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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!
Satish is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money. If you would like to be inspired by more stories like this one, take a second to subscribe to our newsletter! Or check out our guides to learn how YOU can start booking vacations with miles & points!
What’s your name and how long have you been involved in the miles & points hobby?
My name is Satish, and I live in California. I used to travel quite a bit for work, but only really got started in this hobby around 2012.
What was the goal of your trip?
The main goal of the trip was to have a father-daughter trip so that we could get away from the routine of our everyday lives.
My inspiration for this trip came after meeting another father-daughter duo a few years back. They had been traveling across South America for a few months, and really enjoyed their time together taking pictures, chatting, and just spending quality time bonding. The father shared with me that one of his regrets was spending too much time at the office, and not enough time with his daughter.
So one summer, I made the decision to take a trip to Ecuador because it seemed to have a lot of the criteria we were looking for:
- Safe and friendly country
- Award seat availability
- Ability to obtain a Visa on arrival
- Spanish-speaking country (my daughter speaks Spanish)
- Some place we had never been before!
I had a lot of fears about this trip, so I set a few general guidelines for the trip so that I could be as prepared as possible:
- Stick with public transport like buses and trains, as I figured those would be safer
- Cooking at least some of our meals
- Using airline miles whenever possible to try to keep costs down
- Stay in hostels or budget hotels
I also had some concerns about Zika, but we took a visit to our daughter’s doctor who said we should be fine with the proper precautions.
First Stop: Quito!
Our first stop was Quito, and we ended up staying in a hostel near the old own square in a residential area.
The hostel itself was pretty nice. We had a balcony and a great view overlooking the city, and it only cost us $12.50 per night! My daughter was able to befriend many neighborhood kids and spent the mornings playing with their pet dogs and cats.
And because we stayed in a hostel, we were able to ask for advice on activities to do during the day! We usually ended up walking or taking public transport, and saw a lot of churches, historical monuments, and explored different markets, trying all sorts of snacks and food.
If you ever travel, I’d strongly suggest asking for recommendations from the locals. That’s what I did, and we were given a recommendation to a wonderful restaurant where the owner even took the time to give my daughter and me a lesson on the local economy! We learned why they use US dollars as the local currency, and my daughter also got a quick lesson on inflation.
In the evenings, we usually did some shopping and picked up some groceries to cook back at our hostel, where we spent the time watching reruns of The Simpsons.
Braving the Amazon Rainforest
We wanted to get as close to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest as possible, and I found that the town of Coca fit the bill quite nicely! We made it our next stop, and although the town itself was rather unimpressive, the people there were very friendly.
There were some hiccups once we arrived though because our original guide cancelled the trip to the Amazon rainforest. We also ran into some challenges trying to book an expedition with another guide, as the only ones we could find were led by Spanish-speaking guides. At the end of the day, we still decided to go and it ended up being one of the most memorable parts of our trip!
Onward to the Hike!
Our guide ended up being a relatively young 25-year old local, who picked us up in the morning. It took us 3 hours to get to the rainforest, but it was totally worth it! He was a great guide, showing us how to identify certain insects and plants. And he was a lifesaver, because when my feet got stuck in quicksand, he showed me how to safely get out of it!
One of the more memorable parts of the hike was when we came across a large tarantula. Our guide showed my daughter how to handle the big spider. At a certain point, even my daughter told me I should overcome my fear of spiders and try handling the tarantula myself!
We spent the last part of the hike looking for caimans and fishing for piranhas. And during the evening, stumbled upon swarms of mosquitoes. Thank goodness we were prepared with strong mosquito repellent!
A Big Scare at the Coca Airport
In departing Coca for our next destination, the Galapagos, we did have a bit of a scare. We had a 45-minute layover back in Quito, but were told that we’d actually have to pick up our luggage and then go through security yet again.
We were concerned because we didn’t think we could make it in such a short time given our short layover. I tried explaining our situation to the Avianca staff, but the language barrier made it a bit challenging.
Patience and perseverance paid off eventually though, and an Avianca staff member was able to work something out for us. Before we boarded, we were told that they had informed someone in Quito about our situation, that we would not have to worry about picking up our luggage or exiting the security area, and that we could simply proceed to our connecting flight.
It all worked out well in the end, but boy I was panicking the entire time! I was running through possible scenarios in my mind, what would happen if we missed our flight, and whether or not we’d be able to book another award flight.
Our Arrival in Galapagos
I had read in many different places that the Galapagos was a very expensive place. But I ran into some French backpackers who gave me some great advice on finding deals. They referred me to some hostels and let me know I could haggle with the owner. Who knew!?
We ended up getting a great deal at our hostel, and only spent an average of $50 for the 2 of us. And that included our room, food, and sightseeing! We did pack any leftover food which helped keep costs down, but still splurged on a fancy restaurant for our last night in the Galapagos.
How did you find your hotel accommodations?
For our first hostel, we used Lonely Planet as my guidebook. From there, we basically just went with recommendation from other travelers we met along the way.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
This was an amazing father-daughter trip that really helped us both grow and become closer as a family. We left as parent and child, and basically came back as travel buddies. I saw my daughter had grown a lot more responsible from all the experiences we went through. For instance, I saw that she suddenly became more conscientious about how much food she put on her plate, mindful not to waste as much.
And she also became more confident thanks to all the experiences we had, from chatting with strangers, trying new foods, and being open to new experiences.
From a travel perspective, I did learn a few important things for myself:
- It’s a lot easier to travel without checking any bags. Now, we travel with only carry-on bags regardless of how long our travels will be
- It’s helpful to have a notarized letter from my wife whenever I travel alone with my kids as proof that I’m not kidnapping them or anything
How long did you collect miles and points for your trip?
It’s tough to say on this one because I had years and years of earning miles when I traveled for business.
Which points did you save to take your trip and how did you search for and find the award flights?
I redeemed a LOT of Chase Ultimate Rewards points! It was also helpful that I was a United Airlines Premier Platinum customer and had Star Alliance Gold benefits.
As far as how I found the award flights, I basically just used the United Airlines website.
What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!
I would say do it! It might seem complicated, but it’s really not. The value of the rewards is incredible! Plus, there are lots of websites that will tell you lots of great redemption options.
As long as you have the will to travel, everything else will eventually just fall into place!
I’ve been to a number of great destinations thanks to my miles and points, and I feel like if I can do it, then so can you!
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