My First Travel Hack: Baltimore to Hawaii for $61.20

Let me take you back to 2014.  

I was two years into my career as a mechanical engineer.  On good days, the commute was 45 mind-numbing minutes on the beltway.  The work was detailed, and often weeks of effort had to be painstakingly redone due to client design changes.  My roommates began to know it was I returning home for the evening because of a habitual involuntary sigh, released as I passed through the doorway.

Not only did I begin to suspect my chosen career path was wrong for me, but I also was struggling in several other aspects of life.  In spite of great friends, coworkers, and mentors, I felt totally stuck and didn’t know what to do to get out of it.

For the past year, my friend Jim had been pestering me to come visit him in Honolulu, Hawaii.  “Stay at my place and we’ll kick it and explore,” he said.  I knew I needed a change.  I knew I needed to finally take time to care for myself, and as I’d heard in a book somewhere, “A change of place and a change of pace yields a change in perspective.”

I would have let money be an excuse not to go.  If I had to pay for lodging or plane tickets, it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened.  I’d have said, “I can’t spend that on myself, I have to save it for something else.”

Thankfully, in 2013, I had dipped my toes in the travel hacking world, using a credit card to earn a bonus 50,000 airline points without spending any extra money.  

As 2015 began, I cashed in the points and paid just 61.20 round trip, including bag fees, to go to Hawaii in May.  I got to stay with Jim, explore the island, camp, hike, snorkel, and decompress: all for less than $350 for the whole week.

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Looking back at those conversations and adventures, it was a big turning point for me.  Jim’s investment of time with me that week was a tremendous gift.  I returned home ready to start making positive change.

Later that year, I accepted a different engineering position that provided me a lot more freedom to really figure out where I wanted to go in life.  I began to really get to know who I was in a deeper way, gain a whole new perspective, and start working towards living a more joyful, more fulfilling, and more impactful life.

Since then, I’ve used airline and hotel points for several other adventures in Ireland, Zion National Park, and elsewhere.  These experiences have been transformative, opened incredible doors, resulted in deep new friendships, and have developed me as a person.

Without the skills I learned from travel hacking - the art of scoring big mileage bonuses and getting nearly free flights - most of these trips would not have happened.  It’s possible I could have resigned myself to a life of quiet desperation.

Instead I began building momentum to a more meaningful life.

Travel hacking is often sold as an opportunity to take luxury vacations on the cheap.  It is.  It may also allow you to take your yearly camping trip on another continent instead of across the closest state line.

Best of all, travel hacking may unlock the chance for you - as it did me - to make serious positive change in your life.  It may unlock the chance for you - as it did me - to grow.  It may unlock the chance for you - as it did me - to get on a path more in line with your personality, your passions, your skills, your dreams.

Photo by  Jim Baker

Photo by Jim Baker

2019 Seniors: Kaylie

The Ellicott City Historic District is always a great place for senior portraits. I had a great time working with Kaylie, capturing some beautiful portraits of her both in everyday attire and one of her dance outfits. Kaylie is energetic and has a lot of irons in the fire: when she isn’t dancing, she’s in the school musicals, cavaliers, and getting ready for college!

Springtime is great for senior portraits!

Springtime is great for senior portraits!

I love capturing the hobbies and talents of my Senior Portrait Freedom clients!

I love capturing the hobbies and talents of my Senior Portrait Freedom clients!

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Showcase your talents in your senior portraits!

Showcase your talents in your senior portraits!

My Senior Portrait Freedom experience is designed to be a fun part of the senior year festivities. You’ll have a great time, and get some great images to hang on the wall, share with family and friends, and use in your graduation announcements! Contact me to schedule your free info session today!

On The Set of American Dropout

I pull into the parking lot at 6 AM. A silent Sunday morning; spring birds have yet to rouse themselves. Across the street, a power plant; next to me, the metro line; behind and ahead, nondescript business park buildings. I see a glow through a glass-paned garage door, approach, and enter the Garden, a co-working and maker space.

Production staff say hello and bring me to a multi-use studio, where gaffers are rigging lights and the DP is discussing camera operation with the director.

Initial lighting tests, setting up for first interview.

Initial lighting tests, setting up for first interview.

So begins the day on set. In production is a documentary titled American Dropout, which will shed light on the issues surrounding high school dropout rates and how these problems can be resolved. Today, three women who have left the public school system for various reasons, as well as several experts with a variety of perspectives and experiences, share their stories. Filming, already ongoing on the west coast, will continue in Chicago and elsewhere.

As still photographer, I capture the day - setup, interviews, off-camera goings-on, and all the rest. The opportunity to be present for these storytelling hours is an honor. I hear of the difficulties that led to choices to drop out of school, of overcoming obstacles, of mentorship and relationship and real-world solutions that have helped many graduate and move forward. The director, Rob Carpenter, takes time out of the busy schedule to chat with me and share his vision for this film, as well as several others.

Rob talks with Ashley, one of the interviewees.

Rob talks with Ashley, one of the interviewees.

Most inspiring to me is the interview with Bill Milliken (see another one of his talks here). For 50 years, he has been a mentor and friend to young men who would likely have otherwise been swallowed up by gangs and prisons. After himself struggling in school, he moved to Harlem and began simply spending time with the young men that were out on the streets. That relationship, that love, brought hope to many young men who would otherwise have had none. Decades later, those relationships have grown into the Communities in Schools program, which “connects students and their families to critical community resources tailored to local needs. Working in nearly 2,700 in the most challenged communities, in 28 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools serves nearly 1.26 million young people and their families. It has become the nation's leading dropout prevention organization, and the only one proven to increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates.” To see this man continue to build relationships and speak about the need for love and for people in high-risk areas to get connected with resources to help them succeed is incredible.

American Dropout is slated to be released in late 2019. Based on these interviews (just a few of many), Rob’s passionate directing, and the attention to detail given by all, this will surely be an excellent and eye-opening film!

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The Importance of Video Marketing

Word of mouth is still an incredibly effective way to bring new clients through your doors.  It’s organic and requires little investment of your time or finances.

Yet, when it comes to building your business and getting more clients, you often need to jump-start that process.  One of the best bang-for-your buck investments is video marketing.

A variety of statistics show that the vast majority of consumers across industries believe video helps them make purchasing decisions and increases the likelihood that they’ll commit to a product.

Consider the following scenario:  I search for a nutritionist in my area online.  A map of local matches appears.  The first name that pops up has a website with an outdated style and it takes me a bit of time to navigate around.

Returning to the map on the search page, I click on the second nutritionist’s website link. Immediately I am invited to start the journey to health, and I scroll down to see more detailed information about what that means, without clicking around.  Overall, this second website is more inviting and I’d be more likely to contact this practitioner for help getting my nutrition on track.

Back to the search page, I click the first result below the map, which is an aggregation site featuring profiles of nine professionals near me.  They all have great photographs and full profiles detailing what they do, with testimonials, listed specialties, and more.  I visit their websites; each one is professional and polished.

However, none of them have any videos on their landing pages, and I don’t feel like reading through all this text trying to determine who is the best fit for me.

What would happen if just one of these professionals invested in a short and articulate video describing how they can help me and what makes them different from everyone else?

  • They would clearly and uniquely demonstrate their professionalism and competence

  • I would feel like I already know them a bit before I call to set up an appointment

  • I would be more likely to commit to working with them as I pick up the phone

  • I would be grateful that they provided an easy way for me to digest the information I need to make the call

Video marketing, done well, can break down the barriers that stand in the way of calls and bookings.

It may also be just the right tool to help you stand out from all the competition within your industry.


I provide video marketing services for businesses in Columbia, Ellicott City, and the surrounding Howard County area. Talk to me to start a conversation about helping your business grow.