By Claire Wood
Guest Blogger

Welcome back to my ongoing series looking into a year of my military family’s money moves. In January, I covered taking an overview of your yearly expenses. In February, I discussed running a life insurance analysis. In March, I tackled the ongoing buying vs. renting a home debate. And in April, I peeled back the curtain on retirement preparedness

May looks a bit different than all of the other months. The first five fall into the categories of responsibility, future-thinking, and more long-range planning. The money moves for May focus more on enjoyment and recreation we get to experience at the present moment. 

For some, vacations might seem like a non-essential luxury, but for most of us, military families especially, a vacation isn’t just a luxury. Vacations and taking breaks are part of an important, sanity-saving, marriage-and-family-protecting, practical, necessary, and healthy rhythm of life. 

In order to make a vacation a reality, however, it is vital to make a financial plan for achieving it. Below are four tips for implementing time away to relax, recreate, replenish, and rejuvenate. 

1. Define what a vacation looks like in your current season of life. 

Vacations aren’t one-size-fits-all. One family’s two-week, tropical Hawaiian adventure is another family’s road trip to visit the grandparents. Factors to consider when defining your version of a vacation include:

  • Size of family or group traveling
  • Ages of children 
  • Cost and budget
  • Time off from work and other responsibilities 
  • Mode of travel
  • Type and availability of lodging accommodations
  • Kinds of activities that energize or deplete you (I’m looking at you theme parks)

Essentially, you must consider how you might want to feel once you get home from your trip. What do you want your sanity and bank account to look like upon re-entry? 

2. Count the Cost

Now that you and your family have articulated, and hopefully come to agreement upon, what type of vacation is attainable, it’s time to start counting the cost of setting your vacation in motion. While money is a major player in this conversation, it isn’t the only “cost” to keep in mind.

Time Cost

It is important to understand the overall time cost for your vacation planning. Does your servicemember have time off? Will you use a predetermined time of Block Leave to travel? Is your spouse even available to travel? Will you make this an adults only trip? Figure out what time constraints need to be addressed like requesting leave time, scheduling your own work calendar to take a break, and also double-checking with any friends or family who may be impacted by you staying with them or leaving your children behind. 

Financial Cost

As your vacation planning continues to take shape with understanding realistic expectations, time planning, and more, you can’t overlook the actual money cost associated with taking a trip. Hopefully, you are planning to cash flow your vacation and not go into debt in order to enjoy a few days away. Therefore, it is crucial that every detail be planned with a realistic cost in mind. 

There are a few ways to come to the total financial cost for the trip. You can start with the amount you have available and see what kind of vacation $500, $1000, or $5000 can get you when you factor in lodging, travel, food, souvenirs, and incidentals. The other method is to plan the vacation, get a total cost and plan to take the amount from your savings or create a sinking fund with the total cost divided up by the number of months you have to save up for it.

3. Put Your Plan In Action

With all of the discussion of plans, coordinating calendars, and crunching of numbers, it’s time to put your vacation plan into action. There are a number of action items that need to happen before you can leave home en route to your dream destination. A short checklist might include:

  • Booking your reservations for hotel rooms, an AirBNB, or military lodging
  • Planning your route for road trips with potential stops along the way
  • Considering your food strategy with sites like Tripadvisor or making a rough meal plan
  • Arranging care for any pets you may have
  • Placing a mail hold with USPS if you plan to be gone more than a few days
  • Servicing your vehicle
  • Making a stop at your bank or ATM for cash
  • Refilling any prescriptions you may need while you’re away
  • Doing a quick inventory and update of sunscreen and pool goggles (in summer months)
  • Loading up the iPad with a YouTube, Netflix, or audio book queue 
  • Laundering and packing appropriate clothing for your trip

4. Enjoy Your Well-Deserved Vacation

Whether you are staying downtown in your local area for a long weekend, renting an MWR lakefront cabin, or taking the kids to Disney for a week of magic, be sure to soak in the time you are away with your family.

Military families have a lot of ongoing demands that most other families know nothing of. The money spent on taking time away together to refresh yourselves from deployments, high operational tempos, stressful training cycles, and frequent relocations is always worth the investment. 

Keep in mind that there is no correlation between the cost of the trip and the value of the trip. There are many low-cost or no-cost opportunities you can take advantage of with some minimal planning. The memories made doing those things are just as precious as if you spent a whole month’s salary, covered a lot of miles, and poured a lot of blood, sweat, and tears doing something outrageous. A few great resources to check out include the Blue Star Museums Program, the Interagency Annual Military Pass allowing free entry into national parks and recreation areas, and the Waves of Honor Program that offers free entry to a variety of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens venues.

Claire Wood is a military spouse who calls home anywhere the Army sends her. She loves reading, hosting friends, and keeping houseplants alive. She shares on Instagram @home_sweet_military_home and her 2015 book, Mission Ready Marriage is available on Amazon. 

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