I’ve been full time in the military for almost 4 years now (I’m one month shy of 4 years!). And even still, I get caught up in this mindset that the military completely holds me back from doing what I love; traveling. That clearly isn’t the case though because I’m writing this blog post, which obviously means I have a few tips and tricks I want to share!
A lot of people I work with only take leave once or twice a year, but not me. I try and take leave at least once a month! And I always get a lot of shit for it too. I was talking with my friend Ellie the other day and I said, “Honestly I really do take a lot of leave…” and she replied, “Yeah, but you’re the happiest one who works here.” And I was like DAMN YOU RIGHT!!
Leave: In military forces, leave is a permission to be away from ones unit, either for a specified or unspecified period of time.
I grew up traveling my entire life. Until now, I’ve never lived anywhere for longer than three years so traveling is literally a part of who I am. I love it. I LIVE for it. It feeds my soul and keeps my spark alive. Traveling is what regenerates me and allows me to really be my best self because being in the military (and any job honestly) can be draining.
So this blog post is all about how I am able to travel so often while also being full time active duty Air Force. And no, I’ve yet to be stationed overseas so for everyone who’s stuck state side; this ones for you!
Cheat the system. Now this one is technically against the AFI, and I’m not saying I’ve ever done this, but sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do!
For those who are unfamiliar with how leave works let me explain a little; in the Air Force we earn 2.5 days of leave per month. You have to have a positive amount of days in order to take leave. For example; if you only have a balance 6 days of leave, it’s highly unlikely you can take 10 days of leave. You also have to be “on leave” for any day that you’re more than 8 hours from base. This includes the weekends, even if you don’t work weekends. IT’S ANNOYING! So if you wanna save a couple days of leave, you don’t count the weekend your gone. Say I was going on a 9 day trip, I could play the system and only use 5 days of leave. If you leave on Saturday and return the following Sunday I could only say I’ll be gone Monday-Friday. Make sense? Like I said, this technically is not permitted, and if there is a recall or you get caught, then you’ve got big consciences to face. So take this tip at your own risk!
Take less leave at a time in order to take leave more often.
Like I said earlier, I try and take leave close to once a month. But I only take a few days at a time. Instead of taking two weeks off all at once, I’ll take 3-5 days here and 3-5 days there. In the past 4 years the longest leave I’ve taken (besides after I graduated from tech school) was 5 days. Doing this allows me to always have AT LEAST 20 days of leave at all times. Which is great, especially now because Andrew and I have a couple of longer trips up our sleeves!!
Take advantage of where you live!
For me, I’m currently stationed in San Antonio, TX. Texas is a huge state and there are TONS of places only a few hours away. We’ve got Dallas, Lubbock, Austin, Houston, Wichita Falls, and lots of other smaller places as well. I try to take as many weekend trips as I can. Texas has a lot to offer and sometimes I get caught up in going all over the world. But I also don’t want to miss out on what’s right in my backyard. I want to explore all of Texas while I still live here because who knows how long we’ll be here and if we’ll ever come back.
The military is small!
This is a known fact to anybody who has any association to any branch of the military. What I mean when I say this today is; I’ve got friends who live all over the world. North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, JAPAN! If you’re also in the military then you probably have friends all over too. Take advantage of that. When you go to visit or want to take a trip, having friends all over is great because it can give you a free place to stay and you’ll have your very own personal tour guide!
5. Invite your loved ones to come visit YOU!
This is a big one for me. I’m constantly faced with this internal battle of using my leave to go visit my family (I alway always always love being able to see my family) and using my leave to actually ADVENTURE. Fam, if you’re reading this please don’t take it the wrong way! But I always feel like I’m wasting my leave if I use it to go back home. Because my parents moved after I graduated I have no friends where they live and I spend majority of my time just hanging out at home. So when I can convince my family to make the trip to see me or we all meet at a vacation destination it’s like a two for one deal!
Let’s talk money for a minute. I’m the first to admit traveling can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.
Luckily for me, I’ve got Andrew. I don’t know how he does it but Andrew has some kind of magic power and he can ALWAYS find us cheap tickets. Both times we flew to California it was less and $200 round trip for the BOTH OF US! He’s found me cheap tickets to fly to Florida so I can go visit one of my bestfriends, he’s found himself cheap tickets to Vegas, California, EUROPE! Now my friends and even my parents ask for his help when they know they’ll be flying! I know this probably doesn’t help much if you don’t have an Andrew but I wanted to share how I fly for (usually) cheap.
The more far in advance you plan, the easier it’ll be to travel for cheap, especially if you travel around the holidays. Planning also gives your leadership plenty of notice that you want to take leave so it’s more likely to get approved. If you wait until last minute, say you want to an entire week off but you wait until Tuesday the week before, you probably won’t be taking leave.
I know this one can be hard for military members but if you plan far enough in advance that it shouldn’t be too big of an issue. Like I said, Andrew is my go to when I need to find a flight. He has taught me a few things (and so has YouTube). One thing I’ve learned that is if you’re flexible by just a few days you can possibly save tons of money. When you go on certain sites it asks you to select the dates you are traveling. And from there it will give you different options (sometimes with different dates) that offer cheaper airfare. This is what I did with my upcoming trip to Pensacola, Florida. I knew I wanted to go at the end of August so I looked for tickets during the third week and the fourth week and was able to find the best bang for my buck.
Take advantage of “military discount”.
I rarely ask if a store has military discount, and usually only do if I’m making a significant purchase. Most “How to Travel for Cheap” articles will suggest packing everything onto a carry on bag instead of checking luggage because most airlines don’t charge for a carry on bag. If you’re an active duty member then you don’t have to worry about paying for luggage! Almost all airlines (even Frontier) don’t charge for luggage. I take advantage of this EVERY time I fly. I always check in with my military ID so I get free luggage and 9 times out of 10 they put TSP pre check on my ticket so I also get to skip the line! Whenever Andrew and I travel together we pack both of our things in one suitcase so we are still getting free luggage, and he always gets TSP pre check with me!
SAVE! (your spare change)
This tip sort of seems like common sense but I want to talk about it anyway. Obviously if you have a strong desire to travel that’s where you’ll want to put your money and what you’ll want to save for. When Andrew first moved to San Antonio (a little over a year ago) we started saving our spare change in an old gallon water bottle. Any random change we’d have would go in the jar, anytime I ever had any cash on me (I rarely carry cash) I’d put it in the jar, Andrew slipped a couple 100 dollar bills in there, and anytime we’d make a bet the loser would have to put X amount of money in the jar. We made a deal that 1 year after Andrew moved in we would count the money we’d saved and use it to go on a trip. Well like I mentioned earlier, it’s been just over a year since Andrew moved down so we finally got to count the jar…
We had $612 in there from just 1 year!! Now we are in the processes of planning our next adventure and this will be the best one yet! I cannot wait to share more when we’ve got a few more things set in stone!
5. Cash saving apps- IBOTTA!
One of my most recent discoveries and obsessions is a cash saving app called Ibotta. It’s free to download in the app store and it’s super user friendly. I heard about this app off of Instagram and started using it about a month and a half ago, I’ve already earned $30.25 from redeeming cash back in items I already buy every time I grocery shop. It’s SUPER easy to use & there’s tons of different offers from tons of different stores. Here’s how I use it; I do my normal grocery shopping and when I get home I search through all the different deals on the app. Any item I just bought I’ll select and it adds it to my list. After I’ve gone though all the items I take a picture of my receipt and it scans every item I bought. If I bought an item that I have selected on my list I get cash back. I love this app so much because, like I said, I’m earning cash back on items I buy every single week! Wether I had this app or not, I’d be buying these items. Since this is just some extra change I don’t normally have (and don’t need for any specific reason) it’s extra money I can use as travel funds. I mean, who doesn’t love receiving extra cash for little to no effort?? ME!!
These are just a few tips and tricks I’ve acquired over my 4 years in the Air Force. I’m sure there are some I can’t think of at the moment or some I am forgetting. I’m sure there are a ton of other tricks out there that I don’t even know about! If YOU have any tips and tricks, whether you are military or not, drop them below! SHARE THE WEALTH AND KNOWLEDGE WITH OTHER TRAVELERS!
I have definitely been infected with the travel bug and have no intentions of getting it out of my system any time soon. Right now, the ultimate dream is so get stationed overseas so traveling is at our fingertips even more!
Enjoy a few pictures from some my travels (while being in the military) thus far!