Our guest today: Nonstop Dan
Nonstop Dan started his YouTube channel at age of 12. Since then, he continued to produce engaging content on YouTube (226K subscribers as of October 2018) and travel around the world (often in first and business class) while earning a below-average income (i.e. based on US income average as of 2018). By the way, he’s only 20 years old!
Who is this guy? How does he do it?
Exactly. This is why I had to invite Nonstop Dan to the podcast.
This podcast is for you if you want to start traveling, or to travel more but haven’t been able to because of money, time, or a combination of both.
If you believe travel is only reserved for the rich, think agin.
This podcast is also for you if you are a creator struggling to improve your content, engagement and grow your audience. On many levels, I find this part of the conversation even more compelling than world travel.
I believe that everyone deserves a chance to explore the world. There are endless cultures to see, places to explore and mind-opening conversations to have. I want to live a life without regret, not limiting myself by the “impossible”. – Nonstop Dan
- [06:00] You live in Sweden and have an American accent, how come?
- [07:00] Who are you and what are you known for?
- [09:00] How did you grow your YouTube channel and what is your business model behind it?
- [12:00] You are still a college student, how do you manage to attend school and travel full time?
- [13:00] What were some of the things that you learned in college and you applied to your own business?
- [15:00] How has your audience and message evolved over time?
- [16:00] When you switched to engaging with your audience in a more unique way, what were some of the reactions/feedback?
- [18:00] What is it like to be known or a bit famous?
- [21:00] How old were you when you started your channel and what was your intention back then?
- [24:00] How do you see and measure your own progress? What does progress look like for you?
- [26:00] How do you deal with negative feedback?
- [29:00] You had a major change in your videos, from ‘dan behind the camera’ to ‘dan in front of the camera’ that was very well received. How did that transition come about?
- [37:00] Do you think that being part of the LGBT community leveraged you or your creative process?
- [39:00] How did you balance going for a niche audience vs targeting people for a more general audience?
- [45:00] What would people get started if they want to travel for free or for cheap?
- [51:00] What are some of the best credit cards in 2018?
- [53:00] How does someone go from applying for a credit card, getting 60,000 points to flying business class?
- [54:00] What are some of your favorite airlines?
- [55:00] What are some of your favorite places that you’d recommend?
- [57:00] What are some of the creators you follow or that resonate with you?
- [60:00] How could people connect with you?
[15:00] Especially to young people: it’s such a numbers game, everyone is caught up in numbers and trying to get as many followers as possible. But what we don’t realize is that people can have a ton of followers but they can have very little influence, and people can also have 1000 followers but can have more influence than someone with 100,000 followers, just because they connect with their audience on another level.
[17:00] I can understand what effect that has on my audience by just feeling that I am hearing them. I do care about them and I am not just there for the numbers or for the influence.
[20:00] You are the same as everyone else who is watching your videos, and the best thing you can do is to help them and support them and be kind.
[25:00] What YouTube has really done is to give me confidence that whatever I pursue in my life I will improve that, and I have the chance of succeeding. Even if I suck at something in the start, it’s almost guaranteed that I will get better as long as I stick with it. The one thing I really learned from my time there is perseverance.
[46:00] The biggest problem that I always notice is the mentality. SO many people think that they can’t travel. They go on vacation once a year and that’s it. They say they want to travel but there’s a block somewhere.
[57:00] Anything you watch can be a learning experience. You could watch the most seemingly worthless YouTube videos or programs, but there’s a reason you are watching them, they are probably quite popular, they are doing something right and if you can figure out what that is and adapt it to what you want to do, I think it’s very valuable.
[59:00] Even if you are young, don’t let your age stop you, don’t postpone things until you are older, until you are ready or you are not prepared. Even if you are 10. If you have a passion, that’s such a blessing to start with. Use that passion and try to express it, do something creative with it. It’s even more rewarding than the passion in itself.
Transcript of Interview with Nonstop Dan.
Fei Wu [6:10] I have a question. I know you live in Sweden, and your dad is from New York.
Dan [6:19] Exactly. But I was born in London, actually. So I lived in the UK until I was nine. And then my parents got divorced, so my dad moved home to New York and I moved to my mom’s home town in Sweden.
Where did you get that American accent from?
Dan [6:33] Yeah, this is a funny question. I had a British accent when I was little, and I was kind of ashamed of it once I moved to Sweden. I know it’s weird because everyone when you’re older loves a British accent, but when I visited my dad in the US, my cousins and other kids would be like “Why do you talk so weird?” And then in Sweden American pop culture is so big, so I just thought it was cooler to have an American accent. Slowly, I lost my British accent, and then I was like “Okay, let me try to at least make it American”. I had my whole family on dad’s side to imitate, and I still spent a bit of time there. So I guess when I was about 14, it was cemented as an American accent
Fei Wu [7:17] That’s something I noticed right away. Your accent is so authentic that if I didn’t read your bio, you could be a kid from California or from New York.
Dan [7:35] Yeah. My family has a very strong New York accent. I don’t really sound like them. But, English is my mother tongue, so at least it sounds like it’s my mother tongue.
What’s your origin story? Who you are, and what is that you’re known for?
Dan [8:30] Okay, so my name is Daniel, I’m best known for my YouTube videos, my channel is called Nonstop Dan. And at the moment, I do a lot of flight reviews. I’m known to be very honest, and sometimes a little bit brutal, but I just always share my true experiences when I travel. I’m starting to do more type of tutorial videos or instructional videos to help people do the same thing because ultimately, the reason that I do this for almost nine years, is that I see that I can inspire other people, especially young people, to not be limited by their beliefs, and realize that you can travel the world and it is perfectly possible. Just look at me traveling in first and business class using techniques like maximizing credit cards, things like that, on a lower than normal income. I only have 200,000 subscribers, and it’s hard to live off an income from 200,000 subscribers.
Fei Wu [9:34] I am learning that slowly as well. Since you mentioned YouTube – I know a gentleman who’s actually working on the Feisworld documentary with me, he also has a YouTube channel with about 200,000 – 250,000 subscribers. And what I learned was that youtubers get paid through the number of downloads or views and also through the ads themselves. And what I have seen, as I’m plowing through all the videos, you had many videos with over 1 million.
How you make a living on YouTube?
Dan [10:16] There’s this common misconception that YouTubers are paid based on the number of subscribers, or based on the number of likes and stuff like that. That’s not how it works. There’s Google AdSense, which is what we put on the videos, and Google just automatically puts ads on them. So anytime a viewer watches the ad before the video, sometimes there will be ad during the video or something will pop up from the bottom – those are the times when we get paid by Google. And if someone clicks the ad, the rate increases a little more. But that’s the only way right now that YouTube will pay us. They just also introduced this thing called Channel Memberships. It’s very new, not many people use it, but I guess that’s another way that YouTube is trying to generate a steadier stream of income for influencers. Because for me, it’s a big problem, even in life when I’m trying to tell people how much I make for tax purposes or anything like that because it can vary so much from month to month. You know, if I get a viral video, suddenly, I’m making three times what I would make during a normal month. So I’m at that point right now where I had one last month that really took off, and now I’m wondering: “Okay, so next month, how much will I make?” It’s so hard to predict. So it makes it difficult for me to know how should I be spending my money or how much should I be putting away for tuition and things like that.
Fei Wu [11:44] And you’re only 21! When I was that age, I really wasn’t thinking too much about finance. I was learning a lot of that on my own. But I’m really glad that someone in your position is able to start thinking about it, about how you’re getting paid, where the money will go.
How do you manage to attend school and travel full-time?
Dan [12:10] I’m starting my sophomore year now. I’ve only done my freshman year. In Sweden, everyone graduates high school under 19, so I didn’t take three gap years, but I am studying full0time, as you said. What makes my university really unique and quite a perfect fit for me is that every semester, the entire student body moves to a new country. So I get an excuse to travel. So this fall, for example, I’m moving to South Korea, and I’ve never been there before. That gives me a reason to explore as much as I can. And people at my school understand besides my YouTube channel, that we haven’t been to many places around there, so we want to go out, we want to see as much as we can, especially when we have the chance to spend four months living there.
Fei Wu [13:02] What is that you study?
Dan [13:05] Just like any US school, my school allows you to study a wide variety of things. It’s a liberal arts college, so you can study everything from theoretical science to social sciences, business, computational science. And for me, I’m very interested in politics and those types of things. So I’m studying social sciences, but also business because it’s very useful to apply right now. I can take what I learned, try to apply it on my YouTube channel and see what happens. And then it’s kind of trial and error, but so far, what I learned last year has been super helpful for my channel.
Fei Wu [13:44] Can you give an example?
Dan [13:47] So we spoke a lot about organizations and trying to find a purpose, something to drive you more than just a short term goal. Posing these questions made me really think: “Okay, what do I want to do with my channel more than just reach 200,000 subscribers or get a video with a million views?” There’s so much more to YouTube than that, and I think you can connect so much better with your audience when you identify what is important to you. Then you can tell your viewers about that, and hopefully they will resonate. It just creates a stronger community, a clear path of where to go.
Fei Wu [14:24] I think it’s very true. We have interviewed several YouTubers, and also people who are very successful on Instagram. And the stories I love so much is not because they necessarily have 2-3 million followers and very few interactions, but instead, they have what I think is very close to 1000 true fans and a lot of comments and engagement. I think it takes certain maturity and awareness to really think about that.
Who is our audience?
Dan [15:11] I love what you said. I think, especially to young people, it’s such a numbers game, everyone gets caught up in trying to get as many followers as possible. But what we don’t realize is that people can have a ton of followers, but they can have very little influence. People can have 1000 followers and have more influence than someone with 100,000 just because they connect with their audience on another level. So that’s what I’ve been realizing too. And given that I’ve kind of grown up with my YouTube channel, I’ve had so many different perspectives on what it is to me and what I want. Now just part of studying at university made me realize that it’s not about the numbers, it’s about a genuine connection. Just a year ago, for example, I felt like it’s hard to respond to stuff. But now I truly do try to respond to every single direct message I get, I try to like and reply to as many comments as I can, just to connect with my viewers because they know me, they see me through my videos, but I don’t really know them. And I don’t want it to be this one-way street where they’re just getting an input from me. I want to hear what they think and really engage with them on a deeper level, so that we can build the stronger bonds.
Fei Wu [16:28] Wow, you probably have noticed a change or a difference right away. What was some of the feedback from the audience?
Dan [16:34] I just notice now. It’s kind of like an evil cycle, but it’s an amazing cycle to have. When I started to respond to DMs, suddenly, I’m getting feels like I’m getting even more DMs all the time. They’re just increasing and increasing. And people write me and say: “Hey, my friend told me about your videos, I found them and I love them so much”. And then another one is like “Hey, this friend told me about you”. So it creates this network effect. And I noticed that myself with influencers – if I ever DM them something like “looks beautiful” or reply to their story, and they answer me, I just get so happy! So I can understand what effect that has on my audience, just feeling like I am hearing them. I do care about them, and I am not just there for the numbers, or for the influence.
Fei Wu [17:36] That’s a lovely message, especially from someone of this young age! It means a lot. And it’s, in a way, what I’ve been doing. The podcast has been around for four years, and your channel started in 2010, so I realized that we both are speaking to a very specific cohort. We don’t have an insane amount of subscribers, but the people are engaging at a much deeper level, which is just so satisfying! So I completely understand where you’re coming from.
How do you not let fame get to you?
Dan [18:54] Well, I wouldn’t exactly consider myself famous yet. Um, I think that, as I said, it’s very important to stay grounded. And if you get caught up in this idea of being famous and being better than other people, that will just ultimately have a negative consequence. And what we see with a lot of YouTubers, I’m really starting to realize this as well, that the big YouTubers who have had a demise, the reason for their demise is that they become commercialized. They start hanging out with regular celebrities, and they lose this genuineness, they don’t seem like a real person anymore. They’re not relatable. And that’s what leads to their downfall. But then we have some YouTubers like Shane Dawson, and he’s been on YouTube for 10+ years. He keeps reinventing himself. At this point, he has almost 20 million subscribers, his videos get like 10-15 million views, and he is genuinely a huge celebrity. But through this all he has never lost sight of the fact that the reason he is here today is because of his viewers. And he’s so dedicated to them, that he just doesn’t let anything else get in the way. And I think that’s what’s so important – regardless of how big you are, just realize that you are the same as everyone else who’s watching your videos, and the best thing you can do is try to help them and support them and just be kind.
Fei Wu [20:26] I like that a lot. I’m also hearing that the personalities and the psychologies are changing rapidly on YouTube, and a lot of youtubers actually quit, unfortunately, as a result of it.
So let’s talk about creativity for a second. My favorite thing to do on YouTube is to go back to the very first video anyone has created, especially the famous people. And I do this because so many people will follow podcaster and go back to episode number one, and I remember how nerve wracking that was when somebody said that to me that they watched the first episode. I would ask them why, and they would say: “I want to see how you evolved”. And all of a sudden I asked myself: “Why am I feeling ashamed?” I shouldn’t be because we all have a starting point.
How did you start the Nonstop Dan channel? What was your intention?
Dan [21:29] I was 12 I started my channel, so I was really a little boy pre-puberty.
Fei Wu [21:35] How did you feel, if you still remember?
Dan [21:43] Well, as for most 12 year olds, mostly, my life was about having fun. I was trying to just get an outlet for my creativity. I’ve loved planes my whole life, and I guess just about a couple months prior to starting my channel, I started watching some YouTube videos of flight simulators and some plane spotting, things like that. And without much thought I just figured I want to do this too.
It wasn’t really about sharing anything, it was just about creating something. I saw what other people were doing, and I wanted to copy it, so I started uploading terrible videos. Thankfully, those aren’t on my channel anymore because if you really got to see my first video, you would be like “What on earth is this?” I was recording my computer screen with like a little handheld camera. It was just terrible.
For a few months, I was getting like 10-15 views. But to me, that was so much! Then I started getting like 10,20,30 subscribers, and you just slowly evolve. I think it’s interesting when you mentioned your podcast because I always feel like I try to up my game with every single video, so each one is supposed to be better than the last. Even if you go back three months, six months, I’ll be like “Oh, no, are you watching that video? That’s terrible”. I can’t even understand sometimes how people like watching those videos, but then I remember that in six months time, I’ll probably be feeling that way about what I’m making now as well. So it is a constant evolution. And especially having grown up with this, not only has my production quality increased, but just the way that I think about it and how I can logically reason that is important. Maybe people will find this interesting, and this other thing they might not find so interesting. When I was little, I just posted whatever I wanted.
Fei Wu [23:56] You’ve mentioned progress. I noticed in my 20s and up to my early 30s, I was working for different companies, and a struggle and a pain point that everybody had in their private conversations, was “Am I making progress?” And it was really hard to tell, it’s not always an accurate measure because sometimes not always the best and the most creative people get to move to the top of the corporate ladder. But I think what you’re describing in such a young age right now, is the fact that you can sense what progress looks like.
How has that transformed your life to know that you can get better and it’s not a death sentence if something doesn’t work out?
Dan [24:56] I love that question so much. A I think what it’s really done is it’s given me confidence that whatever I pursue in my life, I will improve at and I have a chance of succeeding. So even if I suck at something in the start, there’s always a chance or, actually, it’s almost guaranteed that I will get better as long as I stick with it. I don’t talk about this so often, but the one thing I’ve really learned from YouTube, is just perseverance. Because I’ve been on there for so long and bad stuff has happened, like, my channel got terminated ones because someone hacked me, or my AdSense got shut down when I was 14, all this stuff. And I just thought through it, I wasn’t like “Okay, I’ll just give up on my channel”. I emailed everyone I could. This was not my doing, even though my channel was small. And they managed to reinstate it. I got AdSense back, all this stuff, just by pushing through and realizing that everything that happens is ultimately a learning experience and you can come out of it so much stronger. There are such amazing things that can happen when you persist with something and don’t just give up as soon as the results start getting less satisfying or you start feeling less satisfied by doing something.
Fei Wu [26:17] It’s beautiful. I always tell people, it’s hard enough to be a creator because what you’re doing is you are putting something out in the world that simply didn’t exist before. A version of it did, but you bring in your own perspective.
How do you deal with the turbulence and negative comments on YouTube?
Dan [26:54] Sometimes it’s hard not to take comments personally, but you got to try to realize that these people don’t know you. They’re angry at something in their own lives, and they’re trying to take it out over you. And YouTube is really one of those platforms, where people can say anything they want anonymously, there’s no consequences. People will show that they don’t like you however they can.
Also it is just about persevering because although the hate sucks, to some extent, that means that you’re succeeding and reaching more people. And you’re at the point where you’re obviously doing something where a few people feel so intimidated or insecure by what you’re doing that they feel the need to be very aggressive toward you. So yeah, I just try to view my hate comments as a positive thing, I really do. Sometimes it’s hard, but I’m like “Okay, this is the price of success. This is just a small cost for all the other amazing comments I’m getting, and the positive developments that are occurring”.
Fei Wu [28:03] I find a level of maturity with people who start creating when they’re younger to be on a completely different plane. If you have to look back to before age 12, when a cousin or friend would say something to you, you would think for a second: “Oh, that’s not fair”. Obviously, there is also that real relationship towards that person. But when somebody who really knows nothing about you and can literally just start trolling and say something completely irrelevant, you need to be able to put that in a different perspective.
Dan [28:38] And I assume later in life, I’ll be able to apply this in other areas. If I have critics in real life, then I can hopefully take that with a grain of salt and use the same lessons I learned on YouTube.
Fei Wu [28:58] That’s wonderful. I find very intriguing how you have changed the way you structure the video. So I was looking 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014. It took a few years for you to go from the silent and minimal Dan to now, when you’re really being front and centered. And that’s when your personality, everything really came through.
What was the transition in your videos like through the years?
Dan [29:32] Yeah, that was hard for me when I was younger, because at first, I only made videos in a flight simulator. So it didn’t really make sense for me to be in my videos. But then I started thinking that this is not really sustainable. There’s only so many people that enjoy watching a wing view video or a plane spotting video, things like that. And I knew that I had the potential to reach so many more people, and the key in doing that would be showing myself on camera and letting them get to know me a little bit more. But I guess I started with showing myself on camera in 2014. I made my first vlog style video. And I still struggle with it, being vulnerable and being honest, because it’s so hard for some people to put themselves out there on the internet. And, you know, the more personal and vulnerable you get, the more painful the hate comments can get because they really know more about you. They know how to hit close to home. But back in the day, if someone said “Oh, this wing view video sucks”, I’d be like “Okay, whatever, I don’t care, they’re not offending me. They’re just saying that they didn’t enjoy the video”. But you also realize that the biggest YouTubers are the ones that are as honest and vulnerable as possible. And it’s such a journey to get there. I think it’s a learning experience to be more vulnerable in real life as well. Because just as I have a hard time being vulnerable on YouTube, I also have a hard time being vulnerable with strangers. I think there is something so valuable to being able to talk to strangers about how you’re feeling.
Just an example – I was at this graduation party in May, and I met this woman I had never ever seen before. And she just tells me: “Yeah, Daniel, I admire you so much for being out with your boyfriend”. We live in a relatively small town, my son is actually transsexual, and it’s been a very hard journey for him. So just having other LGBT people in the town who can be proud and out is a very big deal. And then she started talking about a lot of issues they she had at home, and she really, really opened up and I was like “Wow, this woman feels like such a close friend all the sudden”. I just met her, but I feel like I could talk to her for hours. It creates this bond versus small talk and being inauthentic. Just talking about general stuff, it doesn’t really get you there.
So I want to learn to be as out there as possible, but it is a journey. And also, of course, as a teenager, especially, you’re always scared of being judged. High school, for example, is a very judgmental time. So also, now that I’m out of high school, I guess I have just more perspective, and as time goes by, it’s okay to be more and more open and show more and more of myself.
Fei Wu [32:46] The way you describe that building an authentic relationship – it’s such an incredible journey because there is so much small talk everywhere else, even with people who supposedly know you really well.
Fei Wu [0:01] We love interviewing people from the LGBTQ community. And we’ve had the chance to do so much of that. But to be quite honest, some of that is intentional. Some of it isn’t because so many people from LGBTQ are doing amazingly interesting things we couldn’t, it doesn’t even come up sometimes.
How does it impact you at the creative level?
Dan [1:35] Well, so being from Sweden, firstly, I’m very fortunate that I live in such a liberal society, there’s not really that much stigma toward LGBT people. Although it’s not so common to see, most people are quite accepting if they ever meet someone who’s gay or trans. So, unfortunately, I do feel I should be as open as possible in my videos, but I don’t feel as much of a responsibility to be an ambassador for the LGBT community or try to change people’s minds. Ultimately I think the best way to change people’s minds is just by being yourself. And in my videos, that’s also something I don’t make a big deal out of. I’ll just sometimes mention my boyfriend, or in my Instagram Stories I’ll put up like “Oh, I went to this Pride Parade”. It’s just one part of my personality. It’s not a huge deal. I’m not trying to sell myself, I’m not trying to be the gay influencer or something like that. That’s just one small part of what makes me up as a person.
Fei Wu [2:44] What was that decision process like, to put a label on yourself and make it really easy to target and sell to certain people versus being a little more generalist and having a little more creative freedom?
Dan [3:15] Yes. So for me, I’m on YouTube because I love planes, I’m not on YouTube because I want to show myself off or because I want to do tags and those types of videos. I just love travel, I love flying. And that passion can fuel me through whatever. That has also helped me persevere just because even if times are hard on YouTube or something like that, I still love planes, and I still am going to fly as much as I can, so why not share it? For me, it’s just logical that my videos should always be about my love for travel and aviation. For example, I think it’s very interesting what’s happening in the beauty guru community. Sometimes I am intrigued to watch them, because many reviewers, they’ll be talking or reviewing makeup products, but that’s not really the intrigue of the video. People don’t watch it because they want to see specifically if this product is good. They’re interested in the person, but the creator that’s making the video is making it because he’s interested in makeup. So that’s kind of the same thing that I’m trying to do now, that I make my videos because I’m interested in planes, and that’s who I am, and that’s always going to be in the center of my videos. But I’d love if people who maybe aren’t so interested in aviation, like I might not be super interested in beauty and stuff, watch my videos just because they enjoy it, my personality or the whole atmosphere that I create. As time goes by, I’m getting more and more DMs from people who are saying “I don’t even care about planes, I don’t fly often, I just find your videos so entertaining”. Those are the ones that make me the happiest, and that feels so rewarding to me. Because then I’m like “Okay, I can introduce all these people to my passion, I can share my passion with them and introduce them to something they didn’t know about or they weren’t so interested in before and reach so many more people”.
Fei Wu [5:27] Yeah, it just like the Patreon website that it confused a lot of people, especially, I guess, the older generation because why would anybody pay $1, $5, $10 a month to support you? Who are you? But I think people will exist, and those people who feel like they might not be able to or not interested in creating such content themselves, they’re valid for you, they’re able to see something that’s different. We have been very brainwashed by the media, we see what the media wants us to see. But I think YouTube and such channels give people the freedom to choose what they want. And I am just as guilty – I notice that I’m very into YouTube beauty videos, and I’ve been, actually, a tomboy growing up. I was thinking: “Wow, this is fascinating!” I love watching videos of Asian women putting on makeup because it’s drastically different, and there’re so many successful ones. These days, I noticed a lot of beauty bloggers have transformed themselves to become fashion designers, have their own beauty lines, but the most intriguing videos are their monthly reviews of everything.
Dan [6:56] I always just say that I think I’m so lucky to be young in this day and age. We’re just so lucky that we have several platforms, where people can be themselves and do whatever they want to do. Not only learn so much but just create and do things that they love. Sometimes I wonder if I had been growing up in the 60s, what would I be doing right now? I’m just so fortunate that I have a way to share my love for aviation that I wouldn’t really have had a way to do back then. And it gives me so much joy to be able to do that, regardless of how many people I’m reaching. Just the ability to have an excuse to do work with your hobby and spend time on it, it’s such a blessing.
Fei Wu [8:03] I realized that we love some of these meta-questions because helping people imagine how they could think about certain things and think about them differently really helps more than providing them with straight-up answers. But with that said, I stumbled upon your blog six months ago when I was trying very hard to buy business class tickets for my mom to travel between the US and China. And she has, you know, sciatica and pains in her leg.
If somebody was to get started traveling, what should he think about first?
Dan [8:55] So, many people, even most of my family members think that they can travel if they go on one vacation a year for a week and that’s it. And they say they want to travel, but there’s some kind of block. I don’t know what it is, but people just don’t realize that if you book a trip, things will work out, you’ll find a way to do it. And if you commit to going to X number of places in a year, or not postpone things that you wanted to do for so long, then you’ll find ways to do it.
You can travel even if you have just one or two weeks of vacation a year because you can also go on weekends. I literally flew back and forth to Singapore in three days one time from San Francisco, just because I wanted to see my friend. Of course, that’s completely over the top, and I don’t recommend traveling 15 time zones for a weekend trip, but that just shows that it’s completely possible to do those things, you don’t have to get exhausted. Once you get this feeling of freedom and not being tied down to your commitments, and you realize that, actually, you can be a bit flexible – that’s the first step to starting to travel more and maybe being more spontaneous with your travel patterns. But then the second thing is also to realize that you don’t have to be stuck in the back of the bus and you don’t have to pay like $1,000 or $800 round trip to Europe in economy, you could almost get business class, if you look out for the good deals on round trip to Europe for $1,000.
So what you want to do, what I always do if I’m interested in going somewhere, I’ll start searching flights, as soon as I get the idea to go there just so I get a general sense of what does it cost to fly there, what the routings look like. And then, usually, even if I’m planning to go there in three, or six, or nine, or even twelve months, that gives me a good base to later compare what I find. So I would never just go search for a flight and book it because I have no idea if I’m completely overpaying. Sometimes when you do this, you might miss a great deal because then you realize, whoops, the price is only going up and up. But most of the time, it gives you such a good base for comparison.
And also, if you really have a bit of extra time, I always use Google flights to search for my trips. And what I do is I put in as many different airports as I can. So even if I might want to go to Thailand, I’ll put all of Southeast Asia, maybe even Japan and China, to see if it’s much cheaper to fly there by having a slightly more inconvenient trip, maybe a ticket to Shanghai and then book a separate ticket to Bangkok, something like that.
Having as wide a range of comparisons to make as possible gives you a good idea of what is a reasonable price to pay for a ticket. Then once you start to realize that you can travel very affordably in economy, as long as you don’t book your tickets in May for a trip in July when everyone else is trying to travel and maybe you need to plan ahead in that case or go during less busy times of a year.
Okay, so now when we realized that we can travel economy without a problem, how can we travel in business and first class at almost the same price? That’s when credit cards are really, really valuable. And I have a no affiliation with the credit card companies, I don’t work with them. I myself started out reading points, blogs – there are a ton out there. I recommend “One mile at a time”, if you’re interested in getting into this a bit more. I just started learning about what are the best credit cards, how can I build a good strategy of not harming my credit in the long term because I don’t want to be 19 and bankrupt during a ton of credit card debt and things like that. So you want to start out slow.
Let’s assume you already have an established credit score through one credit card – do some research and apply for just one Travel Card that has maybe a signup bonus of 30,000 to 50,000 points. That’s a good start. You can work on achieving the minimum spend which will get you the big signup bonus, and you have to get that signup bonus. Don’t slack on the minimum spend. You really you have to spend this money because if you waste the big bonus, then it’s not really worth it because you can earn some points through spend. The big chunk that will get you a long way toward traveling in business or first class is the huge bonuses that you get when you sign up for a credit card.
What are some of the best travel credit cards by summer 2018?
Dan [14:59] Okay, so right now, I like American Express, but I don’t think they have the most rewarding cards. For me, Chase and Citibank have the best cards. If you’re willing to pay a high annual fee of $500 per year, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the single best credit card that exists, I think. You get a 50,000 points signup bonus, and you get, I think, a $300 travel credit, unlimited lounge access, whenever you travel, even in economy, you get all these perks that totally outweigh the annual fee. It’s just such a good starter card. Okay, you have to have an established score definitely to get this since it’s quite hard to get approved for, but if you have a decent score, and you want to get one card, this is the one to get. Then also the Citi ThankYou Premier, if you want to spend just $95 per month, that’s also a great card and has a 60,000 signup bonus.
To give you an approximate value of those points – for example, the 60,000 points from Citi you can redeem directly for $750 in travel, so you can book a flight and you get that rebate, or you can transfer it to one of their airline partners and book a one-way business class ticket to Europe, for example, which is worth, you know, 5,6,7 thousand dollars. So you’re getting a ton of value from those points. If you manage to earn about 120,000 or 130,000 points, that’s enough to go almost anywhere in the world in business class.
So what I do is I apply for a new credit card about every third month. You don’t want to do this if you’re just about to buy a house, but otherwise, it’s not so bad until you get maybe 20 credit cards. At that point, you might want to start to “polish” your collection and make sure you’re not hoarding a bunch of unnecessary expensive cards. It doesn’t hurt your credit score too much to apply for a new card at least three times a year, and then you’re getting over 100,000 points per year many times, which is enough for a whole lot of travel.
Fei Wu [17:07] This is so much information to unpack, but you said it so clearly because you’ve been doing it for years!
How does someone go from 60,000 points in bonuses from a starter card to a business class?
Dan [17:23] So there’re obviously different points and different airlines to go to different places. But these signup bonuses are worth so much, that just earning two or three of them is enough, once you transfer it to an airline, to get you pretty much anywhere.
Another tricky part is actually figuring out the airline award programs and how to find space that you need because you can’t just book any seat, you don’t transfer them to the airline and say “I want to take this exact flight in business class” and they give it to you. There has to be award space in the cabin that he wants, so you need to search around a bit. Both American and United make it really easy to do this on their websites. So if you want to fly to Europe on Star lions, which is the airline partnership that United is in, then you just search, taking the option “use miles” on their website, your preferred date, your preferred route. And then you see all the seats on that date that you can book and then it might say 70,000 miles. So then you’ll just transfer points from Chase to United and book that flight.
What are some of your favorite airlines?
Dan [18:45] Yeah, unfortunately, none of them are based in the US. It’s a shame for Americans. But the really good ones are in Asia and the Middle East. So I’d say my three absolute favorites would be Qatar Airways, Oman Air, and Singapore Airlines. And then in Europe, Lufthansa First class and Lufthansa Premium Economy are amazing. I wouldn’t use my miles for their business class, then I’d go with Austrian Airlines instead. But Lufthansa first class is great. So if you’re going to anywhere in Asia or Africa, definitely go with one of the three first airlines I mentioned because they are all amazing.
What countries you adore traveling to?
Dan [19:46] Oh, so one country that I absolutely love, it’s so cliche, especially for Swedes, but I love Thailand so much! I think the food is incredible, the country is so beautiful. It’s just a love being there. Bangkok is vibrant and amazing, and the beaches are stunning. So I do try to stop in Bangkok if I can. Sometimes I’ll purposefully book the connection just so I can go into Bangkok and eat a nice meal, and then I’ll continue on to my next flight.
Then, one of my most amazing trips was to South Africa. I also loved that so much. Although I know there are some security issues right now, I still went in 2017. And I loved it, I didn’t really feel unsafe.
Peru, if you like nature, that’s one of the most amazing places to go. I’s very affordable, but the tracks to Machu Picchu and all that type of stuff, it’s so mind-blowing, and it’s just a six-, seven-hour flight from the US. So if you’re into nature and want to see a cool new place, go to Peru, for sure.
Fei Wu [20:56] I guess you wouldn’t really have time to write for a travel blog, and mostly it’s done through your videos. Right?
Dan [21:05] Exactly. Writing is even more time consuming than videos. And between trying to keep up with my homework in college and making my videos, it’s a little too much to also do several blog posts a week.
Fei Wu [21:21] I know, I absolutely agree.
What are some of the people you follow or the books that you read, either at the moment in time or something in the past, that still resonate?
Dan [21:36] I follow the widest variety of people. I like to find inspiration in all types of people. They don’t have to be motivational speakers, it doesn’t have to be Gary Vee who’s yelling at you what to do. Even beauty guru sometimes can implicitly give you really good advice just by watching their videos. So, anyone who’s successful on YouTube or successful on Instagram, I like to just observe what they do try to figure out what’s working, and see how I can adapt that to my content.
Then Tony Robbins, I love him. I’ve read most of his books, so I really recommend if you’re trying to find some kind of motivation to get started, his books are fantastic. It’s really cool when you realize that anything you watch can be a learning experience. And you can watch the most seemingly worthless YouTube videos or TV programs, but there’s a reason you’re watching them – they’re probably quite popular and they showed up in your feed somehow, so they’re doing something right. And if you can try to figure out what that is, and adapt it to what you want to do, I think it’s very valuable. Even if you’re living with your parents, you’re a teenager, and you don’t even get stay out past 12 – if you find ways to pursue what you want to do, eventually your parents will start to understand it and accept. And in the end, they might be your biggest fans.
So just even if you’re young, don’t let your age stop you and don’t postpone things until you’re older or until you’re ready or more prepared. You can start today, even if you’re 10, whatever it is, if you have a passion that you’ve identified and that you enjoy spending time with, that’s such a blessing to start with because so many people don’t even know what they’re passionate about. So use that passion and try to express it and do something creative with it because it’s even more rewarding than the passion in itself.
Fei Wu [23:51] I love how positive and beautifully it’s said!
If people want to follow you and find you, where can they go to do that?
Dan [24:03] The main place to go would be YouTube, my name is Nonstop Dan. I’m also on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where you can find me @thenonstopdan. I also have a podcast that I launched just recently talking about my travel experiences, you can find it on the iTunes podcast app or SoundCloud, and that is called The Nonstop Dan Travel Diaries.
Fei Wu [24:28] I love it because I listened to a couple of episodes yesterday. So touching how you’re opening yourself up to the world.
Dan, what a lovely way to connect with you, so unexpected! Thank you for making the time.
Dan [24:40] Thank you so much for having me. I’m honored that I get to be on your podcast and it was so much fun to spend this time.
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