As the summer vacation season draws to close this Labor Day, it’s time to begin getting organized for fall travel! It’s probably a bit too early to actually try to head skyward if the destination is OCONUS – DODDS students can begin the year up to a month after school starts (and depart up to a month before the year ends), so there will still be plenty of Cat 2, 3, 4, and 5 families returning for a late start. This means that it’s usually best to wait until the second half of September to initiate travel.
It is NOT too early, however, for PPP (Proper Prior Planning)! Investing some time and organizing now, will make for smoother space a travel in a few weeks. So, let’s review some basics for Cat 6 space a travel:
PLAN FOR MULTIPLE CONTINGENCIES AND BE FLEXIBLE: We may want to go to Italy (in fact, we usually do!), but are prepared to go to Germany, or England, or Spain, or wherever, to get there. Start paying attention to the Facebook flight forecasts of the most likely terminals for direct or indirect connections to your destination. Make use of the historical data available at the individual terminals and from sites like The Military Space Available Travel Flight Destination Database (msatfdd): http://www.msatfdd.com/ to plan a variety of possible routes to your final destination (and back). Or, be prepared to go wherever the flights are headed – we once ended up spending a few weeks on Crete, though our original intent was to go to Hawaii!
SIGN UP: (If you haven’t already!) Lady Cat 6 and Sponsor usually aim to travel around day 50 of our 60 day sign up, to give ourselves optimal date and time seniority without running the risk of expiring and having to start over at the bottom of the list. We take a look at our planned itinerary, and sign up for our return terminals so we are beginning our homeward journey around day 50 also. And, we sign up at every terminal we think we may even remotely need to fly out of! There is no limit to the number of terminals at which you may sign up, so think big here – you may not NEED to use the terminal you’ve delegated to Plan “G”, but best to be prepared, just in case!
PREPARE FOR GROUND TRANSPORTATION UPON ARRIVAL: Find out whether your desired destination terminal (and any alternatives) has ground transportation available to get to lodging, or wherever else you may need to go. Some bases allow taxis aboard; some do not. Some have shuttles between lodging and the terminal (and some of these have limited hours); some do not. Some allow car rental agencies to pick you up at the terminal; some do not. Some have lodging relatively close to the terminal; some entail quite a hike to lodging (we usually walk if it’s a mile or less – after hours on the plane, it feels good to stretch the legs a bit). Some have a limited list of authorized taxis/shuttles. You don’t want to be trying to figure out how to get where you want to go at 0300 when your flight lands! If you’re going to need to network in-flight with other passengers to arrange a ride, it’s better to know that going in.
PREPARE FOR LODGING/CAR RENTAL AT DESTINATION LOCATION: Make sure that phone numbers for lodging and car rental are programmed into your phone for quick access. We usually make on-base lodging and car rental reservations at our destination as soon as we decide to compete for a flight. If we don’t get seats at roll call time, we call and cancel, or slip a day or two, depending on the flight situation. Having likely phone numbers already programmed into the phone makes the process easy and quick. We have off-base lodging and car rental numbers saved also, in case there’s nothing available at the base where we’re landing.
ORGANIZE CARRY ON: It’s important to be prepared for any type of aircraft you may encounter. This does not have to involve a lot of extra gear; a few essentials will make a big difference in your travel comfort. Consider a thin, insulating base layer you can pop on under your shirt, a lightweight but warm “puffy-style” jacket that can be stuffed into a small sack (and double as a pillow!), a sleeping pad, such as my favorite – the Klymit Static V Recon (https://www.klymit.com/static-v-sleeping-pad.html) – which is lightweight and rolls to the size of a water bottle (in a pinch, a blow-up pool float will also work), and a fleece or lightweight down throw-type blanket that can roll up or be stuffed into a small bag. Sometimes we also pack hats and gloves, so we’re prepared for the coldest conditions we can imagine. Lady Cat 6 does NOT like to be cold! These items, and the rest of your carry on gear (tablet, snacks, medications,etc – whatever you would carry on to a regular commercial flight) should easily fit into a small to medium sized backpack with room to spare.
PLAN FOR YOUR RETURN: When traveling OCONUS, it’s best to be on your return leg by the middle of December. Holiday vacations begin to kick into gear about that time, and seats for Cat 6 start to become scarce. Give yourself a week or so before December 15 to get on a flight back to the US mainland, so you don’t end up competing with Cat 2, 3, 4, and 5 families returning home for Christmas.
Mid-September through mid-December is one of the two best times for Cat 6 travel OCONUS (Mid-January through mid-May is the other). Being prepared can be the difference between having a FABulous experience, and enduring a disaster. Lady Cat 6 finds the above-mentioned items most helpful in that preparation – what are some your own must-do’s that make a difference for you?