Deciding When to Splurge on a Bucket List Experience

Deciding When to SplurgeThe nine days my husband and I recently spent in Italy were filled with dream-come-true events. Just being in that country and seeing the sights I’d heard so much about would have been enough. But the extra tours (and a class) that I booked, along with some first-class travel and hotels brought the trip up to the level of truly memorable.

In previous posts, I talked about how I saved money on airfare and lodging using points and miles. I’ve always been thrifty, so I knew any bucket list trip I took would be done on limited funds (we are saving to put three girls through college, after all). As I showed in those posts, bucket list travels don’t have to be overly expensive. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally splurge when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It may be that those splurges end up being (to borrow from the well-known MasterCard commercial) priceless.

Don’t know when to splurge and when to save your pennies for another bucket list experience? Here are some criteria that worked for me:

  • Does this option represent the quintessence of my bucket list experience? One of the tours I booked for us involved having lunch and wine on the terrace of a vineyard in Chianti overlooking the Tuscan hills. You can’t get much better than that for experiencChianti Vineyarding the essence of Tuscany. Both the food & scenery were amazing.
  • Does it afford me an inside or behind-the-scenes look at something I have admired from afar for a long time? We happened into the chance to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which gave us a perspective many don’t often gain and definitely became a memorable part of our trip (confession: we actually didn’t have to pay to climb, thanks to some generous fellow travelers, but having the opportunity made me realize why it might be worth shelling out money for options like that in the future).
  • Will I continue benefitting from it afterwards? We took a cooking class in Florence, which gave us know-how and recipes we’ll use for making meals at home. Also, I booked this because my husband loves to cook and learning to cook Italian dishes in Italy –  what’s not to love about that?In Tavolo Cooking Class
  • Is the incremental cost minimal compared to the benefit? We were able to book a first class train compartment on one leg of our trip at the same price as second class, thanks to an available discount. It was so worth it for the privacy and comfort, even for a three-hour trip. Again, having experienced it, I’m going to keep my eye out even more for upgrade options like that, if they come at little to no extra cost.
  • How does it fit the rest of my adventure? Will this particular splurge improve the rest? I booked two nights at the Park Hyatt Milan (can you say “Five-Star Luxury”?) for the end of our trip. And while I used a credit card benefit to get them, I might consider splurging on better accommodations similar to that in the future. The rest, relaxation, comfort and pampering we experienced there allowed us to return home more refreshed.IMG_2584
  • Is my bucket list experience itself a splurge? Maybe you’ve always wanted to fly first class or stay in a penthouse suite. Then saving up to make those happen, even if you have to pay full price (although on the first class flight I would argue that there are plenty of ways around it), would make your decision for you.
  • Do I have exclusive access through connections, or just being at the right place at the right time? This reason alone may not be worth the splurge, but combined with the above factors, could sway your decision.

Some splurges are obvious – ones that match a favorite hobby or interest or are somehow otherwise so perfectly suited to you or your family members. Others, aren’t so clear – but don’t blow them off. Give it some thought using the considerations I’ve listed above.

I spent years saving my pennies and skipping add-ons when it comes to our family’s experiences. Only recently did I discover how the occasional splurges can elevate an experience and add value well beyond the monetary cost. Hopefully the tips I’ve shared here will help you not miss out on special opportunities in your bucket list adventures when it comes to considering pricier options.

 

Bucket List Life Dare: Make Spring Break Memorable

How many spring breaks do you have left with your children? What will you do to make this spring break memorable?

March 2016 Bucket List Life DareBethany, my eldest, received a packet in the mail this week notifying her that she has a summer job as a lifeguard at a camp in Wisconsin, 100 miles from our home. It wasn’t a complete surprise. She applied in December and had an interview at the camp early last month while she was there helping with a junior high retreat. By her estimates the interview had gone very well. But part of me was still hoping she wouldn’t be chosen for the job. I have counted the number of spring breaks and summer vacations we’ll have with her before she heads off to college. We’re down to two of each. How could we give up one, especially a three-month long stint like summer?

As Gretchen Rubin says in her book, The Happiness Project, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Nowhere is this more true than in parenting. I can remember when my girls were toddlers and babies, counting down the years until they’d go to preschool for a few hours each day. Not that I wanted to be rid of my three little girls, but I was exhausted by them and found focusing on the impermanence of those physically demanding days a source of comfort. The days spent changing diapers and wiping spit-up from my shirt sleeves, while little people with an incessant need to know “why, Mommy?” clung to my jeans and begged me to play another game of Candyland, dragged on and on.The days are long

But now here we are. Those little girls are twelve, fourteen and sixteen years old. This spring break I’ll be driving Bethany out East to look at colleges. We’re taking my mom with us for the journey and planning to do some sightseeing and vacation-like activities while we’re there. A tour of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. A stroll along the National Mall during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. And some time hanging out with my aunts and uncles in Pennsylvania on our way home.

It will be a different spring break, for sure. I’m sad to leave behind my husband and the other two girls, but we all agreed that it would be less fun for them to hang around while we tour campuses and sit through information sessions. But it also promises to be a memory-making excursion. Three generations of women set loose on a road trip from the Midwest to the East coast. It has the makings of a movie plot.

So my challenge to you this month is to take note of how short the years are for your family. How many spring breaks do you have left with your growing children? What can you be doing during this year’s spring break to store up memories for the years to come?

Each spring break is an opportunity to break free of the everyday chaos and hurriedness. It is an invitation to hang out, sleep late, play games, talk, travel. To make memories. More than likely your spring break plans are already set. Maybe you’ve booked a trip or bought tickets to a local event. Whatever you have on the calendar for your kids’ spring break, I dare you to make it one for the books. Pull out your family’s bucket list and decide you’re going to complete something on it this year, THIS spring break.

Because you never know when a letter is going to arrive in your mail notifying you that the time you thought you had left with your kids has just shrunk a little further.

Tell us in the comments, what will you do to make the most of spring break with your kid(s) this year?
CoursePromoImageIf you want to make sure you’re capturing the most interesting, motivating ideas for your family’s bucket list – the kind that bring you closer together, you need to take my online video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists. Now through the end of March you can get the course for 50% off, using this link. Purchase it now and watch it together over spring break. Or save it for those rainy days in April. It’s self-paced and packed with resources (many of which aren’t available anywhere else).

 

[Image via Pixabay]

February Bucket List Life Dare: Date Night Novelty

February 2016 Bucket List Life DareIt’s February. How do I know? Suddenly my inbox and mailbox are filled with ads encouraging me to save money on flowers, get a deal on chocolates or reserve a table for a special Valentine’s dinner.

The pressure is on. And that tends to turn me off.

I’m a bit of a rebel, but all the commercial trappings of Valentine’s Day – the need to go somewhere special, give a romantic gift, and be all woo woo on February 14th make me crazy. Because all of that feels like it’s about fulfilling a cultural obligation. Not about honoring and loving my husband.

Still, it is a good reminder that we need to give our partner the attention they deserve. We need to set aside time (regularly) for romance. So, with that in mind, I challenge you to this month’s bucket list life dare: plan a special date with your spouse to a place you have never been or where you can try a new activity.

For a bit of date night novelty, you could try out a new restaurant. Or take in a live show at a comedy club, a play at a local theatre, or music at a club. Sign up for a dance class or couples’ massage therapy. Head out to an arcade or laser tag arena. Check out a shooting range or rent a fun car for a day.

The point of the challenge is to break out of the date night rut and do something different that you’ve always wanted to. Your relationship will benefit from the refreshment and you might learn something new about your spouse in the process that will make you appreciate him even more.

Don’t just wait for romance to happen. Make a plan for something new. Put it on the calendar. [Tweet this]

If you want to keep track of your ideas, download my free Date Night Passport.

Taking the challenge? Tell us in the comments what you plan to do (or just that you have a plan, if you want to keep it a secret from you-know-who).



Photo by Azrul Aziz on Unsplash via CC License

Bucket List Travel Using Airline Miles & Reward Points

Where do you want to travel in your lifetime?

Bucket List TravelYou would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have travel destinations on their bucket list. More often than not when I ask people about their bucket lists, the first item they mention is a place they’d like to travel to. However, travel is expensive, especially international travel. That’s a big part of why so many destinations end up on a bucket list – we’re waiting for the day we can afford to go.

Which is too bad. Because bucket list travel doesn’t have to be expensive or inaccessible – if you know where to look and how to plan. In fact, I’m taking my husband to my number one bucket list destination this year: Italy. We’ll be spending two nights at a 5-star hotel near the Vatican in Rome. Then we’ll head to Florence and spend several days there, exploring the city and touring Tuscany (I’m booking us a tour that includes lunch at a winery). After that, we’re staying at a cute apartment in the oldest mansion in La Spezia on the side of Mount Santa Croce overlooking the Gulf of the Poets, the Apuan Alps, and the Versilia. We’ll spend two days there hiking between the five towns of the Cinque Terre and enjoying the views and the food. Actually, I imagine we’ll be enjoying the views and the food throughout our trip! And we’ll cap off our visit to Italy with two nights at the Park Hyatt Milan. I’m hoping to find Mike a chic hat (he often wears hats) in Milan’s fashion district.

Now, putting together a bucket list itinerary like this one could run you easily three to four thousand dollars. Or more. But I have worked it out for a fraction of that price and I want to share with you how I made this dream trip come true, and where you can find the resources I used to do it to put your own bucket list trip into action.

For now we’ll focus on the one key tool that launched our bucket list trip: airline miles (I’ll talk about the accommodations side of things in a future post). I was able to book our flights (Chicago to Rome and Milan to Chicago) on American Airlines for 80,000 miles and $121 in taxes and fees. Oh, and did I mention that Mike and I rarely fly anywhere? He happened to travel for work several times in the past two years to Finland, which accounts for a number of those miles. But even without that, we could have gotten the tickets with airline miles earned through reward credit cards.

Here’s how it works on the most basic level (below I provide links to three of my favorite travel blogs, where you can learn the ins and outs of using miles and points): applying for one or two rewards credit cards can earn you 40,000 or more miles in three months or less. Plus you can receive card-member benefits such as one free checked bag, priority check-in and Group 1 boarding.

Two cautions: you need to have a good FICO credit score to qualify for these types of cards. Applying for the cards won’t ruin your score (contrary to popular myth), although applying for too many at once can be detrimental. You also need to be a responsible credit card user – in addition to paying off your balance each month, you should know the amount you need to spend on the card in order to earn the miles, and how long you have to reach that “minimum spend.” Don’t apply for cards with requirements you can’t meet.

That said, here are the two mileage cards I started with, that earned us more than enough for this trip (these are not affiliate links):

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Currently 50,000 mile bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Currently 50,000 American Airlines Aadvantage bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.

To learn everything you would need to know for planning your bucket list trip, check out the online video course that I learned it from: Make Your Dream Trip a Reality with Chris Guilleabeau and Stephanie Zito on Creative Live.

My Favorite Miles & Points Blogs:

What destination is on your bucket list? Have you ever used airline miles earned through a credit card to purchase airfare?

 

Photo by Matt John on Unsplash via CC License

Looking Forward and Back

Dec28LookingForwardHas 2015 been a good year for you? Or a struggle? What can you learn from your experiences this year to make the next one even better? What do you most want to see happen in your life in 2016? If you are serious about living your bucket list dreams, then I invite you to spend time looking forward and back.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of my favorite times of year (next to Christmas itself). Aside from the lull in regular activities during winter break, I love the perspective afforded during the year-end wrap up. I spend time reviewing the past year and celebrating all that has transpired in the past twelve months. And I use both my accomplishments and missteps to plan what I’ll go after in the year to come.

For example, in 2015 we missed out on the trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania that we’d hoped to make because of health struggles for our middle daughter, Katherine. But after a long series of doctors and tests, we did get a diagnosis and successful treatment. Her health is so much better now than it was in January. With this coming on the heels of her sister’s protracted concussion recovery, I learned how to be persistent and stay positive on my kids’ behalf. Hopefully health won’t be an issue for any of us in 2016. And while Hershey isn’t on our list for 2016, we are thinking through what other places we’ll visit.

Early in the year our eldest, Bethany, travelled to Spain on a school exchange trip – and adventure that was both eye-opening and frustrating. But instead of staying mired in all that went wrong, we chose as a family to host another teen from Spain a few months later. And that experience showed us that it is possible to have a successful cross-cultural exchange. In 2016, I want to keep that same attitude of not letting one poor experience prevent any of us from embracing opportunities for adventure, in whatever form.

That’s just a little of what I’m pondering as I look back on 2015 and prepare for 2016. This process, more than any other, makes the biggest difference in my life when it comes to reaching my bucket list goals and helping my family reach their goals. It gives me a grid to evaluate the decisions that will arise in the coming months. I can ask: does this fit what I’m hoping for in this year or not? Will it distract me (or my family) from what we most want to do? Does it help us to become the people we want to be?

This process also helps with time management and calendar planning. I go through a brief exercise similar to this one every month for my writing career goals. It shapes my action plan and daily “to do” lists. I can see clearly what next steps I need to take toward realizing my most desired goals. Which allows me to map out my time each day to make sure I continually make forward progress. At the end of the month I always review how I did on reaching my goals before planning goals for the next month.

The other strength in taking time looking forward and back is that you can use it to plan your budget. What bucket list goals did you have to bypass this year because of finances? How could you adjust your spending (or boost your earning) in the next twelve months to make a more costly goal attainable?

Why not join me in a year-end review and planning session? Pull out your favorite pen and a blank sheet of paper. Curl up in a cushy chair, under a cozy blanket with a cup of tea or hot cocoa or a glass of wine. And enjoy both looking forward and back in order to make 2016 a year of bucket list goals achieved! That’s what I’ll be doing this week.

If pouring into your relationships with your spouse and kids is a goal for you in 2016, then I invite you to check out my Udemy course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists. It helps you Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Listsbring your family closer, create more camaraderie & make quality memories, using your bucket lists as a springboard. Plus, it’s available for the lowest price right now. Take 60% off registration through 1/1/16 using the code NEWYEAR16.