What Is Your Rewards Card Strategy for 2023?

Make your next big family vacation affordable with points.

A lot of people are nervous about using credit cards and trying to earn rewards points, but if you have decent credit and are even a little organized, using points can save you large sums of money and allow you to have wonderful experiences that you may not necessarily be able to afford otherwise, especially if you have a large family.

If you’re a beginner, check out our guide for how to travel with rewards points.

But it works best if you have a strategy! We decided we wanted to take a vacation to Disney World this year, so we planned our 2022 strategy around that trip, and now we get to use our points! Here’s how we did it:

Both my husband and I applied online for a Southwest Rapid Rewards card, and we used that for the bulk of our day to day expenses throughout the year. This worked really well, since the card was offering a better-than-normal bonus of 100,000 points. Right now, it’s offering 50,000 but keep an eye on it – these bonuses sometimes change throughout the year.

We were also able to earn companion passes for this year – meaning that one person of our choice could fly free with us whenever we flew. So we each added one child as our companion. Southwest has no blackout dates and we can cancel or change our flights for free if we need to, which is a really great benefit when we consider that we’re coordinating 8 people’s flights!

If you don’t want to fly Southwest, American Airlines is a great alternative for earning airline points that you can use to travel. Barclays Aviator AAdvantage Card often offers a really easy-to-earn bonus card (you only need to pay the annual fee and make one purchase!) and when combined with this Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select®  card, you can earn a lot of points!

In addition to airline points, we needed to cover our hotel stay, so we went with Bank of America’s travel rewards card, which was offering a larger-than-normal bonus at the time. This one was new to us, but it is nice because it is super flexible. The points act as a statement credit for any travel expense. We each got the card and used it enough to earn our bonus – $500 toward travel expenses for each of us. That will cover our hotel rooms in Disney. Again, keep an eye out for these promotional bonuses as they do occur at different times throughout the year.

For hotels, we also really like the MARRIOTT BONVOY BOUNDLESS™ CARD  for it’s benefits and CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED®  for it’s options. Points go far with both of these cards.

Finally, the big expense of Disney tickets. At no less than $109 per person per day, Disney really adds up when you have a large family! So this year, we got the Disney® Premier Visa® Card to offset the price of tickets. This earn us a bonus of $300 to be used at Disney, which will cover a couple days worth of tickets and the annual fee is less than $50, netting us $250 each for a total of $500 toward our Disney World tickets for our family.

For pretty much any vacation, rewards cards can be a tool for spending less on your trip. Make sure to spend only what you normally would and pay off your bills by the due date, and the benefits will be significant. If you don’t have a strategy yet for this year, check out our list of favorite cards and make one!

The Gift of Staying Local

I love to travel, and applaud anyone who gets to take grand adventures and travel the world. I’ve made my way to most of the seven continents (perhaps I’ll hit them all some day), and there is nothing quite like getting on a plane to see the far-off destination of our dreams.

But one of the most gratifying things about parenthood for me, was that it helped me to realize that I don’t need to go to another continent, country, or even another state to explore or experience something new. There is ample room for curiosity and wonder right in our own back yard.

As our family has grown, it has become more and more cumbersome and stressful (not to mention expensive) to fly to far-off places. Even after having our first child, far away travel was much more difficult than it used to be!

When the pandemic first shut everything down, we were about to have our fourth baby and it was hard to go anywhere at all. So, we started visiting ALL the local parks regularly in order to keep our sanity, and our health. We discovered new ones, and became more cognizant of the beauty of those we had been to many times. During a scary and shocking time, it was a gift.

Lately I have been reading my youngest child Swimmy, by Leo Leoni. If you’re not familiar, Swimmy is a little fish whose school gets eaten by a big bad tuna fish. Swimmy is sad, scared, and lonely but, “the sea was full of wonderful creatures, and as he swam from marvel to marvel, Swimmy was happy again.” We all go through hard times. Grief. Loss. Anxiety. Loneliness. But the world really is full of marvels, isn’t it? If we can learn to notice them.

Children are full of wonder and everything is new to them. Seeing the world through their eyes opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, close to home. I have loved sharing memories of nearby “adventures” from my childhood with them, and discovering new things in the counties surrounding ours.

While I don’t have the freedom to travel the world that I had when I was single, I do have more desire and ability to notice and appreciate what is around me. The formerly “mundane” areas within driving distance of my hometown are brimming with stories, interesting people, and beauty. Parenthood has helped to give me the eyes to see it, and for that I am grateful.

How to Spend a Day in Southern Lancaster County, PA

Scenic Countryside Drive

Outside of the city of Lancaster, the county of Lancaster is very rural. It is quite scenic, with rolling hills of farmland all around, and many picturesque covered bridges. You’re likely to see Amish buggies clip clopping along the roads, or horse-pulled plows out on the fields, with straw hats and bonnets on the people in the yards. 

Octoraro Lake

If you’re familiar with the Lancaster area, you have likely driven over Octoraro Lake on Route 472. After spotting bald eagles flying above and great blue heron sheltering along the banks, we finally stopped one day, parking at Jim Neary’s Bait & Tackle and took a walk along the shore. There are benches and a boat launch. Someday we hope to return and rent a paddle boat to explore this reservoir.

Pinnacle Overlook

There are some very lovely nature preserves and overlooks at the southern end of the county, along the Susquehanna River. Here you can find Susquehannock State Park and Pinnacle Overlook. The park has several other overlooks, but we chose to visit Pinnacle. The view is right at the edge of the parking lot, and it’s beautiful. There are trails at either end you can take, as well as a few picnic tables and a clean portable restroom. If you take the trail on the right facing the overlook, there is no barrier and a deadly steep drop off to the river gorge, so keep a close eye on kids and dogs. 

“It looks like Bob Ross paint that” -5 y/o Grace 🙂

Venture just across the river into York County to see Holtwood Dam and Mill Creek Falls. There are numerous trails to access near Lock 12, as well as picnic tables, portable restrooms and a small playground, but you can also continue down the narrow gravel road closer to the dam. Before you reach the lot near the dam, you’ll see an unmarked but clear trailhead opposite the river that leads to Mill Creek Falls. 

Mill Creek Falls

The falls can be seen almost immediately upon starting on the trail, and go on in fits and starts for perhaps a quarter mile or so. There is no barrier but the trail is well maintained and can be enjoyed by the whole family. You can climb down to rocks next to the falls in several places, but take care as it is damp, mossy and a bit slick. 

The hike is a beautiful one, even in winter, when the brilliant green of the moss contrasts with the glossy dark rocks and bare trees, all bedecked with the lacey ribbon of water tumbling downhill. The area is covered with what looks like rhododendron, so we will be returning in spring to see if we can catch them in bloom. At the top of the falls you can continue up what looks like an enchanted staircase of rocks and wood to really get your heart pumping and your steps in.

Holtwood Dam

Also of interest is the dam itself. Continue down the gravel road to the lot closest to the dam, and walk down to the river if it’s a clear day. (There are signs everywhere saying the river can rise with dangerous speed, thus you don’t want to explore the area near the dam when there’s potential for rain.) It is a good way for kids to learn about hydroelectric power, as you can hear, see and feel the power of the river rolling over the dam and it’s easy to imagine it being converted into electricity. 

Amish Country

The city of Lancaster is about a half hour from this area, and there are restaurants closer than that. We like to stop at Dutch Way on route 41, but there are a variety of places to get Amish made food, which is delicious, or buy homemade Amish goods. You’ll share the road with buggies, especially on Sundays or around sunset, so be careful and enjoy the glimpse into this unusual way of life. 

8 Romantic Weekend Getaways in the Mid-Atlantic Region

We have had many opportunities to visit towns throughout the mid-Atlantic region with our whole family. But, there are times when we’d love to get out on our own and have a romantic weekend getaway! These are the top places we have visited with or without kids (but we would love to get away to all of them as a couple if we get the chance!)

Hudson Valley, NY

The Hudson Valley is a beautifully scenic area to visit at any time, with lots of beautiful outdoor views, and plenty of romantic indoor attractions to warm up in. The Walkway Over the Hudson is a fun way to view the Hudson River. Minnewaska State Park is full of natural wonders. $10 per vehicle gives you access to the park. Awosting Falls are a short hike from the lower lot, perfect for a brisk winter walk. If you go to the visitor’s center you will find the jewel blue Lake Minnewaska just behind it. Springwood and the museum and library of FDR – grounds, mansion, library, stable and museum are all worth visiting. Visit the nearby Vanderbilt Estate – the grounds are just as impressive as the mansion, with space and views that make it worth a visit. Tours of the mansion are $10 per person, and the grounds are free. The estate is just across the street from Springwood in Hyde Park, so both visits can be done easily in a day.

Cape May, NJ

The town of Cape May can get crowded in the summer, but in the winter it is still beautiful and never crowded. It is filled with neat rows of Victorian homes that look like lacy, colorful gingerbread houses. We have enjoyed staying at The Grand Hotel, right on the beach, which has a lovely Valentines weekend package. You can visit the Aviation Museum at the Cape May Airport, or the Cape May County Zoo.

Berkley Springs, WV

This is an eclectic little town nestled into the Appalachians, bright with murals and art galleries, and warmed by natural hot springs.  There is a tiny, urban state park here, where the hot springs are fed into stone channels, and also pumped into old Roman bathhouses that can be rented in half hour increments.  Also worth a visit is nearby Cacapon Resort State Park, where views of waterfalls, mountains and a cozy lodge and restaurant with a view offer a delightful experience. It’s an extremely pleasant experience, and a romantic setting for a weekend getaway.

Harper’s Ferry, WV

This historical town is right at the borders of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.  Take a 5 minute shuttle from the visitor’s center down to the town and walk up to “the Point” where the Shenandoah River, C&O Canal, and the Potomac Rivers intersect for a lovely view.  There are lots of historical buildings and sites including famous abolitionist John Brown’s fort, and Jefferson’s rock – another great place for a beautiful view.

Bear Creek Mountain Resort, PA

Bear Creek Mountain Resort is in Pennsylvania, and offers skiing, snow tubing, and a spa, as well as a super cozy and romantic lodge environment. It is in a gorgeous part of Berks county surrounded by scenic mountain views. It’s also one of the more affordable ski resorts in the beautiful Poconos area.

Lancaster, PA

Lancaster is a charming place, in a beautiful setting. Drive through the rolling hills of picturesque farmland, and you are likely to see Amish buggies or plows being pulled by horses. You can tour an Amish farm and house or take a buggy ride, or just enjoy their well-made wares and delicious foods at local markets. There are also some lovely parks nearby, such as Susquehannock State Park where you can view the river from the Pinnacle Overlook, or several other lovely overlooks.

Brandywine Valley, DE

The Brandywine Valley goes through Northern Delaware and into Pennsylvania, and is a beautifully scenic area with a lot of romantic attractions. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library includes a former DuPont Home, thousands of acres of hilly meadows and woods, and beautiful gardens. This area is scenic, both in terms of the rolling forested hills, and the beautiful homes throughout the area. Close by are Longwood Gardens , the Delaware Art Museum, and the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science.

Assateague, MD

It is so lovely to see wild horses walking along the beach at either the National Seashore or the state park, especially in the winter when there are no crowds. Ocean City is close by, as well as the Delaware Beaches, where you can find charming little open shops and galleries, as well as delicious restaurants featuring fresh seafood. You’ll also want to stay in one of these nearby towns since there are no hotels actually on Assateague. Lewes is a charming beach town nearby in Southern Delaware where you can find romantic accommodations.

Fox Point State Park

Fox Point is a relatively small park in an industrial area just off of I-495 along the Delaware River near New Castle and Wilmington.

Interestingly, it is built on the site of major pollution due to oil refineries and other industries built in the early 1900s upstream along the river, along with waste from the nearby railroad. In the 1970s, efforts were made to clean up the area and a liner was implemented to keep hazardous material from re-polluting the river or harming wildlife or people. It is now covered with vegetation and home to birds and other creatures.

The park offers a playground, restroom facilities and picnic tables. It is free in the winter and like other state parks, costs $4 for an in-state vehicle to enter or $8 for out of state.

For transportation enthusiasts, it is a nice place to watch ships from around the world along the river, and trains rush by on the tracks opposite. It is part of the Delaware Greenway and the trail is flat and paved.