Spain Trip Report: Getting There (the adventure of Space-A)

When considering a career in the military, there are certain pros and cons to consider. For example, you move often (usually with no say as to where you go,) deploy for months at a time, and have a more than passing interest whenever potential world wars are discussed in the media because, well, the implications are extremely relavent to your family. But there are pros too. A close-knit community, a stable income, great health insurance and help with housing. There’s also this little thing called “Space Available Travel.” Basically, if there are empty seats on a DOD flight, military members and their families can fill those seats for free (also called “hopping.”) The kicker is that you won’t know for certain that you have the seats until about 2 hours prior to the flight. Crazy, but hey, I heard promising things from other military families about the expeditions they’d completed. Once I discovered this particular pro I pretty much handed Paul a pen and declared, “go find the dotted line and sign it already!”

I’m kidding (mostly.)

But I’d be lying if I told you that after we prayed, considered our options and then decided to join the Air Force I wasn’t immediately planning a Space-A trip for the earliest possible time. Our first adventure was to Germany, when Meg was just 6 months old, and everything went amazingly well.

Three years later and here we are, enjoying another excursion, thanks to Space-A travel.

Back in June, when we’d decided to take some leave and try for an exotic vacation, I spent some time researching my travel options.

After that research my plans were as follows;

Plan A: Hop to Norfolk, VA from Wright Patterson, OH and then from Norfolk to Rota, Spain. Plan B: Drive to Norfolk then hop to Spain. Plan C: Drive to Norfolk, not make the Spain flight and wait and take the next flight, to Belgium. Plan D: Drive to Norfolk, not make the Spain flight OR the Belgium flight and then drive up to Andrews AFB and hop to Germany. Plan E: Admit defeat after missing all the flights and drive to Disney world to celebrate our valient effort : )

So, by Monday it was clear that there were no flights from WPAFB to Norfolk. I had anticipated this (though fervently prayed for a hop nonetheless) and had rented a one-way car to drive to VA. I’d condensed our family’s luggage for ten days into five backpacks and one  carry-on bag. I had passports ready and military paperwork completed. We were ready to go!

TUESDAY, October 3

At 6:00 AM Paul and I bundled our children into our rental car and by 4:00 PM we were cruising into Norfolk VA. We were thrilled that some friends in the area were free and could both join us for dinner and then give us a ride to the US Naval airport after dropping off our rental. We love our friends : )

By 8:30 we’d checked in at the Space-A terminal and settled in for the nerve-wracking wait till roll-call, that glorious or demoralizing moment when you find out if you’ve made the cut. Our roll call was scheduled for 11:30 and I swear they were the longest three hours of the day! Thankfully, friends were found (particularly the book-reading variety by Meg) and the children passed the time playing with the other military dependents in the USO.

At 11:35 we heard our name called over the terminal loudspeaker!! Whoo hoo!! We’d made the cut! We hustled down to ticketing to report in and gather our seat assignments and boarding passes. (We had to wake Brenn up for this trek, after which he complained until I told him that he could go right back to sleep until boarding : )

And then we waited. And waited. And then, waited. (Well, the kids slept, thankfully.) I used the time to book a hotel for Wednesday night. Yeah, that’s the other difficulty with Space-A, you can’t plan alot in advance! It’s a little stressful…or exciting, depending on your mood at the moment :) Oh well! There weren’t any rooms at the navy base in Spain so I looked into nearby towns. Thank goodness for the booking app and the airbnb app!

Our 12:30 boarding time turned into a 1:00 boarding time which actually ended up being a 2:30 boarding time! But hey, free international tickets are worth it, always :)

So with wheels up around 3:00, we snoozed until 8:00,  had a meteocre lunch at 9:00 and landed in Spain at 10:30, which was 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon by Spanish time. We’d made it : ) Nearly 28 hrs of continuous travel with myself feeling pretty zombie-like by the time our passports were stamped, but we’d made it : )

WEDNESDAY, October  4

After leaving the terminal we rented a car from the place on base, packed our things into the adorable white Fiat we were given and set out, expectations high!

Ironically, we quickly got lost on base (and it isn’t a large base so I have to assume it was the jet-lag and sleep deprivation that caused this) and completing simple tasks like getting cash and food for the next morning took us two hours! Sheesh. (For military friends reading this: if you ever go to Rota, you can’t shop at the commisary but the mini-mart is in the same strip mall, a fact we missed. It’s why we wasted time driving around looking for it!! Gah! Also, go to lodging and ask for help if you need it- they were extremely kind to us, even though we weren’t staying on base!) Needless to say, we were a bit tired, punchy and just plain DONE by the time we left Rota Naval Station!

But armed with a sense of humor to keep us sane, we made it to our hotel in the town of Santa Maria and were greeted by a lovely woman who was profuse in both her exclamations over the beauty of my children and her love of her city : ) We were given maps, suggestions and all manners of not-quite-essential information. I really wanted to break in and explain that honestly, we just needed food, showers and beds to make us happy.

Venturing inside, the kids became excited by the balconies, old lifts, and inner courtyards common in Spanish buildings. I’m not sure that our neighbors were as thrilled to hear their exclamations of joy, but whatever. We’ll never see them again, right?

Granola bars, fruit and water didn’t quite cut it for dinner so we headed out into the town to find some proper food. That first dinner was a lesson in adapting to Spanish time frames. We would not be hurrying through that meal…or any meal to come! The mostly absentee waiters and lengthy time between drinks, ordering and arrival cued us to this fact. But when in Spain, be like the spaniards, right? So we settled in and enjoyed our first taste of this country. Fried potatoes, ham croquettes and bread with tomato and ham. We’ve adopted the rule that at every meal ordered in Spain, each child must try at least one bite of each dish we buy (experiencing a culture whether you like it or not!!) …but it meant that I ended up describing everything as either pasta, potatoes chips or pizza to Meg so that she’d eat without a fuss : ) Heheh. I learned that I shouldn’t make a rule about food until AFTER we’ve had our first meal!

And so ended our first day in Spain! Traveling is never without it’s stressors (anyone who tells you different is lying…including travel bloggers!) but I love it. Admittedly, traveling with three children is challenging, but I believe that it’s worth the effort. I think (hope!) that they would agree. At the very least, they’re geeked about all these balconies : )

(This post was super hard to put together while traveling (darn Wifi!) so the rest of the trip reports will have to wait for when I arrive home!) Ciao!

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