By: Dali Carmichael
Though it was 30 years ago, Robert Brandon clearly remembers the first time he flew by himself.
He was six.
Accompanied by an assistant and proudly sporting a tag that displayed his status as an independent, he felt a sense of wonderment as he flew from P.E.I. to Toronto.
“I still remember that trip,” said Brandon, 35, now an Algonquin professor specializing in computer information systems. “I was so excited. You know, I remember walking to school thinking, ‘I’m going on an airplane by myself!’”
“I’ve always liked traveling,” he said. “Probably, it started because I got sent on that plane to Toronto when I was six. My parents made it a habit of taking us to different places.”
Since that first trip, Brandon has travelled extensively. On his most recent adventure, he spent a seven-week span from June to August literally flying around the world, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
This may not sound like a unique venture, however, Brandon paid for the majority of his travels differently than most: he used Aeroplan points.
He first heard about the Aeroplan program several years ago. Brandon knew that his wife, who hails from South Korea, would want to return home so her family could meet their new son. After learning that he could book an international flight for 75,000 points, he began stockpiling. By using the rewards program, he was avoided spending an extra $2,000 on a plane ticket. He’s used this system to pay for his travels ever since.
After riding the rails from Ottawa to Montreal, Brandon, his wife Kumha Lee, 39 and their son R.J., 3 at the time, set off to start the European leg of their world tour. They had a short connection in Zurich, Switzerland then flew to their first stopover in Nice in the south of France.
Following their stopover, the Brandon family flew through a string of connections in Europe. They stopped in Poland, Germany and Denmark, spending 24 hours at each airport and touring the surrounding cities.
“I was very careful to pick out airports that I knew were very efficient,” said Brandon. “Places that we could get into the city from the airport in a very reasonable amount of time.”
In order to aggregate enough Aeroplan points to travel, Brandon turned to Flyertalk, an online tool that allows its members to establish forums where they can share the best ways to collect points.
“There are a wide variety of ways to get points, it doesn’t always involve spending a lot of money,” said Brandon. “You can fly and earn points that way. Or you can buy orange juice and earn points that way.”
From Copenhagen, Denmark, the Brandons took a long-haul flight into Bangkok, Thailand for their second stopover. There they parted ways for two weeks: Brandon went off by himself, with only a seven-kilogram bag to travel southeast Asia. Khuma Lee—a less avid traveller—and little R.J. flew into Seoul, South Korea to visit their family.
It was through Flyertalk that Brandon discovered the Mini Round The World package. Exclusively available through Aeroplan, the Mini RTW allows for 10 connections that can last up to 24 hours. It also includes two stopovers that last as long as you would like. The only restriction: the trip must be wrapped up within a year.
“In south Asia, there are a lot of low-cost carriers,” said Brandon, “and here’s what I mean by low cost. Flying from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia: $75. From Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu, that was a $25 flight.”
Throughout his trip, Brandon used Tripit, a program that stores your itinerary in one place. Brandon downloaded the app to his iPad and used it to keep track of his many flights, train rides and bus trips.
From Kota Bharu, Brandon used boats and taxis to travel to the Perhentian Islands off the coast of Malaysia, where he spent six days learning to scuba dive.
“I’m really glad I did it. I went there with no plan,” said Brandon. “You don’t want to plan out every second.”
Brandon is an experienced traveller, but this trip was special for him. It was one of his long-time goals to fly around the world. As such, he wanted to organize every little detail himself: he essentially became his own amateur travel agent.
To book his trip, he used an online resource called KVS Availability which “essentially gives you the same interface travel agents use,” according to Brandon. “I was able to dictate my own itinerary.”
From the Perhentian Islands, Brandon carried out his adventures through parts of Vietnam, before meeting up with his family in Seoul. They spent much of their time touring local islands and exploring the Yeosu 2012 Expo, a world fair that exhibited technological advancements from around the world.
After three weeks in South Korea, they left for their final destination, a connection in Beijing. Brandon was especially taken by the Forbidden City and the tranquility he found within.
While Brandon stressed that it was imperative to leave time open to discover the local landscapes when you travel, he acknowledges that the more you do research, the better the (and the cheaper) your trip will be.
Brandon says that he is now in a period of austerity, though he is starting to plan his next trip.
He says that he would like to go to the Caribbean to use his new diving certificate, but in reality it’s difficult for this Algonquin adventurer to pick only one place.