“This is the first time in my life that I’m totally okay with traffic,” my brother, Pete, said as our shoe box-sized rental car jolted out of our first Edinburgh roundabout and into a gridlocked, festival-season, rush-hour mess. I downshifted with my left hand and pulled into the left lane on the left side of the road — all very new experiences for a first timer to the U.K.. Pete was right to feel wary.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I managed, as I accidentally shifted from first to fourth, my left hand not fully adapted to the gear sequence yet.
We’d just embarked on “one of those trips” — a journey we’ll both surely talk and laugh about for years to come — based around a shared longing to retrace a Scotland sabbatical our father took decades prior. It was an adventure we never thought we’d actually get the chance to go on. Sure, we’d talked about it from time to time, but life kept getting in the way. “Life,” in this case, means “lack of money.”
That was before I got into the credit card hustle. If you’re a travel writer or photographer, it’s not long before you hear about “churning” and not long after that before you think, “I’m smart enough to try this.” I became one of those points people — using an app called Slingshot Flights (which, full disclosure, was created by a longtime buddy) to manage credit cards and build toward flights.
Eventually, by signing up for credit cards with good rewards programs, my brother and I made it to Scotland for free. It took some planing and a little forethought, but free is free is free. Soon enough, we were on the ground, grinding the gearbox of a rental car (also paid with points). With each successful shift came the rising optimism of a dream realized through creative problem solving.
In the end, the adventure carried us way beyond our father’s initial itinerary, and we both fell head over heels for Scotland. Along the way, we learned a five crucial lessons: