At seven months pregnant, I waddled over to my empty red suitcase and flipped it open. My eyes glanced over at the pile of clean laundry sitting in a basket to the left. To the right, toys and toiletries sat in another pile.
I sat there for a moment staring at the mounds of belongings that needed to fit into one (very small looking) suitcase.
I could hear my toddler running upstairs with his grandma. He loved our three-week vacation in the Midwest, but it was time for us to head back to Okinawa.
The deployment was nearly over. My husband would return home soon. And my belly was becoming too much of an overgrown watermelon for travel.
I put a few t-shirts into the suitcase, then paused. The idea of traveling internationally—again—while pregnant and wrangling a toddler, overwhelmed me.
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I started thinking methodically about my mental checklist for traveling with military kids.
I could do this.
After three international flights, 10 domestic flights and multiple family road trips over the years, here are five tricks to make travel easier with young military kids.
Dad always comes.
Whether my husband is or isn’t present for the trip, I like to bring something comforting that belongs specifically to dad. It could be a daddy doll or a small blanket made from old PT shirts (washed thoroughly of course) or a picture book of dad.
Same goes for mom. The kids love to climb all over you, especially when you’re confined to a small travel space like an airplane or car. Bringing a mommy doll or a blanket made of your old t-shirts can help give kids something to hang onto besides you.
I rarely shop for the kids. In fact, you’ll usually find me cleaning out their toy bins and donating them to charity. But when it comes to travel with military kids, I love to bring surprises on the trip—for sanity’s sake.
These reusable sticker books keep my kids busy for hours. The beauty is you can reuse the stickers over and over again, so you never really run out.
I’ll also use color wonder markers and coloring books because the markers will only color on the wonder paper. Not your skin. Or the airplane seat. Or the passenger patiently sitting next to your kids. Totally genius for travel.
Use Government Vacation Rewards.
Anytime we travel now, I check Government Vacation Rewards first. They are a travel discount program that works specifically with military families (active duty, retired, veterans, dependents, etc.) to help you get the best price.
Because when you’re traveling with kids, every savings counts.
I personally love that Government Vacation Rewards (GVR) allows you to use your Military Star® Card to book your trip. They are the only program that allows you to do this. This makes the deal even sweeter since you earn rewards through both!
Another thing to keep in mind: If you find an identical cruise, resort, hotel or airfare rate for less within 24 hours of booking, they will match it.
When you sign up here for free, you’ll also get $150 in Travel Savings Credits that you can put towards your first travel purchase through them.
If you’re going to travel anyway, you may as well book it through GVR and get a better price.
Capture the moment.
Something that makes military kids unique is their travels around the world. I like to snap as many photos as possible during the travel process and make it into a quick photo book for future travels.
When your kids are bored on a plane, they will absolutely love looking at photos of themselves from former trips.
Plus, when they reach the end of their traveling rope, this is a great way to point out all the amazing places they get to see.
Use that military ID.
If you are traveling with kids this is no time to act shy about being a military family. Always use your military ID instead of showing your driver’s license or passport for identification. In my experience, people want to help and support military families.
They may offer an additional discount on food or services, help you with your bags, offer to get you a better seat assignment or help you with directions. It’s always worth a subtle try!
It wasn’t pretty, but we made it.
After 27 hours of travel with a rambunctious toddler, I firmly planted my very swollen pregnant feet back on Okinawan soil. I even wore my gorgeous TED hose, and my feet still grew two sizes!
As we arrived home and started unpacking, I tucked away our travel photo book, checked for my military ID and bookmarked Government Vacation Rewards for next time.
Because in military life, there will always be a next time.
Want more on military life?
- To the Military Spouse Who is Tired
- How Military Spouses Can Overcome Anxiety During High Stress
- 47 Things No One Tells You About Being a Military Wife
- One Simple Tool That Will Make Deployment Easier