How to Travel Hack with Malini Swank 

Kevin Payne

July 18, 2018

There is an art to successful travel hacking and Malini Swank and her husband have been painting a global mural for years. On her website, Lakes and Lattes, Malini shares about their travel, the food and cultures they’ve experienced, and her love for the city of Columbus, Ohio. She took some time to chat with me about their travel hacking experiences.

Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your family.

Hi! My name is Malini and I’m basically obsessed with all things food + travel. I met my husband while we were in business school together at The Ohio State University, and quickly realized that we shared a mutual love of adventure and travel. We seemed to understand each other in a way we’d never experienced with anyone else and life together has been full of love, adventure, really good food, and lots of magic moments. We are parents to a five-year-old foodie little girl and a super quirky Basenji dog named Sparky.

When did you start blogging and what is the message behind Lakes and Lattes?

I’ve kept some sort of private online blog for probably the past 15 years, but have only recently started blogging publicly. I started my blog, Lakes and Lattes, because I lost a bet with my husband. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in my message or in my thoughts, and he disagreed. When our local moms blog announced they were looking for contributors, he bet me that I would get accepted. I sent in a sample post and to my amazement, he was right! So I lost a bet and started a blog.

My message is simple: Life is a delicious adventure and I want to inspire others to go out and sample it. Whether that’s through exploring this great big beautiful world, creating something in your kitchen, or just reflecting on the things that make you happy, I think it’s important for everyone to carve out the time for these special moments. Never forget that our time is limited, and what we all need is more people to share their light with the world.

Malini’s Daughter enjoying a Business Class flight

You and your husband are avid travel hackers. What got you interested in travel hacking?

Yes, it’s true. We are totally obsessed with travel hacking. We got interested in this hobby because we both love traveling but met while we were both broke in college. Back in those days, we had to put in a ton of work to find deals, credit card awards and piece together trips on a nonexistent budget. We realized that we loved the hunt. Combing through websites for deals, thinking outside the box, being spontaneous and carefree with the type of travel you are open to are total assets when it comes to travel hacking and align perfectly with our personality and skills. Nowadays, travel hacking is super easy, especially with all the website and groups available these days. Also, after your first experience of flying business class and staying in five- star hotels while spending practically nothing, it’s REALLY hard to motivate yourself to open your wallet for a trip.

What trips have you saved money with by travel hacking? What was the biggest travel hack you’ve pulled off?

This is hard to answer. We’ve been travel hacking for the better part of the past 15 years, and as we’ve learned more, our trips have gotten better. I don’t remember the last time I paid for a flight for my family of three. Just using the Southwest companion pass (which is one of the easiest things to get and GREAT for a beginner) we booked 24 FREE flights in the last year. Each trip has gotten bigger and better. The last two trips we took were completely travel hacked. The first was 8 days in Ireland. We were able to hack our flights, all hotels (some meals as they were included in either the hotel rates or available at the airport lounges) and a rental car. Our only expenses were tickets to any attractions we wanted to see and the cost of some of our meals.  Our most recent trip was two weeks in Germany, Austria, and Spain. We hacked our business class flights, stayed in 5-star hotels (with some free meals/status perks), and rented a car, all through our credit card points.

Malini and her Family in Barcelona

For those readers who have never thought about travel hacking or are looking to start, what are a couple things they can do as beginners to get them going?

I’ll be honest – as much as I love travel hacking, I don’t believe that it’s a hobby suited for everyone. If you are considering a new home purchase, have ANY consumer debt, or problems keeping to a strict budget, travel hacking is not for you. To excel in this hobby, you need to be disciplined and committed to researching things and VERY detail oriented, or you could get yourself into a financial mess. If you are a beginner, the best thing you can do is create a FREE credit Karma account and get familiar with your personal credit score. If it’s not stellar, do some research on how to clean it up. If you’re in a good spot, before you sign up for a single card, make sure you have a strategy and goal in site. Start with one trip – maybe it’s a family trip to Disney, a week in Europe, or a resort style vacation. Each of these would have a very different credit card strategy, so it’s helpful to know what you want to do. After you have an idea, I would recommend joining a Facebook group or following blogs of other travel hackers to get as much information as possible. Don’t haphazardly open every card you hear about. There is a definite strategy to which way you should be opening cards!

Columbus, Ohio is your family’s home base. What does Columbus offer that nobody else can? For readers planning road trips to Columbus, what are a couple “can’t miss” places to go or things to do?

I love my hometown. We’re a friendly bunch and have some amazing neighborhoods to explore. Lots of great restaurants, an amazing art scene, and so many family-friendly activities. My personal favorite things to check out would include the Short North area – lots of great restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and an amazing food market!  I’m not a big shopper, but if you are – check out Easton Town Center for some really great shopping.


Malini’s Family in Washington DC

Malini shared some great thoughts if you are thinking about travel hacking for upcoming family adventures. Saving serious money on family vacations isn’t always easy and can be time- consuming, but if you take the time to learn the basics and have a plan, you can be successful.


Make sure to follow Malini and her family’s adventures at her website Lakes and Lattes. You can also follow Malini on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Have any travel hacking questions? Let us know in the comments below!


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How to Travel Hack with Malini Swank