Trip Report: My Texas-sized road trip to Austin, Big Bend National Park & Marfa

trip report big bend

I spent most of last week partying in Austin, hiking in Big Bend National Park, and driving. Lots of driving. I drove over 1,000 miles last week. But let me tell you: West Texas is insanely gorgeous. I had no idea. I kept thinking, “This is Texas?!” as I hiked and drove around the Big Bend area, very much in the middle of nowhere.

I was also able to squeeze in the River Road drive between Lajitas and Presidio (on my way to Marfa), 67 miles of pure twisty mountainous highway considered to be the most scenic drive in Texas and one of the most beautiful in the country.

All the hiking and driving made me feel, at times, that I was perhaps the last person on Earth. It’s such beautiful nature out there. And at night, you can see thousands and millions of stars and glimpses of the Milky Way, which make you feel like you’re on the fringes of the galaxy – which you actually are. Absolutely cosmic.

Big Bend trip report

At the terminus of Lost Mine trail, on the mountains… in Texas!

I wasn’t expecting so many mountains. Or to experience such biodiversity in Big Bend. For example, did you know there are bears in Texas? I sure didn’t. But sure enough, the park is populated with thriving black bears, along with mountain lions, deer, rattlesnakes, and lots of other critters that move between scorched desert to canyon to near-jungle, from cactus flowers to alpines.

Here’s more from the trip.

Big Bend trip report

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Free Food! Get $20 off your first meal with Uber Eats promo code “EATS-RFUFR”

Sharing an easy win for $20 off $25+ a meal with this Uber Eats promo code: “EATS-RFUFR

Uber eats promo code

Easy $20 discount with Uber Eats

If you’re in a city where UberEATS participates (and there are many – here’s the full list), you can get $20 off your first $25+ order when you use an existing user’s promo code after you download the app for iOS or Android.

It only takes a few minutes and you can get a nice discount out of it. I’ll show you how easy it is.

$20 off Uber Eats promo code

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A Bounce Back to a ~$150K Best-Ever Net Worth – October 2020 Freedom Update

october 2020 freedom update

Last month sure felt dismal. Felt like throwing money into a fire pit, like I wasn’t catching up to my effort. There have been so many ups and down this year that I should’ve known better. But sometimes doubt gets the best of us and it’s hard to keep riding the wave.

October was much better. I am putting 30% of my paychecks into my 401k and aggressively paying down my credit cards. As of this month, I only have $3,000 to go! I’m challenging myself to pay them off completely by the end of 2020.

So I’m saving heavily and getting into excellent financial shape – as of right now, the best of my entire life. My net worth is currently $148,641. That’s 30% of the way toward my $500,000 goal!

I hope the next couple of months treat me as favorably, though that might be tough with the election coming up in a couple of weeks. We will see how the stock market reacts. I kind of expect it to dip, no matter the outcome.

October 2020 Freedom Update

Sign o’ the times

But I’m keeping myself occupied. Working, writing, talking to friends. Looking forward to my Big Bend trip next weekend. Being present has emerged as a major theme for me lately. That and connection. ⚡️

October 2020 Freedom Update

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Booked: A Texas Road Trip to Austin & Big Bend National Park

I don’t post industry news – and as most of the world remains closed to Americans, I’ve withdrawn inward. Instead of planes, I’ve found solace in my car during the pandemic. My last trip was to Arkansas, and that was back in July.

I’ve been mostly shut-in, but am venturing out again, feeling more empowered and eager to explore. A wandering soul needs to wander.

My next trip is to Big Bend National Park via Austin at the end of this month. Two nights in Austin at the Hyatt Place Austin-North Central, then three nights in Terlingua, TX at this cute Airbnb cabin outside the entrance to Big Bend. Then back to Dallas through Midland and Abilene.

texas road trip 2020

The lil cabin I booked in Terlingua, TX

I used Hyatt points and a free night credit from my Chase World of Hyatt card for the two nights in Austin, so they were completely free. And paid for the Airbnb with my Chase Freedom Flex via PayPal, which is a 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points category in Q4 2020.

That Freedom Flex is a beast, I’m tellin’ ya

The only expenses I’ll have on the trip are gas, food, and pet fees at the Hyatt hotel. I’ve been wanting to visit Big Bend for as long as I’ve lived in Texas.

I took election week off to spend in nature and take a break from all the media and craziness. Coincidentally, I’ll be in Big Bend for Day of the Dead this year.

Texas road trip 2020

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Down $4,000 & feeling nervous this month – September 2020 Freedom Update

September 2020 Freedom Update

September is drifting past; Virgo season is over. Summer grass to fall leaves. I feel like I’ve been plugging away – and then I look at the numbers and I’ve actually slipped.

This month, I’m reminding myself that progress is slow and steady and every month won’t have big eye-popping gains. Plus, I’m getting three paychecks in October and anticipate that will help me get caught up. As cash-heavy as I’ve been, this month my stocks took a tumble.

September 2020 Freedom Update

Life was simple in September. It’s OK to feel stuck sometimes

I napped a lot. Continued meditating. Being so heavily invested in the stock market, I feel the fluctuations even more – especially now that I don’t own real estate any more.

And several things caught up with me: a big Costco run, a higher than expected phone bill, and a few nights out with friends now that restaurants are slowly re-opening here in Dallas. So while there wasn’t a lot of growth, I used money for the here-and-now.

With the election so close and headline news affecting the stock market, I didn’t realize any gains. But I’m still putting away 30% of my paycheck into my 401k and getting stocks at a discount. I do wish I’d saved more pure cash, though. That’s why these reflections are so helpful for planning each month.

September 2020 Freedom Update

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Chase Freedom Flex Vs Freedom Unlimited: Which Is Better for Your Spending?

chase freedom flex vs freedom unlimited

Chase has 2 great no annual fee cards that pair nicely with premium Ultimate Rewards cards: Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited.

The Freedom Flex card earns 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 per quarter in combined spending. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases with no cap.

Chase Freedom Flex Vs Freedom Unlimited

Really gonna depend on bonus categories and how much you typically spend

Lots of peeps ask which is better. To which I always answer: it depends on how much you like the bonus categories. But there’s a longer answer beyond that: how much to you plan to spend on the card each year?

Let’s talk about the break even point and which is better for your finances.

Chase Freedom Flex Vs Freedom Unlimited

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Progress & setbacks, but up $18K anyway – August 2020 Freedom Update

august 2020 freedom update

It’s been a weird month. Financially, things have been great. But I’m getting antsy about the next life phase and been doing a lot of “hanging in there” recently.

I had the idea to buy a little house in the Memphis area and move closer to family. But waiting for things to reopen. And keeping an eye on the upcoming election. And hoping to keep my job for a bit longer.

If I can make it through September, October will be a lost month (2020 is already a lost year, so it’s almost moot). There’s going to be so much election stuff that I wonder if anything will get done. And then the results will be explosive no matter what happens. Then holidays. And my lease in Dallas is up in February 2021.

august 2020 freedom update

Meditating until 2021

I’m over Dallas. I’m only here to live in an apartment and drive to an office one or two days a week. If anything, this pandemic has shown me what I want – and don’t want.

There’s a lot of wait and see going on from every angle. But time passes, as it does. Despite everything, I’ve been socking funds away for my near- and long-term future. So I’ll be prepared for whatever that might mean for this Freedom journey I put myself on.

And tomorrow’s my birthday. 36 years on planet Earth! 👽

August 2020 Freedom Update

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5 Easy Ways to Earn Points for Airbnb Stays (Updated 2020)

save on airbnb

My friend Meghan asked if I knew of any ways to save on an Airbnb booking. I gave the obvious one – get up to $35 off a booking with a new account.

save on airbnb

New to Airbnb? Save $20 off your first $200+ stay, plus get $15 off your first $50+ experience booking

Most everyone has an Airbnb account by now. But if you don’t, here’s my link if you’d like to sign up (and I’ll get a $10 travel credit as well).

That’s honestly the biggest savings. Still, there are other ways to get a return on your Airbnb stay: earn points or miles for it. Depending how you like to redeem them, you can get big value by stacking a few of the methods I’ll tell you about.

Lezz begin, shall ve?

5 ways to earn points and miles for Airbnb stays

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What’s your credit card and points strategy these days? (The 3 cards I want now)

credit card strategy

I’ve always said, “earn and burn.” Meaning earn your points and miles, then burn them in short order. I keep my points balances low – having 100,000 points is a good enough minimum cushion for me.

Because with that amount, I can get to most places in business class one-way (and to a few in business class round-trip). It’s also enough for me to begin planning a trip. And if I need more, I can start earning what I’ll need. Usually, the easiest way is to open a new credit card.

credit card strategy

I’m accumulating points but have no idea how to use them

These days I can earn, but there’s no way to burn. I have a few cards I want, but keep waiting to apply for them. It feels pointless to have a storehouse of points and miles when most places are closed to Americans and there’s uncertainty about when we can travel again.

But my wanderlust is kicking up big time and I know when I’m able, I’ll be off like a rocket. 🚀

I’m torn between earning lots of points while I’m still in lockdown and waiting to see what happens. Who knows what devaluations and program changes are coming down the pipeline, especially with basically every airline and hotel chain massively struggling right now? It’s keeping me in a holding pattern. Not only with this topic, but with pretty much everything.

My current credit card strategy

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Allbirds: The perfect travel shoes? (Updated 2020)

allbirds review

It’s weird to write about travel shoes in the middle of a pandemic. But I wanted to refresh this article since it’s been up for a while and I have more experience to reflect on.

My first encounter with Allbirds was an article with the kinda clickbait-y title, “The Most Comfortable Shoes in the World.” I rolled my eyes a bit but definitely clicked on it. Because I like to take one pair of shoes with me when I travel: the ones on my feet. So I was curious what had been singled out as “the one.”

Before Allbirds, my go-to was New Balance. They have that appearance of “casual athletic” – and of course the big reflective “N” logo – so I’m comfort-over-style.

For the last three years, I’ve been wearing Allbirds more often than not.

allbirds review

Hanging in my Allbirds

The idea of a comfortable and attractive shoe lured me in. They come in basic colors, they’re $95 a pop, and the founders are committed to design, sustainability, and ethical standards.

What began as a six-month test evolved into a brand preference. And I still get comments about them all the time.

Each pair lasts me ~9 months. I’m on my third or fourth pair by now. Safe to say I’m now a fan.

My Allbirds review, three years later

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Inventory: The 23 credit cards I currently have – and why

Dang, the last time I did a full credit card inventory was three years ago. Can you believe?

Back then, I had 29 cards. These days I have 23, and currently have my eye on three more (ironically, all cards I’ve had before: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Premier, and US Bank Altitude Reserve).

Of the 29 I had, some I closed, some were discontinued, and others were canceled for me. And I still have a lot of them today. Let’s hop to it!

Recent mainstays

I set up each section with:

Name of card – annual fee amount – # of years I’ve had it – keep or cancel

Amex

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My first $100K: How to start investing

how to start investing

You know how bloggers say they started their site because their friends kept asking for pointers? This post on how to start investing is exactly that.

I posted on Insta and Facebook about my first $100K invested in the stock market for my retirement – separate from the cash I’m setting aside.

This milestone happened yesterday! For the first time in my life, seeing six digits when looking at my accounts – finally – was exciting.

It didn’t happen fast for me. But once I buckled down, momentum built and I nearly doubled what I had in just the past year.

This pandemic, horrible as it is, has been an advantage for saving. I’m not traveling any time soon after my weird vacation earlier this month, can’t go to happy hour because bars are closed, and have most meals at home. So my “fun slash going out” and travel budgets are going directly to savings.

If you’re in a similar spot, this is an excellent time to begin investing for your future.

how to start investing

Money Alley is a great place to be

So here’s my mini-guide. Written especially for my friends and those looking for direction. 🤑

How to start investing

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