Jul 24, 2023 | Podcast, Your Business

How to Travel the World for Free with Zac Hood

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About the episode:

I know you may have read the title for this podcast episode – How to Travel the World for Free – and thought that it’s impossible or maybe even feels a little like a scam? But I’m here today to tell you that it’s totally possible, and it’s something my husband and I do often! I’m so excited to have Zac Hood, founder of Travel Freely, on the show today to share how you can utilize credit card miles and/or points to not only travel for free, but uplevel how you travel, where you stay, and the activities you get to enjoy. Zac is also an introvert and shares how this has been a superpower for him as he’s developed his website and app. You’ll really enjoy this episode and will probably be ready to plan your next trip (for free)!   

Topics discussed:

  • The reminder that there’s always room for your unique approach for the services you provide and that even as an underdog, you can be successful 
  • Finding power and confidence through finding peace within the relationship you have with yourself
  • How Zac’s experience playing travel tennis and coaching was the catalyst for his interest in credit card points and eventually Travel Freely
  • Why a lean business model works so well for Zac and why, as an introvert, he chooses to have a small team and use a website and app rather than 1:1 coaching 
  • Getting comfortable with knowing that your business isn’t for everybody and how this knowledge can lead to more success
  • Some of Zac and Catherine’s travels that have been free and what they loved about them

About Zac:

Zac and his wife Virginia live in Denver, CO and have been traveling for free for over 10 years. Zac’s approach to free travel has earned free flights (and often free hotels) in South Africa, Greece, France, Italy, Iceland, and more. Helping people to accomplish their travel dreams for free was the inspiration for Travel Freely.

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Work with Catherine:

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Click here for a raw, unedited transcript of this episode

Catherine A. Wood  07:43

Like I said to you, before we started recording, Zack, I am just thrilled to have you on the podcast today, one of my own, like, personal favorite pastimes is maximizing new credit card offers. So I can travel for free and you’re the the number one resource that I go to, and refer and educate myself on. So again, just thrilled, delighted to have you on the podcast. And I know you have so many stories to share. And there’s one particular story that I want to invite you to start with sharing. And I don’t, I don’t know if you know, the one that I’m speaking about. But last year, I was reading one of your blogs. And you shared that you were at a pitch Fest and you were pitching the travel freely app, and then the post you share that you were on the same stage as the point sky. And I’m just like, imagining what that experience was like building your business from nothing to to that stage. And I would just love for you to share the journey that got you to there. And I’d love to invite you to start by sharing your pronouns and then and that story.

Zac Hood  09:02

Yeah, you bet. Well, thanks, Kat. So I’m Zack. He him. And I live in Denver, Colorado right now originally from Nashville, Tennessee. And that story was very much a really cool milestone in what was a long, winding road to get to that point for being like an entrepreneur and business owner. So that was a credit card specific conference, and it was about new apps that have come out and I had spent let’s see, the whole COVID time creating the mobile app. Our website was up and running before then, but then when COVID happened, it was a lot of wondering what to do and what’s this gonna look like and the big bet kind of bold move that decided on was to just go for something new and go for something thing that we’ve been wanting to do. And that was to create a mobile app that would go along with our website. And so we went headfirst into that without actually even knowing how to create an app. And when I say we, it’s like myself and the developer and kind of business development friend consultant. And so it was another round of just a learning curve and trying to find answers and see how difficult easy whatever it would be. And so went on that road. And that took about a whole year to get from no app to creating an app for Android and and iOS. And then about another year after that, I would say a little less got invited to this app showcase. And there were, I think, five of us, and I am coming from being a nonprofit director, a elementary middle school teacher, and no it dev developer background. And I knew from just some friends in the industry that the points guy had been working on this app for several years, I knew that they’d gone through a few different rounds and develop it. And I could just imagine how much money was going into it with the, you know, world class developers and all that. And it was just me and another guy and trying to find our way. And so the reality of just being on the stage was was pretty awesome. And then my whole background and story is very much an underdog one. Like I’ve always loved underdog and considered myself one growing up in sports. So it was always tiny guy on the field or on the court, but trying to overcome that in other ways. And so that was that was another version of that of like, I was behind the little stage. And I’m watching the points guy, not the real points guy. But the representative for the app team, for the points guy presenting their app, and super nervous myself just trying to like, make sure I was going to get the laptop plugged in and know where it was going to start and all that. And so I ended up going backstage. And then I think from my time as an athlete, like once everything’s totally done, or as best it can be, then this kind of calm comes. And so I was like, this is this is cool, like this is gonna work out. And then the funny part was the points guy presentation, it took them a couple minutes to actually like login to their app to start actually presenting it and there was a big, like, five minutes are cut off. And so they got cut off before they were really done sharing, like what the app was. And so then I started getting all this adrenaline like not that from their failure, but just from like, well, they’re the big corporate entity, they’re supposed to be all slick and everything and on this elementary school teachers about to present and all that. And so yeah, I got to go on stage and I even had a slide to like poke fun at just how small travel freely is compared to the points guy was like a big 737 airplane with TPG on the side. And then it was me in this like little Jetsons or like airplane with one seater was like tiny speck next to the airplane of like, this is how I feel right now this is where we are. But then I kind of proceeded to really boldly, proudly, like, share who we are, as travel freely what the app does. And I believe it is, you know, as good as anything out there and felt really strongly about how we how I presented it and even just our approach is that we always share our best credit card offers whether we earn a commission or not. So that was really fun to share on the big stage that we’re not losing that kind of part of trying to serve people over profit. And then I think being able to share like our reviews and when we launched was actually before the points guy and they don’t even have I think to this day and Android app, but we added iOS and Android at the same time. So you definitely start start this off with a big underdog milestones story that that was you know, after that I felt that was really cool. And I think was part of a several month, timespan where I started to really grow a lot of confidence and what travel freely had become who we are. And then also I think for people out there there’s, you know the imposter syndrome of like, do I measure up with other entrepreneurs, other businesses, other apps in this case or whatnot, and at some point just kind of shedding that had skin in that time on stage as part of that, and realizing like, a lot of the things that I perceived as like weaknesses or things that we didn’t have put together ended up being really good strengths for the small business that we have and the trajectory that we’re on and being able to really listen and understand where people are what they need. And that has always been possible, because we’re a small team and talk to people using the app and needing help and all of that. So that was a really fun part as an entrepreneur, I would say, you know, if, if that was something that could be like mounted on a wall, that would be really, that would be a momento. And the one irony, sad part of what I just said was there, they like recorded all the sessions from that conference. And for some reason that that time when I was up there talking, there are internet issues. So there wasn’t any recording, it was like, the moment in time was there, and then it was lost. But anyway, that was, that was a very fun moment. To know that you can make it and there’s room for all sorts of entrepreneurs and people, different backgrounds, and very much so even the points guy was a motivation for me to create the app because I thought there was something missing from what, what the industry had at the time. So it was a full circle moment all the way around.

Catherine A. Wood  16:35

Oh, totally. I mean, I can only imagine. I can’t believe that. The the tech the, the internet went out what a glitch. But honestly, like, I’ve worked with a lot of former teachers turned entrepreneurs. And I think that teacher entrepreneurs have a real gift to be able to clearly communicate their message and their offer. And I’m sure it was amazing. And yeah, and what a cool, just like what a cool experience to have someone who was your mentor or your inspiration for starting your business, which I didn’t know, and then get to share a stage with what their company is all about, even if it wasn’t him. Like, that’s just such a cool story. And I love I love so much of what you shared, I have so many follow up questions. But I think the one that the piece that stands out most is the underdog comment, because you know, this podcast is for heart centered entrepreneurs and Empath entrepreneurs and sensitive entrepreneurs. And I think that in the business world, we’re often we’re often related to where we relate to ourselves as underdogs, because we’re potentially not as bold or not as loud or not as in your face about what we’re offering, or you know, what’s business solutions, where we’re problems we’re providing solutions for so I think that my audience will really relate with your journey of being the underdog I certainly have personally been. Yeah, other people have, you know, not expected much for me in the past. And I think that that oftentimes provides a real source of motivation, or tenacity or grit to go after what we want. And it sounds like the being the underdog, kind of wearing that archetype has been a big part of your journey.

Zac Hood  18:40

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, from a very early age, I mentioned the sports and one, even before that, before I can I even have memories like I have, I had a tumor in my left kidney when I was 18 months old, and had it removed and had treatment over about an 18 month span. So I don’t remember that. But my parents, obviously definitely do. And kind of that was something they shared with me as I was growing out of just kind of how, how lucky I was to be alive, like the doctor who was just a regular doctor found, found that on the checkup, and it was early enough to detect and remove and be able to treat and so that was something that I always had this sense that like, there’s some there’s something that like I overcame that and there’s a reason sort of I’m here and I feel very grateful for that and then that carried into sports I think most directly where I love soccer first and played a lot of soccer and I had to wear this kidney pad over my jersey that was like a football pan. It looked huge on me and but always have kids asking you know, why are you wearing that or? But I was in I was really small, but I was also like really fast and I just put my head down and I loved playing and scored a lot of goals. And so it was really fun kind of juxtaposition of like, this weird guy that smaller, but I’m scoring the goals, but to your point of you know, you and your audience, I definitely relate like I’m very much introverted and also like, ruminate, very introspective. And I’m a four on the Enneagram, kind of like dreamer romantic. And so that always stuck in my head. But I was always kind of embarrassed to be out in front of people struggle, some social anxiety, all that kind of stuff. So even at an early age, I think that really capital encapsulates a lot like I saw recently a video of like, my dad had taken of one of the soccer games and I grabbed the ball from the big like, pile of head and kids trying to kick the ball at each other and like, went down and scored and everyone’s cheering and I like, was kind of embarrassed by having that attention. And I sprinted right back to the middle of the field, and like, jumped in, stood on the spot and just waited for the play to begin. And I think that was, you know, sports was an outlet for me to be able to, like just get lost in something else and not be too self conscious about what was going on. It was like the game and the field was like more comfortable than any other place. So that carried on in a lot of ways, like kind of skipping forward to still being a small guy like growing up and throughout high school, and I ended up playing a lot of tennis and tennis was a little bit of an equalizer for height, you could be a big tall guy, but lose to somebody that was much shorter, because it didn’t really matter how big you are. And I ended up being able to play that and college. And that was a really cool experience as well. And then the underdog went way beyond now we can talk more about that, as well. But it definitely is something that has been a huge part of my story. I think like, one word that comes to mind with underdog is like being a fighter and doesn’t really matter if someone else sees that you kind of have that internal fire. And there’s definitely doubts and insecurities with that. But I think because of the being more internal, if you can grow that confidence in yourself and have others believe in you, then that that really is like a very strong foundation that can’t be shaken very, very easily when you’re, I don’t know at peace with your relationship with yourself versus needing you know, what extroverts would probably say they need more people telling them good job are on the right track. And I certainly need that too. But it definitely has been very fun and helpful to way the underdog role. And I definitely lean into that at times. And I’ve enjoyed that, in many respects, in different different places in life.

Catherine A. Wood  23:05

I mean, I’m smiling over here. I know, this is the first conversation we’ve ever really had in person. And as you’re speaking, I, I’m like, I’m just I need to know, have you ever taken the like, do you identify as a an empath or an HSP a highly sensitive person? Have you ever read anything about either of those labels?

Zac Hood  23:26

So my wife is a mental health counselor. And so I have not, I guess, like gone too deep in that, but I’m pretty. It’s pretty obvious. I definitely am in in that area. And my son who’s four is definitely highly sensitive. Kid and so yeah, I think our families Wow, a lot of it there.

Catherine A. Wood  23:50

I mean, you certainly strike me as resonant. Like everything you’re saying. And like, so similar. This was the perfect podcast guest. But the reason I’m smiling is because, you know, one of the traits of highly sensitive people is that we’re highly conscientious. You know, we’re always considering other people and keeping other people in mind and we’re often really humble. And every everything that you’re sharing, it just strikes me as very humble. Very humble, like you have a very humble personality and demeanor. And yet you’ve you’ve built something really incredible Zach like really, really beautiful and inspiring and, and make such a difference for so many so many people. And I mean I guess I just love to give you give you the the invitation to share about this, like just beautiful, Freedom creating platform that you’ve that you’ve you’ve made available for so many.

Zac Hood  24:56

Yeah, well thank you so much. I definitely think Where I have found been very shy and quiet, growing up and even into being an adult, whenever I found something that I like really care about passionate about, then it just that takes over. And so there’s been a few different rounds of that from going back to my old high school and coaching. And being starting a mentor program at an elementary school or starting a nonprofit out of college, like I was doing things that I didn’t, that I knew were not like, supposed to be in my sweet spot of like being more shy and introverted, but it was like the passion took over. And it just felt it felt normal. And I knew that that was something you know, when you identify with that, it’s like a really good thing to keep moving forward and leaning into So more specifically, like with travel freely, I think that had a very organic beginning. And now is where it’s my full time job and started another kind of sister site and app around cashback rewards and definitely feel like hitting stride in that but it was it was not definitely like a very small beginnings while I was still teaching using my teacher’s salary that was very, very tiny to like, help develop and grow it and, and so travel freely came in, its, I guess, mission and purpose is really to allow people to travel more than they ever thought or go to places they’ve always dreamed of, and make, make those dreams come true by the use of credit card rewards points and miles and learning how to do that in a very effective way without really a whole lot of thinking because you can utilize your regular everyday spending to earn these rewards. And if you do it the right way, you can earn a lot in a short amount of time. And so that was something that just happened to me first of all, like, probably around 2010. And I can go deeper into how I discovered that if you want yeah. Do you love that, please? Yeah, so I was teaching at my old high school right after college. The backstory to that was I had a back injury while I was playing tennis in college couldn’t play anymore. Went back to Nashville where I grew up to finish school, I then had the opportunity to work at my old high school with which was an all boys school and kind of volunteers tennis coach. And I found out that I love doing that. And I was very much like, scared of the corporate world and scared of like getting into like some hamster wheel of the job and couldn’t get out of and I’d seen people do that. And I was nervous about holding on to things I cared about. And I had an older brother who had an alternative kind of path after college, which was inspiring to me. So I basically decided to go back to my old high school and took the job of intern where I did get paid, but pretty small salary and get to teach and coach and work in the counseling and alumni development office and all that. And anyway, while that was going on, near the tail end of that I had had this, I had been dating my wife at the time for a while and was becoming more serious and was remembering this like pact I made with myself, which was about 10 years prior when I was 18. So I’m jumping around my timeline a little bit. But when I was 18, I used to be a really good tennis player had the chance to go to southern France and play in these tournaments around the small cities, which was like extremely epic, but also in in a lot of fun. And one of the coolest early cultural experiences I had. And there was a part of the city that was like our home base, which is a really small town next to the Italian border. And there’s a small part of the old town up on the top of the hill. And there’s a big church that was built by like the Royals of Monaco and like the 1600s, I believe, and had this cobblestone floor to it. And anyway, that was a place I found on one of my last nights over the six weeks that I was there. And I just had this voice in me say this is where I’m going to propose to my wife one day, and it was just a very weird but like, confidence feeling and also ironic because I had not even had a girlfriend at that point like and so that was just very weird but romantic and memes like this is the coolest spot I’ve ever been to and had that feeling. So then fast forward about 10 years later, when that became real, I very much like, remembered that and had had thought about it. And it was just sort of something that was a flickering light, I would say that basically it was like, well, that’s not very practical. And that’s pretty hard to get over and do and the budgets not there, that all that kind of thing. And literally a few days later, after I’d kind of like, gone away from that idea. A friend emailed me, who was older than me and kind of had been in the credit card world a little bit to get free stuff. He emailed me about this offer that was for a ton of points and marketing said it was enough for two round trip, free tickets to Europe. And if you met about $2,000 worth of spending three months, I think. And so I actually emailed him back and I said, you know, despite all the dreams, and in the hope of that southern France proposal, I said, like there’s no way that’s true. Like there’s a gimmick, and there’s fees, and there’s all sorts of hidden stuff. And I was just like, totally not believing it. And then a few days later, he had already gotten the card, and he had hit his bonus. And he his miles showed up in his account, and he sent me a screenshot of the account. And so I was like, okay, and then I finally kind of was like, helped me understand this, teach me how this happen. And so I learned for the first time like what a signup bonus was and what it meant in terms of getting points or miles and being able to travel. And so I went, I went on a limb to get that card, kind of my first travel card, first real credit card outside of the one my mom got me for college from a credit union. And long story short, like it all worked out, like I hit that spending, I got those miles, my wife, girlfriend at the time, we flew over there, she met a friend for a little while I met a friend, and then we met up in that spot and got engaged at that spot. And what was you know, this dream come true, amazing moment, in and of itself. And then coming back from that trip, you know, the next week, I like I was just floored with how easy it was to earn those points. And it was my regular spending that was not very much at the time, like gas, groceries, those kinds of things. And that went to a deep dive of how points and miles can be used for travel. But not only that, but how it’s actually pretty easy to earn the signup bonuses. And so I started to read some blogs and started to just kind of do research on it to understand what’s possible, why it’s possible. And all of that, and you know, it ended up being a very real thing, it wasn’t actually too good to be true. And you could actually get the signup bonuses and rack up a bunch of points in miles without spending a whole lot. And that would end up opening the whole world up to being able to travel. And so travel at that point was probably my favorite thing to do and had been from a young age. And I remember opening up like Google Earth and looking at all over the map and realizing that if these points and miles can come easily, then it’s really a matter of where where would I want to go, what city would I want to explore if you could get anywhere for free with with a plane ticket. So that is how it really started for me and didn’t look back started traveling to all these really cool places and friends and family, like couldn’t understand how I was able to afford it or how we’re able to do it. And my wife and I got married and started traveling. And so that slowly led to just teaching telling people about it, what we were doing, how we were doing it, and then eventually, it started to be so much where I thought there was something here that you could create and my a lot of my family are entrepreneurs. And so I think I’d always had that itch of like, trying to create something but I didn’t know exactly like what that would be then it kind of hit me talking to my in laws parent, my brother in law’s parents that they were intrigued by the travel and wanting to use credit cards and they were kind of unlikely candidates of like wanting to do points and miles and that was the lightbulb moment of like Okay, I think there’s enough people out here that want to learn how to do this. And so, at the very beginning I just started doing like a one on one consulting type IT service to help people and create like a plan for where they wanted to go and how to get there with the points and what credit cards were best and give them the very like, beginner tutorials of like, why this is okay, like everything I’ve learned, like how this works and, and all that kind of stuff. And that was alongside my elementary middle school teaching job. And it was really fun to help people and like very energizing, but then I think relevant to you and your audience, like it was really exhausting at the end of the day of like being a teacher. And a lot of teaching and coaching is being extroverted. And I think you get really comfortable with your teams or your classes and in that role, but there is like a performance part to it, where I was pretty exhausted after, after a long day. And not to mention the long hours in general that teachers have. But then sitting down with people and helping explain all this was got to be too much. And so do the math with like what I was trying to charge, and it was just like, Okay, there’s no way there’s a profit to be made for spending time doing this. And I was gonna give up on the whole idea and haven’t shared this too many places. But I ended up getting invited through a friend who was like a financial planner, and they had an alternative education conference. And where they have different ideas and seminars for their clients. And so my friend invited me to teach about points and miles and how it’s possible to go different places. And so in my mind, that was like my last hurrah of like coming to shows share this with people, but I just can’t keep this going. And so I gave that talk. And it was there were about 75 people in the room, and it was like a 30 minute talk. And then by the end that was just like, I could see the light bulbs coming on people’s eyes, I could see like the excitement, I could see that they understood it. And then afterwards, like tons of people wanting to learn more and understand how you know what else they could do and the questions they had. And so that was like an overwhelming experience that just made me, you know, hold up on my plan to like, kind of fold up shop. And then over the next couple of weeks, I realized that there was something really cool here that the interest was there. But the way I was going about it was a little different. And then that was the whole shift in mindset. Because I realized what I was teaching and explaining was not really that different person to person. So the idea of like kind of coaching consulting was good. But it was also applicable to so many more people than just that I was able to sit down with so I felt like 95% of it all could be kind of automated in a way. And so that’s where the idea of having like a website that could teach it or an app that can teach it came into view. And then the big question a lot of people had after they really believe that this was possible with points and miles and travel was, Well, how am I going to manage this and keep up with all this. And if I get a couple credit cards or more, there’s annual fees and dates to remember, and I just can’t do it. And so at the time, the solution for that was to get a spreadsheet and manage it and all of that. And I knew, from my own experience, that was really bad. And like, for most people who most people hate spreadsheets, and they don’t keep it up to date, and they have to check it. And when I was doing that for myself, like I can never rely on the information because I didn’t know when the last time I had updated it or whatnot. So that all came together like well, what if I could package to kind of the teaching and education, something that could scale to a lot of people and then at the same time, create a tool that could help automate the details of this to help people keep going. And so that’s where the idea of like this could be a software, this could be an app really came together. And that was the beginning of like, what has become travel freely now to be able to allow people to just sign up for the app and get their education and get their the tools to get started and manage this and do the same things I’ve been able to do and so that that was the long beginning story of it. And for the most part, the beginning stages were all you know, I was still a full time elementary, middle school teacher while I was kind of figuring out how to create a website and app and talking to people about it. And that was a very slow, tough process. But it all all led to very good learnings and understandings and what people wanted, didn’t want and so by having a like no budget and having to kind of balance it with a full time teaching job. Have that ended up being like a really good formula, looking back on being able to slowly build this. And also, the idea of having what not having any background and web development or app development also proved to be an extremely helpful useful weakness that became a strength because one of the big takeaways going back to that presentation that the points guy went before me was, all these super savvy, sophisticated apps were not built by people that were regular people. And they weren’t really listening to regular everyday people of what they wanted. So I felt like, I created this for my own needs and the needs of friends and family and was constantly in touch with every single person using the app. And we decided to do this or that based on the feedback. And that is where it started to grow and take off and be very relevant. And so that ended up being helpful than the fact that I knew nothing about web development, or app development, I think, became a strength as well, because I was looking at it from a regular person’s point of view, and not just how cool the technology or functionality was. So that ended up longterm being a very helpful thing to you know, I think, under the underdog theme is like the weaknesses can become strengths. And you look back and realize, Wow, that was like really, really meaningful to not know how to do this. And that’s been a storyline and a lot of different aspects of my life, as well as like actually asking for help or finding the answers. It was part of really getting somewhere further than if I thought I had all the answers. So I don’t know where we are in the conversation. But I just rambled a lot. And no, no,

Catherine A. Wood  41:57

I love it. I love it. And I want to capitalize on a couple of key points that I think are really important. And oh, gosh, I forgot the first one. Well, that it’ll come to me Well, Haley, can Haley can delete out this part long pause, but hold on, I really want to remember what I want to say. I should have I should have written it down. Okay, well, a couple things in that you said that I love. So the first is that as introverts, right, we so often have to build a business model that’s aligned with what works for us. And so I loved what you shared about just realizing that the one to one model of coaching people that it it took too much energy from you, and then assessing and realigning. You know, what’s the freedom based business model that actually works for you, leverages your strengths and allows you to take care of your energy. I love that point. I love, I love the reminder of getting really clear about that there was a problem that you had a solution for, that you wanted to share, and how how effective of a business model that is when we really identify a problem that we have a solution for. And and that a lean business model can often work so well.

Zac Hood  44:09

Yeah, absolutely. I think that was definitely a gift to understand how to use these points and Miles early on before it kind of cracked into the mainstream, which I think it has a little bit now. But it’s there’s still millions of people that can learn and understand this. But I think that was another aspect for me and probably being an introvert was thinking I wanted to really have this be a small team and the business itself could felt pretty low risk in terms of doing it alongside another job. But then the fun part to building out the website and the app was that with the technology and the tools, it didn’t matter if 20 people were using it versus a million it kinda was the same operation and it could scale And you could have, our app can be on the App Store built by two people versus a corporate, huge entity, it’s still one app on the App Store. And that was just fun. Like, I think timing where the world is in the economy and businesses that you can compete with those that are much bigger than you. And I think that you can do it how you want, and you want to try to do it how you want because you want it to be successful. So that starts to be successful in a way you don’t want, then that’s even bigger problem, most likely. Elderly. Yeah,

Catherine A. Wood  45:41

I mean, I remembered the the piece that I was gonna say, and it’s just this reminder that as, as Empath entrepreneurs, right, like so many of our businesses, is the natural expression of our interests, or passions, or hobbies, or what we care about. And you shared so much about how much you love to travel and how, how, how, how much travel served as an inspiration for you in life. And I think specifically for Empath entrepreneurs, that’s so often how we come into business, because we, you know, we just so naturally want to share our values, our visions, our passions with others. And so I just, I just love that reminder that when we care so deeply about whatever we go into business before people can feel that genuine nature, like people can feel that genuine care, it’s so often one of the first things people reflect to me when I get on the phone with them as they can just feel how much I care and how how much it means to me. And I think that that really separates, it separates the type of businesses that we run from others.

Zac Hood  46:54

Yeah, for sure. And I think, from my end, there were several things in that vein that was that were really helpful. And I think how much you care also probably revolves around actually being able to listen to people and hear them and have an emotional IQ. And I think that, for me, that came from nonprofit world and teaching and my personality, but then as I got into the business side of things, it was like, almost like a very much like a secret weapon to like, actually hear and understand people and be able to reflect that and speak to that, because a lot of others, maybe don’t do that. So be able to be able to understand and listen. And be able to name those pain points and identify with how people feel and how that how to go about solving it is, is really helpful. And I think a couple other things that come to mind was like early on being more sensitive. And also, I guess there’s general sensitivity of your and personality, but then like, have your idea and like is this going to work and be successful, which I think all entrepreneurs probably feel whether they’re super confident looking on the outside or not. But I definitely walked around with that and wanted it to be successful and had various people chiming in on if this would or wouldn’t be successful. And one, one older friend shared that he really thought my business was kind of a niche business, that was not appealing to everybody. And that almost like helped settle me down to realize, I’m not trying to do this for every single person and kind of the social anxiety I had and put into my business role was that I would I would be really down or charged up if someone was negative towards the idea or had an edit negative experience. And the idea of this isn’t for everybody was super helpful in those moments to realize that and then I think, from a marketing side, learn more concretely that you have your marketing personas of who your audience is and who you’re trying to help. And the more you can be accurate with that, the better your product service can be. And then at the same time, it’s just as important to know who your anti personas are the people that definitely aren’t going to be interested or don’t won’t get over the hump to join and be part of it. And that was a big lightbulb for me of like, okay, I’m identifying these people, and these are the ones that either don’t get it or have questions and I know they won’t get past that part. And it was really helpful to almost, like, be desensitized to what previously would be sensitive and I’d want those people to understand more than the 100 others that did understand and so that was a big way of being able to let Go have this certain segment of people that weren’t going to just get it. And I, you know, from nonprofits and education, I wasn’t, didn’t have an MBA, I didn’t understand any of that. So it was like, super helpful to get some of those tips and realize that I don’t need everybody to like it or know it. And if I keep going in this certain way that feels right to me. That that will hopefully lead to the success and we’ll grab it, you know, other people will gravitate towards it. And you can keep running with that instead of trying to satisfy everybody.

Catherine A. Wood  50:40

I mean, I think it’s really freeing to be able to really clarify who we’re not for, I think that there’s some permission giving that that allows for, for empaths, to really say, Oh, I’m not for you. This is what I’m about. And this is what I stand for. And this is what I believe in. And I’ve actually, I’d love to ask you about that. Because, you know, I know for me, like, even as I’m referring people to you, or referring people to this, this idea of, you know, leveraging sign on bonuses to travel for free, like, I’m always a little cautious, like, oh, is this for you? Like, is this? Are you the type of person who’s going to be able to responsibly participate in this type of travel while also not, you know, spending beyond your means? So, and I think of, I think of Dave Ramsey, and how he just, he talks about just paying with cash, and I’m like, you know, like, No, my brother, you know, my brother really loves Dave Ramsey, and my brother, I love talking about finances. And he’s a really a proponent of Dave Ramsey. And I feel like there’s just a gap in my, I guess it’s actually a, it’s a, it’s twofold because I, I really want to encourage anyone’s financial planning system that works for them to work for them. Because if they have a model that actually makes them feel empowered around finances, then that is, of course, you know, the most important, and how do you how do you decide who your people are? And, you know, respectfully and proactively educate those who aren’t for your model?

Zac Hood  52:23

Yeah, definitely. So I think a couple thoughts on that, for me, I definitely wanted to make sure this was only beneficial for people and not harmful. So I irony of what you said, I grew up in Nashville, which is where, and more specifically a suburb of Nashville, actually, where Dave Ramsey was from and where his offices were, and his radio show. From Yeah, like, middle school, I would say 90% of the time, my mom and I would drive home listening to his show and all the stories and so I was well versed in that like from sixth seventh grade on.

Catherine A. Wood  53:05

Okay, just for the record, I come from the Suze Orman camp, people first then money then things.

Zac Hood  53:12

Nice. Yeah, so I came from a very conservative understanding of like, being smart with your money. And I think my parents instilled that of like, being a saver and all that. And then Dave Ramsey, took that further and hearing all these tough stories, people’s backgrounds, and then out of college. There, I read some of his books and, you know, felt empowered by them. And then that was, that was the like, really the background to me emailing my friend back and who told me about the credit card offer, because I was it was so ingrained in me that credit cards are evil, and there’s no way this is true. And like there’s all these things that you’re not telling me. And so I think to fast forward to now I definitely see part of that anti persona was actually just if anyone mentions Dave Ramsey, and they seem really set in their ways with that, then they’re definitely not ready for this or they don’t want to do this and not like they’re not the audience I want to talk to you and I don’t have to be mean about it or anything but just like I don’t think this is for you or whatnot. But now I think there are there’s so much more education around personal finance and there’s I’ve been to a few conferences with personal finance content creators that are YouTube Instagram, and they’re like, incredible, savvy, educated people that are sharing this with younger people and everybody you know, people doing like, wacky Fun, fun things on Tik Tok, but they’re former CPAs and they really know their stuff. And they’re explaining in a way that, you know, the only way I could learn some of it was actually just reading Dave Ramsey’s book, because that didn’t exist in social media, literally, all that back in the day. So I think there’s Much more content out there for you to learn from and identify with. And, you know, going back to what travel freely is about is really like this secret way of earning a lot of points and miles with your own monthly spending. And if you’re having a good credit score and you’re responsible, financially, your credit score is, is the secret weapon to traveling the world for free. And instead of just feeling like you’ve got a great credit score, and you should be proud of that, like, why not use it to earn a lot of free travel, and there’s so many myths out there about credit scores and how this impacts you. And early on, that was the biggest issue for me to try to educate people and help them understand what was fact from fiction and how credit scores actually worked. And there was actually, you know, financial education piece too. If you think this is too good to be true, or you’re not really sure, then you need to learn this first. And that was all that and it still is part of helping a beginner get started with travel freely as learning, this actually improves your credit score. And it also is very much a legit thing. And here’s why. Here’s how the banks make some money off of this, here’s how they make money on every purchase, and they’re happy to have you as a new customer, and all these kinds of things. So that was definitely a fun part of like, bringing that education. And I think, especially in the last two years, like there’s been a lot more understanding around what your credit score is, and isn’t how is impacted personal finance education, so that everyone’s just a lot smarter these days. And you don’t have to really go deep on a lot of those subjects, because people already know, but I think like anything people have, they’re really good areas of content and helping people as Dave Ramsey does. But I felt like at some point I kind of outgrew his message, or at least some of it and also understood, like he’s talking to a certain audience, and he’s got all these things on the record. And if he’s gonna go back on what he has to say about credit cards, or if he’s, you know, has to risk certain people not following that advice, in a great way, then it’s going to be really tough for him to help those people. So I think this is definitely not for everybody. But if you are responsible financially, and you can do this, then it’s it’s and you like to travel, it’s probably the coolest secret in the world you could discover to learn how to do so definitely encourage people, you know, like anything, to look at all different sides of something, educate yourself, compare things, figure out what’s possible.

Catherine A. Wood  57:59

I mean, I love all of that. And I love the reminder of how much permission having a good credit score, how many doors that opens. And I had like a little gut punch, as you’re saying that because in college, my first credit card was an llbean card. And I was like a young 20 year old employee back in DC, I was like, I don’t want any more retail credit cards, they told me I shouldn’t have retail credit cards. And that credit card was my like, longest card by a decade. And it like crushed my credit score. When I think about the components of my credit score to this day. I mean, I have a fantastic credit score. But to this day, the lowest component is in my credit history. Because that credit card, even if it was a retail guard, it was it was I closed it and then it cut off those years of credit history.

Zac Hood  58:48

Yeah, so I had the same exact experience. My mom had gotten me this credit union card freshman year of college to get just a car to use and build start building credit. And then I read the Dave Ramsey book out of college and I thought this was one of the smartest things to do was to cancel that and get rid of it. And you know, all these other things. And so I closed that card. And that was my oldest card by five years. As I started doing this, and that was a big mistake. And that would have really helped me early on. And so that was yeah, definitely some angst towards not being well educated on that.

Catherine A. Wood  59:27

Totally. Okay, I want to be mindful of the time there’s a couple more questions I want to ask you, but I don’t know if your hard stop.

Zac Hood  59:33

Yes, I’ve got more time. Okay, go to 20 Okay, great, good.

Catherine A. Wood  59:38

Perfect. I want to talk about some of your favorite travels that free travel has made possible for you and I’m dying to share with you some of mine. So, what are some of the favorite point trips you’ve taken? Or perhaps heard from your students? I could only imagine how many amazing to testimonials you’ve gotten over the years.

Zac Hood  1:00:01

Yeah, so I think there’s both, there’s different levels of the travel of like where they actually are and the depth of the experience. There’s ones that were like, just relaxing and fun. And then there’s others that were like, deep understanding of the culture and learning more about different places and people. So one that definitely stands out was that was able to go do a tour of Turkey and Greece, and was able to afford that tour because of getting free flights over there. And that basically padded the budget to be able to do that. And that was, that was incredible to go all over different sites and into the islands. And I was a history major in college. And a big part of my interests was like more ancient civilizations and learning how people lived and what life was like. And so that was really fun to actually ended up that tour ended in Rome. So it was like, all these different civilizations layered on top. And being able to do that full on, it was really fun. And then, let’s see, South Africa was another awesome trip, I got to do like a short, not a big full Safari, but a short one. And I had a friend that I got to visit who was like an exchange student from high school, and got to get in a great white shark cage, which was like, my biggest fear was a sharks. And so that was a huge moment to be able to do that. And then, let’s see, I’d say another big one was going to Iceland for several weeks, with my wife, and a good friend and a friend and I both loved fishing. And it was during the summer when like, basically, it was dark, from like 3:30am to 4am, because of their light situation. So we could, my wife would go to bed at like 10pm at the Airbnb where we were, then he and I would go out fishing for several hours because it wasn’t dark. And it was this kind of like, constant sort of dusk situation. So that was really fun. And we also went to Peru, and we’re able to do like a tour of Machu Picchu. And, you know, a lot of the travels, I guess one of the big themes for us and from early on, was that because of using points and miles, which normally always meant free flights, it also meant maybe some free hotels, and then potentially other points you can use for any travel expenses like car rentals, or trains or whatnot. And like the Peru trip, the Machu Picchu tour we could the expense coded as a travel expense. So we could cover that with one of the cards because you could erase the travel expense purchase with with miles. And so, so many of those travels, it wasn’t just that it was free, or a lot of it was free it was that because we had so many points and miles to use, we could go longer, or we could stay in cooler places that we couldn’t normally afford. Or for me I’ve always been back to the Dave Ramsey, like very conservative with money and spending and like so stressed out before points in miles in terms of like just going out to dinner and like not wanting to spend too much just on a regular basis versus when you’re traveling and stuff so expensive and a feeling of like things are adding up. So with kind of adding your travel budget, boosting it with points and miles, we’re able to be a lot less stressed on those travels, in terms of knowing how much we’re saving, but then also being able to go for things like go to a really nice restaurant that we’d never would have gone to if we hadn’t saved money. And then the Machu Picchu tour was like a private one. So it was just very small group. And then it was very much strip a lot less stress in Iceland because Iceland was like rainy and a lot of the places where there was like the famous waterfalls or you know, landmarks, the big glacier and different places where you would want to like really experience and have this amazing joy for the amount of money you spent but it all that because of the points of miles like I think brings more of a gratitude to the ability to just travel because you didn’t really afford to pay for all of it and then when something doesn’t go your way or it’s raining like it is much more on the other side of the spectrum like well, we got the hotel for free and the flights are free. So it wasn’t you know, not a huge loss that we I didn’t get that perfect day or whatever. So those, those are definitely ones that stand out to me overall. So what about you

Catherine A. Wood  1:05:08

love it? Well, first of all, I just want to shoot some acknowledgement over to you that through listening to your blog over the years or reading your blog, it really gave me permission to leverage more of the hotels with points, because I had always historically paid for hotels and bought flights with points. But I think you really turned me across, turn me over with that with your knowledge about that one. But the other thing I really I resonate with is like, traveling for free can afford you a more abundant lifestyle. And I think that that’s something I have really come to appreciate over the years with points travel is, is the lifestyle that it affords me to live that I don’t choose to live otherwise, I also grew up with a real conservative, frugal mindset. My dad’s an accountant, you know, my parents were, you know, children of parents who lived in the Depression. And, you know, we were always like very frugal growing up. And so even allowing myself to, you know, fly in business, or buy a nicer hotel room like, that has something that points has really opened my eyes to, along with my husband, who really loves luxurious travel. But I’m really grateful for being able to allow myself a more luxurious lifestyle of traveling, because that’s a huge mindset component of increasing your wealth consciousness. It’s really allowing yourself to live a more wealthy lifestyle, as you allow yourself to make greater levels of income. So it’s really, it’s kind of been mutually supportive for me. And over the years. I mean, my husband and I have been together for a decade now married just under a year put together for a decade. And so many of our relationship milestones have been with miles. That’s been kind of a way that we’ve really celebrated our relationship over the years is traveling for free. So our proposal trip to Mexico was all paid for with miles. Later that year, and Thanksgiving, we traveled to Germany and to Paris, stayed in this gorgeous five star hotel in Paris for three nights all with miles. And then more recently, this past old traveled to Switzerland, Mexico more than once El Salvador, but most recently, we took our honeymoon for three weeks last December to my Orca, and London and Germany, and Prague and Amsterdam. And it was all MPG miles. And it’s just been a really fun way. And we love to travel. And it’s just been a fun way to even kind of like deepen the enjoyment of the travel experience, because when you’re doing it for free, it’s just like such a brings it to another level, it’s like, you get to enjoy the trip on so many dimensions in so many different ways.

Zac Hood  1:08:26

Yeah, I totally agree. I think that has been one of the coolest most like on talked about aspect of it is when you’re getting so much free travel. What else that actually means. So you know, to do luxury travel, but actually not have paid for it puts you in a different frame of mind, like how amazing the room is, or the hotel is, and it’s all from, like, a gift perspective versus like, well, it better be because I paid a lot of money for this. And you know, people are thinking like that if they did pay a lot. So it frees that up quite a bit. And yeah, being able to not sacrifice the budget at home in order to do trips. And travel is also I think, was something that has been a big stress for me of like wealth. If we want to do this, that means we can’t do this or we need to justify that in some way that you know, based on monthly expenses or something in this kind of takes that element out of it. And then from the very, you know, frugal minded like accounting people, the points and miles you’re earning are also like tax free in terms of what you’re actually spending so if you’re buying fancy hotel room with after tax money that’s even more expensive to you with your budget versus the points of miles that are not not getting taxed. So you Yeah, on all accounts, it’s, it’s a very fun hobby. And if you love to travel, it’s yeah, it’s very much addicting to think about where you can go how you can use the points. And yeah, it really is. I’m definitely a dreamer in love possibilities, so that the hardest thing is just choosing and figuring out where to actually go. And there’s, there’s actually a sense of like sadness when you pick the spot because it means all the others aren’t gonna happen at that time, you got to get a one spot.

Catherine A. Wood  1:10:30

I love that it’s so true. Well, I know we’re wrapping up here. And I really want to, I want to leave on, I guess just giving you an opportunity to share what’s next, we were talking a little bit before we hit record about how much we both value, a freedom lifestyle and a freedom business model. And I know you guys, you and your family have some travel coming up. So what’s next for you?

Zac Hood  1:10:57

Yeah, so we are definitely entering a new phase. And we have for a while wanted to get out of the country and spend an extended time somewhere. And so we are going to be heading to Australia and New Zealand this fall for a total of nine months, three months in Australia and six months in New Zealand. And my wife and I took a short little scouting trip earlier this year and went to a few different cities in New Zealand to try to land on a spot because we have kids and trying to figure out what this looks like with them and schools and all that. And that was that’s really been a culmination of a lot of the work with the business and being able to get to that point where we can have the freedom and flexibility. And one of my really main goals with whatever business that theme about was going to be having a more flexible lifestyle and being able to kind of have more control over what we want to do and how we want to do it. And for my nonprofit background I in the long term future, I really want to be in a spot where it can serve and help people and balance that with a job and so that that has was on hold for quite a while with COVID. And not sure how that would end up, panning out. But this has been the first time we’ve been able to kind of plan and look towards doing something like this. So it’s exciting and stressful thinking about making this big adventure, but we’re definitely looking forward to it. And it’s a new set of challenges to be outside the US and different time zones and all that. But we’ve been hoping to do that for a while. And so this will be really fun to step into and, and go for

Catherine A. Wood  1:12:48

totally super inspiring. I’m so excited for my audience to hear your your story and your journey. And what’s next for you. And I really appreciate you just hopping on here to the podcasts being a yes, I’ll throw it out there that if you ever decide to launch an online course I am your first beta tester. My words.

Zac Hood  1:13:11

Sounds good. Thank you. take you up on that.

Catherine A. Wood  1:13:14

And as we wrap like I’d love to, I’d love to invite you to share what has supported you most in becoming that prosperous Empath you are?

Zac Hood  1:13:23

That’s a good question. I’d say there’s a lot of resources and books I’ve read from project management to like lean startup business principles, so can definitely Google and find a bunch of those. Even for some people, like there’s a lot of articles now talking about how introverts are, it’s their time because now we’re remote workers and people that are louder in meetings and just spout out whatever they think, maybe don’t do that anymore, because it’s your work working remotely and the people that are more thoughtful and have better things to say will come about. So I think that that’s been fun to read as well. But I would I would say the most important thing for me have been people, some consistent through the last several years and some that have come in and out but so I think my you know, final words would just be to think about who can support you and what you’re trying to do and who may be a few steps ahead or years ahead of what you’re trying to do. And that’s something I always heard from other people like you know, think about who’s doing what you want to do or doing it how you want to do and learn from them. So my brother’s been that for me, my dad a little bit and some other friends and people that I didn’t know at all but just reached out to and said hey, I’d love to ask you a question or get to know you better. And so I think that would be the idea of trying to find some mentors or friends that can to speak into what you’re doing. And it’s really, really hard to see what you’re doing and how you’re doing it when you’re right in the middle of it, so having friends, family and other people to, you know, encourage you and in that is definitely helpful. So I think if you start there, then all the other stuff of like, check out this book or read this article or talk to this person, like all that kind of comes from finding the right people because they, you know, have essentially failed more times than you have and they’ve learned from it and then they can pass it on and then you can, you can be better off. So I think finding really good people that you trust and respect can make make a huge difference.

Catherine A. Wood  1:15:43

Yeah, couldn’t agree more, especially for Empath entrepreneurs, having those value aligned, mentors who we trust and we want to hold us to our dreams is so important. Zach, this has been the highlight of my day. Thank you so much. It was so fun to get to know you and I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your wisdom.

Zac Hood  1:16:02

Thank you, Kat. Appreciate it.


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Exploring Sensitive Leadership with Nina Khoo

On this week’s episode of the Prosperous Empath®, we’ll explore how to effectively lead as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), mitigate challenges, and work with your strengths. I’m thrilled to sit down with Nina Khoo, a Sensitive Leadership Coach and a Master NLP Coach who helps HSPs understand and embrace their unique wiring so they can become confident and empathetic leaders. It’s common for Highly Sensitive People to believe that they’re not capable of effective leadership and struggle with overwhelm, perfectionism, and second-guessing. Nina and I uncover how our greatest strengths can sometimes be the traits we feel most self-conscious about and pose a central question: How does a Highly Sensitive Person protect their gifts as a leader? As an empath and an HSP, your brain is physiologically wired to take more information in and process it more deeply, which can be an incredibly powerful leadership skill. Yet, it can also lead to overwhelm and self-criticism. Through our conversation, you’ll learn how to approach leadership in a more sensitive, empathetic, and compassionate way so you can own your gifts and make a bigger difference in the world  

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