Lifestyles in early retirement: long-term travel



Veteran blogger Janette from “Ground Level in Kansas” offered her feedback on the “WordAds” post about types of ads that readers want from this site:

I come here not only for me (spouse of retired Army), but for my kids (Marine family and Army family). 20 years in– we knew nothing of MOAA, Military Advantage, PenFed, or any of the retiree travel clubs. How about advertising from the Navy Lodge or Hale Koa? Your sidebar links are so good I sometimes stop by just to pick one up (knowing it would be here….) I wouldn’t mind them looking more like advertisements so I can see what they offer.

Just saying, I think you have a lot to offer and need to head military!

I also have “Contact Me” feedback from a reader:

Just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed the book very much and have left it on my desk at work for others to see and hopefully get curious about. Also wanted to say “thanks” for being a trailblazer. It seems I’m obsessed these days with financial independence and retiring at 42, once my military career is done. It’s incredibly helpful to see and read about people like you who have done the same. My wife and I would like to be able to spend a month or two a year in Hawaii as well, to get a dose of sunshine! We’ll see how it all works out. Any advice for a couple of early retired folks on how to live frugally in Hawaii for a couple of months per year? Working or volunteering somewhere in return for cheap housing?

Thanks, guys, I admit that military travel hasn’t been on the top of my mind lately. (Why would we ever leave these islands?!?) However, the military is a wonderful way to see the world (especially when the assignment officer has sent you there)– as well as a great advertising category. Let me start by mentioning the new links I’ve added in the sidebar, and then I’ll talk about one example that I actually know something about: Hawaii.


Perpetual travel

Billy & Akaisha Kaderli and Paul & Vicki Terhorst are the world-class pioneers of perpetual travel and long-term stays. They spend most of their years overseas, but Tom Wahl and the Wandering Wahls spent months traveling across the U.S. in a recreational vehicle deciding where they’d like to settle… for now. Those families have lots of advice and details on the basics that I’ll mention here: cheap airfare, traveling light, finding long-term lodging, and living like a local.


Space A

I’ve added four big-picture links to the sidebar. (Please let me know your favorites, and I’ll add them too.) First up is the Air Force’s official Space-A website for worldwide travel on military aircraft. My spouse and I have hung out in our fair share of passenger terminals around the world (and slept in some of them) waiting for “the next flight out” to get us closer to our destination. The prices are great and the box lunches… well, that’s part of the adventure. The Internet has largely replaced the last millennium’s grease-pencil status boards, but you should also phone ahead for each base’s policies on releasing flight information.

Space A can be challenging for servicemembers, even with a 30-day leave schedule. Families will need to think ahead about kid-friendly food & lodging contingencies if the aircraft breaks down on a small base in the middle of nowhere. But Space A is a dream come true for military retirees who have all year to travel and who don’t particularly care where they’re going. Even during a drawdown when fuel is tight, the popular routes still need to carry people and supplies to remote bases around the world. If you’re flexible then the Air Mobility Command can get you near your destination, and usually sooner rather than later.


Military lodging

Next up are the Armed Forces Recreation Centers (like the Hale Koa Hotel that Jan mentioned). There are actually five hotels worldwide near family-friendly cities offering low rates (based on military rank). They cater to servicemembers and their families but they may also allow civilians (your relatives) to accompany you as well. The centers are very popular and they tend to fill up months in advance, but if you’re in the area then you can frequently take advantage of their last-minute cancellations. Use their websites to research your plans, but also phone their reservations centers to ask about their wait lists. Many times we’ve been told that the Hale Koa was full weeks in advance, joined the wait list, and then been called only a day or two before our stay began.

Military lodging is the next-best accommodation to a recreation center, but there are a lot more of them. The starting point is the DoD Military Lodging website where you can look up Navy Lodges, Inns of the Corps, Air Force Inns,and Army Lodges. Once again they fill up fast, but ask about their wait lists and last-minute cancellations. Their staff also knows the surrounding area: if they don’t have a room then they may be able to recommend a night or two in the military base’s visiting officer’s quarters or a local hotel. There are fantastic beach cottages at Bellows, Kaneohe, Waianae, and Kalaeloa (where the White Plains Beach cabins are on my favorite surf break).


Civilian lodging

One last link: the Armed Forces Vacation Club. You have to validate your military status (with your ID card) before you can sign up, but then you’re able to take advantage of consolidated deals at worldwide vacation resorts. You’re generally obligated to stay for a week but prices start about $55/night. AFVC is not sponsored or supported by the military, but they’re a great source of MWR/ITT discounts and other deals. I won’t pretend that these resorts have anything to do with the “real” local culture, but they’re another cheap way to get started on your long-term lodging research.

Admittedly these good deals are available to servicemembers & retirees, but not to all military veterans. (I’m blogging for a very diverse audience, and their benefits don’t always overlap.) However, the lodges are in business to fill rooms and make money. If you have a military affiliation or a veteran’s ID, then it’s worth parsing their websites and speaking to their reservations desks. You probably won’t be able to fly Space A but you may be able to get a waiver on the lodging policies.

These are just the military-benefits options. If you can stay longer, or if you’re able to do more research before you go, then there are even cheaper lodging options. The challenge is making your transportation dates match your lodging dates, and these military lodging options can help cover the gaps while you’re arranging the really cheap local lodging deals. Even if you’re financially independent, travel is much more rewarding when you can get away from the resort and settle into the local community.

The Kaderlis, Terhorsts, and Wahls have found dozens of civilian ways to spend months on travel at very low prices without military benefits. I’ll talk a little about their advice in the next post, but please visit their websites (linked below) for a wealth of tips & tricks on living like locals instead of spending like a tourist.

Next week: living long-term and cheap in Hawaii.


Related articles & websites:
Lifestyles in military retirement: Living in Hawaii
During retirement: where do you want to go next?
U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command
Armed Forces Recreation Center Resorts
Department of Defense Lodging
Armed Forces Vacation Club
Billy & Akaisha Kaderli’s “Retire Early Lifestyle”
Paul & Vicki Terhorst’s travel site
The “Wandering Wahls” blog

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About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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