Growing up I never went on any typical yearly family vacations, travel was not in my vocabulary. There was no Disney World or cruises or trips to tropical beaches during my childhood. Traveling was just not something my family did, my mom was a workaholic and never even seemed to take a day off ever. If we went somewhere it was usually just an overnight trip to the coast. Traveling can be expensive, it’s not like you can do it for free right?!
I always thought vacations were what rich people did. Once I got into college I noticed how every spring break all these students were going to places like Cancun and ski trips for the whole week. Again, I thought wow they must all have really rich parents, how can they afford to go to exotic places like that? I remember sitting at work one day when I was a Blackjack Dealer with a few coworkers when the subject of spring break came up. Once of them mentioned that we should go somewhere tropical together. Up until that point traveling was still not even on my radar, it seemed so far reached and unattainable for me. And then I realized, hey wait a minute, I’m putting myself through college, I have a decent job, and I deserve to go on a real vacation! So we settled on sunny Cozumel, Mexico!
We got in touch with a travel planner because none of us knew how to do anything travel related and had to hire a pro. It was a big chunk of change that we each paid but since we were making good money it was a no brainer at that point. Before we knew it we three girls were off to beautiful Mexico for a whole week! This was the first bite of the travel bug that I would soon experience. Before we even got home I was planning my next trip. From then on it was all I would think about, all the places I wanted to go and the countries I’d want to visit. I didn’t care how much it cost, I just wanted to see the world.
Over the next 10 years I traveled as much as I could. I’d go to a new country every year and take a few intercontinental trips as well. Traveling was a big part of my life and the excitement of searching for my next destination was almost as thrilling as the trip itself. Some of those trips came with a hefty price tag but again, to me it was totally worth it.
Once I got married I got to pop my husbands traveling cherry. He had never been out of the country so what a better way than to make his first trip into our destination wedding in beautiful St. Lucia. To say he was hooked was an understatement. He was immediately in love with the ocean and exploring the sea life. So every year we continued to take trips as much as we could. Of course it cost twice as much now that there were two of us but that still didn’t stop us!
Fast forward to when we had our first child. We pumped the brakes on the traveling for the first two years of our daughters life because not only were we paying off all our debt but I was a little apprehensive about traveling with children and it seemed so much more difficult and my anxiety would et the best of me. Then one day after we crawled our way out of our consumer debt hole we decided to take our first trip with her to Bali! Yes, it was halfway across the world, over 24 hours of one way flight time, but it was an incredible experience and went way better than I thought it would! So that put to rest the worry I had about traveling with small children. But now the price of our trips was three times as much since there were three of us.
Soon after we added another little person to our mix and welcomed our little boy into this world. It got me thinking how expensive family vacations can be and wondered how most people afford it. I knew the answer though…most of them went into debt paying for their vacations. They put their one week vacations on credit cards and ended up coming back home with a mountain of debt they owed and their “vacation” lingered on for months or years to come in the amount of monthly payments and interest. I knew this would not ever be the case for us, I swore to never get into any more consumer debt so saving up cash would be the only option for us. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to take as many vacations a year but at least the ones we did go on would be paid for before we even went on them.
Then one day I stumbled upon a podcast episode about travel hacking by the guys at the ChooseFI podcast. What they were talking about was blowing my mind and would change the way we traveled from here on out. It was all about accumulating massive amounts of travel points utilizing credit cards. Now mind you I am one of the most debt averse people there are. Me and my husband worked our way out of over $76,000 in debt (you can read how we did that here) and had zero credit cards and had sworn them off forever. I was the last person you could convince to get a credit card. But here I was completely enthralled by this travel hacking business and seriously considering opening a credit card.
I started researching the ins and outs of how to do it and it was relatively simple. There’s a way to obtain huge travel points/rewards by following certain guidelines with opening specific credit cards. There are huge sign up bonuses when you reach certain spending requirements and other ways to obtain lots of points easily. There’s something they refer to as the Chase Guantlet which is basically a strategy that you can follow to open up certain Chase cards with the biggest rewards.
I was learning about how there’s this whole group of people all over the world who have figured out the system and were literally taking two to three virtually FREE family vacations every year by doing this. There are a few things to be cautious of and I wouldn’t encourage everyone to go out and do this. First of all you have to be in a good financial state, meaning no outstanding debt. You need to be able to pay your credit card bill in full each month. You need to be disciplined enough to not overspend. The catch is to put all your monthly expenditures on one credit card at a time in order to meet the spend requirements and get the bonus and then move on to the next card. It does take some planning and organization.
I had always known about credit card perks like points and rewards and the average person does take advantage of these perks when using cards but this technique takes it to a whole new level and you are able to get way more than just your standard 1 point=$1 of travel redemptions.
Now here I was contemplating everything I once thought was wrong about credit cards and really wanting to do it. I talked to my husband and explained this goldmine I had stumbled upon and he looked at me and was like “who are you?” knowing how much I was against using credit cards! Seriously we paid cash for EVERYTHING and credit was the devil in my mind up until this point. It didn’t take long to convince him though, he was on board. I opened up our first credit card with Chase. I felt kind of guilty about doing this at first because I came from the Dave Ramsey school of hard knocks where credit cards were swear words that we never spoke of. But that guilt soon crept away and I realized I’m a big girl and I am extremely disciplined and knew that I could handle this. Free vacations?? Yes please!!! With a family of four now this was extremely appealing.
So we have at this point already earned over 60,000 travel reward points on our first credit card within one month of opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We are starting on our second card and will have an additional 50,000 in points in another couple of months. Just as an example, this would afford us to buy 4 one way tickets to Europe for free!! Or we could all fly round trip to Hawaii and stay in a nice hotel for a week!! The points are good for airfare and or hotel stays. All of that for virtually free and we are spending the same amount that we normally do every month, except that now instead of paying cash we use the card for everything and pay it in full each month. I still track all my spending the same way I did with cash. If you want to get started on your own travel hacking journey you can use this link to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card which is considered the best first card to start out with, and by using this link I get a nice little bonus as well!
I’m definitely a newbie to the whole world of travel hacking but it’s right up my alley and I presume that we will be traveling to many wonderful places utilizing this system. If you want to know more about how travel hacking works I’d recommend checking out this website called Travel Miles 101 for a free class and listen to the ChooseFI podcast episode 9 on Travel Rewards.
Keep checking back here on my website for future updates on how our travel hacking is going! Right now we are still in accumulation stage but will be planning our next destination soon! I’ll be sharing how we fared on our journey and tips to help you do the same!