As the primary travel planner for our family of four, I have learned a few tricks along the way. In the nearly two and a half years we’ve been stationed in Germany with US Army Europe, we have traveled to numerous cities in eleven different countries. Here are some of our secrets to success:
- Take advantage of on–post services. On base you can apply for a German driver’s license, a no-fee passport, a traveler’s passport, and get the ball rolling on an international driver’s license. Also, check with your local USO for organized tours and your SATO office, which can provide assistance with leisure travel.
- Seek out military discounts. Some travel companies have American affiliates and offer military discounts, and other European-based companies recognize that the US military makes up a large portion of their tourism, so they invite and encourage it.
- Get tax relief with VAT forms. In Germany the Value Added Tax is included in most prices and can be as high as 19 percent. As Americans, we can be exempt from that extra cost in certain cases such as car rentals, eating out, and group travel. Check with your local U.S. Forces Tax Relief Office for more information.
- Make the most of four-day weekends. Each month, US Army Europe provides training holidays that typically last from Friday through Monday. Make the most out of this time so you don’t have to dip into your soldier’s leave account.
- Save money to budget for travel. Small lifestyle changes can lead to extra money in your travel fund.
- Take advantage of American prices on post for gas. When off post, use ESSO stations with your gas card to help cut costs on road trips.
- Bring reusable bags to your PX to save money off your tab.
- Use coupons six months past their expiration date at the Commissary and Express to help save big in the long run (check out Coups for Troops – an organization of donors who will clip and mail you coupons).
- Don’t always rely on base for all your shopping; due to the economy some prices are lower off base. Explore your host nation and shop around for deals.
- Take advantage of inexpensive pre-paid cell phones available from your Express that you top off as needed, and work in numerous countries.
- Book attraction tickets online. You’ve already saved for your trip, found your destination and scored a military discount. Before you go, buy attractions tickets in advance, and oftentimes receive a lower price and skip the line. This saves you time, money and energy. No more hurry up and wait.
- Rely on public transport. Whether it’s via train, plane, bus, tram or metro, using public transportation minimizes stress, is reliable, fun and affordable. In Germany, children can ride trains free until age 15 and value airlines provide opt-in emails you with special flight deals. Public transportation maps and route-planners are easily found online.
- Book a vacation rental. Get the most of your hard-earned money by renting a home or apartment – using sites like HomeAway.com or VRBO.com – in your next travel destination. You’ll get more space to fit the whole family, the coziness of home, unbeatable locations and the ability to prepare meals-in house. This saves money, takes the guesswork and stress out of finding your next meal, and provides the unique opportunity to browse a local grocery store and live like a local.
- Travel in the off-season. Most European tours last three years, which provides ample time to travel year-round and beat the crowds and high-season prices.
- Take advantage of Europe’s size and proximity. We come from a large country and I’m consistently amazed that in the same time it would take me to travel through my home state of Florida, I could traverse through several European countries. I live two hours away from exciting German cities, four hours away from Paris, Amsterdam and Bruges, and could easily fly to Rome or London in under two hours. Travel now and don’t wait until the last year before you PCS to your next duty station – great destinations are truly in your backyard.
A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.
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