Now that you’re out, you can go wherever you wish. Feels nice, doesn’t it? Wait. There are some differences. You can’t just get shuffled through the lines like you used to — just flash your DoD ID at the airport and hear, “OK, go right ahead and thank you for your service.”
You’re going to have to be patient like the rest of them. You! In casual, colorful, comfortable clothes and footwear standing in line to check bloated bags. Bags! Those things you used to have to live out of are now just a temporary drag. You’re standing in line without uniformity, without alignment. Little kids look back at you with clean, wide-eyed faces.
You’re going on vacation where you want to go. You packed what you chose to pack. You selected your own airline. There aren’t any more C-130s in your life, and carrying heaps of equipment is just another one of the countless reasons to make all the self-planning and waiting in lines wholly worth it. And even though traveling as a civilian can feel overcomplicated, here are some tips to take some of the aggravation out of your adventurous travel plans.
1. The “Forget-Me-Not” List
Preparation for travel is better written down. You may think you’ve got this travel stuff “in the bag,” but jotting down items you may want to bring with you at least two weeks before takeoff is the best way to ensure you aren’t in Prague without a power adapter to charge your gadgetry. Believe it or not, you can also go dummy-proof by using pre-made travel lists. Traveling with pets? Be sure to read up on the latest pet traveling tips here.
2. The clothes
To prevent a tussle with the TSA, wear “airport-friendly” fashion: slip-on shoes, Velcro belts, and keep your pockets as empty as possible minus your driver’s license (intercontinental) or passport (international) and flight ticket.
3. Get the insurance, skip the VIP additions
When purchasing your flight, make sure to pay the extra money for airfare insurance. There will be other prompts on airline websites to buy additional VIP service that supposedly gets you to your gate and into the airplane faster. Don’t fall for it. Also, don’t forget to double-check what seats are available. It pays to be willing to assist in an unlikely emergency — seats by the emergency doors — and gain more leg room than first class.
4. Chucking versus checking bags
Check as few bags as you can. For one, it gets expensive. Secondly, your luggage has the potential to become lost, especially if you have a layover. A duffel bag (about the size of a gym bag) and a laptop or book bag are the only two forms of luggage you may bring onboard. Pack smarter, not harder, with packing cubes and keep that checked bag down to one or two max.
5. Utilize your friendly neighborhood postal service
It’s probably safer than checking bags. Whenever possible, mail your items to and from and make traveling light on the back (let’s be honest: your back deserves the break at this point).
6. Protecting your loot
No matter what, keep your cash and other “you’d-be-SOL-without-me” items where you can feel them inside your clothes. Lanyards are effective in or out of the military, and you’re not too cool to still use them!
7. The takeaway
Traveling as a civilian with prior military service is kind of a paradox. On one hand, you had it made with military travel because it was free, already planned out for you, and in hindsight, not always so stressful. But what’s more liberating than wearing shower shoes at the airport?