Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reflection (page 1 of 3)

Walking Away from a Trip – Lessons Learned

I’ve been pretty silent of late, which has been primarily because of how busy work has been over the past month and a half. But added to that has been two weeks of deliberation over whether we would take a trip, or simply walk away from it. But now I finally have a bunch of thoughts to pen.

The travel hacking hobby allows us to do so much more than we otherwise could. My wife and I have had the ability to travel often during the past couple years, and I have started taking our older kids on quick getaways now and then, our most recent being to Sacramento. We also visited Disneyland, and while there is really no way to make a trip like that close to free, we were able to cut a good chunk of the cost.

Sometimes this means I try to plan “once-in-a-lifetime” trips at a fairly regular pace. I’d say we could do it on the order of once per year if I play the points game well.

Planning a trip to Europe

Back in February I broached the subject of taking the older two kids to Europe. In our initial conversations, my wife seemed supportive of the idea. It would give her needed time to plan a few aspects of our household that we hadn’t gotten to since the kids had been home.

I was initially looking at a 12 day adventure, but then upped it to 15. Our previous longest trip was four full days, so this is definitely a step up. After locking the flights in for a grand total of $0, the hotels easily fell into place over the next several weeks, all on points. We were looking at a completely free vacation in terms of lodging and air travel.

Fast-forward to a mere 2 weeks before the trip, and the misgivings are setting in. My wife is feeling conflicted about us all being apart that long. I had already told the kids, and the ball is rolling to get passports before we go (having adopted kids delayed and complicated things paperwork-wise, so we ran out of time). I decided to play things out and see if we would both come to consensus on the idea.

The departure day finally arrives and we say goodbye in Santa Rosa. The older two and I finish the journey to the city by bus. I’m feeling conflicted at this point, but I had other pressing concerns (work in the City being one of them), and decide to press forward and keep discussing things as we go.

Walking away at the last second

After spending the weekend in the Bay with the kids (while also working…definitely a difficult mix), we came down to the very day of travel. We woke up in a hotel with amazing views of planes taking off and landing at SFO, and the kids were super excited. I was not.

I’ve rarely felt so conflicted about anything. The trip was a big mess of various concerns. I had pragmatic reasons for planning it, those being giving mom time with the little one and time to get a bunch of household stuff done that she has wanted to do for literally months. But my wife wasn’t 100% in agreement with the idea. It was simply too long a time. That should have been enough to easily call it off, except I kept coming back to the big factor on the other side: the disappointment the older two would inevitably feel. How could we bring them this far along and then pull the rug out from under them? I simply didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t a precedent I wanted to set with them. At the very bottom there was the personal reason of me loving to travel, plus the fact that I knew we would lose some miles and cash should we cancel.

In the end, I finally pulled the plug. There was no other option. The moment of clarity came way too late.

What was the damage? Well….it could have been much worse than it was. I didn’t know this would be the case, but I got the two kids’ tickets back in the form of a Delta voucher for $464 each that is good anytime in the next year. This salvaged the roughly 66,000 Ultimate Rewards points I burned on them. I’m still waiting to hear back about my ticket (booked separately), but my guess is that it is a total loss. The 13,100 points I spent on the Norwegian Airlines intra-Europe flights are a total loss.

We also have to factor in the cost of getting expedited passports, the last minute cost of traveling home, and one hotel cancellation that may result in a charge (remains to be seen). I was technically a few hours after the cancellation deadline. All in all, the loss will be about $700 worth of points and maybe $300 cash.

The real damage was having to tell the kids we weren’t going to go. Getting them excited and working toward that goal as a family for the last two weeks just made it all that much harder. This was the main reason I had deliberated so much, since I didn’t want to face them and tell them this. There were tears, of course, and questions about why. I cried with them. The trip didn’t really matter to me at all any more. Seeing them hurt did. I had set them up for major disappointment. My heart still aches.

But in the end, I believe it was the right choice. This was simply too much for all of us.

Lessons learned

With fare sales, transient award availability, and other deals in constant flux, the typical motto of those who like to travel hack (or just cheaply) is “jump now and figure the rest out later.” While possibly good in some cases, this isn’t always the best advice. Our initial discussions about the trip idea had been during a period where I could take advantage of a great fare sale, and they were far more abbreviated than they should have been.

Our takeaway from this is that both of us need to be completely sure about something before I go ahead plan it. Especially a mostly non-refundable plan. And more especially if there is any way we could let the kids down. I know this isn’t always avoidable, and life will bring disappointment, but this could have been avoided in our case.

My wife and I are in agreement on most things. She and I both want her to have a break from time to time, and she needs time to plan things for our house. She is a very “all or nothing” person, and needs large chunks of time to be able to accomplish some things. Kids, especially our very needy adopted kids, make this nearly impossible. She was looking forward to an open week in which she could get a lot done. What she wasn’t looking forward to was being apart for so long. It took me too long to face the reality that I need to honor her emotional needs above all other concerns, even pragmatic ones and the emotions of the kids.

We’ll have another chance

This was my attempt at a consolation for the kids. The Eiffel Tower will still be there. We can ride the canals of Amsterdam and walk the streets of Bruges a different time. We may have an opportunity fairly soon, or it could be years from now. We’ll have plenty of opportunity to go other places as well. This didn’t stop the tears, but I made them a promise that I would take us to Paris some day, and hopefully all five of us will go.

The beauty of this hobby is that making a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip is not as hard as someone trying to save cash to do it. Walking away from one doesn’t hurt quite as bad, either. I’m thankful this wasn’t a case of shelling out $4,000 on a non-refundable trip and then having to pull the plug. It hurts to lose point and miles, but at the end of the day, my forfeited ticket was free. Completely free. I didn’t even pay a credit card annual fee for the points.

Conclusion

Everything about this was an important lesson. We have other trips in the works, which I’ll lay out in a separate post, so we also have something to look forward to. We may pencil a couple more in this summer, but right now my wife and I are reassessing our next couple months. I’m also taking a much needed week off since that was already the plan. It’ll just be the first time embracing the stay-cation.

Reflecting on Our 2017 Travels

Twenty-seventeen has been a year of immense change for us. The most profound was going from a couple to a family of five. Instantaneously. Life is a whole new adventure now. But we had been waiting for this for years.

I’ve already written about how much different family travel will be, and how much harder it will be to travel hack for 5 rather than for 2 (SEE: Travel Hacking with Kids: A New Frontier). But we’ll do it. I have the resolve to make it work, and by all observations, our kids will shape up to be great little travelers (SEE: Our First Time Flying with kids.

We’ll see what the future holds. Here are the trips that highlighted 2017:

 

Australia in summer

Winter here is actually summer down under, so my favorite summer trip was a quick 5-night stint in Sydney and Canberra. I had a blast. From Sydney Harbour to the Blue Mountains, it was a fantastic experience.

I spent two nights in Sydney and one in Parramatta, in the suburbs.

In Canberra I stayed at the Park Hyatt (my review). It’s a beautiful building, but I honestly wouldn’t do it again. Everything else is out of my price range. High tea for $62? No thanks.

Vancouver in winter

Here we go visiting Canada again when it is a frozen wasteland. Actually, Vancouver is much milder than Quebec, so winter wasn’t all that bad of a time to visit.

Plus, there were some fun experiences to be had. One of my Christmas gifts to my wife was going to Bright Nights in Stanley Park. Sure, we didn’t need to go that far to see a big Christmas light display, but it was reason enough to head north.

We had some unique experiences here, including walking along a beach with snow on top of the sand. Our day drive to Whistler was also one of my favorite things we did.

Banff in spring

Spring is Canada is basically still winter. Actually, it’s even colder than our mild California winter. But that didn’t keep us from planning a trip to Banff National Park in April.

The pros were that there were very few people and the snow-capped peaks are spectacularly beautiful. The cons were that we couldn’t do much hiking and that we got to walk on top of Lake Louise instead of gazing at its gorgeous turquoise waters. No matter when you go, Banff is utterly picturesque (SEE: Banff, Alberta in 14 photos).

In any case, our stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs was unforgettable. It’s my favorite hotel at which I’ve ever stayed. And we did it all for $99.18 for 3 nights in a huge suite! Major travel hacking win. Banff (and Jasper) are on our list for a return trip, this time in early autumn.

Solar Eclipse in Summer

This was spectacular. If you ever get a chance, go see a solar eclipse. Another will be passing over the United States in 2024. Don’t settle for anything other than 100% totality. A 98% eclipse is still a partial eclipse. The two minutes of totality is worth the effort to experience.

Costa Rica in autumn

The culmination of our 2017 travels (and of over 3 years of waiting) was our adoption trip to Costa Rica. My wife and I were matched with 3 beautiful kids in June, and we traveled in September to meet them.

Even though there is a ton to do in Costa Rica, the bulk of our focus was on bonding with our kids. We only took 2 overnight excursions, one to the Pacific coast and the other to the Caribbean Coast. We also did a day trip on the last week with grandma so that she could see monkeys.

Parenting in hard. I’m sure every parent knows that. But there are some unique challenges that come with adoption. Not to mention the fact that most parents don’t go from 0 to 3 kids literally overnight. Life has been fun, but boy has it been hard and exhausting at times.

The nerdy statistics

Since I’m a geek and track both my hotel nights and flights, here are some of my stats from 2017:

  • Flew over 36,000 miles and stayed over a quarter of the year in hotels (yikes!)
  • Added my third continent, Australia
  • Added 13 new airports, 2 new countries, and 2 new states
  • Flew my first long-haul business class and long-haul first class products
  • Adopted 3 kids! Oh, I guess that isn’t a travel statistic.

Final thoughts

Overall, 2017 has been a year of firsts and changes. It was our final hurrah as a traveling couple, and also the beginning of a new era of family travel. Now that we have kids, I guess it finally makes sense for me to write for Points with a Crew. Except having kids means I have way less time to write, so it is a catch-22.

Here’s hoping 2018 brings some great first family travel experiences!

Endings and New Beginnings

Today our fledgling family is finally making the trek back to the U.S. after our several weeks in Costa Rica. It’s been a fun, exciting, and soul-searching experience. It’s been frustrating at times. But also joyous. So much change in so little time.

Leaving as two, returning as five

Adoption is definitely the toughest thing we’ve ever done. It is hard to describe the mix of feelings. The kids are a joy, yet it is hard to go from having tons of time together to having literally all of it demanded from you. In the end, it it totally worth it.

Our last couple weeks here were a nail-biting experience. I became anxious as our projected travel date loomed nearer and nearer, and we didn’t yet have all the documents we needed. Fortunately, our in-country liaisons went to bat for us and we were able to receive the final visas on Wednesday.

They told us we could travel Thursday, but there was really no reason to go through booking last minute flights (besides saving two days). It would have been a real challenge to hack six tickets. I almost wanted to do it just for the experience.

So today, Saturday, November 4th is the day. You should have seen how much we had to pack. And how long it took. We’re never traveling with this much stuff again.

Southwest is the best

It’s been a while since I’ve flown the busiest domestic airline in the States. Southwest used to be my first luv in the world of flying, but I’ve since found that I’m pretty keen on most airlines.

Somewhere along the way I forgot just how stellar Southwest’s customer service is. I guess time made my memory a bit fuzzy. Previously, I’d detailed how I was banking on Southwest to get us home by locking in fully refundable award tickets at a good price. Through Twitter I’d confirmed that they would change the names of our kids to what appeared on their passports.

Yesterday I finally got around to confirming this with them and providing them with the necessary info. Things went at smooth as butter, even when they messed up our middle son’s middle name. The Twitter rep had that fixed within 3 minutes. At the end I was able to easily input all the passport details and check us in successfully. We even got a decent boarding position.

Praise the Lord for reasonable companies that look out for customers. I’m so happy our flights today worked out.

Always looking forward

Today is the end of one chapter for our children and the beginning of a new one. Even as we wait for our first flight as a family, I’m already dreaming of taking my kids to other far off places around the world. But this may not come for a while. We need a period of adjustment at home, and they need to learn English. It’ll be a little while before we do any serious globe-trotting.

Still, here’s hoping today is the first step toward our kids becoming great travelers.

4 Checked Bags…You Can Obviously Guess Why

Today is a big day. My wife and I are *finally* headed out to adopt our kids in Costa Rica. It has been a long-awaited trip. We packed over yesterday and today…and ended up with 4 checked bags. *sigh* Life is never going to be the same.

When I travel by myself, I travel fast and light. One carry on and a personal item is all I need. When my wife and I travel, we typically check a single bag. We would avoid this, too, except that my wife often has to bring some supplements and liquids and cooking items that are pretty much impossible to get through security.

But 4 checked bags? I thought I’d never see the day.

Going from 2 to 5

I’m kidding. Mostly. Obviously, it would be nice to keep up how we currently travel, but I knew long ago that things would change oh so drastically. You can’t keep up the same pace with kids in tow. I’m sure we’ll still travel (I already have ideas), but it will almost certainly be less frequently. Not to mention much harder to hack! But this is the life we want, and we cannot wait to meet our precious children (we’ve already been Skyping with them).

Preparing for this trip has been a chore. The longest my wife and I have ever been gone was for a month-long adventure in Europe. We checked two bags for most of those flights, and had to do laundry multiple times during the trip.

But this adventure is even longer. We are estimating that we should be in Costa Rica for six weeks!

With all of our clothing, plus kids clothing, plus toys and games for the kids, plus gifts for various people involved in the process and in our kids lives, four full checked bags is understandable.

Bright and early start

Morning came early at the awful hour of 3:00 a.m. It was pretty brutal. But we are flying out of our upstart little airport (which is a huge plus), and the 6:00 a.m. flight is the most reliable. Currently, it is on time as we sit here at the terminal. We *did* have one time where it was canceled, however.

We should get to Houston with plenty of time to rest and have a comfortable overnight before continuing on to San Jose tomorrow.

Conclusion

I hope to blog a bit while we’re away, but that is looking fairly doubtful. Even this week has been nigh but impossible. All of our focus will be on the kids while we are in Costa Rica. This is a critical time for all of us, as we will be beginning to bond as a family.

#Snyder2to5

Thoughts on this Eclipse-Eve

It’s been an enjoyable weekend. My wife and I headed out on Friday for a medical appointment in Chico, and then spent the night nearby. We then meandered through the oft-forgotten northeastern section of the state, an area I’d never seen.

That evening we made it to Bend, Oregon, along with many other eclipse-goers. Traffic was not all that great. After an easygoing morning, we finished the trek to Portland. Well, Clackamas. Close enough. Now tomorrow we head south to the path of totality of the solar eclipse. And then home.

Eagerly anticipating the eclipse

I’ve never seen a total solar eclipse. I don’t even think I’ve seen a partial eclipse, either. I vaguely remember seeing a lunar eclipse, but am not even sure about that one. Looking at historical eclipses, this would have likely been in 2000 when I was 10 years old. Obviously it didn’t leave much of an impression if I *did* see it.

To me, the eclipse is yet another wonder of creation. The fact that there are certain prescribed times where the moon passes *exactly* in front of the sun, covering it completely (but not excessively), showcases the creativity of our God.

I’m expecting the brief period to me much like my first glimpse of Niagara Falls. Pictures give you an idea, but they don’t hold a candle to the in-person experience.

But will it be that good?

Some people have downplayed the eclipse, saying you can see all you need in photos (or on TV). Others say you *must* be within the path of totality, otherwise it’s just not the full experience. I sure hope the latter are right, since I am super excited for this 2-minute-long event.

We’ll be on the road bright and early tomorrow, hoping to beat the traffic to this amazing wonder of creation. If any of you are also on the road for the eclipse, stay safe, and enjoy this amazing phenomenon!

Header image courtesy of Luc Viator under CC 3.0 license

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