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So Many Trip Ideas, Not Enough Time (and Money!)

By Leana and Nancy

The great thing about accumulating miles and points for travel via this hobby is that it allows us to dream of trips we never thought possible. Hawaii, Europe, Alaska…really, the list is endless! We’ve made some of these trips a reality, but we have many more destinations on our wish lists.

While miles and points can give us free airline tickets and free lodging, even these “free” trips can be costly. There’s the cost of dog/house sitting, airport parking, going out to eat and tourist activities. Sure, it’s a much cheaper trip if the airfare and hotel are taken care of, but there are still some costs involved.

In addition to the cost involved in trips, there’s also the time factor. We both have husbands who work outside of the home, and they don’t have unlimited time off from work.

So, we really have to prioritize where we spend our points, money and time to make sure we are getting the best value and enjoyment. Figuring that out might just drive us crazy! We may book a trip, cancel it, rearrange it and tweak it a hundred times.

Still, it’s fun to dream of all the places we could go with our miles and points in the next few years. Realistically, we can’t make all of these happen, but having to choose from this list of trips is a good problem to have.

Come explore the trip ideas on our travel wish lists!

Nancy’s Trip Wish List

I already have trips to Florida, Alaska, Hawaii and California in the works for 2017 through early 2018, so I can’t fit all of these additional trips into our schedule. But here’s hoping!

1) Hershey, Pennsylvania

Mmmmmm……chocolate. What’s not to love? My family traveled to Hershey when I was a kid, and I still remember that trip vividly. I’ve been dreaming about taking my own kids there, but it’s quite a haul to get there from Texas, and we’d probably want to visit over the summer. I recently read this blog post by Traveling Inspired about her family’s recent trip to Hershey, and now I really need to find a way to make this happen!

Chocolate!

Chocolate!

In addition to Hersheypark, other attractions in the area include touring an Amish farm, visiting a coal mine and riding a steam train.

Miles and Points: We could use Southwest miles transferred from the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Ink Plus cards to fly from Dallas to Philadelphia. We could stay a few nights in Lancaster, which is about 90 minutes from the Philadelphia airport and 40 minutes from Hershey. Lancaster has many chain hotels available on points, including the Fairfield Inn & Suites for 25,000 Marriott points per night. Or, I might choose to go off the points charts and stay a few nights at Hershey Lodge with its big indoor water park, or at this quaint Red Caboose Motel.

2) Niagara Falls, New York/Ontario

This is another place I visited as a child (can you see a pattern here?). Niagara Falls is awe-inspiring. Like the Grand Canyon, it’s something you have to see in person to understand and appreciate. Apparently, a lot of attractions have been built up around Niagara Falls, like indoor water parks, wax museums, a giant Ferris wheel, etc. My brother and his family visited Niagara Falls this past summer, and their photos have increased my urge to go there.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls–Photo courtesy of C.M.

Miles and Points: We could fly Southwest from Dallas to Buffalo, New York, which is only 30 minutes away from Niagara Falls. Hyatt Place Buffalo/Amherst costs 8000 Hyatt points per night, or we could stay closer to the falls at the Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls for 7000 SPG points per night.

3) Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee

I’ve never visited the Smoky Mountains, but my friends and family have and I’ve been drooling over their pictures. Imagine hiking through the mountains with beautiful fall colors surrounding you and the crisp scent of fall in the air! The area also has Dollywood theme park, an aerial tramway up a mountain, an aquarium and many more attractions. See this post by Trips with Tykes for more insight into the area.

Dollywood roller coaster. Photo courtesy of The Dollywood Company.

Dollywood roller coaster. Photo courtesy of The Dollywood Company.

Miles and Points: Flying to this area is trickier on miles because Southwest doesn’t fly into Knoxville, the closest airport. We would have to drive 3-4 hours from Nashville or Atlanta to use Southwest points. If we could find AA nonstop MileSAAver award flights from Dallas to Knoxville, we could book them using 7500 British Airways Avios that we earned from our BA Visa or transferred from the CSR.

For lodging, I’d be tempted to go off the points charts again and stay at a cabin rental or a water park lodge like Wilderness at the Smokies or Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort. Wyndham vacation rentals also has many properties in the area bookable on points (see this post from View From the Wing).

Leana’s Trip Wish List

1) Tahiti

I have been drooling over this destination for as long as I can remember. The plan was to visit it before having kids but somehow, it just never materialized. All of you childless procrastinators, just book those exotic trips already! Do it now. With four in the family it’s super duper expensive, not to mention, difficult due to distance. So I don’t know when we’ll be able to pull it off. But if we do…

I would love to split our stay between Bora Bora and Moorea islands. And of course, we have to stay in an overwater bungalow for at least a few nights. I’m not flying all the way to Tahiti and not experiencing an overwater bungalow! Yes, I sound like a 1-percenter (which I’m not), but this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip, so darn the cheapness.

Miles and points:

Flights:  Getting to Tahiti on miles is expensive. The cheapest route is from Honolulu to Papetee that costs 55,000 miles roundtrip via Hawaiian program. Of course, we would first have to get to Honolulu from Florida, and combining two trips is not an option due to my husband’s limited vacation time.

Otherwise, most programs that don’t impose fuel surcharges charge at least 80K miles per person, and that’s a lot. You would have to call AAdvantage in order to book via its partner Air Tahiti Nui. However, there might be a better way. Introducing Tahiti Family Special via Air Tahiti Nui, where up to two kids fly free with two paying adults.

“Free”, of course, is an exaggeration because roundtrip adult fare runs at $1680 per person from Los Angeles. Still, for those who are short on miles, this could bring the price down to a semi-reasonable level. So we just might end up going that route and flying to Los Angeles on Southwest.

Hotels: See this trip report on Travelisfree for more on hotel options. As you can imagine, overwater bungalows cost a fortune via hotel points. However, if I can accumulate IHG currency cheaply, the price won’t be too bad. Plus, we can even use our annual renewal certificates from Chase IHG credit card to stay in some of the places. There is always an option of getting a few Hilton credit cards as well.

If points don’t get me the overwater bungalow, I might just book it via cash in Moorea. One good option is Club Bali Hai, where you can get a 2-bedroom, no-frills overwater bungalow for $420 per night (breakfast included). Sure, it’s a lot of money, but check out the web page and tell me it’s not worth it.

Of course, I would much rather burn hotel points previously acquired for free or at a very low cost. As you can see, the trip to Tahiti will end up costing us a pretty penny either way, which is why we may end up going to Kauai, a “poor man’s” Tahiti. Boom.

2) Japan

This is a country my husband and I talked about visiting, and just never got around to actually doing it. Same story as the one with Tahiti. Too expensive and difficult to visit with kids, especially on our budget. The main barrier to entry is the fact that a huge chunk of our resources goes toward visits to Europe or bringing my folks here to US.

So, finding the time and the money to pull off another major international trip is a challenge. But hopefully, we’ll be able to go when the kids are older. I would like to visit Kyoto, and my husband is looking forward to exploring Tokyo.

japan

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

He is a major technology buff and loves anime. He even forced me to watch Japanese cartoon once. And it wasn’t too bad! Speaking of, why do  characters look the same in all Japanese cartoons?

Miles and points:

Once again, you’ll need lots of them for a family of four. For example, AAdvantage charges 70,000 miles roundtrip per person in economy. A better solution might be to watch for mistake or deeply discounted fare featured on sites like SecretFlying or Theflightdeal. In all likelihood, you’ll have to get to the West Coast because that’s where the best deals usually are.

I’m still kicking myself for not taking advantage of $200 fare (roundtrip, all-in) from Chicago to Tokyo back in 2007. You snooze you lose.

Readers, what places are you dying to visit, but can’t afford to right now?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

16 thoughts on “So Many Trip Ideas, Not Enough Time (and Money!)

  1. Greece. Definitely Greece. I’m dying to see the beautiful Greek islands in person. We are saving up for a house right now so very hard to justify for a “bucket list” destination!

    • Winnie, you will love Greece! I highly recommend Santorini. I would like to take my kids there, but combining a side trip to Greece with visiting my family in Belarus is a bit difficult. Santorini is out of the way and hard to get to. But it’s totally worth it. You can book lodging at a reasonable rate as long as you focus on privately owned rentals.
      Of course, saving up for the house is important, so I understand why you would want to focus on that.

    • I’d love to go to Greece, too! My husband and I had planned a trip before we had kids, but we had to cancel and never got to reschedule. I’d like to see Athens and a few islands.

  2. We’ve been to the Smoky Mountains National Park area many times in my life, since it has always been a 4-6 hour drive away from the various places I’ve lived. I would recommend that you avoid visiting during peak periods if you can, especially on summer or holiday weekends. It’s the most popular national park with ~10 million visitors each year, nearly twice that of the runner-up, Grand Canyon. No doubt it is busy because it lies within easy driving distance of a large portion of the US population. The last few times that I’ve had the misfortune to visit during a peak season, it was way too crowded. There were 1 hr,+ traffic jams to get into the park. Then, when you are inside the park, several of the popular places are packed with people (many trying to get selfies – think Mona Lisa room at the Louvre). It just loses some of that “serene nature” appeal compared to the less busy times.

    I have a neverending list of places that I’d like to visit someday. The pricier ones are probably something exotic like the South Pacific (Fiji, Tahiti, Cook Islands), Antarctica, a Serengeti Safari, Maldives, Bhutan, etc.

    • Erik–I had no idea that Smoky Mountains National Park had more visitors than the Grand Canyon! Those traffic jams would put a damper on a trip. I’d love to visit in the fall when the leaves have turned colors.

      You have quite a list yourself!

    • @Erik My in-laws just took the kids to Smoky Mountains National Park few weeks ago. It’s quite a drive from Florida, so they broke it up and did an overnight in Georgia.
      It really is a beautiful area, but I kind of prefer Helen, GA. It’s closer to where we live, so we can make it in one day. And the mountains there are quite beautiful in the fall. Plus, fake Bavarian theme is kind of cool!

    • @Hilary Great! It was Nancy’s idea, so she deserves most of the credit. I love dreaming about travel too. I’m constantly in the midst of planning our next adventure. A nice escape from all the craziness in this world. 😉

  3. Here’s my quick list: NYC, London/Paris, Atlanta/Savannah/Charleston (fly in and do a road trip), New Orleans (just adults), Zion National Park & Bryce Canyon, and another Disney Cruise (I prefer Alaska but the family is begging for Caribbean) – that’s not happening anytime soon. I would just be happy if I can cross off between 1 – 2 places per year especially for all 4 of us. I created a spreadsheet for each vacation we have planned and how much I need to have for food, gas/transportation, and entrance fees. Vacations are definitely not cheap, but it sure helps if you can get a break with airfare and hotels.

  4. Smoky Mountains are on my list too! I took the kids on a road trip to Niagara (on our way to Quebec City) last summer and they LOVED it. Leana–when you get ready to book that trip to Tahiti, send me an email. My mom is from there, and I’ve been probably 15 times (about half of them for 3 months at a time). I can give you some tips and recommendations. We went over the summer with my sister and brother and their families. I actually used 300,000 AA points to book tickets for my sister’s family and she booked and paid for our kids fly free tickets (her kids are too old for it). Another tip–you can book flights on Air Tahiti through the Citi Thank You portal. I booked our tickets to Takaroa (in the Tuamotus) that way. Bora Bora is nice (and expensive:), but I would also recommend going to some smaller islands in the Tuamotus. There aren’t hotels there, but there are “pensions” (in Tahiti and Moorea and all the islands) which are bed and breakfasts operate by locals. Usually they are little bungalows and you get breakfast and sometimes lunch and dinner, etc. I think it’s a better way to experience the culture and save money. My cousin has one in Takaroa (pop. less than 1000). The bungalows are over the water (but don’t think nice bungalow–think camping cabin where you have to walk back to the shore to use the bathroom). It was amazing–we fished from them, my kids counted about a dozen reef sharks a day (our friendly neighborhood sharks:), and it is so untouched by modernization. It’s not for everyone, but those smaller islands offer an experience you won’t get at the IC:) We stayed at the IC (my first Tahiti hotel ever:) due to an Air Tahiti strike when we were there. It was very, very nice. My favorite part was the AC. It’s a rarity with the locals:) It’s not really walking distance to anywhere though, so be prepared for the food bill. I’ll stop rambling now:) As you can see, it’s someplace I love and have a lot of ideas about:)

    • @Cynthia I will definitely hit you up for some advice if we ever get around to taking this trip! Thanks. I really want to visit Tahiti, it looks incredible. I’m afraid I need A/C, though! I’m a bit spoiled, or maybe it’s because I’m originally from a cold climate. I like smaller lodging options, so I’m hoping we can throw those into the mix. But an overwater bungalow is nonnegotiable! 🙂
      I actually would love to visit smaller islands, but I don’t know if we would have the time. Honestly, the time limitation is the biggest issue, even more so than the money. But I’m seriously thinking about taking a break from going to Europe on a regular basis, just so we could do these other trips now and again. My parents are still able to fly here to US, and I’m hoping to bring my sister’s family as well.

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