Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


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My Favorite Travel Credit Cards…Right Now

deanna-ritchie-227649I’m getting ready to set out on another big trip in a couple of weeks, and while planning, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to maximize my credit card rewards on this journey.

If you missed my original post back in 2016, I’m a novice travel hacker. Meaning, I look for shortcuts on how to save money for travel. I adore traveling, and it fills me up the way few things do, but because I’m self-employed, I’ve gotta watch the costs. Well, I guess most of us have to watch our dollars, don’t we?

If that’s you too, consider looking into travel hacking. You don’t have to do it to the degree that I do, and I certainly don’t do it to the degree that many others do either, but a few tips can take you a long way—literally.

Most often, we we talk about travel hacking, we’re talking about using credit card rewards. Depending on your relationship (or baggage) with credit cards, you may have some resistance to this technique. I get that. It took more research on my part to fully understand this method as well.

But the gist is that opening multiple credit cards will not damage your credit score. It’s the misuse of credit cards that damages your score. So, keep that in mind.

So, with this method, you’ll open the credit card, meet the minimum spend requirement, use the rewards, and then likely cancel the card. The spend requirement is how much you need to spend in order to get the bonus points or rewards. For example, spend $3,000 in the first three months to get 50,000 points. Make sense?

Before I start talking about my favorite credit card reward cards right now, let me reiterate that there are many other ways to save on travel. In this previous post, I outline several others that may be of interest to you. Or you may also chose to employ a couple of different methods as I do.

One other caveat: There are LOTS of different reward cards available, but I’m only talking about the ones I’ve used. I don’t feel good about recommending any that I have no personal knowledge of. There are also plenty of others that I have used but are not included here. These are my current favs. Additionally, there are other current credit cards that I have at the moment, but they do not have good bonus offers right now, so they aren’t included here either.

 

CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED

I think this was my first travel rewards card, and it’s still my favorite. The points are so flexible, the point values are very fair, and when you book through their site, you save even more money! I love this card, and it’s the one I always recommend.

Benefits:

  • Use the points for airlines, hotels, car rentals, cruises, AND activities. I’ve actually redeemed all of these, except for the cruise.
  • No annual fee for the first year.
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 points transfer (Meaning, if I transfer to a partner airline, 1 point with either program is the same. This is definitely not always the case!)
  • Click the link for the full list of benefits.

 

STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST

This has been a great card the past couple of years. The point values are very reasonable, and the $95 fee is waived for the first year.

Benefits:

  • Free night with the anniversary of the card
  • Free Wifi during your hotel stays, AND free BOINGO hotspot access worldwide. This is often helpful in airports and places that would otherwise make you pay for access.
  • There are a lot of options for transferring points to other programs, if needed.
  • This card also has zero foreign transaction fees, and it’s the one I took to England, Scotland, and Ireland this year.
  • Click the link above for more benefits.

A quick disclaimer, though, that Marriott now owns Starwood, so that may change some things. I’m not sure what everything will look like when the programs are fully integrated, but so far, it’s been a great card. The plus is that you will, obviously, have more hotels available to use your points!

 

DELTA SKYMILES

This is a very popular card among many of my friends, and I can see why. (Besides the fact that Delta is headquartered here in ATL!) You can currently get a 70,000 point bonus, which is great. I just paid 9,500 miles for a New York to Atlanta ticket, as an example.

Benefits:

  • Get a companion certificate each year. This is the reason some of my friends have it, so that they can travel cheaper with their spouse.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • First checked bag free.
  • Discounted Delta Sky Club lounge access. (These things are a God send on long layovers!)
  • Priority boarding.
  • Click the link for the full list of benefits.

 

HILTON HONORS

This is sort of a new card for me. I used to have the Hilton Honors card when it was under Chase, but it just got bought by AMEX, so I’ve only had the new card for a couple of months. The current reward bonus is 150,000 points! I think they’re trying to get people on board now since this card is still hot off the presses.

Benefits:

  • 6x or 3x for eligible purchases, which is fantastic
  • Complimentary Gold status
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 10 Priority Pass lounge visits (sort of like Delta lounges) – I’m excited to use a couple of these on my next trip!
  • Click the link for full benefits.

 

Side benefit: AMEX cards, like Delta, Hilton, and SPG above, has the best dashboard for looking at account details, benefits, and rewards. It may seem like a strange thing to bring up, but some account dashboards just make it hard to find what you need. The AMEX one is so easy to use.

 

Quick tips for using rewards cards:

Like I said above, I recommend doing your research to fully get your questions answered, but in general, here are a few tips that will help you on this journey.

  • Whatever credit card you’ve had the longest, no matter what type of card—keep it open. This will keep a record of your credit history while you’re switching out rewards cards, and show how responsible you are with credit. Never close this card.
  • Start with one one card and see how it goes. You’ll learn by doing.
  • Put your fixed expenses on your card only. For me, that means things like my rent, health insurance, car insurance, etc. Some people put all of their expenses on their card, and that may work for you. I personally prefer just putting my fixed expenses on my credit cards, especially when I’m trying to make the initial spend. I’m no financial wiz, and it’s just easier for me to track and plan.
  • Ditching the cards after you use the rewards is up to you. I weigh what the renewal benefits are versus what the renewal fees are, and things like that. Some cards I get rid of immediately after using the bonus points, and some I don’t.
  • People often seek out airline cards first, which is understandable, but it really depends on what your travel needs are. Several nights in a hotel can often cost more than a flight, so keep that in mind.
  • One of the more difficult aspects of choosing cards is understanding point values. They vary wildly! For example, one of my least favorite cards was the AMEX Gold. It seemed great to get almost 100,000 points (this was a few years ago), but when I tried to redeem, I realized how little the points actually got me. My friend and I attended a conference in Chicago, which is what I wanted to use them for, but when all was said and done, we had to stay well outside of the city because the points didn’t go very far. So, when possible, it’s good idea to try and research how far the points will actually stretch.

Questions? Let me know.

Happy travels!

 

PS: Don’t forget to check out my original post on travel hacking to learn more about using credit card rewards and other ways I save on travel.

PPS: Traveling solo? I’ve got you covered there, too. Take a look at this post.

(Note: several links are affiliate links. But I only ever recommend what I like and use.)

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My Birthday Wish

sandrachile-686986-unsplashI don’t just celebrate my birthday, I celebrate my birth month. And this year, I’d like everyone to join in the fun!

Rather than gifts or online fundraisers (which are great, by the way), I’ve decided to celebrate the simple things in life that make it truly worth living: kindness, generosity, decency, love, connection, and all around do-gooding. It just feels like so much of this is missing from society right now, and I’d love for you to help me shine a spotlight on something more hopeful.

You’ve heard of random acts of kindness, but I’m challenging you to intentional acts of kindness.

Seek it out.
Plan on it.
Make it happen.

Your gesture doesn’t have to be big to count. There are a million little decisions you can make differently every day. Or you can create a moment to remember forever.

– Open a door for a stranger.
– Look a homeless person in the eye and smile.
– Buy someone coffee.
– Let someone cut in front of you.
– Donate to a charity.
– Babysit for a single parent.
– Volunteer your time with a nonprofit.

You decide. Just find a way to be kind. (But if you want to go big, I won’t stop you!)

What you do is totally up to you. All I ask is that you record it here for me (and everyone else) to see.

This isn’t about bragging. This is about being reminded that there is more good happening than bad, that one person can make a difference, and that one simple act matters.

Because here’s the thing: I believe generosity is contagious. So, what if you and I started something that spread? Even if it just spread to one other person, wouldn’t that be worth it? I think so.

So, what do you say? Will you join me in spreading some kindness?

If so, here are the rules:
1. No act of kindness is too big or too small.
2. You’ll record your act here for us to see.
3. You can share this event or invite anyone to participate
4. You can do one act or many.
5. You get bonus points if it’s face-to-face with another human.

Let’s (purposefully) do some good.

Would you like to join me in this challenge? If so, participate on Facebook!

PS: Facebook only let me extend the event for 14 days, and it expires on Sunday. But I’m challenging myself to do this every day in September to celebrate my birth month. I’ve even set up a reminder on my phone. Any fellow over-achievers are welcome to do the same! And if you see this after the Facebook event ends, you can post your intentional act of kindness in the comments!


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Exploring The Enneagram

IMG_8834Are you familiar with the Enneagram? I first heard about it a couple of years ago, but wasn’t given much of a compelling introduction, so I didn’t think much of it. But this year, I heard my friend Sarah’s podcast episode—and it changed everything. She interviewed the co-author of The Road Back to You, a popular book about the Enneagram, and after hearing that episode, I was hooked.

First of all, if you aren’t sure what the Enneagram is, it’s a personality typing system, but the difference between it and others like Myers-Briggs , Strengths Finder, or DISC is that it includes the spiritual component, which is really important to me. So, I was intrigued to hear how my specific personality related to aspects of my faith.

And if you didn’t know, I love personality tests! I’ve written about being an INFJ on this blog before, and have always found exploring my identity a fascinating pursuit. I now know that’s pretty common for my type as well.

The other thing I learned about about the Enneagram is that you shouldn’t take a test to determine your number type. As Suzanne Stabile describes in that podcast episode on Surviving Sarah, it’s an oral tradition. It’s a way of seeing the world. You are supposed to hear your type and recognize it. She also notes that the questions aren’t written correctly in most tests, so your results will likely come out skewed if you just try to Google a test. I found this to be the case for me. I took three tests, and only one came out with the number I’d already resonated with.

So, what’s my number?

I’m a 4. Specifically, I’m a 4 wing 3.

As with every personality type, there are pros and cons. But those who know the Enneagram well often have a slight look of sadness in their eyes when I tell them that I’m a 4. Why? It’s hard being a 4!

There are things that set it apart from everyone else, and Suzanne and some others like her believe there are also fewer 4s than any other number in the world, meaning less people can relate to you. I’ve definitely found this to be the case for me.

And did you know INFJ is the smallest percentage of the population as well? So, combine a 4 with an INFJ and…we’re a rarity. There aren’t many people who think like us and see the world the way we do. Because of that, I even put out a call on social media recently to try and find others. I wanted them (and myself) to know we aren’t alone!

I did manage to find a couple of them, and surprisingly, even found one in my social circle, which was fantastic. We had coffee the other day to discuss what it’s like being us because it ain’t easy. There aren’t many people who could survive a day in our head’s, ha!

So, what’s a 4, you ask?

It was hard to find a good, condensed breakdown of the types that I felt would immediately give you a clear picture, but TheWorldCounts.com talks about the 4 this way:

4’s are described as the Individualist or the Romantic

Dominant Traits:

  • Creative
  • Expressive
  • Sensitive
  • Emotional
  • Introspective
  • Artistic
  • Authentic

Focus of Attention: In Search of What is Missing… the Ideal… the Unattainable.

Basic Fear: To Have No Identity

Basic Desire: To Be Unique, Different

Strengths:

  • Expressive
  • Sensitive to Feelings
  • Self-Aware
  • Appreciative of Beauty
  • Empathetic
  • Compassionate

Challenges:

  • Moody
  • Temperamental
  • Prone to Melancholy
  • Self-Absorbed
  • Self-Indulgent
  • Intense
  • Unsatisfied with What Is

General Behavior of an Individualist

A Four believes that they are unique, and different from the norm. Their whole identity is attached to this belief. They perceive this difference as a gift, because Fours hate to think that they’re ordinary and common. But at the same time, their feelings of uniqueness is a curse which keeps them from enjoying the simpler things in life, the way other people do.

Fours tend to feel superior from everyone else, since they think they’re special. However, deep inside, they feel that something’s missing, and they fear that it might be caused by a flaw or defect in their own selves. Fours, as you can tell, are emotionally complex. A deep feeling of abandonment makes them feel that they will never be happy or fulfilled.

They long for deep connections in their relationships, to be understood and appreciated for who they truly are. For people to see and appreciate their uniqueness. It is easy for them to feel misjudged and misunderstood.

Fours are moody and temperamental. They are often wrapped in their thoughts, analyzing their feelings. They are very self-aware, and in tune with their emotions. This trait extends to others. Empathy and compassion are strengths of this personality type.

Ian Cron often says, “The 4’s don’t have emotions, they ARE their emotions!” And I’d have to agree. There’s a lot going on in here every minute of the day. 😉

You can read more about a 4 here, as well as a quick overview of the other types.

That’s just a little bit about me. Now, let’s talk about you.

Interested in learning more? I suggest starting with Sarah’s podcast episode because Suzanne breaks down the main points of all nine types. If that gets you more curious about the Enneagram, I definitely recommend reading The Road Back to You. It’s a really great book. Of course, I may be biased because the other author is a 4. 😉 But it’s actually a fun read. Not stuffy or super academic like you might expect a book on personalities to be.

From there, here are a few other resources:

  • Typeology Podcast from Ian Cron
  • The Road Back to You podcast
  • Your Enneagram Coach with Beth McCord
  • Attend one of Suzanne Stabile’s events
  • There are also a number of random Enneagram people I follow on Instagram.
  • You can Google and find many, many other resources, but these are the ones I’ve looked into myself.

So, do you know your type? List it in the comments. I’d love to hear!

 

Oh, and a quick warning, exploring the Enneagram is a bit like going to therapy. You can probably tell that from the quick intro the 4 that I listed above. It’s not all pretty! While most personality tests tend to focus on your strengths, the Enneagram focuses on your motivations.

It definitely talks about your strengths and weaknesses, but it’s also meant to help you grow spiritually and as a person, and that can sometimes stir a few things up. But I highly recommend this process! Just give the podcast a listen or read an overview to see what you think before making a decision.

 


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Amazon Prime Day is Coming!

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 12.13.47 PMIt’s almost Prime Day! Cue the trumpets!

Well, technically, it’s a day and a half. You can get some fantastic deals starting on Tuesday, July 16th at 12:00 p.m. PDT/3:00 p.m. EST, and running through July 17th. 

So, if you’re looking for Christmas in July—this is it!

 

If you’re just wading into the Prime waters, here are some fantastic deals to get you started NOW. That’s right, they’re already available!

 

But, if you’re already fluent in Prime, here are some of my favorite past purchases to be on the lookout for this week:

  • Where Am I Giving? By Kelsey Timmerman – I am a huge fan of his previous two books, and super excited about this new one. I’ve already pre-ordered!
  • Two immunity supplements that have really been helping me this summer are Viracid and Source Naturals Wellness Formula.
  • After YEARS of thinking about doing this, I finally bought my own modem so I don’t have to rent monthly from Comcast ($11/mo!). I got this one, and it was easy to set up. Check with your cable provider for their recommendations, but this tip could save you big long-term!
  • I’m currently obsessed with these CLIF Bars.
  • Someone you know expecting a baby? I highly recommend this book! I buy it for all my friends, and it was written by one of my friend’s wives. It’s a widely popular book, and everyone I know who reads it becomes a fan.
  • Ear buds that do good? Yes, please. I love mine!
  • I kept breaking my nails trying to open the clasps on my necklaces, so I got these magnetic clasps, and put them on all my necklaces. They’re awesome!
  • I asked for this fitness tracker for Christmas, and think it’s pretty awesome.
  • Envirosax – I’ve been recommending these to people for years! I always have two or three in my purse for everyday purchases, and I always make sure to travel with them as well. They fold up so small, but are huge when opened. And I use the pouch they arrived in for cords and things when I travel.
  • I use my smoothie maker a heck of a lot!
  • I’ve been using Roku for about a decade. I love, love, love this thing! It’s how I watch Hulu, Prime Video, and Netflix. And how I stream Pandora every day while working from home. They have lots of different models depending on your needs, but it’s an awesome device.
  • I’ve been diving back in to my Justice Bible lately. The book intros, commentaries, and notes all revolved around justice, which makes my heart happy.
  • I’ve promoted this collapsable kettle multiple times because it’s the coolest. It’s small and portable. I have very limited counter space in my apartment, so it’s great for daily use for me. But I also take it on my quarterly retreats for easy access to hot tea and coffee. I see it’s currently unavailable, but hopefully not for long! It’s awesome!

 

Will your clocks to be set for Prime Day? If so, what’s on your Wish List?


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Tapestri Human Trafficking Forum 2018

IMG_8831Ok, so this is WAY overdue. Like almost six months overdue. This event was actually held at the end of January, which is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. I kept meaning to type these notes and post them, but it just kept getting moved to the back burner.

However, that is in no way a reflection of Tapestri‘s event. This is the second year I’ve attended, and I absolutely plan to go back if they offer it again in 2019. This organization is doing tremendous work here in Atlanta, and throughout Georgia, and I’m grateful for them. And, it’s hard to believe, but this is actually a FREE event!

If you’re in the Atlanta area and care about this issue, be sure to join Tapestri’s email list so you can find out about any future events!

And, now, here are my notes:

  • Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) overview by Alpa Amin of GAIN, Ambassador Susan Coppedge, Alia El-Sawi of ICE and HSI
    • They’re now trying to get moe steep penalties and victim services.
    • It’s up for reauthorization again this year.
    • 14 government agencies deal with the issue of trafficking.
    • There is a Survivor Advisory Council that was appointed by Obama.
    • New laws are trying to keep products made with slave labor out of the country.
  • Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) info presented by Alpa Amin
    • GAIN helps people get T-Visas and legal help for foreign-born people.
    • T-Visa requirements:
      • Victim of severe harm
      • Present in US due to trafficking
      • Would suffer if returned home
    • Age requirement for T-Visa has increased, which is a good thing
    • Less evidence is now needed to prove status, which is also good
    • Transportation is not required, though it is called “trafficking”
    • Continued presence: If someone is VIEWED (meaning potential) as a victim, this is a form of parole that lasts for two years.
      • Allows them to live and work here
      • Helps establish rapport with victim
      • Victim-centered approach
      • Stepping stone to receive T-Visa
      • Gets person a driver’s license and social security card
      • Allows for access to resources
      • Don’t need a successful court case for continued presence or T-Visa, only cooperation
  • Tapestri presentation by Gabriela Leon of Tapestri
    • Works with foreign-born victims
    • Most people do not self-identify as victims, and foreign-born people may not even know that term.
    • Our stricter laws and rhetoric toward victims and immigrants only serves to reinforce traffickers words to victims.
    • Most cases are domestic, but they are also more likely to report because they likely know their rights better.
    • Here in Georgia, most foreign-born victims are from Mexico and Central America.
    • There should be a PR campaign to fight the perception that victims of crimes will be punished.
  • Additional resources:
  • Health Consequences of Trafficking presentation by Dr. Jordan Greenbaum of the Stephanie Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
    • Risk factors:
      • Child
      • Female
      • Missing
      • No skills
      • Prior victimization
      • Marginalized
      • Cognitive delays
      • Homeless
      • Drug/alcohol abuse
      • Family secrecy
      • Violence/abuse
      • Poor
      • Corrupt legal system
      • High tourism area
      • Social intolerance
      • Economic disparity
      • Migration
      • Cultural beliefs
      • Social upheaval
      • Stigma
    • Labor trafficking in the US often involves these industries/professions:
      • Agriculture
      • Hospitality (ex: hotel or restaurant worker)
      • Manufacturing
      • Domestic service
      • Janatorial
      • Construction
      • Landscaping
      • Nail salons
      • Massage parlor
      • Textiles
      • Fishing
      • Most reported cases are foreigners being brought into the US, which is the opposite of sex trafficking.
    • Health consequences of labor trafficking:
      • Untreated chronic medical consitions
      • Work-related injuries
      • Exposure to chemicals
      • Weight loss
      • Infection
      • Breathing
      • Consequences of sexual assault (47% of victims had STD’s)
      • Violence
      • PTSD
      • Mental issues
      • Headaches
      • Fatigue
      • Victims are also often forced to commit crimes for compliance.
    • Consequences of sex trafficking:
      • Drug and alcohol abuse
      • Chronic pain
      • Mental issues (depression, PTSD, suicidal)
      • Malnutrition
      • Work-related injuries
      • Sexual violence
      • Pregnancy, abortion
      • 88% of domestic victims saw health care professionals while this was happening!
    • Challenges to identifying:
      • Don’t self-identify
      • Reluctant to disclose
      • Few clinically-validated quick screening tools
      • Threats
    • Speak using “trauma-informed” care approach
      • Minimizes re-trauma
      • Ensures safety (in all forms)
      • Treat victim with respect (explain what you want to do)
      • Only ask questions you need to know
      • Ask about mental health
      • Respect authonomy
      • Be transparent
      • Listen, explain, negotiate
      • Make appropriate referrals
      • Ask their opinions
  • FBI presentation by Mary Jo Mangrum and Jennifer Towns
    • Has seen an increase in cases in the last decade, but likely because more people are reporting.
  • Polaris presentation on illicit massage parlors by Eliza Carmen
    • New 2018 report
      • Over 9,000 known in the US
      • $2.5 BILLION business
      • Majority of victims are from Southeast Asia
      • Average age is 35-55
      • 37-45% of ads for massage parlor work were illegal
    • Why don’t victims leave?
      • Fear of law enforcement
      • Debt
      • Fear of deportation (may be unsafe to return home)
      • Shame
      • Threats to themselves or family
      • Cultural coercion
    • Only 12% of cities have laws to enforce against illegal massage parlors
      • Usually licenses for therapists only, not the business itself
      • If you see a ILM, report to Polaris via phone, email, or online. Reports can be anonymous.
  • Working with Foreign National Minors presentation by Mersada Mujkanovic of Tapestri, Yamile Morales of Tapestri, and Christina Iturralde Thomas of KIND
    • Much the same tactics as adults, but kids are more naive and vulnerable.
      • Sports are also used as a tactic. Recruiting for traveling teams or initial building of relationships.
    • Victims under 18 do not have to comply or be helpful to gain status or benefits.
    • There is a specific refugee foster care program.
    • The designation of unaccompanied minor affords some protection, but they must also soon after defend themselves from deportation.
    • Common asylum fact patterns for children:
      • Severe child abuse
      • Resistance to or witness to gang activity
      • Family claims (ex: land disputes)
      • Domestic violence (including gang-related)
    • You do not get a court-appointed lawyer for immigration court, unlike criminal law, which again is harmful in them not knowing and understanding their rights.