Property Ownership: 5 Things to Avoid During Mortgage Application (Travel Hacking Included!)

We are extremely open about how we are able to travel on a tight budget. Our dream to explore Earth is not to be deterred by things such as massive student loans. I have already outlined how we travel hack our way to achieving our adventurous dreams. As much as we love travel hacking, we needed to put a complete stop on our strategies, at least for the time being. While we have proven to ourselves that travel hacking does not negatively affect our credit scores in the long run (how to understand your credit score, here), we also are very aware that it will affect our mortgage application short-term! Travel hacking violates a lot on the “Don’t list” of Mortgage lenders, so in order to understand why we should put travel hacking to a halt, let’s review what NOT to do when applying for a mortgage loan.

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1. Don’t allow tardy payments.

Missing a payment (or worse, adding judgements to a credit report) can surely tank any chances you have of getting a mortgage loan approved. It may seem as if a small missed payment won’t matter much, but your score can lower by more than 100 points if a 30-day late payment occurs on any type of credit account! After spending all this time being reliable and building up good credit, the last thing you want to do is give the lenders any indication that you are a risky borrower.

Be very wary of what you owe. Even missed payments for medical bills or court judgements can weasel their way, uninvited, and interrupt, delay, or all together annihilate the entire mortgage lending process. Even utility bills, parking tickets and library fines can cause damage. I would simply be hyper-aware about all payments that need to be made.

2. Don’t have revolving credit.

As I mentioned in my post, Understanding and Improving Credit Scores, the second most important factor in determining your credit score is how much you owe. Therefore, it is important to avoid revolving credit as much as possible and to pay off all credit cards in full. I mean, you should be doing that anyway, but now isn’t the time to slip. I know that during the entire mortgage process, you are likely thinking of so many other things, however, you want to make sure your credit report is at the forefront of your mind. You can lose as much as 45 points on your overall score just by maxing out one low-limit credit card!

Sometimes, travel hackers have that push to hit minimum spend within a certain time period, but they do so unwisely by spending more on their credit card than they can pay back by the end of the month, thus creating revolving credit. Live below your means, an advice that should be heeded at all times, independent of a mortgage application.

3. Don’t open any new credit cards! (Travel hackers, I am talking to you!)

Here is where travel hackers need to beware. You want to be approved for the mortgage but you also want to snag a credit card offer that’s pretty much handing you 80,000 points FREE. Your fingers are itching to pull the trigger and sending in that online application with just one click more. Don’t do it!

Unless, off course, your okay with risking mortgage approval. But if you are applying for a mortgage in the first place, I am assuming it’s because you don’t have the money to buy your house in cash. AKA, there is no alternative. Other sign-up bonuses will be there in the near future. The mortgage lender may not.

Here’s the thing: Mike and I have not seen our credit scores go down since we started travel hacking in November 2017. Within 6 months, we had opened 5 credit cards between us, and our credit scores have actually increased. They say that your credit score may go down 5 points with each credit card inquiry. If you have a really good credit score (800+), then I would consider your argument that one additional card will not reduce your score to a low enough point that a lender would deny you a mortgage loan. However, I like think we are better off safe than sorry. A recent inquiry will indicate to the lender that you may be a high risk candidate for a loan, let alone multiple recent inquiries. And if I am being honest, every time you do a credit pull, it will give you the top reasons why your score is the way it is. Me and Mike’s top reasons? “Recent Credit Card Inquiries”. Then again, our scores were around the 800’s. You may take that with a grain of salt, a dash of pepper, or however way you want to, but we chose not to open cards during this 45 day period.

The day after you close on the house, feel free to apply for whatever card you want. Just make sure not to max it out on home improvement stuff! (More on that, later.)

4. Don’t close unused accounts. (This too, applies to travel hacking.)

Many people believe in the fallacy that closing accounts will improve their credit score. Some believe in an even worse falsehood, and that is, closing credit accounts will wipe off bad credit history from their credit report. Sadly, no and nope.

The truth is that closing accounts can lower your credit score. Why? Because your credit history makes up a large part of your score. If you close an account that’s been open for ten years, that maybe you haven’t kept active in a long time, that will cut your credit history. Additionally, they will always consider the credit utilization percentage, which is the amount of credit being used versus the amount available. When it comes to closing cards, apply the same practice as with opening cards: wait until after escrow closes!

As far as travel hacking is concerned, there comes a time when credit cards need to be closed to avoid the annual fee. Mike and I were lucky in that we were not even close to any of our one year anniversaries for our credit cards. If you are planning to apply for a mortgage, it would be absolutely wise to plan ahead.

5. Don’t use this time to dispute anything in your credit report.

Which isn’t to say, don’t try to fix any inaccuracies with your score. Right away, if you see an accuracy, the best action to take is to notify your potential lender of the mistake. Current rules dictate that a single dispute under investigation by the credit bureau is enough reason to delay or nix the loan, in order to avoid consumers trying to improve their loan last minute by disputing negative (and possibly, accurate) information.

 

Finance: How to Budget for Travel

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It’s no secret that the number one priority in our lives from a financial standpoint are my student loans. Off course, more important matters such as health, relationships, and happiness trumps that, but really not much else is prioritized before the loans. However, even before paying down the student debt entered the picture, Mike and I had decided early on in our relationship, before we even got married, that a top priority of ours would be travel. That hasn’t exactly changed, as you can probably tell from all the travel posts on this blog. Today, I wanted to go through how it is that we have the means to travel on a very tight budget.

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Set your priorities

Our ability to travel the world is built on a clear understanding that travel will remain a top priority for both of us. By defining this activity as extremely important, it makes it easy for us to give up less important things if it means that we will be able to travel. From the very beginning, even before we started paying down student debt, this is something both Mike and I felt strongly about. In fact, it was at the very forefront of our conversation when we started to check the feasibility of paying down over $550k in ten years. The first question to answer was, “Will we have enough money to still travel?”

Since this is such a high priority for us, we would give up almost everything in order to make it happen. The only exception, off course, is being free from my student debt. We were willing to give up buying a house, buying things in general, dining out (if it means dining out when we travel), the newest tech gadgets, and so much more. We were already frugalists before, but having travel as a motivating factor makes us even more successful at being frugal weirdos. When your priorities are clearly defined, the budgeting part becomes easy.

Set a budget

It is very important, especially in our particular situation, to plan for travel. I think that budgeting is useful for every category of spending, but it becomes imperative for those categories that will make your life happier. We don’t want to leave the decision of whether or not we can go somewhere to the whims of everyday life. In other words, we want to avoid the excuse “Life happens”, and we actually want our lives to happen.

Our budget for travel changes according to where we want to go. Typically, we decide on an amount to set aside every month using our favorite budgeting tool, YNAB! We will probably continue that trajectory for a couple of months. We treat it like money stashed away in an envelope. We use the “cash” in this envelope to pay for anything that involves travel expenses. If we ever go over, we would have to borrow from another envelope that month. As an example, overspending $50 in travel would require us to pull $50 from our allocated grocery money. In the past six months, we have not over-drafted from our travel envelope. When calculated, 2.6% of our income each month went towards travel.

Keep in mind that this is our top priority! Yet only 2.6% of our income went towards travel. That’ll give you an idea of how frugal we’ve been and how focused we are on paying down my student debt. 100% of my post-tax income in our first year of student loan repayment went towards the loans, plus help from Mike too!

To be fair, the budget is changing every once in a while. For example, since we have a huge three-week trip planned for the beginning of next year (where we will be visiting ten cities and two countries halfway across the globe!), we will be increasing our travel budget to 3.5% of our income for the last 6 months of this year. Nothing wild and crazy, but it is fluctuating as needed.

Have a plan

Call me Type A (and you would be right in doing so), but I don’t like to travel without a plan. Mostly because I find that travelling without a plan can sometimes be very costly. Choices will need to be made in the spur of the moment, and while that is fun at times, it also means limited research can go into choosing the best financial option. Plus, not having a plan makes the previous goal of setting a budget very, very difficult. It is hard to guess just how much money you need to allocate if you have no idea what you are allocating your money to. That being said, this isn’t to say our plans are entirely rigid. We have flexibility and I am the first to admit that our recent trip to Banff did involve cancelling an entire day of hikes in exchange for napping on a hammock lakeside and resting sore legs. And if we come across an ice cream shop that we want to grab ice cream at, we aren’t going to say to ourselves, “Oops, not in the budget. Can’t.” But typically, these changes aren’t so drastic that it throws our financial game plan out the window entirely. Within the budgeting, we have already budgeted for the possibility of a change of plans.

Save for the big stuff.

Usually, when we go someplace, there is one activity that we are uncompromising on. We don’t just visit a place to randomly visit. We went to Germany for Oktoberfest. We visited Mexico City because we wanted to eat at Pujol. I wanted to go to Banff to see what was left of the glaciers while I can. We went to Oregon after hearing about how a devastating fire last year wiped out all of its beauty. And we are going to Australia to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve in Sydney. These are the big things. If you have a particular reason to go someplace, then go ahead and go for that reason! But go knowing that it requires you to save for the big stuff. We scrounge up the savings by giving up some of the everyday spending that a normal couple would make. I always say how easy it is for me to give up dining out regularly, if it means I can dine out when I am traveling elsewhere, and eat local food in a different country. We had no problem celebrating our first year wedding anniversary eating pizza, if it means that on our second year, we will be watching fireworks over the Habor Bridge in Sydney. Interestingly, even THAT is a free event! But you see what I mean. Don’t skimp on the big stuff, especially if there is a specific reason for your travels. Skimp on the little stuff that you could do without. I promise, it’ll make the big stuff that much more valuable.

Be frugal, still.

There is no need to skimp on every adventure. What’s the point of seeing a country when you don’t want to spend to see a country? Off course, there’s transportation that we need to pay for to get around, and food to be eaten. But, where you can, be frugal still. Our budget would not be the small sliver of a fraction of our income that it is without us being frugal, still. Here are the ways in which we save quite a bit on travel money.

  • We travel hack in order to buy our flights. I have written about the pros of travel hacking and what that has afforded us in this year alone. Long story short, we have used only points to book all our flights for this year! Our favorite travel hacking credit cards are Southwest Rapid Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Chase Ink Business Preferred.
  • We opt for AirBNB whenever we can. Typically, we find that those rates are cheaper than most hotels.
  • We book with Turo to save money on car rentals. Turo is the car version of AirBNB and we have had a great experience thus far with this company.
  • We reach out to friends and family in the locations we travel to. Some of our favorite trips are made more special by the company we keep. A plus side would be a place to stay, or a way to split the costs. I stayed at an old college roommate’s apartment when I visited Salt Lake City, UT. We stayed in my high school best friend’s extra bedroom when we visited New Orleans. Both of these friends drove us around everywhere we went! My sister provided an air mattress and shared her bed when we went to visit San Francisco. She also lent us her car for the weekend. Our Munich trip meant a free ride to the Castle Neuschwanstein when we hit up a friend’s cousin’s family. Also, we were invited to their house and got served the most amazing dinner, which to this day, remains one of my favorite memories while traveling. We reached out to my family to see if they wanted to go to Oregon with us, thus splitting the car rental fee and the AirBNB costs among seven people. All of this to show, not only is group travel more fun and entertaining, it saves you money as well!
  • We skip the touristy stuff. As I become better versed in traveling, I have found that less and less attraction lies in the touristy stuff. We would rather fill our days with free tramps through nature, exploring the city by foot, people watching as we eat at a café, and so on. We have found ways to see cities without having to spend much. I used to book excursions on every trip, until I realized that some of the best excursions are free. Our most recent Banff trip was focused around hiking all day. Trips to Calgary and Munich involved mostly walking around the city. Oregon was a mix of both. Skipping the touristy stuff also means that you can explore your way, without having to adhere to someone else’s timeline.
  • We don’t buy souvenirs to take home. Most of the stuff they sell in souvenir stores are absolutely useless and unnecessary. Unless we come across something that we think someone back home would really like, we do not shop for souvenirs for the sake of bringing something back. What we bring back to our friends and family are photographs and stories, mostly.
  • We borrow “just-this-once” items. When we go on camping trips, we borrow sleeping bags. I borrow my dad’s camera lenses when I go on big trips. I borrow clothing from my mom if I don’t have it in my minimalist wardrobe. Borrowing is such an important life hack, because it prevents us from purchasing things that we will only use once for travel.
  • We choose to disconnect. Going to a different country may require signing up for an additional payment plan in order to use your cell phone and other techy gadgets. Whenever possible, we simply go without. A trick would be to just opt for signing into the WiFi in cafes or our AirBNBs. Since a majority of our days are spent soaking in every last little detail of our current surroundings, we don’t really have a need for our cell phones. Planning the night before by looking up directions or the next day’s itinerary makes it a lot simpler too. Choosing to disconnect saves us not only money, but also, time since it keeps us from wasting time being “plugged in”.

These are just some of the ways in which we remain frugal while we travel. But like I said before, none of this equates to deprivation. It simply requires you to analyze what parts of travel you actually value, and what parts are simply excessive consumption. Once you’ve identified those priorities, it is very easy to cut down the spending in some areas in order to have enough in your budget to be able to see that one item on your bucket list. And if you need to, you can always borrow from other “envelopes” throughout the months leading up to your trip!

What about you? What are some ways to squeeze in a little extra money towards travel on a tight budget?

Travel: City Guide to Portland, Oregon

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I would say with confidence that I would gladly move to Portland, Oregon. Between the great food, eco-friendly habits, nature hikes, and overall vibe of the people living there, I felt very much at home and relaxed. (But seriously, great food!) And our AirBNB location could not have been better! We were located on 28th St. and Division St., a five minute walk from some of the great restaurants we visited, including Pokpok, Ava Genes, Bollywood Theater, Salt & Straw, and Eb and Bean! It was lovely to step outside and walk to and from these eateries. Here is a guide to our most recent trip. I hope you enjoy!


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Not worth the time.

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Good, but ordinary.

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Great. Worth a visit.

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Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

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Reasonable

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Pricey


Lardo

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1212 SE HAWTHORNE BLVD
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We arrived at Portland very late and had originally planned to pick up Lardo sandwiches for our hikes the next day. However, we were so tired and hungry that we decided to make Lardo the only stop for the night and to just eat dinner there instead. It was a wonderful introduction to the food scene in Portland. We had ordered the Pulled Pork Vindaloo (Cabbage Porial Slaw, Assamese Pineapple Chutney, and Mint mayo), the Korean Pork Shoulder (house kimchi, chili mayo, cilantro, lime), and Salt and Vinegar Chicharrones. Everything was delicious! Mike and I split everything, and he favored the vindaloo while I favored the korean pork shoulder. Mostly because the bread of the korean pork shoulder was absolutely amazing. Which may or may not be fair to the vindaloo… The sandwiches are very heavy, so we did not even get to finish the chicharrones, which was fine since we brought the left-overs along on our hike as a snack. Definitely a must stop if you like meaty sandwiches, but I would not recommend taking the sandwiches on any hikes. It just wouldn’t have been as good.

Milk Glass Mrkt

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♦♦♦♦
2150 NORTH KILLINGWORTH ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

We went here for breakfast on day 2 prior to leaving Portland for a day of nature walks. They source their ingredients seasonally from local farms, including Gathering Together Farm, Wobbly Cart Farm, August Farms, Viridian Farms & Groundwork Organics. Everything is made from scratch, in house, everyday. They are dedicated to paying their employees a living wage and to support to local community. The store also sells some local goods. The space is bright, and is an ideal place to catch up with a friend over breakfast on a weekend. I ordered a Quinoa Bowl (quinoa, asparagus, farm greens, charred spring onion, manchego, crispy prosciutto, topped with a six minute egg), and Mike ordered the Cheddar Biscuit (with egg, cheddar cheese, bacon, and greens).  The quinoa bowl that I had was extremely fresh, bright, and had just the right acidity in the vinagrette to balance the ingredients. It was also exactly what I needed after our heavy dinner at Lardo the night before.

Brass Tacks Sandwiches

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♦♦♦
3535 N VANCOUVER AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We swung by Brass Tacks Sandwiches after breakfast to grab a few sandwiches that will keep well on our day of hiking. Firstly, I would just like to say how eco-friendly Portland is. I had absolutely no problems at all with plastic there. Everything, even to-go  items, were wrapped in paper. No straws were ever provided. I did not see people carrying around plastic bags or water bottles, but rather, re-usable bottles, linen bags, or paper carryout bags. The sandwiches we got here were wrapped in paper, as were the home-made kettle chips, and he did not even provide us with a bag. PERFECT! I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that I am done geeking out about their eco-conscious habits, I am going to say that the sandwiches were bomb, although standard. Nothing that you can’t get in California, but really well made. You can order one of their specials or make your own. They are also one of the many places to eat that are mindful of vegan diets and vegetarian diets. In fact, Mike ordered the vegan Frank Sinatmeat (with agave smoked “ham”, roasted red pepper “salami” on a french roll with garlic aioli, pickled jalapeno, red onion, lettuce, oil/vinegar/oregano, and cashew cheese) while I ordered Turkey It To The Limit (oven-roasted turkey on ciabatta with mayo, tomato jam, avocado, lettuce, and provolone, panini-grilled). Brownie points for the clever names.

Jory Coffee Co.

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♦♦♦♦
3845 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

I am only going to write about Jory once, when the truth of the matter is, we went there twice of the two days, because it was just that great. They serve only pour over coffees, so don’t expect to order a latte or any other type of espresso based drink here. If you would like, you can opt for a splash of milk or Oatly in your cup, but that’s it. It’s a minimalist’s dream and they have made it so that it allows you to drink good coffee and appreciate it the way it’s meant to be appreciated. There are a selection of six local coffee roaster’s beans, all of which can also be purchased for those who want to make coffee at home. The offerings they had was a well-curated selection that really makes distinct and unique coffees. There is standing room only in the narrow shop, which is reminiscent of many Australian coffee shops. People are meant to buy their coffees and then go about their day. There is outdoor seating right outside the shop, enough chairs for three couples, which Mike and I took advantage of the second time we went. We spent an hour idling by ourselves outside on our last day in Portland, because we just loved it so much. The machine they have for making the coffee was great and the coffee was served efficiently, and the folk were extremely friendly. We even met the owner Jorian! If you are a real third-wave generation coffee fan who drinks it black, this is the place to go. The first time we went, I ordered Heart – DECAF (cherry, apple, milk chocolate) and Mike ordered Extracto (blueberry, cinnamon, and dark chocolate). The second time around, we took both of Jorian’s recommendations, which were Barista (peach, caramel, golden raisin) and Case Study (blackberry, citrus, deep and sweet).

Latourell Falls

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♦♦♦♦
$

Latourell Falls was the first hike we did. It is a very easy loop trail. From the parking lot, it is a few steps until you get to the lookout point to the waterfall. We hiked up to the very top of the falls, which did not take us more than ten to fifteen minutes. We got pretty close to the very edge of the waterfall, but to look over would have been very ballsy. I loved hearing the rush of the water as it fell over the cliff, and got a kick out of waving to the citizens below, who gladly waved back. The trail continues on and is a fairly easy hike, ideal for young children or older adults. There were no steep inclines past the waterfall. Continuing on reveals other smaller waterfalls. We walked up to one in particular that I would actually categorize as still being very large and it was amazing to feel the spray of the water and the whirling wind as you got closer. Along the way, we saw all sorts of beautiful plant life, as well as a cool little millipede. We must have spent two hours idling along that trail, stopping every few feet to gaze at large clovers, purple flowers, and blue-veined leaves. Worth every minute of it, and it was free!

Dog Mountain Trail

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♦♦♦♦
$

I was sitting next to this lady on the airplane ride to Portland when the topic of hiking came up. She had recommended Dog Mountain Trail in Washington as a wonderful hike that led to the top of a large mountain with amazing views. Since it’s spring time, the flowers were very much in bloom at the top and the overlook provided wonderful views of the Columbia River Gorge as it snaked around bends. Since a majority of the hikes on the Oregon side were closed due to the major fire last September, this was one of the only alternatives we knew of. It is a very steep 3.8 miles to the top with a 2,800 feet elevation gain, resulting in 7.5ish miles round trip. Mike and I had a dinner reservation, so we knew we had to truck it if we were going to get to the very top! We started the hike at 3 pm and finished in 3.5 hours! I almost had a mental breakdown when the steepness got to be too much, but Mike cheered me on (and sometimes pushed me up the mountain) and we ended up making it! I recommend this to other hikers, but I would definitely rate this is a difficult hike.

Ava Genes

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♦♦♦♦
3377 SE DIVISION STREET
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$$

“Our story can be told through our pasta: it’s milled, extruded, rolled, cut, cooked, sauced, and eaten in house.”

Off course, dough lovers unite. Their ingredients are locally sourced and support a local community of small farmers and artisans. There are things other than pasta on their menu, but we just knew we had to stick with pasta. The quality of the pasta is great! Plus, we needed some carbs to replenish our energy stores after our long hikes. This restaurant is just what the doctor ordered! I had the Tagliatelli (with cauliflower ragu, rosemary and garlic) and Mike had the Sunday special which was the Campanelle (with sausage sugo and ricotta). So simple, but so elegant.

Salt & Straw

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♦♦♦
3345 SE DIVISION ST.
PORLTAND OREGON
$

I love ice cream, and Salt & Straw receives much of the hype. We decided to do a late night ice cream pit stop on our walk back to our AirBNB from Ava Genes. By late night, I do mean that we were one of the last few to make it through the door before they closed up shop at 11 pm. There were many amazing offerings in terms of flavors. I was specifically drawn to their monthly menu, which was centered around florals. I ordered Rhubarb Crumble with Toasted Anise and Mike ordered Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache. The flavors were unique and great, but we have had better ice cream before, which is why I did not give this place 3 stars. While it was good, it did not live up to the hype.

Heart Coffee

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♦♦♦
2211 E BURNSIDE ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

Day 3 started off very slowly for us, after a late night dinner and a day full of hikes. We made our way to Heart coffee, since trying their decaf at Jory was such a good experience. It was a good coffee shop, however, they offered mostly espresso based drinks, landing Mike and I with standard cappuccinos. I still think their worth the visit, although next time, I may have opted for a drip coffee. They have three locations, but we went to the one on Burnside St. It is a perfect study space, but do note the noise level is moderate to loud. Luckily, we were just slowly still coming out of our dreamlike reveries.

Pokpok

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♦♦♦♦
3226 SE DIVISION ST
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

If I could give something five out of four stars, I definitely would. But that wouldn’t be fair to the other reviews, would it? Needless to say, this lives up to the hype. Mike and I both agreed that while the experience of eating outdoors in a shack on a plastic table and chairs is not exactly worldly, the food compares to Pujol, not in quality, but in flavor, and for the fraction of the price. People visiting Portland should definitely eat here at least once! We were the first people there (we showed up thirty minutes early from opening) so we got seated immediately. But by the time the restaurant opened, the line was around the corner of the street and not everyone was seated. By the time we finished our meal at 12:30, the wait times for 2 people was an hour. If you are staying close by like we were, it wouldn’t hurt to come by and put your name down, then return to your AirBNB and relax while waiting for their call. Or you can walk up and down the shops on Division Street. We ordered Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (Spicy) (Half dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Vietnamese fish sauce and garlic and served with Cu Cai (pickled vegetables)), Yam Kai Dao (Crispy fried farm egg salad with lettuce, Chinese celery, carrots, onions, garlic, Thai chiles and cilantro, with a lime, fish sauce, palm sugar dressing), Muu Sateh (Carlton Farms pork loin skewers marinated in coconut milk and turmeric, grilled over charcoal and served with peanut sauce, cucumber relish and grilled bread), and Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich (Coconut-jackfruit ice cream served on a sweet bun with peanuts, sweet sticky rice, condensed milk and chocolate syrup.  Found on any Thai street, especially in the markets) for dessert. Surprisingly, the dessert was the least cool thing about the meal, although I hear if we would have opted for the affogato instead, it would have been a different story.

Citizen Ruth

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♦♦♦♦
3070 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

I absolutely loved this extremely progressive, feminist store. I was having a blast perusing the shop. What stuck out most to me was a collection of children’s books lining a wall with a revolution sign over it. Each children’s book taught a lesson about being different, unique, and absolutely okay with that. The rest of the store contained different crafts from local artists and quirky knick knacks that had faces such as Frida Kahla screaming their message.

Powell’s Books

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♦♦♦♦
1005 W BURNSIDE ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

Powell’s Books is a bookworm’s fantasy land. I was absolutely blown away by the selection of books, both new and used. Mike and I separated our ways and we were there for an hour and a half before we found each other again. I posted up and grabbed a book from the shelves and read it in it’s entirety front cover to back cover. I then moved on to another until Mike found me. How do we get one of these in Orange County?!

Multnomah Whiskey Library

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1124 SW ALDER ST.
PORTLAND OREGON
$$$

I gave up drinking alcohol for two reasons. At some point, I realized how much money goes towards being a social drinker. I was never one to guzzle the stuff on the daily (or the weekly, even), but buying alcohol in public or even from a grocery store can add up. So one day, I quit cold turkey. The other reason was that I just wanted to be a healthy individual and be without the tiredness the day after a good night. The exception to the rule is when we travel. In Germany, I allowed myself a beer at Oktoberfest and in Mexico City, I allowed myself one cocktail when we were dining at Pujol. In Oregon, we swung by Multnomah Whiskey Library per my sister’s recommendation and I decided to break the fast once for one day. We ordered three cocktails, all of which were superb. Their collection of alcohol was very impressive. The knowledge of our bartender Jackson was great. Per his recommendation Mike had an Improved Old Fashion, and I ordered a Huckleberry Revival. We ended our drinking session with a drink that had tumeric in it.

LucLac

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♦♦
835 SW 2ND ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We went to LucLac after Multnomah Whiskey Library because it was walk-able and we wanted time before we drove again, so dinner served as a good occupation for our time. We were lucky enough to get the last available seat before those in line had to wait for tables. To be completely honest, I thought the food was very mediocre. I gave it two stars because I didn’t think it was a waste of time, but since there were so many other great eats in Portland, I’d say it was just hyped and not a “MUST-SEE”. I thought the taste of the food was pretty bland. We both ordered vermicelli plates (Mike got the combo and I got the pork), but there wasn’t much flavor to them. I have eaten better vermicelli plates elsewhere, I guess. Mike liked this restaurant enough though to rate it as top four on the list of all the places we ate at, so that’s something worth considering.

Multnomah Falls

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Unfortunately, due to the recent fires last September 2017, the Multonomah Falls is closed. We did not know that when we went there. We were pretty happy to still get to see it (Mike has hiked up to the top on a previous trip). The great thing was that we learned it was closed so that we could tell our friend who is going up there this weekend that it may not be worth the $60/person bus ride he purchased for him and his S/O to simply step out of the bus to look at the falls from below. I can’t imagine what we would have felt like if we paid to see the falls, only to learn that we literally step off the bus to see the falls. So it gets a rating of one diamond, only because for now, it is not worth the time.

Broder Cafe

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♦♦♦♦
2508 SE CLINTON ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

This brunch place is fantastic! Broder has two other Portland locations, but this just happened to be walking distance to us (yet again, another five minute walk!). The morning was moody, perfect for a warm Nordic breakfast. Mike and I split the Aebleskivers (danish pancakes that are more like soft doughnuts served with lemon-tart custard and lingonberry jam) and the Pytt I Panna (with charred onions, asparagus, and roast mushroom). Our biggest regret? Getting the 4 count of the pancakes and not the 6 count!

Pistils Nursery

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♦♦♦♦
3811 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

This nursery was right next door to Jory, so on our second visit to the coffee shop, we decided to swing by. It had a great collection of both indoor and outdoor plants with beautiful vases and coffee table books, all about green living things. As you can probably tell from the photos, I was very excited to be there. I also debated whether it would be wise to carry a cactus back home with me to California on a plane ride.

Bollywood Theater

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♦♦♦
3010 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We hardly get Indian food, mostly because there is no good Indian food where we live. Most of the time, it is a hit or miss for me. We decided that prior boarding the plane, we want food in our bellies that will get us through the rest of the day. We each ordered a small plate of Indian curry and my mouth is salivating just thinking of it. Or maybe I’ve been writing about food for way too long. I ordered the Goan Style Shrimp (shrimp with curry leaves, chile, coconut milk and lime. Served with saffron rice), and Chicken Curry (Bone-in thigh and leg with an aromatic and creamy curry. Served with saffron rice). 

Eb & Bean

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♦♦
3040 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

This colorful store was right next door to Bollywood Theater and also houses a collection of chocolate from The Little Nib! We had planned to grab ourselves a sweet little something before we headed off to our flight. I had a Brown Sugar Strawberry Ricotta frozen yogurt on a vegan waffle cone and Mike got the Salty Pistachio (with Almond Milk) on a vegan waffle cone as well. It was very good, and I am sure it would have been better if we had added toppings to it. However, I am just not as big a lover of frozen yogurt as I am of ice cream, hence the lower rating.

How I Flew to Mexico City for FREE with Southwest Airlines + 40K Bonus Points

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When our financial planner first sat down with Mike and I to discuss our long-term goals, travelling the world was up there on our list. It was the one common ground we had. A future home? Maybe. Kids? Not sure. Interests? Cars. Art. Travel? YES! ABSOLUTELY!

All of this was learned before we decided to change gears and pay back the student debt, full-force. Unfortunately, a $6,500 monthly student payment for ten years does put quite a damper on the travel. So, we found another way.

It’s no secret that we travel the world by travel hacking. Using credit card sign-up bonuses to rack up free flights was something we started doing last November. It has been a little over six months, and we have been able to buy the following flights for 2018:

Mexico City, San Francisco, Portland, Calgary, Sydney, and Christchurch. Also on the list, Costa Rica, for which we have the points, but are waiting for a few of our travel hacking friends to catch up so that we can all travel together!

Now I know that with travel hacking, one may not need to pay money for these flights, but they do still pay for them in points. What if I told you that I was able to fly to Mexico (and San Francisco, and Portland, and Costa Rica) for COMPLETELY FREE? As in, I did not spend any points at all to fly there, nor did I spend money. How, you ask? Southwest Airlines!

Southwest Airlines has an awesome program that grants a person a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows you to take someone with you on any flight, for free. Since Mikey has the Companion Pass, I (his companion) can fly with him wherever he goes for zilch. For those of you without a permanent significant other, no worries! You can change your companion up to three times in one calendar year. So take multiple friends on multiple vacations and voila! Problem solved!

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How to get Companion Pass:

There are multiple ways to get Companion Pass. Mike and I were lucky enough to strike a deal in November of last year, which we shared with all our friends, who also got in on it. The deal was an automatic Companion Pass until the end of December the FOLLOWING year (2018) as long as you open a Southwest Airlines card. This is the one we opened in particular, although there are other options to choose from. Additionally, you receive $40k bonus points if you hit a minimum spending of $1,000 in the first 3 months. This was very easy to do since Christmas time was around the corner from when we signed up. So we used our new Southwest Credit card to pay for upcoming gifts and events that came hand in hand with the holidays, and planned to hit the minimum spend by January of 2018! Free 40,000 points, to spend however we want!

If you missed the deal, there IS another way. Reach 110k points in their rewards program in one calendar and receive the Companion Pass until the end of December the following year from when the points were unlocked. It is crucial to note that all 110k points must be reached in the same calendar year. You may be saying, “This seems like a lot! How am I ever going to reach 110k?” The answer lies in opening multiple Southwest cards. Opening one personal SW card and one Business SW card will give you 40K bonus points and 60K bonus points respectively! Additionally, everytime you refer one friend to their credit card, you will receive 10k bonus points. So referring one friend on top of opening two cards will lead you to the grand total of 110k points in one calendar year!

Since the Companion Pass lasts until December of the FOLLOWING year, you can see how the best tactic would be to hit the 110K points in the beginning months, such as January and February. If you do this, then you can get close to 2 years of Companion Pass privileges. In order to do this, you may want to consider opening the credit cards before the holidays and spending as you regular would on the cards WITHOUT hitting the bonus in those last few months. Once January hits, spend the little additional amount necessary to hit the target minimum spending in order to get your two bonuses, and refer a friend. Simple! It is very important you DO NOT hit your bonus before January, otherwise it counts for the previous year. All the points for the 110k needs to be in the same year. It is crucial. The worst that can happen is you divide the bonus points between two years (December and January), thus disqualifying them from counting towards the same Companion Pass.

Why Choose Southwest? 

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of credit cards out there that one can choose to start with, but we decided to make Southwest one of our first ones because Companion Pass is just too good to pass up. We do not know of other cards that will give you a free flight for every flight you take. With the Chase 5/24 rule, we knew that 2 Southwest cards have to make up 2/5 of those 5 cards. (The Chase 5/24 rule states that you will only be approved for a Chase credit card if you have opened less than 5 credit cards in the last 24 months. Which means that if your tactic is to open two Southwest credit cards in order to get Companion Pass, the sooner you open them, the less likely that you would accidentally violate the 5/24 rule prior to achieving Companion Pass.)

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Another great perk is that Southwest flies all over the United States, as well as  to international destinations such as Bahamas, Mexico, and Costa Rica, to name a few. Love Hawaii? Rumor has it that Southwest will be opening up flights to Hawaii sometime this year too!

Any hidden costs?

It is important to note that while there are two Southwest personal credit card options, Southwest has recently disallowed the application to both personal credit cards for one person. You must apply to a personal card and a business card in order to gain points that can combine. Also, it is important to note that there are annual fees associated with some of the credit cards that we use. These fees could be considered as a “cost” toward the flights. However, the bonus points rewarded to you after hitting the minimum spending offsets these fees, since they can be used to redeem flights that add up to much more than the single annual fee. Because annual fees are charged at every anniversary, it is important to remember to close the credit card prior to the anniversary date, to prevent being charged a renewal fee for another year.

Lastly, if you purchase flights with points, there may be taxes associated with the purchases. For example, Mike used points to buy flights to CDMX, San Francisco, and Portland, but he was taxed with roughly $11 for SF and Portland and roughly $25 for CDMX. These prices are minimal compared to the price of the flight, but they do still exist, and as a firm believer in full disclosures, I think it is imperative that this is stated in this post.

If travel hacking is something you are new to and would like to try, I really recommend starting with the Southwest Airlines credit card. Especially if you have a travel partner with you at all times! If you feel like you need to learn more about travel hacking first before committing, I suggest starting here.

Happy travels!

 

Frugality: Travel Hacking, An Introduction

From the get-go, when Mike and I were asked to lay down our priorities in terms of lifestyle and life goals, traveling was near the top of our list. It goes without saying that traveling comes with a price that can interfere with our equally important goal of gaining financial independence. It’s hard to commit to a trip across the world when I know I will come back to an ever-growing student loan. So I am so excited to share with you guys a way that allows us to travel the world, without breaking the bank.

We do something called travel hacking.

I first discovered Travel Hacking on Choose FI’s Podcast, Episode 9: Travel Rewards; How to Travel the World for Free (here). In less than an hour, they had me hooked! I remember coming home and re-listening to the entire episode with Mike. We forwarded the podcast episode to our core group of ten friends, in the hopes that they also would like to join us in this adventure, so that we may travel the world together. We continued to study Travel Hacking by taking the free Travel Miles 101 course. We reached out to our financial adviser to ask if it was too good to be true, and were happy to learn that he, too, dabbles in this life hack, and that it would be a very beneficial thing for us to do. I highly recommend anyone interested in traveling the world for (nearly) free to first listen to the podcast episode (in order to get a taste of what this entails), and then to take the free Travel Miles 101 course. I think it would be best to leave all the nuances to the pros and to simply refer you to these two sources, giving all credit where credit is due.

What is travel hacking?

Travel Hacking entails using the benefits of Credit Card Reward Programs in order to gain points that can be used to buy flights, hotel stays, and even car rentals. The idea is to open credit cards and hit the minimum spend criteria in order to attain the massive 40k, 50k, 80k points. These points are incentives for the new cardholder to hit a certain spending within a certain amount of time (usually 3 months) since opening the card. So that is exactly what we do. There are multiple strategies in order to do this, which the sources detail really well, and which I won’t touch on in this post. If you’d like to learn some of these strategies, I refer you to the Travel Miles 101 course.

Keep in mind that while this is extremely useful and beneficial for traveling, it can be destructive if attempted by people who have not achieved disciplined, financial responsibility. The credit card companies win if you open credit cards, purchase products with them, and do not pay off the total amount in full. This leads to high interest rate charges that will lead to more financial harm than good. It also isn’t good if it results in you spending more than you would normally. The card holder needs to be well-restrained. Mike and I treat the credit cards as if they were debit cards. We don’t increase our spending for the sake of gaining more points. In due time, the points will come.

Alternatively, the credit card companies will also win if you fail to hit the minimum spending. You would have opened a credit card for no reason! This requires a very organized person who will keep track of minimum spends, and dates the credit cards were opened, and dates when minimum spending should be reached. So how do you responsibly meet minimum spend when your day-to-day activities do not meet it? There are many ways to ensure you hit your target spending before the time is up. You can use the remaining amount needed to buy grocery or gas gift cards, which could be used in the future. This is a way to guarantee getting the massive point-payout without reckless spending. Another way to meet minimum spend is to prepay bills, such as electrical bills for upcoming months. Having the bills off your mind is a big plus.

Why is this so great?

Imagine this scenario. You open a credit card that requires a $3000 minimum spend in three months. When you spend $3000, you will get a points equivalent to $1000 in flights, which is a 33% rate of return. You can’t get that anywhere! If you were to get that in a taxable investment account, you’d have to pay taxes on your gains. This is 100% tax-free. And may I say that 33% rate of return is not the best rate out there. This should be even more appealing for people who are in higher tax brackets. For people who make six figures, you are sitting in a 25% tax bracket, and if you add to that health insurance, FICA, etc., you may even be approaching closer to 40% marginal tax. For you to take a $5k vacation in a year, you will need to earn $7, 8, 9k to pay for that vacation. With travel hacking, you can do that for free. You can then keep that $7k available to other aspects of your life (aka student loans).

What’s the catch?

Our biggest concern, obviously, was credit rating. Even though we have absolutely no interest in signing up for even more loans right now, mortgages and car loans included, we still don’t want to completely obliterate our really good credit scores. Turns out, there is a very minimal impact on your credit score. Credit scores will go up and down, naturally, within 10 to 30 points within a normal month anyway. That’s just how credit scores work, and it is not a precisely fixed number. Now, if the people attempting travel hacking are financially responsible people, so their credit score would likely be around the 800 range. The maximum that it has dropped for some travel hackers is 25 points, which is irrelevant, because a score of 750 is sufficient to guarantee you most loans. And the funny thing is, these scores jump right back up, because you are constantly paying (in full) multiple credit cards. By spending responsibly, travel hackers can increase their credit score to more than what they started with in the course of a few years. Yes, initially, the hard pull when you apply for the credit card leads to a 2-5 point drop, but it is temporary and it is completely gone within 18 months. Now if you are, for some reason, extremely worried about your credit score or you have a low credit score, or you have plans to take out a mortgage or a loan in the next year, then this strategy is not for you. Do not do travel hacking if for any reason, whether psychologically or financially, you need your credit score to be a certain number.

For Mike and I, we started this journey with decently high credit scores. We decided that, even if our scores dropped as much as 30-50 points, would we be okay. The answer to travel hacking for us was a whole-hearted yes. If the trade-off is $6-7k worth of travel (for free), that would save us $10k (pre-tax) a year, which we can then attribute to other assets or to paying down debt. Since we have no plans to buy a house in the next year, we are not very worried with the short term negative effect it could have on our scores. And our credit scores would still be considered good, if not great! We are more excited about the long-term benefits.

So where has that led us?

We discovered Travel Hacking in October 2017, which is very, very late compared to a whole community of travel hackers who have been doing this for multiple years! It has been almost 5 months.

For 2018, we are able to book the following flights, for free.

Mexico City, Mexico

San Francisco, CA

Portland, Oregon

Calgary, Canada

Sydney, Australia

Melbourne, Australia (from Sydney)

Christchurch, New Zealand (from Melbourne)

Christchurch, to LAX

Pending trips: Costa Rica

The best part?

Slowly, our friends opened up to the idea of travel hacking too! Our trip to SF reunites our group of ten college friends, and the pending Costa Rica trip is being planned among a group of us, as well. It has increased our ability to grow with people we care about, and to spend time with them, and to just see the world.

Travel Hacking is fantastic, but not for everyone. So learn about it, to see if it’s right for you!