Military families have unusual travel opportunities. Whether it is a Permanent Change of Station move, an overseas duty station or an annual trek home to see family and friends, planning properly can make or break a travel experience. Here are 8 tips for traveling as a military family.
Budget. Of course, it’s easy to anticipate costs like airfare, but hidden costs can add up fast. Make sure you factor in car rental, gas, airport parking, cab fare, checked baggage fees, pet sitting costs and meals, tips and so on. If you are looking to stretch your budget, active duty families get a free annual pass to the National Parks, which can save you money if you are camping your way across the country. Having a handle on your budget will minimize any surprises on your next credit card statement.
Purchase traveler’s insurance. It happens. Sometimes you have to change or cancel a flight. Your kid got the flu, your spouse fell off the ladder cleaning the gutter and broke his arm, leave was revoked, a training class was scheduled….things happen. Traveler’s insurance won’t cover all changes or cancellations, but it will cover you if your flight is canceled due to bad weather or airline delays. It will also allow you to return home in the case of sickness, injury, the death of a family member, or if something catastrophic happens, like your house burns down while you are away.
Save your receipts. If you happen to be on a permanent change of station (PCS) move, you are allowed to mix business with pleasure. However, the military will only reimburse you for lodging, fuel and moving supplies. Keep every receipt for reimbursement. Use military discounts whenever possible. Every base also has a hotel for service members and their families. Priority is given to those with a PCS or on a school assignment.
Hop a Space-A flight. Space-Available flights are often an option to fly from one base to another. They can save you a ton of money. There are priority categories. Those traveling on orders and active duty are given first seats. While Space-A is free, it does require prior planning and flexibility. It will require an approval letter from the service member’s command. Many times availability is announced the day of the flight, and flight dates can change. If you are pressed for time make sure you have a backup plan to Space-A.
Call the airlines for emergency travel. In the event of a death in the family, most airlines offer a bereavement ticket to the military. The rates are not advertised, and you must call their customer service to make arrangements. While not all airlines offer this service, it is worth asking about. If you do happen to secure a bereavement ticket in an emergency, it’s best if you wear your military uniform on the flight.
Get permission. Avoid landing in hot water by using your government charge card for specific expenses only. It is not intended to use as a personal credit card. Cover your ass by keeping all of your receipts!
Make sure you have leave approval first. It’s just common sense. Make sure you have the approval of your commanding officer before you plan a vacation or trip. If you purchased tickets before approval and your permission is denied, your plane tickets will not be refunded and you could lose out on hundreds of dollars or more.
Don’t forget your fuzzy friends. Whether you are taking your pets abroad on the move or boarding them for vacation make sure you make arrangements far in advance. Moves or boarding can require additional vaccinations and paperwork. Make sure you give yourself ample time to meet the requirements. If someone is pet setting while you are gone, stock up on supplies and have an emergency plan should your pet fall ill while you are away.
You can minimalize moving or vacation stress by taking the time to plan and budget. What traveling strategies have you picked up along the way? Please share in the comments below.