$5 FLIGHTS

DISCLAIMER: I am not getting compensated by Delta or American Express for this post. I’m simply sharing one of my methods for inexpensive travel. And if you’re interested or find this post useful, all I ask is that you use my link. Thank you!

I’ll leave this right here lol. AMEX LINK, CLICK ME!

So if you’ve ever been with me and watched me pay for something, it’s highly likely you saw me pull out a gold credit card. I use this bad boy to pay for everything. Food? Yes. Bills? Yes. Shopping? Duh! Have a large purchase you’ve been holding off on? Apply for the card and get a flight out of it!

When I applied for my Gold Amex I needed to spend $2000 in 2 months in order to receive my 50,000 free miles. And an extra $1000 to receive 60,000 free miles in 3 months. The rewards change depending on the promotion they’re running, so I would make sure you’re getting at least 50,000.

Here’s a list of the benefits I personally use:

  • 1 mile earned for every dollar spent
  • 2 miles earned for every dollar spent on Delta
  • 1st checked bag free (I use this all the time)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Amex offers

The Amex Offers are basically coupons you can activate on your account. Sometimes they seem insignificant but they can add up. I saved enough to cover my $95 annual membership fee. Yes, there’s an annual fee. But if you’re a savvy shopper like me, you’ll make that money back and then some in no time.

Screenshot of the 7 most recent offers redeemed.

I have had my Gold American Express card since 2016. So far I have used it for the following travels:

 Points Redeemed Destination
RT25,500LAS
RT25,500LAS
OW30,000BCN
OW30,000BCN
OW25,000RDU

I’ve paid about $5.50 in taxes for each flight. So technically it’s not 100% free, but close enough!

These benefits are by no means the only ones. This post is just highlighting the ones I take advantage of most. Again, if you’re interested or found this helpful and will be applying for the card, please use my link below. Also, don’t hesitate to ask questions, I would be happy to help as best I can!

Gold American Express referral link

HUMPBACK ROCKS

GPS: 37.969127, -78.896155

TIME: 1H 10M

LENGTH: 1.6 MILES RT

ELEVATION CHANGE:  800 ft

We get to the trail head just in time to hike up to humpback rocks and see sunset. Fingers crossed. It was 7:15pm and sunset was at 8:25-ish. At the trailhead there are several different options for trails. We walked up to the kiosk and saw this posting. There was an alert for bear activity but there were several other people on the trail. So not really worried… As the sign said, the trail to humpback rock was right behind the kiosk.

To ensure hikers are going the right way, they also have these signs. We were only doing the 0.8 one way, but it’s many feet to climb in a short distance.

For anyone worried about the steep climb, there are benches along the way. It’s perfect for someone who needs to pace themselves to reach the top.

The trail is wide and has blue blazes all the way up. They almost felt redundant as the trail is very clear to follow. However, in the dark the blue blazes were helpful. As we climbed the steep trail, I almost stepped on this little guy. I was so glad he was a bright orange color because it caught my eye and he got to live another day.

You’ll come across about 45 wooden stairs that have been placed in the middle of the trail. It helps to gain some elevation rather quickly.

So, let’s talk about the bear. At this point we are still following the blue blazes and people are steadily heading down dogs and all. After the section below, the trail turns left. There was a black bear about 20 feet from the trail. The woman who saw him before us said they saw each other but the bear did not seem to want to interact. We decided it would be best to wait for two girls who were a few minutes behind us and walk up as a group. And that’s exactly what we did. One of the girls had seen a bear before on this same hike and said nothing came of it. Good to hear.

And then you’re almost there! Even though this hike is only 0.8 miles long, it felt eternal. After the bear, every dark shape seemed like it was another bear to me. The tension and adrenaline did not help make the hike any easier on my body either.

Then out of what feels like no where, you turn a corner and see this opening. I completely forgot about the bear and was so happy to see this view.

If you’re dumb brave enough, you can climb up on either side. I climbed up the right side and Nicole captured this shot from the top of the left side. It was a hazy evening, but the view went on for miles. Days with clear skies must have what seems like a endless view. But alas, no pretty sunset. FYI, those rocks are also super sharp and gloves would have been a plus to have on my person.

I have zero pictures of the descent from humpback and with good reason. By 8:25pm it was getting really dark really fast. Knowing that bears are dawn and dusk animals we made lots of noise on our way down. We essentially were running downhill yelling at each other and clapping randomly. We didn’t want to give a bear a chance to sneak up on us. And I’m sure we looked like a pair of crazies. But as Beyonce says, “I’d rather be crazy.” Below is the view from my car as we left the park.

Exactly…

“True Compassion is showing Kindness towards animals, without expecting anything in return”

– Paul Oxton

FORREST GUMP POINT

GPS: 37.1013933, -109.9905065

DATE: APRIL 28, 2019

Sometimes you think you know where you’re going and what you’re going to do when you get there. That was me. After all my research, I thought I knew for sure that Forrest Gump point was going to be the perfect place to take that iconic picture. Turns out we were close, but a little off.

Now don’t get me wrong. You can get some pretty awesome pictures from that viewpoint, but if you look at the picture below I’ll share a secret with you: The better viewpoint, at least in my humble opinion, is just down the road.

There were no other cars there, no other tourist and plenty of road to get just the right pictures we wanted.

Taking these pictures was the closest I ever got to playing frogger in real life. Kind of fun and kind of scary at the same time. It is super important to pay attention to the road. It’s easy to get distracted trying to get that perfect shot. Remember the cars have the open road and don’t want to stop because they are avoiding a pedestrian. We were lucky because we had one subject, one person on the camera, and one person yelling “CAR!” It was a system where we rotated and it kept us all safe.

Below I’ll share some of our awesome shots from that second viewpoint. You can see Monument Valley is closer in the background.

And for those of you who scrolled this far, I’ll show you some behind the scenes and bloopers 🙂

“I’m pretty tired… think I’ll go home now.”

– Forrest Gump

VALLEY OF THE GODS

GPS: 37.236771, -109.815529

LENGTH: 17 MILES ONE WAY

DATE: APRIL 28, 2019

While researching for my trip to the southwest I read all about the limitations monument valley has regarding hiking. How there’s only one hike you can do unaccompanied and everything else must be hiked with a Navajo guide. I think guides are important to meet the locals and learn things not otherwise noted. However, I’m an advocate for also being able to explore at my own pace. So I came across Valley of the Gods and was pleasantly surprised to see you could walk right up to buttes and not need a guide. Just make sure when traveling to Valley of the Gods that you’re prepared. There are no facilities and no source of drinking water. And remember to carry out your trash.

We turned onto the 17 mile-long dirt road just north of Mexican hat. It’s a bumpy ride and we were in an SUV. I saw sedans on the road as well so I don’t think an SUV is necessary. But online it states that when wet the area is impassable, even in an SUV. So check the weather and enter at your own risk!

There were tents at the base of some of the buttes. I’m sure people who had stayed the night had an awesome experience there. It’s so peaceful and quiet.

The buttes have names and it’s fun guessing which ones are on the list. We found a very informative map Here. The one that struck me as the easiest to see was the lady in the tub. I couldn’t unsee her in that tub! It totally personified the butte for me.

After we drove the 17 miles we headed over to Moki (Mokee) Dugway. It’s also a dirt road and there are warning signs at the base before entering. Impassable during rain and 10% grades made for an interesting ride in the passenger seat.

But so worth it. The views were a bit hazy and the pictures don’t do it justice. Atop the dugway you can see the Valley of the Gods below. Can you spot the lady in the bath tub? On clearer days you can even see monument valley from there.

Overall Valley of the Gods and Moki Dugway are areas for people to explore with less crowds. You can have a real personal experience here in solitude if you wish. And that’s hard to come by in the ever growingly popular south west.

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”

Jennifer Lee

BRYCE NATIONAL PARK

I feel like this park is so underrated. I have taken so many pictures of this park that it was hard to decide which ones to add/leave out. It’s so cliche to say “pictures don’t do it justice” when you’re traveling. But I can’t help it if it’s true! This park! The hoodoos! And to think, I didn’t even get to see the whole thing because Navajo Loop was closed due to weather related issues.

So here are the points of interest with what I think are the best pictures we took of them:

INSPIRATION POINT

At inspiration point you’re standing at 8,100 feet elevation. This is where the main amphitheater is located and where we decided sunrise would be best seen from.

We parked in a lot that already had about 15 other cars in it and were standing at the viewpoint by 6:35am. I was so excited to see that the sun had not yet gone over the ridge. The next couple of pictures show how fast the sun actually rises. I feel so grateful to have experienced this sunrise. It was one of the best ones I’ve seen. And it lit up the hoodoos in such a way; I would describe it as setting them on fire.

6:35 AM
6:45 AM
6:50 AM

NAVAJO LOOP / SUNSET POINT

Our next point of interest was the Navajo Loop Trail. Unfortunately due to weather impacting the trail we were unable to do this one. The trail leads down into the canyon in the picture below. It’s the base of the really dark area. The second picture shows the beginning of the Navajo Loop trail and you can tell the trail is damaged. It’s not surprising really and people are lucky to hike it when it’s open. The rock is soft and crumbly in many areas.

The damaged Navajo Loop is visible in this picture

BRYCE POINT

There weren’t that many other visitors at the park yet so early in the morning and we were able to drive and park at each of these locations rather quickly. Bryce point was yet another delight. The green vegetation juxtaposed to the red rock and random white patches of snow were something to behold.

QUEENS GARDEN TRAIL

Queens garden is a pretty easy trail to complete. But it’s important to keep in mind that every descending step you take, you’ll have to retrace on the way back up.

I cannot make this stuff up! How perfect is this sunburst on Tony???

The queens garden trail ended up being the only one we did at the park. Once we were done with it though, there were many tour buses and a wave of visitors flowing into the park. We’d be moving on to another town soon and it was nice having it in the quiet of the morning. I was pleased to leave the crowds behind. I’ll have to re-visit Bryce National Park one day. The switchbacks from Navajo Loop are just begging to be crossed off my list!

“Hell of a place to lose a cow”.

Ebenezer Bryce

WATCHMAN TRAIL

GPS: 37.200281, -112.986103

TIME: 1H 45M

LENGTH: 3.0 MILES

ELEVATION CHANGE:  356ft

DATE: APRIL 23, 2019

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For our first day and first hike at Zion National Park we decided to do a warm up. We searched online for the easier hikes with views and found the watchman trail. The National Park Service website has a super informative PDF here if you’d like to learn more.

We liked that we didn’t have to take the shuttle and could park at the lot and walk to this trail head. It’s super easy to spot as there are many signs pointing you in the right direction. We followed these brown signs across the lot, along the Virgin River, and across this neat little road. If you know me, then you know I couldn’t help myself and stopped for some pictures lol.

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Like I said, across the street you’ll see the sign for the trailhead. Once you’re on the trail it’s very easy to follow out and back. So everything from this point forward are just pictures and ramblings of a hiker who couldn’t believe she was finally in Utah.

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I loved the small green signs they had scattered throughout the trail. It’s nice to not only enjoy your views, but to also now what you’re actually looking at.

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If you can spot my husband below, you can see this portion of the trail gains elevation rather quickly. He only took about 3 minutes to walk to that point from where I was.

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We were there in the late afternoon and it was pretty quiet. Sometimes I would look behind me and realize it was just us and the trail. It felt like every corner had a beautiful viewpoint and I couldn’t imagine what Angel’s Landing had in store for us the next day.

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It’s difficult to convey in images what the eye sees in person. These hills, canyons, valleys, mountains, or whatever you classify them as are so layered. There are so many different components joined together at different depths. It’s hard to perceive but if you look closely it feels like you could deconstruct the layers and each one would be its own beautiful scenery.

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The sun felt amazing even though it was on its way down. Coming from New York where winter seems to not want to leave it was truly welcomed.

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So we finally made it to the top. The next images are actually from further down the trail in the “loop” portion. The loop itself is fairly small and barely has any elevation changes. If you made it to the top, you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t do the loop.

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The rest of these are just some pictures I’d like to share from the top of Watchman’s trail. I’m going to post about most of the trails I did in Utah and Arizona throughout the month of May. If you’d like to see some pretty cool pictures check back soon!

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Here’s Tony’s version of Blue Steel lol.

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Below from left to right is Carlos, Nicole, Tony, and myself. We were the #UtahPutah crew on a mission to complete a crazy roadtrip through Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Can you tell I’m so happy to be standing in Zion?

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I can serve some blue steel too!

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Even as I write this blog I cannot believe these pictures are real…

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“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” -John Muir

RT: LGA/EWR – VEGAS $11.50

Intro

“Do you even have a job?”

On one of my most recent trips to the southwest I was asked this very question. It was not asked with malicious intent, but genuine curiosity. The couple was only the second one we’d seen on the trail after hours of being there and we’d struck up a fun conversation. She was surprised to see how far we were from New York and even more surprised to learn I had just been to the Pacific Northwest the previous month. She followed the question with, “I mean, I assume you work.” Followed by a look in her eyes that just wanted to understand how.

Truthfully I get a chuckle out of it. I’M not even sure how I do it either. When I stop and analyze the how, it’s actually very simple. I have always been very frugal, especially with travel. I didn’t have the greatest jobs in college and I yearned to see more of the world. So my first couple of trips were promoted flight specials sent via email. And I always travelled in groups to save on the shared expenses like car rentals and hotels. I even ate fast food where I could, dollar menu please! Back then my stomach could handle anything lol.

From the moment I researched my very first trip, to the next one I have coming up in a week, I have always tried to spend less than the average person. This isn’t the method in which I book every trip, but for Las Vegas it was perfect. I learned I could fly there for $11.50 and I was all over it!

Did you just say $11.50?!

Yes I did! I’d like to begin by saying this is not an ad. I repeat, this is NOT AN AD. I DO NOT get paid for writing/posting this on my blog. BUT! If you’d like to contribute to my adventures and don’t have an American Express yet, I would really appreciate you using my link below…

MARIANA’S AMEX LINK

Do your due diligence as I did and read the fine print. If this seems like something you’re interested in then please, use my link and tell a friend 🙂

Anyways… a very good friend of mine referred me to this card three years ago and I received a total of 60,000 bonus miles with Delta Airlines for spending $3000 in the first 3 months. I love to shop, so that wasn’t hard for me to do. Not to mention I threw as many bills as I could on there to help.

I also got married last year and that was a great boost in miles as well. Unfortunately, some vendors only accepted bank transfers or Visa/MasterCard. But we paid as many vendors as we could with the Amex and was happy to see the miles accumulating at the close of each monthly statement.

So after having my Gold Amex for a few years I had accumulated more than enough points for my husband and I to travel to Las Vegas. Here’s the thing though, Vegas is now our third destination we’ve purchased with miles. I have really worked out a system to pretty much pay for everything with my Amex, and then pay off the Amex to not carry a balance (or get charged interest). But seriously though, I mean everything.

So how did you actually pay $11.50?

My friend and I have mulled over the idea of having a road trip through Utah and Arizona for a while. We have even watched documentaries and done a ton of research. So when her 30th birthday was approaching she decided she wanted to pull the trigger. She came over and we started looking up flights. Not happy with the costs associated with flying to Las Vegas in April, I recalled a post by The points guy.

I’m going to let you in on one of my secrets. I religiously follow a twitter page @thepointsguy I even have text notifications set up for new posts because this page is amazing! He’s consistently posting about mile deals and all sorts of travel gold. Gold I tell you! And he is in large part the reason why I thought about looking into using our miles the first two times. My friend also has the Amex Gold card and had miles available to use.

So I went into my Delta app (apple or android), clicked on “book” and selected “Show Price In: Miles.” I put in the dates I wanted to travel and after messing around with dates for a while was pleasantly surprised. I found round trip flights from La Guardia to Las Vegas (returning to Newark) with a price tag of $11.50 and 25,500 miles. These flights had a 1.5 hour outbound layover and a 1 hour inbound layover in Minneapolis and Detroit respectively.

Would I have preferred to fly direct? Duh -_-

But honestly, for that price! I did not care about the layovers. Nor did I care about finding my way home from Newark as I have done many times before.

So like I said, it really is that simple. I would say it’s a matter of consistently using your card to accumulate miles. You get 1 mile for every dollar you spend. That way when you least expect it, you can pay with points and not with cold hard cash. Also the responsible adult in me is screaming to add this as well: please be responsible if you do get the card. It’s very easy to spiral into debt and that’s the last thing I would want to come out of this. Swipe responsibly ; )

If you found this at all helpful and are considering getting the card, please don’t forget to use MARIANA’S AMEX LINK. I get some bonus miles thrown my way for referring you and every mile helps.

Thanks for reading and happy travels!

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“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” – Jennifer Lee

GAS WORKS PARK

GPS: 47.646050, -122.334911

DATE: MARCH 10 2019

What an interesting park! Seeing the grass, children, and dogs juxtaposed to old machinery is just an odd sight. But there’s beauty in the oddness. And it’s a small win for human kind to have turned such a pollutant producing company into a lovely park for its residents to enjoy. The park also has restrooms and a parking lot.

Lake Union’s water however is still very much a worry for me. You could see right to the bottom when you’re standing near the edge of the park. Eww. And no one is allowed in it. They don’t want the sediment to be disturbed. If you’re interested in reading on the history of the park check HERE.

If you’d like to see what else we did in the Seattle check out my other posts HERE. I have some pictures I’m going to leave here of our time in the park. Enjoy!

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“I hate the way you talk to me, and the way you cut your hair. I hate the way youdrive my car, I hate it when you stare. I hate your big, dumb combat boots and the way you read my mind. I hate you so much it makes me sick — It even makes me rhyme”

– 10 Things I Hate About You