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When You Can't Afford "Almost Free" Travel

March 07, 2015
7 min read
When You Can't Afford "Almost Free" Travel
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My name is Summer and I'm a travel addict.

Okay, maybe addict is a bit strong of a word, but it is safe to say that I'm a travel junkie. I love travel. It's my #1 hobby, my biggest passion outside of my family, and I'm so lucky to have found the world of miles and points to help fund this otherwise potentially pricey hobby.

Since you are spending some of your time on this site, I'm betting many of you could write similar sentences about yourselves.

Most people assume that travel is expensive, and it certainly can be. However, it can be very inexpensive, and thanks to miles and points, portions of it can be almost free. For example, we recently used miles to fly to Jamaica and then spent a few nights on Hyatt points at their new all-inclusive property where lodging, meals, and activities were all included. That portion of the trip was indeed "almost free" as the only cost was some Hyatt points we had to burn.

Of course, "almost free" is not the same as totally and completely free, and as you know, not all trips can be purely funded with miles and points. It's for those reasons that I've not been able to feed my addiction er, hobby with planning and booking new trips the last couple months, and it's time I write a little about it because it is something very real that happens in lots of families. If I do nothing else here, I want to keep the realities of family travel and family life real and honest. Sometimes that will mean I'm encouraging you to pack up your kids and explore the world, and sometimes it will mean something a bit different. Today it means something a bit different.

A couple months ago my husband went to work one Friday morning only to find himself by Friday afternoon in a situation that millions of other Americans are also facing - looking for a new job. This wasn't something we planned for or were expecting, and it goes without saying that suddenly having the primary provider of income and benefits for the family looking for work with a second child on the way is not the way we would have scripted this chapter of our lives. As he is in the IT industry, we have been through this once years ago (before we were even married), but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow at this point in our lives.

Luckily, we will have savings, a small severance, and COBRA to serve as a buffer during this time of transition, but with a mortgage, a typical assortment of monthly bills, a kid here, and one on the way, we certainly have had to dramatically reign in spending on many "non-essential" purchases. Thank goodness we don't have any credit card debt despite having dozen of credit cards!

Determining what is truly essential and cutting back on things you are used to isn't fun, nor pretty; it's stressful, and week after week it's still a work in progress, but needless to say we certainly haven't booked any new family vacations since getting the news that cold Friday afternoon.

If your primary hobby is chess, reading, drawing, yoga, knitting, or a number of other things, then when something like an unexpected job change hits, you can theoretically still have that hobby as a good and healthy outlet. However, when your hobby is travel, it isn't so simple to keep that up during a time of really cutting back. Lucky for me I can still write about my hobby and help others book the trips of their dreams, which really is almost as good. Thanks to everyone who unknowingly has been helping out when they share their booking success stories in the comments section or via email!

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Also luckily for me miles and points do make it possible to enjoy some travel even while budgets are very tight. For example, I have a trip to Spain with my mom and daughter coming up very soon. This trip was in part a Christmas present to my mom, and given our unexpected change in financial circumstances it would be hard to continue on with a trip to Europe. However, since the hotels are booked on points instead of cash, we can still go on the trip without it being a huge financial burden.

We can also still use airline miles and such to book trips to see relatives, or for some very inexpensive weekend getaways even if the job search drags on longer than we would like. We won't be traveling super frequently, or going on all of the same types of trips as we were before, but we won't be totally cut-off either. That is a pretty reassuring feeling when we are facing so many other unknowns. We certainly wouldn't be able to consider any of that right now without a nice stash of miles and points to tap into.

So what does all of this change and uncertainty mean for this site? Right now, nothing really. It is the same as it has been the last few months, and the last few years. Even if we aren't hopping on $355 round trip flights to Hawaii ourselves, I still love writing about them. I still have some trip reports to write up, and a couple more inexpensive trips booked on the horizon. I just applied for and received a new rewards credit card yesterday (more on that soon), and I don't see my love and time devoted to this hobby changing in any near future. Since our second daughter is due this summer, I was already going to be a bit more home-bound for a while, so nothing really changes there either.

Longer term, might I need to secure a full time job once more, and scale back here? It's possible. Right now, almost anything is possible. Blogging certainly is a full time job, but without full time job benefits and a traditional steady paycheck. Hopefully this time of transition resolves itself successfully, and we are able to go back to "normal", albeit with a renewed sense of appreciation and understanding of what is really important. I mean, that's how it happens in the movies, right?

Seriously though, I have full faith in my husband, and know we will work together and be fine. I don't know exactly what that will end up looking like, and I know it won't always be easy in the day to day moments, but we'll make it. I'll live a little more vicariously through the exciting travels of all of you guys for a while and mix in a few of our own very inexpensive jaunts using miles and points. I also get the chance to look back on all the amazing trips we have been able to take over the past several years.

Miles and points are sometimes there to help your vacation budget stretch to some incredible destinations in incredible comfort, and sometimes they are there to just make it possible to book that airline ticket at all. We've seen both sides of that coin, and as a travel junkie, I'm grateful for both realities.