Adventures in Advent: Reflections

OMG, it’s December.

Where did the year go? I’ve officially turned into the old person who talks about how fast time flies. Since last week’s solo Thanksgiving in Japan, I’ve slowly made my way a little further around the world and just woke up to a very sunny first morning of December in Johannesburg, South Africa.

If you’re curious after last week’s post, I’m not holiday avoiding. I’m finishing up a round-the-world trip that I began last year, making a few pit-stops on the way home to celebrate the advent season with my global friend-family, and taking a little time away in the sunshine for my 2020 planning. (Yes, I know it’s only going to be 2018. More on this later).

When I packed my bag to leave for this trip weeks ago, I did something that I often do when I’m traveling over a holiday. I threw something in my bag that would remind me to be mindful. In this case, it happened to be a pine scented candle.

The inclusion of a candle in my luggage may have been an afterthought, but it was no accident. I’m a carry-on-only girl on a trip that covers 4 continents and extreme climates- real estate in my bag is limited. I probably sacrificed at least one day without a clean shirt to bring it.

This is a magical candle, you see. It not only smells like the trails where I feel most at home in Oregon, it also smells just like I imagine Christmas does if you’re sitting around a tree rather than flying around the world. As a bonus, I’d also received this candle as a gift, so it also reminds me of the important people that I have in my life.

Two weeks into my trip, sitting in Hong Kong, I was in a planning funk (I have a serious problem with not knowing where I want to go next), and I got out the candle. In that moment I realized why I’d brought it.

This candle was meant to be my anchor for advent.

As I’d been thinking about how I wanted to re-invent rather than avoid the lead up to Christmas this year, I’d come to the conclusion that a daily meditation or reflection would most likely be more beneficial to me than a daily chocolate.

I devised a very simple plan to put the advent in my adventure. I’d Google up an advent meditation, save it to my iphone and then as I traveled through December, I’d light my candle every morning and read one reflection a day. Like a prepare-your-system-for-Christmas vitamin.

While the idea was great, I ran into a small problem with the execution. Everything I found in my advent meditation search was everything you’d expect that I’d find – traditional Christmas readings and devotions. As a spiritual person recovering from decades of religion and trying to reinvent traditions that aren’t black and white, this wasn’t what I needed.

So, I did what I tend to do when I can’t find something I like. I made my own.

Starting today, I’ll be lighting up my candle in some little corner of the globe once a day thinking through some advent things.

Not thinking about the story or the season, like I was always taught to do when I lit the advent candle and recited the Christmas story as kid. Rather, thinking about what the whole thing actually means for me as an adult today in 2017, and well beyond December.

What it means to wait, to expect, to wander in a time that feels dark, to hope, and to give.

I’m not going to share my actual reflections day to day, but if you want to join along on any of the days, here’s the list of the 25 prompts I jotted down from my heart following my failed Google attempt. And of course they may change–or you can change them yourself. Always trust your intuition over the internet. Do you.

*Pine scented candle is not required for participation.

Advent Reflections

  1. What is advent really about to me?
  2. What does it mean to welcome a stranger? To be a stranger?
  3. Is there meaning to advent outside of traditional religion?
  4. If advent is about … Watching, what am I paying attention to?
  5. What is the path I want to be on? How am I preparing?
  6. If advent is about … Expectation in waiting. What is my expectation?
  7. If advent is about … Welcoming others. How am I living this in my life?
  8. If advent is about … Hope. How am I shaped by it?
  9. What am I counting down to?
  10. If advent is about … Presence. What does this mean in my experience?
  11. What hopes do I need to be reinvented or restored?
  12. If advent is about … Generosity. How am I being generous with my life?
  13. What is the impact of my advent on others?
  14. How can I show love better this week? This season?
  15. If advent is about … Showing up, how am I showing up?
  16. Ritual vs. Real. What does this mean to me?
  17. What is the role of my community in celebration & expectation?
  18. Where can I give something of myself this week?
  19. What does the Christmas liturgy actually mean to my life?
  20. What do I really want for Christmas?
  21. What are my hopes for the year ahead?
  22. If advent is about … Anticipation. What is this about?
  23. Where is the margin for advent waiting in a life focused on hustle?
  24. What is the role of darkness in visualizing hope?
  25. Gifts. What have I been given and how can I give these back to the world?

 

 

Thanksgiving Dinner: Party of One

Happy holiday weekend from Japan. Technically Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here, and you’re probably reading this after Thanksgiving is over – but who cares.

In theory, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. Even though I don’t eat turkey, I’m a pretty big fan of gratitude and giving.

This year I celebrated solo by eating a tofu feast for one in Japan’s oldest zen garden, then hunted down some soft-serve pumpkin ice cream from a market stall in Kyoto. It may sound terribly untraditional and even a bit lonely to you, but let me tell you, it was joyfully divine.

I certainly have a lot to be thankful for this year. But I also have a thanksgiving confession: the holiday season isn’t my favorite.

As a semi-nomadic, unattached adult, holidays are often really weird days for me.

For 361 days of the year, I love most things about being independent. Then the holidays sneak up and the voices whisper in that dark part of my brain that another year has passed and I still don’t actually belong anywhere.

I love the idea of Thanksgiving, but I partly dread it as another day where I don’t know where I want to go. And Thanksgiving also carries with it the burden of kicking off a whole month of wondering about what I should do for Christmas.

Truth is, holiday traditions aren’t very friendly to a lot of us. These milestone days remind us of loved ones we’ve lost, opportunities missed, years passed, and unfulfilled desires. And all this really sucks.

Avoidance vs. Reinvention

Years ago, when I realized that independent holiday adulting is actually very difficult emotional work, I coincidentally also happened to discover holiday travel. By geographically excusing myself from November and December, I learned that I could dodge my annual holiday-belonging dilemma.

Avoidance, unfortunately, is never a great long-term solution.

Lucky for me, in addition to being a master avoider, I’m also a master observer and learner. Early on in my pattern of overseas holiday avoidance (shrouded in the guise of expat living) I noticed something very interesting – different countries, cultures, and communities are re-inventing holidays for their own interest all of the time.

Japan, for example, doesn’t have anything to do with American Thanksgiving, but every single shopping mall I passed this weekend had a Black Friday sale. Go figure.

Living overseas, I quickly became part of a global community full of people like me who were away from their own families and traditions during the holidays. None of us were around the people we belonged to, so together we teamed up as a motley tribe to create unusual holiday celebrations that were based on connection, community, and mindfulness. And these were the best.

It’s been a few years now since I’ve been “home”, but my years of holiday avoidance taught me a very useful lesson: I can reinvent my holidays to make them whatever I want. To frame them with what I do have, and celebrate the small things that bring me joy is much more practical (and fun) than to try to fit into traditions that don’t align with who I am.

Having dinner alone in Japan wasn’t my number one choice for Thanksgiving. But instead of fixating on being lonely, I thought about a quote I’d heard earlier this week.

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

Instead of sulking, I sat down and made a list of all the things that would bring me the most joy that day. Walking in a beautiful place, sitting in a hot spring, eating something special, drinking matcha, talking to my family, texting my best friends around the world, and eating pumpkin ice cream because it just felt right.

And then I did all these things alone with as much joy as I could muster. And it was so much better than not eating turkey in a big group where I felt lonely.

The Lesson

No matter what your love/hate relationship status is with the holidays, I’ll leave you with this: This month doesn’t have to feel all “It’s a wonderful life”-like to confirm that you have a wonderful life.

Throw out traditions that don’t serve you well. Reinvent this season to be whatever you need it to be for you.

That’s what I’ll be doing…. Or maybe I’ll be traveling.

Hello Again: The Art of Getting my Words Unstuck

I’ve always believed that new beginnings are more powerful when they are grounded in vulnerability rather than sheer resolve. So I’ll start my return to the internet with a confession: I’ve been stuck.

The self-protecting part of me would like to pretend I’ve been gone a long while from here because I’ve been off creating amazing things, discovering more of the world, and just haven’t had time for life on the internet. While some of this is accurate, the bigger truth is that I’ve been quiet because I’ve been stuck in that horrible place of letting the culture of ‘who I should be’ silence who I am.

I didn’t leave you on purpose. Six months ago, I accidentally crashed Wandering for Good when I was building the website for The Honeymoon Hack (a travel hacking tool for couples which is, in fact, an amazing thing I did create while I was absent). And I crashed it in style–losing years of words that I’d collected while wandering around the world.

Had I been sensible I’d have straightaway paid a developer to fix the mess I’d created, but sense is not the strong-suit of a DIY girl with serious resolve (and minimal coding skills). After a small success in recovering some of my work, my inner-bohemian rose up and got me wondering if it all didn’t happen for a reason. I was completely unsure, so I responded by doing what internet hustlers do–I pretended it was on purpose. I threw up an under construction page promising that my site was coming back soon–and better than ever before.

Lesson: Two lies never make a truth.

That “coming back soon” page stayed up a really long time. Only behind it, I wasn’t working on making my site better, and I certainly wasn’t in any hurry. I kept ‘rebuild website’ on my very long to do list– but at the heart I was paralyzed in not knowing how I wanted to re-invent my online brand, grow my audience, and all of the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah the digital-business world tells us we have to do to be successful.

Weeks turned into months, and the longer I went not having a website, the less pressure I felt to be an internet rockstar. Part of this separation was liberating, yet there was one thing that I missed. I missed the words. And I missed this place I’d carved out to gather with you over these stories and lessons.

I wanted those words back, but every time I’d come here to write them, I’d get stuck again. I’d take my eyes off my own paper looking for inspiration of how to create that new and improved page I promised to house them on, and then I’d spiral into overwhelm. My words were lost. I wasn’t only stuck, I was silenced by comparison.

Then  I ran into someone else’s words, and they moved me:

“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” – Tom Stoppard

I finally realized, my words don’t have to look pretty to change a life. To nudge the world. I was stuck on something that didn’t matter while all the while I was holding captive something that did.

And so here are my words. Delivered to you today on the most un-improved and un-inspiring wordpress template that exists. Maybe it will get prettier over time, but that isn’t a promise. If you want to see pretty pictures of my color-coated life you can look at my carefully curated presence on Instagram.

For now, my promise here is to show up here regularly to bring you words. Messy words, joyful words, words colored in black and white.

But most importantly words bathed in a prayer that by reading them together that we shall all nudge the world a little.

 

February Roundup: Giving Matters

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February, my favorite short month flew by, and we’ve already completed a whole month of the #Give10 Reboot.To be completely honest, February didn’t feel short or easy. A lot of things happening around the world have made my heart feel sad. Some days it’s easiest to bury my head in the sand–or more realistically–in my case–search for plane tickets to escape to a tropical island far far away with no internet or CNN reception

Giving has been one small thing to make me feel empowered, and the positive response to #give10 is a great reminder that I’m not alone. Thanks to everyone who has offered suggestion for organizations that are committed to fighting the good fight against injustices of all forms. Thanks to those of you who’ve joined me in protesting inequality with your wallets, and thanks to each of you who’ve offered dialogue and conversation in both support and disagreement in an effort to cross bridges and come to places of mutual understanding.

Here’s a list of the organizations we’ve supported this month. Which ones do you support? Which ones are we missing? Be sure to follow us @Give10 on Facebook and let us know which organizations you’d like to see us support and why.

  1. Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization Portland – IRCO
  2. World Relief Refugee Resettlement
  3. International Rescue Committee
  4. Committee to Protect Journalists
  5. Polaris Project
  6. Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services
  7. Church World Service
  8. Immigration Counseling Service
  9. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops- USCCB
  10. US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
  11. EuroRelief
  12. Catholic Relief Services
  13. Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDCUS)
  14. Giving Cards Challenge
  15. Episcopal Migration Ministries
  16. HIAS
  17. ACLU
  18. PBS
  19. Oregon Symphony
  20. Portland Art Museum
  21. National Parks Conservation Association
  22. Alzheimer’s Association
  23. Raphael House of Portland
  24. Artists for Humanity Boston
  25. Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights
  26. Maternity Africa
  27. Embark Passion Sri Lanka
  28. Trail SL

Onward into March giving!

Flying Solo on Honeymoon Island: Lessons Learned in Traveling Alone

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I mostly travel alone. Sometimes it is by choice, and sometimes it is simply because I’m not one to let my perpetually single status stop me from doing anything I dream of doing.

To be honest, most times I travel solo, I don’t even notice. I’m pretty awesome company (I think), and there are always people to talk to on the road. Plus with modern capabilities to connect from the remotest places, I’m never further than a Facetime away from my mother when I get tired of talking to myself. She always likes to see what I’m seeing.

Yet, even as independent as I can be, there are times that I choose to not go somewhere because I’m solo. And it isn’t just about safety. There are lots of reasons that cause the unaccompanied to press pause on their travel plans.

For years I’d wanted to travel to the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora and sleep in an overwater bungalow with tropical fish below me. But I put it off, and I put it off. Pushing pause on my dream time and time again.

You see, the entire tourism structure of Bora Bora is designed to cater to couples—destination weddings, honeymooners, and 25th anniversary celebrators. The airlines might as well sell tickets by the pair. Part of me was waiting for +1 to present to Air Tahiti to validate my worthiness to see this Polynesian paradise.

It wasn’t until recently that I said, F*%& it. My +1 is apparently lost in the Bermuda Triangle or undertaking a very extended journey across the Sahara. And so I went to Bora Bora by myself. Honeymoon island, party of one.

In all of my alone time watching the fish swim in the crystal clear lagoon from the perch of my over-the-water bungalow dock I spent some time reflecting on what really stops many of us from solo travel—and why we should do it anyway.

If you’re struggling with any of these reasons of why you shouldn’t travel alone, here’s some real reasons you should ignore them.

Reason not to go #1: It isn’t a solo-traveler kind of place.
Like Bora Bora, many of the most beautiful destinations in the world have been turned into “honeymoon hot-spots” and “romantic getaways”. Some places are tagged “family destinations”. Other places just have reputations for being more difficult to see solo. Most of this is a marketing ploy. At honeymoon resorts, tables are for two–but who cares. You have just as much right to take up space in your dream destination as any one else- and you don’t have to share the bread basket.

Lesson: If you want to go somewhere solo do your own research and don’t let the reputation of the place stop you from going. There are single people everywhere in the world (therefore there is no destination that isn’t solo-appropriate with a little bit of creativity). There are also ways that you can connect up with other solo travelers if you feel more confident being part of a group.

Reason not to go #2: Other people question why you’d go there alone

When I checked into the Intercontinental in Bora Bora, the woman working at reception asked me three times where my husband was. Her disbelief that I was in Bora Bora by myself was palpable. “Just one? Are you sure? No husband?”
I replied with a question- “Do you not have many guests with single bookings?”
“Well, we’ve had one other this week—a man,” she said. “Maybe you should meet.”
(sidenote: I wasn’t aware that the IHG hotel group was now offering matchmaking as part of its benefits for elite members.)

Lesson: When it comes to travel (and, well, a lot of other things) the lesson that I’ve learned is that it really doesn’t matter what other people think about where you want to go and if you want to be there by yourself. Sure, you may have to explain your situation, but why not make it fun and be true to what you want? Most of the travelers I talked to were intrigued about why I was there alone. I used this opportunity to talk to them about a new travel guide I’m writing (stay tuned) and handed out more business cards in Bora Bora than I do at a typical networking event.

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The wedding chapel at the Intercontinental in Bora Bora (convenient for when that elite matchmaking works out)

Reason not to go #3: You won’t be safe
Most people assume that safety is the primary concern of solo travelers—and solo female travelers in particular. However, as I’ve talked to more and more female travelers I’ve learned that safety isn’t often their biggest fear—they are much more afraid of being lonely and not having anyone to share their trip with. While safety isn’t always at the top of the list for what holds people back—or at the top of your worries in a pretty peaceful place like Bora Bora staying safe on the road is still important.

Lesson: The thing I’ve learned from years of solo globetrotting and my own run-ins with danger, is that staying safe on the road is very much like staying safe at home. Know where you’re going, be intentional when you’re wandering around alone in the dark, stick to areas with people, make local connections and ask if there are places that you should stay away from.

I always opt for situations that make me feel safe—even when they cost a few dollars extra. When I booked my ticket to Tahiti, the only flight available arrived late at night, so I booked the hotel’s shared shuttle. Normally I’d hop outside and hail a taxi to save a few bucks, but for my own security, an extra 10$ ensured that I’d be with other people and not looking for an ATM in the dark and negotiating with a taxi driver in bad French at midnight. (Note – doing things that aren’t safe alone when you’re at home are also not safe to do when you’re traveling–make a friend to do things that require a safety buddy)

Reason not to go #4: You’ll be lonely
Being alone does not always equal being lonely. By the time I left Bora Bora and Tahiti, I’d made a dozen new and very interesting friends: My over-the-water bungalow neighbor who had patented an inflatable tent and was celebrating his 25th anniversary, an American sailor who’d just finished a 31 day crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Mexico in his 26 foot sailboat, two Belgian grandfathers on a dive trip who wanted to buy me beer and talk about pre-election U.S. politics, and a dozen honeymooning and anniversary-ing couples who were really thrilled to have an unusual person to talk to after a week on an island with only their significant other.

Lesson: Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing (It’s worth repeating). The world is full of amazing people and amazing stories and people worth talking to. You don’t have to be that chatty person on the airplane who talks for the whole flight to make friends (please, don’t be him/her)—just be friendly. Just do you.

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Reason not to go #5: You’ve never traveled alone before

Maybe you aren’t single, maybe you just wonder what having a solo adventure would be like, or you want to go somewhere that your partner doesn’t want to go–but you’ve never traveled alone before and aren’t sure if you’ll like it. Well, one thing is for certain, you’ll never know unless you try it. When I was preparing to take my first solo backpacking trip around Indonesia I confess I was a little nervous (even though I was already living alone in Thailand) so I faced my fear and took myself on a practice weekend trip to a Thai island all by myself–and I was totally fine!

Lesson: Think about what makes you afraid of traveling solo and figure out a way to practice so you can reassure yourself you’ll be okay on the road. Worried about being alone? Get in your car by yourself and go on a weekend road trip. Worried about flying alone? Practice with some domestic flights by yourself.

I’m guessing you’re stronger, braver, and more prepared than you believe. I definitely learned that I was.

Happy Solo Travels!

 

Practical Activism: The #Give10 Comeback

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Here at wanderingforgood we talk a lot about travel (because it’s awesome), yet we care equally about the “good” part of our name and the “change the world” part of our mission.

As someone who loves the world, and has a strong passion for social justice, I’ve been experiencing a lot of overwhelm lately. Over the last weeks I’ve lost a lot of sleep at all the division, injustice, anger, and uncertainty that seems to be happening all around and watching things that I’m used to seeing in fragile nations happening in my own neighborhood. My heart hurts.

If you’re anything like me perhaps you waiver between putting your congressman on speed dial and wanting to escape to a tropical beach to bury your head in the sand and pretend that everything is okay. While a tropical beach does sound good right about now that the calendar is about to turn to February, I’ve been around the block and around the world to know that  ignoring and escaping doesn’t change anything.

So instead of escaping, I’ve been challenging myself to sit with this question:

How can I best use my own skills, knowledge and resources at this moment to make a difference in the things that matter to me? 

As I pondered what I care about and what I can uniquely contribute, I dawned on me that exactly six years ago at a time when I felt similarly overwhelmed, I created a project called #GIVE10 to use my skills, social platforms and professional do-gooding networks together in an effort to rally people to care about causes in the world.

Give10 worked like this: Each day we’d find someone doing good to make the world better, vett this organization through a network of individuals working in these issues on the ground, and invest in their work with a small $10 donation. Then we’d share about this organization, why we support their work, and encourage others to check them out and contribute their own 10$ is they saw fit. It was pretty awesome.

While the #GIVE10 community still exists (and yes you can join it for free at that link right now!), I have to admit that I haven’t been paying much attention to it in awhile. But all that’s about to change. Starting February 1, I’m committed to rebooting #GIVE10. I’m doing it because the world needs us to be active participants in spreading good right now more than ever. And I need it so I can sleep at night–knowing I’m doing my small part with the skills and resources I have.
I’ll begin with looking at organizations that are working on issues that are heavy on my heart right now: refugees, access to healthcare, climate, and racial and religious reconciliation.

Now, I recognize that the issues that I care about may not necessarily be the issues that are making you count sheep–and that’s why #Give10 is a community movement, not just a one person show giving away a bunch of $10 bills. For Give10 to be successful it relies on others to contribute and share their knowledge and passion about the organizations they care about.
The aim is that #Give10 will once again inspire others to take personal action in the way that only they can

Want to join in with #Give10? Here’s 3 simple things you can do:

  1.  Follow #Give10 now. (we promise to add some positive giving energy to your Facebook feed)
  2.  If you see a cause that resonates with you join us by giving your own $10 (or more) and/or by sharing it with others (#give10 on Twitter)
  3. Tell us about the causes you care about and why. We’re always looking for new organizations doing good work to highlight and give to.

Most importantly, recognize that it takes all of us to make a difference. I challenge you to take time today to sit with this question yourself and then make your own plan to address the issues that are important to you:

How can I best use my own skills, knowledge and resources at this moment to make my voice heard in the things that matter to me? 

In love and goodness.
Stephanie

PS. February is the perfect month to start something new! What are you going to do?

Bora Bora or Bust: Why aren’t you getting on the plane?

BOB - 3For several years I’ve been helping people learn how to travel for nearly free using points and miles. There’s something amazing about encouraging people to dream about a place they’ve never visited—one that would most likely never be accessible to them if they had to save the money to get there—and then show a few practical tools to make this a reality.

As I challenge people to learn to travel hack by working towards a goal of a dream destination, I’ve always shared my own dream of sleeping in an over-the-water bungalow in Bora Bora–falling asleep to the sound of the surf, waking up to the fish under my feet, and morning coffee with my toes in the brilliant blue water.

The funny thing was, however, after years of teaching people how to hack their way to Bora Bora, I’d still never actually been there myself.

I had the points, I’d done all the research. If there ever was anyone qualified to hack their way to Bora Bora, I was she. What was I waiting for?

In October I flew to New Zealand. As my plane crossed the Pacific on it’s 17 hour journey I watched as we flew directly over Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia on the inflight entertainment system flight tracker. Then it struck me. Was this the closest I was ever going to get to Bora Bora? A mile above it in the sky?

The wheels in my brain started turning. What was keeping me from going there if it wasn’t time or money? Why wasn’t I getting on the plane bound for Bora Bora? Was I subconsciously waiting for a significant moment. For my perfect traveling companion. For all the stars in the southern cross to align?

As I watched the sun rise at 37,000 feet, it literally dawned on me that I was waiting for no real reason. I was just putting it off because later felt easier than now. And then I thought some more. What other things was I putting off in my life like Bora Bora with no reason whatsoever?

Why is it that we put off our dreams and desires while waiting for the perfect time or circumstance to magically present itself? Aren’t we old enough to know that the magical present is the actual PRESENT? I made a pledge to myself to make it happen. And since I had to fly over Bora Bora again to get home from New Zealand —I decided that I would just do it now.

And as I typed the draft of this post from the deck of my over-the-water bungalow of my dreams, I can ensure you that NOW was the exact right time.

Whether you’re putting off a dream trip, calling your long lost family, waiting to pick up your pen to write your best-seller (points finger at self),  the lesson is this: The perfect time is now. If you’re waiting for a sign, this is it. 

I guess next time I teach this lesson I’ll be using my own photos and telling my own Bora Bora stories—and perhaps I’ll have to find another travel dream to share!

What are you waiting for?

Wonder how I actually hacked my way to Bora Bora? I knew you’d ask. Keep reading the bonus section below if you want to know how to plan this kind of trip.

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How’d I get there?

Here’s how my travel to Bora Bora worked, how I booked it, and what it cost. The route I took was a little bit different than the one I’ve laid out in my lesson plans, since I traveled via New Zealand rather than direct to Tahiti from my home base of Portland, OR. (Don’t worry, you can easily do this as a return trip originating in the US with flights on Hawaiian, AirFrance or AirTahiti Nui.)

PDX-LAX-SYD-AKL: 72,500 AA miles (or $11,000)

My first ticket was from Portland (PDX) to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) on American Airlines with a stop in Los Angeles (LAX) and an intentional one day layover in Sydney, Australia (SYD). This ticket was First Class and cost a total of 72,500 American Airlines points with a dollar value of $11,000! As this ticket was on American and Qantas flights, I was able to search for and book the ticket online at aa.com. I booked this flight 10 months in advance as a one way award. (This ticket was purchased prior to American’s devaluation in early 2016- the current ticket cost for this same route one way is 90,000 AA Miles on a First Class saver award). Most of my miles on AA are earned from AA domestic flights and from my Citi AAdvantage credit card.

While the first half of my trip was booked very far in advance, all of the remaining flights were booked at the very last minute since I didn’t decide to fly home via Bora Bora until I was already in New Zealand.

AKL-PPT: 30,000 Miles (or $1,400)

Starting in New Zealand, I booked a flight from Auckland (AKL) to Papaetee, Tahiti (PPT) on Air Tahiti Nui using American Airlines Miles. The cost was 30,000 miles for a one way business class ticket at a cash value of $1,400 (or 15,000 for economy class). Booking this ticket required making a call to AA reservations as the tickets are not searchable online. It’s the only airline I’ve ever flown that gives you flowers for your hair and serves pre-flight mai-tai’s. (Also, I think I was also the only person on the flight traveling alone)

PPT-BOB-PPT: $220 each way in Travel Credits

Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui) has a monopoly of the French Polynesian skies and is the only way to get to Bora Bora once you’ve made it as far as Tahiti. I flew PPT to BOB and came back to Tahiti via Moorea—another island that connected to Papaetee by ferry. The only way to hack this leg is with lots of points on a credit card with a “travel eraser” or cash back travel credits like my Chase Sapphire Reserve. The cost of the flight is about $220 each way and doesn’t fluctuate much. I booked the flight directly through airtahiti.com to receive travel credits on my credit card. The most important thing to know about this flight is that you want a seat on the left side on the way out and right side on the way back. Catching a view of Bora Bora from the sky is worth the cost of the flight alone.

* Note: if you make it this far, and are hoping to use points to stay at hotels in Tahiti and Bora Bora, you’ll want to stock up on Starwood, Hilton or IHG points. These are the chains that operate properties around French Polynesia. I used points from my IHG and SPG Amex Credit cards to cover my hotel nights.

 PPT-HNL-KON: 27,500 Hawaiian Miles (or $950)

To get from Tahiti back across the Pacific to the US, there are very limited choices of Airlines: Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, and Hawaiian Airlines–and not all of these airlines fly to the island every day. Since I had a stash of Hawaiian airlines miles that I’d never used after signing up for a Hawaiian airlines credit card, I decided to take the once a week Hawaiian flight to Honolulu (HNL) and then connect onward to Kona (KON) for no additional cost. An economy class ticket for the 5 hour overnight flight was 27,500 (at a cash value of $950) and bookable online at Hawaiian Airlines. The same flight was also bookable online via AA.com using American Advantage points, but cost more at 37,500 points.

KOA-PHX-PDX :$220 (or 20,000 miles)

Since I had to fly through Hawaii anyway, I took the opportunity to explore the big island for a few days before heading the rest of the way home via American Airlines. There were dozens of flights to choose at all times of day from on an assortment of airlines for about $220 or 20,000 miles on American. I went with a paid AA flight so the redemption value was low. Buying the ticket allowed me to earn qualifying miles and a paid flight allowed me to request a complimentary upgrade with my status..

All together, I saved more than $14,010 on flights by using points and miles!  But more importantly than getting something of high value for a fraction of the cost. I finally got to see Bora Bora for myself!