Or at least that’s how hubby puts it every time another 6 month deployment comes up.
No, of course he isn’t talking about all that time we are going to spend away from each other; he is referring to something that most fast attack wives would consider a little slice of heaven…. The ever so popular ‘port call’ trip!
Here is a bit of background for new wives and for seasoned wives who just may not know.
As many know and some people hate about fast attacks, their schedule is like the shifting sands on a beach; ever changing unannounced and sometimes all together wiped clean. So take that description and keep it in the back of your mind anytime you schedule or attempt to schedule something around a boat’s ‘possible’ schedule.
Some of you may say “Why is she saying ‘possible’ schedule?” Well here is the easy answer; OPSEC, OPSEC, OPSEC! The Submarine Service is called the Silent Service for a reason, and if their location is compromised, a part on them is broken, or if some one in the chain of command wants them to change course mid-underway and work on another mission their schedule will change with out notice. Just remember even though that schedule may change and it makes you angry, it is done for the safety of your Sailor.
A ‘port call’ trip is a term used when wives and family members decide to TRY to meet their sailor’s boat (usually a fast attack). (PLEASE NOTE – ALL port call information that a boat/ command may release to you is considered CLASSIFIED. Everyone has their own opinion as to when this information becomes unclassified, but the best rule of thumb is that no port call information is considered unclassified until the boat has left that port of call.) Not all commands will release this port call information, if they don’t release it or do not want family members to visit; it’s probably for a very good reason. If they do release this information, it’s equally up to you as it is to the Navy to keep those dates and locations secure. I have seen port call trip dates change due to a wife who couldn’t keep the date and location to herself and I’ve seen it change for what appears to be no reason at all.
So Now on to the good stuff!
Your husband is on a boat that is making a port call. First things first, jump up and down for joy!!! Because not only do you have the chance to see your hubby, you have a chance to see him in another country (sometimes the port calls do happen in the US, so this may not apply to everyone).
So you want to celebrate and tell everyone you know where you are going and why, right? DON’T! You can celebrate with your fellow boat wives, but do not by any means release the date, location, or reason for going there to anyone. Remember OPSEC! If you want you can tell people you are going on vacation, or going on a cruise, or just going to be away for a while. Do not tell them you are going to see your husband. So how do you go about getting your flight and other travel plans in order for this trip? Plan it like any other vacation; you are going for pleasure, no reason needed but the joy of going some where new.
1) You decide that you want to take this opportunity while you can, who knows what the
future holds, Carpe Diem (‘Seize the day’).
2) You have looked at your finances (DO NOT SKIP THIS PART) and you have found
that you have the extra money to take this trip.
3) Where do you start, after all it is a lot to plan in just a short period? (#1 best time
consumer for the first half of deployment, lol).
Here are my tips on things to do before and during your trip, enjoy!
*You need a passport! Go to your local Post office and get all the up to date info.
* I recommend buying your plane ticket as soon as possible. On my last trip I saved about $600 because I bought my plane ticket as soon as I decided to go (I spent just over $400), If I would have waited till the month of my trip to buy my ticket I would have paid Over $1000 for the same seat. The trip before that I spent $800 because I waited 1 ½ months before I decided I was actually going to go. (Prices could be more or less depending on where you are going, but the point is the price will go up the closer you get to the day you want to leave)
* Check out the discounted travel sites, but also check out the airlines directly. Both of my tickets I bought thru the airline directly because it happened to be cheaper for me to do so.
* It may be cheaper for you to drive to an international hub then to fly from your local airport to the international airport
* In most cases you can not use a MAC flight or Space A flight to take this type of trip. The main reason being, your military member is not with you and they are not changing homeport to their port call location. Some people say they have used Space A for a port call trip; The best bet is to call a military airport directly or walk in to their customer service desk and ask.
* I can’t stress this enough!!! You have a 90% chance of the boat’s schedule changing, and unless you don’t mind going on this trip alone, get travel insurance. Many companies cover flight and travel insurance, but you must read their fine print. Will you get a full refund on your non-refundable plane ticket from the insurance company if you decide you don’t want to go? Do you have to pay extra fees? Can you only get the refund under certain circumstances?
* Buying a refundable plane ticket at times can be very expensive
* One company I know that does have Travel/flight insurance is a company that works with USAA, if you are a USAA customer you can go to their website and search Travel insurance. They will connect you to a company called Travel Insured. By going thru USAA you are connecting under their umbrella and you will get a discount and the privilege of using the military clause. (I received a mix response of people that did not have USAA that called Travel Insured directly and could/couldn’t use the military clause.) The best bet is to call and talk to them directly if you do not understand what you are reading on the site.
Basically the military clause covers a change in a military member’s leave; So how does this help you if you can’t tell anyone you are going to see your husband? If you decide to cancel your trip because of a command schedule change in the end it means that your Sailor can not take leave even if he wanted to because he is a few hundred feet under the water. So his leave is considered canceled …. But wait, I can’t tell anyone I’m going to see my husband on this trip, How do I ask this company how this works? You don’t have to tell them he is on a submarine you can just tell them you are going on vacation and your husband may not be able to go because his leave may get canceled, and leave it at that. If it ends up that you do have to cancel you can get a letter from the command or squadrons, stating that your Sailor’s leave was canceled do to a classified change in his commands schedule.
* Do research you may find other companies that provide a military clause for travel insurance.
~Where to stay?~
* Well you can stay in a 4 star hotel, and spend more on a few nights stay than you did on your plane ticket. OR you can….
* Stay in a bed and breakfast, Search B&Bs in the location you are going online. I did this on my first trip and it was a wonderful experience!
* If it’s a US military base, check out the MWR, Navy Lodge or the Temporary Enlisted/Officer visitor’s quarters (TVQ). The prices could be cheap compared to the prices out in town. You can visit www.navy-lodge.com to see if they have a navy lodge on that base, you can go to your local Navy Lodge or your local TVQ and pick up their books on world wide locations (the TVQ books sometimes also have MWR phone numbers in them as well). Or you can buy a book at http://militaryliving.com on military travel and lodging around the world.
* If it is a foreign military base, check out their equivalent to Temporary quarters or military lodging. You can find this information on their base website if they have one or find the base phone number online and call their information personnel desk and ask. On my last trip, I did this. We had found the foreign base’s website, found that they did have temporary lodging and called to see if we could use it. They sent us the forms we needed to fill out and on a verbal agreement we paid when we got there, because they only took cash in their currency. We stayed in a 3 bedroom town house that I shared with another wife who brought her kids. I only paid about $300 for 6-7 days (we split total the cost by room) and I wouldn’t have done it differently. The comfort of being in a house was a big plus on the trip.
~How to travel in country~
* I drive, because I love the freedom of renting my own car and not having to worry about some one else’s schedule. My first ‘Half Way’ trip I waited a few days in the trip to rent a car, and we got a decent price at a little local no name rental place. My second trip I went to the Europcar.com and found a great deal. So I recommend both checking out small no name shops and big rental companies. I also recommend getting the insurance they provide and make sure you have unlimited mileage. Since you are renting a car make sure you take the time to visit some of those places you might not be able to visit otherwise.
* Take public transportation. Trains, Planes, and Automobiles; If you are going some where in Europe you can’t beat taking their public transportation. You can get deals online before you go or you can wait until you are in country and buy your tickets on the spot.
* Plane tickets from point A to point B in country are much cheaper than doing the same type of flight in the US.
* Share a car rental or a train ride with another wife that is going, being with some one else while traveling in a new country saves your sanity!
~What to do in country~
* Of course you are going there to see your husband (if he actually arrives or if he can get leave while you are there) but what else can you do?
* Explore the local area, get out and immerse yourself in the food, atmosphere, and lifestyle of the locals
* Travel, take a day trip to that big tourist attraction that may be just up the road or in the next town.
* Go to the parks, the local memorials, check out the history of that town
* When you are planning your trip, see if the country or/and the city have websites where you can order free brochures. Or check out their site for their info of the area.
* Check out the base website and see if they offer any tours or trips or interesting things to do.
* Go to the book store or library and read up on the areas you want to visit.
* Do not be a hermit crab and stay in one place, you spent a lot of money for this trip GET OUT THERE!
* Some people swear by travelers checks, I have no experience with them and I would be afraid of getting some where and them not taking the travelers checks. What I do know is travelers checks are an American thing.
* Visa- I’m not trying to promote visa but I have yet to be somewhere, home or abroad that did not take visa (unless it was cash only). You can use your visa debit card just like your credit card in other countries.
* Master card – My husband has only had a few problems with master card. The main one being, all the credit cards in Europe have switched to a ‘chip’ system that holds more info in it and locals use a pin instead of signing. For both Visa and Master Card you may have to remind the person behind the counter that they need to swipe the card because yours does not have the chip that they can just scan.
* Other credit cards – Discover, American Express, and all others in most cases are not accepted overseas.
* Contact your bank or credit card company and let them know you are traveling overseas. You can tell them you will be visiting multiple countries and give them a general time frame.
* Cash- Do not carry a large amount of cash in hand. You can use ATMs in other countries (your bank will convert it at that day’s best currency rate).
* Converting American currency, do it at the airport when you get in country and if you don’t then most national banks will convert money over (they will require multiple IDs and possibly your passport).
~Security and Safety~
* Always keep in mind that although your husband’s command supports you visiting your husband, they are not responsible for you. And they are not required to do anything for you on your trip.
* Know how to get a hold of the closest American embassy or the closest US military base.
* Keep a copy of your passport in your suitcase, just incase you loose your passport.
* Don’t wear clothing that will make you stand out from the locals. US Sports teams, tee shirts with Dr. Pepper written on the front of them (or FBI, Budweiser; How about we just say any shirt that you can read, lol), and torn up jeans are a few of the uniquely American clothing items. Dress in business casual type clothing, nice jeans (no holes or tears), slacks, nice sweaters, button up shirts, and shoes other than tennis shoes.
* Keep your military ID out of sight when on a plane or traveling in general, US military/dependants could become a target.
* When you get in country buy street maps so you can know where you are and where you want to go.
* Have the number to your command’s Squadron in the states, and the number of your Ombudsman or her temporary replacement (if she is going on ‘vacation’ too) incase something happens to you or another wife. Or incase you hear about something happening to the Boat/Crew.
* Get a calling card, I prefer to get them in country because I know they will work for calling back home to the states and I think they are sometimes cheaper with more minutes. You can find calling cards at most tourist areas and at the airports.
Last of all HAVE FUN. You are getting a chance to see a new country be it only for a few days or for a few weeks, take this opportunity to get out there and see new things, eat new food, and live a little!