Tips, Hacks, and Habits To Get a Family Of 5 Around the World

If there’s one question I’ve heard more than any others over the past year, it’s some variation of, “How is your family able to travel like this?”

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer.

In short, it takes work and help from a mind much smarter than ours.

Nathan’s cousin is a bit of a self-proclaimed travel geek. I say that with the highest level of praise. In college, he figured out a hack to get to and from his university to his hometown on school breaks with only buying the first ticket.

You know the story of button soup? The fairy tale where the girl makes the soup “with only one button”?

That’s sort of how his college travel went. He bought one ticket and figured out a system where the airlines would always bump him and he would use his voucher for the next ticket, so on and so forth.

Over the years, he’s learned so much about the airlines and he has been the key to helping us plan our trips without going broke.

Casablanca, Morocco Airport (CMN)

Nathan and I have been curious, asking as many questions as we can without annoying him (okay, so we’ve annoyed him a time or twenty). He’s super generous with his wisdom and we’ll always be grateful.

For some of you, this will be so fascinating. For others, you’ll fall asleep two paragraphs into this post. I don’t know if this will be helpful or overwhelming, but I hope if nothing else, it’s a peek into the work that goes into traveling.

Things I’ve come to understand, in no particular order:

Don’t Ask To Go To Cancun For Spring Break and Expect Get a Deal.

That’s certainly a generalized statement, but if you have very specific parameters and a very specific time frame, it’s harder (dare I say impossible?) to find a low price on a fare. To state even more specifically, if you have a certain airport you want to fly in to, on inflexible dates, you will most likely pay accordingly. Traveling when everyone else wants to travel, to where everyone wants to go will not be helpful for you getting a bargain. Of course, there are always chances that you’ll find a bargain no matter where you are going, but the more flexible you can be, the better your chances of hitting the jackpot.

When You Find a Deal, Don’t Wait.

Our travel whiz tells us that finding a sale or reduced fare happens regularly. Literal “mistake fares” happen once or twice a month. Some of the destinations may not be desirable or the dates do not work for you. But when you find a deal that does work, don’t tarry. Book right away. If it’s a deal or truly a mistake fare, it’ll be gone in a puff of smoke.

We have benefited from deals our travel guru has found on his own, or sometimes he has found bargains published in blogs (one of his favorite blogs is One Mile At A Time). Nathan follows several blogs (and twitter accounts) that share deals in real time (The Points Guy, God Save The Points). Finding bargains takes a lot of attention and time!

Zanzibar, Africa

Finding flight deals to me is like house hunting. You don’t know what a good deal is until you’ve done a lot of house hunting. The same goes for ticket deals: the more you watch ticket prices and sales, the more you’ll be comfortable snagging a good deal when it pops up on your Twitter feed.

When Searching, Don’t Search Economy Only

When you are a budget-conscious traveler, it’s natural to go through the search engine, choose your dates and destination, and click, “find the cheapest fare”. I have found that the search engine will automatically search economy flights only. Sometimes (certainly not always), it pays to do an advanced search and choose Business Class or First Class as your seat choice. It may happen that one cabin will be overcrowded and another will be empty, and due to supply and demand, the business class will be more affordable than usual. Occasionally you’ll find deals (probably mistakes) where the business class fare will be cheaper than the economy! Grab that ticket immediately!

To quote our cousin, “not considering business class could be a classic case of penny wise/ pound foolish: add up the cost of your base-fare ticket plus any ancillaries you require [checked bags; seat assignments; etc]. If the Business/First Class fare is within striking distance of the sum of all those things, go for the upgrade!”

There are a lot of perks and benefits when flying business or first class internationally:

  • Lounge access
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority Security
  • Priority boarding
  • On-board food and drink (and lots of it) included
  • First off the aircraft
  • First bags off the plane

…not to mention the “extras” of international business class: amenity bags, lie-flat seats, and comfortable bedding. Of course, many of these benefits are strictly creature comforts. Creature comforts aside, I’m convinced that a traveler will miss less close connections when flying priority (first off the plane, first bags, priority security, etc) and can make paying for business class worth the extra money.

First Class Swiss Air

It’s never a guarantee that business class is going to be affordable, but it also never hurts to check. This website is a go-to for booking plane tickets. It requires a bit of self-tutoring… but once you figure out the basic syntax, it is quite easy to use. So for a bit of effort, this will often save a good chunk of change (or at least find the best routing). But with more effort, this site can work miracles! There are a hundred “advance controls” which will can return amazing results. Once you find the tickets you want to purchase, you’ll go to the airline’s ticketing website or online travel agent (like Expedia) to actually purchase the tickets.

Business Class Or First Class Miles Earn More Points

Finding deals on business class creates a positive snowball effect. For example: we flew a leg of of our last trip on business class that was worth 7,346 miles. The same flight credited in coach for 1,200 miles. The higher class you fly, the more miles you earn. The more you earn, the more you have to spend. So, finding even a few “mistake fares” in business or first class can mean a ton of miles earned and a fun time spending those miles in the future. Consider it like a rebate towards future purchases (Menards 11% rebate shoppers will understand this analogy).

Headed Home

It’s Much Cheaper to Fly From Europe To The States Than Vice-Versa

For my American friends, this is a little bit of a switch for our brains. It is much more affordable to fly from Europe to the USA, than USA to Europe. I just did a quick search and it cost over $1500 more to fly round trip from Chicago to Prague in business class, as compared to round trip from Prague to Chicago on the same flights (just in reverse order).

What that means for my family is that we originate our tickets from the other side of the pond. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around this, but right now I’m at home at my kitchen table, and I’m visiting the USA on a round trip ticket. The other half of my ticket will take me back to Europe at a later date, where I will originate a new ticket home, and on goes the cycle.

This means we are always putting out money ahead on the next trip, and we always have another trip planned and booked. But it’s part of the formula that keeps us in the sky, so I’ll take it without complaint.

We Save Our Miles On the Airline Loyalty Program That Makes the Most Sense

Here’s another statement that is a little unusual. We are not loyal to an airline. Whether it’s Qatar, Oman, American, Austrian, Swiss, United, Ethiopian, Lufthansa, British Airways, and on goes the list, we fly the carrier that works the best for the price and ticketing (and we shoot for carriers with a good reputation). The trick is that is we pool our miles on one airline loyalty program per alliance, even if that’s not the airline we flew. This website can help you narrow down your best options. There are a few major alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld Alliance and SkyTeam Alliance) and often times you can put the miles in any airline within that alliance. You want to credit the miles to the airline that will give you the most flexibility to spend those miles and give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Also, you can purchase miles and use them through the alliances. Sometimes an airline will sell miles at a sale price, so you can look at buying miles as an option as well.

Use Credit Card Points to Your Benefit

There are some great credit cards out there that can help you get started on accruing miles with huge sign-on incentives. If you want to start a ticket home from Europe but need to get yourself over to Europe, miles from a credit card may be one way to accomplish that goal! Some cards to look at are American Airlines cards, United Airlines Card, and Chase Sapphire Card, just to list a few. Many have an annual fee (some waived for year #1), so keep that in mind.

Sidenote: within the last year, Chase Bank has become more strict on how many cards they will approve you for before they decline your application. If you have an interest in attaining new cards, I’d always start with the Chase Cards first and move on to other bank’s cards, like Bank of America & Barclay, after you’ve reached what is called Chase’s 5/24 rule (no more than 5 card applications within 24 months).

Super deluxe cards, like American Express, have huge annual fees, but if you are doing regular traveling you’ll earn that back in spades by all of the bonus points and incentives for travelers, not to mention travel concierge services.

Shameless plug: we use a Chase Sapphire Preferred card for our everyday purchases, and if you are considering applying for one, I’d love for you to use my referral link for me to get a little kickback :-). There’s no annual fee the first year and a 50,000 point sign on bonus for you! I’m only limited to a few of these referral bonuses per year, but every little bit helps! I’d be super thankful! Here’s the link for your consideration.

I feel I’d be remiss to not mention that you need to have good self control with credit cards, and if you know you don’t, then don’t get a card. There’s no amount of credit card points that are worth a load of credit card debt.

Our Flight Paths Are Rarely Perfect

Sometimes to get the air deals we fly wonky paths. On the way home from Thailand we didn’t take a nice and neat flight from Bangkok to Chicago. Nope…eight flights and a few days later we got home, and it was a long trip. Our six-year-old fell asleep on the floor of an airport, in the middle of a passport control line, from exhaustion. In exchange for extra time and hassle, we flew business class the whole way and are set up for our trip back to Europe this summer.

Tunis, Tunisa Airport

This Takes Time And Effort

I cannot stress how much time and effort this takes. It may take hours upon hours to find a deal, more hours to perfect the booking, then more time inputting frequent flyer information, seat assignments, and on and on goes the list. We wouldn’t be traveling and able to write this article if it wasn’t for our cousin, Mike. We are grateful for his passionate hobby and his willingness to share his time and knowledge with his loved ones.

I wish I could say that there was one magic website or a genie in a bottle that could create bargain ticket prices to wherever we want to go, whenever we want to go. Instead, it takes a lot of work and attention. But, as they say, “Nothing worth doing is easy”. This certainly isn’t easy, but with practice makes perfect. Traveling internationally with 3 kids in tow can be done if you want to take the time and effort to do it! Happy Trails.

Thank you for reading! I hope this was helpful for you. For more, please follow this blog (look at the link in the top right), or follow me on Instagram or Facebook. It would be so great if you would! For more posts on travel, click here.

Intentional Consumption

This post is part of a series on travel. Read part 1 & 2 for a full scope of my thoughts. Thank you for reading!

When you take a quick scan through social media, it’s a quick way for you to be reminded of what you don’t have.

I first heard the phrase “house porn” in reference to the beautiful homes one sees on social media that are totally perfect, bright, and open. No matter that often times these photographed rooms are totally edited, unrealistic, or completely nonfunctional for the average family.

The same can be said for blogs/vloggers/Instagram that focus on some couple or family traveling the globe to these exotic places, posing unnaturally (really–who poses like that in front of the pyramids?) and looking totally gorgeous and ethereal.

We look at the couple exotically traveling and we feel inadequate with our trip to the nearby lake for spring break.

We look at the perfect house that is a replica of Chip & Joanna’s home, and suddenly our cozy living room feels like a dumpster fire.

We see the amazing bodies, the perfect cars, the curated #clean #vegan #keto meals and suddenly feel less than.

Less than what? I don’t know. But just not good enough. Not working enough. Not enough money. Just not enough. And it paralyzes us.

King Solomon reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It’s true, there is nothing new under the sun, and that is especially true when it comes to comparing ourselves to others. Don’t assume that the desire to have your house look just like Chip & Joanna’s instead of what you have is a new thing. That’s been happening since the beginning of time.

Our culture tells us that in order to be happy (or feel satisfied) we need something.

Consumerism insists that in order to have fun, we have to buy things. That we have to pay the “entrance fee” enjoy life’s experiences. Culture tell us that we must get more to do more.

We often fall into the trap of thinking “When I have, then I will”.

When I have a nice house, then I’ll entertain.

When get a better job, then I’ll be more generous.

When I have vacation time, then I’ll hang out with my kids.

Being intentional with experiences instead of consuming is a choice. These things don’t happen to us by accident, and we can’t wait for some sort of magic moment for them to happen, or they never will.

If it is something that truly matters to us, we don’t wait to do it.

We entertain in our 500 sq foot studio apartment.

We give generously even when it hurts.

We hang out with our kids at night instead of vegging out in front of our device.

In my prior posts, I laid out here (#1) and here (#2) why we love to travel. What it means for our family. Why it’s a priority for us. The things we give up in order to make it happen. In essence, we value experiences more than material things.

For you, it may not mean travel. For your family, it may not mean homeschooling. It may not mean owning a home. It may not mean working more to have more, to buy more, to go more places.

What it does means is that we make a choice to make memories. To be with our people.

While we are busy chasing after some idolized Instagram ideal of what life should look like, we miss out on the moments that make life.

Let me make my point clear. People are the point. Not stuff. Not trips. Not our culture’s ideals and priorities.

So whether the moments of life are filled with card games at the kitchen table with friends, hikes up Machu Piccu with the love of your life, or taking walks through your neighborhood, do it with intention. Don’t let life pass you by while you chase some imaginary goal or dream that social media tells you is important.

For our family, for this time, we are trying to travel, to help our kids become globally minded. We are making very intentional choices to make that happen. But that will end someday.

Our kids will grow up.

Our health may not allow us to travel.

Our jobs and budget will, at some point (whether we like it or not), change.

We travel while we can, but it isn’t our idol.

If our life is wrapped up in waiting for the next thing, for some sort of perfect moment or experience, we will be left unsatisfied.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I always fall back on what he says. And he tells me that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Jesus is the only one that can fill my longing and emptiness. Not experiences. Not stuff.

I also look at the way Jesus led his life.

He led it with very little. His life was surrounded by people. He was intentional with every moment of every day. People were the priority.

May you spend your years being intentional with your choices of how you consume, how you love, how you live. No matter what that looks like for you, may you do it with contentment and joy, not comparing yourself to others. Rather than being distracted by things, I hope we all make choices that will have a lasting impact.

Rich in Memories

This is part of a series on travel. To read more, click here.

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” -Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad

When we took our first family trip at the beginning of last year, we had a talk with the boys about the prospect of travel and what it meant.

Nathan and I had already been doing some serious soul searching about the amount of stuff we had, and the amount of stuff the boys had accumulated over the years.

We were coming into the holidays and birthdays immediately following the holidays and feeling at a loss at what to give them. We have never been extravagant gift givers to the kids. Even still, it felt like every gift we had given them, even if something they wanted or needed, elicited immediate excitement and smiles, but was quickly forgotten.

In a few weeks I’d be asking them to pick the beloved gift off of the floor.

So we sat the boys down and told them of our opportunity to travel. But what it would mean for them. If they wanted to go places and see things, it would mean sacrifice. It would mean a super minimalist Christmas. And no birthday presents from us.

It would mean replacing gifts under the tree with memories that would last.

It would mean tough decisions. It would mean making the choice of going out to lunch after church, or going home for leftovers (leftovers it is). It would mean declining movies in theaters because we needed to save the money (hello, Redbox). It would mean sacrifice.

A deal was struck: we, the parents would do the heavy lifting, but the kids would have to support and contribute. No big Christmas, no birthday gifts, and they had to pitch in and help pay for the trip. Their profits from their weekly mowing job for a friend wouldn’t be spent on toys, it would be spent to pay for their passports. Perhaps any other money they were gifted from family would need to be saved for their trip spending money instead of Pokemon cards.

Istanbul, Turkey

They agreed, I think, not really because they fully understood, but because a vacation sounded fun.

Christmas was a fun day without gifts (no shocker there, but just in case you were wondering). We had a great day and it’s one of the Christmas days that that stands out to me the most. We played games, ate cinnamon rolls, and just relaxed with Nathan’s brother and sister-in-law.

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays were over, we left for our first international adventure.

We took Berlin by storm and then headed on to Africa. There were great memories, there were meltdowns. There were fun activities and there were moments that they were not loving it.

But we came. We saw. We made it home in one piece.

And we were hooked. More travel ensued.

We may not have a lot of material gifts to speak of in 2018, but boy, oh boy, do we have memories.

Berlin, Germany

Watching my kiddo have his first Nutella Crepe.

Feeling the silent shock as we stood over the spot where Hitler’s underground bunker lays.

Seeing the discomfort as we drove through some of the poverty in Africa.

Letting them help navigate through subway stations.

Bangkok Public Transit

Watching the glee on their face as they jumped into the Indian ocean for the first time.

Biking through olive groves and taking breaks to jump into Adriatic in Croatia.

Seeing history jump off the pages at Corrie Ten Boom’s home where she hid Jews in Haarlem, Amsterdam.

Dealing with jet lag, nausea from driving & flying, meltdowns from no sleep or weird food.

The good and the bad, they are all part of the package. They are shared memories that we’ll never forget.

There is something about traveling as a family unit that is somewhat of what Nathan describes as a “pressure cooker” experience. You are with each other constantly. The intensity is higher because you are all in a new place together. Often the minority. Often you don’t know the language. You get hangry with each other while you are simultaneously lost. You almost miss flights. But with all the stress and adventure, you grow closer. You make rich memories that are worth more than any gift under the tree. Some things, like 2.5 hour traffic jams in Bangkok, become things you can laugh about later over the dinner table back at home.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s time with your kiddos with no distractions. When we take these trips together we work hard in advance to get all of our to-do lists accomplished. I’m not distracted by my bills, my jobs, or by social media. We are together, seeing things together, learning things together, trying new things together. It’s time with my family that I’ll always remember and cherish.

But with these amazing experiences comes sacrifice. I began to be concerned that the kids were going to feel like they were missing out on normal gifts, normal spending that a parent would spend on their child. Year one of no gifts, okay. But year two? I was afraid they’d tire of the new deal and begin to want again. I mean, after all, they are kids.

A few days ago the boys and I were in the car and the subject of how we’d celebrate their birthdays came up (we’re a spring birthday family around here–January, March, March, April, & May). I was waiting for them to tell me the new video game they wanted or whatever was the newest thing/toy that they desired. But instead, my March baby, for his golden birthday said, “Mom, we’ve got another trip coming up. I don’t really need anything for my birthday. A schnitzel in Germany is all I need!” Then the other (April birthday) piped in, “For our birthdays can we go camping? I really want to go camping!”

My heart swelled. They get it. They realize that things don’t last.

To end, I’m quoting my son, who concluded in a presentation to his class about his travels,

“They say traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. It’s not the traveling that makes you rich, it’s the memories.”

Chang Mai, Thailand

Whether your next adventures take you to Azerbaijan or Atlanta, enjoy your people. Make memories that will last beyond the next gifting season.