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For the Love of FREE Travel

As long as I can remember, I have loved to travel. And I especially love free travel.

The way I have traveled has changed over the years, but my enthusiasm has never waned.

As a broke 20-something, to satiate my wanderlust, I took jobs with foreign travel perks, including working on cruise ships. And I started collecting frequent flyer miles to take advantage of my many flights.

Once I began working a 9-5 office job, I realized that I had to get creative to afford the travel that I craved since I was no longer traveling for work like before.

I discovered that credit card deals could help me bank some serious frequent flyer miles. I was able to earn more miles by opening an American Airlines Mastercard than three years of coast-to-coast flights on American airlines when I was living in California and working out of Miami.

I started reading blogs that shared tips on how to earn frequent flyer miles like the Art of Nonconformity. I read Flyertalk forums.

Most importantly, the blogs demonstrated that free travel was something I could continue to enjoy with a little bit of planning.

I was hooked.

That was around 2008. Since then I have earned enough miles to allow my husband and I to take several trips with minimal cost and several perks. We even took Amtrak from Northern California to Chicago in a sleeper car using miles.

When our daughter was born we followed this advice to earn a Southwest Airlines companion pass for free flights, allowing our points to travel twice as far.

Now I put nearly all my spending on credit cards. The key is to pay off the credit cards every month. And I am diligent. If you aren’t able to pay off your credit card every month, then don’t play this game. The free travel isn’t worth the high interest.

Lately I have been focusing on earning more hotel miles. We anticipate many weekend road trips in our future, and a hotel comes in very handy. Our travel lives continue to evolve. 🙂

Beach vacation free travel

Whether you are single or a family traveler, there are many ways you can earn miles toward free travel.

If you are new to earning frequent flyer miles, start by checking out these sites to learn creative ways to earn free travel:

What are your tips for earning free or nearly free travel?

7 Tips for Simple Flights with a Toddler
Family, Travel

7 Tips for Simple Flights with a Toddler

Despite the fact that my husband and I are veteran travelers, I was still really nervous (terrified) to fly with our toddler. I put off our first family flight for quite awhile. Now after several flights of varying duration with our toddler, I have learned that you can make it through with proper planning and a bit of luck.

It is not possible to eliminate all toddler meltdowns, but you can greatly decrease the probability by following these simple tips.

#1 Do take snacks for the plane even if food will be served. I guarantee your toddler is not going to like most of the food served. And bring finger foods. Crackers and apple slices = win; spaghetti and meatballs = humiliating mess.

#2 Don’t forget their favorite snuggly stuffed animal AND blanket. Having their snuggly will help them fall sleep once the excitement of being on the plane has worn off. Some budget airlines like Southwest don’t pass out blankets anymore, and who wants a frozen tot? A familiar warm blanket is where it’s at.

#3 In addition to snacks–bring a sippy cup of their favorite drink. Does your toddler love juice and you hate it? It doesn’t matter. Bring the juice. During take off and descent, let them drink from their sippy cup to allow their ears to pop. And if it has to be juice, for the love of god, water it down. You don’t want to deal with a sugar high on an eight hour flight.

#4 While waiting for the plane, walk around the airport with your toddler. And I mean walk with them, don’t push them in the stroller. Let them walk and run all of their wiggles out before getting on the plane.7 TIps for Simple Flights with a Toddler

#5 Bring a few activities for them to do on the plane. This means quiet and portable activities. Coloring book and crayons if they can color on paper without defacing the plane itself. Those triangle shaped crayons are amazing because they don’t roll away–perfect for when you are strapped in. Bring stickers or those magnetic sticker books (my daughter’s favorite) for at least an hour of entertainment for kids who are beyond the put-everything-in-my-mouth stage.

#6 Do NOT be afraid to change your toddler on the plane. If your toddler is still in diapers, then you may have to change a dirty diaper in an excruciatingly tiny bathroom. Believe it or not, not all airport bathrooms have changing tables. It is a good practice to ask the flight attendants about the changing table situation when you board the flight so you know the go-to bathroom in a pinch.

#7 Relax. Your toddler will scream. He will stare at the passengers behind you while licking his lips because he wants some of the candy they are eating. She will slither down to the ground and try to crawl under the seats. Know that other kids have done the same and that the other passengers will live to see another day. If an embarrassing moment happens, apologize, redirect your toddler, and continue to count down the number of seconds until the plane lands.

These are some of the tricks that we have used with our toddler to make air travel somewhat pleasant. It’s not rocket science, but it pays to be prepared.

I’m still working on being a relaxed traveling parent. I chant the #7 tip to myself over and over as we prepare to board an airplane as a family. “Relax, relax, relax. My job is to minimize collateral damage for the other passengers, not completely eliminate it. Relax, relax, relax.”

It usually works.

Here is to a successful flight with your little ones.

Do you have any tips for simple travel with a toddler?

Cruise Ship docked in Haines, Alaska
Simplify, Travel

How Cruise Ship Life Inspired My Minimalism

After graduating college in the late 90s, I landed a job working on a cruise ship. I got paid to play with kids and adults all day, and I loved it.
Cruise Ships in distance
When I left for my first contract, I packed my entire life into 2 giant suitcases. I remember how much I agonized over what to bring, and I was certain that I would leave behind something really important. In the end, all the clothes and accessories I packed ended up being way too much stuff.

Leaving stuff behind was painful during the packing process.

Having less became liberating once I was living on the ship.

First, I had no place to put stuff. Crew cabins are much smaller than passenger cabins and often 4 of us shared one.

Oh, have you cruised before? You didn’t think the cabins could get much smaller on cruise ships? Think again.

4 crew performing in uniform

Staff performance. Glasses help protect the innocent. I’m on the far right. 🙂

What was surprising was how liberating it felt to live with so little stuff. Our work uniforms were laundered for us. I didn’t need much clothing for off-duty times since we worked every day. The books I brought were read and passed on to others (this was way before Kindles). It was the ultimate sharing economy. Crew bought stereos and TVs and bequeathed them to friends when their contracts were up. It felt good to know that others would use your stuff when you were done. And it made our bags much lighter when we flew home.

By my second contract I only packed one suitcase and included half the stuff I brought on my first contract. And I was staying for twice as long.

Many of us have such a distorted view of what we truly need. How many times have you traveled and not worn half the clothes you packed? Not used that latest gadget that you had to have after one week?

It’s true, we didn’t have a lot of spare time during our contracts at sea, but the experience changed me. I already wasn’t a big collector, but living in a tight environment taught me that I could let go of what I didn’t need and trust that what I did need would float into my life. I learned to let go more easily.

In cruise ship uniform wearing life jacket

Goofing off with my cabinmates before boat drill

Most importantly, I learned to collect experiences rather than things. I had amazing experiences at sea, and I rarely bought souvenirs for myself. I took photos, but more often, I would do my best just to be in the moment.

In fact, after awhile, the idea of stuff started to weigh me down.

Even today I absolutely love passing on items to friends who need what is no longer useful to me.

After living in such a small space with so many people, I have learned that it is easier to get along in this world, and certainly much more enjoyable, if you don’t try to cram your closets with way too much stuff.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there is a term for this mindset. Minimalism.


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