Steve Kamb found out how to fly 56,000km and visit four continents for $US418. He's now going round the world in that trip and managed to score a weekend in Monte Carlo, Monaco, living like James Bond.
Fantastic hotel room, Martinis, tuxedo and food for about $US140. This is how he did it.
When I started travelling the world back in January, I became fascinated by the concept of actually becoming James Bond/Jason Bourne — no, not the "kill lots of people" part, but rather the "go anywhere at a moment's notice, speak multiple languages, be in peak physical condition, well-trained in martial arts and special forces tactics, and have multiple passports and bank accounts" stuff.
Sounds ridiculous right? Believe it or not, all of the things above are absolutely possible and completely legal with enough time, money, and effort.
Who says nerds can't be secret agents?
To jump start my "Become James Bond" quest, I decided to live the life of James Bond for a weekend while in Monaco, a tiny principality on the Mediterranean Coast of France. If you've ever heard of the place, then you know what to expect — unreal scenery, untold luxury, and one of the world's most famous casinos. What better place to become 007 than in Monaco?
I'm going to tell you how I did it and how you can do the same, even if you're on a tight budget. Because I love you that much.
Here's the full mission debriefing.
How it happened
Two weeks ago, I decided to radically adjust my plans and come to France instead of heading to Scotland. I figured I could spend a week in Paris crossing off a number of things on the Epic Quest list, before moving onto Monaco.
Thanks to Alex and Morgan of Wellicient.com who showed me all around Paris and helped me cross off four things from the list (climb the Eifel Tower, climb the tower of Notre Dame, visit Versailles, and see the Louvre).
After a week there, I hopped on a train down to Nice, a city on the French Riviera just 20 minutes away from Monaco.
Now, as I've said previously, Monaco is ridiculously fancy and thus quite expensive, with the nicer hotels costing anywhere from $US300-$US500 per night for their cheapest rooms.
Now, and I'm sure this is a real surprise, but $US500 per night to sleep in a bed is just slightly outside of the budget I've set for myself on this trip; thus, I figured my best plan was to stay in Nice and travel to and from Monaco for the night.
Or so I thought…
My first order of business was to track down a tuxedo — I can't gamble like James Bond without looking the part, right? Upon arrival at my place in Nice, I met a great girl named Hannah who was fluent in French. After a comical "um, can you help me become Bond?" she agreed to help me find a tuxedo.
The next day, Hannah and I went exploring Nice (which is also stunningly beautiful, by the way) until we found a costume shop that seemed promising when I checked it out online the day before. Welp, this store was full of gag gifts, novelty items, inappropriate costumes, and not much else. Damn. The only thing I could find that would help me in my quest was a cheap bow tie!
Completely depressed and disheartened with no other hope of a decently priced suit, I walked to the counter with Hannah to pay for my bow tie and then move onto plan B. I asked Hannah if she could just ask the people behind the counter if they rented suits — a complete long shot, but we had already walked all the way there
"Oui! Right this way!"
And just like that, we were whisked away to a back room full of ludicrous animal costumes…and tuxedos! Within 30 minutes, I had a tux that fit surprisingly well despite coming right off the shelf.
The best news? It was only €65 ($87) to rent for 48 hours — tre bien!
My rental did not come with shoes, so I walked down the street to a Chinese shoe store and picked up some fake fancy black shoes and socks — €22 ($30) for the shoes, €3 ($4) for the socks. After the weekend was over, I donated my shoes to a homeless man begging for money — the look on his face was absolutely priceless).
All in, my James Bond costume cost me €90 ($121), a small price to pay for the story that would come with it...
Go big or go home
After securing the tux, it was time to plan out the rest of my trip to Monaco. I continued to look online for hotels with my jaw on the floor as I looked at prices for even the cheap rooms at nice hotels.
It was at this point my travel hacking skills kicked in.
Back in June I had signed up for a Citi ThankYou Visa credit card for the lucrative bonus they were offering (50,000 Thank You points). I honestly had no plans to use the points any time soon, but I knew they were versatile and could help me with my travel in some way.
So, I hopped on the Thank You Network to see if I could use my points to book a hotel in Monaco….
For 23,000 points, I could book a decent room at a less-than luxurious hotel at the top of the hill. I then noticed that for 47,000 points, I could book a room at the Fairmont Monte Carlo, one of the nicest and fanciest hotels I've ever seen, situated literally ON the Mediterranean in Monte Carlo, a mere two-minute walk from the Casino Monte Carlo.
Looks like I was spending a night at the Fairmont.
Now, you're probably thinking "Steve, you're an idiot, 47,000 points for ONE NIGHT in a hotel? You can use those points for more travel!"
Fair enough…but hear me out. I currently have 430,000 points scattered across different airline and hotel programs, enough to keep me travelling to ridiculous locations for months and months and months.
On top of that, I signed up for two additional cards right after booking my hotel room that will net me an additional 150,000 American Airline miles, which is coincidentally the same number of AA points it cost me to book my round-the-world adventure. Don't worry, I'll tell you which cards in a minute.
You know the saying "go big or go home?" Considering I don't actually HAVE a home, big was the only option.
Bring on the Fairmont!
Arriving in Monaco
The next day, I hopped on a train to Monaco in a t-shirt, thongs, shorts, backpack and a suit bag with my tux. I arrived and immediately started giggling like a school girl — "this is actually happening" was the thought constantly running through my mind.
As I walked past Ferrarris, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins (Bond!) and so on. Then past the harbour and I strolled into the Fairmont like I owned the place.
I have to say, it's quite fun approaching the front desk of a hotel like this, looking like I did, and getting to say "Yes, I have a reservation for tonight." After hearing "yes, Mr Kamb, right this way" and "what else can I get you Mr Kamb?" I couldn't help but crack a few smiles.
I checked into my room, which was incredibly nice.
And then spent the afternoon reading at my rooftop pool overlooking the ocean.
Mind you, at this point I've still been giggling like a school girl for approximately six hours.
I lounged around til the sun set over the mountains and took a stroll from one end of the country to the other (yeah Nate, that's right… I walked a whole country and it only took me an hour and a half). It was then time to track down some liquid courage and some dinner…
After that, it was James Bond time.
I set up my laptop to play Casino Royale in the background while I put on the tux and drank my beers, and followed that up with my iTunes "pump up mix" (yes, I have a pump up mix) and proceeded to blast the two songs that would set the tone for the evening: " All I do is win" and " I'm so paid" (that's for you, Mikey and T!)
Around 10pm, I headed out for my night on the town. I looked like (and felt like) a million bucks walking around that city with my head held high and the James Bond theme song playing in my head. I casually rolled into the casino like I belonged and started the search for what game to play. Although I was disappointed to not find a Baccarat table (they must have been in the back rooms reserved for the high rollers), I decided to set my focus on Blackjack as it's a game I know quite well.
The cheapest table was €25 ($34) per hand, more than I had paid for my previous night's lodging in Nice — go big or go home, right?
I took out my predetermined amount of money from the ATM, put on my metaphorical hard hat, and went to work.
Over the next four hours, I hung tight, played by the book, doubled down when necessary, split when I could, and made big wins while minimising losses. My bank roll slowly increased, and then went for a major ride on one hand came that raised my blood pressure by 500 per cent:
I had bet €30 ($40) and was dealt 8-8 against the dealer's 4. I split my 8's, got dealt a third 8 which required me to split again. The first card dealt on my 8 was a 3, prompting me to double down. All told, I had 120 euro scattered across my three hands.
It was at this point that the guy at the end took a hit when he shouldn't have and I almost jumped over the table and punched him.
Public service announcement — if you're going to gamble in a casino where other people depend on your play (like in Blacjack), spend an hour or two beforehand learning how to play properly, or ask the others at the table for advice so you don't screw them over. We gamblers thank you. The more you know…
Fortunately, the dealer ended up busting anyways after drawing four more cards, netting me a victory of 120 euros on a single hand. BOOYAH.
While gambling, I made quick friends with two young irish couples next to me as we discussed my previous month jumping around their country. At 3am, the casino closed down, allowing me to leave with more money than I came with, an absolute victory.
The Irish couple invited me to 5th wheel it with them to a club down the street, and I quickly agreed under one condition:
They had to film and photograph me in front of the casino doing the requisite James Bond pose (first picture of this post)… and maybe some one handed push ups too — not bad at 3am, eh?
One-handed push-ups at the Monte Carlo Video
So, it was off to Johnny Z's! Or Jimmy Z's! Whatever. I don't remember the name, only that it was incredibly expensive and a complete circus inside. After a few hours of people watching (incredibly wealthy fat old men and their incredibly attractive and far too young dates) I returned to my hotel at 5am, exhausted, excited and inspired.
I lived like James Bond for a night in one of the most expensive countries in the world — not only had I not gone broke, but I actually MADE a few bucks on the experience.
Impossible is nothing
As my good friend and arch-nemesis Joel Runyon will tell you, nothing is impossible. I am a firm believer that given enough time, money, connections, and/or effort, even the most seemingly impossible task can be accomplished provided that you BELIEVE it is possible.
For this reason, I've added a new section to the epic quest list: Master Quests. Like my night as James Bond in Monaco, these are items that require a significant amount of either time, money, connections, and/or effort), so they will net me 100 per cent experience instead of the usual 20 per cent on my quest to level up.
I am a normal nerd — I graduated with a degree in Economics and immediately took a desk job. A few years back, I started Nerd Fitness as a hobby because I liked helping people. When I quit my day job last summer to focus on NF full time, I had less probably $US3000 in the bank and no money coming yet in through the site!
Two days ago, I lived like a prince in one of the most luxurious countries in the world.
Anything is possible — you just have to BELIEVE it's possible, and then find a way to make it happen.
"This sounds great, but I can't do it because of blah blah blah"
I hear you.
But I don't believe you.
Let's say you want you (and your friend/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/whoever) want to be Bond and Bond girl, Bond Girl and Bond Girl, Bond and Bond… whatever.
A long weekend in Monaco wearing fancy clothes and acting like royalty.
Sounds out of reach, right?
1) Flights: Travel-hack your way to two business class tickets to Nice, France. Sign up for the Citi Visa and Citi American Express cards on the same day. Buy regular things until you hit the spending threshold ($US1500 for the visa, $US4000 for the AmEx) within six months (while paying off the card in full each month), and you've just racked up 150,000 American Airline miles.
• Flying solo? That's enough points for a business class ticket, maybe even first class depending on where you go.
• Two people, four cards total? Enough for both of you to fly business class from the states to Europe.
• Two people, one set of cards? Fly economy at 50,000 points per flight. Still gets you where you need to go!
Simply use your points to book with one of the One World airlines that services Europe — American Airlines, British Airways or Iberia. You can see who flies where here, and how many points you'll need to spend to get there.
Oh, and a train ride from Nice to Monaco? 3.50 Euro!
2) Hotel: Travel hack your way into two or three nights at a hotel in Monaco. Again, how many nights you get will depend on how many cards you have any what type of hotel you want to stay in. I could have used a combination of airline miles and hotel points from various cards to spend more than a few days in Monaco. Like the Chase Premier Card (50,000 points — which is enough to book two nights at the Fairmont and have points left over). If you and somebody else BOTH have points, then you could book nicer rooms or spend more nights at the hotel.
3) Gambling: If you are going to gamble, learn how to play right and minimize the risk (though not completely negate it). Buy a book on blackjack or a book on craps (my favourite game) so you can learn proper betting and play strategy. Don't spend money you can't afford to lose, play at a limit that you're comfortable with, and walk away from the table when you've lost a certain amount or won a certain amount.
Oh, and do you think James Bond would pump quarters into a slot machine? Nope, and neither should you
But what about my credit score?
Credit cards can actually HELP your credit score in the long run, as long as you are paying them off in full each month on time.
Sign up at CreditKarma.com; it's free — it keeps track of how many accounts you have open, your credit history, inquiries, and more. This site has proven invaluable to my travel hacking, as I check my score at least once a month.
Yes, your credit "history" will take a few points dive for two reasons:
• Your average credit age now being younger (having just activated a card or two).
• The increased number of enquiries on your credit report (which stick around for six months I believe).
However, your credit utilization will go UP as will "total number of accounts", both of which positively impact your score. If you cancel those cards after hitting the bonuses and before they charge you the yearly fee, as long as you have been paying them in full each month and carry no balance, your credit score will be unaffected.
I have signed up for more than a half-dozen cards within the past four months and my credit score has only dropped five points, keeping me still in the "excellent" range, and I've racked up an additional 350,000 points.
No obviously I wouldn't recommend signing up for 10 cards right before you apply for a home or car loan, but if you are not in the market for any big purchases, a few cards can give you an adventure of a lifetime.
Now, this type of travel hacking is more difficult if you don't live in the US — you can still earn miles with cards throughout the rest of the world, they just usually don't carry such a high sign-up bonus.
If you want to learn more about travel hacking, check out Chris Guillbeau's Frequent Flyer Master — the book that got me started on travel hacking — or free sites like FrugalTravel Guy, One Mile at a Time, and the Points Guy for more info. I visit these sites daily.
What's your story
I encourage you to stockpile memories from events and adventures that will make you say "I can't believe this is happening" or "I will never forget this." Do not stockpile regret; there's far too much that going around these days — "remember when I/we did that? That was awesome!" trumps "I wish I had done that" 100 times out of 100.
I've lost two grandparents in the past year — my grandfather taught me the importance of a life worth living, and my grandmother taught me that anything is possible.
Life is short, so start planning today — what is one story you hope to have, and one step you can take today to get closer to making it happen? "When I have enough money" or "when the timing is right" are just excuses to keep you from putting real effort towards making things happen. Yeah, you might need to work smarter or harder, you might need to make some sacrifices or changes, and you will probably need to take a few risks, but the experiences are worth the effort.
Start planning out the specifics of what you want to accomplish by putting a concrete value on it:
• How much time will it take? • Exactly how much money will you need to save? • Who do you need to contact? • What skill do you need to learn? • Are there any shortcuts you can take?
Take your goals and dreams from the abstract and make them as specific and concrete as possible. Let me know how I can help — nothing makes me happier than helping other people get what they want out of life — I live for this stuff.
So stop waiting and start doing
Tomorrow never comes; eventually never happens.
Steve Kamb is the nerd-in-chief of NerdFitness.com, a site dedicated to helping nerds, desk-jockeys and average Joes level up their lives. You can sign up for the Nerd Fitness Newsletter here and follow him on Twitter.