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For military families, travel doesn’t wane with the last breaths of summer. Travel happens all the time. Whether it’s for vacation, a PCS, seeing family, or visiting a spouse while you’re geo-baching, military families put in a lot of miles every year. Those miles cost moolah and can add up quickly, especially when you have kids or are traversing long distances. Your bank account can use all the help it can get. These eight tips can make a dent:
1. Travel Veteran’s Day weekend
It’s no secret that Veteran’s Day has become flush with discounts and perks for veterans and active duty military members. Most commands offer extended liberty over the weekend–sometimes encompassing the Friday or Monday before as well–making it a great time to pack some strike out for a mini-vaycay. Plan your trip around the discounts available for the weekend. Some attractions–like Colonial Williamsburg–offer specials for veterans and their families during that weekend specifically. Others–like Busch Gardens and Disney World–offer standing discounts year-round, but you can still take advantage of them over the long weekend.
This year, B&Bs for Vets is celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary. Affiliated bed and breakfasts offer free or reduced stays over the weekend, depending on their terms. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a romantic getaway, but you’ll want to book now as rooms fill up fast.
Memorial Day and the Fourth of July often have offers for military families and veterans, too. Look into where you’re traveling and research local and regional holiday-specific discounts.
2. Check out military-friendly cities
You don’t need to travel on a patriotic holiday when it comes to cities that keep military families and veterans in mind. And they might just be in your backyard! The Hampton Roads area, San Diego, San Antonio, and Fayetteville, NC are perfect examples of towns that have a strong military presence–and know how to treat military families right. Google the town’s name and “military discount” for ideas of places to go, things to do, shops to check out, and restaurants to eat at. Even if they don’t offer discounts, it’s always fun to support military- or military spouse-owned businesses, too. Can’t find anything online? Contact the area’s board of tourism or visitors bureau and ask for a list of military discounts. Many have this information on tap and ready for you.
3. Use your other affiliations
Military discounts aren’t offered everywhere and that’s okay. If you have another affiliation, such as an AARP, AAA, or union membership, try using that discount. Or just ask if they have any lower prices. Especially when it comes to hotels, call and ask for a manager’s discount or rock-bottom price– it will probably be lower than the 5 to 10 percent you’d get with a military discount.
4. Travel on the off-season
It’s a joke among military spouses that milfams don’t take vacation–they take pre- or post-deployment leave. And really, let’s not forget PCSing, too. Especially this year, it seems that more families are moving at different times of the year. While that can be frustrating–and difficult for kids enrolled in school–there is a silver lining The summer, major holidays, and spring break, are often more expensive when it comes to hotels and transportation. Avoiding peak times means you save cash right away, without even asking for a discount or consulting ITT/MWR at your installation. And don’t forget, fewer people means you get to explore and vacation on your time, making the experience less stressful.
5. Scout military programs
Most military families know about Blue Star Museums–a free museum program program run by the nonprofit Blue Star Families. It’s a fantastic program that makes hundreds of museums free between Memorial Day and Labor Day for military families across the US. But when the summer’s over? Well, there are a few other programs for free or reduced-rate activities you can use while you’re traveling, too:
- VetTix offers free tickets–including sporting events, fine arts programs, and concerts–to military families throughout the year.
- Blue Star Theaters is another Blue Star Families program and offers free or discounted tickets for fine arts performances.
- Disneyland and Disney World offer discounted tickets during most of the year, barring a few black-out dates.
- The National Park Service has a year-round free yearly pass promotion for military families that will work for any national parks that have a fee. (Entrance into tons of national parks, historic sites, battlefields, and memorials are already free, even if you don’t have the pass.)
- Local and regional attractions, like zoos, aquariums, and theme parks may have their own military discounts or complimentary pass programs. You just might not know about them. Do your homework and, when in doubt, give them a call.
This list isn’t exhaustive, so when you hear of a new or a new-to-you program, add it to your list of resources for your next trip!
6. Include the airlines
If you’re taking a trip by plane, think first about traveling Space-A. (That’s definitely a whole article in itself.) The truth is, that if you’re on a tight schedule and can’t wait around, Space-A might not be the choice for you. If you’re flying commercially, there are airlines that have military discounts and perks. From free checked bags to discounted ticket prices, there are perks available.
7. Use your military know-how
Making use of the lodges and inns on nearby bases can save hundreds of dollars, especially if you’re traveling in an expensive area, like a beach town during the summer. And vacationing on base isn’t the worst idea. Depending where you are, the military has beaches (with free parking!), playgrounds, picnic groves, RV campgrounds, cabins, and other amenities that are usually in high demand, especially during the summer. And there are installations close to many major attractions and big cities, too, so you don’t just have to stay on base for entertainment.
Most military families at least know about these options… but fewer know that MWR offers the ability to rent equipment like tents, sleeping bags, and coolers at a discount through the Recreation Checkout or Outdoor Recreation Center.
8. Use travel insurance
Military life can be unpredictable. If you’re spending a lot on travel plans–especially when it comes to lodging, cruises, airfare, or other big-ticket travel items–you’ll want to invest in travel insurance. Be careful–some travel insurance options will only cover losses if the change in travel is due to a change in deployment orders, not a revocation of leave time, or other ways the military might alter your travel plans. Read the fine print, ask questions, and know exactly what you’re purchasing so, in case you need to use it, you actually can. If something happens, those protections will ensure that you’ll save a lot of money rather than watching it evaporate as the military changes your vacation plans.
By J.G. Noll