The Deal Mommy

4 Travel Hacking Skills that Led to Camp Mom 2017

I began FT4RL with a quick “state of The Hobby” chat in order to drive home the fact that everything changes but nothing changes at the same time. The “nothing changes” refers to the travel hacking skills we all need in our toolkit. 
The travel hacking skills that get you where you need to go.
The travel hacking skills list just sprung into action when this Secret Flying sub-$400 RT fare to Santiago, Chile popped up on my twitter feed. Fares to deep South America last summer were averaging high enough that 60,000 AA miles for coach didn’t look 1/2 bad.  

90% of the flight steals fall on dates that just don’t work for families with two school age kids. The rare ones that do match our dates tend to have overnight layovers or other wacky routings that make the price not worth the trouble.

However, this one happened to be available pretty much all summer and had an easy five hour flight/two hour layover/six hour flight format…interesting!

Travel hacking skill #1- flexibility

 Summer 2017 is a Camp Mom year. If you’re not familiar with Camp Mom- it’s a concept we started in 2013 when we realized the single largest vacation expense is transportation. Once you’ve spent the money to get to your vacation destination the extra time is simply a matter of lodging and tours- you’re going to eat at home, aren’t you?  So Deal Dad goes home after our two week trip and I stick around with the kids for Camp Mom.

In 2013 I challenged myself to spend two weeks in Europe (with an assist from miles and points) for less than $1600 (2 weeks of camp for 2 kids at $400/week). Here’s how it went. In 2015 we did the same in Asia, extending our trip to Japan with legs in Vietnam and Hong Kong. Illness aside, we made it work within our budget.

I was considering Eastern Canada for 2017 but hadn’t nailed down an itinerary yet. Two reasons were lower cost to get there and climate. Deal Kid wilts in heat and specifically requested somewhere cool.  As soon as I saw the Santiago fare wheels started to turn…

Travel Hacking Skill #2: Knowledge

I have a little knowledge of the region because Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago were on my short list for Camp Mom solo. The main reason I went to Liguria and Cote D’Azur instead was that I didn’t want to do wine country solo.  I knew the climate in July was cool but mostly sunny.  

I also know there are low level Hyatts in Santiago, Mendoza, and Buenos Aries along with lots of condo rentals all along the countryside.  Intra South American flights on LAN are easily bookable via Avios, on Aerolineas Argentinas via Skymiles or you can purchase cheap tickets via Azul, the Brazilian discount airline.

Travel Hacking Skill #3: Lack of Hesitation

Here’s what separates the hackers from the posers- and here’s the skill that requires family buy-in. Just as I found flights for July Deal Dad returned from the gym. He saw the sparkle in my eye and knew what was coming! I kept it quick: “Flights for one of our bucket list destinations have come up”. (It helps that we saw a House Hunters International on Bariloche just last night.) I filled him in quickly and he said “do it”. 3 tickets for me and the kids for five weeks, one for him for two, and we’re getting to South America for $1500. 


Travel Hacking Skill #4: Self-Awareness

I mentioned how lack of self-awareness is the  travel planner’s biggest mistake. Before I booked I ran through my quick “must have” checklist for travel with kids- especially solo travel with kids:

  • Access to western medicine: check.  Santiago has a Johns Hopkins approved hospital and Mendoza a large expat community. I’ll be sure to pick up an Allianz insurance policy for extra safety.
  • Decent transport/roads: check. Some routes in the Andes might be a bit harrowing but in general it looks OK for getting around. 
  • A language I can read, if not speak: Even in Asian locations I’m a lot more comfortable if signs have phonetic spellings.  Check. My Spanish is enough to get us by. 

Deals come and go, but once you’ve mastered the basic travel hacking skills you can roll with it and make your dream trip come true. Or you can just book this Santiago fare and come meet us in July for Camp Mom! 

Pressing “book” energizes me like nothing else. I was starting to have withdrawal symptoms because I had nothing to plan! If you’ve been, please share your tips. As of now, my itinerary is wide open for ideas- the Deal Kids will be 10 and 13. 

The Deal Mommy is a proud member of the Saverocity network. 


10 thoughts on “4 Travel Hacking Skills that Led to Camp Mom 2017

  1. Rachel

    Have you thought about having Deal Dad host a spouses of travel hackers happy hour at FT4RL? I’m sure the stories they would swap would be amazing and I’d finally seem a little more normal to my husband! 😀

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Rachel,
      Deal Dad usually doesn’t attend FT4RL as he’s home with the kids, but he has attended a couple of the dinners and happy hours and will definitely be at the next one or two. Besides him, a bunch of other spouses are usually around all weekend to commiserate.

  2. Erik

    We visited several cities in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile eight years ago. Definitely brush up on your Spanish. I might suggest watching some Spanish-language TV programming (with English closed captions, if possible) so that you can tune your ear to the speed of conversation. South America, like mainland China, is one of those places where English is not widely spoken and if it is, proficiency is often somewhere in the middle. It’s not like Europe where you can usually find someone who speaks and understands decent English.

    For example, I was surprised that the hotel front desk clerks at international hotel chains sometimes struggled to understand basic English. Up to that point, I had visited ~40 countries in Europe and Asia and never encountered that issue (it happened again when I visited China for the first time later that year.) I was very thankful that I took several years of Spanish in high school and college. Unfortunately, after graduation I did not have any opportunities to use my language skills and they faded a bit over 15-20 years. I found that I could read things fairly well due to my vocabulary knowledge, but actually speaking Spanish was difficult. I could often manage the correct words – perhaps not in the right verb tense – but then the rapid-fire response was difficult to understand since my brain wasn’t used to translating so fast. It was a fun challenge and, in the end, I could usually reach an understanding with the person. We had a great time but my one regret is that I did not take the time to practice my language skills extensively before the trip.

  3. Mariana

    I am from Argentina and have spent time in Mendoza, Santiago and south Chile. But can I get some clarification, did you plan five weeks in Patagonia area in the middle of the southern hemisphere winter? Winter is harsh there, windy, snowy, shorter days. Just fyi. Also transportation might be an issue with snow storms and such. Mendoza is fine, Santiago might be fine, but Bariloche is not unless you are planning to ski. If you are in Chile, I would suggest you head to the north and explore some beautiful areas there. Chile has a low cost carrier and flights are short and cheap.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Mariana, Thanks for your comments. I am definitely taking weather into consideration. I’m thinking a couple of days to visit the “fin del mundo” is plenty, then back to more moderate areas. I’m even considering heading over to Iguazu Falls for a bit. Anywhere specific in Northern Chile I should investigate?

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