Strategies for Coping with Short-Term Military Family Separations
After much thought, and opinion and fact gathering, your family has decided the best course of action is a geo-bachelor separation. There is uneasiness about the whole endeavor, but setting up a second household seems to be right option for this time.
As difficult as the adjustment will be, there are ways to alleviate some of the inconveniences and disruption. Coping with the transition takes a willing spirit and some expert pre-planning, starting with the second living situation.
Types of Short Term Housing
Faced with a geo-bachelor separation, you might immediately think that an expensive, fully furnished apartment is the way to go, and sometimes it is, because it’s just easy. But, faced with the extraordinary expenses you’ll incur, it’s time to think about creative living solutions.
The length of the separation is generally the deciding factor as to which type of temporary living to choose, but the time the service member actually spends at the geo-bach location is also very important.
There’s not much of an upside to paying extra rent for a housing situation they won’t be sleeping in half of the time. This scenario usually applies when a year-long or 18-month PCS is ordered, but the service member will be deployed or on TDY for many months of that time frame.
There are several other choices to consider instead of a furnished apartment.
- Research every on-base living possibility. Each installation has their own facilities and rules for temporary living. Unused barracks, TLF, leftover base housing, hotels located on the base, and RV parks are options to explore.
- Even if the accommodations aren't designed for geo-bachelors, it doesn’t mean with proper permission there aren’t exceptions. Housing operations are businesses, and always prefer to have their rooms occupied to stay in the black.
Tip: Explore nearby bases of every branch, even if your assignment doesn’t have housing openings. Expanding the geographical search typically works in regions with many bases in close proximity, such as Washington, D.C. and San Antonio, TX.
You can opt for off-base housing living, but you have to be imaginative to make them affordable.
- Hotels are cost-prohibitive, but they work if you are willing to juggle luggage and ask for help, especially for the shorter geo-bachelor terms. First, always consolidate any free stays from member perks and credit card rewards. You’ll earn them back and then some if you end up paying out of pocket for a portion of the time.
- Extended stay hotels have a little more flexibility about the length of time guests can remain. It’s worth a discussion with the manager to divulge your military situation and see what can be worked out. Second, take up an offer from friends or ask to store belongings in their garages or basements. This allows for work travel for a couple of weeks, a quick stop to pick up needed items, and a check-in into a hotel.
- Don’t be deterred by the name “corporate housing.” They, too, are businesses who likely rent to long-term occupants who aren’t traditional corporate travelers. Blu Corporate Housing has available sites in several military heavy states like Virginia, Maryland, Texas, and Colorado.
- Other rentals such as a vacation home, a room in a house, or a traditional rental home provide more space and potential savings for longer separations. Ideally, they are also a safe place to store belongings while traveling for work. Keep in mind the season of your geo-bach term; off-season rentals are difficult for owners to fill, and they're more likely to amend their rental agreements.
Tip: Research housing options within a comfortable driving range. Suburban accommodations tend to be more affordable.
Coping Tips and Strategies
Preplanning two sets of lifestyles is a challenge for families. There are holidays to consider, birthdays, piano recitals, as well as other important activities that don’t stop because mom or dad isn’t in town. Trying to work a schedule with as much upfront information as possible equals less confusion later and provides events to look forward to for everyone in the family.
For the Geo-Bachelor
- You won’t need to pack as much stuff as you think. Make the drive simple, and pack as little to unload as possible. Check and double check what your new place has available as far as linens, etc., especially the access to a washer and dryer. Laundry is a huge time and money burden if not done on site.
- Before you pack to leave and when you arrive, make a dollar store your first stop for saving money on tossable items like salt and pepper shakers and food containers.
- Pack your comfy belongings like pillows and bedding, but leave sentimental pieces at home. The less to worry about, the better.
- Try to schedule a day to cook for the entire week to avoid eating all meals at restaurants. Food prep and freezer meals are cheaper and help with waistline maintenance.
- If applicable, negotiate with the manager/homeowner a potential pet clause to the lease. They might be more agreeable if the visits are only occasional. If the whole family wants to visit, it saves on kenneling and hotel fees.
For the Family at Home
- Use the mail system often and treat the separation like a deployment. Cards, letters, and snacks make each trip to the mailbox fun for Mom while she’s gone, and for the kids at home when they get a surprise sent from far away.
- Think of the temporary location like a vacation destination. Inexpensive travel toys and art accessories kept only at Daddy’s place are fun to rediscover each visit.
- When visiting, check out the new city and try entertainment venues like museums and libraries.
- At home, create a calendar for the kids with upcoming events for the temporary home and their normal house routine.
- Try to keep schedule expectations in check; it is still the military you're dealing with, after all! Travel for both parties is exhausting after long weeks at work, so prepare for occasional disappointments when the timing doesn’t work out.
As tough as the separation is, the geo-bachelor assignment is temporary. Learning to embrace and enjoy some of new experiences, like riding a train to visit Dad, or preparing Mom’s favorite meal when she comes home are coping strategies that make the transition from the temporary house back to the permanent home a little more fun.