Travel Hacking 101: How I Flew To New York For Five Bucks

800px El viaxeru dUrculo 300x225 Travel Hacking 101: How I Flew To New York For Five BucksSo I’ve been visiting New York for the amazing Contently Summit, which I’ve got a lot to share about, but the question I’ve been asked the most is how I managed to land a five-dollar flight to New York City.

People often ask for travel hacking information, and it’s incredibly complex. I really recommend Chris Guillebeau’s ebooks and courses on the topic, as well as the many resources available online.

But a lot of people don’t want to hear theoreticals. They want nitty gritty details about specific trips. So here are the steps I took for this particular trip. (And by the way, this is all completely legal.)

1. I got a Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express. The annual $95 fee was waived for the first year.

2. As a promotion, they offered 30,000 SkyMiles for anyone who meets a $1,000 minimum spend.

3. Since I’m not in the habit of putting that kind of cash on a credit card, I went to CVS and bought two Vanilla Reload cards. I used the credit card to put $500 on each card. (Total cost: $3.95 X 2 = $7.80) This process is referred to in travel hacking circles as”manufactured spend.”

4. I also got a free BlueBird card.

5. I transferred the money from the Vanilla Reload card to my BlueBird card.

6. I transferred the money on the BlueBird card back into my bank account.

7. This got me a $50 statement credit, 30,000 bonus miles, and a free bag check on each flight, as well as priority boarding.

8. I got 2500 more points over about six months  by using the card and then immediately paying it off.

9. I redeemed the 32,500 points for the trip I wanted. The flight to NYC cost me 12,500 points and the return flight was at a higher 20,000 point tier. Cost: $5 for the flight. (The tickets I wanted went from $440 to $604.

Amount spent: $7.80 + $5.00 = 12.80.

Amount saved:  $50 credit, $50 for the bag check, $440-604 for the flight.

Total saved: $540- $704, minus the $12.80, equals $527.20 to $691.20 in savings.


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Crowdfunding Campaign Update

Screen Shot 2014 06 11 at 6.45.55 PM 300x165 Crowdfunding Campaign UpdateA few days ago, I wrote about my crowdfunding attempt to get 40 sponsors for a book project called Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

I have received 13 backers in 6 days, and am looking for 27 more backers in the next 8.

Please read about the project and consider becoming a sponsor.

$5 per month will help make this reporting possible and also give you access to hundreds of other writers on Beacon.

Again, that site is

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All People Suck At Technology

Editor’s note: This post is by my OMGBFF Holden Page, who’s a freelance writer and social media whiz living in St. Paul.

ZzMDL All People Suck At Technology

On Imgur, the headline for this image is “watching my parents use a computer.”

Honestly, I feel kind of left out. Typically my version of “good fucking Jesus Christ how do you not understand,” is reserved for debates about politics with my father, and justifying various life decisions to my mother. Not once have I used this look explaining anything computer related to my parents.

That’s because they are kind of fucking awesome at technology. If they have questions, it’s not because they clicked on pop-ups telling them to clean their computer. There’s a legit problem, and their son is abnormally nerdy enough to embrace the challenge.

While I have always blamed my parents for robbing me of an opportunity to complain about them, it seems members of my generation have managed to fill the hole they left.

This may be a surprise to some; after all, my generation invented the art of selfies, sharing meaningless status updates, and editing pictures of our food. But there is a massive gap between being proficient at sharing your life, and understanding technologies that operate these systems.

It turns out everyone sucks at the latter half.

This first became clear to me during my short stint at a student newspaper. Charged with redesigning the WordPress site, it quickly became apparent that my peers had no idea what they were doing.

Random plug-ins invaded areas of WordPress I hardly knew existed. Parts of WordPress I considered immune to dysfunction caved under the weight of poorly coded premium themes. Over three people managed one WordPress site, only one of whom who had any experience with basic HTML.

While this disfunction certainly bothered me, it still wasn’t enough to induce the look of pure and utter defeat displayed so well by the .GIF above.

No, what induced my personal WTF moment is when the student writers I talked to were scared to use WordPress.

Scared to tinker, to play, to break. And to make better. They clutched to their papers in mock nostalgia, and insisted that the process they put in place was fine. Nevermind that the site regularly went down, updates had stalled for months, and the mundane process of simply writing was convoluted beyond repair.

In short, they were scared to change.

Digital natives were scared to change, to learn and to grow.

It was this lack of adventure that made me quit the student paper. Sure, I changed what I could. I made the site operational, and it continues to operate at a nice clip to this day. But no one was passionate about this change, and many simply ignored it.

This is a far cry from my parents, who met their frustration with technology with an equal amount of wonder and opportunity.

Which brings me to my greater point: It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, chances are you suck at technology if you don’t meet the change necessary with wonder, opportunity and a willingness to break things.

I will reserve my bewildered facial expressions for people who are unwilling to do those things.

You should, too.

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Why You Should Stop “Building Relationships”

Paul Klee WI In Memoriam 1938 274x300 Why You Should Stop Building RelationshipsAsk anyone for networking advice, or how to monetize your social contacts, and they’ll likely tell you to “build relationships.” What does this look like? Instead of hitting up strangers for work, you get all dressed up for networking events where you eat small bites of cheese and stale crackers and pretend to be really interested in their lives, in hopes that they’ll one day hire you for something because you seemed really nice. A plethora of business card exchanges take place, and you go home exhausted from all that fake smiling, and then do the whole thing over again.

My advice? Stop. Just stop.

Why? Because “building relationships” by being fake nice to people in hopes of something in return is manipulative, and it poisons the well. Enough new “friends” who are secretly–or not-so-secretly–scouting for work and everyone is suddenly paranoid when someone is genuinely nice to them, wondering what it is that they actually want.

I’m not saying that getting to know people is a bad thing. I am saying that treating people like numbers to help you on the way towards your goal is ruining “real” networking for people who actually just want to associate with like-minded folks without expectations of anything in return.

People are not numbers.

If you’ve ever been to a store to buy an appliance and felt like your newfound friend was very upset after spending a ton of time showing you options when you didn’t go with the one they selected, or even (gasp!) decided to think about it and come back another day, you know what it feels like to be treated like a number, or a stepping stone to someone’s quota. It’s not fun. But hey, at least you expected it in a store. Attempts to build one-sided relationships at industry events create a bad dynamic, and ultimately stop people from wanting to attend altogether.

So instead of attending networking events in hopes of meeting people who will give you a cookie in the future, why not try being real?

Beyond “Schmoozing”

Here’s my strategy:

  • I don’t go to any event that I’m not absolutely intrigued by. That means that I might go to the Hack Factory to learn lockpicking because I think it’s fascinating, but I won’t go to BNA meetings, even though I could probably profit off of their nepotism with a slew of referrals.
  • I don’t talk to anyone I’m not genuinely interested in, and not just because I’m hoping to get something from them. I only talk to people I actually like and want to get to know. (I only work with people I like and want to get to know, but they’re a teeny subsection of people I want to talk to either at industry events or cocktail parties.)
  • I don’t engage in weird politics where I feel like I’m competing for someone’s attention, or surrounding them when they’re trying to leave the room. This creates a competitive, cutthroat-like dynamic, and I’d much rather bow out.
  • If someone is in line to talk to someone, I gracefully step aside to give them their turn. I already talked to someone, now they get to, and we can both follow up when we want. It’s all good.
  • I don’t give people referrals just because we’re friendly. I only pass on names if I’m absolutely sure their work is high quality or if I’ve had experience with them in the past. Likewise, I don’t expect referrals from people just because we’re friends. I’m perfectly happy keeping referrals and friendships separate.
  • Again, if I happen to be meeting with someone socially, even if they can potentially do something for me in the future, I don’t make that the point of our meeting, nor do I expect it. I apply like everyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love meeting new people and talking to them about their projects, and helping people with whatever it is they’re working on. And I am absolutely not afraid of selling or marketing. I just try not to muddle the two.

(For more on my approach to ethical selling, see Skip Miller and Jill Konrath‘s books.)


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Elephant in the Room Episode 3: Age Dynamics

podcast 300x300 Elephant in the Room Episode 3: Age DynamicsIn this episode, I spoke with Holden Page, who got a gig as a community manager at the age of 19, and got his client into TechCrunch.

We’ve got some real talk about strengths and weaknesses that come along with different age groups, all of the messy dynamics that come up, and ways we can try to alleviate them.

  • Holden discussed his experience as a community manager at the age of 19.
  • Common concerns and difficulties in people who are used to routines and people who champion new ideas.
  • Using introductions and describing people’s experience to inspire confidence and smooth out issues with delegating to someone new.
  • Helping people feel valued and collaborating effectively using everyone’s strengths.
  • Creating transparency and a good teamwork dynamic where pushback is encouraged.
  • Being open-minded to suggestions and also giving oversight and support.
  • Static software versus expecting regular upgrades & to be constantly relearning.
  • Bottom line: communication AND being open-minded.

There are some minor sound issues at the end. Apologies for those.

Posts and products we mentioned:

5 Ways Newsrooms Can Catch Up To Digital Savvy Competitors, my Contently summary of A Goat Must Be Fed.

Draft (tool for collaborative editing)

And just in case you missed the old episodes, check them out:

Episode 1: Net Neutrality with Bartees Cox
Episode 2: Metrics with Sam Blake

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Podcast Preview: Age Dynamics & Generational Gaps at Work

podcast 300x300 Podcast Preview: Age Dynamics & Generational Gaps at WorkTomorrow, I’ll post the third episode of The Elephant in the Room. My guest, Holden Page, is a freelance writer and former corporate community manager.

We’ll be discussing generational gaps and age dynamics at work.

We’ll delve into political/cultural problems that arise, how to deal with a distinct lack of experience, and whether or not these situations are necessarily due to someone’s age, anyway.

We’ll talk about what organizations need to do in order to address dysfunctional dynamics and work together as a team.

Stay tuned!

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In Defense of Mediocrity (Video)

20110329 084413 300x201 In Defense of Mediocrity (Video)I was lucky enough to be selected to speak at Ignite Minneapolis 7 last night! My five-minute talk was in defense of mediocrity! Check it out below (at 1:13:57), check out the other speakers, and please consider pledging for my crowdfunding campaign if you’re especially intrigued by the topic!

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Stuff I Wrote: First Half of June 2014

Depositphotos 2902188 xs 300x300 Stuff I Wrote: First Half of June 2014I’ve written a lot of posts this month, so decided to share them all now rather than waiting two more weeks.


Content Strategy



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Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Screen Shot 2014 06 11 at 6.45.55 PM 300x165 Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Earlier this year, I noticed that I kept hearing people discuss hobbies they were interested in but decided not to pursue because they felt like they were past their peak. This even though they were activities they were interested in for fun!

Time and again I’d hear people will say things like “if I was going to be good at this, I would know it already.”

I started thinking about the topic and seeing tie-ins everywhere: posts about people learning to pitch even though they don’t have the ligament structure that would’ve developed if they started when they were kids, articles on language acquisition, and so forth. And I started thinking about the whole “women in tech” movement, and how people say it is very difficult for women, minorities, etc. to get involved in computer programming, which I always thought was strange since it’s something you can learn to do in your basement without ever needing to come in contact with an actual person. Also I was reading the Sports Gene and realized even people who do things “right” but are born with the wrong attributes never succeed at the top levels anyway, so it seems silly to follow their model for people who never cared about being world champions.

I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to delve into seven fields more in depth and share my findings.

Check it out here:

Please consider backing this campaign!

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Seeking Serendipity: Birchbox, Quarterly & Other Miscellaneous ‘Gifts’

White paper bag on white and black background 261x300 Seeking Serendipity: Birchbox, Quarterly & Other Miscellaneous GiftsI’m addicted to boxes with miscellaneous items. Perhaps this stemmed from my middle school days playing AD&D (Second Edition!) and being unreasonably excited about the bag of useless objects, a funner version of the infamous bag of tricks.

In my adult life, my obsession with boxes started as a foray into the world of, where I could pay to have a box of random curated goods sent to me quarterly. (Nitinol! Music boxes! Lock picking kits!) I’ve also tried Good Box, handmade care packages based around a specific theme. I get Birchbox once a month. There are countless others: Barkbox for dog lovers, Loot Crate for gamers, PlaceInABox, you name it.

Some subscription services are based on convenience. If you can have clothes sent to you through StitchFix, or Bomb Fell or TrunkClub for men,why go to Nordstrom’s to try on clothes?  Heck, True & Co. will even send you bras you can try on in the comfort of your own home and return the ones you don’t like.

Another reason for subscription services is to support the person making the products. It’s the same reason you sign up for a CSA to support local farmers, no matter what ends up growing.

But the big reason, in my opinion, is that we’re missing a bit of serendipity in our lives. As shopping moves more and more online, and sites — and ads — become increasingly targeted, picking up something random on a whim is becoming a rarity. If you happen to run across the same product twice, it’s likely because of ad retargeting, not coincidence. And so we buy boxes of random objects, to pick up items we could have obtained for a much lower cost. I’ve unsubscribed from a Quarterly curator because I felt like I was paying money to get stuff I didn’t need sent to my house. And as much as I appreciate the well-designed products, I’m noticing that they’re merely stemming a profound desire for something different in a world where random and different things are becoming more and more difficult to find. Have we optimized the serendipity out of our  lives?

Boxes also allow us to explore items we normally wouldn’t have bought. If it wasn’t for BirchBox, I’d never wear bright pink lipstick or silver eyeliner. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I’d like to purchase products that are specific to my style (and skin tone). On the other, I’m tired of an overly regimented world and staying in my little box, and sometimes trying something that seems completely wrong for me can be a lot of fun.

I’m not sure if random boxes are a solution for an overly sterile shopping experience. Ideally, we’d all send boxes of random objects perfectly selected for each other. I am always looking for excuses to send people miscellaneous gifts, which is just as much fun as getting an unexpected package on my doorstep. Perhaps we need to curate more presents for one another, in a world of gift cards and registries and rigid expectations.  Gift boxes seem to be a more artificial version of this.

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