Hey family, why don’t you visit us for the holidays this time?
(Photo: Unsplash, Erwan Hesry)

Every year, people ask if we are going “home” for the holidays. For my husband and me, that means the East Coast where all our relatives live. However, we haven’t been stationed anywhere near that time zone for the past six years. So, the short answer is: No, we’re not.

Here’s the longer answer:

  • No, I’m not going to fly thousands of miles with our children and spend two days in airports so they can spend a few nights at the grandparents’ house.
  • No, we don’t have a few thousand dollars to spend on a “vacation” to our family members’ basements or couches.
  • No, I’m not going to pull the kids out of school a week early, when they are looking forward to all their classes’ end-of-year celebrations.
  • No, the kids don’t want to spend Christmas Eve camping out on your floor when they could be comfy and relaxed in their own beds.
  • No, my service member doesn’t have enough leave days saved up for us to spend a week traveling to family members’ houses.
  • No, we don’t want to fight holiday traffic, snowstorms, canceled flights, and lost baggage during our only annual “family time.”

For those reasons and many more, it is difficult for military families to travel long distances to see family, especially if they have children. Travel during the holidays can be expensive, frustrating, and a huge headache for anyone, but it becomes even more complicated for military families waiting for leave dates to be approved or deployment dates to be confirmed.

But you know what would be a lot easier for us? If the family members came to visit us instead!

This is why family members should come visit us this year

They don’t have kids. It is absolutely easier to travel without kids than it is to travel with them. If there are kid-free aunts, uncles, or grandparents who want to see us during the holidays, then the simplest alternative is for them to fly to us. It’s cheaper (one plane ticket instead of six) and way less complicated. They don’t have to worry about car seats, strollers, a pack and play, nursing sessions, temper tantrums, or nap times.

Their jobs are more flexible. Especially if Grandma and Grandpa are retired, it’s much easier for them to find the time for a visit. They don’t have to worry about military leave blocks, waiting for leave approval, or exchanging duty assignments with someone else.

No need to ship presents. If we visit someone else’s house for Christmas, then we become responsible for shipping any presents they give our children. Or we can pay for another checked bag at the airport. But if you come to us and shop locally for gifts, then we all avoid shipping costs and baggage fees. Win-win.

They get Saturday and Sunday off for free! It’s so cool that civilians can take their vacation days when they want. . .  and they don’t even have to count weekends as vacation time! When a service member takes leave, they burn leave days for any day they are not present—including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. For a nine-day visit, a service member is charged nine days of leave. But a civilian can get that same visit with just five vacation days.

It’s so much cheaper. Yes, I’ll even help pay for your plane ticket. Because not travelling will save our family thousands of dollars in airfare, rental car fees, and checked bag costs. With the money we save, we could buy your plane ticket and a several-day pass to Disney World! How’s that for a Christmas present?

We have a guest room. Yes, we are allowed to have visitors in base housing. (It’s even simpler off-base!) The kids can double up for the week and create an instant guest room. Sounds like the perfect accommodation for Grandma and Grandpa. On the other hand, if we bring our fire team to your house, no one is going to have three extra bedrooms for us. We will all camp out on the floor and the couches, and then everyone will wonder why the kids are so tired and cranky.

Let the kids experience Christmas at their own home. Every kid wants to wake up in their own bed on Christmas morning and tear into their presents. Staying with relatives can be fun, but it isn’t home. There is the uncomfortable awkwardness of strange surroundings, especially if the military kids haven’t visited for a few years. Other houses have different rules, different schedules, and different food. Kids just want to have fun and be comfortable, and that is most likely to happen at their own house.

So thanks, well-meaning family, we appreciate your offer that we can come visit you for the holidays. But please understand if we politely decline and ask instead: Why don’t you come visit us?

By Lizann Lightfoot