After travelling extensively across Europe, I found myself wanting to visit lesser-visited parts of the world. At the same time, I wasn’t necessarily prepared to venture to some of the destinations on my own, and I began exploring the idea of group travel.
Meanwhile, I’d been introduced to Miles & Points, and found myself in pursuit of an elevated travel experience.
In this article, I’d like to share my experience of how I’ve come to use Miles & Points to unlock some incredible experiences, including a trip to Kenya and Uganda.
Putting the Pieces Together
It all started in 2019. I’ve always been passionate about travelling, and visited most countries in Europe when I was in my 20s.
As I began to explore other destinations that I wanted to travel to, it started to become logistically challenging as a female in my early 30s.
I was initially very reluctant to do a small group tour with a bunch of strangers, and was also spooked by the idea of getting myself into a rowdy party trip situation. However, my sister assured me that there were companies out there that were a bit more laid back, and consisted of small groups of like-minded people who come together as strangers to experience travel together, rather than just party.
In May 2019, my sister talked me into doing a small group tour of Morocco for 15 days, and after that, I was hooked.
Later on that year, I wound up taking two more tours with the same company: one for 12 days in Egypt, and another for nine days in Jordan.
Immediately after that, I put down a deposit for a trip to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, which had been originally scheduled for September 2020. During the trip, there were plans to venture out on safaris, but the main goal was to do some gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Gorilla trekking has always been such an incredible idea to me. Years ago, I saw a documentary about Koko, a gorilla that could communicate in sign language. She showed emotion, empathy, concern, and humour, and I found it to be simply fascinating.
When I noticed that the same tour company that I’d now travelled with three times in one year had a gorilla trekking option, I knew that I just had to do it.
Of course, the pandemic derailed that plan, and the trip was ultimately cancelled.
As the world slowly began to open up, I went on some more small group trips to Ecuador and Colombia in 2022, as well as several relaxing trips to Mexico. However, I wanted to hold out until restrictions were fully lifted in the three countries covered on that specific trip to Africa, and finally rebooked it for June 2023.
Getting Hooked on Miles & Points
Meanwhile, I was introduced to the Prince of Travel community through a friend back in late 2021. He was regularly posting stories and pictures of himself and his wife on Instagram flying in business class all over the world.
When I previously travelled, I’d always gazed longingly at the business class section when I boarded the flight and thought, “This will be me some day.”
Curious, I asked my friend how he did it, and he promptly sent me a referral link for an American Express Cobalt Card. He then advised me to absorb everything I could on the Prince of Travel website and the corresponding Facebook group.
Little did he know that he was creating a monster.
I spent almost a full year collecting points and learning as much as I could from Prince of Travel and the community. After maximizing the welcome bonus from the Cobalt card, I moved on to the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card.
Fast forward to one year later, and I’d accumulated enough points to book a business class flight to East Africa. At this point, it was going to be a bit of a challenge to get a good redemption option with only seven months away.
I booked a Points Consulting session with T.J. to help me with the redemption process, since I was so nervous about messing up my redemption and wasting my hard-earned points. T.J. taught me exactly what to do and what to look for, and gave me some pointers so that I’d be comfortable making future points redemptions myself.
At the time, the options were definitely limited to East Africa for my dates, and I ended up choosing EgyptAir business class from Toronto to Nairobi with a layover in Cairo for 90,000 Aeroplan points. T.J. cautioned me that EgyptAir was certainly not a top-notch aspirational experience, but I was so excited to fly in business class for the long flight that I didn’t even care that the airline doesn’t have the best reputation.
In retrospect, I now understand why the EgyptAir experience has the reputation that it does, but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. As a dry airline, I missed out on sipping Champagne, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.
The food was rather mediocre, but I found the flight attendants to be friendly enough. The seats weren’t totally lie-flat, but it was certainly a better option than sitting in economy.
When I got to Cairo, I had a 13-hour layover, and instead of going into the city, I chose to book a room at the Le Mériden Cairo Airport Hotel.
By this point, I’d acquired the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card, and collected some points on the short stay. I also scored a nicer room with my Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, which came as a perk on my Business Platinum Card by American Express.
After a relaxing day at the hotel, I walked back to the departures terminal, and took off on my overnight flight to Nairobi.
Safaris & Chimpanzee Trekking in Kenya and Uganda
In Nairobi, I had a couple of days before I met with the rest of the group that I’d be traveling with.
In the first few days, I visited to the giraffe centre and fed giraffes at the famous Giraffe Manor hotel, and made a stop at the Elephant Orphanage, too.
I also spent a day touring Downtown Nairobi with former street children on a storytelling tour, which was one of the most insightful tours I’ve ever done.
After a memorable few days, I met my group for dinner on the third night. We were a total of seven women from all over the world for the first leg of the trip, and all but two were travelling solo.
In total, we spent four days in Kenya doing safari drives in Masai Mara National Reserve. After that, we flew together to Uganda on Kenya Airways.
When we arrived in Uganda, we picked up five more people who joined the trip: two couples, and a friend of one of the women in the original group of seven.
From there, we travelled across Uganda together, doing safari drives, swamp walks, community visits, and a chimpanzee trek.
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
While the experiences up to this point were certainly incredible, the highlight was the gorilla trek in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Gorilla trekking can be done in three different countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Rwanda is very expensive to go gorilla trekking, and DRC is generally unsafe, but Uganda is both safe and half the price of Rwanda.
The whole experience is tightly controlled by the respective governments. You have to have a trekking permit in advance (which is usually arranged by the tour company), and you only have one hour to spend with the gorillas.
When you arrive at the park at the designated meeting time, you’re divided into groups of eight, and each group may trek anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours to find a gorilla group.
Porters from the local communities are available to carry your bags, and help you walk through the “impenetrable” forest, which is incredibly dense and steep.
My porter, Precious, not only carried my backpack for me, but helped drag me up the side of the mountain at one point. That said, my group was incredibly lucky, as we found our gorilla family within 15 minutes.
There were 13 members of the family, including the largest silverback in the park and a retired silverback, as well as a mother and an infant. The hour spent with them flew by, and time was up before I knew it.
We hiked back to the road to be picked up, but much to our delight, the gorilla family followed us to the road and crossed one by one, giving us bonus time with them. The guides said it was incredibly rare to see this, and reiterated how lucky we were.
After the trek, we drove down to Kigali, Rwanda the next day, and said goodbye to the group.
I made my way back home from Kigali to Cairo (with a technical stop in Entebbe), in EgyptAir’s business class once again. This time in Cairo, I had 16 hours before my next flight, and met with some colleagues who took me to the pyramids and a museum to see some mummies.
I had a room at Le Méridien Cairo Airport booked again, but this time I only spent about three hours in it because I was so busy sightseeing.
At the airport, I made good use of Star Alliance Gold Track for priority security and immigration, which can be very challenging and rather chaotic in certain countries.
I also had lounge access, which although it wasn’t the most polished of lounges, it certainly made the experience more comfortable.
In Toronto, my flight to Vancouver was delayed so I spent some time hanging out at the Maple Leaf Lounge Toronto (Domestic).
Finally, I flew home from Toronto to Vancouver in Air Canada business class, and enjoyed my first famous parsley omelette.
Plenty More to Come
Since booking this dream trip with T.J., I’ve managed to book two other trips on my own using the tools and techniques that he taught me.
In November 2023, I’ll be traveling from Toronto to Buenos Aires with Air Canada, which I booked for 64,000 Aeroplan points. By using the Latitude Attitude, my eUpgrades cleared instantly, which granted me with the comfort of business class on the way there.
On this trip, I’ll be joining another small group, and we’ll hike in Patagonia for eight days before spending a few days in Iguazu Falls.
For my return flight, I used 58,000 Aeroplan points and booked directly into business class to return from São Paulo to Toronto.
To get home, I booked a cash fare from Toronto to Vancouver, to help with my Status Qualifying Miles and Status Qualifying Dollars for maintaining my Aeroplan Elite Status for next year.
I’ve also managed to branch out from Air Canada, and booked my first flight to Asia for February of next year. I managed to score flights from Seattle to Hanoi via Taipei for 75,000 Aeroplan points in EVA Air business class. I’ll be doing a small group tour of Vietnam and Cambodia, and will wind up in Bangkok.
To return, I’ll be flying from Bangkok to Seattle via Taipei, also in EVA Air business class, which I booked for for 87,500 Aeroplan points.
I’m incredibly grateful for the education and support of T.J., Ricky, and the entire Prince of Travel team and community for making aspirational travel a reality for me. I would have flown to these destinations anyway, but now I can do it for basically free in the comfort of business class (or even First Class!).
Now, I have spreadsheets with lists of other adventure trips that I want to take over the next several years, with Miles & Points strategies outlined for each.
Now that I’ve started this, I’ll never stop, and I can’t thank Prince of Travel enough.