Big News!

Hello Dear Readers!

I absolutely could not wait to share this news with you all. Are you ready?

I’ve been hired as a travel writer! I’ll be putting together articles for Points With a Crew, and already some of my stuff has been published!

What does this mean for us?

Well, nothing, of course. Spirits of Adventure is my baby and my blog, so keep up here for all my personal travel stuff, trip reports, etc. But if you’re jonesing for posts a little more often, I’m publishing five times a week on all sorts of different topics.

I’m completely elated for this opportunity. All my life I’ve wanted to be a writer (you know, the kind that makes money), and now I finally am!

Here’s to happy travels, guys.

-Carissa “Big-Shot” Rawson

Aspiring to the Hilton American Express Aspire

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been a long time since I’ve written specifically about credit cards and reward travel, and for the first time in a long time, I’m actually caught up on my trip reviews.

So today I’m going to talk to you about a credit card I’ve been lusting after ever since it was launched in January 2018. The card, the American Express Hilton Aspire card, is an ultra-premium credit card that combines a disgustingly high annual fee ($450!) with some of the best benefits available in the credit card business.

What Do I Get For All That Money?

• 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide

• 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants

• 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other purchases

Hilton Honors Diamond status

One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership

• A second weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year

Priority Pass™Lounge Membership

• $250 Airline incidental fee annual statement credit

• $250 Hilton resort annual statement credit

• $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package

• No foreign transaction fees

• Access to the American Express concierge

150,000 point sign-up bonus

What’s the Big Deal?

1.Hilton Honors Diamond status– this is the highest status Hilton offers, and provides tons of benefits for elite members. The Aspire card is the only card on the market to offer top level elite status simply for holding a credit card.

2.One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership– this free night is unrestricted, meaning you could use it at the Conrad Maldives if you so please (which costs $2,000/night). It’s very easy to find a hotel that will cost more than your $450 annual fee.

3.Priority Pass™Lounge Membershipif you aren’t interested in getting other premium credit cards, like the American Express Platinum Card, then this could be a good option for you as Priority Pass has airport lounges all over the world. It’s awesome to get away from the stress of the terminal.

4.$250 Airline incidental fee annual statement credit– this credit can be used on the airline of your choice for things like: purchased upgrades, purchased seats, bag fees, and an annual lounge membership.

5.$250 Hilton resort annual statement credit– use this at your free night for the ultimate in smug satisfaction.

6.150,000 point sign-up bonus– 150,000 bonus points is nearly enough for two free nights at the Conrad Maldives. Combine it with your other free night for three completely free nights at the best hotel in the world. If that’s not your jam, 150,000 bonus points also equals 30 free nights at Hilton’s category 1 hotels. Enjoy the upgrade your Diamond status brings you.

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At the underwater restaurant in the Maldives.

I actually recently applied for this card myself but was turned down due to having too many American Express cards. Yeah, that’s a thing. I have an offer to upgrade from the lower tier American Express Hilton Card, but it comes without the sign-up bonus, which is really kind of crappy. Let’s be realistic though, once my Diamond status runs out in March, I’ll probably head right over to this card.

Enjoy the luxury!

-Carissa “How Many Cards is Too Many?” Rawson

Dinner With Strangers, On Purpose

Hello Dear Readers!

Harrison and I travel differently. Oftentimes I enjoy the pure luxury of travel, sunbathing, swimming, free food, excellent drinks, etc. Harrison, on the other hand, judges the value of a trip by the level of discomfort he experiences while on it. And that’s a pretty cool measurement, I’ll agree. But it also leads to me doing things with which I am vastly uncomfortable.

Like going to a random stranger’s house and eating a dinner that they’ve prepared. Both in theory and in actuality it was really cool. But would I have ever done it on my own?

Not a chance.

He and I are good for each other, in that way. He drags me out of my comfort zone, and I make sure that we can afford to be there. It’s a win-win for both of us.

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Our digs for the night.

So it was that on our first day in Georgia, jet-lagged and miserable (me), we found ourselves the only two dinner guests of some Georgian folks out in the suburbs of Tbilisi.

I’ve got a ton of social anxiety, so I spent the entire first half of dinner trying awkwardly to keep conversation flowing. Things I learned? Russia sucks, nearly everyone in Georgia makes their own wine, and it’s customary at a party for (male) guests to drink out of horns.

Sorry, male guests.

I’m not even sorry!

-Carissa “That Was An Entire Horn of Wine” Rawson

A Very Georgian (2nd) Christmas

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I am writing to you from my economy(+!) seat, heading to Madrid for my very first international trip with Brit, my service dog. She’s currently laying on the floor, exhausted from the sprint to meet our connection in Houston. Kidding, that’s me. She’s exhausted from all the floor licking she’s done.

So, last I left off, we were talking about Harrison’s visit to California to meet my family, which went about as well as possible. He returned home just before Christmas, which was good, because for Christmas my family and I crammed four (and a dog) to a room in the Disneyland hotel.

Future family Christmas photo

Somehow ending up riding alone

It was actually super cool going to Disneyland for Christmas, and Brit did an amazing job as my service dog, diligently cleaning up any and all crumbs that I spilled.

“Diligent”

A mere four days after Harrison returned home I flew out to Israel for a visit. Sadly, Brit wasn’t able to come with me, as Israel requires a rabies titer test (it takes an entire month to process!) and I hadn’t had one done yet.

As an aside here, I know some of you have probably seen my post about PTSD. There’s obviously no miracle cure, but I severely underestimated the effect Brit has/has had on me. So this trip was really difficult, as being separated from her is just…the worst.

Separation aside, this trip was cool for a couple of reasons, the first being that Harrison and I spent New Year’s in Georgia, which is next door to Azerbaijan and equally as weird.

What’s going on?

We spent a total of five nights in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and all of it was wonderful.

Most wonderful?

Georgians celebrate Christmas on January 7th and we arrived December 30th, which meant I got to celebrate Christmas all over again. Mostly it meant that the Christmas markets were alive and well, and the whole city was dressed up for the holidays.

Ooooh

As you all well know, Christmas is my most favorite thing in the whole world, so it was awesome to rewind myself five days and have more Christmas!

-Carissa, Brit “Floor-Snack”, and Harrison “Please Is Christmas Over Yet?”

Ballin Budapest

Hello Dear Readers!

Now it’s been a month or two since I went to Budapest, seeing as how I totally failed to post for the last couple of months. However, I am pleased to tell you all that Hungary was my 40th country visited, 30th for Harrison, my male traveling companion, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in this Eastern European country.

a96afdce-5587-481f-892e-aa1c0567b38fHungary was actually my very first visit to Eastern Europe  and I had high expectations. I’ve been all over the west, from Spain to Belgium, and have seen the hordes of tourists battling it out over mediocre museums. From what I’d heard, though, Budapest was positively bustling, a very beautiful city, and dirt cheap.

All these things were true. We spent only four nights, as Harrison and I both have limited time (for some reason he keeps running out of vacation time at work), but we Lived. It. Up.

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Obviously.
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Budapest has one of the best Christmas markets in the world!
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You don’t even want to know how many of these we ate.
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Wow he’s being a total goober in a photo. How unusual.

Actually, we did probably one of my most favorite tours ever here, where a local guide took us around with vintage Polaroid cameras to all the best places in the city and let us take some awesome photos.

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Pictured: Zero digital photos

This served three purposes: one: it gave us the lay of the land, two: it gave us some amazing souvenirs to take home, and three: I mean how cool are vintage Polaroid cameras?!

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Very cool.

-Carissa, Harrison “The Diamond,” and Brit

Happy Birthday Blog!

Hello Dear Readers!

Today is the 2nd birthday of my blog! It’s been a crazy two years, with so many changes I can’t even count. I’ve lived in four different countries, traveled so much my own family hardly recognizes me, and made friends across the world. To celebrate, I’ve made a map showing the countries I’ve traveled to since starting the blog:

And for those of you who are curious, here’s what my 2019 looks like so far:

  1. Spain
  2. Czech Republic
  3. Scotland (I can never get enough!)
  4. Israel
  5. Israel again
  6. Israel some more
  7. Japan
  8. England

In case you can’t tell, I’m trying to drastically cut down my travel this year, as my life begins to move into new stages. (Like, why did I have to get a job?) Also, traveling with Brit is going to present me with new and interesting challenges (like certain countries I can’t go to due to quarantine laws). But overall, that list looks good to me.

I’ve had a very blessed two years and my heart is full.

Life is good.

-Carissa, Harrison, and Brit “You Got Any More of Them Snacks?!”

 

Israel! Again!

Hello Dear Readers!

Another picture post today, as I spent the entirety of my summer volunteering at a nonprofit in Tel Aviv teaching Arabic. This was an interesting lesson for me. You see, I have always been an idealist, thinking that being a certified granola crunching woman of the land was my calling (never mind my air-travel pollution). So when I volunteered to teach at a nonprofit over the summer I thought a few things.

1. Finally! I’ll be able to make a difference!

2. Nonprofits are what I want to do for a living.

3. I can totally live on a pauper’s salary.

So, to no one’s surprise but my own, only 1 out of 3 of these thoughts was actually true. (#1, if you’re unsure). It turns out that the girl who flies around first class as much as possible isn’t exactly…stoked about working in a non-air conditioned office in 114 degree weather and 100% humidity.

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Pictured: My glorious office

Not that I’m complaining. I mean, I am. But it was a valuable experience, teaching, and I learned a great many things. I love helping people, that’s true.

But maybe I would prefer to help people somewhere cold. In the winter. With warm pajamas. Enjoy!

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I know it doesn’t look like I should be complaining, but It. Was. So. Hot.
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In Netanya, the beach full of Russians.
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Harrison gave me endless shit for hauling these rollerblades through Vietnam so I could rollerblade down the Tel Aviv boardwalk. I showed him by skating exactly once all summer long.
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I even got a nephew!
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Me attempting to take Hebrew classes. !נו
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At Machne Yehuda shuk.

-Carissa and Brit “Basically Snow White”

The Rest of Vietnam

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s now been six months since Harrison and I went to Vietnam. Ok, ok, I get it. I should have written about it. But I’ve been doing so many other things! So, since I’ve got so much more to write about…here are a boatload of Vietnam photos. Enjoy, and try not to be too disappointed in me!

The Cu Chi Tunnels

For those of you who don’t know, the Cu Chi Tunnels are where the Viet Cong hid and lived during the Vietnam War. They’re these insanely tiny holes in the ground, with slightly larger caves that functioned as homes.

No, I would not have survived that war.

Nowadays, they’ve enlarged some of the tunnels for us huge westerners to crawl through, and maintain an open air museum displaying some of the more creative techniques the Viet Cong used to fight the west.

Me crawling unhappily into a tiny tunnel.
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What if you fell in??
Harrison bravely disappearing into a tunnel. No, I didn’t try it.

I didn’t shoot this godforsaken thing either.

Worst Tour Ever?

You actually could not pay me to eat this.
Floating down the Mekong Delta.

Why do I keep doing this to myself?
Riding the world’s saddest horse.
Ooh look…cocoa
Foolish. So foolish. (This is a shot of snake wine, in case you didn’t know).

On Our Street Food Tour

Sometimes I look like a young boy. It’s sexy, I know.
And sometimes Harrison is pressured into buying me flowers.

Our Ho Chi Minh City Slums Tour

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On Our Second Street Food Tour

In the backpackers district, post tour.
Yeah, we ate that.

Me, shortly before breaking my tiny plastic stool. Don’t worry, the shop owner doubled them up for my large American behind.

Wandering Ho Chi Minh

At one of the city’s best rooftop restaurants.
Harrison getting the world’s most baller shave.

-Carissa and Brit The Snack

Home Again

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been an awfully long few months, and much to everyone’s relief, I haven’t died, fallen off a cliff, or otherwise injured myself. I’ve simply been very busy.

When last we spoke I was still in school (technically), funemployed, and traveling. Well, as all of you may have guessed, I am still traveling. In fact, I’m on a plane to Georgia (the country) right now. However, I have also officially graduated from the University of Edinburgh.

With honors!

And gotten myself a job. You’ll all be pleased to know that it’s fully remote, so yours truly can continue to wander around the world, doing whatever I please.

Ok, that last part wasn’t quite true. I’d like to introduce you all to Brit, my service dog.

She and I were paired just about a month ago, and she’s going to be my best companion from now on. You see, sometimes some bad things happen. And some bad things happened to me while I was in the Air Force. But sometimes there are some people who care, truly care, about you, and want to see you well. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Brit and I will see you all soon.

-Carissa “This Able Veteran Is The Best” Rawson

Hot Ho Chi Minh, Or: The Saigon Sweats

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve been very busy this last month attempting to get my life together as I transition from student to *gasp* a real-life adult!

No, I’m not looking forward to the change. But alas, time creeps onward and as it’s nearing my 29th birthday I feel I should at least make some effort to settle my life.

But before that, let’s talk about Ho Chi Minh!

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As most people probably know, Southeast Asia is generally very inexpensive, and Vietnam is no exception. This was lucky, as Harrison and I were spending two entire weeks, and our itinerary consisted of “literally anything I could find.” All told, our entire week in Ho Chi Minh totaled just under $300 for the both of us, and included a trip to the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels, two full food tours, an acrobatic show, and a motorbike tour of Ho Chi Minh’s slums. It’s a good deal, is what I’m saying.

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Also really cool

Such low costs enabled us to pig out on all the food, and I made it a personal mission to try out all of Ho Chi Minh’s best restaurants.

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Creepily

It’s also important to note that Vietnam is…warm. More than that, it’s humid. I’m talking, 105 degrees and 100% humidity humid. I spent our entire trip three feet away from Harrison and threatening him with death if he got any nearer. Luckily for the both of us, he didn’t try, as the “Saigon Sweats” (as he termed them) had an even worse effect on him than me.

So yeah, maybe don’t bring your first date to Vietnam. It’ll be sweaty and not in a fun sexy way.

One of our very first stops in Ho Chi Minh was the Heart of Darkness Brewery, which is absolutely an expat bar and I loved, enjoying an excellent British Sunday Roast in true Vietnamese fashion. Before you all complain, we did eat mostly Vietnamese food, including some really wretched things we tried on our various food tours.

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Authentic

Most of our first day in Ho Chi Minh was spent wandering the city, getting a feel for the area around our hotel and attempting to acclimate to the weather. (Lol)

We spent ages walking around the city actually, including an accidental trip into the ghetto and a really ingenious ride on public transport back out. What struck me most about HCMC is probably the amount of markets- the sheer volume of them- and their size. Regular grocery stores aren’t really a thing. Markets are everywhere, for every different type of item, and we spent a significant portion of time wandering through them.

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So
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Many
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Markets

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Also, in case anyone young (me) doesn’t have some firsthand memories of the Vietnam war and its effects- it’s still very much alive in Vietnam. This is evidenced by Ho Chi Minh’s War Remnants Museum, formerly named the “Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes,” which showcases the “U.S. Aggressive War in Vietnam.” Basically, the communists won and ever since have set up this museum filled with downed American Aircraft and grim images of Agent Orange and its aftereffects. As a former U.S. servicemember, I was more than a little uncomfortable (and pissed), and insisted that we leave once we had explored a few of its halls.

The rest of the trip was quite enjoyable, however, and quite a few Vietnamese folk made certain to explain to us that “We love Americans!” in an effort to be friendly.

Next up are the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta, so stay tuned.

-Carissa “Always an Airman” Rawson