A long time ago I decided to take advantage of the travel opportunities offered by the military to take my first international trip. My only problem was lack of funds, which I considered only a minor inconvenience that barely slowed me down.
While I was in a military college during the later phases of the Vietnam War, I was able to travel for three weeks to Hawaii, a number of South Pacific Islands and Australia and back through Hawaii for less than $200.00 for everything. How is that even possible you may ask. Flexibility and solo travel was the key for me. Here is how I did my cheapest, self-funded trip ever and my first international travel, that hooked me for life.
Air Travel If you have flexible travel plans and are not tied to a travel schedule, active duty and retired military are able to travel on military transport aircraft carrying goods throughout the world in a Space Available status. Be warned, schedules and destinations can be very flexible although there are common transportation routes between US transport bases and overseas. If there is spare room on the transports, largely uncomfortable airline seats or fold down bench seats are made available for free to minimal cost for military or retiree travel. Comfort is not a consideration, only cheap travel. You are given ear plugs and a blanket on boarding, both which you will need. I flew Space Available for the entire trip from Peterson AFB, CO to Norton AFB, CA to Hickam Air Base, HI (spending a week) then to Guam, with a few island stops enroute, then to Woomera, Australia with a 4 day stop, then back to Hawaii with an unscheduled diversion to Wake island for an emergency medical evacuation (adding an extra day travel), then back to Norton and finally to Colorado Springs and back to school. None of the flights could be scheduled in advance and were made available on a first come, first serve basis at the disembarkation point.
Lodging I was prepared to sleep anywhere, even on a beach, but had learned a closely held secret location at each military base where I was able to stay and eat for free – the base fire station. I had worked at a base fire station during a familiarization trip and had acquired the knowledge that every fire station had spare beds, good family style meals, a willingness to tell their stories to a new audience, and were always willing to host somebody willing to help with chores such as mopping, sweeping, washing vehicles, cleaning toilets, etc. They also gave me a letter of introduction to use at other bases. I used this information and the letter to get free lodging at different bases, where they added endorsements of their own to my letter. Free lodging, food, and great stories! In Australia I wasn’t staying near a base for a stay at a fire station. I wanted to take a train to Sydney for 3 days but had no idea where to stay so I asked the Air crew. They gave me the address of a place near King’s Cross in Sydney and said it would be ideal for me! I did wonder why they were all grinning. When I arrived, I noticed a group of beautiful women sitting on the stairway outside the entry. What did they mean by ‘Ave a go mate?’ when I entered? This hotel was really, really nice with plush decorations. I told the ‘manager’ that I wanted to stay three days if the price was right and that the US aircrew had directed me here. He responded with ‘three whole days! We usually rent by the hour!’. Just about then, my light bulb went on and the word Brothel surfaced. He got a thoughtful look, said “they did, did they”, and told me I could stay for free, breakfast included, if I would talk to an inspector coming the next day. Of course I said “sure”. There was one additional task he needed, I had to allow some of his staff escorts take me on a tour of Sydney for the rest of the day. The perfect deal, of course I agreed. I spent the rest of the day with a half dozen beautiful escorts going to the zoo, shopping and sight-seeing. I had wanted to go swimming at Bondi beach, but they had looked at me like I was nuts since it was July and the middle of winter. What? I kind of missed that bit that seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Anyway, I talked to the inspector and told him how great the hotel staff ‘escorts’ were in giving me great tours around Sydney, and yes I was staying for three days until my flight back to Hawaii left. Sex? No way, they were just the best tour guides a fellow could have. He looked stunned but believed me. After he left, the manager thanked me profusely and said he had another tour arranged that night, but I needed to wear my military Class A dress uniform. Sounded good to me. When I met up with my beautiful escorts, they were all wearing stunning eveningwear. They took me to a ‘do’. Turns out they were taking me to the grand opening, black tie, invitation only, opening gala of the new Sydney opera house. They took me to a side door where a liveried staff member let us all in. My escorts said they would see me back at the house tomorrow and split up and headed in different directions. I then saw the most amazing buffet spread I had ever dreamed of and promptly forgot about them. Tons of free food! I thought the Baluga Cavier was too salty and overrated. I never did find any french fries. Was the best party ever, many of the guests seemed to enjoy talking to the young military American and nobody ever asked for the invitation I did not have. I saw the girls again the next afternoon, they were all extremely happy. When I got back to the base and met up with the aircrew, I thanked them all for recommending such a great hotel, with wonderful tour guides but best of all it was free. In a long life, I never again saw such stunned, unbelieving looks! If their eyeballs weren’t attached, I am sure they would have popped out and jaws really do drop. By pure luck and timing, I had free lodging and food in one of the greatest towns in the world. I also think my naivety helped.
Meals As I have already said, I was able to acquire free food throughout the trip. When I did buy food, I went fast food, looking for the largest quantity at the cheapest price.
Nobody could have really planned for my trip but through flexibility, a military background, a total lack of concern about travel and lodging comfort and a willingness to help at places I stayed, I was able to take a three week trip to many of the most desired vacation spots for virtually no cost. After that experience, I traveled whenever I could, eventually migrating to jobs that entailed up to 330 days per year of international travel, including over 90% of the countries on the planet. Unfortunately, I worked during those trips and seldom was able to see and enjoy the places as an interested tourist. Now my goal is to enjoy, with Mary, what the world has to offer.