One of the difficulties about living OCONUS is traveling home to the states to see family. Not only is it expensive, but it can be a stressful ordeal. There are lots of things to take into consideration and it is not a simple task preparing for it. Here are a few tips and a make-shift checklist to get you on your way home to see family and friends.
1. Consider the financial obligation
Plane tickets can cost anywhere from $700-$1500 per person so before planning anything else in your trip, be sure that you are financially stable enough to dedicate such a large sum of money. I know families that have gone into debt trying to get home just to see family. If there is not emergency back home and you cannot afford the trip, save yourself the headache and don't go. If you are not financially stable, you will be stressing about the cost of the trip the entire time in the states and then regretting the amount of debt you have after your return.
2. Space A option
For those that aren't on a strict schedule but are on a tight budget, Space A might be the preferred travel choice. Be prepared though, there is no guarantee that you'll receive the first flight available and you might spend a night or two waiting to be approved (especially during peak travel periods). Additionally, the majority of Space A flights land on the East Coast so be prepared to purchase a ticket from the airport you land in to get to your final destination.
Space A isn't a realistic option for us because when we travel, it is during leave (i.e. a strict schedule), and the cost of getting from the East Coast to the West Coast to see family is almost as expensive as if we booked a ticket directly from the Frankfurt airport.
One of the biggest headaches we have encountered with planning our trip home is deciding which steps to take with our pets. We considered bringing our dog home for the trip so that we wouldn't have to burden anyone with having to watch her but then there are so many roadblocks with that decision. Some things to consider are:
- The cost of shipping (300-400 euro each way)
- Obtaining a pet passport
- Ensuring that they are up to date on shots and vaccinations
- Fully kennel trained and prepared for the journey
- Where he/she will be housed while in the states
- If left OCONUS, who will watch Fido? Will you board them at a kennel?
- How much will it cost to board or hire a pet sitter?
- If you are leaving him/her, did you obtain a special POA so they can receive necessary treatment from a vet clinic if the need arises?
Be sure to ask yourself these questions in regard to how you'll handle your vacation after your arrival in the states:
- Where are we going to stay?
- How are we going to get from place to place? (Rental car, borrowed car, etc.)
- What is our budget for spending? It's exciting to go home and visit stores that you haven't seen in months but be sure you are not over spending at stores or doing anything that can compromise your financial stability
- Do we need to plan multiple "pit-stops" in our vacation? If you're like the average person, some of your family may be scattered a few towns or maybe states apart. If you are planning to visit everyone make sure you know all the details of your pit-stop as well.
If your child is at the school-age, be sure to inform his/her teachers of your travel plans so that work can be given in advance to prevent your child from falling too far behind. In the best case scenario, work out a situation with your child's teachers where work can be turned in or alternative assignments can be completed. Be sure to remain in contact with the teachers during your trip to stay up to speed on everything. Although it is more expensive to do so, also try to plan trips around the school breaks to avoid some of the hassle of doing homework while on vacation.
If you have a younger child, be sure to pack a flight bag for him/her to keep them occupied for the flight. If you have flown with your child before then you should know how they react with the high altitude and long flights so try to plan accordingly. I did a post on flying with children awhile ago and it can be found here.