When the holiday season comes around, the next question from well-meaning friends and family is, “Will you travel home this holiday?” For military personnel and their dependent families, it is a frustrating and difficult to answer question.
There are two main factors for travel – cost and time. While the holidays do tend to provide more capability for time off, operationally dependent, there is an increase in price for flights and train tickets during the holiday season. Driving by car may be more cost-efficient unless hotel stays are needed, plus it may take more time to drive “home.”
What is “home”?
When a military member leaves their home of record – while it is their home of record, is it really still their home? The military moves them around every 1-3 years, and the idea of home becomes where the military sends you. For military spouses who marry military members, that home is where you make it and not necessarily where you previously lived. Home, per Merriam-Webster, is defined as the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household or a place where one rests. For military members without a permanent residence, that place where one rests becomes more indicative of home.
It’s a complicated question asking a military member to come home. That home location has changed. They have changed. Military life exposes people to different stressors than their civilian counterparts, which can alter personality. Whether enlisting for just a few years or in it for the long haul, military life changes us and what home is.
Is it worth it?
One frustrating fact of military life common among military families is being asked to travel “back home” to see family and various friends. However, these family members and/or friends do not share or express the same commitment to them. Every holiday season, there is increased stress as family members lay on the guilt to the military member to come home but may not have traveled to see them, ever. Why do military family members have to travel year after year? While more time off may be available for them, it increases stress and cost. Without an equal share in who is traveling and when it brings to light the question of how valuable the friendship and relationship is. If your family has not traveled to see you in five years as the single individual they are, and you and your family of four always have to see them, is that a relationship worth maintaining?
It is different when a family member cannot travel due to illness, cost, or ability, but it is worth analyzing the family dynamics before traveling – is it worth it?
The financial cost is a significant factor. Holiday travel is expensive. Per Hopper, in 2022, the price of airline tickets at the holidays increased 43% from 2021 to 2022. That’s a big jump! If you have multiple family members, that cost adds up. While car travel may be more cost-effective, driving from Texas to see family in Massachusetts will take a few days or one long, miserable drive. Is that time cost worth it?
Space-A travel may be an option even within the country, but you need to be flexible on dates and return times and be prepared to book flights at full cost if your space-A flight isn’t available when you need to get home.
A Ticket Home program is a program providing coverage of tickets to new military members to visit home from their first duty station. This program only applies to the military and new military members—review eligibility criteria before applying.
The Operation Ride Home program from the ASYMCA offers holiday travel assistance for military members and their families. As expected, this program is popular and is donation-dependent on how many people and families it can aid.
Operation Home has made it a goal to help 100 soldiers in 2023, but it is all donation-based. The program supports single military members who meet eligibility criteria.
To travel or not to travel: that is the question.
This is a challenging one to answer. It is widely dependent on whether your family has the time off, the ability to spend that time, the cost, and if there is value added in visiting family for the holidays. The reality is that “home” is now where the military sends you, not necessarily where you came from.