I started learning things from the Navy before I actually even realized it!
From my grandfather coming in to wake my sister and I up chanting “Reveille, Reveille, Reveille! All hands heave out and trice up!” to my father giving the sign to “pull chocks” whenever it was time to leave, I was gathering these pieces of information for use later in life.
Here are the Top 13 Things the Navy Taught Me About Travel (in no particular order):
1. Pack Light. As soon as I arrived at the Naval Academy, the first thing we were tasked with doing was unpacking all of our issued clothing and filling our lockers.
From that moment, we were shown the proper way to fold and store our clothes. This information was gathered from years and years of confined shipboard living. It is tried and true!
So pack only what you can fit under your rack, or in this case, only what you can fit in your carry on luggage. You can actually do a great deal with a carry on (not to mention that you don’t have to wait in that long line to claim your bags at the carousel). Oh, and roll ’em don’t fold ’em!
2. Prioritize. In the Navy, when you pull in to a port, you typically only spend 3 days – long enough to refuel and perform a stores onload. One of these days would also be restricted to the ship as a duty day – so you need to make the most of the two days of liberty out in town. Instead of a whirlwind tour, research your destination and prioritize.
Let’s face it. Most of us are not nomads traveling around the world with all of the time that we need. We still have jobs that require us to show up in order to keep receiving a pay check (who would have known!) and that allow only a few weeks of vacation if you are lucky.
When I travel now, I choose the top 3-4 things that I really want to experience and make arrangements to see them. Everything else is nice to have and can be fit in where possible.
3. Be Flexible. Plans always end up changing. I can’t count the number of times we were scheduled to pull in to a port and something kept us out to sea, or sailing to another port entirely. We had a saying, “Semper Gumby”, which we would often joke about. It is a play on the Marine Corps “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful) and means to be “Always Flexible”. You know that when an organization comes up with a saying like that, there is a lot of change going on! Times like these help you to adapt and overcome.
I’ve always been very laid back and can go with the flow, so changing plans never really bothered me however it goes against my planning personality. I love, love, love to plan. In fact, I think the reason why I don’t mind plans changing is because that means I get to make an entirely new plan!
As I schedule our family trips, I enjoy using my Moleskine Travel Journal to capture all of the details. This also helps me find contact information, confirmation numbers and dates all in one place in case we do need to change anything.
4. Other People Take Priority. As an engineering officer on a ship, my division would often have duties that needed to be completed after the ship would moor. We would have to shut the engineering plant down, transfer from ship to shore power, etc…and in many cases, liberty call would be passed over the 1MC before the engineers were done. While I may not have had a hands-on contribution to the work, I stayed while my division was working.
When you travel, sometimes your kids might be having an “off” day. Adjust your schedule to fit their needs (See #3 Be Flexible). Sometimes you may just need to take a break, sit down, rest and eat some gelato. I’ll also state the obvious: Plan around nap time!
My mother always said that “patience is NOT one of my virtues” and the Navy helped me to start working on this…I don’t think that I will ever be perfect but at least I can wait in lines without pulling out all of my hair.
5. Have a Liberty Buddy. Travel companions are amazing for so many reasons. They can really make or break a trip. It is wonderful to have someone by your side to share these new experiences with.
On a frigate, you have about 200 of your best friends with you that are watching out for you and that have your back. Prior to pulling in to port, we would have a port brief and when the port brief says that there are areas that are off limits, they are probably for good reason. Stay away! Even if your 200 best friends say, “no, its a great idea!”
The same goes for planning our own trips. Do your research and identify what you should be aware of – is pick pocketing common in this location? Are there areas/neighborhoods that are not friendly to tourists? Etc…
A great website to check out is the Department of State where you can click on the country you are interested in to see a wealth of information.
6. Get Away From the Areas Commonly Traveled. I always wanted to get away from the port. Away from the bars and restaurants that every other sailor was going to be in. Not only are you only interacting with other tourists, but the prices are always much higher near major tourist hubs.
When my family travels now, I want to get away from other tourists whenever possible. I use sites like Cross-Pollinate to help find apartments and B&Bs that have been recommended. Staying in neighborhoods and living like a local is a great experience.
When we travel abroad, I will always look for something “local”. It is so much less stressful than having to worry about your 2 year old throwing a temper tantrum at 1 a.m. in a booked hotel, it is normally cheaper than a hotel, and you can purchase your food at a local market and cook in the house.
7. We are so Privileged. I have had the wonderful opportunity to travel to so many places (Colombia, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Russia and Spain – among many others) and reaffirmed that we are so lucky to grow up in an area where we aren’t afraid for our safety, we have a roof over our heads, access to medicine, and food on our tables. Help others whenever you can. When we would pull into ports, we would usually have a COMREL (community relations) project.
While in Peru, I was able to play soccer with children in a small village outside of Lima, paint a schoolhouse, and plant a garden.
I believe that it is important to show my children how to volunteer and give back to our community at home, and also the communities that we touch around the world.
8. Leave the Electronics Behind. We were often without communications off the ship. There were no cell phones and internet was spotty at best. Not to mention that in between standing six hours of watch at a time, studying for qualifications, participating in special sea and anchor details, etc…there really wasn’t much time for writing stories home.
Take a break sometimes and just experience what is around you. Including getting to know the people that are traveling with you.
I spent many nights up on the bridge wing or quarterdeck talking to my shipmates. You can learn more about someone during these times than a year at home in normal circumstances.
I hate to say it, but I am more tied to my iPhone that I like to admit. It is nice to take a vacation to focus on what makes you a great family – the love, the understanding and the fun.
9. There is Something to be Said for Peace and Quiet. When people ask what I miss the most about the navy, it is times like these. Standing watch on a bridge wing at night with the phosphorescence leaving a trail behind you and the millions of stars guiding the ship in front of you.
10. Be in the Moment. When you cross the ship’s brow to step ashore, leave work behind you. However when you cast off your bow lines to get underway, you have your ball cap on and are back to work. Try focusing on what is in front of you.
The same goes for travel in the civilian world. Put your out of office reply on your email, set expectations with your boss for how often you will (or will not) be checking in, and go on vacation!
11. You Have Friends Everywhere. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the nice couple in line for the museum in front of you, or the elderly gentleman on the train sitting beside you. Friends you make on vacation now can be friends forever. They will have tips from a local’s perspective, recommendations for things to do, places to eat and they might give you a potential place to crash for future travel! Always reciprocate!
If you don’t know the language of the country that you are visiting, try to learn a couple key phrases prior to your trip – and USE THEM! Almost everyone that I have run into appreciates that you have tried. And if you positively just can’t communicate – everyone smiles in the same language.
12. Each Location Has Something to Offer. In your lifetime of travel, you can’t always choose where you go. This is especially true in the navy. I don’t recall the last time the Captain asked me where I wanted to visit. Haha! The CO and greater Navy decided where the ship pulled into port.
I travel quite a bit for work and while I do have some leeway in which corporate site I visit and when, there isn’t a huge selection.
I have found that you can find something unique almost anywhere you go. Don’t worry if they aren’t traditional tourist destinations – those often provide experiences that are great conversation pieces.
13. Stay Positive.
At the end of the day, I’ve learned that there can often be rough waters that you will have to navigate in life,
however there is usually a rainbow on the other side. Stay Positive. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
Were you or someone that you know in the military? What did you learn from your experiences? Leave a comment and let me know!