Gone, but not forgotten: How my father instilled in me a love for travel — and points and miles

Jun 21, 2020

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This is not a Father’s Day story about traveling with my dad. But, it is a story about how my father inspired me to be the traveler I am today.

My dad was a frugal man who dedicated himself to his job and providing for his family. He had a career working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, as a civilian in the finance department, contributing to the first flight of the B-1 bomber in ’74, leading the B-52 team in ’77, and the F-16 team in ’98, to name a few.

He passed away while I was in college. Up until that point, my own travel experiences consisted mainly of family road trips through the Blue Ridge Mountains to North Carolina to visit aunts and uncles and get our barbecue fix.

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With a focus on work and saving money, my dad planned to defer most of his vacationing until retirement. But his passion for travel was evident all along.

When I was just a few years old, we made a rare trip to the West Coast to visit family. As my older brother tells it, my dad stayed up until midnight to call the airlines — this was 1986, after all — 330 days out, booking award tickets on two separate carriers to maximize his points utilization. My dad and brother headed off on one flight, while my mother and us three girls were on another. My dad made sure to reserve the bulkhead seats for us. (I was riding in style on my mom’s lap.)

A family pit stop at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

At one point during the trip, he tried to drive all six of us from San Francisco to Yosemite and back (six hours round-trip) in just one day. My mom put the kibosh on the mission, and understandably so, but that sums him up in a nutshell: He wanted to see it all, make the most of every single opportunity — something that resonates with me to this day.

Related: How to book your first award ticket using airline miles

Despite not taking many paid vacations, my dad’s career gave him the opportunity to see the world. The government sent him on business to destinations such as Norway, Portugal and Brussels. Even from a young age I couldn’t get enough of these places, from the souvenirs he brought home (glossy in-fight Air France magazines, a classic Portuguese Rooster of Barcelos), to taking in the grandeur of European architecture for the first time in my life via the grainy 3×5 photos he snapped.

I wish so badly we had had the chance to explore this great world together.

Yet I am not empty-handed. I am grateful for having learned so much from my father — some lessons he taught me intentionally and others that have emerged posthumously. His proclivity for saving money while I was growing up is the heart of my own love of points and miles. I can’t help but think about how much he would enjoy TPG.

Related: TPG’s beginner’s guide to points, miles and credit cards

On the flip side, the most important lesson he unintentionally taught me is not to wait to do the things you love. For me, that’s been to travel, to see family, to create memories, to take in the beauty of the world — a great reminder of just how lucky we are to be alive.

Before he died, my dad did manage to squeeze in a cruise to Alaska, what surely must have been a bucket list experience for him as a lover of nature. Many years later, the first time I visited the state, I couldn’t help but think of him with every new mountaintop, every passing lake, every field of bright purple fireweed and every bird that flew overhead. It is truly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. And if I’m being honest, maybe part of that is because of how close I felt to him while being there.

There’s no better travel experience than that.

Feature image courtesy of the author. 

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