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My commander looked at my packet of paperwork to leave the military and saw that I was planning on signing out on terminal leave in December. When she asked me what my plans were for after the army, I told her I would be starting my MBA the following August.
“What, then,” she asked, “are you doing until then?”
“I’m going to travel the world.”
Why travel for so long?
I saw this as the perfect time in my life to head out and see as much of the world as I could see. The next step in my post-military life would be to start my MBA at the University of Virginia, followed by working to start my business. I knew that this might be one of my last opportunities to take a big trip like this.
Travel has provided me a lot of perspective. It’s shown me how other people live and how their culture affects everyday aspects of their life. And traveling practices my patience and ability to adapt. When things go wrong in travel- it turns into an adventure.
And, sometimes, you just need some adventure in your life.
Where did the money come from?
The money I was planning to use for this adventure all came from saving extensively during multiple deployments and numerous TDY trips. Both of these events presented unique opportunities to save.
I wasn’t able to make it work for my first deployment, but on my next two, I was able to significantly cut my housing costs. For the second deployment, I found someone to live in the house I bought and charged him rent. This effectively cut my mortgage payment in half. On the third, I had already rented out that house and moved everything into storage, so my housing payment was just the cost of the storage unit.
Each deployment and TDY trip also presented an opportunity to save more. Basic expenses like food, gas, and utilities were all reduced during these times so I would take that difference in spending and save it. Additionally, the per diem, combat pay, and saved taxes all went into savings.
Take advantage of military-specific offers
The first part of my journey was two weeks of skiing in Park City, Utah. Sounds extravagant, right?
The major expense in skiing is the lift ticket. You can expect to pay a minimum of close to $100/day, and closer to $200/day at a premium resort like Park City. But while on active duty, I bought the Epic Pass, which gave me season access to some of the best mountains in America.
The price for active duty, active duty dependents, and retired military? $169. That’s less than a single day at Park City. And for veterans, the price is still unbelievable at $559.
For housing, I stayed in a hostel. Instead of spending what would likely have been $200/night for a hotel, a hostel cost me about $40/night. This also let me buy groceries and cook my own meals instead of eating out the whole time.
For the last few days of the trip, when some family arrived, I stayed in a Marriott Residence Inn. That was paid for via points earned through TDY travel where I always stayed at a Marriott. And because rooms at the Residence Inn have kitchens, I again made my own meals.
After skiing, I kept my winter activities alive by going on a dogsledding trip with Outward Bound. This nonprofit offers free trips every year for veterans. They even paid for my flight there and to my next destination. And the best part? I adopted one of the dogs that was set to retire.
Healthcare can absolutely be a concern for anyone after the military. Especially if you aren’t retiring or going into the reserves, the worry over what you will do for healthcare can be quite real.
During my brief from the VA during a transition class, I learned that since I deployed to a combat zone, I would be eligible for free healthcare (although not dental or vision) for five years after my service. I applied for the VA benefit and received it. I even went to the VA before my trip and they gave me various medicines that I might need at some time during my travels.
Additionally, I purchased a travel insurance policy through World Nomads. Travel insurance is absolutely worth it so this was a no-brainer for me.
The “travel” part of traveling is usually one of the most expensive. Rides on airplanes are not cheap. But there are ways you can make it cheaper.
I went into my adventure with only some broad intentions, but no real itinerary. This gave me a lot of leeway in booking flights, as I could maximize cheaper options over trying to fit them into my schedule. Typically, I would search through Skyscanner.
One of the best perks you can get while in the military is the American Express Platinum Card®. They waive the yearly fee for active duty, and the travel perks are amazing:
- $200 airline fee credit
- 5x points on travel when booking through American Express
- Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PRE✓®
- $200/year credit for Uber
And while flying you get access to the American Express Centurion® Lounges and a host of other lounges via the Priority Pass, membership which is free with the card. There’s nothing like being able to kick back and relax at an airport lounge while traveling. And it surely helps with layovers.
Even though I am no longer on active duty and the $550/year annual fee is no longer waived, I still have this card. The price is made up for through all the perks.
Budget hotel options
I traveled solo and so was looking for ways to meet people. For me, that meant staying at hostels.
Lots of people have reservations about hostels, not helped by the fact that there are a few horror movies based on living in hostels. But I have found them to be quite enjoyable and a great way to meet fellow travelers. Hostels tend to be most popular with younger travelers (I was often considered “old” at the ripe age of 31). But many have strict quiet hours, private rooms, and can be conducive to anyone looking for a cheaper option.
Embrace the unknown, but have a backup!
I went into the trip knowing that if somehow everything failed, I could go back home and move in with my family. Not ideal- but I knew that I could do that. I gave myself the permission to take risks, but took the precautions to mitigate those risks and let myself enjoy the experience.
I encourage anyone to think about taking some extended time off after the military. Take the time to enjoy family and friends, explore, and reflect on your time in service.
Unfortunately, my plan was cut about halfway through because of COVID-19. It didn’t seem wise to keep traveling amidst a global pandemic!
As I left the military and saw some opportunities for improving the transition process, so I started The Veteran Professional. The site shares information with veterans interested in graduate schools, entrepreneurship, and professional careers. Thanks for stopping by!
The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement Price: By Doug Nordman: This book provides servicemembers, veterans, and their families with a critical roadmap for becoming financially independent.
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