Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Visiting your Sailor overseas - guest post by Amy Bird, Navy Wife and author

I'm staying in the UK for my Easter holidays this year. But the holiday season has put me in mind of the overseas visits I've paid to my Sailor during the past few years, while he's been deployed. In the Royal Navy, these are called 'stand offs' - when the ship has a two-week period of leave mid-deployment, for other halves to fly out for some rest and relaxation with their Sailor. These are a real treat. Over the past few years, I've visited South Africa, Singapore and Dubai. I would never have gone to those places ordinarily; I only went because that's where the ship was.

However, as with anything in Navy life, this treat comes with some complications. For anyone about to embark on their first stand off visit, here are some things to think about, based on my experiences:

1. Make sure you establish your plans before your Sailor goes away, if possible. You shouldn't be discussing exact dates, times and places in your emails or over the phone, so you will want to have these fixed before he deploys. This being the Navy, though, you ought to have a plan B - make up a secret code to discuss date and place changes if you need to. Plus book flexible flights (or get travel insurance).

2. If you are going to be meeting your Sailor at the ship's cocktail party on arrival, lucky you - it's an amazing experience to be at a party on afloat in a foreign port and you should definitely try to be there. There are a few things to think about, though. Make sure he shows you on a map before he deploys exactly which port the ship will be arriving at. Some places have several major ports and you want to get the right one. Also, try and learn the local word for 'port' and 'Navy ship.' This avoids you having to do strange 'wavy waters' hand gestures at taxi drivers. Ok, so when I did that, it worked, but it took some time. Plus if you're going to a country where there are security issues, or you're a nervous solo traveller, make sure you book a reputable car company to take you to the docks (ideally, the hotel car). And take some photo ID - even if your wallet is an awkward size for your cocktail handbag, it is no good trying to blag your way into a secure dockyard. Trust me - I've been there.

3. See if there is some kind of Navy allowance for the trips. We found out after the event last time that the Navy would contribute a significant amount towards my visit. We were still able to claim it, but knowing it in advance would have allowed us to factor it into the budget. A good bonus if you can get it!

4. As with any foreign trip when you are meeting separately, make sure you have a contingency plan if mobile phones don't work. Sometimes voicemail doesn't work overseas, or works differently, and you may have email issues when you first arrive. Even if you end up doing all the organisation for your trip, make sure your Sailor knows which hotel you are staying at, and has it written down somewhere safe. Sounds obvious but trust me, when there is a 3 month gap of deployment in between, shore-life stuff like this may be forgotten.

5. You might find yourself going to the stand off country at a time you wouldn't usually be there. For instance, we were in Dubai in the middle of August. Which meant it was (a) excruciatingly hot and (b) Ramadan. Your sightseeing, dining and accommodation choices will need to be adapted to suit local conditions.

6. Give some thought to how you want the holiday to end. He will not be flying back with you, and it may be some months before you see each other again. Will he see you off at the airport, or will you part at the hotel? Prepare yourself emotionally for the parting - it may be a bit of a wrench if you have been together for a full fortnight. Or you could do what I (unintentionally) did last time: have such a hangover that you don't care about saying goodbye and just want to get on the plane and sleep. In my defence, they were very good cocktails at our hotel bar's very nice roof terrace...

But the most important thing of all is to enjoy the experience and treasure the memories. Some of the best holidays we've had together have been on stand offs. Just make sure you think through the above steps so that you can make the most of the experience.

Amy Bird is the author of two novels, Yours is Mine  and Three Steps Behind You

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