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.


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