The Curious Travels of Scott Ford
By Annie Bowers
“Ok, I have to know … did you fly to Dayton for free?” I asked Scott Ford, a world traveler, current media sensation and founder of the innovative new travel website packabagandgo.com. He replied confidently, “Yes …” and then added with a grin, “The hotel was free too.”
Ford isn’t just a guy who happened to luck into a free flight to Dayton. The 32-year old native Daytonian has actually turned his passion for travel into an international buzz by traveling the world — he took 52 trips in 52 weeks — for free! Ford has visited over 400 cities worldwide and has accumulated more than one million frequent flyer miles, saving nearly $100,000 in the process.
As I chatted with Scott at an Oregon District coffee shop, I discovered that his love for travel is truly his calling in life and his passion for it is utterly contagious. While describing the impact travel has had on his life, Ford explained how personal his experience has been and how much he has grown in the process. And despite the considerable amount of time Scott spends in the air, he explains, “I have two feet on the ground. Travel has pushed me in a much better direction in my life. My dad passed away when I was 18. He was a frequent flyer. This story is personal. Flying is personal. I’ve always been exposed to traveling, and the impact on my life has been overwhelmingly positive … from developing professional and personal friendships to maintaining a healthier lifestyle. It has transformed me into a beautiful person.”
It all started last year when Ford decided to take a trip, gave up his seat on an overbooked flight, and ended up leapfrogging one trip after another using vouchers he acquired for volunteering his seat. “Maybe it was just a perfect opportunity that I had a free year to travel. There was literally a crack in the system. I managed to get through that crack. It was the perfect time in my life and things just sort of worked out.”
When I asked Ford if he thought the airlines would start making policy changes in response to the media attention that has been brought to his “52 trips in 52 weeks,” he replied good-naturedly, “If I were the CEO of an airline and I heard about this story, I’d call an emergency meeting, and fast! But the truth is, more passengers are flying and fewer planes are in the air. There’s not a correction for [overbooked flights] right now.”
After one trip turned into another, and one destination led to another, from Hawaii to Venice, Ford discovered how satisfying — and easy — it is to travel, and decided to share his passion for it with as many people as possible. He wanted to connect like-minded people through travel and create an online community for people looking for travel tips and deals from real travelers. The idea for packabagandgo.com, Ford’s website that launched in early March 2012, serendipitously came to him while on one of his 52 trips last year. “I was in Tokyo at the Hilton, and it came to me on the elevator on the 30th floor … I was afraid I’d forget the name. I ran back to the hotel room, dropped my key card, grabbed a pen and called my friend in Portland. I said, ‘This is it. Pack a bag and go.’”
Ford’s manager Alvaro Maurice further explains, “The whole idea of Pack a Bag and Go isn’t to get people to do exactly what Scott did. We want to foster discussion among travelers on how beneficial travel can be, whether it’s by airline, cruise, bus or train … greater awareness brought to travel in general helps the entire industry and connects people through similar interests.”
Ford adds, “I really want to create a following — a household brand. The goal is to recreate the face of travel by promoting discussion on how to travel. I want this to be contagious to other people. I want the family at home in Texas to say, ‘Hey, pack a bag and go!’ and get on our website, just like they would check Travelocity or any other travel site. [This has the potential] to touch a lot of people who pack bags and go somewhere, whether it’s taking a vacation, going to college or joining the military. It’s going to branch out into so many other things which will turn into larger opportunities.” He would even like to see a study abroad program implemented across the board in schools in the United States. “Traveling is so important. It’s the single most important piece to the education of young people in school – to see the world.”
Ford sees the world one city at a time, typically for 3-5 days per destination, although his stay in any one place is dependent upon the next best rate he finds. When he finds a low airfare he jumps on it. With the reported ability to pack a bag in five minutes, Ford can be ready to fly at practically a moment’s notice, and he enjoys the fast-paced nature of frequent travel. “I can’t remain home for more than 2-3 weeks. I don’t know what I’d do if I were stuck at home for six months. I would go crazy. It’s always nice to return home and keep grounded that way, but after that two week window I need to take a trip. It’s therapeutic to me.”
I asked Ford if he finds it difficult to maintain close relationships with friends and family while constantly jet-setting across the globe, yet he assured me, “I speak to family every day. I have friends that live here who haven’t spoken to their families in ten years. It’s about keeping communication open, whether it’s in person or through a text message or postcard.” He also points out that he never misses important events. “I’m always on time. I will reroute myself even when there is a problem with the airline.” He then adds affably, “I’m the walking database for airlines.”
On several occasions Ford has taken family members along for the ride: “I took my entire family to Hawaii, for free. I came home to Beavercreek one day and said “Pack a bag. We’re going to Hawaii.” My mother said “You’re crazy!” It turns out it wasn’t so crazy … she had a great time!”
Whether traveling or not, Ford keeps a fairly steady daily routine. He gets up whenever his body naturally wakes up — usually around 4a.m. — but he never sets an alarm, claiming, “My body is a world clock.” He typically reads the Wall Street Journal (which he gets with his airline miles), enjoys a light breakfast and then hits the gym. The rest of the day consists of meeting up with friends, getting out and about, and catching up with various social media and online publications. “I like to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the world, whether it’s politics or gas prices. I’m all over the place,” says Ford.
From the White House to the beach, to the Mall of America, Ford jovially says he often compares himself to Where’s Waldo. “Where’s Scott? Whether it’s a baseball game at Yankee Stadium or Fifth Third Field watching the Dayton Dragons, or being in the Rose Garden Arena watching the Portland Trailblazers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (my first NBA game), the energy [of being somewhere different every few days] is awesome.”
Ford has had some life-changing experiences and has met numerous people throughout his travels. When asked if any particular destinations stand out in his memory, he instantly replied, “Costa Rica. I use Costa Rica for dental vacations because the cleanings are 25 bucks.” He also visited Hawaii ten times last year, stating the airfare is typically $299 per ticket — and he can earn a $300 voucher for giving up his seat. Ford laughs as he points out, “I made money on that one. I had a dollar leftover.”
The “top of the top” best deal he ever found was Christmas 2011 when he went to Venice, stayed at the six-star Hilton and took a private water taxi to St. Mark’s Square on Christmas Day.
Ford’s travels have also led to some close friendships and memorable experiences with others. When flying, Ford buys a coach ticket, but because of his frequent flyer points he almost always gets upgraded to First Class. He likes to share the experience with others and says, “I’m the unofficial ambassador of the airline. A lot of times I give up my First Class seat to people in coach who have never flown First Class, just to give them that experience.”
He also believes that an important part of the experience of spending so much time on a plane is networking. “I’m sort of like the social elite at 32,000 feet. You never know who you’re sitting next to. I’ve met some powerful people from Nike in first class cabins, and I’ve had some of the best entertainment at 39,000 feet with Nike employees. We’ve had the best laughs. There is also a woman with the American Red Cross out of Atlanta — we met on a plane. I turned around to say hello, and that hello has turned into the most dynamic friendship to this day.” Another friend he met on a San Francisco-JFK flight two years ago, and the easy conversation that began on the plane has grown over time into a close friendship via phone, email and Facebook.
Surprisingly, Ford has not found travel to be particularly dangerous. He recalls, “I was in Mexico City and my passport was stolen. I ran into the US Embassy with no problem. I have never had a wallet stolen. I’ve never had a laptop stolen. I’ve had safety around the world. [You just have to] keep your head on and be aware of your surroundings.”
Other travel tips from the world traveler and budding entrepreneur include:
-Be loyal to one airline to build up frequent flyer miles
-Book a ticket with a connection
-Don’t sleep on the flight, sleep when you arrive
-Flying is dehydrating, so drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol in-flight
-Moisturize on the plane
-If you are budget conscious and your time table is flexible, volunteer your seat
When asked what he won’t leave home without, Ford replied, “My passport, favorite watch, laptop and swimwear … just in case I go to Hawaii next week.”
In addition to providing basic travel tips and connecting travelers, Pack a Bag and Go will ideally become a resource that will educate people about the many possibilities involved with travel of all kinds. “There is so much to be taught in travel, so much to learn. When Inside Edition followed me on a plane for two days they were blown away by the questions I asked and the responses I got. I took a flight from Portland thru Salt Lake City. They never knew you could change your ticket just to go through another city to get somewhere two hours earlier. They had no idea how many flights go into certain cities.”
In addition to the Inside Edition piece, which will air during Sweeps Week in June, Ford has been interviewed by numerous television and radio stations across the country and has received a tremendous amount of media exposure over the last several weeks. The response? “It’s been huge. When I’ve spoken to people around the world, the response has been positive across the board, from grandmothers to college students. People wonder, ‘Is this your fifteen minutes of fame or is it a lasting successful enterprise?’ There is huge opportunity with this — huge.”
So what’s next for Scott Ford and Pack a Bag and Go? Ford’s manager, Alvaro Maurice states, “It’s a vision that is constantly evolving, constantly changing. We are partnering with travel booking websites and airlines. We want the site to not only give advice on how to travel effectively and affordably, but to exist as a resource that links travelers with people who can help get them there. We’re not giving a five-year plan for Pack a Bag and Go because there really isn’t one. We are taking in feedback from people who write into the website and other people in the travel industry. It’s evolving every day.”
Ford adds excitedly, “I knew from day one that this was going to grow by leaps and bounds. I had that gut feeling. That’s part of the excitement of this — that it’s getting bigger … and bigger … and bigger. I feel an energy from this trip that I’m going to be back for something else. There will be the first West Coast flight out of Dayton — it will happen in my lifetime. I’m so proud to be a Dayton native. Pack a Bag and Go is going to put Dayton on the map again. This brings a lot of national attention to Dayton. It could bring a lot of opportunities for a lot of people.”
To Ford, travel isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life that is essential to personal and professional growth — and he believes it is available to everyone. He considers the education and experiences gained through travel to be invaluable, and they have added a dynamic to his life that he can’t even measure. “There will be a day when I’m old with a cane at 80 and I’ll have all this in my memory, and I can say, “I lived a wonderful life … and life is beautiful.” I have found my passion, my niche … I want to change the face of travel forever.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Annie Bowers at AnnieBowers@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Photo: Jeffrey Horvitz