As much traveling as I do, you might think I have no regrets and make no mistakes. Unfortunately, this is not true. I have regrets about when and how I’ve traveled. Each experience helps me become a better traveler, so hopefully, I will have fewer regrets in the future.
One Regret – Not Using Points
I’ve written a few times about using points for travel. When I think about how much money my first trips cost me, it makes me cringe. I signed up for my first frequent flyer account in 2007, but I didn’t use it. I didn’t travel enough for the points to accumulate to get me free travel.
In 2012, I signed up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I earned a signup bonus of 60,000 points which I could use for a free round-trip to Europe. I didn’t use the points right away, but continued to accumulate them until 2014. After I redeemed points for a free flight in 2014, I signed up for a United Airlines card and earned another bonus – this time, 55,000 points. I added transferable Chase points to the United ones and received free Europe flights for both my husband and myself in 2015.
The money I saved on those free flights help me pay for my next trip to Europe. Since that slow beginning, I’ve signed up for a few more credit cards. I’ve continued to put all my purchases on my credit card, so I can earn more points. I have a business credit card that also earns points that are transferable for flights.
In the past year or two, I’ve used points not only for flights, but also for hotels and for the three-day cruise my daughter and I took in April. My travel has kind of snowballed – I save money by using points, I earn points on the money I do spend, and then book another vacation with points.
My regret is that I didn’t discover and use the points system earlier in my travels. I will admit, though, that points have become a larger and larger part of the travel industry over the last several years, not just for me, but for many travelers. As the interest in using points increases, bonus offers and points credit cards become more abundant.
My Biggest Regret
My biggest regret, though, is not traveling abroad earlier in life. I was in my forties before I made my first trip to Europe. Up until that time, traveling abroad had seemed so out of reach – too expensive, too complicated, and too…foreign!
One reason for not traveling is that a trip abroad is too expensive. Even without points, travel can be less expensive than you might think.
My maiden aunt thought it was important that I would be able to travel to a family reunion in the Netherlands, the country of our heritage. She offered to pay for the plane tickets for my trip, so I could make it a reality. I traveled with my mother – she and I were able to stay with distant relatives every night, which saved us money. In all, the trip was not as expensive as I expected.
You may argue that you don’t have someone to pay part of your expenses or relatives to stay with. If you want to travel, you can find a way. Two years after that first trip, my husband and I traveled back to Europe. We visited Germany and the Netherlands. We stayed with relatives and acquaintances a few nights, but also stayed in B&Bs and rented an apartment. And we paid for our own plane tickets. We made the trip a priority in our budget.
Planning travel abroad always seemed so complicated. As I began to experience it, I realized it wasn’t.
I don’t know how my husband and I managed to plan our trip so easily back then. We did have access to internet, but it wasn’t as helpful then as it is now. We bought our plane tickets through the same private consolidator that my mother and I had used (I don’t think these even exist anymore). We used email, but also made phone calls to make reservations.
European travel planning is so much easier now. Research and reservations are only a click away. Plane tickets can be purchased through an online travel agency or through the airline itself. You can often choose your seats, request a special meal (vegetarian), and check-in online.
Nearly all hotels have some degree of online presence. In addition, apartments can be booked through Airbnb or similar sites. Hostels are available for people of any age and, if you dare, you can try couch-surfing (free accommodations) – all bookable online.
Understanding foreign currency is not as difficult as it sounds, especially since the introduction of the Euro. Foreign languages can be scary. Languages and currencies are problems that are getting smaller all the time. English signs, menus, and help desk attendants are available in most areas.
When I traveled that first time, I had to secure Dutch Guilders to use on the trip. I also used traveler’s checks. By the time my husband and I traveled a couple years later, the Euro had been introduced, so we could use the same currency in both Germany and the Netherlands.
Now, 23 countries use the Euro, so travel throughout most of Europe is possible with one currency. Switzerland and the United Kingdom are two notable countries that do not use the Euro.
In addition, credit cards are accepted in more places, so foreign currency not necessary. When I was in London a few years ago, I found an ATM and took out some British pounds. At the end of my nearly 5 day stay, I still had some of the pounds left over because I was able to use my credit card almost everywhere.
It is nearly impossible to use traveler’s checks. Since I travel to Europe often, I try to return home with €50-100 and save the money for the next trip, but it is not difficult to find an ATM.
At the time of these first trips, information in English was available in the airports. We rented a car and understood international road signs, although trying to get around using the signs with paper maps wasn’t easy. Now, with an international SIM card, a mapping program can give clear directions from one place to another. Some rental car companies offer cars with a built-in GPS mapping system.
Most restaurants and hotels in larger cities had servers who could speak some English. In the small towns, we relied on our distant relatives to be interpreters. All over Europe, more and more people in the travel industry speak English. They understand that a large part of their income comes from traveling Americans, so they are learning to welcome us in our language. Although this makes travel easier and more convenient, I wonder if Europe is losing a little of its character.
Even though foreign travel may have been more difficult when I was younger, I wish I had made it a priority to travel. I did not realize how much I would love visiting and learning about other countries.
I can say that I do not regret any of the travel that I am doing at this point of my life. I have not been on a trip that I didn’t enjoy – be it a cruise, and organized tour, or travel on my own.
I’m glad that I discovered the opportunities available by using travel credit cards. If you are comfortable using credit cards and can use them wisely, look into cards that offer points that can be used for travel.
Whatever your age, the time to travel is now. If you have children, travel with them or encourage them to travel with others. Make travel a priority – invest in the experience.