Europe for sixty bucks: A Kentucky Guardmen’s budget vacation odyssey, Part I

Story and photos by Capt. Daniel Van Horn, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion 138th Field Artillery

(Editor’s note: Capt. Daniel Van Horn  and his wife Alleena discovered the benefits of Space A travel during their trip a few months ago to Europe.  We asked them to share their story with our readership and show how Kentucky National Guard members can take advantage of this sometimes misunderstood resource.)

Click here for more photos.

NOTICE:  Since publication of this article it’s been pointed out that M-Day Guard members (Category 6) have limited access to Space A travel.  Check with the Air Mobility Command and Space Availability travel website for complete information on whether you qualify.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — My research for our trip of a lifetime began one day on Google.  Like many folks these days our budget was tight and I wanted to find a way to save money.  I was amazed at what I found!  After an hour of combing through blogs and websites I explained to my wife, Alleena,  that we could possibly travel to Europe for our fifth anniversary using Space Available, that mysterious service known far and wide as “Space A.”  With a confused look on her face she asked, “What’s that?”

Thanks goodness for the internet.  The main source of information came from the Air Mobility Command Website explained that Space A could save us thousands of dollars in travel, thus saving us money and increasing her shopping budget tremendously.  My argument was met with immediate and aggressive enthusiasm.

Making arrangements

At my wife’s encouragement, I quickly made a phone call to the nearest AMC terminal — Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. After a lengthy conversation with the helpful AMC representative, my confidence in this method of travel actually working improved tremendously.

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Ramstein, Germany is the primary destination for most Space A flights to Europe.

Ironically, the rep informed me that it was far easier to travel to Europe than to travel around the states.  It turns out that Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall Airport is the major hub to Europe with three commercially contracted flights departing and returning consistently every week from Ramstein, Germany.  All I needed to do was call the AMC terminal at Baltimore, get the flight schedule, drive to the airport and register by showing my leave orders, passport, military ID.

This sounded too easy!

My sixteen days of leave began September 26th with a phone confirming a flight was scheduled for Tuesday,  September 27th at 8 p.m. and roll call being promptly at 6 p.m.  After some backwards planning it was decided that we should be at BWI no later than 4 p.m. giving us two hours of buffer time for traffic, getting lost, etc.

With our car packed with only four bags we began the eight hour drive to Baltimore airport. We arrived a little early and immediately checked in with the Air Mobility Command desk to register for the evening flight departing to Germany. The Air Force Sergeant did not guarantee our seats but did inform us of a small fee of $30 per person if our names were selected since we were flying commercial.

“Sixty dollars,” I exclaimed in disbelief. “That’s all?”

His reply was simply, “Yes Sir, that’s it.”

Several hours later our names were called and in incredible excitement and anticipation we proceeded to the Boeing 777 for our eight hour flight over the ocean for the trip of a lifetime!

An unexpected welcome

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The Kaiserslautern Military Community Center at Ramstein offers a wide range of amenities for the weary Space A traveler.

We arrived in Ramstein at 11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time (six hours ahead of back home) after four movies, little sleep, and two meals. We departed the jet – which was hastily prepping for the flight to Aviano, Italy – and made our way from the tarmac to the terminal for a passport check, customs briefing, and baggage pickup. We were soon finished with this process and able to travel wherever we wanted; which at this point was a shower, breakfast, and a bed.

Thankfully, the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center was just a short walk from the terminal. The 800,000 square feet KMCC featured 350 rooms, a fitness center, sports bar, Tickets and Tour: Portal to Europe, Post-exchange (PX), food court, and a shopping mall. Our room was a welcome sight, was only forty bucks, and after laying down our jet lag soon slipped out of our consciences.

The following day we purchased our tickets, got in a taxi and made our way to the train station for an eleven hour ride to Prague, Czech Republic, to meet up with some friends who were studying in an French International Business Program but had time to tour with us in Czech.

Arrival in PRAHA

Capt. Daniel Van Horn and his wife, Alleena, in Prague, the Czech Republic, on a trip of a lifetime. You can do this, too, by taking advantage of Space A travel.

The ride was exhausting and lasted through the night stopping in Mannheim, Nuremburg, and Berlin, before arriving to Prague. We learned that had we bought the tickets three days earlier the cost would have been less than half (we know for next time).

We met our friends in Wenceslaus Square (the city main square), got our hotel room, and immediately began touring this beautiful and unique city that was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and the center of Europe.  According to the Guinness World Book of Records, Prague is home to the largest castle complex in the world and has the beloved St. Charles Bridge, built over the Vltava River by King Wenceslaus.

Wi-Fi is our friend

Thankfully, our hotel had wi-fi and we were able to purchase our flights to Milan, Italy, reserve a rental car and book flight from Rome to Paris.  Europe is known for its efficient and cheap travel and our purchases only confirmed this belief. It is highly recommended however, you Google Europe road signs before renting your vehicle and travelling on foreign highways.

We departed Czech Republic after five days, two castles, five cathedrals, a monastery, and miles of walking.

We arrived in Milan, Italy on October 2nd, got our small economy diesel Fiat, a map of Italian roads, and plotted our course to Florence, Italy.  After five hours of driving, we made our way into the city to our Hostel. Hostels are a cheap alternative to hotels and can save you as much as half the cost of a regular hotel. If you review hostels in advance you can find really nice ones and reserve the entire room for privacy.

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Ain't this thing supposed to be leaning? Van Horn in the city of Pisa, Italy.

The next morning we borrowed a Florence tourist book from the front desk and began to discover this incredible city known for starting the Renaissance, famous sculptures, architecture, and Galileo.  Traveling on foot with our book as our tour guide we were able to get away from the noise, people, and tourist shops and see some spectacular often less visited sites.  After two days, we left Florence heading west to the coastal town of Pisa for a brief stop to see its famous leaning tower before continuing on to Rome.

We arrived around 5 p.m. on October 5th, turned in our Fiat, and took a bus to our Hotel. That evening we ventured out on foot to find dinner, and see the sites closest to our location to include the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, Palaces, and the numerous piazzas with their grand fountains gilded in gold and bronze.

Just another day in the capital of the Roman Empire.

(Click here for part two of this story — More sights, travel tips and how you can do this, too!)

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