This post is sponsored by TravelCenters of America. All opinions and work are my own.
During the past year, John and I have begun to plan a massive road trip of the United States. We’re super excited to jump in our car and spend a few weeks exploring the country– the Mississippi River, Yellowstone, the Pacific Northwest, the Grand Canyon. We’re totally stoked.
Except for two things:
1) It will take a lot of planning– probably more planning than we’ve ever done together for a trip before.
2) It will cost a bit of cash money (although probably less than in other years– thank you, low gas prices!).
As we’ve been mulling over our options, we’ve keep coming back to some bedrock ideas of how we’ll execute our epic road trip. Here’s what we keep talking about, discussing, and have experienced first-hand while traveling as a military family:
Enjoy your local scene
It’s tough to think about taking a vacation when you just got finished PCSing. Go explore your new home instead. I’m not talking about just finding out where the park is or where the grocery store is (c’mon– that’s not vacation-y at all!). I’m talking about actually exploring. Find out what gems are near you, where locals go, what festivals and events are available. And then actually go do them.
If you’re new to military life, please take it from me: you’ll be surprised how quickly your two or three years go. And you’ll be looking at the last few months before your station wishing you had only [insert trip or experience here]. Be proactive and explore now. You’ll be surprised by how enriching the experience actually is.
Plan around military-friendly days
If you have flexibility, planning vacation around days like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day can open opportunities when it comes to your military affiliation. Many organizations and businesses offer special deals and events exclusively for military families, veterans, and retirees.
Speaking of special deals… This July 4th, TravelCenters of America is offering a free meal to any active duty or retired members of the military to say thank you. Just bring a military ID and choose from a menu of signature favorites. From June 28 until August 5, TA is also donating $1 from every meal sold from a special menu of signature favorites at Iron Skillet and Country Pride restaurants to the National Military Family Association. If you’re on a road trip, pull over at a TA, take a much needed break, and support a non-profit that does so much for our community… just by eating dinner.
Grab a National Parks pass
There are so many National Parks within driving distance of military bases in the United States. And the coolest thing? Your family can get a year-long National Parks pass for free. It astounds me how many military families have never heard of that opportunity and haven’t taken advantage of it. Furthermore, if you go to a state or local park with a fee, they may also have military discounts or free passes available. It doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst that happens will be a no.
Stay on base
Hotels, lodges, and campgrounds on military bases are a fun and surprising perk of being part of the military community. Rates are adjusted for your sponsor’s rank, but they are affordable options for military families on vacation. Just make sure that you make reservations ahead of time– remember that people on military and governmental business also use these resources. Staying on base also gives you access to the resources that the base has to offer: the gym, bowling alley, theater, Commissary and Exchange, MWR, and USO. The base may even have facilities like a pool or private beach that you can enjoy. Bingo.
Keep your military ID on hand
There are tons of military discounts available out there– many of them unannounced. Ask even when don’t think anything is available. Make sure that you keep your military ID with you too– often military discounts extend to military spouses and dependents, but only with proof.
When in doubt, ask Facebook. There are tons of military travel and vacation groups out there full of knowledgeable people who have been there, done that, and returned from their vacations. This Space A group was very helpful when John and I were planning a vacation to Europe. They even share cruise and MWR specials that might otherwise fly under my radar. (Sure, we’ve actually gone on a cruise yet, but a gal can dream, right?!)
We’ve got about three months until our trip… and I’m already excited. There’s still so much to plan and to do, but it will all be completely, totally, absolutely worth it. And I’ve just got to ask: If you’re a travel-aholic, what tips and advice can you add?