I hate driving. I don’t like driving in my own country, let alone foreign ones. It’s not that I’m bad at it. It’s just that I do it so infrequently that it makes me nervous these days. And so I’m always fascinated by people who travel by car. Back in the early days of this blog I met a group of guys driving a trip around the world. They had crazy stories. A few months ago, I announced we were going to start doing more reader stories to highlight some of your crazy stories. In our first reader spotlight, we’re talking to Ryan who is driving from Seattle down to the tip of South America with his girlfriend! (Which, let’s be honest, sounds like an amazing adventure!)

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone here about yourself!
Ryan: I’m 33 years old and originally from Seattle, Washington, but after college I spent five years working in Washington, DC in the halls of Congress. When my boss decided to retire in 2012 instead of run for re-election, I opted to take a yearlong sabbatical to road-trip across the American West and to hike and climb as much as I could. When the year came to an end, though, I wasn’t ready to give up the nomadic lifestyle, so I just kept going.

So how did you get into travel?
My first overseas travel experiences were thanks to studying abroad in college, with lengthy stays in Florence, Italy, and Sana’a, Yemen. Both trips instilled in me a sense of wanderlust that stuck with me through my years of working a desk job, and I believe they played a significant role in eventually getting me out there on the road.

What made you decide to go on this trip?
My solo road trip across the American West was an absolutely transformative experience, and the seed of driving to Patagonia got planted in my mind and took root over a few years. I began to think, why just drive across America when you can drive across all of the Americas?

I also like exploring new cultures and foods and immersing myself in different languages whenever I travel overseas. I long to get a little farther afield, to get off the well-worn tourist track, and that can be quite difficult. I’ve traveled the backpacker circuit and schlepped my bag around colorful little towns and hopped on and off public buses — but when you’ve got your own wheels, a whole new world of travel opens up and allows you to get away from the crowds and immerse yourself in local life.

I did it. I went back and forth on the decision for a long time. Like someone who just couldn’t let go, I continued with the relationship even though I knew, deep down, it was over.

But there’s always a tipping point when you must face reality — and that point was when I realized I’m just not going to fly all that much this year.

So I did it: I finally split up with American Airlines.

After years of being loyal to them and the Oneworld alliance, paying extra for flights to ensure I kept my status, and championing them on the web, it’s time to face the truth: they’ve ruined their once-stellar loyalty program and given me (and basically everyone else) no incentive to fly them over any other (crappy domestic) airline.

A few years ago, both Delta and United devalued their award charts — awarding fewer miles per flight (unless you bought high-priced tickets), requiring more miles when redeeming them for a flight (The Points Guy just recently showed a screenshot of Delta requiring 255,000 miles to go from NYC to LAX! Crazy!), reducing benefits, and requiring customers to spend a certain amount of money to maintain their elite status. Their message was clear: “We only value you if you spend lots of money with us.”

Yet (in part because of their merger with US Airways) American held out — often increasing benefits. American AAdvantage was a shining jewel in the airline industry, lauded by journalists, insiders, and consumers alike.

I went out of my way to fly American because I felt my loyalty was valued. I was upgraded often, their employees were friendly, customer service issues were often solved swiftly, it was easy to find award seats, and they were often generous in their benefits.

What’s wrong with American AAdvantage?

  • They now require elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs), but unlike United and Delta, they offer no waiver if you spend a lot on American’s branded credit cards.
  • They have upped the cost of award tickets – a lot.
  • They severely reduced saver rewards availability. It’s basically impossible to find saver rewards these days.
  • Confirmed upgrades for anyone but the top elites is basically impossible. I can’t remember the last time I got an upgrade.
  • They have slashed miles earnings on their partner’s flights.
  • They now prioritize upgrades based on status and spending (take that, million-mile status folks!).
  • How they calculate EQDs is opaque and not straightforward. One dollar spent is not one EQD earned, even if you purchase full fare business and first class tickets.

One of the biggest challenges for people is saving up for a world trip. It can be daunting trying to save thousands of dollars for your next big trip. Yet I always say “If you can’t save, go work.” The world has an abundance of jobs that travelers can get. Millions of travelers fund their trips by working their way around the world. Today, I want to profile one of our community members who does just that. Angela works as an au pair. This funds her round the world travel dreams, let’s her stay in a place longer, and get to know a culture better. Today we share her story and tips for being an au pair.

Nomadic Matt: Hi Angela! Thanks for doing this. Tell us about yourself!
Angéla:I’m Angéla and I’m 28 years old. I was born near Lyon, France, and am the eldest of four sisters. After graduating from school when I was 21, I started working as an au pair in Germany. I wanted to get out of France and work with children, so this was the perfect job! Seven years later, I’m still an au pair, currently in Japan! I love what I do because I get to travel and work with children, the two things I love the most.

Were you always interested in travel? How did you get started?
Funny enough, out of all my big family (I have three other siblings and lots of cousins), I’m the only one who likes to travel a lot! Nobody around me ever went abroad for more than a few days, and especially not very far away. So I didn’t know much about traveling, except from watching movies and pop culture.

I didn’t begin traveling until I was 21. I guess it was because I never did it that I wanted to do it. I’d always dreamed of traveling the world and seeing the places I saw in the movies

How did you decide to become an au pair?
It happened seven years ago when I was looking for a job in France and after finding nothing interesting, I decided to have a look at the au pair thing. It sounded interesting — working in another country and living with a family. By being an au pair, I would be able to have a job, accommodation, food, lots of free time, and some extra spending cash. It was perfect. I could enjoy traveling without needing a lot of money because I could use the money that I would earn during my stay. It lets me travel without huge savings.

Where have you worked as an au pair?
I’ve been to Germany, England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden, and I’m currently in Japan. I stay from eight months to one year in each country. All of them have been great experiences. I’ve been lucky enough to stay with very good people, and everybody I met while traveling has been super nice.

My favorite place has been New Zealand. It’s simply breathtaking! The landscapes are unbelievable. I can’t recommend it enough. Canada is probably my next favorite. It is a relatively safe country to live in, the people are nice, and I love the cold winters. I got to try ice fishing and totally loved it!

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