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The not-so-secret travel hacking 'game' that allows you to travel the world for free

The not-so-secret travel hacking 'game' that allows you to travel the world for free
Photo by Serey Kim on Unsplash

The points and miles game is free to learn, complex to play, but totally worth it.

If you have friends who post drool-worthy photos of luxury resorts in beautiful, tropical places and you wonder how on Earth they can afford such amazing vacations, there are four main possibilities: 1) They're rich; 2) They saved up for a long time and splurged; 3) They went into debt to make it happen; 4) They spent far less than you think—perhaps close to nothing—because your friends know how to play the travel hacking game.

If No. 4 intrigues you, buckle up, because I'm about to take you on a mindblowing trip through Travel Hacking Land.

Luxury travel is far more doable than you might think. Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

But before we embark, I want to make something clear: Everything I'm about to share with you is legitimate, legal and honest. I say that upfront because often people's initial response when I describe how travel hacking works is, "That sounds sketchy." They usually respond with 1) This is a scam, or 2) This is unethical. Neither is true. More on that shortly.

Okay, off we go!

Welcome to Travel Hacking Land, where if you learn to play the game well, you get to travel for free.

A few things to keep in mind as we take this tour:

1. Think of travel hacking as a game rather than a "hack." Like any game, the more strategies you master, the better you get at playing.

2. The game is simple in concept, but complex in practice. Don't expect to walk away from this article knowing exactly how to book a free trip to Europe. There's a fairly steep learning curve, but speaking from experience, it's 100% worth the time to learn it.

3. (Almost) anyone can play. If you have a good credit score, you can play this game. (That being said, people with more spending power will be able to play it faster. No way around that really.)

4. Be ready to unlearn some things. Most of us come into the game with major misconceptions about how credit card points and airline miles work.

5. It truly is as mindblowing as it sounds. Yes, the people who play this game really do travel the world regularly—often in luxury—for free or nearly free. No, it's not an exaggeration. (I'm not selling anything here, by the way—I love to travel, I love saving money and I love strategy games, so this hobby just hits all my happy buttons.)

Also, I didn't make any of this up or figure it out on my own. I learned it from Bryce Conway, founder of 10xTravel, a website where anyone can learn all the ins and outs of this game and see how other people are playing it. (10xTravel Insiders is also the largest and most active Facebook group dedicated to this game, with more than 113,000 members, so Conway definitely is the go-to expert in this space.)

As we take our tour through Travel Hacking Land, I'll share what Conway says about how the game works and what anyone who's interested in it needs to know.

The travel hacking game is played with three main pieces: credit card points, hotel points and airline miles.

On a basic level, the goal of the travel hacking game is to optimize credit card points, hotel loyalty points and airline miles and make the most of how those award systems work and interact with each other. You have to understand these pieces of the game to strategize using them.

The first thing to understand is that credit card points are the most powerful pieces in the game. Everything else stems from there.

Each credit card grouping (Chase, American Express, Citibank, Capital One, etc.) has its own points-earning system. You earn points by spending with a credit card (i.e., "earn 1% cash back on purchases") or by signing up for new cards and qualifying for sign-up bonuses ("spend $4000 in the first three months and get 100,000 bonus points"). Most of us most likely have points-earning cards of some sort, because they're so common.

Generally speaking, the cash value of a credit card point is one cent, so 100,000 points would have a cash value of $1,000. If I have 100,000 Chase points, for instance, I can trade those in for $1,000 cash back.

That's exactly what I used to do—get cash back for the points I earned on my Chase cards—and I thought it was pretty awesome. Now I kick myself for it because those points are sooooo much more valuable when used in the points/miles game for travel.

Credit card points become more valuable when they are transferred to travel partners.

Transferring credit card points to airline or hotel partners greatly increases their value.

Photo by Trac Vu on Unsplash

As I said, the game is complex, and there's no way to explain it all in one article. But here's one example of what it means to optimize the points and miles systems.

Recently I wanted to buy a one-way ticket on Southwest airlines. The cash price for the ticket was $88, but I could get the exact same ticket for 4,400 Southwest Rapid Rewards miles.

Southwest is a travel partner with Chase, which means I can transfer my Chase points to Southwest and they count as Rapid Reward miles. 4,400 Chase points would be worth $44 if I got cash back for them, but if I transfer them to Southwest to purchase that $88 ticket, I've just doubled the value of those points.

Double the value is pretty good, right? But that's just scratching the surface. As another example, with 100,000 Chase points, I could get $1,000 cash back or I could transfer those points to Hyatt and get four nights at the Grand Hyatt resort in Kauai—which, on the dates I just looked up in August, would cost $900/night cash. So for $1,000 worth of points, I could get a $3,600 stay at a luxury resort. Almost quadrupled their value.

But keep in mind, I'm not actually even paying that $1,000 out of pocket. These are points I earned for free, just by signing up for and using my credit card (on things I'm spending money on anyway) to earn points.

When people say they're traveling for free, this is what they mean.

If you want to play the points/miles travel hacking game, you can learn how for free.

I had a vague understanding of airline miles and credit card points before taking Conway's 10xTravel course. I'd used frequent flyer miles before and my husband and I have used credit cards for everything (paying them off every month—that's vitally important) to earn points for cash.

I don't even remember now what made me click on the course, but I'm so glad I did. There are multiple travel hacking websites and courses out there, but I appreciated the way Conway laid the whole thing out and that he was totally upfront about how he makes his money with a free course. (Basically, he asks that course participants use his credit card referral links if/when they start getting into the game, which is beyond fair for the amount of knowledge the course provides.)

Conway started puzzling out the game himself when he was in college, when there were only a handful of online forums and Reddit discussions about how to optimize points and miles. His friends would see him traveling all the time and ask him how he was doing it, so he'd explain it. Eventually, he got tired of having to go through the whole game with new people over and over again at parties, so he wrote it all down in an email that he could just forward to whoever asked.

Finally, a friend told him he should turn it into an ebook. That ebook eventually morphed into the course and the 10xTravel website and a full-fledged win-win business. We win by getting free knowledge about how to game points and miles to travel for practically nothing. He wins by earning credit card affiliate income each time people use his referral links to start playing.

The biggest travel hacking hurdle to get over is our misconceptions about credit cards.

Credit card points can be incredibly valuable for travel.

Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

One big key strategy in this game is regularly signing up for new credit cards to take advantage of sign-up bonuses, as that's the quickest way to accumulate a lot of points. But most people think that's nuts.

"When I tell people that I generally open 10 or more credit cards a year, almost every single person … their eyes get bigger and they kind of freak out," says Conway. "And the next question is always, doesn't that destroy your credit score?"

No, it doesn't.

"It's very straightforward how that works, but of course, people have a bad association of credit cards with debt and bad credit," he says. "So you have to kind of get past that."

But won't credit card companies get wind of people doing this and shut it down? Conway says nope.

"They know that this exists. In some ways, they kind of encourage it because most people aren't able to make points work or are not willing to put in the effort to make points work in a way that is really advantageous to them," he says. "So it's kinda like the banks are making a bet like, 'Hey, we have this cool point system. You probably won't figure it out. It's profitable for us anyway.'"

"Credit card companies make a lot of money when people use their product, both on interest charges and fees—kind of the negative side of credit cards—but also just on swipe transaction fees," says Conway. "People forget that credit card companies make a large portion of their money on people who don't even ever pay interest or have credit card debt."

Credit cards are profitable for banks, so they incentivize people opening them. And banks compete to get you to open their cards, so all we're doing here is making the most of that competition and the incentives that come with it. No one is getting swindled. You have to spend on the cards to earn the points—even the sign-up bonuses—so banks are still making their money.

The key is to use your credit card for every transaction possible, pay off the balance each month before any interest posts and keep getting new cards for the sign-up bonuses.

Here are some examples of people who have learned how to play the travel hacking game and won big.

The places travel hackers go for free or nearly free is mind-boggling.

Photo by Ittemaldiviano 🇲🇻 on Unsplash

One of the things you start seeing after you take the 10xTravel course and join the group on Facebook is people sharing the amazing trips they've taken for free or close to free. Some of those stories get posted on the 10xTravel site, too.

For example, one couple took a two-week, five-country, $17,000 trip to Europe for just over $1,500 out of pocket. Another family detailed how they saved $14,000 in travel costs on trips to Puerto Rico, Europe, Costa Rica and Canada—not to mention getting a ton of free travel domestically—over a two-year period.

Some people in the Facebook group have shared trips where they've gotten redemption values of 10 or 20 cents per credit card point or more (essentially turning what would be $1,000 cashback into $10,000 or $20,000 in travel value). Those are exceptionally amazing, but it's not unusual at all to see 3x, 4x or 5x point values being redeemed by travelers in the group.

Often the only cash people have to shell out on their trips is for food and a modicum of taxes on flights, which don't get covered by points. At all-inclusive resorts, food is covered, so all they pay for are any extra activities.

And we're not talking cheap places or terrible traveling conditions. You know those over-the-water bungalows you see in the Maldives? I've seen people fly first-class there and stay in those places, all on points and miles. It's bonkers what people can do if they play this game well.

Why don't more people play the travel hacking game if it's really so great?

Again, the game is simple in concept but complex in practice. There's a lot to learn and a lot to unlearn at first, and how the various points and miles systems intertwine and interact can make your brain hurt until it all starts to click. But a lot of what stops people from even starting to learn is simply not believing that it is what it is.

"I think it doesn't really make sense to most rational minds," Conway admits. "Because things don't just kind of come for free in life. There's always gonna be some sort of catch down the road. So when you can show them how easy it is to book a meaningful amount of travel—and good travel—using simple tactics with points and miles, it seems too unbelievable."

This is especially true with business or first-class airline travel. The redemption values for points on those seats can be simply astounding.

"People assume that I'm gonna do a bunch of work just to be able to get a three-stop red-eye flight to Vegas—is that even worth it? And that's just not the case," says Conway. "My wife and I have flown first-class all over the world and can do so pretty much whenever and wherever we want, thanks to this."

The only thing better than hanging out in paradise is hanging out in paradise for free.

Photo by Serey Kim on Unsplash

Travel hacking (a term Conway bristles at because it makes the whole thing sound sketchy) is a long game—and more chess than checkers for sure—but for those who wish they could afford to travel more, it's definitely a game worth learning how to play.

Thanks for coming along on the tour of Travel Hacking Land! And hey, if you see your friends sunning themselves in Fiji or exploring Machu Picchu or galavanting around Europe, don't assume they have gobs of excess wealth. They may have just learned to game the points and miles systems in a way that lets them travel for ridiculously little money.

Sponsored

3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

All GIFs and images via Exposure Labs.


Photographer James Balog and his crew were hanging out near a glacier when their camera captured something extraordinary.

They were in Greenland, gathering footage from the time-lapse they'd positioned all around the Arctic Circle for the last several years.


They were also there to shoot scenes for a documentary. And while they were hoping to capture some cool moments on camera, no one expected a huge chunk of a glacier to snap clean off and slide into the ocean right in front of their eyes.


science, calving, glaciers

A glacier falls into the sea.

assets.rebelmouse.io

ocean swells, sea level, erosion, going green

Massive swells created by large chunks of glacier falling away.

assets.rebelmouse.io

It was the largest such event ever filmed.

For nearly an hour and 15 minutes, Balog and his crew stood by and watched as a piece of ice the size of lower Manhattan — but with ice-equivalent buildings that were two to three times taller than that — simply melted away.

geological catastrophe, earth, glacier melt

A representation demonstrating the massive size of ice that broke off into the sea.

assets.rebelmouse.io

As far as anyone knows, this was an unprecedented geological catastrophe and they caught the entire thing on tape. It won't be the last time something like this happens either.

But once upon a time, Balog was openly skeptical about that "global warming" thing.

Balog had a reputation since the early 1980s as a conservationist and environmental photographer. And for nearly 20 years, he'd scoffed at the climate change heralds shouting, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

"I didn't think that humans were capable of changing the basic physics and chemistry of this entire, huge planet. It didn't seem probable, it didn't seem possible," he explained in the 2012 documentary film "Chasing Ice."

There was too much margin of error in the computer simulations, too many other pressing problems to address about our beautiful planet. As far as he was concerned, these melodramatic doomsayers were distracting from the real issues.

That was then.

Greenland, Antarctica, glacier calving

The glacier ice continues to erode away.

assets.rebelmouse.io

In fact, it wasn't until 2005 that Balog became a believer.

He was sent on a photo expedition of the Arctic by National Geographic, and that first northern trip was more than enough to see the damage for himself.

"It was about actual tangible physical evidence that was preserved in the ice cores of Greenland and Antarctica," he said in a 2012 interview with ThinkProgress. "That was really the smoking gun showing how far outside normal, natural variation the world has become. And that's when I started to really get the message that this was something consequential and serious and needed to be dealt with."

Some of that evidence may have been the fact that more Arctic landmass has melted away in the last 20 years than the previous 10,000 years.

Watch the video of the event of the glacier calving below:

This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

IMDB,Condé Nast/Wikipedia

The pop star said that this could help create safer environments for young performers.

Even in the healthiest of work environments, child actors are thrust into adult life before they’ve really had a chance to grow up. They don’t have the coping mechanisms for dealing with the stresses of fame, nor do they have the skills or authority to advocate for themselves when they are being abused.

The obvious answer to this problem is to provide protections for these kids. But let’s face it: exactly how to go about creating these protections isn’t so obvious. Hollywood is only just beginning to address these long-seated issues.

However, Ariana Grande, certainly no stranger to the highs and lows of finding fame at a young age, recently suggested that one solution would be “mandatory therapy” for younger actors.

Grande, who got her big break on the Nickelodeon show “Victorious” when she was just 14, reflected on her time on the network while guest appearing on Penn Badgley’s Podcrushed podcast.

This interview comes not too long after the shocking revelations made in the docuseries “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” where former Nickelodeon stars accused former producer Dan Schnieder of a litany of abuses, including but not limited to sexual harassment and racism.

Grande did not appear on the docuseries, footage from “Victorious” was often used as an example of inappropriate content for children.

@discoveryplusuk It’s got everyone talking. #QuietOnSet #TheDarkSideOfKidsTV#nickelodeon #danschneider #90skids #arianagrande #amandabynes ♬ original sound - discoveryplusuk

"I think that’s something that we were convinced was the cool thing about us,” she reflected during the podcast. “That we pushed the envelope with our humor and innuendos. We were told — and convinced as well — that it was the cool differentiation. It all just happened so quickly and now looking back on some of the clips I’m like, ‘Thats… Damn, really?’”After “reprocessing” a lot of her experience around that time, she came to the conclusion that there should be “mandatory therapy” 2-3 times a week included in a young actors contract.

“There should be an element that is mandatory of therapy, a professional person to unpack what this experience of your life changing so drastically does to you at a young age,” she said, adding that this should probably be used for celebrities of all ages.

In addition, she thinks that “parents [should be] allowed to be wherever they want to be.”

"A lot of people don’t have the support that they need to get through performing at that level at such a young age. But also, dealing with some of the things that the survivors who have come forward [have]... There’s not a word for how devastating that is to hear about. So, I think the environment just needs to be made a lot safer all around.”

You can watch the podcast episode in full below:

The generational caption debate is a big deal.

If you’re a Gen Xer or older, one surprising habit the younger generations developed is their love of subtitles or closed-captioning while watching TV. To older generations, closed-captioning was only for grandparents, the hearing impaired, or when watching the news in a restaurant or gym.

But these days, studies show that Millenials and Gen Z are big fans of captions and regularly turn them on when watching their favorite streaming platforms. A recent study found that more than half of Gen Z and Millenials prefer captions on when watching television.

It’s believed that their preference for subtitles stems from the ubiquity of captioning on social media sites such as TikTok or Instagram.


This generational change perplexed TikTokker, teacher and Gen X mother, Kelly Gibson.

Always leaning! #genx #millennial #caption #learning

@gibsonishere

Always leaning! #genx #millennial #caption #learning

"I have three daughters, and they were here. Two of them are young millennials; the other one is an older Gen Z," Gibson explained in a video with over 400,000 views. "All of them were like, 'Why don't you have the captions on?'”

The mother couldn’t believe that her young kids preferred to watch TV like her grandparents. It just did not compute.

"My Gen X butt was shocked to find out that these young people have decided it's absolutely OK to watch movies with the captions going the whole time," she said jokingly.

But like a good mother, Gibson asked her girls why they preferred to watch TV with captioning, and their reason was straightforward. With subtitles, it’s easier not to lose track of the dialog if people in the room start talking.

"They get more out of it," Gibson explained. "If somebody talks to them in the middle of the show, they can still read and get what's going on even if they can't hear clearly. Why are young people so much smarter than us?"

At the end of the video, Gibson asked her followers whether they watch TV with subtitles on or off. "How many of you out there that are Millennials actually do this? And how many of you Gen Xers are so excited that this is potentially an option?" she asked.

Gibson received over 8,400 responses to her question, and people have a lot of different reasons for preferring to watch TV with captions.

“Millennial here. I have ADHD along with the occasional audio processing issues. I love captions. Also, sometimes I like crunchy movie snacks,” Jessileemorgan wrote. “We use the captions because I (GenX) hate the inability of the movie makers to keep sound consistent. Ex: explosions too loud conversation to quiet,” Lara Lytle added.

“My kids do this and since we can’t figure out how to turn it off when they leave, it’s become a staple. GenX here!” Kelly Piller wrote.

The interesting takeaway from the debate is that anti-caption people often believe that having writing on the screen distracts them from the movie. They’re too busy reading the bottom of the screen to feel the film's emotional impact or enjoy the acting and cinematography. However, those who are pro-caption say that it makes the film easier to understand and helps them stay involved with the film when there are distractions.

So who’s right? The person holding the remote.


This article originally appeared on 1.11.24

Image by Stacey Kennedy from Pixabay

Graduation is a big milestone that can come with grief for some communities.

It's been nearly 12 years since a young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, with an AR-15. rifle and two handguns and opened fire, killing 20 first graders and six faculty members before turning the gun on himself.

Survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting—kids who watched their friends and teachers being murdered in their classrooms—are now graduating from high school, and they have complicated feelings about the milestone and the 20 classmates who aren't joining them.

A private graduation ceremony was held at Newtown High School on June 12, 2024, with 335 graduates including around 60 Sandy Hook survivors. Some of them shared their thoughts with journalists in the days leading up to graduation.


“I think we’re all super excited for the day,” Lilly Wasilnak, 17, shared with the AP. "But I think we can’t forget ... that there is a whole chunk of our class missing. And so going into graduation, we all have very mixed emotions — trying to be excited for ourselves and this accomplishment that we’ve worked so hard for, but also those who aren’t able to share it with us, who should have been able to.”

"The shooter actually came into my classroom," Emma Ehrens, 17, told CBS News. "So I had to, like, watch all my friends and teachers get killed, and I had to run for my life at six years old."

According to the AP, Ehrens was one of 11 kids who survived from Classroom 10. She was able to escape with a group of students when the shooter paused to reload his gun. Five students and both teachers in the room were killed.

“I am definitely going be feeling a lot of mixed emotions,” Ehrens said. “I’m super excited to be, like, done with high school and moving on to the next chapter of my life. But I’m also so ... mournful, I guess, to have to be walking across that stage alone. … I like to think that they’ll be there with us and walking across that stage with us.”

The survivors who are graduating this year are dealing with both the exciting what ifs of their futures and the tragic what ifs of their past as they remember their slain classmates.

"Just growing up with having the fear, and the what ifs of what could have happened if I stayed? Because I was, like, I was going to be next," Ehrens told CBS News.

"So even going to prom, you think, well, what if they were my prom date? Or, you know, what if they were my significant other? What if they were able to walk the stage with me," survivor Ella Seaver added.

“As much as we’ve tried to have that normal, like, childhood and normal high school experience, it wasn’t totally normal,” Grace Fischer, 18, told CBS. “But even though we are missing ... such a big chunk of our class, like Lilly said, we are still graduating. ... We want to be those regular teenagers who walk across the stage that day and feel that, like, celebratory feeling in ourselves, knowing that we’ve come this far.”

That desire for normalcy conflicting with their not normal childhood is part of what makes graduation such a bittersweet experience for these young people. They had so much taken from them at such a young age, and that trauma doesn't just disappear. Some of the students expressed that they are looking forward to moving away from Newtown and building a life in which the school shooting doesn't define them.

Sandy Hook was unique in that the victims were so young and there were so many of them, but the survivors aren't alone in their experience. In the years since the Sandy Hook massacre, the U.S. has seen dozens more school shootings, and there are thousands of school shooting survivors dealing with related traumas. Many of those survivors have become outspoken anti-gun-violence advocates, pressuring officials to enact stronger laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

But for now, the Sandy Hook graduates are celebrating a big life milestone, just as they—and their 20 missing classmates—should be.

Watch six of the Sandy Hook survivors share their stories on Good Morning America:


via the_geriatricmillennial/TikTok (used with permission) and Karolina Kaboompics/Pexels

A mother deactivated her daughter's smartphone.

The number of teens and tweens who have smartphones is on the rise and we’re starting to see the effects that “great rewiring” has on them. Recent research shows that smartphones can have a very negative effect on girls’ mental health.

After giving her 11-year-old a smartphone about a year ago, Kailey Wood, known as The_GeriatricMillenial on TikTok, deactivated it because she’s seen “firsthand just how detrimental" they are. "So much so that last night, I finally said, 'I'm done with this,' and I deactivated my 11-year-old's phone," she says in a TikTok video. "And I don't know when I'm gonna give it back."


She initially gave her kids phones to keep track of them around the neighborhood, but now she “regrets” the decision. The 37-year-old mother of two from Buffalo, New York, shared her story in a TikTok video viewed over 1.4 million times.

@the_geriatricmillennial

Taking away my 11 year old daughters phone agter having one for a year because its feeling like more negative than positive lately. No opinions needed, parentinf kids in the digital age is hard enough but would love to hear what other parents are doing to maintain their kids independence while also being safe #momofteens #momoftweensgirls #momofdaughters #parentingadvice #teenswithphones #millennialmom #momsover30

Wood was tired of her daughter being in constant conflict with her friends, so she took the phone out of the equation. “Young girls get jealous and don’t think before they text, so they unintentionally hurt their friends' feelings,” she told Upworthy. “Snapchat and Instagram document their whereabouts and friends feel left out. When that happens, sometimes emotions fuel mean comments and DMs. They’re all totally normal feelings, but if I can prevent drama and conflict longer, then that's what I’m going to do.”

Wood struggled with the decision because smartphones made it easy for her to contact her daughter when she was at her friends’ houses. They also gave her peace of mind because she didn’t have the phone numbers of some of her friends’ parents.

However, she couldn’t take the constant jealousy and bickering between her daughter and her friends. “I just decided it’s gone too far. I’m done with this; we’re going to have to figure out a new solution,” she said in the video. "Phones and social media ... those are a part of the teenage experience now. But at what expense?"

Wood believes that to stop the problem, parents should “band together” to prevent children from getting smartphones until they are at least 14.

Replying to @Eboneytwoees

@the_geriatricmillennial

Replying to @Eboneytwoees

Since the video went viral in April, Wood has had a slight change of heart. She has reintroduced the phone but with a new set of strict rules. “No socials, limited screen time and she’s not allowed to bring it out of the house. So if she goes out, she only has her Apple Watch,” she told Upworthy. “Phones this age at sleepovers or hangouts just take away from the time together.”

The good news is that she has also recruited the parents of her daughter’s friends and they have implemented the same rules.

Wood believes that her strategy is all about making a difficult time in life a bit easier. "My goal is to avoid any social conflicts that social media or group chats unintentionally cause,” she told People. “Being a tween/teen already comes with enough pressure and drama, which leads to more depression/anxiety,"