Guest Blog: 7 Military Travel Tips to Make the Most of Your Leave with Air Force Wife Chelsey
I have been searching high and low for YEARS for a military spouses with some all around travel expertise...and I finally found one, Chelsey! I'm so excited for you to read this blog post she wrote for us with all her best tips and tricks for traveling as a military family! It is also wonderfully timed so we are ready for summer opportunity leave!
You get 30 day a year. When a civilian hears this, it seems to be the equivalent of unlimited PTO but it’s very different, especially when weekends and holidays count. When your service member is away a lot there can be added pressure to make your dedicated time together is special. After experiencing many of the common mistakes of taking leave, I’d love to share 7 travel tips you can use to make the most of your leave.
1. Know Your Goals
Knowing the ultimate goal of your leave will go a long way to feeling like you have sufficient time off. I find that how we spend our leave generally falls into one of four categories: Project time, Vacation, Experience, or a Visit. If you have a home or a car or a hobby, you will probably need to take leave at some point to accomplish a specific goal. To make sure we use our time wisely, we like to have everything planned out and all of the necessary materials available before day one. The majority of the tips will apply more to the other three types of leave.
A vacation at home or somewhere else has the ultimate goal of relaxing. We love these the most post deployment or post PCS or post any part of military life because it can all be stressful. An experience is usually classified as a bucket list item or trip and the goal is to experience as much as you can. A visit is pretty straightforward but you’re just trying to visit friends or family as your main goal. Being on the same page as my husband about what type of leave we each need helps us both feel replenished and accomplished at the end. We most often experience confusion between project leave and a staycation or vacation and experience. Mixing two types of leave is totally possible, it just takes extra communication!
2. Learn Your Style
Until you learn what you like, try lots of different styles of leave. You can take your leave all at once, or split into 4 weeks. You may find straight relaxing doesn’t interest you or that multiple back to back experiences leave you feeling exhausted. Leave is a little bit like self-care or a hobby. The more types of leave you take the more likely you are to find a rhythm that works for you. We love to come back right before a weekend that way my husband works just a short day or so and then we have a few more days together without having to use leave for days we might get off anyways.
When we are traveling with my husband, we also like to have a day or two before our trip starts to prep with extra hands on deck, especially during busy work seasons. When that isn’t possible, or we are short on days, I make sure to plan to have extra help of some kind. For our family that might look like a maid to help prep the house or a babysitter, so I can do the packing for the family. What every family needs is different but don’t be afraid to put in extra prep on the front end so you don’t end with a longer to-do list.
3. Pick the Right Days
Thirty days of leave will never feel like enough time to spend with your service member but there are a few strategies to maximize your days off, depending on how your unit operates. If you can consistently depend on having the weekends and family days off, try your best not to take leave these days. Instead, try to return from leave a day or two before a four-day weekend. Then your family can ease back into work with two short work weeks and enjoy a few days off close to home. If your unit runs 24/7 ops this strategy won’t be as beneficial for having the most days off possible; however, choosing to travel during the off-peak season, aka not holidays, will still have many benefits. Such as saving you money, experiencing less crowds and increased chance of getting your leave approved.
4. Plan Early
Another key to making the most of your limited leave is to plan early. This isn’t a popular opinion especially with the military constantly changing their minds about just about everything. When you plan ahead you can be sure to make the most of your travels. Nothing like flying to Amsterdam to find out the tulips don’t bloom for another few weeks or arriving in Mexico to find out you missed lobster season. When you are planning on taking bucket list trips you want to be sure you can cross everything off when you go. You’ll also want to be sure to have plenty of time to research activities, hotels and where to eat if that is your style. Visiting family can be equally chaotic to squeeze everything in during your short visits. Whether your family lives all together or in multiple places, coordinating the right time with others is always best done early, especially when there are competing holiday requests.
5. Use Military Discounts
If you are traveling for your leave, knowing which airlines and hotels can help you make the most of your leave financially and elevate your experience overall. Many hotels, airlines, cruises and even rental car companies offer military discounts. The main three CONUS hotel brands, Hilton, Hyatt & Marriott, all offer Military discounts when traveling with the government or with your family. Always check that the military prices are lower than their free loyalty program pricing, sometimes it isn’t the better deal. Most US based Airlines do not offer military discounts on ticket pricing. Many offer free baggage and priority boarding; few offer free lounge access. If you hesitate to ask for military discounts in person, just do your research before you go. Having the additional information will help you feel confident.
Be sure to check out my free airport guide: https://camouflageperks.com/airport-luxury-travel
6. Get a Fee-Free Travel Credit Card
The best military discount that you’ll find is that American Express, Chase, U.S. Bank and Citi bank offer credit cards with waived annual fees for Active Duty Servicemembers and their spouses. These cards offer amazing travel benefits that will help you speed thru security at the airport, wait for boarding in a fancy airport lounge, free upgrades, hotel status and many benefits that will serve you, even when you aren’t on traveling. These benefits come from just being a card holder.
Travel cards like the American Express Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve card, include travel insurance on all your purchases. Included insurance coverage varies by card but many of these cards include insurance that covers delays, baggage loss, and trip cancellation. Travel insurance is essential for military travel, especially if you are planning early. If you aren’t covered by your card you can often purchase this through an airline or cruise line directly, or through special travel insurance companies. Just be sure that the travel insurance you are purchasing covers denied military leave, before you buy it.
7. Book with Points
You can also earn huge welcome bonuses by meeting a minimum spend in a limited amount of time. The points from these welcome bonuses range greatly. Here are some of the travels we’ve covered from welcome bonuses: Delta SkymilesReserve- 2 roundtrip tickets from WA to TX & 2 roundtrip tickets from WA to Mexico, AmEx Platinum- 2 First Class tickets from WA to Frankfurt, Germany with a long layover in Paris, Chase Sapphire Preferred- 8 Nights at Hyatt’s in Europe (we still have left over points). No matter what your travel goals are the points from opening a high-end travel card with a waived annual fees can help you achieve them!
I have included a link to my free giant list of all the cards with waived fees here: https://camouflageperks.com/giant-list-of-cards-travel
A huge perk to paying for flights or hotels with points is a better refund policy. For many airlines you can cancel for free up until take off time and have your points refunded without charge. For many hotels you can also cancel until 24 hours prior to check in. Refund policies vary even between brands so be cautious when booking. If you are booking on points, you can choose to book a small portion, even a dollar, on your preferred travel card to have your trip covered by their free insurance. Always make sure your purchases are refundable or covered by insurance. Though I’m sure you don’t need to be told that. We have missed out on getting refunds more than I’d like to admit when a trip seems sure at the time of booking and then something always changes.
Chelsey is an Air Force wife of 6 years, mom of 2 adorable toddlers. As a milso she has been around the block a time or two with 3 (soon to be 4) PCS's and 3 deployments. It's no surprise she loves traveling and enjoys time outside. Chelsey can be found on her website camouflageperks.com or on instagram.
Thank you so much Chelsey for sharing these travel tips! I can't wait to use them myself on our next trip!
Written content by Chelsey of Camouflage Perks, photos by Julia of Spouse SERVE.