By Jay Liles
A good book can be a vacation. Grilling out with friends can be a good get-away. Going to the beach is high on a lot of people’s list of a good time. Some people do not care for the beach and would prefer a lake, a mountain, or just a stay-cation at home. There are concerts, coffee, games (indoor and outdoor), movies, and just sometimes being creative and creating something like a painting or a computer program. You could build a house or work in a garden. But what about Europe? You might think, “One day, I will go to Europe.”
For the last two summers, I have gone to Europe. I get asked all of the time, “How do you do it? How do you get to go to Europe each summer?” I tell them, “It’s cheaper than you think.”
I start in Manchester, England and make my way to Florence, Italy. My undergraduate psychology professor, Dr. Thaw, teaches a summer abroad class in Florence. I have kept in touch with him over the years. We usually catchup over beers at a Jackson, MS spot called Keifer’s. Great gyros! The beer is good too :)
He told me one day that I should fly over to meet him and his class. I thought that would be cool, but I did not know if I would actually go. He texted me a few weeks later about it, and that is when I decided to go. So now I had to figure out how to get there.
Then, more thoughts came into my mind: How was I gonna pay for the flight? How was I gonna pay for a place to stay? How was I gonna get from one country to the next? Do I need cash or is credit card fine? Well, none of the other questions mattered if I couldn’t get there. So I started with that. How do I get there?
I started looking at google flights. I could find crazy cheap flights just by using google flights. I typed in where I wanted to fly out of and typed “Europe” into the destination. It was so exciting to see all of the places I could fly into Europe like England or France or Germany or all of these other countries. Then, I wanted to figure out if I could find the best deal. How cheap could I get the airline ticket for?
So, I started typing in bigger cities to fly out of the US into Europe: Atlanta, New York, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans and others. I found $99 flights out of some city in Rhode Island to Edinburgh, Scotland. But this was my problem. I was in Jackson, MS at the time and flights out of Jackson to any city were not really in the budget. Then, I remembered my credit card points.
I had signed up for a credit card, and if I spent something like $3,000 over three months, I would get 75,000 points. That sounded like a significant amount of points even though I didn’t know what 75,000 credit card points would get me. So, by spending at least $1,000/month for 3 months I would get the points.
With my regular spending on my checking account I can spend $1000/month. I switched my automatic payments, like cell phone, over from my checking account to the credit card. Then, I just used the credit card to buy my groceries, gas, and other monthly expenses. And, I got the 75,000 points. With my regular spending and paying-off the credit card in full each month, I got the points.
I didn’t spend them for years and they kept building. But now I needed to figure out if I could use my points to get to one of these big cities to catch a $99 flight to Europe. In my search, I found I could spend 30,000 points plus $5.60 to fly from Jackson, MS to Manchester, England. AWESOME!
So, with my American Express credit card points and Delta Airlines, I could get to Europe for $5.60. To me that is stupid cheap. I had to do it.
I talked with my friend Jen before I booked the flight. I told her that I learned that 30,000 credit card points is equivalent to a $300 gift card to Home Depot. I asked her if I should not go to Europe and save all of the points for one day when I need a refrigerator. I was genuinely concerned that I wasn’t being thoughtful on the most prudent way to spend those points. In so many words, she told me it was a no brainer. Book the flight. Go to Europe.
I transferred my American Express points to Delta Airlines. It was really easy to do without having to call or email anyone at either company. Then, I pulled the flight back up and booked it.
I write this article because I want to spark something in other people. There is a life outside of your life. And you can get there. That something in this moves someone from wanting to do something to actually doing it. Maybe when you travel, it will give you new energy to take care of those you care for the most. Maybe you find the power to forgive. Maybe you develop new habits traveling that make your life back home easier. Maybe you learn to live with less and love people that you don’t know more. Maybe you learn to give yourself more grace.
When you travel travel, you touch the lives of so many people. The waiter needs your tip and the store owner needs your purchase. But along with your tip and your purchase, give them your kindness and your patience. Some days that is what they need the most to get through their day.
If you want to give more of your time to a specific area in the world, you can also go on mission trips, volunteer vacations, see friends that needs a friend. You can also get in touch with a local nonprofit in an area that needs your help.
Then once again, as you see the effect that your time and kindness had on those in some place halfway across that world, bring those habits back home with you. Give your kindness to your local store clerk and your time to a stranger that needs to share a lengthy story with you.
I hope one day that I will be the stranger that gives you kindness. But you could also be the stranger that gives me kindness when I need it the most. We are all in this together. See you around. Your friend, Jay.
Written October 2018. Now January 2024, with inflation, the cost to get to Europe has gone up to $6.00.