Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Life (page 1 of 2)

Reflecting on our 2016 Travels

As I sit here on the 20th floor of the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, watching the snow gently swirling lazily down to the street below, I find myself reflecting on our 2016 travels. What a wonderful year of travel my wife and I have enjoyed. It has truly been amazing. So many experiences in so many place. And for so little out of pocket.

We started things off with a wonderful winter trip to Quebec City, Montreal, and New York City. Quebec City is about as European as you can get without traveling to Europe, and we had a lovely four days in a tiny apartment we rented. It was our first experience using AirBnb, and also our first experience of negative Fahrenheit temperatures. Additionally, I realized that my wife absolutely loves ice skating, but is terrified of skiing.

Spring included a couple trips to visit family and friends. Summer then brought our biggest adventure. We were able to spend 30 days in Europe, enjoying the balmy French Riviera, the art and history of Italy, and the exquisitely beautiful Emerald Isle. I already long to go back to Ireland.

During autumn we surprised my in-laws in Portland for a few days in the rainy Pacific Northwest. And now we are on our final adventure of the year, one that will bridge 2016 and 2017, here in Vancouver. We enjoyed Granville Public Market today, and plan to have an easygoing New Years Eve. Tomorrow will be spent in Stanley Park, and Monday is yet unplanned.

All Thanks to Travel Hacking

Through the miles and points we accrued in 2015 and 2016, we were able to enjoy these experiences at a fraction of what they normally would have cost. The flights for nearly all of our trips have been on miles we’ve earned, and much of our hotel has been on points. For our summer trip to Europe, we paid for a total of 4 nights of hotel, plus minimal amounts in taxes for many of the other nights. Flights for the two of us cost a mere $350 total.

I absolutely love helping others interested in the world of “travel hacking”. This is one of the biggest reasons I was so thrilled to be on-boarded with Points with a Crew as a contributor this month. It has allowed me to write for a larger, more established audience (sadly, I’ve written less here).

For my local friends and family, I hope to hold a “Travel Hacking 101” session in late January 2017. I am still thinking about the venue and format, but I would like to set up a time for both a presentation and some Q&A afterwards. If you’re reading this and live in Humboldt, send me a message via email or Facebook if you’re interested and want a spot before I release the invite to the world.

Reflecting on our 2016 travels

Looking forward now to 2017

Looking Forward

Things are mostly unknown looking into 2017. I wrote about 3 trips I look forward to over at Points with a Crew, but these only carry us through January (as we are currently on one of the 3 I wrote about!). We know that 2017 will likely bring a large amount of change to our lives.

Actually….our lives will probably be turned upside down. It is almost certain that 2017 will be the year we finally adopt our children. My wife and I recently had to do a home study update (since it has been so long since we completed the initial one), and from the communication we have had with our agency, they are very hopeful that we will have a referral soon. We are so excited.

This does mean we have to keep the travel plans to a minimum, since we will need to drop everything and be ready to travel about 6 weeks after we say yes to our kids. But I am completely fine with that. Starting our family will be our new adventure. 🙂

I’ve Been Accepted as a Points-with-a-Crew Contributor!

A few weeks ago, Dan Miller over at Points with a Crew (PWAC) started taking applications for writer positions for his blog. His site is part of the collection of Boarding Area blogs and has decent readership.

Dan has written many good pieces on family travel, detailing his own experiences from the unique perspective of a father of 6. He also regularly posts on credit card and reselling deals, interesting travel stories, and general tips on how to make cheap travel happen with a large family.

When he announced that he would be taking on contributors, I was eager to apply. I figured that I might actually have a shot at the position, having been developing my own blog over the past year, albeit I have nowhere near his readership. I jumped at the opportunity to write for a larger audience.

After writing up my “travel hacking resume” and sending it in along with some links to my work here, I soon got an email from Dan. We cleared up a few things about my interest in the position via email, and he then informed me I had made the second round of picks.

The final round of “interview” required me to write a few sample pieces. I submitted the final of my three samples last Sunday, and anxiously waited for an email. In my head I gave myself a 10-20% chance of actually being selected.

Thus I was floored when I received Dan’s email congratulating me on my selection!

I’ll now be writing multiple articles per week for PWAC, mainly focusing on  travel deals and news. My first one went live today!

Experiences vs Material Things

While my wife and I were driving home from our recent weekend getaway to San Francisco, she read an article to me that really hit home. Rather, it described something I already knew to be true: experiences are far more impactful than material things. Experiences also generally provide greater happiness in the long run. Research shows memories tend to grow fonder with age, whereas things are often quickly forgotten.

Personal case in point: I would much rather spend money on a travel experience than on virtually any new possession. Why? I find traveling far more fulfilling. My wife and I have been on several wonderful trips these past couple years, and I cannot imagine trading them for any material things of similar value. Stuff wears out. Memories last a lifetime. I’d rather have the latter.


Our iceberg tour in Twillingate, Newfoundland was one of my favorite experiences of 2015

The article also described the benefits of gifting experiences rather than things, but acknowledged that material gifts have their place. For this the author supplied the  “four gift rule” (which is apparently fairly well known, but is new to me):

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

So simplifying. Make the rest experiences.

Starting this Christmas, my wife and I have decided to start focusing on gifting experiences rather than things. We know that completely changing our gift buying habits won’t happen immediately, but we have already had some great ideas for some of our extended family and friends.

It’s utterly cliché, but the best things in life aren’t things. Make memories and take photographs. Remember the places you’ve been and the people you’ve met. Ditch the stuff. You can’t take it with you anyway.

A Tale Of Two Minivans

It became evident during the past few days that I intensely dislike car shopping. Salespeople generally put me off already, but it becomes even more nerve-wracking when you are looking at a several thousand dollar used car purchase. So stressful. But the ordeal is over, and we have swapped our old Dodge for a much newer Honda.

For a couple years now, my wife and I have been saving to buy a new vehicle. We inherited a minivan from my wife’s grandpa just before we were married, and it has served us well enough for four years.  A bit cantankerous at times, it had an annoying habit of rebelling each time we wanted to take out of the county. But other than that it generally ran well.


The first real rain came with a fury. And once again revealed a leaking vehicle.

Originally we intended to get a new vehicle next spring, but the first real rain of autumn quickly changed our minds. I had completely forgotten that the back hatch had developed a leak. We didn’t really feel like dealing with the issue for another Humboldt winter, so I started searching in earnest.

We settled on a Honda Odyssey as our desired vehicle. I spent six hours on Sunday looking at craigslist ads and listings at dealerships. As suspected, there weren’t really any options for used Odysseys in the price, mileage, and year ranges we were interested in. I expanded the search to Sacramento, the Bay Area, and as far south and Los Angeles and San Diego. We found a few promising options near the Bay, and I decided to hit the road this week to take a look.

I worked a half day Tuesday and set up two later afternoon appointments to test drive a couple vans in Sonoma and Marin counties. I would then head to East Bay the following morning to take a look at one more that my wife and I really liked. After lunch I grabbed the checkbook, visited the bank, and then hit the road.

As I was backing out of the credit union parking lot, my phone buzzed. Highway 101 was closed due to a truck crash and fuel spill. Of course. This happens every single time.


Rest stop in Red Bluff.

So Highway 36 it was. This was gonna cost a lot of time and make me miss all the appointments I had made. Three winding hours later I was finally in Red Bluff. After gassing up and checking some local listings, I took off toward Chico to look at a 2010 Odyssey. Just before dark I arrived to find that the vehicle had just been sold. Strike one.

Booking a hotel in the North Bay (that helped fulfill my Fall IHG Accelerate promotion), I figured I would show up bright and early in Walnut Creek to make sure the next one didn’t get away from me. Arriving precisely at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, I inquired about the second van, only to find that it had sold the previous evening. Strike two.


First one I test drove. Had an awful steering wobble.

So it was on to the third dealership, which was luckily also in Walnut Creek. They had a decently priced 2013 Odyssey LX that looked fantastic. The body and interior were in pristine shape, but the test drive went poorly. The steering had a major wobble over 45 mph. I decided to move on.

I examined and drove two more vans in Hayward, and struck out on both of those as well. Neither felt right and both were pricey. Then I zipped across the San Mateo bridge to try and look at another, and finally it was back to Oakland. By this point it was 4:00 p.m. and I was frustrated.

The last van was a lovely, silver 2012 Odyssey LX, and the asking price was on the very low end of the Kelley Blue Book range. After a test drive and examination, I was feeling good about this one. Then the CarFax showed it had been in a minor accident. The salesman and sales manager assured me everything was fine. The front end body work looked very good. I never would have known. But I still had some reservations.


The final pick. So happy I finally found one.

An hour of indecision later, after multiple phone calls and a lot of discussion with family, I finally decided that the price was right and I should pull the trigger. Our old minivan, the champ that had just navigated 36 and nearly 500 miles of California with nary a problem, was put out to pasture for ~$270 trade-in value. It would be headed to the auction. Another hour later I was driving away in the Odyssey. My second night was spent at the Sheraton Petaluma, and I made it home around noon the next day.

It was a trek of two days and two nights, but it was successful. A third-party inspection of the van by a local dealer resulted in nearly a clean slate, and the couple problems uncovered were very minor. We are happy with the purchase. Let’s just hope that the pace of the next road trip is a bit slower and less stressful.

Dreaming Of Guatemala

Jungle. Volcanoes. Wonderfully friendly people. My trip to Guatemala in July 2015 is one that I will remember forever, and hopefully is the first of many. Among all the mission trips of which I have been a part, I will venture to say it was my favorite. Our team was a family. Our Guatemalan brothers and sisters welcomed us with warm hospitality and open arms. It was a piece of what I wish the body of Christ was like all the time. The longing to return hits me hard even as I write this.

2015-08-01 12.39.29

Some of the summer 2015 mission team with kids from Los Ocotes.

My whole experience has gotten me thinking. Why does it take a mission trip to a foreign country for the world to seem clearer? It’s like reality comes sharply into focus for a few seconds, and then everything goes fuzzy again. In those brief moments of clarity I understand exactly how I should be living. My heart is opened to God’s word and Spirit in a much deeper way, and I want the world around me to simply stop so I can enjoy that moment forever. I really hope this is a small taste of what heaven is like.

Then the questions flood my mind. Why is it so difficult to maintain this same perspective at home? Why do I not have the same close fellowship with the Lord at all times? Why do I so easily let work and other obligations fill my day and cloud my thinking?


Living for Christ is an everyday pursuit. The Lord’s words were not just ‘pick up your cross’, but ‘pick up your cross daily’, at least in Luke’s account. That single word adds so much more depth to the meaning. Our battle is a daily struggle. We must seek Him each and every day. We must press onward, never turning back.

I can honestly say that I do not pursue Him as I ought. The desire ebbs and flows. My mind often wanders in my daily reading of scripture. Other pursuits crowd out my relationship with my Lord. I should not be so. There is no greater pursuit in life than to know and be known by the Lord of the universe.


Los Ocotes

Which makes me appreciate the moments of clarity. I long for the sweetness again that my time in Guatemala brought. I wish to experience it again, and this time to share it with my wife. I honestly expect that once we have raised a family and are in the later years of our lives, that we will end up on the mission field in some corner of the globe.


Kids at school near Zacapa

I had hoped to travel to Guatemala again this year, and not just because I want to take another trip. I want to enjoy the fellowship with my Guatemalan brothers and sisters again. I want to sit and talk with Roby, a young man I connected with last summer. We talk often via chat, but it isn’t the same as talking in person in a mix broken Spanish and English. I had hoped to visit him this November, but things aren’t working out.


At another school near Zacapa

Lord willing we will return in 2017 with our church’s team.

Most photos courtesy of Jen Mrotzek.

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