It’s always a 2-sided story…

Look left and they’ll tell you, “Get a credit card.  You’ll need to start building credit now if you want to get a car or house later on.”

Look right and they’ll say,  “Credit cards are bad.  Use debit.  You don’t want to get into debt.”

Who’s right?  Who should you trust?  Should you even trust (or care) at all?

I totally understand the fear:  banks and their crafty pieces of plastic seem to give off a vibe of “we’re out to get you.”  They are big corporate entities that love fees, high interest rates, debt, and surprise statements that make you painfully aware of how much you overspent last month.  It’s little wonder why so many prefer other forms of payment.

So how is it that I, a 26-year-old millennial, wound up with 20+ credit cards, minimal debt (not from credit cards), and a credit score that I’m proud of?

Putting aside the fact that I may be a bit crazy, it started with a new passion and a new perspective.

The passion?  TRAVEL.

The perspective?  Learning to see and use credit cards as a safe, effective, and rewarding tool to fuel that passion.

Credit cards don’t have to be a financial trap, and the best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to treat them as if they were a debit card.  That means not letting your new $10,000+ credit limit sweet-talk you into spending more than you normally would.  So if you typically spend $3,000 per month with cash or debit, then it should still be $3,000 per month on credit.  Period.  Buy what you need.  Also, if you have credit card debt, be sure to pay it off completely before getting into the rewards game.  Consider moving your debt to a card with 0% APR to help you pay down the balance faster.

That said, as soon as you start putting your usual expenses on credit, something almost supernatural happens.

You log into your account and see that you have 64,000 points worth anywhere from $600 – $900+ toward travel.  Best of all, you earned all that in a few short months from a signup bonus + your normal spending habits: gas, grocery, restaurant, utilities, etc.

So that’s $600 (or more) that you didn’t have before by doing what you normally do and spending what you normally spend.

You can see where this is going 🙂

After making the decision to be financially smart (i.e. setting a comfortable budget and sticking to it), I began putting every expense I could on credit and paying the bill in full each month.  Several months later, I was on a $2,000 trip in Cancun relaxing on a beach.  The bill?  Just $200.  (Yes, the picture above is from Cancun!)

This is partly where the “Travel Smarter” name comes from (the other part has to do with learning the right way to use the points, perks, and benefits to make travel more efficient and rewarding…more on that in a future post).

Over the past few years, I have spent countless hours learning about different credit cards, how their rewards systems work, which ones are better for certain people based on their personal goals, and a whole lot more.

And that’s why I created Live Well Travel Smarter, to share this knowledge with YOU.

So if you like to travel, want to save thousands, and are willing to trust someone who’s been doing it for years, then you’ve found the right place on the web.  The site is new, but there’s a ton of upcoming content.

Follow along, connect on social, ask questions, and have fun 👍

Update: Click here to read the next post in this series, “Credit Cards – The Best-Kept Travel Secret.”

-Mark R.