Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money!
Diana is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.
A big thank you to Diana for sharing her story!
Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.
My name is Diana Ventura, and I started around May 2015. So about 6 months.
What was the goal of your trip?
To volunteer abroad.
This goal then evolved into experiencing more, visiting other countries, taking dance lessons, and becoming more knowledgeable in the economy, art, and culture of even more countries.
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
I collected enough points halfway through the trip (the entire trip was nearly 3 months long), that I was able to use points to fly back home for nearly free!
Which points did you save to take your trip?
How did you search for and find the award flights?
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
I found many through Hostelworld.
What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?
Finances and funding the trip were the most challenging for me. Before the trip, I did several things to place myself in a better position to afford such a trip.
First off, I made a Kickstarter to fund my volunteering internship in Huaycan, Peru. I shared this with family, friends, and coworkers. It took several months to hit my goal and I honestly should have had a higher goal because preparing for a trip costs money. And little things add up quickly.
I also rented out my studio for 2 months to help cover rent. This helped me travel for a longer period of time.
Finally, I signed up for several credit cards I could earn points with to assist me in my travels back home when the time came around. I made sure to sign up for cards that had no foreign transaction fees such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Southwest Premier.
Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination. Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.
Lima – Museum of Contemporary Art.
Miraflores – Park Kennedy. It’s a park filled with cats that the entire community visits. Veterinarians check the cats from time to time and treat them for any injuries or diseases.
To eat, visit ‘La Lucha.’ It is also in front of the cat park. The deli has the most delicious sandwiches, frozen smoothies of maracuya or granada, and the french fries are to die for!
Take a surfing lesson at the beach. They cost 60 soles (~$17 dollars). And it is super fun!
Visit the flea markets and shop around before purchasing products – every station has similar things but different prices.
Stay at ‘The Flying Dog’ hostel. There are 3 in the area and they are all located near the center or Park Kennedy.
Barranco – Take a day trip to Barranco, the next town over. It is a colorful, artistic town where you can catch spoken word or visit the handful of museums. You can get some of the best gelato in Barranco, visit the beach, and enjoy the colonial look the town encompasses.
Cuzco – You could stay at Loki Hostel if you are looking for a place to party. Not my scene, but it’s a lot fun for others.
I stayed at the Los Ninos hotel, a non-profit hotel that provides food, clothing, and education for underserved children.
Of course one needs to visit Machu Picchu. I was not fortunate enough to do a 5-day or 4-day trek to Machu Picchu because I got an intestinal infection, which leads me to my next point. Be open to trying foods but be careful of trying food on the street.
Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) – Must not be overlooked! This place is stunning!
When traveling to Bolivia from Peru, try to do your research and select a good bus company – the ride matters.
Book through Red Planet for your Salar de Uyuni tour. It is more expensive but well worth every penny. They also feed you well and keep you very safe.
Rio de Janeiro – Stay away from the Tijuca Park tour, and invest in a Favela tour! Graffiti, culture, and the economy of Brazil – you will definitely learn some things during this sweet tour.
You’ll also meet locals and experience for yourself a whole other side to Brazil.
When visiting Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, and any other place where you can see the skyline, go at 4:00 pm. So you can see the day time, the sunset, and night time – all beautiful and unique!
I visited Cali, Salento, Medellin, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. Salento and Cartagena were by far my favorite.
Salento – A jewel! Initially it wasn’t on my itinerary, but I am so thankful to have gone there! It is peaceful, small, and the place where one can find the richest of the coffee plantations in Colombia.
When in Medellin, do the Guatape and Pablo Escobar tour. In Cartagena, take a day tour early in a air conditioned vehicle (I went on the trolley).
If you get time, do a night tour on the chiva. It’s the same tour but Cartagena looks different at night with all of the city lights. At the end of the chiva tour, you are dropped off at a venue where you dance salsa for the rest of the night!
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I am a lot more spontaneous than I thought I was! I never knew what I was going to do or where I was going to be in 2 days. Freeing and scary. It was amazing!
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
First off, if you can, buy a 1-way ticket to a country, without planning where you will go, without agenda, or expectations.
If you are planning to go for more than 1 month, take 2 credit cards. Things add up quickly and I actually signed up for a 2nd card while abroad. But it was a bit difficult since I had the card sent to my sister to avoid losing it in the mail.
General Travel Tip: Take toilet paper with you, 2 debit cards from 2 different banks (just in case 1 gets lost or stolen), and always keep $50 dollars with you for emergencies (not for chocolates or souvenirs – emergencies only!).
If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send me a note! Emily and I would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!