This is a guest post from WorldWanderluster Christina (who also happens to be my sister-in-law). We love guest posts so much, that we’ll happily send our readers a $25 giftcard for sharing their almost-free travel stories. If you’d like to write one, please keep it between 500 and 1500 words, attach some good pictures and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love to travel. I always joke that I’m a traveler stuck in a mom’s body, because not only do our kids make things complicated, but we never seem to have that elusive thing called “extra money.” My husband’s family lives across the country from us, and we love to visit, but at around $450+ per ticket, it’s an expensive trip to make – which is precisely why we hadn’t visited in almost 4 years.
Brad, one of the brothers from World Wanderlusting (who also happens to be family – he is married to my sister-in-law) has been nudging me about this whole ‘traveling for free or nearly free’ thing for quite some time. I tend to be very skeptical, because as they say, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” But our curiosity got the best of us and we both signed up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and the Southwest Rapid Rewards cards (no longer offering the 50k point bonus). Once we met the minimum spending requirements and received our bonus miles, we booked tickets for our family of five (with one lap baby) for $180 out of pocket. We then used one of our Arrival cards to reserve a car rental, which we reimbursed ourselves for with points (~$250).
Our flight took us from Providence to Salt Lake City, with one stop in between. Once we arrived in SLC, we headed to get our rental car to make the 3 hour trip to Idaho Falls. We were surprised with a free upgrade to a minivan, which definitely sweetened the deal! The drive up from SLC was a gorgeous one. I love New England, having lived here most of my life, but it’s so much fun to visit different landscapes. We did live outside of Boise for a little over 2 years, but I’ll never tire of seeing the mountains.
I always felt like a family vacation is an oxymoron (because really, as a stay-at-home mom, you are bringing your work with you!) but we love to create memories with our children We stayed with my sister-in-law Nicole, and her husband, Brad, who just came back from their family getaway to Florida.
The weather was beautiful all week, so one of the days we packed up the kids and visited Lava Hot Springs, an indoor/outdoor pool, splash park, and water park all rolled in one. The water is comfortably warm, so even my youngest son enjoyed it. And really, how many people from New England do you know have ever bathed in a geothermal hot springs pool?
On Friday night, we did a double date and took the scenic drive to West Yellowstone, Montana to see the musical “Les Miserables” at the Playmill Theater. I had no idea what to expect, having seen many musicals and plays, but never one at a theater so small. It turned out to be a blast! The actors in the play were also the ushers, chatting us up and walking us to our seats. The room was small and intimate, allowing the production to really come to life. At intermission, the actors and actresses sold cookies, fudge, water, and ice cream floats, which I thought was a really fun twist. The singing was way beyond expectation, it really was out of this world! We are considering making a trip to the Playmill Theater a tradition whenever we visit. I highly recommend it.
One afternoon the girls in the family were treated to tea & lunch at The Stillwater Mansion, a beautiful Victorian tearoom located in Idaho Falls. The house itself was built in the 1800’s and is decorated with rich Victorian style. Our hostess took us one by one into a small back room where she dressed us in fancy hats, shawls, gloves, and jewelry. We were each called to our seats where the table was set with fancy tea cups, plates, and decorations. We had a lovely, relaxing lunch and tea time. The food was delicious and our hostess had even catered to my food sensitivity. While we were enjoying dessert, she told us of the different meanings of flowers, and how the fans ladies carried in the Victorian era were also used as a means of silent conversation. I believe the tea was my daughter’s favorite part of the entire trip.
There were lots of memories made on our trip. Our kids were able to spend lots of time playing with their long-distance cousins, and we thoroughly enjoyed time spent with family. We were able to attend a family reunion, which hasn’t happened in years. I can honestly say that we were able to enjoy ourselves even more, knowing we didn’t have to spend an arm and a leg to visit. The vistas were beautiful, and the company fun…what more could you ask for?
As for us, we are believers! We are already keeping an eye out for a card that will allow us to fly out for nearly free again next year. I have to thank the Christensen brothers for putting together this blog to share their wealth of information, and allowing us to literally save thousands of dollars. We have already booked our next trip – a four-day getaway to the North Carolina coast at the end of July to celebrate our 10th anniversary, and we look forward to seeing where our travels take us in the future!