Recently, I got back from another inexpensive family vacation in Corpus Christi, TX. Where people listen to Waylon Jennings and wear cowboy hats unironically. It was a good trip with all things required of a beach vacation. Sun, pool, food and fun. The part that we have left out of our family vacations recently…is the price tag.
With a growing family of seven, taking vacations has become increasingly costly, and logistically tricky. Although, I’m tempted to dispose of the idea of vacations altogether, opting for stay-cations or just simply ‘grinding it out’. Being able to take inexpensive vacations have become an essential part of my family rhythm and our ability to stay on mission.
I’ve discovered an inexpensive way to vacation that has allowed our family to keep traveling even after cutting our household income in half. We’ve found that removing ourselves from the day in- day out grind of running a house and building a ministry a couple times a year, helps us remember to shift our decisions and activities away from mindless habits and towards our God given mission. I almost always come away with at least one thing I need to start/stop doing that I wouldn’t have seen living ‘in’ my life.
If you want to learn how to take inexpensive family vacations or just see cute pictures of my kids on vacation. You won’t want to miss this week’s article.
Inexpensive Family Vacations are Easy
When I was working my corporate job, I had four weeks of vacation, and plenty of money, we got in the habit of going on two weeklong vacations a year. Somewhere between $6,000-$10,000 of our annual budget was spent on vacationing. When I quit my high paying job and went ‘on mission’, I lamented the memories and trips my family would have to give up in order to follow God’s call for our life. But, because of travel-hacking We’ve been able to take MORE trips each year on less than $1,000/ year.
Inexpensive family vacations are easy to come by if you put a little bit of organization and strategy behind your purchasing decisions.
The credit card business is a competitive industry. So much so that credit card companies offer large signup bonuses in order for you to use their cards. A lot of these bonuses are the equivalent of 2 and 3 round trip tickets, or several hundred dollars of ‘free’ travel.
Credit card companies are hoping to earn your loyal use (where they’ll make interchange fees on your purchases) or get you stuck in debt (which you’re too smart to do) and make their money back on the interest. The truth is the bank will make money either way. But it’s this competition for loyal credit card customers that has opened up the door for travel-hacking.
Travel-hacking, is the systematic opening of credit cards in order to capture sign-up bonuses in order to redeem them for travel. I’ve been using travel-hacking as my sole source of travel for two years, and have flown my family of 6 and now 7 around the country, at virtually no cost.
Dave Ramsey does not approve.
Because he doesn’t believe that I have self-control.
While I appreciate Dave Ramsey’s concern for my well being which he can fix for the low cost of $129.99, too much of Christian Finance is focused on labeling one activity or product ‘bad’ or (Dave’s favorite word ‘stupid’), while labeling another product or strategy ‘biblical’.
When we approach our finances heart first, however, we can agree with Paul when he says:
…nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.1 Timothy 4:4
Paul is addressing food here, but I think the point applies. The heart we do things with is what makes a thing ‘Biblical’ or not.
Like I always say “Heart first, money second.”
Whenever I make purchases I try to accomplish at least two things at once.
- If I’m buying a gift, can I buy it from a friend’s or local business?
- If I’m investing in a property, can I also invest in my tenants life?
- If I’m eating lunch out, can I do it with a friend who needs an ear, or a mentor I can learn something from.
When it comes to the daily bread spending, I’m going to need to do anyways, like fuel, groceries, and medical care, it makes sense to save for a vacation at the same time. And that’s how we took an inexpensive family vacation for 7 to Corpus Christi for $324.
My Latest Inexpensive Family Vacation
We were attracted to Corpus Christi because of the beach, hot weather in May, and the less sterile vibe of more frequent Midwest vacation spots, such as Hilton Head Island or Myrtle Beach. With the opening of our flights from our home airport in Columbus to Corpus Christi would have cost us $1631.96, but instead I used 98,196 Southwest points, that my wife and I collected from each opening 1 Card.
We still had to pay $67.20 in fees which were then refunded from my American Express Platinum Card.
We were out of Pocket $0.
With 5 kids, we have long ceased using hotel rooms for anything more than a quick weekend stay. We were looking for a vacation condo, with three rooms. The ability to walk to a beach and pool, and see the beach were all things important to us. I was surprised to find this little condo for $1500 for the week. I redeemed 100k of my Chase Ultimate rewards points via their Pay Yourself Back Feature. Basically allowing Chase to give me $1500 towards other purchases I had to make anyways (i.e. groceries). I then used that money to pay for the vacation rental.
I’m still $0 out of pocket.
Then there’s the car rental. Which is really the bane of my travel existence. If it wasn’t for having to get around once we get somewhere I’d pretty much always travel for free. But Ubering 6 people isn’t cheap, and the ability to travel if/when you want has value. Besides in the event of a hurricane evacuation, like the last time I traveled. What would I do?
If you have any great ways to get a family of 7 around in an unfamiliar city, I’d love to hear them.
We had a $200 travel credit with American Express, that we used to rent a minivan while we were down there. The car rental was $524.
Out of pocket: $324.
This doesn’t included the mesquite barbeque we ate, our trip to the Texas State Aquarium or the $80 I spent on pizza ( I regret nothing) . But this normally $3500+ trip, cost us less than 10% of its sticker price.
Getting Started with Travel Hacking
If you are interested in taking inexpensive family vacations you’ll need four things:
- A decent credit score (better than 720)
- Spend money monthly on groceries, fuel and other necessities (if you aren’t doing this tell me how!)
- No credit card debt
- The ability to ignore Dave Ramsey (not as easy as it sounds)
If you like to get into the strategy and inner workings of things, like I do, you might want to follow Bryce at 10xtravel, or Ryan at Profits and Points for some in-depth ideas. Or if you’d rather just collect the points and skip the research you can simply contact me, and I can get you started with your first step.
Put simply, travel-hacking works like this:
- Open a credit card with a sign-up bonus offer.
- Meet the minimum spending requirement for the bonus by using it on items you were going to purchase anyways
- Pay the credit card off in full.
- Stick the card in a desk drawer or shoe box, and repeat.
We are almost always working on a card with a minimum spend which means we earn a sign-up bonus almost every month. With both my wife and I playing, we consistently take two family vacations, and a couple of weekend trips at costs similar to this trip. A lot of these cards do have annual fees, but with things like statement credits for travel, cell phone plans, and Uber, often the costs outweigh the benefits, even before you factor in the sign up bonus.
Things aren’t hard to afford when you get creative.
I have absolutely made sacrifices to live ‘on mission’. But, by prioritizing my spending, getting creative and making sure every purchase accomplishes more than one goal, I have been able to take several inexpensive family vacations.
Travel-hacking may not be for everybody.
Some people think it requires too much planning, others are committed to being debt free and don’t want within ten feet of a credit card and I respect that. But if you get creative enough, there’s almost nothing you can’t afford to do. Just make sure you do it with the right heart.
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