Have Bubble, Will Travel

May 6 is International Bubble Blowing Day. While we’re not sure that is actually a real thing, Travel Bubbles are a huge pandemic trend.

Some countries have created travel bubbles, but traveling within a bubble isn’t only for governments to arrange. You too can form a travel bubble comprised of close friends, extended family, neighbors, or co-workers – anyone you know and trust to follow safety guidelines.

People in bubbles

Travel Leaders offers steps for traveling with your bubble:

  • Find your people: Look around and find people you know who share a similar view of health precautions. Brainstorm about anyone from distant family, to girlfriends from college, to coworkers with zoom fatigue.
  • Set the ground rules: Start out by having an open, honest conversation about the expectations for all people in the bubble. It’s important to cover personal preferences like social distancing, use of masks, personal space – hugs or high fives – and understand both how each person is living their lives at home and what they would be comfortable with while traveling in a bubble together. It’s also important to understand if anyone in your bubble has underlying health conditions and how those may impact both their ability to travel and the rest of the group.
  • Agree on a destination or travel style: Think about the way you want to travel with your bubble.  Some destinations focus more on all-inclusive resorts, where you can have a bubble within a bubble knowing that everything you need is self-contained in the resort complex. Other destinations have more traditional hotels, some with multiple restaurants and others which require you to go out for meals and activities. And if you pick a condo or vacation home with a kitchen, think about meal prep and supplies.
  • Pre-test before travel: The group should decide if you’ll quarantine before your departure. It’s also common for each traveler in the bubble to test prior to departure, even when it’s not required for the destination. In most communities, testing is free and results come back in 2-3 days. Pre-testing adds to the confidence that everyone within the bubble is safe.
  • Enjoy your travels together: If everyone in your group has followed pre-travel precautions, you’re relatively safe to socialize within your bubble group. Play games, hang out, eat meals, toss a ball and enjoy conversation and in-person together time! After all the preparation and planning relax and enjoy your vacation.
  • When you return: In addition to sharing memories of time spent together, it’s important that the group maintain contact in the week following travel to share any updates on personal health situations. As an extra measure of caution, many bubbles agree to COVID test 3-5 days after returning from travel to ensure a full end-to-end focus on safety.

Several tour companies have created new programs for bubble travel to help facilitate safe time away with your special people. And with work from anywhere and distance learning, it doesn’t take a special occasion or holiday to spend quality time with people who matter most in your life.

There is no better way to coordinate your bubble buddies than to work with KaliKosmos Travel. From helping pick the right destination and experience to fit your bubble’s travel style to coordinating flights and local transportation, KaliKosmos Travel will work for you and guide you through the changes impacting travel. All you have to do is relax and enjoy the trip!

To plan your bubble vacation, contact us today.

On The Road With Julie Grauf

“Who says you only ski in Colorado?” 

I’ve been to Colorado many times growing up, but always for skiing. This year we took our family and another to explore the small little tourist town of Manitou Springs. It’s actually closer to Pikes Peak than Colorado Springs and usually gets a little more snow because of it.

We beat the snowstorm that dropped two feet of snow in our area! We definitely enjoyed sitting in front of a warm fireplace at the house we rented, drinking hot chocolate and playing games. 

Julie and her husband, Chris, on a trail in Colorado.

The first days were spent sledding and exploring our area and hiking Red Rock Canyon open space. Glad we brought a good pair of boots! There is something magical about a walk through the quiet falling snow and viewing the mountains all around you. We even had visiting deer that would walk through the neighborhood eating berries off the trees. 

We drove an hour and a half to the Royal Gorge and walked through all the States represented on the bridge. 

Manitou Springs is known for its mineral springs that are still there today- be sure to stop and taste the healing waters. 

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods was a favorite site for all our party. There are paved trails with beautiful views and large red rocks shooting up to the sky. Kids even built a snowman village to leave for the other patrons. 

Hiking is our favorite past time and we took the trails up Pikes Peak walking over frozen waterfalls. During the summer you can drive to the top or take the Cog Railway (which will be up and running starting May 2021.)

Kids standing in front of Manitou ducks.

We spent an afternoon strolling the local shops in Manitou- everything is on the main street and plenty of places to “duck in” to get warm.

We might have been the only people to stop and get frozen custard on a 40 degree day but the worker at the Colorado Custard Company entertained us with jokes for tips!

Loved our trip to the Colorado mountains! 

at Pikes Peak

Are you ready to plan your time on the road? Contact KaliKosmos Travel and experience the difference of Professionally Planned Travel.

The current state of traveling

I won’t say “unprecedented.” I won’t say “uncertain times.” I won’t even say “out of an abundance of caution.” We’ve all heard, we know, and we thought we’d be farther past it by now.

But, there is sunlight breaking on the horizon. The Caribbean and Mexico are open and accepting travelers, smaller cruise lines are gearing up for their return to the water, and domestic locations are more open as well. Even yesterday Alaska took away the “testing on arrival” requirement.

Since the start of 2021 more travel requests have been coming to our inboxes. People are not only ready to plan, they are ready to go. And when they go, they want to know a professional is here for them. That’s why they turn to KaliKosmos Travel advisors. We’re here to work for them and for you- turning travel dreams into amazing travel stories. … Yes, even in the midst of COVID protocols.

As travel plans begin to come together and more people hit the road and take to the skies, we’d like to remind all travelers of ways they can be safe and ready before and during their travel experience.

BEFORE YOU DEPART

  • Discuss travel insurance policies with your travel advisor, discovering what is and is not covered.
  • Understand the entry, exit, and re-entry requirements you will need to meet and be prepared.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 — even though some places do not have this requirement, knowing your COVID status before traveling keeps you from unintentionally spreading the virus.
  • Pack extra safety measures, such as additional masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. To help, the TSA has increased the amount of hand sanitizer passengers can bring on board to 12oz per person.
  • Bring any medicines you may need on your vacation and pack at least 15 to 30 days’ worth of extra medicine, just in case.

WHILE TRAVELING

  • At the airport, use touchless check-in options, ditch the bins at TSA checkpoints and maintain social distance while boarding. If you arrive at the airport early, wait at an empty gate until boarding is called.
  • On your flight, wear your face mask, wipe down the surfaces you will be touching, sit next to the window to decrease people walking near you and open the air vent to increase circulation.
  • If you check bags, stand back at baggage claim until most other passengers have left.
  • When renting a car, use advance check-in online or via the rental company’s smartphone app to speed the process and reduce, or eliminate, the need for person-to-person touchpoints.
  • At the hotel, use options for online check-in, mobile room key and contactless payment, and ask for less frequent room cleanings to decrease other people in your room.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially when arriving at new locations.
  • During any activities — such as eating at restaurants or visiting attractions, wear your mask as much as possible and keep a distance from others not in your party.

When you’re ready to travel again, KaliKosmos Travel advisors will be here to put our professional planning skills to work for you. Contact us for details.

New year, new services

packing list

As avid travelers, we know that packing is usually the least exciting part of the travel experience. Writing down a list (and then re-writing it because we can’t remember where we put the envelope we were using as paper to write the first one), finding out the local weather, deciding what we need to take and what we need to leave at home, remembering to buy a new adapter because we left one at the resort on our last vacation, finding the right place to buy a great new outfit for a special night out –  we know, packing can be rough. 

So, we started asking ourselves-

Why should the ease of Professionally Planned Travel end when the packing starts?

We don’t think it should.

Introducing customized packing guides from KaliKosmos Travel

Our packing guides make suggestions based on your destination, dates of travel, gender, vacation activities, and the local weather forecast.

With access to products from brands like Anatomie, Kari Traa, Cotopaxi, Patagonia, Tumi, and Tory Burch, our guides also offer the ability to shop while you plan. From hand sanitizers to airplane seat covers, from lounge wear to the perfect dress for a night on the town, these products will have you covered. 

And, our customized packing guides include a check list so you know what you need to buy and what you need to pack. You can even use it when you’re packing to return home (to cut down on those lost adapters!). 

Beginning this year, every Professionally Planned Vacation, Customized Itinerary, and Rental Experience will include a customized packing guide!

For clients who utilize our Professionally Planned Flight Experiences or our Single Reservation Solutions, you can create your own KaliKosmos packing guide here.

And the exciting new services don’t stop there!

Travel in 2020 didn’t happen like most of us thought it would and who’s to say how 2021 will pan out (fingers crossed!). Even if travel isn’t on your calendar just yet, we think you should still have access to the amazing products offered within our packing guides.  The next time you’re in the market for anything from toiletries to clothing or from luggage to ski boots

Our Travel Store is your place to access it all.

items available in the Travel Store

And, because KaliKosmos Travel wants all people to enjoy this beautiful world, we’re actively working to add brands like Safe Place Bedding that supply special needs products to our Travel Store. We’re excited to provide access to great products that can assist people with special needs, not only for travel but also for every day life.

Special Needs items from the Travel Store.

At KaliKosmos Travel we believe this is a beautiful world and our commitment is to help you discover it your own unique way.  With our new packing guides and access to our Travel Store, we’re excited to have ways to help you discover it even better.

What’s A Cruiser To Do?

It’s been a hard year for those who love cruising. Personally, I’ve had my Virgin Voyage moved three times. It’s now scheduled for 2022!

And, that’s a bummer.

sad woman

Cruising is a wonderful way to get a taste of several locations in short amount of time, enjoy Broadway style entertainment, have a spa day, taste new foods, relax by the pool, try your hand at a new experience (like rock climbing, wave running, go karts, or kickboxing), and only unpack once.

But, until the CDC gives cruising the green light, are those us who crave the ship-life without a travel plan?

No! For the cruise lover, this pause in sailing is a great opportunity to try all inclusive resorts.

In his recent article written for Travel Leaders, Jonathan Hermann discusses reasons Why Cruises Also Love All Inclusive Resorts.

Cruising and land-based vacations are inherently different, yet not without similarities. In fact, there are numerous ways that all-inclusive resorts are actually preferred over cruising. 

Jonathan Hermann

One of the best points Hermann makes is that with most cruises, travelers expect to pay more for speciality dining and alcoholic/carbonated beverages. But, with all inclusive resorts these are part of the package price. In fact, with many resorts, 24 hour room service and top shelf liquor are also included.

Another great point Hermann makes is that at a resort there is room to spread out, which is not often the case for cruise cabins. In the COVID era, KaliKosmos Travel clients are upgrading their resort rooms to suites with more space and private plunge pools. This allows our travelers to enjoy the property and relax without being near other people.

Depending on your resort, there will probably not be go karts, but there could be Sesame Street or Nickelodeon characters at family resorts or unique wellness experiences and spa treatments for the adult-focused resorts.

What about you? Are you a land-locked cruiser unable to travel in your favorite way? Contact KaliKosmos Travel and let us plan your cruise-alternative vacation.

Travel and COVID

Planning to travel during COVID raises several questions.  Personally, I’m pretty COVID-cautious so feeling safe and protected as best as possible while traveling is extremely important to me.  Among the questions I asked myself as I prepared to travel to Miami and the Florida Keys were:

How serious will the airports and airlines take their stated COVID protocols?

At the Oklahoma City airport, the crowd at security was pretty low. I had to pull my mask down briefly for TSA to match my face to my ID, but otherwise, TSA was smooth and physically distant.  

At the gate it was a mix of people fully masked and people with their nose sticking out. There was a group of 12 or so passengers who didn’t have their masks on much at all.  They were, however, all traveling together and stood away from the main gate area prior to boarding.  

The DFW airport was similar to Oklahoma City. Groups traveling together often had their masks down below their chins, but they sat removed from the larger boarding section.

I was most impressed with the Miami airport. Easily 95% of the people in the airport were fully masked (noses and mouths) everywhere I looked.

The airline worked to keep passenger groups spread out during the boarding process and all passengers had their mouth and nose covered once on board. The flight attendants kept an eye on it during the flight and made reminder announcements when needed.

A small bottle of water, Biscoff cookies, and sanitizer wipes

For the flight to Dallas there was no food or drink service (usually it’s only long enough for a drink to be served).  Food service between Dallas and Miami was a bottle of water and a biscotti in a bag which the flight attendant passed out during the boarding process. With only 2 hours and 45 minute for the flight time, I was fine with the limited service.

Disembarkation on arrival is still pretty clumped with minimal physical distancing.  I’m not sure how the airlines could do this better since everyone wants off the plane the minute it lands and going by rows could cause a missed connection.  If being close to other passengers as you wait to disembark is concerning to you, allow extra time between connections so you can wait as other passengers leave the plane.

How COVID-safe will I feel at my destination?

I was again impressed by the services as the Miami airport. Dollar car rental workers were masked through the entire pick up process as well as when the car was returned.

I stayed in four different hotels during my time in Florida.

  • The Reach, a Curio Collection in Key West, has a restaurant on site that offered outside dining. The wait staff and host were masked and patrons were distanced.  At the pool and on the beach, once guests were settled, masks could be removed, but in the lobby and moving between locations required masking.  There was space between the beach chairs and reminders to distance.  Keyless check-in through the Hilton app minimized time at the front desk.  They also provided adequate access to sanitizer and reminders for limiting the number of people in elevators.
  • In Marathon, the Hampton Inn had reminders to limit elevator capacity, contactless check in, and boxed breakfast.  I didn’t have the Hilton clean seal on my door when I arrived, which was disappointing, but the room was clean and it didn’t appear anyone had been in since the cleaning process was finished.
  • The Baker’s Cay Resort, a Curio Collection, in Key Largo is a large beach-side resort.  The contactless check in through the Hilton app did not work for me with this resort, but check in took place in my car at the resort entrance gate.  This still allowed a limited exposure to others.  Masks were required except while dining, at the pool, or at the beach.  Resort employees were serious about masking. I overheard the beachside bartender tell a guest that she needed to put on her mask before she came up to order.  Hand sanitizer and outdoor dining were easily accessible.
  • In Miami, the Marlin hotel required in person check-in, but masks were required to enter the building and the check in process was quick.  They had reminders to distance, reminders to limit the number of people in the elevator, hand-sanitizer available, and had lessened their in-room cleaning during the stay to help limit the number of people in and out of rooms.  The only change I would like to see is correcting the valet’s masking.  He didn’t wear his mask inside my rental as he pulled up nor when bringing me the key.
Miami COVID signage
Miami Beach

I also took part in an organized tours of the Everglades and the Marathon Turtle hospital. 

  • The Everglade: The airboat usually holds 25. The staff said they were limiting the seating to half capacity but there were 20 people on my boat.  Masks were not required on the boat since it was open-air.  I kept my mask on and there was only my fellow traveling companion in my row, so it was still okay.  The tour company required masks inside their building where guests purchase tour tickets, food, and souvenirs.  Masks were not required on the ground outside the main building.
  • The Turtle hospital: They’ve limited their guided tours to half capacity. This allowed for spreading out inside the educational center. Their waivers are available online to limit touching the iPads inside their checkin area and asked were required for all guests and guides. Even the staff nurses wore masks.

Will the the other tourists follow the city ordinances?

The city ordinance of Key West requires masking inside or outside when you’re within 6 feet of another person.  During the day about 85% of the time this was followed.  However, night on Duval Street was not a place for the COVID cautious. At best 5% of people walking around were masked.  Restaurant capacities were full in most cases as well.  There is not a lot of room on Duval to spread out making distancing at the restaurants difficult.  While waiting for the sunset in Mallory Square face masks were also rare.  If it’s important for you to be away from unmasked strangers, staying inside a Key West resort, especially in the evening, would be the safest option.

In Marathon and Key Largo most of my time with other people was at restaurants, which were nicely spaced out, and at the hotel/resort pools.  There were no issues in either place.

As with the airport, I was most impressed with Miami. The city ordinance requires masking at all times unless working out or eating.  It was a very rare occasion when I saw someone without a mask on while walking around Miami. At restaurants people were masked except when eating, servers were masked, and tables were spread out.  While in the area I visited South Beach, Mid-Beach, North Bech, Surfside, Wynwood, and downtown Miami. In all locations the people of Miami and my fellow tourists appeared COVID-serious as they followed the protocols.  Hands down, I would come back again without hesitation.

—-

Calle Ocho, Little Havana, Miami

The decision to travel during COVID is extremely personal.  Whether you choose to plan now and travel later or plan now and travel now, KaliKosmos Travel would love the opportunity to show you the Professionally Planned Travel difference.  Contact us today and let us work for you.

Life List

Someone once said that work is how we fill our time in between vacations.

With COVID closures and reduced travel in 2020, work has been longer than most of us have experienced in a long time.

But work does not have to void of travel. This time is a perfect time to dream and plan for the travel that will come later.

One of the best dream to plan to go tools is the Life List (aka Bucket List). A Life List helps set the path to regular travel, big and small, far and near. Here a few practical tips on building your Life List:

1) Choose Your Method.

There are a lot of ways to keep a Life List ranging from a notebook, to a digital document, to even a jar full of notes. The important thing is that whatever you choose, you use. You will want to look at this on a regular basis so make sure it is something that will be easy for you to access. Digital documents (like Google docs are great because you can easily add things like images or links. And they are easy to share with your regular travel mate and your KaliKosmos Travel advisor.

2) Make a List of Where You Have Been

Thinking about past vacations and what you liked (and didn’t like) is a great way to get started. If you’re traveling as a couple this is even more important. You might want to share previous adventures with each other, or agree that exploring things that are completely new are the way to go. Either way, having this list will further the discussion. If you are a solo traveler, then this will help you determine what is really meaningful when it comes to your travel desires. 

3) Next, List Your Destinations

This is the fun step. Use your imagination. At this point, don’t hold back due to time or financial concerns, just list all the places you have ever dreamed of. Where did you want to go when you were 6 years old? Or 10, or 16? Or maybe just last week? Of course, you should make sure you include the places that have always been on your wish list. Remember, this is not the time to hold back. If you need advice, this is a great time to contact your KaliKosmos Travel advisor and ask her what the newly discovered destinations are. You don’t want to miss out.

4) What Do you Want to Experience?

Places are one thing. Activities are another. Have you always wanted to go Northern Lights hunting? Or maybe an African Safari? Is it swimming with dolphins in Mexico that calls to you, or diving with sharks in South Africa? Does visiting the Smithsonian in DC call to you, or maybe hot air ballooning over the dessert Southwest? This is the step where you get to list all the things you’ve wanted to do. As a couple this can be a fun step of discovery. Just like with destinations, your KaliKosmos Travel advisor can help by letting you know about some of the secrets that only travel insiders know about. 

5) Put Things in Order

Your list is probably getting a little long at this point. Now is the time to apply some practical thinking. Look through your destinations list and highlight the 4 or 5 places that mean the most to you. It doesn’t mean you won’t ever see the others, but you do need to start somewhere. Then look through your activities list. Are there any that fit one destination more than another? Add them to your list. Lastly, go through your list one more time to make sure you didn’t leave anything out. Once this is done, you have your basic list finished. Now to apply some action to it.

6) Establish a Timeline

Now you can begin making things happen This is where you begin to organize your dreams into plans. Consider the time and money you wish to invest in travel. Yes, it is an investment. Remember, travel is the activity where you spend money and return richer for it. 
Align your goals with the practical aspects of your budget and available time and, in short order, you will have a plan of where to go and what to do over the next few years. Share this with your KaliKosmos Travel advisor and she will be able to keep on a lookout for opportunities and deals that can get you checking these items off you list.

7) Check Them Off Your List

Of course, none of this really means much if you never go. Once you get started, you’ll find that wanderlust builds and builds. So the choice is yours, do you want to be one of the people who tells the stories of what they have discovered, or the one who listens? 
It’s important to remember that this is YOUR travel Life List. So if work gets in the way sometimes, no worries. You are the master of the list and can always adjust it as need be. But don’t forget it’s impolite to keep a vacation waiting if you can go. 

Ready to dream? Download a blank PDF Life List.

Ready to plan? Contact us and let KaliKosmos Travel show you the difference Professionally Planned Travel can make.

Wish You Were Where?

After months at home, we need something to look forward to again and nothing is more exciting than planning that next perfect getaway. So let’s play the game “If I weren’t here, I would be …”

Julie:

If I weren’t here, I’d be in Pikes Peak State Park in Iowa. Did you know that Pikes Peak in Colorado is not the original? In northeast Iowa on the outskirts of McGregor is the REAL Pikes Peak. The park (and close by Yellow River State Forest) are beautiful especially in late September when the fall leaves are changing colors. I love to hike, and the park offers both rugged trails on the northern portion or the southern portion has shorter trails that are highly maintained. It’s also a great place for photographers looking for that perfect nature shot!

Pike Peak State Park
photo credit: Travel Iowa

Katie:

If I weren’t here, I’d be in the Chena Hot Springs near Fairbanks, Alaska. I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, and while Iceland and Norway are high on aurora hunters’ list, Alaska is a great spot to see the phenomena as well. And the great news, especially for someone like me who doesn’t want to be cold, the lights in Alaska are visible as early as mid-August!

Chena Hot Springs, Alaska
photo credit: Explore Fairbanks

What about you? If you weren’t here, where would you be?


The journey begins the moment we decide to go somewhere. Let’s Go There. Book now to travel later.

Are you ready to go from inspiration to having your dream on the calendar? Then contact KaliKosmos Travel. Let us work to plan your perfect travel experience.

Let's Go There

Spend Now, Travel Later

We’re excited to have Luke Hartman as a guest blogger this month. He helps explain ways we can spend now and travel later.

For travelers interested in enrolling in or using their American Express points for travel, contact Katie Hartman, an authorized American Express Pay with Points agent (terms and conditions apply).


While travel does not have the appeal right now that it usually does, now is a great opportunity to consider ways to prepare for upcoming travel. Using a credit card can be a helpful way to save funds for travel while you are in-between trips (or waiting out a pandemic at home). 

There are three different types of travel-related credit cards with various pros and cons for each. Let’s learn more!

Airline-affiliated cards

Delta Credit Card

Airlines partner with banks to provide cards that allow holders to accumulate miles with that airline (Southwest calls them points). United Airlines and Southwest both partner with Chase; American Airlines with Citi; Delta with American Express; and smaller airlines (JetBlue, Alaskan, etc) have bank partners as well.

These cards credit your frequent flier account with miles for each dollar spent on the card. Most airline cards provide one mile per dollar with higher credit rates for certain categories and purchases with the airline itself. The value of these miles varies from airline to airline as each has different tiers depending on your destination and class of service and lower miles are generally required the further from departure that you can book.

Airlines also provide travel-related perks for cardholders. For example all but Delta’s free card provide free baggage fees for up to nine passengers on the same itinerary as the cardholder. The cheapest of these cards costs $99/year and with Delta’s domestic baggage fee currently at $30/first bag, the card more than pays for itself after only two flights a year with two passengers. Add Delta’s priority boarding and discounts on in-flight purchases ans the card seems more attractive. Delta’s highest card has a $550/year fee but also includes a free flight for a travel-companion (with certain rules and class of service), free entry into the Delta Sky Club, complimentary upgrades on flights, and reimbursement for TSA Pre.

If you have a preferred airline and will travel with the card enough to justify the annual fee, these cards can be a great way to accumulate miles for future trips as well as enjoy perks on the flight itself.

Pros

  • Allows accumulation with a specific airline
  • Airline-specific perks like waiving baggage fees

Cons

  • Miles can only be used with a specific airline
  • Better cards carry a high annual fee
  • Most charge fees for international purchases

“Travel” rewards cards

Banks also issue credit cards that offer travel rewards. These may be called points or miles depending on the bank. Miles is a misleading unit because they do not correspond to miles on any airline; the word is used to categorize the card as a travel card. Capital One will allow you to transfer your miles to airline loyalty programs, but they do not partner with any of the major American Airline.

These cards allow their points to be redeemed for travel purchases (broadly defined) but often will also allow statement credit for any purchase or as points on Amazon.com. This flexibility means you are not required to use the miles for an airline ticket purchase. The points can be used for travel-related purchases (hotel room, a nice meal while traveling, an extra suitcase to bring back souvenirs) or purchases unrelated to the trip entirely.

Capital One credit card

These cards usually have lower annual fees than the mid and upper-tier airline cards and a higher point-per-dollar accumulation rate. Capital One, for example, offers their Venture One card with no annual fee and 1.25 “miles” per-dollar for any purchase. For $95/year their Venture card provides 2 miles per-dollar. The card you choose would depend on annual spending (for example, it one would need more than $12,667 on the card each year for the Venture to make more sense than the Venture One) but either way it’s nice to accumulate money for travel while making purchases you’re already making.

Because the “miles” of these cards are not tied to any airline, they allow the holder to travel with whatever airline they wish at any amount you wish. You do not have to wait to accumulate the full mile price for a frequent flier ticket or wait for frequent flier flights to be discounted. However because they are not tied to any airline, they usually do not offer any airline-specific perks such as waived baggage fees or priority boarding.

Pros

  • Can be used to reimburse any purchase, travel-related or otherwise
  • Usually cheaper annual fees and more points/dollar than airline-specific cards
  • Not tied to any airline

Cons

  • Does not provide airline perks such as baggage fee reimbursements
  • Because miles are not tied to any airline, does not help with frequent flier sales

Travel Rewards Cards

The third category of cards are true travel rewards cards. American Express provides cards that accumulate Membership Rewards points that can be used for travel and travel perks. For example the Amex Platinum Card offers the following:

American Express credit card
  • Access 1,200+ airport lounges across 130 countries, including the amazing Centurion lounges.
  • Up to $200 Uber Savings Annually.
  • Up to $200 Airline Fee Credit.
  • Up to $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • Up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit

Additionally, the card offers earning bonus on select streaming subscriptions and wireless phone service, bonus points for hotel reservations, preferred seating for select cultural and sporting events (based on availability), and more.

These cards offer hefty rewards but often at a hefty price. The Amex card referenced above costs $550/year, but if you were to use the benefits it can pay for itself.

Pros

  • Generous travel-related rewards

Cons

  • High annual fees
  • American Express is not as widely accepted as the other card types

General Considerations

Whichever card type you choose there are some general tips everyone should be aware of.

Free Credit Monitoring 

Credit card acceptance is heavily dependent on credit scores; the semi-secret formula used to rank how effectively a person manages debt. Checking your score once a month or so allows you to see how creditworthy banks think you are and provides an opportunity to ensure your information is correct prior to applying for a card or a loan.

Each of the three credit bureaus offer free yearly score checks and there are some paid services that provide access to your score. I suggest using CreditKarma.com, a free site that provides weekly updates to your score with access from two of the three bureaus. The site is free because it provides solicitations for credit cards and insurance based on your score which is a small price to pay for the valuable information.

credit card protection

Signup Bonus

Most cards provide a one-time bonus for signup up. Currently Delta’s Skymiles cheapest card with the waived baggage fees provides a 35,000 mile bonus after $1,000 in purchases within the first three months. Capital One’s free Venture One card offers 20,000 “miles” after $1,000 in purchases within the first three months. 35,000 Skymiles is quite a bit with Delta and 20,000 “miles” with Capital One is worth $200.00. It is helpful to have an upcoming large purchase to meet the spending threshold, such as a yearly insurance payment or auto repair to qualify for the bonus without extra spending.

Automatic purchases

Look for opportunities to put existing bills on a card. For example our city allows us to pay utility bills via credit card. Our family cellphone plan and home and auto insurance, and cable company allow this also. None of these charge an additional fee for using a card. Setting these as automatic payments frees us from thinking about them and the credit card rewards us for the privilege.

credit card and computer screen with "Home Insurance" on the screen.

Research

Once you’ve decided on a card type you can learn more about the specifics, including limited-time increased signup bonuses, at websites like ThePointsGuy.com or UpgradedPoints.com. These sites include addition card information, comparison, and tips to maximize the value of various cards. 

The Danger of Credit Cards

Using a credit card for its rewards is only effective for purchases that would be made anyway. The rewards come from transaction fees (paid by the vendor) and fees assessed on those with trouble managing their card. Those who would spend more with a card than they might otherwise or who cannot pay the balance in full each billing cycle lose the value of the card and then some.

The Hair Goes RV-ing

My family has the goal of visiting all 48 contiguous states before my oldest, now a senior in high-school, goes to college. 

Cruise America RV

COVID closures, reduced flight capacity, and the unknowns from the virus threatened to delay our 2020 summer travel plans.

Enter “Harvey” the RV.

I’ve never traveled by RV before. It’s really not anything that interested me before this summer.  But, it was the answer to the question of how to see the 8 most western states in the middle of the pandemic.  

In a COVID world, with an RV, we had our own place to sleep, cook, eat, go to the bathroom, shower, hang out, and drive all without being near people outside our bubble.

For those planning to take an RV trip, here are some tips we learned along the way.

1. Know Your Rental Plan Pricing

The price of our RV rental was based on the number of days and the total number of miles we expected to drive.  For our rental if we drove over the pre-paid number of miles, the price per mile was higher.  If your rental plan is like ours was, to allow for spontaneous detours, plan the route and then generously round up.  For a example, we expected to drive about 5300 miles.  We prepaid for 5500.00.  We actually drove 6205.00.  

If there is no difference in mileage cost prepaid or postpaid, rounding up may not be warranted. With our rental there was no refund for unused miles.  Had we driven 5305.00 we would not have been refunded 195 miles.

Know how the rental plan pricing works and make the most of it.

Two boys facing away from the camera, at Monument Valley, Utah
Monument Valley, Utah

2. Pick up the RV a day early.

This could add a little to the price (it did for us) but the benefits outweigh the cost.  We plugged in the RV’s electrical system to the house allowing the RV fridge to cool overnight.  We also had time to consider the best way to pack up the vehicle.  Another bonus to packing at home is that we reused home storage bins for the RV. 

3. Rent Round Trip

We had issues with Harvey part way through the trip. The rental company was amazing to work with and got us back on the road as quickly as possible.  But the new RV had quirks. The water heater didn’t really work, the sewer wouldn’t completely drain, and we found water leaking inside one morning. 

When we retuned Harvey 2, the woman at the rental agency said that’s normally how it is with one way rentals. The dealer will send out their “problem child” on a one way because they won’t have to hear about the issues when it’s returned.

If you’re able to rent round trip, your chances of getting a problem child are, apparently, less.

Yellowstone National Park

4. It’s a truck

The RV was basically the cab of a truck welded on to the RV body. This meant the “RV part” was not wired in to the “truck part” like you’d have with higher-end RVs.  The result is that the radio speakers and air conditioner are only in the front “truck part.”  

The mix tape is a huge part of our in-the-car-time on these trips, so front radio speakers would not do.  We solved the speaker issue by bringing a small Bluetooth speaker.  

In the cooler areas, like Montana and Idaho, we didn’t have an issue with the A/C, but the RV part definitely got hot when we travel across Arizona and New Mexico.  Unfortunately we didn’t have a solution to the A/C issue but – you’ve been warned.

The truck part/RV part also means it can get pretty loud inside. When we drove through 45 mph wind gusts and down bumpy roads everything would shake and rattle.  You just kind of get used to it.

Four kids in front of a spray-painted bus with "COVID Days" written on the bus.
COVID Days

5. If you can, tow a car.

We did not. With our family size, we had to rent the largest RV. I can’t imagine trying to keep the RV in line AND tow a car. It would be hard. But since we didn’t have a car there were places we couldn’t go (like driving through the giant redwoods in California or down Lombard Street in San Francisco) and when we did go somewhere we ALL went. There was no making a fast run for coffee in the morning or a late-night snack run- we were like a turtle and the whole house came along.

6. Consider reservations.

This is especially true if you’ll need a spot over the weekend or on a holiday (FYI Father’s Day is both). In most places there are more RV parks than will actually show on KOA website or RV Life app. This allows for flexibility and driving as much as you’d like until you find a place to stop. BUT doing so also means you could end up without a place to stay.  

If you go without reservations at all, each time you have access, fill up on gas (so you can run the generator), empty your black and grey water, and top up your water tank.  This will make the best of a Walmart parking lot campout or dry docking* at an RV park for the night.

Also, if amenities are a factor, you’ll 100% want to plan out and have reservations. There are some amazing RV parks that have lovely amenities. Those places go first. The dark woods with no water hook ups off the two-lane road in the middle of Montana- those are the ones left for the seat-of-your-pants drivers.

four boys by a large Redwood tree
Redwood Forest, California

7. Don’t forget to pack:

disposable gloves. You’ll need to dump the black water (bathroom waste) and grey water (sink and shower water) pretty regularly. When you do, trust me, you’ll want gloves and you’ll want to throw them away when the job is done.

– a bath mat. Harvey the RV had a shower that worked pretty well (if you’re under 6’3″) but there’s not much of a place to dry off after. Putting the bath mat down helped the floor stay dry as we all cycled through the shower.

– twine and clothes pins.  We used the clothes pins to attach the trash bag to a cabinet handle and keep our little artists’ papers together, but the twine and clothes pins also allowed us to hang dry wet clothes.

boy with two cherries and a COVID mask.

– a laundry bag. We hung a communal bag on a peg to keep the clean from the dirty. Part way through the drive we used the laundry facilities at an RV park to clean the clothes.  The bag helped us transport the clothes back and forth from the laundry room.

– bedding. The kids just used sleeping bags with a top sheet and an extra blanket. This made packing up easier in the morning since each person could roll up their bedding and store it for the day.  But the master bed was a different story. It felt great at the end of the day to crawl into an actual bed with actual sheets.  

Sheet clips are also helpful. The master bed was not completely queen size and not very thick so the sheets didn’t want to stay on like they would on a thick mattress.  The clips help hold it all in place. 

If you’re picky about your bed, lay on for a bit the night before you leave. You may want to add an eggcrate topper or something extra.  The mattress works, but it wouldn’t win any awards.

a dad with four boys around a campfire in Utah
Around the campfire in southern Utah

 – firewood. We tried to start a fire in our site’s fire pit one evening and it wasn’t pretty.  We had no wood with us and the kindle around the site was too wet.  Trying to start a fire with cardboard boxes and paper we snuck from the artists’ box didn’t work very well.  The nice man a few slots over noticed our attempts and took pity on us. Learn from others, bring wood.

– an extension cord. Most nights pulling into the hook ups wasn’t a problem.  But, one night, moments after a close call with a utility pole, we were expected to back in between two large trees and hug close to the RV parked directly behind us.  To avoid disaster we pulled in instead. This left us a few inches shy on the electrical hooks up.  Because we had an extension cord we could navigate the difference and still have power.


From the other side of the experience, I can say- it wasn’t half bad.  I don’t mean I’m looking to sell my house and live on the open road, but I can definitely see the appeal.

Crater Lake, Oregon
At Crater Lake, Oregon

*dry dock – when an RV park allows you to park for the night without any water, sewer, or electrical hook ups.  The price is lower when dry docking.