2011: My year of free travel

No, I didn’t travel for an entire year for free. And, no, I didn’t get to go on any press trips. But I did take three remarkable trips with my family, mostly for free.

How did you do it?

My daughter & my mom at a cafe in Orvieto

My daughter & my mom at a cafe in Orvieto

I almost feel silly admitting this, but I won these trips. I entered just about every travel-related contest I came across on the Web, finding out about most of them on Twitter. The first, and most memorable, contest I entered was hosted by Ciao Bambino! in early 2010. It was a travel-themed photo contest so I submitted a vacation photo of my husband and our then-nine-month-old daughter. There were approximately fifty other entries and the photo with the most votes (Facebook comments) was the winner. Without revisiting unpleasant details, we ended up winning along with another family. The prize? A complimentary one-week stay at Casa Cornacchi, a resort in the Tuscan countryside. We decided that we weren’t going to go all the way to Italy for just one week, especially since it would be the first visit for my husband, our daughter, and my mother; so, we built an almost-three-week itinerary around our week at Casa Cornacchi for March 2011. It is a trip that my family probably never would have taken together if it hadn’t been for the amazing people at Ciao Bambino! and the hundreds of people who voted for my photo. Again, I thank you all.

In late 2010, Jody from Family Rambling hosted a contest to win two free nights at any Omni Hotel or Resort. Readers were able to enter once a day during a specific time period, so I did just that. Religiously. And I won. A few months later, Omni Hotels hosted a giveaway on Twitter wherein they gave away 100 free-night certificates. Guess what? I won one. That meant I had three free nights to spend at any Omni Hotel. There was much discussion about where we would go but ultimately we decided to check out the Omni Hotels Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, Pennsylvania. We drove the eight hours there, not really knowing what to expect, and after our three nights/four days had gone by, I did not want to leave. Everything was perfect: the setting, the dining, the service, the plethora of family activities, the luxury… I only wish I’d had the opportunity to experience the award-winning spa. Seriously, if you ever have the chance to stay at Omni Hotels Bedford Springs Resort, DO IT.

Omni Bedford Springs Resort

Omni Bedford Springs Resort

The last trip I won, and the last one we took in 2011, was a complete shocker. I entered on a whim, again not really expecting to win. All I had to do was tweet one simple statement to be entered into a drawing to win round-trip airfare for two to Istanbul and a four-night hotel stay. I nearly fell out of my chair when One Travel, the company hosting the contest, tweeted that I had won. I could not believe it. Of course, some friends and family were skeptical, thinking it was some kind of scam or that it was too good to be true. No scam, but it definitely was good and it definitely was true. We were able to select the time of year we wanted to take the trip to Istanbul; we chose November so my husband and I could spend our ten-year wedding anniversary there. Everything was perfect: Turkish Airlines provided incredible service, and our stay at The EDITION Istanbul will forever be unrivaled. It is the most luxurious hotel we have ever seen, and the most attentive service we have ever experienced. (We stayed in Istanbul, at a different hotel, for an extra four days, at our own expense.)

Beautiful Istanbul

Beautiful Istanbul

So, what travel plans does 2012 hold for me? Nothing is concrete yet, but we are considering two separate road trips: one to Colorado in June, working around TBEX 2012; and one to Arkansas and Oklahoma later in the year. Will there be any free travel for me in 2012? Let me enter some more contests and we’ll see.

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