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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): November 2010

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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Location: United States

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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Open Letter to AAFES Overseas

If I knew that someone at AAFES was going to read AND act on this letter, this is what I would write.

"Dear AAFES,

I have just come from my local PX in Belgium.  I live 30 minutes from the PX and do not travel there too often, but this is the fifth time in a month I have gone to the PX looking for simple paper to put in my computer printer.  This is the same HP printer that I used to try to buy ink for at the PX until I realized it would probably be weeks before I saw replacement ink for it.  Those shelves were routinely empty as well.  Back to the paper...keep in mind that the PX is the only local source of computer paper, as the local Belgian source only sells European-sized paper, which is about an inch or so longer than US computer paper.  This would create an extra step for me in using Belgian paper, as it would hang out of my binders either on the top or bottom, forcing me to cut that part off (I do like to be neat).

I see that your shelves were totally empty of ALL computer paper, the first four times I visited your facility.  The fifth time, there was a small ream of high quality thick HP paper, which costs almost twice what regular paper costs.  Since I had truly run out of paper at this point, I was forced to buy it or deal with the consequences of my children going on a homework strike.  I should've ordered it from the US you say?  Do you know how much paper weighs?  I guess this is also an option if I don't mind shelling out more money.

The truth is, I believe the PX should be overseas to support us....not make our lives more difficult or more expensive than shopping off-post on the economy or even through mail order.  I don't know who your overseas PX buyer is, but they apparently have not grasped that there are certain STAPLES that EVERYONE goes through in high volumes, printer paper being one of them....printer ink being another.  I won't even go into the other items that are routinely needed, as these are also items AAFES should be tracking for low quantities and should be ordering well ahead so the shelves are stocked.

If Walmart HQ can tell themselves how many bottles of water they have on the shelves of X stores right before Hurricane Katrina (and after I may add), then the PX should be able to handle the basic technology that would keep their stores stocked of staples.  If the stocker person who does the ordering has no clue what staples we need, what about a suggestion box in the front of every overseas PX, allowing customers to let AAFES know which staples they'd like to see on a regular basis?  It seems the commissary does a better job of this.  Maybe the PX guy can talk to the commissary guy and share notes.

A Disgruntled AAFES Customer"

I for one would love to hear what AAFES has to say about this issue? I know having AAFES overseas is a privilege and not a right....I got that...but still.....your thoughts on this?

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just a glimpse into the life.....

I just finished a book I never would've chosen to read in my life.  Every once in awhile, I like to walk through my library's "new book" section....just to see what the library gods at my local library have ordered for our latest reading pleasure.  I neglected to mention that I DO like to read books that either detail an out-of-the-ordinary profession or just has to be something that I don't personally do or am familiar with.  Well, boy did I pick up something unusual this time around!

I can probably count on two...maybe three hands how many bars I've been to, in my life!  I know, I guess I am not as worldly as I want people to think I am.  Even while I was in Venice recently, I looked IN the window of the famous Harry's Bar and had my son pose in front of that window....but never went inside.  And to make things worse, if anyone in my extended family brings up anything about bars, I can already see my husband getting a smile on his face to yet again, share that awful story of what happened on a beach trip to Italy back when we were lieutenants...when I was introduced to some frothy peach...stuff...for lack of a better description.  The worst  is, I can't even remember, so I cannot deny or confirm anything he says....I can just be careful that he doesn't add anything every time he tells it...he is so fond of that story and relishes it every time (embelish...relish...)!

So, the latest book I grabbed is called Behind Bars by Ty Wenzel.  It's basically the story of a female bartender in New York had no idea humans can be so transparent, funny, stupid or (insert your own adjective here)....AND that there is a real ritual that gets followed "at the bar"...and just the little stories she shares....kinda makes me feel thankful for what I have.  She also describes what happens to people of all walks of life and everything in between, when they feel.....lonely and forgotten.  How sad life can be for some people.  I also did not know how much money is to be made in bartending if you go with the right hotspot!  Second wow!  I guess you have to figure out  if your body and mind can take the abuse before you cash out from what Ty writes.  Read's interesting....yes, it has some profanity and some other things you may not be comfortable with....her constant lighting up got on my nerves...who still smokes in bed?.....but it is eye-opening and interesting, and that's enough to get me reading something.

Do you have any similar book recommendations?  I'd love to hear about other books that detail a life that is so unlike my own!


Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am thankful.....

It's always around Thanksgiving, where I take the time to actually write down what I am thankful for.  It's so easy throughout the year to complain about everything around us...and why me...and feeling a little sorry for yourself now and then....we get jealous of others (yes, we do)...and sometimes I think it's just human nature to go through these ugly know, life has its ebbs and flows, and there isn't a person in world who is constantly up.  So, with that being said, I thought I'd focus on the positive today.....what am I thankful for?

I am thankful for:

  • a healthy family
  • a husband who is home for Thanksgiving and not deployed
  • even though we don't have a day off here for Thanksgiving, I am looking forward to sharing Thanksgiving at work with our NATO allies (they look forward to that too); I am thankful for our international friends here, and how they have enriched our lives in just five short months
  • Skype and the internet in general; it makes me feel connected to family back in the US...and keeps me on top of world events and happenings
  • my husband having a job; I have friends in the US who have lost their jobs; I talked to someone getting out of the military last week with no clear plan...who would be crazy enough to get out now?  In this economy?
  • being so close to so many new travel in London or Paris for a day is easy....going to the Christmas Market in Cologne...even easier...or just going down to the local friterie stand and eating the best french fries on the planet
  • my faith...and never wavering in what I believe in; also knowing that my mother is watching over me and my family
  • being a very patient person, or maybe I just let things roll off me....I hear this all the time from my friends, so there must be an inkling of truth in there somewhere
  • my friends who I'm able to stay in touch with through Facebook; it's a great tool for military families who move all over but want to try to stay connected to all those friends they made (and family too)....all in one place
  • whoever invented Thanksgiving, as it is my favorite holiday of the year....yes, even before Christmas
  • our stuff....BUT, I do remind myself it is just stuff, especially in light of friends who lost stuff in their basement from the last Belgian flood and many former neighbors in Stuttgart who lost EVERYTHING in a major household goods warehouse thankful for whatever you have, no matter how little or much
Take this weekend to reflect on how blessed you really are.  You are important.  You are destined for something great, just possibly not right at the momeny.  Regardless of what you have, be thankful for it, and take the time to pray for those who do not....those who may have hit a lowpoint in their lives.

See you next week, and what are you thankful for?


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

There are NO dumb questions.....

Questions, come one and come all!  Just like in school, where you were told there are no dumb questions, there are no dumb questions here either.  If you have any questions for me, please use the "Ask Military Wife" button in the left hand column.  Here's one I had only heard asked once before.  So, I got an email:

"I've just come over to Germany, and I don't understand why there are two flush buttons on my toilet? I'm afraid to ask anyone!"

Believe it or not, I don't know if the Germans invented this or someone else over here, as many Belgian toilets have two buttons too.  The answer is very's a water-saving feature.  You use the little button for "small jobs" and the bigger one for "larger jobs" neat is that?  Now not all toilets will have this, but at least you know what it is!  Also, some public toilets will not have a button at all, but a lever on the floor or underneat the seat (for your foot)....look for it if you don't see anything above the toilet.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Flying Ryanair for the first time?

At some point, I just had to blog about one of the low-cost airlines out there....when I googled Ryanair, I was surprised to not find any firsthand accounts?  Maybe I didn't google it correctly...but I still thought there would be loads of stories out there on passengers sharing their experiences.  Anyway, so here's my story, the good and the bad...  Follow me as I get on a Ryanair flight to Venice from Charleroi (Brussels South as they like to call it which isn't anywhere near Brussels).  Know how to plan ahead and how to avoid these mistakes that can put a real crimp into your nicely planned vacation.

While you are reading these tips, keep in mind that we are talking about a BUDGET airline....'nuf said.

  • Get on Ryanair's email list.  You'll be forewarned of their "special" 5 euro fares all throughout Europe.  I sometimes hear people asking how they can fly so cheaply....well, it's not exactly 5 euros in the end, but it is cheap compared to the other mainstream airlines.  They can get you a better price because this is bare bones flying (hey, they even want to start charging to use the toilet and are working on "squatting type" seats to pack more into each plane).  You'll pay for any extra tangible items AND priorities.  For example, that 5 euro fare is going to go up if you don't take the very first flight out of the day (usually around 7 am) and the last flight back (such as 10 pm) or vice versa.  Ryanair can get away with cheaper pricing because they fly into "lesser" airports many times that are anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour from your actual destination AND they fly at off peak times.  You'll of course get charged for taxes, web check-in (which everyone has to do), priority boarding (if you don't want to be herded on like cattle, and the possibility of not sitting together freaks you out a bit) and an administration fee.  Also, because one of our flights was not the really early or late flight, the base price went up on one of our legs times three (there were three of us traveling).  So instead of what you think is going to be a straight 30 euro flight back and forth for three people, ends up being 260 Euros!  But, for me...that's still awfully cheap!  Update:  To Dublin it was only around 150 Euros for four and  around 100 Euros to Barcelona (so check all the possibilities) recently.
  • Be sure to follow Ryanair's RIGID baggage carry on restrictions.  Know that a checked bag for each leg of your journey costs 35 euro per person....not worth it in my opinion for a short trip!  So, measure your carry-on bag wisely.  You can only take this ONE bag.  Your purse, laptop, backpack and whatever other bag you want to bring must fit inside of it.  It can also not weigh more than 10 kg.  More on this later.
  • Within 10 days of your flight, you'll go online and print out your boarding pass for each passenger.  You'll need birthdate and passport information for each.  Keep this with you....lose it, and you'll pay 35 euro for each lost paper...I mean e-ticket!  See how this 35 euro keeps repeating itself?
  • Non-EU (European Union) passengers are recommended to arrive 40 minutes before the flight leaves.  I arrived one hour 1-1/2 hours before, as I had never flown out of Charleroi.  Try to trade drop-off and pick-up services with another military family flying out of there (obviously not at the same time).  If you can't, there is long-term parking....look for the sign "long term" which is right next to the parking garage.  It'll run you 55 euro for 5 days.  See rates here.  Don't park in the wrong lot or overpay!
  • After arrival, at the larger airports, non-EU passengers and passengers checking in luggage must check in at the ticketing desks (in the front).  They may give you a more traditional boarding pass, or you'll keep your computer printed boarding pass which they will stamp (because they will check your passports).
  • Then, it's into the security line.  You'll keep hearing announcements saying that boarding for flights leaving will close 30 minutes before departure, which is the signal for you to get through security and to not hang around in the check-in area.  They really do mean this, and I did see people turned away.  Make sure you read their policy if you miss your flight or better yet, get there EARLY and allow time for things that can go awry.
  • A Ryanair agent will have you put your bag into a metal cage-like display to show it meets their baggage requirements.  I saw people manhandling that thing...the agent didn't care (the first time we went thru) long as you can squeeze it in there, it's good.  We had one rolling backpack and two larg gymbags.  Gymbags and backpacks are great cause you can mold them into that stupid cage! There are also these displays scattered throughout the terminal, so be sure to test it out before the pressure of the people behind you watching you manhandle your bag causes you to sweat and stress unnecessarily.  Brought your lunch?  It better be in that bag?  Any purchases?  You will not go through until you put it in the bag.  Some of these displays also have a scale and will beep incessantly if you are overweight.  Try to balance out your weight among everyone's bags if you are traveling in a group.  Check it all out ahead of time.  Yes, I saw people having to do the walk of shame back through the line to the main check-in desk to check their bags...for 35 euros a pop....ouch.  No money?  Credit cards will do.  AND, some airports will have Ryanair checking your baggage dimensions at the gate rather than security.
  • Once through that test, you'll go through routine security with the x-ray scanners.  Some personnel will make you take off belts....others, your shoes...some, nothing. Take your laptop and portable DVD players out to have them scanned separately.  Also take off coats, watches and large metal jewelry items if asked.  I almost always get beeped, as I refuse to take off one of my bracelets (in fact, I forgot how to take it off is the honest truth...and I won't admit it), so I get the personal search.  Gee, she went inside the band of my underwear this time...that was new.  Anyway, if you come early enough, you'll breeze through security.
  • While waiting at your gate, you'll see two signs marking the two lines for boarding.  One is Priority.  This is the line you'll stand in if you paid extra for priority seating.  Even though your ticket will have a seat # on it, you won't get that particular seat.  This just means that your priority line is let on the plane before the rest of the folks who didn't pay for this privilege.  They stand in the other line.  As you get on the plane, the flight attendants will tell you which rows you can sit in and will try to guide you to the middle of the plane.  Sometimes you'll see folks all laid out at the beginning of the non-priority line waiting to board well before boarding time.   We've gone that route too.  If you don't want to pay extra, let this be you, so you'll be the first person getting on after priority boarding.  You can sit then wherever there's a free seat.
  • Once on board, seats are pretty standard, although bare bones and probably less legroom (I'm tall and noticed this).  After all the traditional safety briefings are done, here comes the parade.  These flight attendants will go through the plane selling everything from drinks (no free sodas, drinks or peanuts) costing about 1,50 euro to phone calling cards to hot and cold sandwiches and other snacks costing anywhere from 3 to 7 euro, watches, name it.  I told my kids before they got on the plane they weren't getting anything and made sure to buy them a screwtop drink at the airport (which already was expensive enough, but what are you going to do when you can't take that stuff through security, and you're gonna get thirsty?).  We also carry plenty of snacks.
  • Other than our plane leaving an hour late, which is UNHEARD of on your regular airline, I didn't notice it phasing any of the Ryanair personnel.  Our flight coming back from Venice left on-time though.  I have also heard that Ryanair flights can be canceled more often than your standard flights but have not experienced this myself.  Look what these passengers recently did who were three hours late.
  • Immediately after landing you'll get a small treat by hearing the little ditty they play at the racetrack when the horses are called to race....yes, they really play that...everyone claps and you disembark.  Since this is the EU, you won't routinely deal with customs unless someone decides to pull your suspicious self aside....or maybe the dog smelled something on you...I don't know.
 Once you get the hang of this Ryanair thing, investigate blind bookings (google it).  Get sent real cheap to anywhere Ryanair just won't know where you are going until AFTER you've's like a can even narrow down the choices...of course, at a cost.  Try some of the other lowcost carriers in Europe.  Try being creative.  Have you heard of Wizz Air?  Try flying them through Budapest or Prague and then on to your final destination.  That may even be cheaper.  I'll leave you with a safety notice...even though these airlines are cheap, they are relatively safe..they are safter than your car, and all of them have a good safety record, so don't get worked up over that.  There are no reports of any of them skimping on safety that I have found.  I do wonder what will happen with airline travel once the "across the Atlantic" barrier has been breached by these lowcost airlines....something to think about?  Comments or your own recommendations?


Saturday, November 20, 2010

I got my blog bling!

It finally arrived in the mail a few days blog bling.   I'm so happy to wear it...thanks Michelle!  What is blog bling you say?  Well, one of my favorite blogs is Steamy Kitchen....I saw Jaden's blog bling, and I wanted one too....but I didn't want to spend too much, which I know is a big surprise to my blog I chose one of my favorite shopping sites, Etsy, and found a crafter who could make one for me with my website address on it along with "vmw" (Veteran Military Wife).  There are a few doing this stamped metal jewelry (just use the search function).  I think they were originally intended to write all the name of your kids on and to wear proudly...I guess like a badge of honor?  Now, if only I could find a blog convention to wear it to....I guess they don't have those over here in Europe?  Here's an up close photo....please ignore the double chin I especially "crafted" for this photo and didn't notice til afterwards apparently.  Do you have blog bling?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are we wimps for pain?

Hey, I don't take a Tylenol unless I have some kind of a shit-kicker headache...and I frown on drug use if I can help it, but sometimes, it's just the knowing that there is some possible pain relief waiting in the wings so to speak, that keeps me going sometimes.  I have been DREADING going to the dentist.  No, no check-up needed...those are the easy appointments.  I have a tooth that is being overly sensitive to the point of warm water making me hit the ceiling (and not just cold or hot water).  I dug in the back hallways of my brain and realized that about 10 years ago, I had a crown put on that tooth..or something....great.   I thought I could get a few more good years out of it.  So, I've been dreading it.  Yes, our on-post dentist will see you, and they do have dental sick call for dependents here, BUT for most folks, they will send you off post for the actual work...meaning, I will have to see a Belgian dentist to get it "fixed" if it needs "fixin".

Why am I being hesitant?  Because of the pain soothing alternatives, or should I say none!  I've come to find out that Europeans have a different sense of pain than Americans...they really do. Europeans EXPECT higher level tolerances for pain.  You see that in the kids at an early age on the playground, skinning knees and rolling off playground equipment with no safety features.  No parents come running when the little one falls....just a quick glance to assess the blood and look for any bent limbs from a distance, usually from the nearest bench.  European kids are conditioned growing up that pain can be a good thing and no one even hovers over them. 

I birthed two children in a German hospital.  I was told right away not to expect an epidural or any pain relief.  Their answer to pain relief is to sit in the warm water (if it's available) or to get an enema which will supposedly speed things up (I won't even go into that one).  I knew I had to do something as an American, so I ended up teaching myself the Bradley Method.  Honestly, it worked swimmingly, and I went through two babies...or should I say they went through me...with no pain pills, epidurals, shots or anything else...perfectly natural and no issues.  Okay, so I hurdled over that challenge but only thanks to Dr. Bradley.  And that's of course with almost picture perfect labors (and fast too) saying what I would've done with difficulties along the way!  I might've been telling a totally different tale here.

My former neighbor's teenage daughter had to get her wisdom teeth taken out...yes, they were impacted, meaning they had to be dug out.  The German dentist scheduled her to have all four done at once!  I swear, when I had them out as a teenager in the US, I was drugged during the procedure, had only two taken out at a time AND got some mind-alternating drugs for the recovery....both times.  Not so here.  You'll be lucky if they deaden the nerve right in the vicinity, and I have plenty of German relatives who choose NO pain relief when getting a cavity filled!  Back to the neighbor's daughter...yes, she did have pain relief during her procedure, but she was sent home with pills, nothing and had trouble handling the pain.  Her cheeks were ballooned to chipmunk size, and she was so miserable, her mother went by the medical facility on-post, and they were able to prescribe her something to make her more comfortable.  They laughed...and said that this is the norm over here, and they typically give out drugs to those who've been to the German dentist.  I am hearing similar stories here in Belgium.

So, my question to you is you think this gives Americans a low threshhold for tolerance of pain....and does it translate into tolerance of anything else?  I see little ones running around without coats and people biking somewhere before they would drive, like my neighbor lady who must be close to 80 but dutifully pedals her bike up and over the bridge in all kinds of weather.  This is certainly not the easy fact, it's gotta be painful, right?.....are we too pampered as Americans?  Is this going to hurt us in the long run?  You know, survival of the strongest and stuff like that.  I read somewhere that our soldiers in WWII were such good fighters and fought long and hard because they had come from Depression-era life, and that this is what made them so strong, especially when the chips were down.  Any thoughts on this or am I way out there again?  I would just like to hear another opinion or have someone tell me I've been smoking dope or am otherwise unrealistic here.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New tire regulations for Germany (important)

I know that Americans used to debate whether it was required by law or not to have winter or all weather tires in Germany when the weather warrants it.  Well, now it has officially become law to the point of a police officer being able to stop your vehicle if you do not have winter or all weather tires and fining you and putting points on your license.  Also....

in addition to this 40 euros you'll pay, if you cause any kind of accident, you'll pay another 40 euros plus most likely be held at fault and be responsible for damages which could of course run into the hundreds or thousands.

So, ADAC Motorwelt, the ADAC monthly magazine, is recommending you put winter or all weather tires on your vehicle from October to Easter (Oktober bis Ostern, O to O to make it easy for Germans to remember).  Do remember that there are also other options for tire purchases in Germany besides the economy (very expensive) and the PX (expensive).  My favorite is (good prices) where I recently purchased my all-weather tires, arriving here in just under a week.  Be sure to get it done before the mad rush at the local repair shop!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Latest search terms....

As any blogger worth their gotta see how people are getting to your blog.  Thank-you to all the blogs and other sites that mention Life Lessons!  One of these days, I'm going to have to write another post about the blogs I visit...there are some amazingly helpful ones out there...and just some darn funny ones too....would love to share them!  What always warms my heart....or just makes me smile...or what the heck?....are the search terms people google to get here.  Here are the top ones today, right at this very moment....
For the most part....they seem to be tracking....okay...I see that's a subject matter on my blog....but a few of these...makes me want to say......what in the.....?  Let me answer a few below that I don't think I answered on here anywhere

navy leave wife c section (Answer:  I unfortunately know nothing about the navy...sigh).

how to run household like the military (Answer:  I have no idea...and wouldn't want to.  Ever see the movie "The Great Santini" I think it's called?  It didn't work).

pcsing take clothes off hanger (Answer:  No, I recommend leaving them on there and having the movers put them in wardrobe boxes.  I had one move where they took our guest room closet and took everything off the took me about THREE DAYS to straighten everything out and get it all on hangers again!)

will the military find wives a job at shape  (Answer:  No.  You are on your own in finding a job, although we have a good job assistance program at ACS, just like any other "Army post").  There aren't as many US citizen jobs as in Germany as an example.  I recommend you either try to get a job from stateside through DODEA - the schools, or the Dept of Defense or even contractor jobs....stop by ACS and use their job hunting resources to find what IS out there...or be persistent, volunteer EVERYWHERE and keep your ear to the ground to hear when someone is leaving).

toilets in belgium (Answer:  Yes, we have them.  For the most part, they are the same as in Germany...although the display shelf isn't quite as prominent.  Many toilets have TWO flush buttons, the smaller for "smaller jobs" and the larger one for "bigger jobs"....what a neat water-saving feature, huh?).

airfare navy spouse (Answer:  Not sure what this is asking?).

are there many black people at shape high school in belgium (Answer:  You'll find the  number of people from different races mirroring most military posts.  We also have a lot of darker skinned people from the Southern European countries too...I've even seen German soldiers nnd their families of color at the school).

pics of child rearing (Answer: For one millisecond I thought this said something else and was absolutely horrified!)


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Free flight back to the US - COT Travel

So, I always knew that if you have back-to-back overseas tours...whether it's Germany/Germany, Germany/Belgium, Korea/Germany (seems to be a lot of that lately)...or whatever, you "earn" a free trip back to the your military spouse's home of record.  This just means that the flight has a dollar amount attached to it, back to the home of record, and you can go anywhere in the US for free, as long as it's cheaper than that dollar amount (well, not free...the government pays for it).  If not, you pay out of pocket the amount ABOVE what you are authorized.  So why am I blogging about it?  One...what a pain in the rear to get the paperwork done (be persistent) and also just to let you know it's even available to you.  How do you know you are authorized this free travel for you, your military husband and the rest of your dependents, ie kids?

Look at your military spouse's orders assigning you to your new duty station.  There should be a line in there saying you, the dependents, are authorized COT (Consecutive Overseas Tour) travel.  If you PCSed (moved) from one overseas location to another, you are authorized this travel.  Once you've got those orders in hand, your military spouse then needs to take those orders to his personnel office to initiate the paperwork.  For us, that meant he had to go to three different know, NATO, no one knows who they really fall under administratively...which is sometimes different from who your boss is....then, when you nail that down, you can actually get the paperwork filled out and turned in.  Then you wait about three weeks and get notified that it came back approved.  My husband got his paperwork, which was indeed another set of orders approving COT travel, via email.

I printed the thing out, then went to our local SATO office...where you can book official and leisure travel.  For our area, it is located in an obscure location on Chievres, next to the PXextra, in a little hole-in-the-wall place.  The ladies in there can then check flights for you.  Our cap, per person, ended up being just over $1000, so we were limited....when did flights get so expensive?  I haven't been back to the US in four years....golly gee!  I almost had to go to Chicago to go back to the East Coast...but instead, ended up going through JFK, which I don't like either, to get to where I'm going.  Forget direct flights, even though my destination is a major East Coast hub...go figure...never just simple, is it?  BTW, SATO at Chievres told me they are now getting some nice last minute deals, so check their specials website.

So, the lady did say if I change my mind about wanting to go to Newark, she can get me through there....great, why would I ever choose to go through there...isn't JFK bad enough?  They don't actually ticket you...which will be an electronic ticket eventually...until the month you leave, so changes can be made up til then.  I know they have government rates and such available to them....but I would still think, when the seats are gone, they are reserving earlier would be better I would think.

Well, that's the first part of my adventure.  I'll have to blog about the second part...when we actually go....still a long ways off.  You have a year BTW to take advantage of this travel I was told (but I read that Congress upped the amount of time to take it to the full however many years of your second tour)!


Friday, November 12, 2010

FREE 24/7 Roadside Assistance in Belgium (& a word on travel cancellation insurance)

Here's a nifty little program I didn't know about when we moved here....glad I do now!  You see, we brought our ADAC Roadside Assistance with us in Germany.  We paid about 200 euro per year, and it covered us while we were know, peace of mind.  Those ADAC yellow cars and tow trucks are angels in Germany should you ever have a breakdown, flat tire or run out of gas.  They'll even send someone to drive your kids home should you not be able to.  So, we moved to Belgium, and I double checked, and yes ADAC does cover you here too, even with a Belgian address, which in this case is our APO address, just like our APO address in Germany was on file.  BUT...and this was a big stickler for me.  ADAC has no offices in Belgium, so you'd have to call their Munich number for assistance.  I didn't get a warm fuzzy about that extra step.  I found out from the guy at the SHAPE gas station that Total Gas in Belgium has a FREE 24/7 roadside assistance program.  If you use Total gas, you can sign up for it.  It is very similar to ADAC and even covers you in many other European countries.  You knew I was going to investigate this, so here goes.

The guy who works at the Total gas station gave me a club card.  All I had to do was activate it online.  It will be tied to you and the license plate of your vehicle.  Both my husband and I got a card for each of our vehicles.

Go to Total's website and use Google Translate in a side window to see what the heck you are reading and doing.  You'll need your address, phone numbers and also the license plate number for your vehicle.  You can even register motorcycles which have different criteria for filling up.

Please make sure that when you go through the registration pages, do not go through Google Translate, as the registration won't go through.  Once your registration is complete and after you wait a few minutes, you'll get a confirmation email with your PIN number.  You will then be able to access your account online to see how many points you have added up. 

This is how it works.  Every three weeks, you MUST fill up at least 25 liters to receive free roadside assistance in that period and to be a member.  You should get an email every time you fill up to that amount or you'll get an email telling you when your assistance expires.  It will expire every three weeks, which means you need to put at least 25 liters of fuel into your vehicle every three weeks.  I hope I said that backwards and forwards enough times!

For example, if you fill up on the gas station on SHAPE, you'll probably be paying with your rationed fuel card that you purchased at the rationed items store across the street.  This holds true for any Total, as they are the supplier of our fuel ration cards here (it's Esso in Germany).  These fuel cards are heavily discounted from what the Belgians pay for their fuel.  No matter, you can use these as payment for the 25 liters you are going to put on your Total Card.

After you fuel up, take your receipt in to the cashier.  Hand them your Total Card.  They will then credit your account.  If you go home and check on your computer, you'll see some points added to your account.  There are other things you can do with those points, such a free gas, but I haven't investigated those goodies yet.

If at any time the service counter is closed, and you can't bring your receipts inside, collect them up and take them inside to the cashier and get them credited later.  You can do this at any Total gas station, but I recommend you take your receipts into the one you happen to be using.

Once you join, you'll also get an email of what phone # to call for assistance and other useful info, so use Google Translate if you need to and print it out and keep it in your car.

As a sidenote, there are also other roadside assistance programs out there.  I know that some of the agencies that offer car insurance both on and off post offer inexpensive roadside assistance programs.  Fortis Bank also has a roadside assistance program.

On a similar thread, if you travel a lot by air or do cruises or spend a lot of money on your travels, I would also look into travel cancellation insurance.  We have a cheap policy that covers up to I think it is 3,000 euro worth of travel that costs about 40 euro a year....something along those lines.  Most Europeans carry travel insurance that they renew once a's not like in the States, where people only do it for cruises and weddings and such and pay per's cheaper if you pay per year.  When I used to set up tours for the USO, I was astounded by how many would try to get a refund due to a family emergency or whatever reason, and if we already paid for hotel rooms or other fixed costs, they were SOL.  Very few had travel cancellation insurance.  Please check into it, as it is peace of mind too.  You typically have to file some kind of claim, and then get your money from the back end of the deal from the travel cancellation insurance company and not the original company that booked your travel.  Still, peace of mind that those thousands of Euros won't be lost if someone gets sick or has an emergency!

If anyone has any other similar insurance programs to add, and hey, I even invite the insurance companies overseas to post a link below.  When we moved to Belgium, we had no idea what the other car insurance options were, so stayed with USAA, which is more expensive here in Belgium due to them having to get their insurance through a third party here.  What are your recommendations?


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tired of cooking...that's are here

I don't know if you're like me.  I'll go to our local library and check out half a dozen cookbooks with mouth watering pictures (cause those without just won't do).  I dutifully go home, mark the pages, buy the ingredients and then end up cooking  maybe....2-3 recipes per cookbook with mixed results.  Then, fresh out of motivation for the rest of the week, the dinner rut begins to rear its ugly head!  Family's hungry...always hungry (I have two boys plus hubby), so now what?  How about some easy "cheats" that look like you made a meal and put a lot of effort into it too?

Here are some ideas that have saved me and made my family belly-full happy:

  • French bread (I LOVE Belgium for this as it is EVERYWHERE), roast chicken from the grocery store (they do that here too), raw cut-up celery and carrots (with choice of dips), olives (younger son lives on these) and a few rounds of cheese (we tried a wonderful light textured cheese from Brugge last week).
  • Anything you can fry up on a raclette grill!  My kids love this thing and it's fun for company.  Get a few types of smoked sausages (even a few hotdogs will do)...cut that stuff up beforehand.  Also slice up peppers, onions and whatever vegetables taste great grilled.  I also have pre-cooked baked potatoes which will be sliced at the table.  Don't forget condiments and sauces and dressings for dipping.  Many stores now have raclette cheese, but we usually bring home a few different kinds too.  The gist is you layer a slice of potato and whatever cheese in your little tray and put it in the slot under the grill.  Up top you'll lay out sliced sausages, veggie slices and watch it sizzle and cause tongues to water.  What a fun dinner!  I sometimes make a few cold salads the day before to also go with this meal if we are having company.
  • Boboli-type pizza, sauce (any spaghetti sauce will do), cheese, veggie and leftover lunchmeat toppings.  Kids get to make their own and will then be more inclined to eat their own creations!
  • Deli meat platters, macaroni and potato salads from the deli.  Don't do this too often though, as they can be expensive.
  • Breakfast for dinner.  We'll fry up some omelettes, and I always keep bacon and pre-cooked sausage in the freezer.  I will also slice up some potatoes and cook them in the microwave a few minutes before I pan fry them in butter and seasonings.
  • If you just have pasta and whatever tomato sauce, add cream cheese (the flavored varieties work well) as you heat up the sauce.  It looks and tastes like a rich vodka sauce.
  • Sandwiches for dinner.  Grab some fresh rolls before coming home along with some lunchmeats and cheeses.  Try different sauces.  I discovered Andoulous sauce here in Belgium and have been using that instead of mayo lately.  You can even use that great French bread again, layer it with meat and cheese and then put it under the broiler for a few, bubbly and crispy!
  • Tortilla wraps in the microwave can be a real lifesaver.  Kids like these as snacks too.  What do you put in there?  You can add heated, mashed refried beans and cheese and serve with salsa or gaucamole or how about prepared chili or Sloppy Joe canned offerings?  We sometimes add whatever cut up veggies we have too.
  • If you've got a bag of veggies and frozen chicken breasts or tenders in the freezer, you can put the frozen chicken in the oven after sprinkling whatever seasonings on there.  Once it starts to get light brown, it's done. Stir fry those frozen veggies with the cooked meat and throw in some soy sauce, Asian sesame oil and rice wine vinegar to taste.  Make your rice at the same time in a pot with water.  I boil my salted water (2x water vs. raw rice, so 2 cups of water and 1 cup rice).  I then put in the rice.  Put a lid on it and turn down to the lowest setting.  Set your timer for 15 min and serve with your stir fry.
  • A big green salad with my homemade dressing and bias cut pieces of chicken nuggets...yes, chicken nuggets taste and look great in a green salad and it is different enough to make your dish..different.  I even served this once at a luncheon and everyone kept asking how I did the chicken....sssshhhh.
And those are my cheats.  Do you have any dinner meal cheats?


Monday, November 8, 2010

VMW's Tips for Venice (read before your trip!)

I'm back!  I don't always blog about our travels, but for a one-of-a-kind city like Venice, I just gotta.  You know, you read about the Venice of the North (there's one in Belgium, another in Russia) and Venice of the South and a few in between....but truly, there is no place in the world that is VENICE...the "real one", in Italy.  I've blogged before about packing and traveling, just click my Travel category, but I don't think I've ever written a definitive guide that will make it easy to plan your trip and to know what to expect, so here it is!  Follow these tips before you even plan your next (or first) Venice trip!

Since I am always up for a challenge, I thought I would try to plan this trip, so that I wouldn't really have to use my brain once I arrived.  That's why I begged off all internet, cell phone traffic....everything but a few good books!  I even put my 13 year old to work, as I adamantly REFUSED to navigate the map.....and behold, my son is a genius with the map.  I tried stumping him many times a day, but he never got us lost and always got us right to the doorstep of where we were going.  We also had a Rough Guide waterproof map, and at least the Venice edition is spot on (our tourist bureau one had a few streets with different names and some of the little alleyways with no names).  Do keep your map in a large ziploc-type bag along with any other "important papers" you may need throughout the day.

In no particular order, here are my recommendations (again, these are only my opinions, but they worked great for us....or didn' learn from them when making your own plans):

  • First things first, gotta take care of transportation!  We knew what dates were off from school, so I ventured over to Ryanair about two months before our trip.  Bingo....5 euro fares per person each way to Venice (or rather Treviso, a 40 minute bus ride away).  I'll be blogging later about Ryanair, but for now, know that 5 euro per person ended up being considerable higher because of airport taxes, fees, priority seating and not taking the late night flight on the way back (the cheapest fares will be the first flight out and last flight in....always).
  • After having that locked in, I started looking at lodging.  Typically, I look at friends' recommendations and LOVE (both for ease of use, especially their map views and when narrowing things down....great reviews too and low price guarantees), but this time, I decided to try  I hit a goldmine!  We paid only 30 euro per person per night with breakfast included and were only a 10 minute walk from San Marcos Square.  Our very friendly and helpful "landlady" who did not speak a lick of English, ended up giving us a two bedroom newly renovated apartment by her place.  Why?  Because the bathroom had flooded right before our arrival in our guestroom and since the other two rooms were already booked, that was the plan she had for us.  It worked out perfectly....we loved it, and her place was only a few doors down, so breakfast was easy.  She had a beautifully decorated dining room with a just wonderful spiral staircase leading down to it, and we enjoyed our mornings there as she busied herself in her wineshop downstairs.  Hostelworld puts a small charge on your credit card, and then you pay cash to your host when you leave for the remainder of the bill.  There were no surprises and no additional fact, she charged us less than what the website stated.
  • Know what things you want to see.  I knew my boys would not sit (or walk) through dozens of museum visits, which Venice has many of with beautiful and important works.  We narrowed our list down to the major tourist sites and then the inside of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (my son loves Picasso) and the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doges Palace (highly recommended and can be booked online at Tickitaly or Vivaticket ahead of time...bypass the lines!), the Naval Museum, vaporetto/traghetto rides and some of the interesting architectural gems scattered throughout the city...Murano Island too.  Of course we had a list of movie locations we wanted to visit and brought the movies with us for bedtime viewing.  We even noted some restaurants, cafes, shops and of course the best gelato in Venice at Il Doge.  My favorite sites to research Venice were Venice Rentals and Durant & Cheryl's Venice for Visitors.  I of course read all the guide books and found Rick Steves & the Rough Guide to be the best.
  • We also made sure to visit the Venice Tourism Bureau website to double check any special exhibits (two churchs had da Vinci and Galileo exhibits ongoing), and I breathed a sigh of relief to see that the Venice Marathon was the week before....try to stay away from places that are hosting a major event unless you are going to be in it!  Who wants to pay more for hotels, food....everything and then get lost in the crowd while there?  Don't laugh...I had friends in Paris during their annual gay event weekend....I'll spare you the stories they had to share!
  • Make sure to visualize how you will get to your hotel/B&B and how you will get back to the airport.  We went ahead and bought roundtrip ATVO bus tickets for 9 euro per person.  The ticket booth is right outside baggage claim at Treviso Airport and takes you right to Piazza Roma, last stop for land traffic in Venice.  Since I didn't want to buy the expensive 3 day pass for vaporetto transportation within Venice, we walked to our B&B, which was 2.2 km.  I knew we were going to take a lunch break at a small cafe, so this broke up the walk a bit, and the kids didn't complain....the paninis were that good!  If you don't want to do a lot of walking, there are places near the train station to stay, but in my opinion, that area is just not as nice as San Marcos or Castello or some of the other districts.  Since we had an 8 AM Ryanair flight out of Treviso for our return, and I didn't want to try to walk to Piazza Roma at oh-dark-thirty and stress about making it on time, I chose to stay in a small (but very nice) hotel in Treviso that I found on that had FREE airport shuttle service.  This worked out great when they came to get us at the airport after coming back from Venice at the end of our trip (and it took exactly two hours which included our vaporetto ride from the Castello District next to San Marco district plus the ATVO bus ride to the airport).  The hotel even had a restaurant, so it was great on our last day being able to take our time to get back....BUT, since our flight left so early, the hotel did not offer shuttle service that early nor did we get our included buffet breakfast.  The owner was so nice though that he made us sack breakfasts and had a friend drive us to the's that for customer service?!  Bottom line....keep this in mind when booking your lodging in Venice.  This is why many stay overnight near the train station, to catch the first buses back to the airport.  I would never recommend Mestre, which is the ugly industrial area just on the mainland.  We drove by tourists pushing and shoving to get on city buses in the AM, trying to get to Venice...imagine doing that EVERY day of your visit...uh uh.  Also one other alternative to get back to either Marco Polo or Treviso airports is to use the city bus systems or the train.  Stay away from those expensive fly-by-night bus services or the super expensive water'll pay through the nose!
  • Look at the weather before you leave.  We knew it was going to be rainy season from mid-October on and brought our galoshes.  San Marcos Square was flooded with high tide every single morning and the tide receded by 11 AM.  Yes there are raised sidewalks, but they can get crowded and don't always lead where you want them to go!  
  • Use the FREE Rick Steves MP3 guides for Venice.  There are a few of them and my favorite one actually has a numbered map guide that goes along with the audio of St. Mark's Basilica.  There are also other websites out there with free and low-cost city guides.  Just google MP3 + name of city.
  • Bring sturdy walking shoes that are comfortable.  I can't tell you how many tourists I saw with high heels or even high heeled boots.  Venice is COBBLESTONED or bricked to an extent and not every surface is as smooth as San Marcos Square.  Walking surfaces can get slippery when wet and make walking uneven.  If you bring a wheeled suitcase, make sure it has bigger wheels or you will ruin your suitcase wheels and announce to everyone on the block that you are echo-sounding your way down the alley.
  • We did bring our GPS, as it has the walking feature, but it kept getting confused in the tight alleyways.
  • The big souvenir items people buy are carnival face masks and Murano glass items.  Be aware that the many sidewalk stalls selling the masks have the cheap 10 euro masks (which are great for kids).  If you want a real hand-made Venice mask, visit one of the many wonderful mask shops in the brick and mortar stores in the area.  The price will reflect the work put into it.  We LOVED the Terminator-style masks at Ca' Macana.  As for Murano glass, if it is not stamped on the back as original Murano glass, it could be manufactured in China or elsewhere!  I know, what a tragedy!  Buy the genuine article directly on Murano Island at one of the wonderful shops there and always check the back.
  • Don't buy a vaporetto pass for your entire stay (two and three day passes are super-expensive).  One way trips are 6,50 euro, so also pricey.  Plan your trip where you only need to use the vaporetto (water buses) for 24 hours.  Adults and kids pay the same price unless your child is a student 14 or older and you can buy a student fare.  More info on Durant & Cheryl's site on this.  We maximized our 24 hours.  Go out to Murano (glass manufacturers), Burano (lace makers), the Lido (the fun beach area; kids love the go-cart rentals too) and every route they take!  Thanks to Napoleon, the beautifully appointed cemetery has its own island, and it can be a nice peaceful respite and photographer's dream.  Of course you'll also find yourself going up and down the Grand Canal multiple times and what fun to match up the palaces going by with your guidebook.  It can also be dicey watching the vaporetto almost swipe some of the gondolas that creep in and out of the many backwater smaller canals.
  • Speaking of gondolas, the going rate during the day is 80 euro (more at night).  Of course if you want singing or music it's more.  Share the burden of the cost by taking six people max in the gondola (it can still be romantic and fun).  We like the Venice Walks and Tours Company (also see their other tours), as you know you are getting someone who speaks English very well and can give you a good tour.  Not all gondoliers are equal, although they all do go through some serious Italian though and there are only about 500 gondolas in Venice.  You can only get that job if a gondolier dies or gives up his license.  Beware of gondoliers trying to jack up prices.
  • Don't buy the counterfeit handbags being sold by shady characters in the back alleys.  Yes, they will approach you and wave that junk in your face.  It is a HUGE fine if you get caught buying one as there is a big crackdown on this.
  • Yeah, everyone goes to Harry's Bar to taste an overpriced Bellini....the cocktail was invented the bar...but big whup...we took a photo of one of our boys standing in front of the sign and were done with it.  You only see celebrities in the upper off-limits area and only tourists go to the bar and pay for their overpriced drinks and food.  There are plenty of other wonderful restaurants, cafes and sandwich places in Venice.  The Rough Guide map has many good ones marked and the farther you get from San Marcos Square, the cheaper things are across the board.  Don't go in Hard Rock unless you collect the shirts or other junk.
  • If you are coming from elsewhere in Europe you won't need plug adapters for your small appliances and electronics.  If coming from the US, know that your 110 volt appliances won't work here...most computers and many electronics are dual voltage though. Check the back of your item or on its adapter/charger and bring a European adapter plug.
  • We spent a half day in Murano and chose to go in the afternoon when the tourist crowds are heading back the other way.  It was wonderfully peaceful!  The glass blowing furnaces are a huge hit with children, and my little one was absolutely fascinated.  I chose to visit a furnace where I had to pay 5 euro, and the kids were free.  The ones that are free have high pressure sales tactics and in my opinion, don't do a very good or long "show".  We saw not only vases being made but also lamps and figurines and no one pressured us to buy anything.  Ask at any of the shops along the main drag how to get to the furnaces.
  • Definitely take the 50 cent traghetto ride.  These are stripped down gondolas manned by two gondoliers that take you across the Grand Canal.  A good map will show you the traghetto crossing points.  You typically stand up but since it was raining and we had a gondola full of tourists, they had us sit on the very edge ledge.
  • In cooler weather, bring layers to wear and have some kind of waterproof jacket.  We saw people with umbrellas, but they were constantly hitting people in the head and having to tilt their umbrellas this way and that in the narrow alleyways....don't even bother.  We stayed warm and dry with our jackets with hoods.  If you are in Europe, visit Decathlon, an awesome sports warehouse with stuff for every kind of sport.  You can get a nice waterproof jacket for Fall and Spring with TONS of pockets for 30 euro.
  • Speaking of pockets, we maximized pocket use in our jackets for cameras, and I wore a pouch close to my body with our passports and money in it.  Pickpockets are everywhere here.  You also can't bring your backpack into St. Mark's Basilica, so be sure to leave it in the hotel the day you visit there or at their baggage drop off area around the corner.  Either visit St. Mark's early when it first opens or an hour before closing.  The crowds can be tremendous during the day, even in winter!
  • Save lots of money by buying bread, cheeses and fixins' for lunch.  The grocery stores are well hidden here and our Rough Guidebook had them all listed.  Within an hour of checking into our apartment, we had snacks and water and drinks to last us through the week.  We always carried a backpack with us with our drinks and then bought some wonderful sandwiches, paninis and pastries for lunch.  Be careful where you eat your picnic, as technically, it is "illegal" to sit down and eat anywhere....try to stick to out-of-the-way areas and parks and don't eat on someone's stoop!  I actually saw a sign on someone's stoop begging tourists not to picnic there:-)
  • Oh the European thing is the scarf wrapped around your neck a half dozen times it seems!  You'll see them at all the sidewalk vendors in all kinds of colors and patters.  Since Ryanair has a strict one carry-on bag policy (yes, your backpack and purse needs to fit in there too), I brought mostly dark and neutral colored fabrics that I could dress up with colorful scarves.  Of course, I bought a few...or more....don't pay more than 5-10 euro for one.  Many have silver bells and trinkets sewn onto the ends too.  Okay, I am digressing and getting off on a tangent!  Again, Decathlon and some of the catalogs like LL Bean have some great sweat-wicking fabrics that don't wrinkle and dry quickly....stick with those when traveling and dress them up with a scarf!
  • One word about special exhibits.  I mentioned two earlier that were hosted in local Venice churches.  I bet this is another way for these churches to try to earn some money.  We unfortunately did not visit the da Vinci exhibit as it was 8 euro for adults and 5 euro for see reproductions of some of his if they had had something original, I might've jumped at that but reproductions?  You can see those, we browsed their little gift shop and had a lively debate where we tried to figure out if they brought in all those bookcases for the Indiana Jones movie or was this church a library before the exhibit...hmmmmm....
  • You can't get lost's an island basically...and if you get off the beaten path without a map, you'll eventually see a sign on the street corner pointing to "Rialto" (the famous bridge), "San Marcos" (the square) or a few other famous landmarks.  So don't be afraid to wander a bit.
  • I just asked the kids what their favorites were besides what I mentioned above, and they both loved the daily specials at Ristorante Marco Polo at S. Lio 5571.  It was very popular for locals and tourists.  They also thought the best paninis were from Al Timon, S. Polo 3057 between the train station and Rialto.  I think we hit every gelato place in Venice or at least half of them...I already mentioned Il Doge (google it, it is by San Margherita Square, which is also the place to have great pizza and watch the students and their antics from the nearby university) and Gelateria Sommariva in Castello 4515.  My favorites included Gam Gam kosher restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto and the one and only department store on the island, Coin which is between the Rialto Bridge and San Giovanni Church.  I also liked the gelato place (one of the only ones that had coconut) by the Ponte dei Pugni Bridge (the fighting bridge with its footprints embedded in the stone).  Do see the Accademia Wooden Bridge, billed as the only wooden bridge in Venice (it is beautiful), but there is also a smaller wooden bridge we found by the Naval Museum and the impressive entrance to the Arsenale...this is when you realize how powerful Venice's navy once was.  And lastly, if you really like architecture, wander the small streets until you find the spiral staircase in the courtyard Corte dei Risi near Campo Manin (look for signs).
  • Yes, at some point you'll have to use the toilet.  Try to use the free ones at restaurants, cafes and museums while eating or visiting them.  Rest assured there are also tourist toilets at all the major tourist sites, but be prepared to pay.  I know one of the city visitor passes covers free toilet use, but I'd be looking at what else the benefit was of buying one!  City toilets cost 80 cents (train station) to 1.50 euro at San Marcos Square.  Stick with the free toilets...they were all clean for the most part.
And that about wraps up our trip.  We stayed for five days, and even with a full 4-1/2 days of sightseeing, there were still a few places we missed.  Know that you won't be able to see everything, but if you come with a plan, you can just really enjoy the execution of that plan and not stress about what to see next or waste money spending more than you should!  We only spent about 250 euro in food and a little more than than in lodging for the duration, so Venice can be done on a budget...and throw in our cheap tickets from Ryanair, and this trip became a blockbuster bargain for the three of us (sorry, hubby couldn't come with us this time).

Would you like to share your tips for Venice?  Be sure to check back soon when I will blog about traveling light and also flying Ryanair which is not your run-of-the-mill experience!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pets & the Military (plus Shipping vs.Sending Your Pet as Cargo)

my baby...
Being in the military these days means moving around.  Depending on where your military spouse is in his career, that could mean every year, every two years, three years or six years and everything in between.  There are a few what we call "homesteaders"...I am always amazed at what a husband will do for his German wife, as I have seen senior NCOs in Germany for close to eight years...but that is obviously not the norm!  Many military folks have pets....we include ourselves in that club.  There's just something about having a furry critter as a member of your household.  At some point, there comes the dilemna on how to get your pet from point A to point B.  What if you have more than one pet?  What if you have a pet that weighs close to 200 pounds or how about 1,000 pounds!  What are ya gonna do every time you move?

I profess not to know all the answers.  I can only speak from experience and also from what people I know have experienced.  Here are some things to consider:

  • How does your pet handle change?  Riding in a car (if small enough)?  How about flying in a situation where you can't drive (like overseas or Hawaii)?  At some point, you will have at least one overseas tour.
  • Are you committed enough to your pet to spend the extra money needed to be a petowner who moves a lot?  Every overseas trip you are looking at $300-1,000 PER PET per flight.  Horses are going to cost you more and will go as cargo.  I've heard of folks taking their horses to Hawaii and even to Germany, so it can be done...but be prepared for big expenses (horses are expensive anyway....I had one in high school...they eat a lot, and you can't keep them in your house).  The good thing about horses is that many stateside posts do have their own stables, but then again, some have long waiting lists and special requirements (more immunizations and such) to get in.  Some airlines will also limit the size of pets traveling as baggage.  I've heard 100 lbs, but our German Shepherd was just over that, and he was fine with United Airlines.  I've also heard 150 lbs.  Just check with the airline you are flying, and I am going to recommend United and Lufthansa again as the BEST choices for travel with pets.
  • Know that on post housing has a TWO PET PER DWELLING rule.  This has not always been enforced in the past, but I am seeing it enforced more and more these days to the point of people having to adopt out their pets or else risk getting kicked out of housing.
  • What food does your pet eat?  Stateside, it won't be a problem as you can go wherever to get your pet's food.  Overseas, the commissary and PX have limited fare, and it might not be what your pet normallly eats.  Ordering through the mail may be too expensive.  I've been told time and time again not to change your dog's diet, especially as they get older  I lost my dog in large part because of this I believe.  I am STILL not over the guilt.
  • Pet expenses overseas will be higher.  On post military vets cannot always see your pet unfortunately, especially when you really need care.  Many only offer routine check ups and vaccinations and nothing else.  You'll have to be prepared to deal with vets off post, in a foreign country and who may or may not speak English.
I also wanted to touch on a few points of taking your pet overseas, or rather HOW you'll get your pet overseas.  I know there is one airline stateside (Pet Airways) that just recently started doing JUST pets.  You won't find them going overseas though, so you have two choices.  You'll either take them with you on your flight (underneath your seat or in the baggage hold as checked baggage, depending on their size and how many other pets are already registered on the flight) OR you'll ship them air freight/cargo.  I unfortunately do not know the process for shipping horses, so you'll have to look elsewhere for that.  Here are some things to consider for cats and dogs (you won't be able to take your bird with you, plus I have heard from other bird owners that even if it were allowed, birds would get too stressed out and likely become ill or die...ugghhh):

  • Taking a dog or cat on the plane with you will be cheaper than shipping them separately.  Read my other blog article about taking your pet with you when you fly.  Do have an alternate plan if you travel in the dead of winter or heat of the summer as many airlines do have regulations that won't ship pets when the air temperatures reach a certain level (either too hot or too cold).
  • For shipping your pet air cargo or freight, there are a few companies that do all the work for you.  I don't have any personal experience with any of them, but I have heard from a few people who have used them, that the cost you are quoted or what you pay them may not be the total cost you dish out.  There may be additional fees involved, so budget for that possibility.
  • At least in Belgium, at Brussels Airport, expect to pay anywhere from 200-600 euro EXTRA when picking up your pet from the cargo area of the airport.  This fee covers the final vet check (the airlines are covering themselves liability-wise; you can't get out of this vet check) and for someone to take your dog through customs...and of course their "boarding fee" while this is all being cannot get around the fees.  In Frankfurt, Germany, there are also similar fees.  Be prepared and come with cash when you have to pick up your pet.  What you pay the pet shipping company may not be your total cost...always ask for the details, cause that's where it's all at!
  • Keep in mind that it may be an all day affair to pick up your pet.  They may say your pet arrives on such and such day, but expect to wait til late morning or mid-day to actually take your pet home.  Sometimes the process takes this long.
  • Don't plan any traveling around or anything after bringing your pet to their new home.  They have had a major disruption and need to have time to get adjusted to their new life!
  • If you do decide to change their food, please do it gradually.
Do you have any tips to add about pets and the military or moving with pets?