You’re pretty much the best spouse ever: You got concert tickets for the group he loves. The babysitter is planned, reservations called in to a restaurant -- you’re excited! Then you get the phone call about the squadron’s last minute change of plans. Just like that, he’s off again, and you’re left holding the tickets and a bucket of disappointment.
We’ve all been there.
It’s these last minute surprises that make planning a summer vacation extra tricky for us military spouses. Whether you’re waiting for orders, navigating a PCS, or in the middle of deployment, finding the right moment to schedule a much-needed vacation is hard.
But military life is often stressful, and making time to unwind and regroup as a family can be more crucial than ever during upheaval, as long as it doesn’t add anxiety to your plate. So we’ve come up with six tips to help you avoid the pitfalls of planning a vacation, military-style!
Always get trip insurance. It may seem premature to list it first, but this is really important. Insurance plans can start below $50, a fee that will seem well worth it once airline tickets and hotel reservations start piling up. Buy at the time of booking or even afterwards through USAA or your booking site, and be sure to review acceptable reasons for cancellation. I always get one that lists "military leave revoked" under covered reasons for cancellation.
Other reasons can include "any work reason," a natural disaster at your destination, illness or death. Granted, those aren't things we want to think about when planning a vacation, but a little forethought can save huge headaches -- and cancellation fees -- later. The insurance policy will help you recoup losses so you can plan that getaway for another day. It'll also let you plan without the stress of worrying about losing all your deposits. Go here to read more about travel insurance for military families.
Enlist a Stand-In. Maybe you don't want to completely cancel your vacation if leave gets revoked. Plan ahead. If your service member has to work, would it be worth it to you (and the kids) to go anyway? If you don’t want to be the only adult, could you have a retainer on call? Sure, it's not ideal, but if friends or family members could fill in, you can end up with different, but still wonderful, memories.
PCS: Permanent Change of Stay-cation! When time allows, plan vacation fun into your actual PCS. The stuff is packed up, the car is loaded: road trip! Any final bucket list items for your current location? One last baseball game, perhaps, before you root, root, root for a new home team? Or plan a few days to explore the national parks along your travel route (military families get free access to National Parks, so get one of the park stamp books and start collecting those destinations!).
Then there's the obligi-cation: The obligatory family and friend visits we use our vacation days for since we always live so very far away. And doing some fun family activities in your new location can relieve unpacking stress and help you get to know your area.
Stay Flexible. Keep Expectations Low. This is less vacation planning and more general military spouse lifestyle reality. Even in civilian jobs vacations don't always go perfectly as planned. Leave got revoked for our big 10th Anniversary trip to Petra. I was not surprised, and therefore only mildly disappointed. And in the end, different time, different place, but my sailor and I had our best anniversary ever celebrating a decade of marriage a month later during a port call in Valencia, Spain.
If You Can be Really Flexible, Try a Space-Available Flight. And, I mean really flexible. I’ve done some successful and not-so-successful Space-A journeys, and here are my condensed tips: Attempt only one or two legs of flight each way. Don’t try to flight-hop across the Pacific from the West Coast to Hawaii to Guam to Okinawa to Tokyo. That increases your risk of spending your entire vacation waiting in the airport while flight after flight is cancelled or full. Monitor flights a few weeks in advance of your trip, and try one or two legs of flight only. Pack light, and be OK with wherever you may end up. Plan plenty of extra time, and prepare for unforeseen expenses, like renting a car to drive four hours back home because the only available flight was to Charleston, not Jacksonville.
Flying with your service member increases your odds of getting a flight, and do not -- DO NOT -- use Space-A flights if it’s very important to get to a specific place at a specific time, like a port call. Flexibility is the game here!
Take advantage of military vacation specials. The Armed Forces Vacation Club may be able to help you find resorts worldwide at a discount. Or ask around about regional family camps that have military specials, like Operation Oasis through Maryland’s Sandy Cove Ministries that offers a free week of family camp or a family retreat to help families regroup after deployment.
So take your awesome military spouse flexibility and resilience and apply it to some vacation planning. Who knows what grand adventure awaits you this summer?