When someone thinks about taking a pilgrimage he or she usually assumes that it will cost a few thousands of dollars and a travel agency will be needed to have all the details of the trip organized. A lot of people travel that way but there is also an alternative – a much cheaper one where you (but not a travel agent) decides which holy places and for how long you will visit.
During the last six years I have traveled to multiple holy places in Israel, Poland, Spain, Lithuania, France, Italy (two times) and Portugal (four times). Each of these pilgrimages lasted for about two weeks and was organized entirely by myself. The cost of each two-week-long trip with transatlantic flights never exceeded $200-300 and some of them were even completely free.
How that is possible? Simple – I paid for my flights and hotels with frequent flyer miles, hotel and/or credit card rewards points which almost everybody can get for free as long as their credit score and money management skills are good. And when it comes to planning and organizing my trips, it was not difficult to prepare for them with all the information that is available online today.
Although I was traveling cheaply and organizing trips easy, one question kept coming to my mind over and over again – why do I see so few people from English-speaking countries visiting those holy places? When I was in Fatima and Lourdes, I could hear people talk Spanish and Italian every day. When I was in Israel visiting Catholic and Orthodox churches, I felt like the most common language among pilgrims was…Russian. And during the canonization Mass of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII in Rome in 2014 one could asking himself if he was in Poland or Italy as the streets of Rome were flooded with people from Poland. Of course, there were rare instances when I saw English-speaking pilgrims at the holy places, but for some reason most of them did not come from countries with large Catholic populations (such as United States or Canada) – they were from Ireland.
After thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that there were three main reasons of why so few English-speaking pilgrims visit holy places in Europe and Israel. First, a lot of people in the U.S. and Canada assume that traveling to Europe and Israel is very expensive. Second, people think that it is difficult to organize all the details of a trip to a foreign country which is thousands of miles away from home. Third, people do not go to holy places because their faith is weak.
The purpose of this blog will be to encourage more people to take pilgrimages by showing that (1) pilgrimages can be very cheap or even free when one knows how to take advantage of frequent flyer, hotel and credit card rewards programs; (2) planning a pilgrimage can be easy and enjoyable experience; (3) pilgrimage is one of the best ways of renewing and revitalizing one’s faith life.
I will be posting articles a few times each week with information on how to cheaply book airline tickets and hotels with miles and points, how to use public transportation to travel from one holy place to another in Europe and Israel, what a pilgrim can expect to see at each holy place and most importantly what is the history and spiritual message of each of those holy sites.
Before ending this first post I would also like to share pictures of some of the holy places and events that I have visited during the last few years. I will be writing more about each of them in the near future. Don’t forget to check this blog in a few days.
Marius Z., the author of the Heaven-Bound Pilgrim is writing about travel to holy places in Israel, Italy, Poland, France, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal and other countries. He writes about how to travel to the holy places cheaply or even for free while using credit card rewards points, frequent flyer miles, and hotel rewards points. History and spiritual message of each holy place is presented along with the information on where to eat, shop and stay while on pilgrimage.