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10 years of points and miles: A look back at the trip that started my journey

July 05, 2021
12 min read
Kabul, Afghanistan
10 years of points and miles: A look back at the trip that started my journey
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You know those iPhoto or "on this day" alerts that send you reminders of important memories you've made in the past?

Well somehow, technology and algorithms missed reminding me of the 10-year anniversary of the trip that changed my life.

On June 14, 2011, I traveled back to Afghanistan for the first time since my family left during a civil war in 1989. It was a trip that I had wanted to take my whole life and when it finally happened, it impacted every aspect of my life in the most unexpected ways.

Back in 2011, I was two years out of college, deeply miserable at work and in life.

I was depressed, my world seemed small and I was afraid to make a move in a different direction. My dad saw this and called me at work one day, telling me to take time off because we were going on a trip in two weeks.

"Where are we going?" I asked him. His response? "Home." It turns out my dad had booked us a trip to Afghanistan (where I was born), Dubai and Germany (where we lived until I was about 10-years-old).

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I was excited but anxious: What if I'm miserable there? What if it’s not everything I had built up in my head?

As soon as we stepped off the plane, all of those fears disappeared. I felt a sense of familiarity that I didn't expect, having left the country at two years old. I felt like I knew this place. I recognized it. It felt like home.

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The time we spent there was precious, eye-opening and life-affirming.

I met family members for the first time. I got to see the house where I was born, the 150-year-old fortress my great-great-grandfather built in a tiny village outside of Kabul. I met high-ranking government officials, a family that inhabited a tent in the gardens of Darul Aman Palace, veterans of the Afghan-Russian war who spoke of the David-vs.-Goliath battle in the most nonchalant way while displaying relics of old Soviet tanks. I took in the most beautiful, rugged lanscape that I couldn't quite capture in photos.

 

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Throughout all of this, I felt a sense of ease that I didn't expect. I'm very sensitive to other people's suffering and thought it would be unbearable for me. But even the poorest people displayed a remarkable lightness and resilience that put me at ease.

At one point during our trip, a large city market became victim to a suicide bombing. We went to that market two days later and everything had gone back to normal. Seeing how people moved on with their daily lives and adjusted after such a horrific event was eye-opening.

I took stock of my life: The things that made me unhappy (work, a lack of direction) and compared it to the young people around me who were born in the same place, at the same time but through nothing but sheer luck, I ended up with better opportunities and a life that they aspired to.

 

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I returned to my home in the U.S. with a new perspective. The world seemed bigger and the things that I wanted felt possible again. I was determined to change my life.

I wanted three things: a different job, to write for a living and to travel more. All of these goals that had seemed daunting months before suddenly felt within reach.

The travel part seemed easiest to tackle first, so I began googling “free travel.”

Rather than getting scammed, I encountered a group of people who did strange things to earn points and then spent them on incredible trips. I became obsessed. I read every blog out there and scoured FlyerTalk for all the tips and tricks I could find until I eventually had a document on my computer filled with notes that I would share with friends and family.

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Eventually, I got so tired of explaining this hobby to people, that I started my own blog in 2012.

That same year, I also replicated my trip to Afghanistan using points and miles. It was a stressful experience, but I learned so much about award availability and routing rules.

I decided to write about that trip, even though I wondered if anyone would read it. All the other bloggers at the time were writing about first-class trips to Singapore and here I was, writing about a non-glamorous trip to an impoverished place that didn’t garner the most positive reaction from most people. The night before my trip report went live, I had such anxiety: Would people read it? Would the ever-hungry internet trolls be out in full force?

To my surprise, people responded with warmth and curiosity. They expressed how much they valued a perspective that was different from other blogs and points-and-miles focused writers that were out there. The thing that I assumed would be most unappealing about my story ended up being what helped me stand out.

 

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The story caught the attention of Million Mile Secrets (also now owned by TPG's parent company, Red Ventures) and the site interviewed me for a featured piece. After the article was published, I was flooded with new readers.

Frugal Travel Guy, one of the original large points and miles sites, came next, asking me to guest blog and then run the site, along with the editorial side of FlyerTalk.

It all happened so fast. Just a year later, I had my dream job writing for two sites that taught me everything I knew about points. I had a hobby that was fun and rewarding. I found a community of like-minded people and formed friendships that I still have to this day. And, I met my other goal and got to travel to incredible places all over the world that had seemed out of reach before.

I've now earned millions of miles, had countless adventures and connected with family, friends and strangers around the world.

A decade later, I’m still chasing points and my life has changed drastically. I owe all of that to this trip and hobby. It’s been a catalyst for all the good things that came my way over the last decade.

Travel is powerful and, in my case, it helped me connect to the world during a time when it seemed scary and progress seemed out of reach. With the help of points and miles, I was able to not only travel more and escape that dark place I was in, but I found a new career and a new way forward.

Here's wishing that the next decade will be as rewarding as the last.

Featured image by (Photo by Ariana Arghandewal/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023