Know Your Travel Options: Why Hotels Aren’t Always the Best Bet for Military Retirees, Families

Know Your Travel Options: Why Hotels Aren’t Always the Best Bet for Military Retirees, Families
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By Lindsey Wray

When Melanie Fish was a kid, a particularly noteworthy family vacation involved “cramming a family of five into a Winnebago and traveling across Europe.”

Although the Spam sandwiches and motorhome bunkbeds still stand out in her memory, Fish has encountered far more comfortable travel options since then, including in her role as Family Travel Expert for Vrbo, or Vacation Rentals by Owner.

Having grown up in an Air Force family, Fish encourages service members to consider non-traditional lodging options when booking off-duty travel.

“Military families can get great value when they travel and rent a vacation home,” Fish said.

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Value is key, she said. Travelers can often find “twice the space for half the cost” when renting entire homes or apartments. Unlike the crowded venture of Fish’s youth, families have “room to spread out,” she said.

This can be especially important for military families. Between deployments, permanent change-of-station moves and living far away from extended family, military travelers may benefit from travel options that are different from a standard hotel room.

For instance, having a kitchen can help save money spent eating out at restaurants, Fish said.

Rental properties also allow for geographic flexibility; travelers aren’t restricted to a particular region.

“No matter where you are stationed, you should be able to find a place within driving distance,” Fish said, noting that Vrbo offers properties for rent in 190 countries.

Airbnbs/Vrbos have become a popular online marketplace for property owners to rent out their homes to people who want accommodations in the local area,” said Donna Alexander, a Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel professional at Fort Belvoir, Va.

However, the MWR office does not offer Airbnbs/Vrbos as leisure travel options, Alexander said. Instead, she points clients toward traditional accommodation options, some of which offer military discounts and other incentives to active and retired military members and their families.

One unique option that is available at Fort Belvoir is a travel camp. Here, active-duty and retired military members, as well as Defense Department civilians, can park their own recreational vehicles or rent out a trailer that is already on base.

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Visitors have access to amenities such as a playground, coin washers and dryers, and kayaks or canoes for use in the nearby Potomac River.

Choosing accommodations with nearby recreation, a picturesque view or even eclectic decorations can make a vacation more interesting, said Fish.

Once you’ve settled on the right place, it may be worth inquiring about a military discount, even if it’s not mentioned in the listing. The option is up to individuals and, when offered, is usually is around 10 percent for Vrbo, Fish said.

For example, Letti, an Airbnb superhost in Atascosa, Texas, offers a 10 percent military discount on her a 3-bedroom cottage near Lackland Air Force Base.

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As you venture out for an off-duty vacation with a friend or a cozy holiday gathering with extended family, the plethora of vacation rentals available may warrant thinking outside the typical hotel room, or like Fish, the crowded Winnebago.

“Wherever you go, there is likely going to be a good match for your group,” she said.

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