I’m not going to lie. When I first heard about travel hacking (getting miles through credit card sign-up bonuses), I gave it one big eye roll and a hefty sigh.
I just didn’t believe it was possible. Or I did, and I thought that you had to spend too much money.
You see, I live on a pretty bare bones budget. I don’t even spend $1,000 per month on basic expenses, and I can’t pay my student loans with credit cards, so I thought that the spending requirements were out of reach. Also, let’s not forget that I got my first credit card a little over a year ago.
But I kept reading post after post about people going on vacation for what seemed like an absurdly cheap amount.
You guys know that my number one priority is getting out of debt. But a close second priority is traveling. My initial goal was to travel abroad once a year, but then life happened and it’s been about every other year. Something to note, is that I’m a frugal traveler and don’t travel unless I find sweet deals. I also always stay in hostels. My trips have usually cost around $1,500. Even so, that’s still a chunk of change — roughly two months of debt repayment. So I’ve tried to quell my thirst for travel, but if I’m honest, I think about traveling every day. I have an insatiable wanderlust and if I die tomorrow, I would regret not traveling more.
But I am trying to manage my debt and become debt free asap, while also still enjoying life. At $35,000 left to go, I still have several years of debt repayment, unless I can double or triple my income, which I hope to do at some point 🙂
So after realizing that I don’t want to compromise my debt repayment (too much) and that I still want to travel, I had to figure out how to do both, creatively. So I reluctantly applied for another (rewards) credit card. I knew my spending was low, so I took the slow and steady route.
I applied for the American Airlines card that required spending $1,000 in 3 months, to get 30,000 bonus miles. I was able to do that, and then after flying to New Orleans for FinCon on AA, and spending a little bit more, I had 40,000 miles.
A mere 40,000 miles was enough for me to go abroad off-season! It took me a while to find a flight as Portland is not a hub (ahh, sometimes I really miss living in LA or NYC!), but I finally found one. It’s not the best, but hey, I’m going to Spain for peanuts.
I’m flying from Portland to Seattle, then to Dallas, then to Madrid! Yikes. But for the price of some airport taxes at a mere $63!
I’ll be going for 2 whole weeks in late April to early May! I’ll be flying into Madrid, which is where my love of travel first hit. When I was 21, I saved up for a year to study abroad in Spain for the summer. It was amazing. So I’m happy to get back and visit it 9 years later!
The real reason I’m going to Spain though is because one of my best friends in Portland is teaching English there until June, which means I have a limited time to visit her.
Her teaching placement is crazy. She is in a ridiculously cute location in Nerja. Every time I see her pictures on Facebook, I get excited about seeing this place in person!
Also, because I’ll be in Spain, I’ve decided to check something off my bucket list and go to Lisbon, Portugal! If you listened to the very end of my podcast interview with Shannon, you know that this was on the top of my list!
I’ll be traveling solo as my partner just got a better paying job at a music nonprofit (yay!), which is a step up from a music store. We want to grow his career a bit, and travel together again at some point.
I plan to keep it as frugal as possible and will side hustle my way there through brand ambassador work and any work that is not related to writing or editing.
So there you have it! A newbie travel hacker booking her first flight abroad. But I would like to share this post, with one big caveat.
Travel hacking isn’t for everyone. I repeat, it’s not for everyone. Some people write about travel hacking like everyone should be doing it, and that you’re an idiot if you don’t.
But the thing is, not everyone is good with credit cards. Even though I’ve paid off my balances in full every month, I’ve seen some credit card creep in my own life that I had to manage. It’s a slippery slope and I can totally see how rewards cards can encourage more spending. What works for other people, may not work for you. And if you are in credit card debt now, then definitely don’t try this at home, folks.
I think it’s important to be honest that yes, travel hacking is possible, but it’s still not a great idea for everyone. If you’re bad with credit cards, why would you put yourself through that? If you knew someone was an alcoholic, you wouldn’t recommend they get a drink, right? So I don’t want to recommend things to people that might just be a bad idea, but rather share my own experience with travel hacking.
The slow and steady route…I don’t ever see myself having a dozen cards, but I do want to be smart with my credit card spending, and try to pay off debt and reap the “rewards”.
What are your thoughts on travel hacking? Know anyone in Madrid or Lisbon I can stay with? 🙂
p.s. Michelle so eloquently stated why I prioritize travel.