This column, Escape Artist, is a series about folks who have escaped. More importantly, this biweekly column is for those thinking about trading in their 9-to-5, leg-shackled-to-the-desk existences to forge their own way. The brave outliers featured in this collection of interviews are the digital nomads, online entrepreneurs and lifestyle trendsetters who decided it was time to say to hell with the humdrum and grab life by the roots.
Dan Miller runs Points With A Crew, a travel blog that covers Miller’s adventures with his wife and six children. Though Miller still has a 9-to-5 job, he’s not stuck in a cubicle. He wisely looks for travel deals and finds ways to use points and miles to travel on a budget with his family. Sometimes he and his wife take solo trips together, and the couple also plans one-on-one trips with each of their children. In early 2017, they look forward to traveling to Peru.
What was the “aha” moment that sparked this idea of travel for you?
Dan Miller My family has biannual family reunions in the summer. Back in 2013, as we looked ahead to the 2014 reunion at Lake Tahoe, I knew that buying eight cross-country tickets was going to be super expensive. I realized that miles and points might mean the difference between us being able to attend or not. I was familiar with the concept, but I never acted on it until then. So in 2013, I did my first “churn” of putting those miles and points to good use, and it’s been going ever since.
What inspired you to start blogging, and how did you first build a following?
DM I started Points With A Crew because it seemed like, at the time, most miles and points blogs were written by single guys or couples with no kids. They also seemed to predominantly feature first-class flights and five-star hotels. Although those types of reports are fun to read, it’s just not how my family (or most people I know) travel. I wanted to give a voice to families and say, “Hey, it’s okay to drive to your vacation and stay at a Holiday Inn Express!”
Why did you decide to focus on the “Points With A Crew” idea and brand?
DM There are SO many travel blogs, and it’s hard to find something that is truly yours. As I thought about how I could make my site different, I knew that one thing I have that others don’t is all these kids! Plus, I wanted to share tips for larger families. We run into problems traveling that other people (even other families) don’t encounter. Forget about having to book two hotel rooms—which is a given for our family—we often have to rent two cars when we’re traveling.
How does life now compare to before you and your family focused on travel like this?
DM We are definitely traveling a lot more as a family now. Before we started collecting miles and points, we were typically limited to occasional family reunions or short trips. Since then, we’ve gone as a family on three cross-country train trips, a surprise trip to Disney World, the Outer Banks, Seattle, and a few smaller trips. My wife and I have been on solo trips to Puerto Rico, Florida, Monaco, Singapore, and a first-class trip around the world to Dubai. We also try to take one-on-one travel dates with each of our kids. My son and I went to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, and my daughter and I just got back from New York City.
Do you have a favorite travel anecdote you’d like to share with Paste readers?
DM My favorite comes from the very first trip my wife and I did for (nearly) free with miles and points. We stayed Thursday and Friday night at the Country Inn and Suites, and then Saturday morning, it was time to pull off the big switcheroo. When we got our receipt under the door on Saturday morning, I played it up like it was a mistake.
I said, “I’m so sorry honey—it looks like I screwed up the hotel reservation. It says that we’re supposed to check out today. I went to the front desk but they said there wasn’t anything they could do. They’re all full. We need to leave this morning. I’m sorry, I really wanted to make this a special trip for us. I’m sorry that I screwed this up. We’ll have to just go find another hotel.”
In hindsight, I’m surprised I was able to get away with this, but it was great. We drove north from Miami to Fort Lauderdale on the A1A beach highway. The whole time, I pretended to look for different hotels. Eventually, we pulled up to the Fort Lauderdale Hilton, which is a super-snazzy hotel right on the beach. I had booked a free room with an ocean view on the 19th floor. It was a nice room with a balcony and a great view of the ocean.
The “travel blogging” mentality is becoming more popular as well. Does the market seem saturated?
DM I don’t think there’s a saturation of availability to travel, but I do feel that travel blogging is pretty saturated. You really need to figure out your own niche. If you’re just a guy or girl traveling, what differentiates you from every other travel blogger? What’s the difference between Joe’s Travels and Travels with John? Even in the miles and points subsection of travel bloggers, there are a ton. I’m lucky that I have a family of eight, so the “large family” is my niche.
What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
DM Decide to do it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. By using airline miles and points with judicious usage of credit card signup bonuses, you can stretch your travel dollar much further than you might think you can.
What are you most excited to focus on in 2017?
DM So far, most of our family travel has been short weekend trips or weeklong trips. For 2017, we are planning a four-to-six-week “immersive” trip where the whole family goes somewhere as a base of operations and then takes daytrips. We’re looking at South America, eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. We hope to use this as a trial to see if we enjoy long-term travel and can move our family to a more nomadic lifestyle.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health, science and business for regional and national publications.