Oh, the military life. My husband has been in the Army for nearly 13 years and I have been a part of the last 9 so I thought I would share a little wisdom on how to travel as a military spouse. From finding deals to spending your money wisely and actually taking a vacation.
The life has its ups and downs, as anything does, of course. Sometimes the downs really suck. There is no nice way of saying that. One of those things is: getting time off.
Having married into the military life, I remember having the freedom to plan trips on my own timeline. It didn't matter the location or the time of year. I could plan a trip when and where I wanted.
Now, don't get me wrong, even in the civilian world, I couldn't just pick up and leave for 2 weeks whenever I wanted. I still had to get approval from my employer but I wasn't restricted to certain time times of the year (block leave, if you will).
If I wanted to take a summer vacation, I could. Or long weekends, I could.
In the Army, it is cut and dry. You have 2 blocks of time during the year in which you can take your vacation — Summer and Winter.
And honestly, Summer hasn't ever been an option for us as that's training season.
Alright, so Christmas time it is. And that isn't HORRIBLE. We love Christmas. We took a trip to Scotland over Christmas last year and had a fantastic time.
But for the girl with the wanderlust spirit, it kills me sometimes that we can't just go!!
It is also hard to plan a trip with anyone. We are limited to Christmastime every year.
All of this to say that, in addition to the small window of travel opportunity, there are some do's and don'ts that you should be aware of when air traveling as a military spouse.
#1 DO When Traveling as Mil Spouse | Plane Tickets
Purchase your plane tickets at the right time.
Cardinal rule: do not purchase your tickets before your spouse's leave is approved.
We often don't even know our window of leave until a week before. Patience is a virtue, right? Once we know our block leave dates, we then have to get our leave approved.
So when I plan a trip, the destination, activities, and accommodations are all very vague until I know it's a go.
I like to set up alert emails with Google Flights or Hopper to alert me of the cheapest flights. Currently, you can only use Hopper on your smart phone through an app. I like the insight Hopper gives you on when to buy flights for the best deal.
Sites like these are great resources. They take the burden to check prices everyday off of you. They will send you an email if there's any shift in prices.
#2 DO When Traveling as Mil Spouse | Luggage
Use luggage you trust.
One of the worst things that can happen when traveling is picking up your suitcase from baggage claim and it falling apart. Clothes are everywhere. Yard sale...
For big ticket items like luggage, I research like crazy to make sure I’m getting the best for my money. I watch videos, read reviews and price shop.
It is so light which is great when you're stuffing it full of newly bought clothes and souvenirs. You'll still make the weight limit!
#3 DO When Traveling as Mil Spouse | Airport Parking
Before you get to the airport, search online for an off-site parking lot. I've done this a couple of times now and paid a fraction of the cost!
You book ahead of time, choosing your "check-in" and "check-out" times sort of like a hotel. Keep in mind that these times won't be the same as your flight times of course because you need to get to the airport 1-3 hours before your flight (depending on where you're going and time of year).
You'll pay ahead of time online and receive an email with your receipt and directions.
I was weary about parking in an unknown parking lot at first but the process has been very simple and the facilities have been very clean too. They have 24 hour airport shuttles as well so just make sure you leave yourself enough time to park and take the shuttle.
#4 DO When Traveling as Mil Spouse | Accommodation
Most military families are living and supporting their family on one income and therefore can't often afford a family vacation (if at all). Taking a vacation costs money but many companies offer substantial discounts for military families.
Don't let the money hold you back. Taking a vacation is important for your family bonding and morale.
Check out the following:
MWR — MWR has 4 hotels around the world that they call Armed Forces Recreation Centers.
American Forces Travel — this is a new MWR program that serves all active duty, National Guard Reserves, and Retired military. It is supported by Priceline and offers hotels, flights, cars, packages, cruises.
Read more about the new program here.
Armed Forces Vacation Club — It's free to join.
Paths Across America — Campground and RV Parks
#1 DON'T When Traveling as Mil Spouse | Passenger Names
Do not purchase your plane (or any) tickets in the wrong name.
Oh, boy. This is SOOO important and SOOO obvious but it is also SOOO easy to mess up! And if you do mess up, it can be impossible to change it. The name on your plane ticket must match the name on your ID exactly. This includes your passport if you're traveling internationally.
So when you are purchasing your tickets online, type slowly and double check that all of the information is correct. I'm guilty of typing too quickly and getting ahead of myself. I fill in fields like these so often on various sites that I forget the importance of this one.
Easy Mistakes to Make
Misspelling your name
Switching first name/last name fields
Using married/maiden name
Guys, these are e-a-s-y mistakes to make. I never thought that I would be the one that would mess it up but lo and behold, it happened. When I bought our tickets for Scotland, I booked mine in my married name but my passport is in my maiden name (oh yes).
I’ve been flying internationally all of my life. I started flying solo when I was 13...I know what I’m doing when it comes to flying and navigating airports. And when I booked my ticket, I KNEW I should have booked it in the same name as my passport!
However, apparently this knowledge didn’t conjure up enough presence in my brain to make me think it would be a serious problem. It cost us thousands of dollars. We had to cancel those tickets and book completely new ones. Definitely not my finest moment. Moving on...
How to Fix Mistakes
Now, if you make one of these mistakes like I did, there are a couple of things that can be done.
If you catch your mistake at least 24 hours before your departure date, call the airline to fix it.
If you made mistake #3 above and you catch your mistake less than 24 hours before your departure date, bring your marriage certificate! The real deal; not a copy. You'll be fine as long as you can prove that you are that person.
If you catch you mistake at the airport, I hate to say it but you are out of luck. I'm sorry.
Decisions over Daydreams
I daydream a lot about traveling and don’t do enough of it. Before we took our big trip in December, I had been thinking I’d like to go back to Scotland for years but it wasn’t really a serious thought until one day it was.
What holds me back? It could be the expense to get there or the vast number of other places on my list, or both!
Either way, I’ve decided that I need to make more decisions about travel instead of daydreams because it is exhilarating, exhausting, expensive and, oh, so worth it.
Follow my travels on Instagram @bomzeaway.
I would love to hear about your travels (and daydreams)! Share them with me in a comment below...