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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): We Have Arrived!

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Friday, August 1, 2008

We Have Arrived!

It's kind of anti-climatic. I still remember when I wrote my last post, thinking August was far, far away...not that far away, cause here it is! We arrived in Germany just about a month ago, and pretty much intact and not insane after traveling with pet crates, our worldly possessions reduced to a few suitcases and our two curious sons, who ended up being more interested in Gameboy than anything else. What can I say? Actually, I do have a few things to say...while they are fresh in my mind....of course about moving and some last minute ideas that helped us or could've helped us had I been smart enough to think it through in the first place.

If you are about to move or are thinking about it any time soon, be sure to read my other moving/PCSing articles, and if you are off to Germany, read our Germany articles. I've also come to realize I should've paid more attention to the thoughts below:

  • It's more cost effective to be living like a nomad in the States than overseas. The dollar is worth nothing more than dirt over here in Germany! We should've shipped our household goods early AND our vehicle early, to time their arrivals with our arrival. We rented a little shoebox of a car in Germany, for a month over here, to the tune of $1000 (and that was at a discount). We could've gotten something nicer and cheaper while back in the States.
  • Research hotels in depth. We stayed at the Marriot, which was at the upper end of our limit, and in hindsight, we should've taken their PCS package. We didn't want to do that because it required a one month stay (and we thought we'd be out before then...wishful thinking...and thought they would charge us the full rate). Turns out, we could've still gotten the package but just paid 40 Euro a day extra to their government rate if we didn't comply. See, we didn't ask just assumed...always ask!
  • Be creative with your eating and meals. Even though our Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) ended up being something like $700....A DAY...we still tried to save money. In fact, whenever we travel and my husband goes TDY or we get TLA/TLE in conjunction with a move, we try to make money on it. That means cereal or oatmeal for breakfast (we did have a mini-fridge and access to hot water, coffee and tea in the morning)....sandwiches for lunch and sometimes sandwiches or a hot meal for dinner. Marriot has three levels of members and top level membership means access to the top floor, which meant free finger food, pasta, drinks and whatever else they had up there. We requested to go up there, but my husband was about 100 nights stay short of the top tier membership. We found out later, that some folks who got the PCS package had access up there as well as a few others who just tried their roomkey in the elevator to get to that floor...and success. We obviously would've saved even more money than we did, eating lunch and dinner up there. Our first night at a modest restaurant cost us $80 worth of Euro. That takes some getting used to! Another thought, is to find a hotelroom with a microwave or kitchenette. All the military lodging was taken....many months ago, and they all have access to kitchens down the hall...at least they do in Stuttgart. That would've been ideal.
So did we do anything right before and during our move? I think we did. The move itself went very smoothly and because we did tons of research on moving with pets, that was a breeze as well. I did talk with others who moved around the time we did and boy did they share some stories! These tips apply mostly to overseas, but I'm sure you can find a kernel or two you can take with you, even if you aren't going that far.

  • Make sure your dog is the correct size for its kennel. Someone had to leave their dog behind and make arrangements for it later...kenneling costs=$$$$$. Check the airline's website and check what that airline's requirements are. Some are more stringent than others. Can your pet sit up comfortably and turn around and lie down? Check it out first.
  • Check which airlines are the most pet friendly and take some thought into planning your route. We flew United. Lufthansa was also recommended. We paid $205 for a cat and a 100 lb dog. I talked to someone who flew Continental who paid a few THOUSAND dollars for two dogs. They must've been charged some kind of air freight. It would've paid for them to shop around (you DO NOT get reimbursed by the military for shipping pets). You can pick your travel route, and if you have pets, stick with United and Lufthansa and try to fly out the shortest route. We drove up to Baltimore and shipped our car from there, as well as flew out of Washington Dulles, making it a shorter distance for the pets than from Tampa, where we were stationed.
  • Double check all your pet paperwork. We made sure to go to a military vet (and it was free) to get our pets' check ups and paperwork done. If you go to a civilian vet, you run the risk of something being screwed up. A friend ended up having to leave her two big dogs at Frankfurt Airport for eight hours because she was missing ONE SIGNATURE on her pet documents! An employee finally chose to look the other way and released the pets, but by then, the dogs had messed in their crates, they were upset, not to mention my friend had to make another three hour trip back to the airport to get them.
  • Buy those absorbent piddle pads. Newspaper is just not going to cut it if your pet has an accident. Ask my other friend whose dog had a bout of Montezuma's revenge. A piddle pad would've helped, plus have wet wipes and know where you can get water access at your arriving airport in case you have to clean up a pet...or a child.
  • Bring your unlocked mobile phone. You can bring your phone to Europe and use it as long as it is a quad band phone. Just make sure you call your cell provider and get it unlocked BEFORE you move. Then you can just buy a SIM card at any newsstand (or PX), pop it in the phone and use it. Just be sure to give everyone your new number. Incoming cell phone calls in Europe are free.
  • Know what kind of car your rental car will be. If you think you are ordering a van, you're going to get a small SUV...at least in Europe. Someone found that out when they tried to put an extra large dog crate in their "van", which was really an SUV...had to pay extra to get a cargo van. Make sure all your luggage will fit! Our luggage would not have fit in our shoebox car, so thankfully we had a sponsor with a van pick us up at the airport...speaking of sponsors...
  • Get a sponsor. If you know what unit you are going to, they should assign you a sponsor. A sponsor should send you a packet from the area (they can get that stuff from the ACS or the USO), know the area, make the hotel reservations for you, meet you at the airport and generally help you get your bearings the first few days you are here. Also pump them for information on housing. Housing is really tight in some places and a wait of one to three months is not unusual. Typically, you'll get moved out of a hotel after 30 days and then given temporary lodging, which are apartments with kitchens, until you either find a house on the economy (through the help of your housing office) or your name moves up on the onpost housing list.
  • If you are moving to Germany, attend the newcomer's orientation. It is totally worth it, and you can find out more about it when your spouse inprocesses. They'll teach you how to get around on the economy, how to navigate the transportation system, teach you some German phrases, plus it's an opportunity to meet other new folks.
  • Go to your new location's website. Every post has a website. Ours in Stuttgart even has links to the community newspapers and newsletters, calendars and even a newcomer section. Read what's going on and try to be informed before you get there. Each post has its own nuances and quirks and why not have a leg up on that kind of stuff?
  • Find out the housing situation before you PCS overseas. Get the phone # for housing from the community or post's website. Give them a call. Many also have basic info on their website. If it's going to be a long wait for housing, you may want to consider deferred travel, where your military spouse goes over first, while you stay comfortable at home. Then, when he gets housing one to three months later, you can move right in. It's okay that your stuff isn't there yet. We are in our apartment now on post and have furniture provided by the military (which you can keep for your entire stay if you want; plus it's not as shabby as it used to be...imagine IKEA-like furniture). Plus, you can bring a copy of your spouse's orders over to the ACS lending closet and get a bin of cooking and household items to tide you over until your stuff gets here.
Anyway, those are the things that come to mind. If you have anything to add, please add it below.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Mila said...

Welcome to Europe! :)

August 1, 2008 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Bon said...

Glad to see you (all) arrived and all is well. That's a ton of information!

August 1, 2008 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Army Wife Tata said...

I love your blog. It has been so helpful to me as we prepare to PCS CONUS. We are hoping our next PCS will be overseas, so I know your blog will help us out again!! Thanks!

August 2, 2008 at 5:23 PM  
Blogger Tara S. said...

i was surfing the net and came across your blog...i have really enjoyed reading it, thank you for sharing..

August 3, 2008 at 4:43 AM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

I bought a car one time when I PCS'd, simply because I didn't want to rent a car for a month. It cost about the same ($1,000) and I later sold it for what I paid for it. It's not the ideal situation, but it's something to consider for your next PCS (if the situation arises).

August 4, 2008 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

one thing that you will notice, when you are preparing to return, is that many folks will be MORE than willing to lend you a vehicle, so you don't have to rent one!!!

We did the early shipping of vehicles. Because we were a two vehicle family, we kept one in the states and shipped one about 2 weeks before we packed out. We had a bit of overlap and finagling schedules so that we were able to do the things needed, but shipping that car early really paid off. My hubby left 7 weeks before me, but when he arrived, our car was right behind him (it came about a week after he arrived - and since he was inprocessing, he didn't have time to "sightsee" and the folks in his unit took him to places he needed...). I left our other car at my MIL's house, and she used it regularly (if you call 500 miles in a YEAR regular usage, lol).

On the return side, we had 3 families offer us the use of their extra car. 2 families had deployed soldiers, so that "extra" wasn't even being used, and the other family was going to the states for a month and wasn't using EITHER vehicle they had! We again shipped our car out far enough in advance so that when we arrived, we would be able to go right to the port and pick it up.

We arrived in DC, rented a car for one day (to drive to Pittsburgh, where our family car was), and then drove to St. Louis, where our van was waiting for us.

Definitely a better thing to do.

And on the return....have your "hold baggage" be the LAST stuff you ship out...ship your HHG 2 months before you leave...so that when you arrive to the states and find a place to live, your HHG will already be there. You won't NEED a hold baggage shipment.

August 4, 2008 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

You think after all those years being around the military, I would learn this! Thanks for the tips!

August 5, 2008 at 7:08 AM  
Anonymous kirsten said...

I'm glad you arrived safe and sound.

One more comment about PCSing to/from overseas-there is ALWAYS more/better stuff for loan overseas in my experience. So keep your stuff with you as long as you care while in the states, because you can borrow furniture/kitchen stuff overseas . . . and ship your stuff early overseas because you can use loaner stuff.

And you will always know people on the leaving side who will offer help more than you will meet people on the arriving side. If that makes any sense. You'll feel more comfortable asking your neighbor of 1 year to borrow some items rather than meeting a new neighbor or being stuck in billeting with a bunch of people who are all missing the same thing!

I sure remember how disappointed I was going to the "loan closet" one time and being offered a fold up cot per person, not the actual beds we'd been able to borrow overseas.

August 5, 2008 at 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Nigel said...

Hi there! I love your post, as it has been a big help so far, and we are still a month away from leaving for Germany!

I have a quick question regarding the Marriott that you stayed in. Where was it? Was it in Dusseldorf? Also, how did you find out about their PCS package? I'm am definitely interested in staying there during my TLA phase.

Any help would be huge!!!

November 27, 2008 at 2:32 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Check the Marriot in Sindelfingen and ask about their "PCS Package". I think to make it worthwhile, you have to be in there around 25 to 30 days (they frequently change it). From what I was told by another person, if you don't meet the stay requirements, they tack on some kind of fee, charging you an additional amount per day stayed...so be sure you read the fine print.

November 27, 2008 at 11:29 AM  

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