Anyone who knows me knows that I love to travel. A lot of people travel in their twenties before they get tied down to jobs and families. I spent all of my twenties (from age 22 to age 30) in graduate school, which made travel kind of difficult because I was broke and I always had some kind of academic thing going on (I did manage to take some trips tied to academic conferences, including one to England). Since I kind of feel like I “missed out” on the twenty-something travel experience, I have been trying to make up for it in my thirties and forties. Of course, now I have kids and a job so it’s not so easy. Although, the one good thing about my husband and I spending an average of 8 years in grad school is that it afforded us the type of jobs that make travel possible; him because as an academic he gets lots of time off, and myself because I can work for myself which means I get to work as much or as little as I damn well please.
My family and I take at least one big trip and several small trips a year. While I usually do so in a budget-conscious way, those trips can add up. Last winter I started to wonder if there was a way we could continue to travel around the world to see amazing places for less. I started to research this online and fell into the huge online community of travel hackers.
Travel hacking is basically finding ways to travel for free or very cheap. There are countless blogs that explain the process, but a large part of it is signing up for credit cards that give you sign up bonuses or points and miles, and using those strategically to take the trips you want. The whole process takes a lot of tracking and a lot of planning. You kind of need to be a little (or a lot) OCD, which I can be. And it goes without saying you a) need decent credit and b) have to pay off your balances each month to avoid interest. For most of the credit cards I take out I use them for EVERY expense until I hit the minimum spend needed to get the bonus points, and then I stop using them (except for a few that continue to offer good deals for spending). Most of them will waive any annual fee for the first year so I will cancel them before the year is up. Others are worth it to keep for the annual fee because of the perks you get. A lot of people ask whether this affects your credit score, and the honest answer is that if you do it responsibly your score will go up! This is because you will have more credit available but will not be using most of it, showing you are a responsible user. For example I have probably 30 credit cards but I only utilize 1% of my available credit and so my FICO score is usually between 810-830. There is so much information out there on blogs such as millionmilesecrets.com, pointsaway.com, thepointsguy.com and countless others if you want to learn more. For now I am just going to use this blog to chronicle my family’s adventures in travel hacking to show how it can be done, even with a family of four.