

NYC-DEN 9k RT

…and Boston to Seattle for 10,000 SkyMiles + $11.20 round trip.

BOS-SEA 10k RT

There were similar transcontinental deals like New York to Portland OR for something like 12,000 SkyMiles + $11.20 round trip. All of these had a key feature though – they all required making the outbound journey on October 9. I didn’t arrive back in the US until October 10, so I couldn’t take advantage of any of those deals. Redemption rates shot up after October 9, presumably because it was heading into Columbus Day weekend, so that option went out the window.

I guess this does show a limitation of Amex points though – while Membership Rewards can be great for premium award flights, you can often get much better deals for economy travel by taking advantage of low paid fares versus transferring to travel partners.

Final Thoughts

Why should I win? I traveled for twice as long as the other guys, visited 9 cities in 6 countries, made it back home within my budget, went troll hunting twice and tried food from every place I visited, all while staying under budget more than Greg and Nick and hopefully putting together a trip that you yourself might want to take.

I’d therefore love it if you voted for me as the winner of 40k To Far Away, but I certainly can’t begrudge you voting for Greg or Nick as they both put together excellent trips and made great use of award redemptions. I had an amazing time over the last fortnight, so it was two weeks well spent whatever the end result of the voting.

About Stephen Pepper

Stephen Pepper is on a 5 year, 50 state road trip with his wife Shae and their dog Truffles. Finding opportunities to earn miles and points is one of the ways they can afford to do this, so he'll try to help you do the same for your own travels.

More articles by Stephen Pepper »

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Lisa
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Lisa

Congratulations on such a long, adventurous trip. I especially loved your Troll Hunting theme (if you haven’t seen the Norwegian movie, you should rent it now.) You do make good points, but like I said on the post yesterday, I mentally “knew” you had 40k points left when you got back to the States, so I was expecting some late in the game final big trip somewhere and I was let down. (I may also be biased by living on the East Coast.)

Do you think if you had to do it again you’d have booked the intra-Europe flights first and then booked the RT to make the dates work? I also was thinking you may have hobbled yourself a bit mentally thinking you had to get the *best* CPP redemption value instead of just *a* redemption.

You guys should do a “lessons learned” post of what you would do differently if you had a do-over.

Oldporkchops
Guest
Oldporkchops

Hi Stephen, Admirable trip and convincing reasons. How do I vote? Thanks for your inspiration.

HChris
Guest
HChris

Awesome trip Stephen and congratulation on “dragging” it out to two weeks, visiting beautiful cities and I applaud you for all the found. Being from Europe myself, I am always trying to convince my American friends that you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money to go there, especially once you make it to Eastern Europe. Obviously, it is a different case during summer time which brings me to my next idea:
In the future, I would love to see a challenge on how “far” you all can go on a certain budget during off season (no domestic or big international holidays etc. – such as the time between MLK and Presidents Day or after Presidents Day and before Easter) and during peak travel season in July. I would think that the trip you put together which revolved around using $900 in cash would not have gotten you as far, since busses, trains and all that stuff will also be more expensive in Europe and presumably other countries around the world. Maybe you can all find different ways for people to still go far away that are bound to travel during peak season because of family or occupation.

Grant
Guest
Grant

@Stephen, you had an amazing trip, but the thing I can’t get over is the fact that you cashed in your MR points. If the contest was who could have an amazing 2 week vacation for under $900, you would be the hands down winner. Nick and Greg should see if they could book a 2 week trip for under $900, then that would be a fair comparison.

For the next version of this competition, I would love to see the person who picked Chase UR Points only be able to use Chase CCs, same for Citi TYPs with Citi CCs, and AMEX MR with AMEX CCs.

MFK
Guest
MFK

I think you did the most interesting things on your trip, so you get my vote. I will definitely be seeking out some trolls in the future. Thanks for putting that on my radar.

Virginia
Guest
Virginia

Lovely trip and you make a lot of compelling arguments, but I’m bothered that you turned a points AND cash contrast into a cash contest. I follow blogs like this to better understand how to leverage points for outsized value.

jeph36
Guest
jeph36

Stephen, definitely glad you brought the trolls to my attention. We will probably make a day trip to Lisle, IL the first weekend of November to see the ones at Morton with our BofA cards in hand to get free admission. And we might go see the ones in KY on the way to Mammoth Cave next year.

rich
Guest
rich

Of the 3 point currencies, do you think there is one that has a strong advantage over the others?

I’d probably lean towards Chase but I’m not familiar with Citi at all.

Although it wouldn’t be for me, I do think there is a ton of interest using points efficiently on economy flights. While it can take 100,000 points to go R/T USA to Europe in business class, you clearly can do tons better in economy and have points for hotels and other activities.

And wow, 2:22. That is impressive.

Stannis
Guest
Stannis

Not using award inventory at all is a disqualifier for me I’m afraid. Especially disappointing is that you went to Canada and didn’t use Aeroplan to visit the north (e.g. 15k to Iqaluit and back).

Shadrach
Guest
Shadrach

If it is a flying competition you did not win. Your trip though compared to Nick and Greg is a significantly better trip. They both ended up in a remote destination with no place to stay, you ended up at home. You slept way better then they did even though the Atlantic city free nights did not work out, lucky for them then you would have been the only one with any luxury included. Nick showed the power of the Turkish redemption by going to Hawaii but then could not afford to sleep. I think all aspects of the destination have to be considered, getting there, what you did there, where you able to rest comfortably. The length of your trip was impressive and the trolls were my favorite. I certainly was impressed by your trip.

Sophia
Guest
Sophia

Great points!

Sam B
Guest
Sam B

Great job on putting together this trip Stephen! Of the three, this one seemed like it had the most purpose (visiting the trolls, eating a local food, etc.), which I appreciated.

I echo the people in being bummed out that we missed out on a killer MR redemption, but I do think that that in and of itself is a valuable lesson: sometimes the best deals can’t be bought with miles/points. It’s a good reminder for me to not get stuck in that box lol.

Also, not sure if I just missed it, but is there a prize/reward for winning this competition? Just bragging rights? Haha

Peter
Guest
Peter

I second the second paragraph.

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[…] I traveled for twice as long as Greg & Nick, visited 9 cities in 6 countries, made it back home within my budget, went troll hunting twice and tried food from every place I visited, all while spending the least amount of money and hopefully putting together a trip that you yourself might want to take. See also: 15 Reasons Stephen Should Win […]

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