I won’t claim that we went to Europe “for free” because nothing in this world is free. We like to say it’s “included.” For all intents and purposes, though, we got our flights and lodging without paying, and that’s kinda free, but we’ll stick to points for accuracy’s sake.
Los Angeles to Heathrow, United miles.
Edinburgh to O’Hare and back to LAX, United miles.
Waterloo Hampton Inn, Hilton points.
Edinburgh Airport Hampton Inn, Hilton points.
There are parts of our trip that we possibly could have paid for with other types of points that we have saved up, but we’re still learning how this stuff works. Sometimes the exchange rate isn’t a good enough value and sometimes we’re a couple hundred points short.
The main thing to note is that I’m not a big fan of providing free advertisements to major corporations that don’t need it. As an historian I’ll just note that in the attempt to attract loyal customers, various branded megaliths will offer increasingly enticing deals in exchange for that loyalty - and the data, of course. If you’re cynical enough to believe that your data are already floating around out there, and we know ours has been hacked at least three separate and distinct times, then you may as well eke some slight gratification out of it.
Rewinding a bit, what did I mean when I said that things aren’t “free” but are rather “included”?
Let’s say someone offers me a paper plate with a slice of pie. Technically it’s “free” but is it? I’m on the hook for being at the event with the free pie, whatever it is, which means I’ve probably either paid to get in, I’m volunteering with cleanup, or at the very least I paid to get there and traded my time for this over any other options. Also, I’ll have to deal with the caloric intake of the slice of pie itself and, in my case, checking the clock because I can’t eat within three hours of bedtime.
Everything is a tradeoff.
In this case, the reward points that my husband and I used for our trip could have come from two sources: his business travel and our credit card usage.
The tradeoff for the frequent business travel is that we often can’t be together. He traveled something like 21 out of the last 50 weeks, sometimes for a week at a time. We haven’t been married so long that we quit liking each other or anything.
The tradeoff for the points cards is that they have an annual fee. They require a certain credit profile, which not everyone can manage, and they require artful juggling to make sure that we don’t carry a balance.
In other words, this trip is not only something that not everyone could do, it’s something that not everyone would even want to do.
Another way that we did not travel for “free” is that we paid for a bunch of stuff that is not available through points, not that we know of anyway. We ate meals, some in restaurants and some from grocery stores. We paid admission to museums and historical sites. We rode all sorts of public transit, from the tram to the water bus. We even paid cash to use the restroom.
It’s a bad idea to imagine that you can travel for “free.” It can be either a form of abundance mindset or of scarcity, and as we all know scarcity mindset spreads like mold. It seems that most people who want to travel on a tight budget will get so fixated on their bargains and extracting value that it prevents them from having a good time.
It’s also rough on the communities.
Let me throw in there that I’ve had occasion to live in a resort area more than once. It’s not my preference. Why? Right now we live on a pier. What people basically do is come to our neighborhood on the weekend to get drunk and leave a bunch of trash and broken bottles, then drag their crying kids around or get into domestic arguments, sometimes within earshot of our living room. Every single one of them is hellbent on sneaking into our parking lot because they don’t believe they should have to pay one red cent toward our personal apartment complex or municipal expenses. Such as trash pickup, parking lots, road maintenance, or policing their drunken butts.
I don’t want to be that kind of tourist, the one who brings a cooler from home and feels like local people are trying to rob them.
I’d rather be mildly interesting, a middle-aged lady with a big backpack going somewhere cool. Want to come along?
The way that we look at our points accrual is that it’s a sort of weird coupon for certain specific consumer habits. My hubby is rewarded for putting in mega-long hours at work and being the designated fix-it guy, the closer. We are both rewarded for committing financial transactions. We use these bizarre consumer bonuses to offset our spending in other areas, such as:
Eating at local restaurants
Shopping at the co-op grocery store
Riding public transit
Buying a book or travel gear from an independent bookstore
Contributing toward wilderness preservation, because birds
Supporting museums and historic sites, because if we don’t, who will?
We’d like to feel that we are contributing in some small way to the places that we go. We’ve seen a lot of preposterously bad behavior from fellow tourists during our travels. Sometimes it’s so embarrassing that we still talk about it years later, like the guy who demanded a guarantee that he would see a blue whale or his money back. Um, sir? They live in the sea, wild and free? They do not answer to thee or to me? Whales they be?
One fine day in Iceland, we were waiting for a tour bus when I saw a young woman drop her glove. I tried calling after her but it was pretty windy. She was walking so fast and that glove was obviously hand-knit, a beautiful fuchsia, days of effort. I ran after her and handed it over. I was rewarded by her thanks and the slight smiles and nods of the bystanders who saw. The GDP technically decreased that day because I destroyed the reason for someone to buy something new. In reality I know that I contributed to the community, not just of “people in the national park that day” but the international community, built on goodwill and mutual trust.
In other words, the foundational concepts of an economy.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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