I travel a lot. As I took some time this morning to reflect on just how often I’m away from home, I found myself overcome with guilt and at one point grief: who died and said I deserve such a good life? I know I feel this way because as a woman and Black woman especially, I’ve been socialized to prioritize and center the experiences and journey of everyone else over my own. That there’s an expectation from people who are not me that I spend my labor, love, and money on giving back rather than taking myself on trips. Some of you might be scratching your heads right now, for the Black women I’m writing to–this is an all too common experience.
Beyond coming to grips with the fact that travel has irrevocably changed who I am at my core, I also realize how transformative my trips are because I often opt to visit places beyond resorts and beaches. Allow me to be clear: this is not a diss to folks who solely vacation in those spots. Where you take your trips is your business, I’m simply happy that you’re going. But I write this to highlight the fact that I’ve learned so much about myself because I’m often in spaces where few women and Black folks travel to. I’ll never forget the faces some of my friends made when I told them where I planned to take my mother for her birthday. A few were mortified. But I have a strong belief that if I expose myself to things beyond the beach, that if I commit to the Black Outdoors experience even sometimes, I’ll be a better woman because of it.
For a while, I would downplay how often I was able to leave home to see places, people, and things I may not have otherwise. I grew up working class and my family never took family vacations as I’ve come to understand them since going to college. Some days, I’d feel ashamed of the fact that I’ve been able to travel so much despite doing so at such inexpensive prices–which I wear proudly because you don’t keep money if you’re always spending it. I’ve also struggled to reconcile that somehow, the life I’m showing doesn’t align with the life I’m actually living all due to the fact that I’m in graduate school with survivable-adjacent income.
I am fully able to admit that I am enormously privileged to have the means to make my travels possible.
In fact, my last few months of travel since quitting full-time work and becoming a full-time graduate student have been all about big travel with small money, as my idols at Million Miles Secrets call it.
Over the last six months, I’ve found myself in Barcelona, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Columbus, San Antonio, Amherst, Salt lake City, Park City, and most recently Kona and Hilo, Hawaii where I’m writing this post from. Writing down the places I’ve traveled to since December has made me keenly aware of the ways in which my Instagram and social media pages may lead people to believe that I somehow have tons of money out of nowhere when the reality is that I’m both savvy and privileged enough to maintain the life I want to live despite my graduate student status.
My trips at a glance:
- My plane ticket to Barcelona was $275 roundtrip. Even less for the AirBnB for the week which was split with a close friend.
- I stayed in San Antonio and Columbus for academic conferences which meant roommates and university funding. One friend even covered the room entirely with her pro-devo and allowed me to crash with her. I bought both plane tickets on points.
- My ticket to Abu Dhabi and Dubai was 400 RT and I paid even less for a rental car and hotel for the week after splitting with a friend.
- My Amherst trip was a business venture: All expenses were fully covered.
- Salt Lake/ Park City was a trip for my mother’s birthday. Half the plane tickets were paid for with points, half with cash and the Waldorf we stayed in was under 200 per night due to a Hilton special which I split with my baby sister as a gift to our mom. Approximate cost for a 5* hotel and 3 first class seats: 650 each.
- I paid 15.00+/- in taxes for my Kona/ Hilo trip and am sleeping in my friends’ guest room after bringing them a house warming gift and using miles for the ticket.
In addition to the savings outlined above, I often received free meals and drinks for trips that involved Hilton hotels due to my status with their loyalty program…
All of these trips were made possible in part due to three things:
- Awareness of how to find inexpensive tickets;
- credit cards and loyalty programs to attain and redeem miles;
- And, the wherewithal to figure out how to balance the two.
I have 21 credit cards. Yes, 21. It takes an unfathomable amount of time each month to pay all of my bills because I try to make sure I spend at least something on all of my cards to show that I responsibly manage my credit. But these cards have been a large part of the means from which I travel. Of the cards I have, there are a few that I use most often.
Selected cards & their rewards when I signed Up:
- Hilton Amex (75,000 points sign up bonus)
- Hilton Citi (50,000 points sign up bonus)
- Delta (50,000 points sign up bonus)
- United (50,000 points sign up bonus)
- Southwest Plus (50,000 points sign up bonus)
- Southwest Premiere (50,000 points sign up bonus)
I tend to use these cards most because I’m able to directly see the return on my investment in card ownership. For instance, I use my Hilton Citi card to pay my rent which means thousands of points per month on an expense I already had, my Hilton Amex for all hotel stays as I *only* stay Hilton brands, Delta and United on other monthly expenses, and my Southwest cards in rotation between the others. The benefits of these cards beyond being able to accrue and redeem points and miles also shows up through lounge access, bonus points, free drinks, and early access to concerts and shows thanks to my card membership.
I share all of this to say: I realize that social media shows only the fruits of my labor, not the work behind the scenes to make this all possible. I often wonder how many of us look at people’s social media and make judgments or ask questions of how. How is this person able to have this when I don’t, when I work just as hard. The answer is probably privilege. In my case, it was the privilege to spend hours upon hours and years upon years taking the time to wade through all the drama to learn how to effectively use social media, credit cards, and points and mile programs to make my dreams come true.
I wouldn’t trade everything I’ve learned for the world and in fact, I’m taking time this summer to share all of my tips and tricks with all of you for a nominal fee so that I can see other Black women out here traveling and enjoying the world the same way (details forthcoming). That said, I hope you’re all reading Loni’s column on Travel and Leisure as she and I initially bonded over much of what is presented here and that you all will take some time to pause, reflect, and then go for your wildest travel dreams. You’re worth it and you don’t have to live vicariously through someone else’s Instagram to do it.