Lizann and her three kids sitting in front of a Christmas tree.

Geobaching Through the Holidays

Service members living apart can’t always reunite with their families, even during the holidays. This can be especially difficult to navigate during the holiday season, when families want to do so many activities together. So, let’s discuss ways for military families to make the most of geobaching through the holidays.

What is geobaching?

“Geobaching” refers to someone who is a “geographic bachelor.” They are still married but are living geographically separate from their spouse.

While this may seem unusual to civilians, it’s somewhat common in the military community, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the service member receives an unaccompanied assignment, which means they are ordered to move somewhere without their family. Other times, even with accompanied orders, the family chooses to stay put while the service member moves somewhere new. Families typically make this choice because the kids are in good schools, the spouse has a wonderful job, they can’t sell their house, or there is a strong support system nearby. Many military families expect they would never agree to a geobachelor arrangement — until it becomes the solution that makes the most sense for the family!

Here are some of the options for service members and their families who are geobaching during the holidays:

Can geobachelors travel for the holidays?

Yes. Since geobachelors are not under deployment orders, they are usually able to request personal leave/vacation days over the holidays to travel home and spend time with their families. This is often the best financial option since only the service member has to travel, instead of their spouse and children.

However, there are times when geobachelors may not have enough consecutive days of leave available to make a big trip home for the holidays. Or they may have official duties at their assignment location. In this case, the spouse and/or children might prefer to travel to the service member. If the service member is living in a barracks or a small apartment near base, the family may need to rent a hotel or guest house during their visit. This option is more expensive, but it allows the entire family to enjoy the service member’s available downtime together, without burning through their personal leave days.

Military families could also consider a combination of these options, where the entire family travels to a destination location. This could be anything from Grandma’s house to a tropical resort!

Holiday leave options for geobaching service members

What does it mean when we talk about using and requesting leave for the holidays? In the military, service members accumulate 2 1/2 personal leave days every month. They can use their personal leave days as vacation days to travel anywhere in the country. They must request leave in advance, have it approved by the chain of command, then check out and check back in with the unit at either end of their leave block.

Military units can also grant liberty for holidays and special events, at the commander’s discretion. Confusingly, liberty is sometimes referred to as leave, but these are “free days,” not taken from the service member’s personal leave balance. And service members are expected to stay within a local radius during liberty.

Generally, military units give service members a “96” or a four-day liberty weekend for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Since the calendar dates of December 25 and January 1 are one week apart, that’s eight days of liberty, with about three working days in between.

It’s important to understand the difference if you are geobaching during the holidays. To travel home, the service member will need to use at least a week of personal leave days. If the service member doesn’t want to do this, or doesn’t get approval, then they can remain near the base, have family members visit them, and just check into work for a brief time during the working days.

USA Christmas ornament.

When geobachelors have to spend the holidays apart

If you can’t be with your geobaching service member during the holidays, there are still numerous ways to stay connected and feel like you are celebrating together. Try these ideas if you are geobaching during the holidays:

  • Video calls for all the special moments. There are many apps and technology options available to help you celebrate special moments together. Use them, and make sure relatives are using them to reach out too.
  • Send a care package. Domestic shipping is fast, so consider sending their favorite baked goods, Mom’s special recipe, or even a special delivery from their favorite restaurant.
  • Help them decorate. Living away from family means fewer festive decorations. Ask if you can send ornaments, cards, lights or fun décor for their office or living space. They may appreciate some familiar family items!
  • Keep the traditions. Be creative and adapt your family traditions to fit across the distance. If they miss family movie nights, use an app that allows you all to tune in and watch together. If lighting a candle or opening presents is a special moment, then send them their own version, and do it together over video.

A Christmas care package.

Military families always find creative ways to overcome difficult situations. Even if you are geobaching during the holidays, I hope your celebrations are still merry and bright!

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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