BY JENNIFER WOODWORTH, PSY.D
With kids out of school and energy to burn, how can you enjoy your summer vacation without breaking the bank? Summer fun does not have to be expensive and can be a time your family can bond over shared experiences, utilizing programs created and offered specifically to the military community.
INSTALLATION AMENITIES: If you are not sure where to start planning your days for summer vacation, start with your local installation amenities. Take advantage of free or low cost offers located on your installation, including libraries, pool access, beach access, bowling facilities, and movies. Stay alert for reading programs through the libraries, where children can earn prizes for continuing their reading over the summer. Many installations offer low cost or free summer camps, youth and teen center admission, equipment rentals, and the use of military camp grounds. Also, consider staying in installation lodging during your travel.
DISCOUNTED TICKETS: Your local installation Morale, Welfare and Recreation office is a great first stop for discounted tickets for sporting events or concerts, along with Disney World, Sea World and other theme park attractions. The Waves of Honor program allows a one-time, free entrance per year to either Sea World theme parks Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, Water Country USA or Sesame Place for active duty military, activated or drilling reserveman, or National Guardsman, plus three dependents. Disney’s Armed Forces Salute Program provides discounts to military members and includes Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in Anaheim, and the Disney Cruise Line. Pair this with lodging at a full service resort hotel or base lodging and you can save substantially on your vacation (see Lodging).
Take advantage of Military Appreciation days at minor or major league sporting venues and special activities within the community. Not all activities will advertise about military discounts, so it is always a good idea to ask about one.
TRAVEL: Last-minute travel plans based on availability and cheap airfare tickets could be an option if you are flexible about where you want to travel. You can utilize search engines such as hotwire.com, expedia.com, cheaptickets.com, or specific airlines such as delta.com, southwest.com, or aa.com.
SPACE A TRAVEL: Space Available Travel, known as Space A, is a unique privilege provided to service members, retirees, and their families. This type of travel used to be affordable and consistent in allowing service members, retirees, and their families to travel wherever military flights were going. However, now with operational security, flights are no longer posted online and can change at a moment’s notice. On the Air Mobility Command website, installations that participate in Space A travel are listed along with contact information of how to obtain Space A travel. Unfortunately, there is always the chance that there is not room on the flight for you or your family; which could be an issue if you were able to get to your destination, but not have a flight back to your originating installation. Check the website http://www.amc.af.mil/amctravel/index.asp for details, including eligibility, documentation needed, and how to sign up.
LODGING: Utilizing the amenities on installations can decrease your travel expenses on your vacation. Check out camping sites, lodges or inns, or resorts close to your destination. Timing of your travel can be critical in obtaining the best rates and availability. However, if you are flexible on your dates, you may find an excellent deal. Typically, you will have to book your stay with the specific lodging you are intending to stay and can utilize specific service branch websites for contact information. For example, active duty members, reservists, and retirees all have access to cabins on Cape Cod and Nantucket which are maintained by the Coast Guard. Also, Hale Koa Hotel, an AFRC on Waikiki Beach, is a favorite military resort destination and rooms can be reserved up to 365 days in advance. If you plan on traveling overseas, there are military lodgings available in Europe and Asia (check the MilitaryOneSource website for additional details).
YMCA: The Armed Services YMCA focuses on three main areas in supporting the military, youth development, healthy living, and social development. They offer activities from holiday programming, quilts for children, and summer camps. With the support of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Military Outreach Initiative, the YMCA is able to provide respite child care and memberships to military families. Check out their website for eligibility and contact information.
NATIONAL PARKS: The National Park service offers free annual passes to active duty military members and their dependents, which allows you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. The pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges however additional fees may apply for camping, boating, or other activities. Check the website for details.
BLUE STAR MUSEUMS: Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and thousands of museums across the country. They provide free entrance to over 2,100 museums across the country for active duty military, National Guard, reservists, and their families from Memorial Day (Monday, May 25th) to Labor Day (Monday, September 7th). Check the website listed for details and to find museums in your area. This is also a perfect idea if you are visiting family across the country and want to fill some time with local culture or adventure.
CAMP: Operation We Are Here and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon host comprehensive lists of summer camps available for children of military families, including children of wounded warriors, children of deployed service members, reserve, and National Guard members. Teen Adventure Camps are a collaboration between The DoD’s Office of Family Readiness Policy and several universities to offer adventure camps for military teens, ages 14 to 18. There are more than 30 camps offered across the country and are offered free of charge for qualifying teens. There are also camps designed for teens that have special needs and are focused on safety and fun. Examples of camps include a river paddle excursion in Kentucky, sailing around Washington State’s Puget Sound, and wilderness survival camp in Montana’s backcountry.
With more than 20 locations across the U.S., Camp Corral provides a oneweek camping experience to children, ages eight to 15, from military families. Although any child from a military family is eligible, registration priority is given to children of wounded, disabled or fallen military service members. Not only do the children participate in canoeing, fishing, arts and crafts, ropes course challenge, horseback riding, and other camp and outdoors activities, but a Military and Family Life Counselor (MFLC) is on hand at each camp.
GIVING BACK: If you are looking to give back to the community during the summer, check your local city projects including beach and park cleanups, animal shelter volunteer opportunities, or sports coaching. These are ideas to enhance your families’ engagement in the community and model citizenship for your children.
Whatever your summer plans may be, take some time to relax and enjoy your family. Try and include some education and culture with museums, recreation with swimming and sports, and down time with movie rentals and popcorn. Remember to keep a balance for your family, and create new summer traditions and memories. •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Woodworth is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Vista, CA. She has worked in the mental health field for seven years, Her husband is retired from the Marine Corps and she has three children ages six, eight, and ten.
General Travel Information
http://www.military.com/Travel/Home/Military.com Installation locator http://www.military.com/base-guide/
Space Flight Available
Military One Source
U.S. Army MWR
Marine Corps lodging
Air Force lodging
Coast Guard lodging
National Parks Service
Blue Star Museums:
Armed Services YMCA
Operation We Are Here
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon
Military One Source
Teen Adventure Camps
Source Exceptional Parent Magazine