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

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

A Quick Update

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been a very long time since I last posted, and a very busy last month I’ve had. I’ve been working here in Tel Aviv full time as an Arabic teacher/Translator/Literally any other work that needs doing. I’m also trying to finish up my final project for University. So you can say that it’s been…hectic.

That being said, I’ve still got my two weeks in Vietnam to tell you guys about- I haven’t forgotten! But since I’m a little too busy at the moment (my project is due this Thursday), you guys will have to make do with some photos instead.

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Harrison drank this.
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And I can’t back down from a challenge.
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We spent our first week on the beach in Phu Quoc

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This included Harrison’s first ever night market experience.
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And my first ever attempt to make shrimp pancakes. It didn’t go well.
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Our second week was in Ho Chi Minh- which is huge.
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Yes, this was massively uncomfortable. 

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We ate our way around the entire city,
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Boated down the Mekong Delta,
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And made really questionable decisions.

See you all soon for story time!

-Carissa “Someone Please Help Me I’m Stressed” Rawson

The Pyramids Round Two

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been an atrociously busy last month, with no end in sight. In a little over a week I head for Vietnam, with a two day stopover in Hong Kong (Disneyland Hong Kong! Dim Sum!). Harrison and I will be spending a total of two weeks in Vietnam, with the first week at a beach resort and the second in Ho Chi Minh, the capital city.

But I digress. First I need to finish telling you guys about Egypt.

Ahh. Egypt. Land of smog and noise and traffic and history and beauty. The locals have written volumes about their love-hate relationship with Cairo, and I have to say after living there for six weeks I completely agree.

Hence, when I got back from my week in Israel, I was dreading the return to the city. Life is so difficult there compared to anywhere else. But Joni was coming to visit so I needed to get back there and get going.

I’ve got to tell you, coming back there and going full tourist was a better experience than just living there. (As I would imagine is true for any city). All told, Joni spent five days with me in Egypt, and we saw many things, including the Pyramids.

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Here we go again

You guys remember my Pyramid story, right? Well I knew she couldn’t fly all the way from California and not see them, so I reluctantly returned to the scene of the disaster, prepared for the worst. Luckily, in the two weeks since I had last been, the Egyptian government banned solicitors from historic sites in an effort to boost tourism. I thought it was a farce, until we showed up and the aptly named “tourist police” were parked all around the area, ensuring no wayward hawkers made their way past the barriers.

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Practically empty

It made for a much more pleasant experience. And no, we didn’t go inside. You literally could not pay me to go back in there. But we did ride camels, and I had a nice dicker with the camel owner over the ride in Arabic, which Joni thought was impressive and in reality consisted of about the same five words repeated in Arabic over and over again. (No! 15 guinea! No more! I’m not paying!)

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We also went down to the Sphinx, which I managed to miss the first time around, so I’m glad I got the chance to see it. While there we found a tour guide who took the best photos- enjoy!

-Carissa “Where Do I Even Live?” Rawson

Hello From Cairo!

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the middle of downtown Cairo, where I’ll be living for the next six weeks!

I know I mentioned this before, so none of you should be surprised. I’m studying here in order to improve my Arabic, and so far it’s been great! And by great I mean really really hard but also effective. Granted, I’ve only been here for three days so far, so we’ll see what lies ahead.

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The view from my balcony

Apologies for the lack of pictures thus far. The inside of a classroom isn’t all that exciting.

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Ooooh, Tahrir Square

See you soon!

-Carissa “نور” Rawson

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I want to tell you about our day spent snorkeling with whale sharks. For those of you who don’t know, whale sharks are absolutely massive, and the Maldives happens to be a hot spot for them. We spent most of our time snorkeling on the house reef (or eating. There was a lot of eating.), so ended up only doing this one excursion. Plus, as you can imagine, it was obscenely expensive.

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Heading to catch our speedboat

So what did it entail? Well, to be honest, it was pretty cool. We hopped into a speedboat with about six other people and a guide and sped away from the resort. It was about an hour long ride to our whale shark spotting destination, so we settled down and enjoyed the breeze, the waves, and the islands we were passing. Probably the coolest part was that in our wake, thousands of flying fish skipped away from us. Have you ever seen a flying fish? I hadn’t but they’re really cool, and watching them soar across the water, like skipping stones, was really neat.

The way shark spotting works is that you get to the hotspot and your guide literally climbs up on top of the boat, searching for enormous shadows in the water.

Unfortunately for us, there didn’t seem to be any sharks around. We spent hours trawling the water, slowly, searching for these guys. And it’s not like you can miss them, right? The problem is that whale sharks don’t normally swim so close to the surface, and they can (and do) dive right down and stay there.

They’d told us that the young males were the ones who usually swam up near the surface, but we had no luck.

So. One guy.

One guy had a drone. Brand new, top of the line, really cool. So he volunteered to fire up the ol’ drone and see if he could spot any whale sharks from high up. A cool idea, in theory.

He sent it up, and away we went, following after it as he searched. See, the problem though, was that drones can only fly for about twenty minutes at a time. Twenty minutes pass and we slow down, coming to a stop as he attempted to land it.

I mentioned we were in a speedboat, right? And that his drone was new, brand new?

Yeah. So there he goes, trying several times to lower it to the deck, only for it to- finally- hit the edge of the boat and *splash* right into the water.

And no, it didn’t float. Immediate panic ensues and he runs to grab a diving mask. He jumps in and flails around, while the guide leaps into the water- and- I kid you not, just dives.

It’d had time to sink by now, so I don’t know how far down she went. But she was under there for a while. A long while. I began to wonder if she was dead or simply lost, but then- miracle of miracles- up she popped from the depths, drone in hand.

You guys, this woman freedived into the Indian Ocean to find a lost drone. I can’t even find my goggles in a swimming pool.

The jury’s still out if he ever got it working again, since it wasn’t waterproof, but he did mutter angrily that it was a $1200 waste of money.

Shortly thereafter, we started to make our way back, disappointed at not finding any whale sharks- when- to our immense joy, we ran into a boat that had found one.

And once you find one, you gotta jump in ASAP because they don’t stay at the surface for very long. So in we went, flippers on, choking on saltwater and swimming furiously after this guy.

I’m going to take a moment now to thank my parents for all the swimming lessons they forced me to take, because I managed to stay in the front of the group and get an uninterrupted view. It was incredible.

Our guide had a GoPro with her. Take a look at the video below.

-Carissa “This Is Why I Don’t Have a Drone” Rawson

I Survived Snorkeling: A Tale of True Bravery

Hello Dear Readers!

When trying to figure out what to talk about, I usually scroll through my photos. I try to take a fair few, and use them to spur the stories I tell you guys. And that usually works out well for me.

But I realized something while going through my photos of the Maldives.

Paradise looks great:

But it also looks pretty similar in every photo. And we spent most of our time in the water, which meant we took no photos at all.

So you’re going to have to rely on my story telling skills more than my visuals, I’m afraid.

In that same vein, let me tell you about our snorkeling.

Now, I’ve been to a fair few places for snorkeling (and even once dived successfully in Australia), so I’ve always figured I knew what snorkeling was about. You go in,  see some cool fish, swim around a reef, try to not touch the urchin and get poisoned. You know, normal things. So when they told us they had a reef just off the beach of the resort, I was excited but not expecting much.

I cannot even tell you how badly I misjudged this reef. It stretched the entire length of the island, and during our time there we saw more different aquatic animals than I’ve seen in all my previous snorkeling put together.

We spent so much time snorkeling that, while my face was completely unburnt, I was unable to sit comfortably for over a week. And yes, I was wearing sunscreen.

The best part about this reef was that you could walk right out to it. The water was so close to it, and it was so expansive, that at times your belly was about an inch away from the coral and the reef stretched on literally as far as you could see. You had to be a good swimmer (or at least floater) in order to avoid getting caught up on the coral.

And this place was packed. Aside from all the regular recognizable fish (Nemo? Dory?), we also spent hours swimming with giant schools of fish, found an octopus hiding inside some coral, followed a sea turtle for over twenty minutes, and even swam out over the “drop-off” which was exactly like the one in Finding Nemo and exactly as terrifying as you’d think.

But my favorite part, which Harrison completely missed (he was frolicking in a school of fish), was when I was wandering along and happened upon a barracuda- or at least that’s what I thought it was. Turns out it was a Moray Eel, but at the time all I could think was “oh god please don’t bite me.”

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You can forgive the confusion

He was a mere few inches from my face and I frantically backpedaled, getting far enough away to wheel around and begin swimming in the opposite direction.

At which point I encountered two reef sharks.

And ok. Reef sharks aren’t huge. But they were sharks! And I was panicking! Alone!

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Ahhhhhhhh!

At this point I wheeled just 90 degrees (still avoiding the barracuda) and began swimming in towards the shore as quickly as possible.

Of course nothing happened to me. I mean come on, you think the Hilton is gonna let a shark eat their customers? No.

But it was scary!

– Carissa “The Bravest” Rawson