How To Plan A Port Visit
Planning a port visit is an interesting animal. A lot of times, you’re given vague information and flexible dates. Minimizing financial risk, while still trying to plan and nail details down, is a delicate balance. So where do you start?
This is short for operational security and it is extremely important. The old Navy spouse proverb is “loose lips, sink ships.” So when you’re frustrated that your service member can’t just email you locations, dates and times, remember it is just them doing their part to protect themselves and their shipmates.
So what is your part in OPSEC? First and foremost, don’t post dates and/or locations on social media. If you do get word that you’re going to see them somewhere, it is not wise to blast that information all over the internet. Not only could it get your significant other in trouble with their command, but it could also compromise their safety which is the last thing anyone wants.
The other thing is to act like it’s fight club. The first rule of fight club is not to talk about fight club… right? Well it doesn’t have to be this extreme, but you really should only be discussing details with spouses in your command. The fewer people who know all the particulars, the better.
When booking accomodations, try to go for deals that you can cancel. Look for airbnbs with flexible cancellation policies, or hotels that you can cancel up to 24 hours before. Hotels.com is my favorite to use because you can earn free nights. However, shop around. I will also oftentimes call the hotel to see if they have a better rate that they can offer for government or military (while still ensuring that it is fully refundable). It is amazing how much money we’ve saved with just a few phone calls.
This one is harder to get something that you’ll get your money back upon cancellation as fully refundable flights are generally very pricey. We’ll get to mitigating financial risk with flights in a bit. The sites I generally use for flights are SkyScanner, Kayak and Google Flights.
A good thing to do before you search flights is to clear your cookies, depending on your previous search and browser history, it may help you get a better price. The other thing I do to make sure that I am buying a ticket at the right time is checking the dates with the app Hopper. This is an app that uses an algorithm to predict when the best prices will be, and can alert you when it’s time to pull the trigger and purchase your ticket.
Next thing to consider is how you’re going to get around once you arrive. I always look at public transportation first, then the availability of services like Uber or Lyft and then car rental last. A great place to look for information on the best way to get around is Trip Advisor Forums, and Google maps.
I like to use Google maps by coming up with a possible trip we would want to take, for example from our hotel to a restaurant, and type in the information. If there’s an app like Uber, Lyft or a local equivalent, it will show that option with an approximate price. It gives me a good idea of what to expect if we decide to utilize that service.
If you do decide to rent a car, I suggest again to see if you can find a company that will offer either a refundable option for free, or a small fee. I recently booked a rental car, and paid $11 to be able to cancel any time up until the start of the reservation. Well worth the money in my opinion. The other thing to consider with renting a car is how old you are, if you have a credit card that offers insurance or if your own car insurance offers rental coverage. If they do, you’re able to decline the additional coverage and save yourself some money.
Another thing to look into is driving requirements in the place you’ll be visiting. What kind of documents does the company require? Will you need a AAA international driver’s license? Make sure you verify with the rental company before you show up and are missing documentation and aren’t able to cancel or get a refund and are then stranded at the airport.
Check around to see what there is to do. My favorite tools to do this are Trip Advisor and Visit a City. Visit a City is amazing because you can choose a pre-made itinerary for a location based on the length of your stay and what kind of trip you want to have. Some of their go to themes are top attractions, easy going, kid friendly and museums. The great thing about their itineraries is that they cluster activities based on location and opening times, so that you’re not wasting time by being in transit or showing up to a “closed” sign on the door. You can also customize all of the itineraries.
So while I usually look at this first, I will then go and make a list in Trip Advisor of all the things that look fun to go do, and take out what I’m not interested in and plug in replacements. This has been super helpful because it’s like an interactive itinerary that has directions for how to get from one place to another, a map of all the things on your list, opening times and entrance fees of what you want to see, along with a short snippet about each thing. By far my favorite travel app.
USAA offers trip insurance that will allow you to recoup some of your money in case of cancellation. Their rates are reasonable, and the claims process is fairly easy. I recommend trip insurance to everyone, ESPECIALLY if it is for a visit that needs of the mission may impact.
This one is key. In the last three years, I’ve gone on a lot of port visits, and had a handful get cancelled. I still remember the first one that fell through. I was devastated, and so sad that I wouldn’t get to see my husband. I was also shocked that it had actually gotten cancelled.
It made me realize that I needed to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. The mission comes first and not visits with family even if plans are made. Once I shifted my mindset, the following cancellations were easier…not easy, just easier. There was still disappointment, but I was at least prepared for it.
What am I missing? How do you prepare logistically and emotionally for port visits? Let me know by leaving a comment below! Share that knowledge friend! We can all use a little help now and then!