Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Travel Hacking

It’s been over 5 years since I launched this blog on September 2, 2012. In that time, I’ve quit my job (twice), got hired running one of my favorite points and miles blogs, grew this blog with zero blogging experience, got featured on the Today Show, contributed to U.S. News Travel, had several posts reprinted in the Huffington Post (bucket list item checked), did two interviews with NPR and was mentioned in a print edition of Cosmopolitan. If it hadn’t been for this blog and all of you guys supporting me, none of this would have happened. My life would have been indescribably boring and I would probably be at the same old job, miserable, bitter, and not living up to my full potential (which I’m still working on).

I’m very grateful for this hobby and all it has brought about for me. It has not only impacted my career and travel, but also taught me invaluable life lessons. Here are five lessons I learned from the points and miles world:

travelers at an airport gate area looking over a plane

1. Take care of your credit. That sounds basic enough and most of us know its important, but nowhere is this emphasized more than in this community. “Take care of your credit” doesn’t just mean “pay your bills on time”. It means pay your bills off on time and don’t accrue debt. More importantly, use your credit to unleash a whole other world of possibilities. Having good credit took on a whole new meaning when points and miles came into the picture for me.

2. Travel matters/Try to enjoy life. Before I got into this hobby, I was going through a period of depression. I was at a job I really didn’t like and the only reprieve from it were those times I could go on FlyerTalk or my favorite points blog and read about other people’s travel experiences. I remember watching Emirates First Class flight videos by homer 3152 and thinking, “Wow, that guy is lucky! I’ll never be able to do that!” Traveling wasn’t really a priority, since I thought there were better ways for me to spend my savings than to travel.

It wasn’t until my dad took the whole family to Afghanistan in 2011 that I realized that travel is worth the investment. It’s what inspired a Google search that brought me to the NPR U.S. Mint coins story and set off this obsession.

Eventually I left my job and got to a happier place, but what I really learned is that you can’t put Enjoying Life on hold. Travel is a big part of that. If you ask me about my first job out of college, I can give you a job description but I can’t really remember those three years. That’s because it was the same thing over and over again. My brain recognized that it wasn’t something worth remembering, so I didn’t.

But ask me about my earliest childhood memories and I’ll tell you that time my family drove to Berlin after the wall fell, and how we stopped at a rest stop halfway through, with my cousin pulling Turkish sujjuk out of a bag and slicing it with a key because he forgot the knife at home. I can tell you about how we sat at that rest stop and ate sujjuk sandwiches surrounded by a beautiful meadow. Or I can tell you about the first time I flew on a plane (as a non-toddler) and befriended an American girl who I couldn’t even communicate with, but how much fun we had playing with paper dolls given to us by the flight attendant.

The point is, it’s not all about work and wallowing in your misery. Step away from it and enjoy what you can of life. It’s worth more than whatever bit of money you can stash into your savings account for a house, car, or whatever else you’re saving for that you might not even get a chance to enjoy because…who promised you eternal life?

3. Networking pays off. I don’t know if it’s generational, but I noticed a lot of people my age feel uncomfortable with the concept of networking. Is it really worth doing and if so, don’t people see it as shameless career/social climbing? I’ve had conversations like this with a lot of co-workers my age over the years. It wasn’t until I got into this hobby that I really understood the value of networking.

It’s not always about getting something from somebody. It’s about paying it forward and simply collaborating with others to expand your knowledge base. I learned some of the best tips in this hobby from people I met at the Chicago Seminars or just through meet-ups with fellow bloggers. I’ve met tons of great people, gotten great job opportunities, and learned to grow my blog through networking with others involved in this hobby.

4. Don’t worry about what people think so much. I’ve had my fair share of trolls over the past five years. Whether it’s via social media, the comment section of this blog, or other forums, people have said less-than-glowing things to and about me. But the lesson in all this? It’s not personal and I shouldn’t let it dictate how I do things.

I don’t remember when I had this realization, but it must have been early on. I’m naturally a sensitive person towards other people’s feelings but am kind of removed from my own. I think the first time I saw a mean comment I kind of laughed because it was clever. When the comments got cruel and nonconstructive, I eventually thought, “These are strangers. They don’t know me and their bad attitude reflects poorly on them, not me”.

That attitude has translated over to life. I don’t take other people acting like jerks personally, nor am I concerned with the opinions of people I don’t care about. That’s kind of a big leap when you’re raised in a culture where other people’s opinions are paramount. You’re taught to bite your tongue and express negative feelings through passive-aggressiveness, if at all. You grow up in an ultra-paranoid state of, “Did I say/do the wrong thing here? What will people think of me?” You’re expected to be perfect at all times. Even though nobody is and they’re simply buying into their own delusions about their public face.

My attitude about internet trolls applies to real-life ones as well. The only people whose opinions matters to me are (first and foremost) my own, and then my immediate family’s. I’m not concerned about how anyone else perceives me, as long as I know I’m a good person and do the right thing. Even if that means I consciously do the wrong thing sometimes (i.e. calling people out for being a**holes, being less than respectful to people who deserve it, etc.). I’ve made my share of enemies doing this, but it’s better than being a doormat and entertaining delusional, two-faced fools.

Applying this principle to my life has been one of the most positive things to come out of this hobby. It has set me free and forced me to develop strong principles to depend on rather than the changing whims, hippocrisies, and ignorance of people who don’t matter to me (and vice versa).

5. Appreciate honesty and find value in negative feedback. On a different note, a lot of bloggers have sycophants who tell them they’re great all the time, even when they’re not. In this sense, I have an appreciation for trolls and critics. Despite writing snarky comebacks, I also make an effort to extract something constructive from all criticism – even when it’s petty. I’d like to think I’ve grown wiser and more tolerant as a result. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoy verbally tearing people apart (it’s what keeps my hair shiny). But I also try to consider whether the root of their criticism has any merit.

Maybe it’s because of my 5-year blogging anniversary or because I just turned 30 25 for life, but I’ve been in a reflective mood. We all love to complain about the negative things happening in this hobby. I like to think back about all the good things it has brought about for me. That being said, I want to hear from you. What are some of the life lessons you’ve learned from chasing points and miles?

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  1. Ariana,
    You are spot on with your lessons learned! I love your blog and it was fantastic meeting you! Thanks for all you do with your charitable work and the great travel tips / MSing advise, and Happy 2018

  2. Ariana
    Lovely post and so true. Good for you.
    Happy New Year.

  3. Wow, The best FF blog I read for the past xx years. Thanks and Happy New Year 2018!

  4. Happy new year.

  5. Ariana, what I like about your posts mostly is that they are down to ground and explain things well. I appreciate your openness and honest sharing of the info (such as admitting to being depressed at your job). I am grateful for your posts and I have learned a lot from you. Was also very happy to finally meet you in person at Chicago Seminar (I am the one who gave you a hug when we first met). 🙂

  6. Happy New Year everyone. I received a call from patelco asking me to stop depositing money orders. Can anyone recommend any credit unions in the bayarea for depositing money orders.

  7. Ariana, what a terrific post! Thank you so much for the help you’ve given me and others over the years. One of the lessons this hobby has taught me: Experiences matter more than things.

  8. That when you have more, you get more. I recently made a large purchase on Amex Plat and then was offered a targeted deal to use it more. Despite losing 20,000 pts when I waffled about keeping Amex Plat when the rate increased. I did keep it and then got increased offers to make up for my loss. Okay…. That’s easy. I kept it for one reason. We had a lot of travel and the annual fee would be covered by our savings from eating while in airports. I also discovered Priority Pass is very useful out of USA and don’t want to be without it.

  9. Great post! I especially agree with Points 1 and 2. My wife and I had bad credit for a few years, and we’re still amazed at how many free trips we’ve taken since our credit turned around. It’s almost ironic–if you have good credit you can get lots of free flights and hotels, but you have to pay when you’re down.

    I struggle with Point 2. We travel a TON, but it’s stressful when everyone around you doesn’t. People I work with think I’m crazy but I feel so rewarded from my trips. Living in Miami I’m surrounded by people driving luxury cars and other high end material items. I’m content with a decent car that can get me from A to B with no problems. I know I could buy a BMW or Mercedes, but I’d rather go to Japan or on an African safari.

    And you’re right about “who promised you eternal life?” I’ve had friends recently die rather young from cancer or sudden heart attacks.

    • I agree – I really don’t care about material goods. I have a nice, reliable Prius C that’s great for my commute and I don’t think I’ll ever need or want more than that. Spending money on travel is more rewarding to me. I don’t remember driving my car but I’ll always remember the family trip to Asia. Sorry to hear about your friends – life is short and we need to make the best of it while we’re still around.

  10. Congrats on your dedication in hitting 5yrs+!!

    I’ve learned how lazy people truly are 😉 I’m amazed at how few people are willing to do the little effort required to get free travel…even to just get a card or two.

    Silver lining…fewer tourists blocking our view.

  11. Great advice and smart writing, as usual! You’ll always look <25, so no worries…. 🙂

  12. I agree with you about the importance of travel in life. I’ve met so many interesting people in my travels and learned of so many other ways of thinking or of doing things. And, it has been amazing to be able to do this for nearly free via this hobby! Great post, and I look forward to having two places/blogs to follow your travel thoughts now!

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