Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reflection (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. 🙂

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.

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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 Little Post-Thanksgiving Trip

Too often I forget that a quick getaway can be just as enjoyable as a multi-week adventure. This weekend was a great reminder of that. Quick trips may not seem as grand, especially in light of some of our recent ones, but they are far more doable.

After a lovely Thanksgiving, my wife and I hit the road for some time together in San Francisco this past weekend. My job gives me both Thursday and Friday off for the holiday, so it was the perfect opportunity for a quick getaway.

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The Westin St. Francis, venue for Tremaine Convention

There were some ulterior motives beyond simply visiting the City by the Bay. The annual Tremaine Dance Convention in San Francisco is traditionally been slated for the weekend after Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception. My wife has taught dance for several years at a local studio, and I figured we could catch some of her students’ competition dances at the event. As this is the last year she will be teaching (before we bring our kids home), I figured it would be extra special for her to attend.

I have been to San Francisco many times over the past few years. But rather than letting it feel like old hat, I was excited for a weekend away. Most of my trips to the Bay are for work, and it is rare that my wife and I get any time in the city. The last time was supposed to be special, but it turned into a hectic anniversary spent getting a passport.

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The Mark Hopkins Hotel

For our first night I was able to get a fantastic rate for a night at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, an iconic, historic hotel located at the top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill. At only 4 blocks from the dance convention and Union Square, the location was great as well.

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Front of the Mark Hopkins

The hotel normally runs $300+ per night for a standard room, or 60,000 IHG points. We got it for way less. It was actually the lowest rate I had ever seen for the Mark Hopkins.

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Christmas tree in the Mark Hopkins lobby

The Mark Hopkins is beautiful. The lobby and restaurant were already decorated for Christmas. Check-in was a little busy, and I could tell the front desk just wanted to get us on our way. They did upgrade us to a corner room, but not on a high floor or with a view of the Bay. But it was still very nice (main view is header photo).

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View of the front valet lot

We spent a relaxing night at the hotel, simply enjoying the time together. A great part of the experience was enjoying dessert at the Top of the Mark, the 19th floor restaurant with wonderful views of downtown San Francisco and the Bay.

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View from our table at the Top of the Mark

The next day we visited Union Square with its traditional Christmas tree. We considered ice skating at the rink as well, but were a bit turned off by the price. As it turned out, it was raining heavily during the middle of the day, so I was quite happy we didn’t buy tickets. We’ll have some skating opportunities near home before the season is over.

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The Christmas Tree in Union Square

After lunch and a crazy drive through town to re-park the van (we burnt an hour looking for an open parking garage), it was time for the dance competition. I left my wife at the mezzanine level of the Westin St. Francis and headed off to a coffee shop for the evening. After blogging and slacking for a while, I decided go watch Arrival at the AMC Metreon.

I fetched my wife roughly five(!) hours (man, that is a lot of dancing). Our second night was a cash and points booking at a Holiday Inn Express just over an hour from the city. The two stays would finish off my Fall 2016 IHG Accelerate promotion.

Sunday was spent driving home, enjoying the redwoods, the rain, and the time together. Now that we have a more reliable vehicle, I hope we can take many more weekend getaways.

 

 

 

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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At another school near Zacapa

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

Most photos courtesy of Jen Mrotzek.

Thirty Days In Europe

Our thirty days away were incredible. My wife and I visited 6 countries, saw so many beautiful places rich with history, and simply enjoyed day after day of time together. A couple years ago I never would have dreamed that we would be able to have such an adventure. Thank you airline miles and hotel points.

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A breathtaking view of Monaco from La Turbie, France.

We started in southern France, seeing the Azure Coast for several days. The highlights included wandering the narrow streets of Old Nice, hiking up the slopes above the tiny Principality of Monaco, and strolling the paths of the beautiful Lerins Islands off the coast of Cannes.

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The rooftops of Florence, dominated by the Duomo.

Then it was onward to Italy, where we stayed in the swanky Park Hyatt Milan (for free, of course!) before moving on to the tiny Republic of San Marino. The spectacular views from Monte Titano made our days in this unique country some of my favorites. The we were off to enjoy the art in Florence, before moving on to the history of ancient Rome.

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The Colosseum was my favorite place in Roma, hands-down.

Ireland was our final stop, where the weather was a refreshing change from the hot and humid Mediterranean. The lush, green landscapes and lazy rivers already leave me longing to go back. It really was yet another ‘once in a lifetime’ trip!

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National Botanical Gardens (free!) in Dublin, Ireland.

Our time away really caused me to pause and think about life. It made me consider where life has taken us and where we are headed. I realized how incredibly fortunate we are to be able to see the world like this, especially now, while we are young. And I also realized that it is a gift. We may not always have opportunities like this.

Life had changed so much for us in the last couple years. I finished school, sold my landscaping business, and landed in a job that is both enjoyable and flexible. My boss allows me to “commute” from abroad from time to time. It is something I too often take for granted. I may not always enjoy such freedom. But I hope to leverage it as long as I can.

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Somewhere over the western United States.

This got me thinking about where we are headed. I love the job I have and everything that it has allowed us to do. But there are some days on which I really feel like this won’t last. Only God knows. I left a piece of my heart in Guatemala last summer, and I often wonder if the Lord will lead us there someday. Or to some other country. I love living in America, but there are days where I feel like we belong somewhere else. Maybe it is just the wandering thoughts of a still-in-his-20s dreamer, or maybe it is a nudge from the Lord as to where we should really be investing. Time will make it clear.

But right now it is back to our current reality after a beautiful time away. We need to knuckle-down and save for a new vehicle. We also just had our adoption dossier approved (finally), and are now waiting on a phone call that will take us to Costa Rica to meet our children! Which kinda puts life in limbo…and also makes travel harder to plan. Not to mention life will change dramatically once we are matched with our kids.

Maybe we will get away again for a while, or maybe we won’t. We do hope to join our church’s mission team to Guatemala in December, but that is the only trip on the radar at this point. Travel to far-flung places is likely going to hit the back-burner for a while. And I can honestly say that I am content with that.

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