Twice a year service members sign out on leave. This time honored tradition of two weeks off generally falls in the summer and winter months. For those with families, it is an opportunity to reconnect with each other. For those without, a chance to explore. So now that you have signed out on leave, what is next?
For most, it is a rushed trip to the airport, a rental car at the destination, and a hotel room that will likely run into the hundreds of dollars per night. Each day is crammed with shows, events, and excursions, which will keep running that bill higher. This repeats itself until the 14th day, when the service member returns to sign back in at 2359, just to finesse those last few vacation minutes before falling asleep exhausted.
This probably seems familiar to most. As service members, we do a great job of using military assets in our day-to-day work, but we seem to forget about them once we sign out. Vacation time should not be stressful. It also should not be something that breaks the bank every six months. Through a few simple actions, service members can save substantial amounts of money, doing what they want to do, and doing it with less stress too.
2 – 3 months prior – Consider where you want to go. Look at flights that get you to your main destination. Check prices to nearby airports as well. This is purely informational at this point. Sometimes landing at a nearby airport can save a significant amount of money. If you decide to use a commercial airline, take a good look at their flight insurance. Many have trip cancellation clauses that cover leave revocation. So even if you book ahead and something changes at the last minute, you can get your money back without having to pay additional fees.
1 month prior – Where you stay is often one of the most expensive parts of a trip. So plan based on real priorities. Are you more concerned about having a comfortable, safe place to sleep? Or are you going for the amenities that only a five star hotel can offer? While spa treatments and room service seems great, if you only plan to use the hotel room to sleep in, there is no need to spend hundreds of dollars a night for 10 channels and a freshly made bed.
Take a moment to check out www.dodlodging.com. Here you can click on links for Army, Marine, Air Force, and Navy lodging locations worldwide. Pick up the phone and give them a call at the destination of your choice. Prices in the US are generally $25 – $45 per night. This compares with civilian hotel rooms charging $100 – $300 at most tourist destinations. Vehicles are secured, and nearly all are within walking distance to a dining facility or commissary. This can reduce unnecessary expenses significantly while freeing up funds to do the things you want.
For service members on leave status, these locations are generally able to book lodging for up to three nights in a row, and then space available after that. So use that as an opportunity to plan an exciting vacation. A recent trip to Florida allowed my wife and me to stay in Tampa (MacDill AFB), Cocoa Beach (Patrick AFB), and Key West (Navy Lodge Key West) for 13 total days. In most cases, cottages were even available which were more spacious than the nicest five star hotel, at only a fraction of the price.
During leave – Tourist locations make much of their business through excursions. Four hour snorkeling trips can run well over $100 for two people. Considering that it takes time to get to the snorkeling location, the four hour trip might actually turn into an overpriced, 40 minute snorkel. Military installations can also solve this problem. For example, Key West Naval Air Station has a marina right on base. After reading the rules and passing a short test, you can rent a boat for a full day at up to 50% off for active duty service members. Rent the desired gear and equipment, prepare yourself for hours of enjoyment, and enjoy a much richer experience for you and your family. The total cost is still less than the excursion.
Tourist destinations tend to be overwhelmed with – well, tourists. Therefore finding a beautiful beach with space to relax or play with the family can be difficult. Many installations include beaches that are only accessible on base or for service members. So get away from the crowds and enjoy your vacation.
Each installation has an outdoor recreation office that can assist you with gear, information, locations, recommendations, and ways to have fun. Save money on those $10 beach chairs and $15 umbrellas at the beach; rent them from outdoor recreation for pennies on the dollar.
Coming home – Remember, a vacation should be stress free. Plan your return to be the same way. Get back at an early enough hour to eat a real meal and get a good night’s sleep.
Make your next military vacation an experience to remember, by doing it the right way!
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.