2016 Year in Review: Travel Hacking & African Adventure

The 2016 year end has me reviewing my weddings, portraits and of my travel hacking as a self-employed photographer. What began as a bucket list item of visiting Africa ended in a year of travel hacking my way through 5 countries and 4 states, spending a total of 238,212 collected frequent flyer miles and only spending a total of $182 on flights!

2016 year end review of travel hacking photographer Heather McKay in Africa

So, what is Travel Hacking??

The easiest way to explain “Travel Hacking” is to say that it is all about alternative ways to fund any sort of travel. For me, and a ton of others, it mainly focuses on utilizing credit card points and other techniques to enable free or dirt cheap travel around the globe.

I got into travel hacking in a few ways, first was buying a book called “The Art of Non-Conformity” and falling in love with the journey of the author, Chris Guillebeau. You see, he realized that for the price of one year of college, he could visit 100 countries in the world! AND.HE.DID.IT. Once he visited 100 countries, he realized he only had 93 more in order to visit all of the countries in the world. SO.HE.DID.THAT.TOO. I followed his blog about his trials and tribulations and love the community he has built in the process. I mean, he actually throws a “World Domination Summit” each year! for reals. It’s another bucket list item of mine.

Anyway, back to ME 😉 and my Year End Review:

When I turned 40, the only panic attack that I had was the realization that i’d been talking about going to Africa for about 25 years. I’d blinked and was 40! So, I decided that I had better make Africa a priority, just pick a date and make it happen before I blinked and turned 60.

So that’s exactly what I did. 

I gave my self two years to save, pay off all debt other than my mortgage, and streamline my business so I could go off the grid or at the very least, do everything via the web.

Travel Hacking Photographer Blog with Year End Review Travel Hacking Photographer Blog with Year End Review

I haven’t quite been able to sit down and reflect on my journey through my seven weeks in Africa, or go through my thousands of images. For sure, it is on my winter agenda. Since I was off the grid 99% of the time, I didn’t blog as I went. I really just did not want to take away from the rare opportunity to get completely away from being on-call 24/7 as a small business owner.

and it was wonderful!

The hardest part, as everyone can guess, was in coming back to work. What ended up happening was that I ended up with wanderlust in my heart and in my head, as well as a lot of extra frequent flier miles in my accounts. So, any chance I got, I just got on another plane. Most of it was just working remotely from another city, like Iowa City, Puerto Morelos Mexico, a wedding on Cape Cod and an Engagement Session in Brooklyn. The only other real vacation was visiting one of my sisters for her birthday in Houston.
Travel Hacking Photographer Blog with Year End Review

What I’ve learned this year of travel hacking my way into other peoples lives, cities and countries is that no matter how much money you make, how many people count on you, life just keeps on trucking along. With or without you.

My biggest fear was never Ebola (Ironically, I did get sick enough in Boston to have to reschedule my first flight!!)…. my biggest fear was what it would do to my business to take seven whole weeks completely off of work. I’m sure eventually I will indeed see the impact of that choice, however I can finally sleep at night knowing that I did what I needed to do for me.

  • A GIANT shout out to my sister, Meghan, who was my biggest emotional support and cheerleader while planning my African Adventure.

The entire experience really showed me who my close friends and family are and that they know me well enough to know that I never ever would have asked for help. So, I learned that however independent I am, I am not an island. It’s a great feeling. Now that has been said, I really could use your help in filling up my wedding and portrait calendars for 2017 & 2018!

What’s on your Bucket List??? Have you had success travel hacking to anywhere really cool?? Share below… I’d LOVE to hear from you!