Are you a local? Or a tourist? Why not be both?
One wonderful (but also sometimes horrible) thing about being a military spouse is that you get to live in so many different places. We have lived in some exciting and wonderful locations (like Spain!), and also some fairly dull areas (like 29 Palms, CA and Jacksonville, NC). No matter where you are, deployment is the perfect time to explore your area and enjoy being a local tourist in your own town. Why during a deployment? Isn’t it better to wait until your family is back together again? In my opinion, no. Sure, we save the big fun trips for Dad. (The whole family is saving up to go to Disney together when he returns.) But he isn’t really interested in some of the little local things. Nor does he have TIME when he is back at work. During a deployment, you have plenty of time. You have a flexible schedule, meals are cheaper and simpler, and you can team up with other moms to do things for the kids.
Start exploring your area and be a local tourist (on a budget, too!)
- Make a bucket list. Most military families only live at a duty station for a few years. At first it may seem like forever, but that last year will go quickly! So start taking notes about things you would like to do and see in your local area. Then divide your list into things you want to do specifically with your husband (in our case: Disney, wine tasting, and a history museum) or things that will be fun with others–when the grandparents visit, or with a group of girlfriends, for example. Than you can start planning which things to accomplish during the deployment, and which things to save for later. It gives you a lot more to look forward to, and lets you enjoy simple things on your own, while dreaming of doing bigger-ticket items with your spouse.
- Go to local festivals. The wonderful thing about being a local tourist is that every town will have its own special annual events. Maybe it is a 4th of July parade, or a Strawberry festival, or a Fair. These are usually open to the public and kid friendly, through you may have to pay for parking and food. You don’t have to feel guilty about going without your spouse, because the event will be back next year, and maybe you can go as a family then. If the logistics of going to a crowded event like this with your kids frightens you, then read some of the tips below.
- Find kid-friendly museums and attractions. Kids enjoy museums more than you might think. We have taken our kids to art museums, history museums, science museums, even Roman ruins and ancient castles in Europe! With enough snacks and prior planning, you can enjoy almost anything. When you are on your own, stick with events where you can all stay together. The zoo was actually really easy for me, because they moved together from one animal to the next. Amusement parks are hard because I still have little ones in a stroller who can’t ride most things, so I know I need 2 adults to make those work. Try to be realistic about what you can handle on your own, and pair up with some other moms if you need extra hands! During the summer, all military families get in free to 2,000 different museums nationwide as part of the Blue Star Family Museum program. So check out their list for a free, easy day trip.
- Visit local parks. Many State and local parks have free parking areas, kid-friendly programs, easy hiking trails, nature centers, and playgrounds! Look up some local parks, or ask around for recommendations. On your own (or with a friend) start with a simple picnic at a playground to see what it is like. Pick up some brochures or information from the rangers so you can learn about hiking opportunities or special events. A 15-mile bike trail is not for us, but we can handle a 1 or 2 mile nature trail. I am often surprised how family-oriented park services are. They WANT to involve children, and get the next generation interested in nature. So why not see what they can offer your family? Also, the National Park service offers military families a FREE annual pass to their parks. You can find some of those top locations here.
- Find a good view. Whether it is a waterfall at the end of a hiking trail, a park on the top of a hill, or a great ocean overlook, nothing makes you feel more like a happy local tourist than a picturesque photo op. It doesn’t matter if the kids aren’t cooperating–you can come back any time you want, because you are a local! 🙂 So drive around and ask your gps for some recommendations. You may discover some neat, out-of-the-way places that will be fun to share with your husband when he returns. Or use a selfie stick now to give him a group shot of what he is missing.
- Get discounted tickets. Lots of local attractions offer discounts to military families. Always contact your base ITT center before buying tickets online, because you may be surprised at the military benefits. You can also find discounted or free admission at select attractions on certain days of the year–maybe it is 1 Saturday per month, or on Tuesday mornings. Either way, since you and the kids have flexible schedules, you can make the most of these limited-time offers. I don’t mind paying full price for an adult ticket, if all 4 of my kids get in for free!
- Ask locals for their favorites. Asking a local will give you insider information on great restaurants, discounted tickets, beautiful views, fun events, and out-of-the-way treasures. You can find info on Facebook pages and groups, local tourist websites…or just ask friends who have lived at the base for a while, grown up in the area, send their kids to the same schools, etc.
If you are nervous to be a local tourist with your kids:
- Get a GPS. Seriously, this will make your life so much easier, and take away a lot of the stress of trying to explore a new area. At least you can always find your way home!
- Go with other Moms. If you join a local play group or moms group, there are sure to be other people who also want to take their kids to parks, the beach, or the children’s museum. So why not make it a group event? Carpooling together can take out some of the driving stress. If someone in the group has been before, you can benefit from their local tourist insider information. And I find that kids usually act better when they are with their friends. Plus, extra moms mean extra eyes and hands when you need to go to the bathroom or stop to feed the baby.
- Invite a single friend along. I know a lot of single young spouses who are kind of bored on the weekends and don’t have many people to explore the local area with. So invite one to tag along with you and your kids next time you go to a park or a museum, or even an amusement park. You may feel silly asking, but as long as they already know your kids, then they might enjoy the chance to be a kid again at an amusement park. (You should offer to help pay their ticket though, unless this was somehow their idea.) I have also found this to be a good way to eat at local casual restaurants. You need an extra adult at the table!
- Wait until family is visiting. Some places are fun for kids, but offer too many opportunities for kids to go in different directions or get lost in a crowd. This sounds like a perfect event for when the Grandparents visit. I know many military families live far from home, so you might be lucky to have your parents or siblings visit you even once a year. When we were stationed in Europe for 3 years, everyone could only visit us once during that time. But I cycled through different local tourist events for different visitors, so we got to do lots of various bucket list items at least 1 time each.
- If possible, leave the baby at home. If your other children will all enjoy an event, but the baby will not, then consider leaving baby with a trusted friend or baby sitter. This will let you spend some quality time with the other kids, and let you move a lot faster without stopping for diaper changes and bottles. It also lets you do a much longer day, if you have kids that don’t need naps.
So I hope this will give you some ideas and some courage to be a local tourist. Be brave! Explore! And enjoy all the little things. Because eventually, deployment will end. After the leave block, it is back to long hours and minimal family time. So make the most of the time you have now! What are some of your favorite things that you have done during a deployment?