My husband and I are big on comfort. As much as we like to travel and explore when we get to a new duty station, we’re actually really big…homebodies, if you will. We like our house; we like flopping on our couch after a long day, and after the kids are in bed, we enjoy binging on Netflix. (Yes, we like to Netflix and to actually chill together). And for as much as we like to eat out and try new places, one of our favorite things to do is cook and grill our own food at home.
So how do we make time and find the extra cash to do all the traveling and sightseeing we want to do when we’re at our new duty station? We try to be strategic and patient. Exploring your new duty station and the surrounding area doesn’t happen over night.
Sure, in theory we’d love to spend every weekend doing some new fun thing, but realistically that would literally drain us and the kids. Plus, we like routine; I’m pretty sure we’d all get overstimulated if we tried crossing everything off our bucket list during the first six months we were here.
How We Explore Our New Duty Station
Make a Bucket List
This is one of the first things we do whenever we move somewhere new. Shoot, we even make a second list if it’s a base we’ve already been stationed at. Making a bucket list doesn’t mean you have to cross everything off it—it simply gives you a starting point so if you have a free weekend, day, or afternoon available and you want to do something, you have a list of ideas handy.
Travel in the Off Season
When we lived in Georgia, we quickly discovered that there was no way we could venture outside in the summer, so going to some place like Disney World in July would’ve been foolish. We saved that trip for November when things cooled down.
The same thing goes for when were stationed in Italy. We tried to visit the more popular places/cities in the off-season—less crowds, less markups, less everything (plus it’s usually cooler). Did you know that in Italy the majority of (smaller) towns shut down during the month of August? That’s when Italians take their summer vacation. We quickly caught on to this, and that’s when we stayed put since we knew the locals were busy visiting the beaches and other landmarks.
Granted, traveling in the off-season is excellent when you have little kids, but you may need to get a little strategic if you have school-aged kiddos. Things like cruises and even hotels are cheaper in the off season and during the week, so know where you’re going and check out your options.
Search for Coupons/Military Discounts
Have you heard about your base’s travel department? ITT (Information, Tickets, and Travel), is a fantastic place to check out—they’re there for you! They have all the latest and greatest military discounts available, not just for attractions in your area, but they can also help you with things like cruises, day trips, and basically anything travel related. Check them out when you get to a new duty station and ask them for the best deals. This is an excellent way to save some money.
Eat at Home
I know this post is about exploring your new duty station’s area, but if you eat out all the time, then you’ll be too broke to do anything later. Plan on cooking the majority of your meals at home, and saving those special days out for trying out new restaurants. My husband and I made a deal before we moved to San Diego that we’d only try new restaurants in the area on date nights. They way we’re not blowing all of our money all the time. One new restaurant every month or two seemed like a nice compromise.
Of course there’s always the random restaurant outing here and there, but when you’re in a new place it’s extremely easy to want to eat your way through a new neighborhood. That Mexican restaurant around the corner will probably always sound better than homemade grilled fish, but your wallet will thank you the next time you want to splurge and eat out.
Take Leave on a Week Day
We aren’t a huge fan of crowds, and like to avoid massive amounts of people as much as possible. The problem is that when we want to go somewhere (like to the zoo or an amusement park), people flock there on the weekend. I know leave is sometimes hard to come by, but if you/your spouse has the time, consider taking leave on a week day when things are much calmer wherever you want to go, and visit that place then.
Plus, spontaneous adventures on a day off are almost always ten times more fun!
Look Beyond the Immediate Area
I get it: not all bases are in ideal places—we can’t all be stationed in places like Italy and San Diego (SORRY!!!). But every place has its perks, and if the perks aren’t right in your neck of the woods, branch out a little bit. Yes, you may have to drive a little bit to see something new, but that may be a little better than sulking at home saying there’s nothing to do, right? When we were stationed in Georgia, we’d often drive up to Atlanta for the weekend just to get out of town. Actually. So look and see what’s within driving distance and put those places on your bucket list!
Talk to People
Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get to know your area. Talk to your neighbors, people at the grocery store, and other moms at the playground. Have your spouse chat with people at work who’ve been in the area longer than you. You may think you know all there is to do in your new town, but talking to people may surprise you, and may have some of the best ideas.
Seasonal Activities and Events
Take a look at the calendar and plan accordingly. Go apple picking or wander through a pumpkin patch. Go skiing or snowboarding, or just go look at the snow. Drive through different towns and literally see the world. Find different festivals or events happening in the area, and check them out. There is truly almost always something to do, you may just have to dig around a little bit to find it.
Exploring your new duty station doesn’t have to be a daunting task. You don’t have to be bored, and you don’t have to hate where you are. Yes, being in a new place is overwhelming, but take a look at what’s around you and try making the best of it. You never know what you may discover in your own backyard!
Do you have any tips for making the most and exploring your new duty station? I’d love to hear how you venture out and get to know your new town.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of MSB New Media & Unilever. The opinions and text are all mine. Photos taken by Major Lucas Gruenther in Maniago, Italy.