Monday, March 19, 2012

Kauai (again) and more travel hacking

Yuck, today the raging hail storm that swept Southern California has turned into the ugly grey weather equivalent of post-nasal drip. This seems like a good day to tell you that in a few days, we will be back here:

For sure eating a grass-fed burger here:

But our first stop will be in Princeville, where a little old Japanese lady makes the world's best sushi in a corner of the little grocery store.

If you know me, you know I'm not Hawaiian Tourist Lady. I own no bikinis, sarongs, sun visors, toe rings, tanning salon memberships, or Mai Tai recipes. Which is how I always imagined Hawaii would be. But I wrote after our last visit that Kauai taught me the difference between "travel" and "vacation". The North Shore is lush jungle, largely uninhabited (there are pockets of houses along the rivers and nestles against the mountain), and nearly devoid of tourist amenities. It's perfect.

On our last trip we rented a gorgeous home on a large property. It had a sprawling lawn that rolled out to the river's edge, and beyond that was a forested mountain (we were in the river valley that provided the scenery for Jurassic Park!)

Since we traveled with my mom and dad, we wanted lots of room to spread out, and because we split the cost it was only $100 a night for each family! We had a hot tub and a barbecue where we grilled the freshest fish every night.

The entire top floor was a huge, open suite and veranda with sweeping views of the river valley. It felt so luxurious, and yet we came home with most of our spending money unspent!

This time we're trying something very different; a farmhouse on a working organic farm/orchard! It's supposed to be on a bluff above a secret beach, and they deliver organic produce to you for breakfast every morning. The house is much more rustic than on our previous trip; the second "bedroom" is actually a second floor sleeping loft at the top of a ladder, which the boys will love! It has another bedroom, small bath, lovely rustic farmhouse kitchen, a living room, and a porch, but best of all it's on several private acres at the edge of the farm, and just a five minute hike down to the beach. We booked it at something ridiculous like $97 a night (it has since gone up a bit and is becoming harder to book!) I'll be sure to provide links and reviews once we return.

If you read this blog at all, you know I'm not paying for most of this trip, right? I'm becoming a real bully on Twitter, saying to people who talk about upcoming trips, "You're not paying for that with money, are you??"

I've written a bit on earning miles for free travel-

Here, here, and here. I'm passionate and long-winded about it for this reason: it takes quite literally five minutes of work a year to take a free trip. You could invest a lot more time if you like, and it does become a bit of an addictive game, but I firmly believe that unless you have really wrecked credit, it's within everyone's reach to get enough miles for one big trip per year.

I'll break down the strategy for our upcoming Kauai trip:

Flights-last year British Airways Chase card had a 100,000 mile sign-up bonus. I opened one for myself, one for the hubs. We ended up with about 220,000 total BA points. BA changed their award program and made it a lot less lucrative, but some trips became much cheaper under the new program. Hawaii from the West Coast is now only 25,000 miles round trip with BA (but 35,000-40,000 under most airline programs). I redeemed 100,000 miles for our tickets plus $20 each in taxes. BA was running a special and gave me back 10,000 miles. So, 90,000 miles and $80 in taxes. We still have a ton of miles left, which will cover our (hopefully near future) South American trip.

Car rental-I had a 75,000 "Thankyou points" bonus from a Citi Thankyou Rewards card. Redeemed 22,000 and no cash to rent a Dodge Challenger for the week.

Lodging-I have lots of Starwood and Carlson points (and I hope you do too now!), but I always try to rent a house or apartment when we travel. I totally prefer the experience, and we save hundreds and hundreds of dollars not eating out three times a day. This time our rental cost about $750 after taxes and cleaning fees.

So, aside from groceries (which we would have to buy if we stayed home anyways), the total cost for a family of four to spend a week in Kauai is $830.

If you have any good miles/points advice of your own, or if you've gotten in on any of the deals I've posted about, let us know!


  1. so jealous...i love kauai...i got married there 2 years ago and have been wanting to return asap. i absolutely love the north shore. have a blast and yes, you rock for going there for next to nothing!

    1. What an amazing memory (and excellent excuse to return over and over)!

  2. Amazed by your thriftiness/ingenuity with travel deals and so jealous! I've never been to Hawaii. I'll put that on the list for next year. And bullying? Please! Anyone who knows how to travel more affordably has a valuable skill to share :)

    1. My thriftiness knows no bounds! And thanks for being so graciously accepting of my "bullying"!

  3. You're fitting me in the suitcase, right? You guys like to travel the same way we the beaten path, quiet, secluded houses to rent...your trip sounds dreamy and I will hound you for recaps.

    1. Yup-but I'm checking that bag so wear a helmet!
      I just found out about a place called "the Kilauea Barbecued Wild Boar and Fruit Stand" at the Farmer's Market. Sound good for our first lunch?

  4. Oh please take me! I dream of an island vacay :)

  5. you please post a link to the farmhouse rental and the delicious sushi grocery store? you are so lucky to be there. enjoy!

  6. you please post a link to the farmhouse rental and the delicious sushi grocery store? you are so lucky to be there. enjoy!

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