There is a secret club within the military. It has no special handshake, but you have to complete a task before you’re admitted, and your enrollment is determined by the following question: “How many countries did you hit?”
It’s the “I Lived Overseas Club.” And I wanted in.
I wanted to answer that question so badly and yet, the military wouldn’t let me. I wanted to talk about my Polish pottery trips and my German cuckoo clocks. I was jealous every time members talked about a city they had visited. The more they talked, the more I screamed internally.
Fast forward 20 years and we get an assignment to Belgium. I felt I finally had the chance to experience life the way I had dreamed it would be. My husband picked us up at the airport and drove us to a nearby town to have breakfast in the town square, called Grand Place. It was incredible!
The first weekend in Belgium, we took a day trip to another town. My travel dreams were coming true, and I knew this was what I was meant for. My visions of European-ness were a reality!
After a month there, my husband had a TDY to The Hague in The Netherlands. He thought we could meet him up there and stay the weekend. “Perfect,” I thought. But then reality hit. As the kids and I were getting in the car, I almost canceled the trip.
How could I drive to a different country? I took a deep breath and realized if I could drive us from Washington, D.C. to New Hampshire in 9 hours, I could certainly drive 3 hours into another country. It’s only a difference in semantics.
My family continued to travel over weekends and school vacations, as well as summer vacations. For my first birthday in Europe, we flew to Venice. We drove to Cologne, Germany for my daughter’s 16th birthday. And we took the Eurostar (train) from Brussels to London because my daughter needed to do research on WWII. In November, we went to Christmas markets. I posted a few pictures on social media every time we went somewhere new, and I knew eyes were rolling back in the States!
What the uninitiated may not know, but ‘experienced overseas people’ know, is that travel is cheap. Venice cost us around €50 per person (about $56), round trip. The drive to Cologne was a few Euros in tolls and gas. The train was quick, efficient, and under €100 ($112) each. Every trip we took was not only cost effective, but experience-rich. That’s why people talk about all their travel.
By the end of our two years, my daughter was begging me to slow down and not go anywhere for at least one weekend. I wanted to grant her wish, but there was a great, big world out there and I needed to see it while the getting was economical.
Our European tour wasn’t long enough for me, but it made me appreciate what I was able to do. It made me rich. not financially, but in experiences and in stories. It made me realize that if you aren’t making people jealous, you aren’t doing it right! How many countries did I hit? Fifteen, to be exact.
Are you a member of the “I Lived Overseas Club?” How many countries did you hit?
Posted by Karen Poisson, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer