2020 was not a great year for taking a vacation. Between stop orders, restriction of movement at various bases and state laws restricting travel, many military families found themselves spending most of the year at home, without any opportunity to travel or spend a week away. Consequently, many service members will find themselves reaching the maximum leave accrual amounts.
Typically, service members earn 30 leave days per year. At the end of each fiscal year, they will lose any unused leave exceeding 60 days. Thankfully, the Department of Defense changed their policy in 2020 so that service members can now accrue a balance of up to 120 days until Sept. 30, 2023. This is good news for military families who want to make up for lost time and travel! If your service member didn’t use many leave days in 2020 because units weren’t allowing much travel, then your service member will continue to have their leave dates on their record and can use them any time this year or next.
However, the downside of the quarantine restrictions of 2020 meant that many families haven’t thought seriously about flying home or taking a big vacation for a long time. Even if your service member does finally request a few weeks off this summer, that may barely put a dent in their unused leave. Since leave requests must be approved by the military unit, and leave blocks are typically only one to two weeks, it will take considerable time and planning to use over 60 days of leave…not to mention 120! Unless a service member is requesting leave for 2.5 days each month, their leave days will continue to accrue.
If you haven’t already, have a conversation with your service member about the best strategy for their leave days accruing. Begin by checking the amount of leave days marked on the service member’s Leave and Earnings Statement. If they are preparing to transition out of the military or to retire, then it may be wise to save up their leave days so they can request a longer terminal leave. However, if they plan to be in the military past 2023, then it’s time to start planning fun ways they can enjoy their leave. As COVID-19 restrictions lift in each state, there are so many ways to get out there and enjoy the leave they have earned!
- Take a big vacation. If your family missed taking a vacation last year, then this is your chance to make up for it! Has it been a long time since you traveled home to see family? You should now have enough leave to drive or fly and stay longer than a weekend. Did you spend quarantine dreaming of the places you would travel once this was all over? Then sit down and book one of those locations. Depending on your unit-training schedule, considering spoiling your family with two vacations this year: Maybe you spend one visiting family and the other doing something completely different to celebrate all the challenges you overcame during COVID-19. Either way, you’ve earned your leave, and you should enjoy it!
- Plan date days. If you don’t have the openings in your schedule for a long leave block, consider doing the opposite. Request leave for date days with your spouse or kids at least once a month. You could join your spouse for a lunch date at work or spend some one-on-one time with your kid(s), taking them somewhere special around town. If you request off on the days near their birthdays or your anniversary, you not only enjoy quality time with your loved ones, but you won’t get scheduled to stand duty then either.
- Do something local. Don’t want to waste your leave days at the airport or in a car? That’s ok, there are tons of interesting places to visit wherever you are stationed right now. Request a few days off to visit a nearby national park or to go to an amusement park together. Take a few days to be a tourist in the towns around your military base. Consider booking a rental home from Airbnb or VRBO to get a change of scenery from your living room. You can invite friends to join you or have family meet you to turn your leave days into a family reunion or a party.
- Getaway with friends. If the service member has earned more leave days than their spouse’s vacation days, you may be struggling to decide how much you can get out and do together. Don’t be afraid to use your leave days for a vacation without your spouse…with their cooperation, of course! This may be a good opportunity to take that hunting trip or extreme adventure that your spouse was never interested in doing. Grab a buddy or two who share your interests and use some leave days making memories with them. After spending so much of last year cooped up at home, your spouse may be happy for you to get out of the house for a while. But be sure to discuss additional plans that you and your spouse can enjoy together during their vacation time.
However you and your family decide to use your accruing leave days, make sure they don’t get wasted. Invest them in making memories, building relationships and enjoying each other’s company. Whether you take a long leave block or a few days each month, make the most of the leave you have earned!