How I flew to Orlando on miles and then slept in my car because I couldn’t afford a hotel

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

I just remembered my awesome trip to Orlando probably around 1996 or 97 or so. Back in 2018, I recently signed up for a credit card with Delta Airlines and was looking to book flights with miles only.

And that trip to Orlando was purely booked on miles. And I was looking to book a flight to Orlando so of course that trip came to mind.

Back then I actually was flying United-a.k.a. Lufthansa -on my twice-a-year trips to Germany to see family. Interestingly, last year-in 2017-was my record year of visits to Europe after visiting the continent and – usually my family – six times. That actually happened because of speaking engagements and meetings with the European teams of the company that I worked for at the time.

The miles racked up quickly and I was easily able to book an award roundtrip flight to Orlando (from Cedar Rapids) -where the World League of American Football, which was called NFL Europe at one point, was holding their camp.

Some of my friends from Germany where attending on behalf of the league and I knew some of the coaches and I had never been to Orlando so I thought it sounded like a good idea.

I booked my flight using miles on United and as you might imagine as a student I didn’t have much other money to spend so I was able to rent a car but I didn’t have any money left to get a hotel room. So I figured that I need the car to get around and that I will just sleep in the car. So that’s what I did. Talk about being uncomfortable for two nights.

Be resourceful, I guess.

Anyway, it was fun to watch the teams practice and to catch up with some old friends. At that time I didn’t have all the travel ins and outs down as I do today to truly enjoy the things I enjoy today while traveling but overall it was a fantastic trip. Despite having to sleep in my car for two nights.

There are really two takeaways on the story for me.

Number one is that it’s actually OK to feel nostalgic once in a while.

The whole nostalgic thing also happened recently when I realized that the American football team that I joined early on in Germany-the Düsseldorf Panthers-recently celebrated their 40th birthday. OMG. I am old.

That club will probably never know how much it has influenced my life’s direction. The coaches, the teammates and the volunteers.

Football was still new to Europe when I started playing it and I probably would’ve never even thought about coming to the United States without it.

I have to say I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met and the experiences I was able to collect in my childhood. So it totally made sense that I used miles to fly to Orlando to see some of those people and some of the NFL Europe players practice.

And here’s the storytelling angle: if you don’t write down your stories and they only live in your heads that might be the end of them. At some point you’ll remember them while sitting on your porch, feel nostalgic about them and maybe share them but why not share them farther?

Seriously, setting up a blog is one of the simplest things to do nowadays. Getting on a schedule and actually sticking to it might be one of the harder things to do-but once you get in the rhythm it’s one of the easier things to do.

And the other takeaway from the story in my mind is that just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them. Think about that scenario today. If I were to say let’s go to wherever and I have enough miles or money to fly down to get a car but not enough miles (or money) for a hotel that trip might be off the books.

Then if it’s a family trip with my kids I get it. It should be off the books but back then as an older teenager going on a trip that wasn’t going to be perfect by the book didn’t stop me from going on the trip and enjoying myself.

So, there you have it. That’s the story of the day. Hopefully you’ll choose to share your stories from the past and the present. And of course it’s OK to dream for the future too.