Creating New Holiday Traditions When Your Service Member Is Away

A service member watches her children open presents via video chat.

With your service member away and people around the world avoiding travel and large gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the holidays may feel different this year.

There are things you can do to help make the holiday special for yourself and those you love, whether your service member is stationed far from home or deployed. Sharing old traditions and creating new ones can keep the holidays fun and meaningful, and help you stay connected.

You are an important influence in your service member’s life. Sharing traditions or creating new ones during this time of year shows that you are thinking about and supporting your loved ones. This is meaningful, as they – and you – may be feeling a lot of emotions, whether they express it or not.

Creating new virtual traditions

With video get-togethers more common since the pandemic started, your service member and other loved ones are probably comfortable with online visits. Think about scheduling one or more virtual get-togethers this season. Add in some holiday fun to make them even more memorable.

Hold a virtual “potluck.” No need to bring food to this get-together, just something else to share – a toast, joke, poem or favorite holiday memory.

Create a slideshow of holidays past. Collect photos and short videos from family and friends in plenty of time to create a slideshow or video presentation of seasons past. Use screen-sharing during an online gathering to show the presentation. Half the fun will be seeing each other’s reactions and sharing memories.

Schedule a holiday game night. Create and email bingo cards for guests to print out for a holiday bingo night. Or hold a trivia night of random facts, family history or a combination of both. Look into multiplayer online games that everyone will enjoy and that will create the feeling of being there with each other.

Open presents together. Get together virtually to share the experience of opening presents. If your service member has children, read a holiday story.

Watch your favorite holiday movie at the same time. If possible, watch while using video chat or social media to comment on the best parts in real time. If holiday movies are not your thing, you could choose a television series to stream and talk about.

Other new traditions to try

Here are some more ideas to bridge the distance gap and celebrate with loved ones. See if they work for you, and share them with others in your service member’s network of support.

Design family T-shirts or hats for family members to wear one day around the holidays. Put something meaningful or fun on them and then video chat or text pictures of yourselves wearing them. Send your service member one of the T-shirts or hats ahead of time, so they can wear it on the designated day.

Send a care package or even an experience. Sending a care package is a great way to brighten your service member’s holiday season, especially if they are deployed. Or you might consider sending an experience they may remember over time. Think about giving your service member a round of golf or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

Create a photo book. Include images of you and your service member, together and apart, from throughout the years. Make a copy for you and send a copy to them as a holiday gift to share and look through together.

Encourage your service member to get together with friends. Missing home may put a damper on wanting to celebrate, but suggesting that your loved one get together safely with buddies and newfound friends can help. Remind them to embrace the local culture whether they are in North Dakota, the Pacific region or somewhere else.

Adopt a foreign holiday tradition. If your service member is stationed abroad, research the country’s holiday traditions and incorporate one or a few into your own.

Volunteer or send a donation on behalf of your service member to a favorite charity. Your service member is serving our nation. Take their lead and volunteer over the holiday season in your local community. Or donate to an organization on behalf of your service member, something that is close to his or her heart.

Send several holiday cards in the same package. Write a different note of appreciation and love in each one. Your service member can open one card a day leading up to the holiday. See these guidelines from the Postal Service to make sure your cards get there on time.

Send a homemade ornament with pictures of you, children or cherished pets on it.

Check out these other holiday resources from Military OneSource for ideas to help spark new holiday traditions for your family and alert your service member of available resources for the holidays and beyond.

Whatever your holiday plans, make sure you and your service member set realistic expectations ahead of time. Are you expecting to talk over the holidays? Do you want to send presents? Discuss what you want, and make sure it’s doable based on your loved one’s location and operational situation. And don’t forget the postal deadlines.

Together While Apart, Military Families Connect for the Holidays

Keeping Your Family Strong

You can make this holiday meaningful even if you are thousands of miles apart. Get creative by connecting with your family and creating new traditions. Think outside the box to create special moments that can be just as nice as if your service member was home decorating the tree with you. Holidays are not about how much you give, but about celebrating each other.

Don’t miss out on holiday family fun!

COVID-19-Safe Travel Tips

If you decide to travel, stay safe by following the latest CDC guidance and travel recommendations.

Being apart doesn’t have to mean missing out on family bonding. With the help of technology, here are simple ways you can help bridge the gap until deployment is over:

  • Use video chat to bring the family together.
  • Connect through social media. 
  • Send pictures, letters and kids’ artwork.
  • Do something together (while apart) like watch a movie or read a book and discuss it.
  • Send a meaningful gift like a recipe or homemade (non-perishable) treat, a book read in your voice or a personalized do-it-yourself craft.

Keep things simple and don’t forget to take care of yourself. Being away from your family can add to holiday stress. Reach out for help if you need it.

Military OneSource offers a wide range of resources to you. Call and connect with a Military OneSource triage consultant on one or a number of the following resources:

  • Health and Wellness Coaching can help if you’re looking for a no-cost way to shed some of those extra holiday pounds, deal with stress or just get healthier.
  • Confidential non-medical counseling can help if you’re dealing with short-term issues like adjustment, marital problems, parenting, stress management or grief and loss.
  • Financial counseling can help get your budget back in shape after the holidays.

Stay Deployment Strong

If you are stationed overseas and your spouse is deployed, check out the Plan My Deployment tool on Military OneSource for resources to help you stay connected. This tool acts as a how-to guide for valuable tips, resources and articles that will help you and your family prepare for all phases of the deployment cycle. Sort by Pre-Deployment, Deployment, and Reunion and Reintegration to find the information most relevant to your situation.

PCS: The Basics About Permanent Change of Station

Moving truck in front of house

A permanent change of station is part of military life. Experiencing different parts of the country and the world is a unique benefit of military service. In fact, travel and visiting new cultures may have been among the reasons you joined the military.

More than 400,000 service members PCS annually, so you can expect PCS orders to be part of your military career.

Received PCS orders?

Military OneSource moving experts can help you with moving tips, information about your new duty station and everything you need to master your PCS.

Overseas? OCONUS dialing options.

What your PCS orders include

Unlike temporary travel assignments, permanent change of station orders are a longer-term assignment, generally two to four years. Broadly speaking, your orders will tell you where you’ll be moving to – either CONUS or OCONUS.

  • CONUS: Moves inside the continental United States
  • OCONUS: Moves outside the continental U.S. These are typically overseas moves, but OCONUS moves also include Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories.

Your orders will also include:

  • Issue date
  • Issuer’s name
  • Order number
  • Authorized locations

If you are going to coordinate your move through the military, you will need to have this information handy.

Organizing your move

Moving is rarely simple, and in times of global uncertainty it is more important than ever to know the best ways to organize the logistics of your move and act fast once you get your orders. The Department of Defense provides a variety of resources to help make your PCS as easy and safe as possible:

  • Military OneSource is available 24/7 anywhere in the world with expert moving consultants and online tools and resources to help you get organized and settled. Call anytime to speak with a consultant, or set up an online chat. Learn more about how our experts can help you master your move with this information about moving in the military.
  • is the official Department of Defense customer moving portal. It provides comprehensive information about all aspects of moving, including entitlements, household goods, privately-owned vehicles, weight estimators, scheduling your move and much more. If you want to coordinate your move through the DOD, register with as soon as you receive your PCS orders. After you have registered your move, contact your local Household Goods/Transportation Office for further information. They can help you with questions about entitlements, scheduling and more.
  • Plan My Move is an online tool that helps you create custom checklists, access information about entitlements, benefits, points of contact at your new installation and more. Answer a couple of questions and you’re on your way to organizing your move.

Relocation assistance and resources

There are a variety of resources both online and through your installation to help you transition before, during and after your move:

  • Your installation’s Relocation Assistance Program is a great source of information and support for moving and getting settled at your new duty station. Relocation experts offer pre-departure briefings, newcomer orientations, and a wealth of information about job opportunities, child care and more. Find out how to put the military’s relocation assistance program to work for you.
  • The MilitaryINSTALLATIONS website provides comprehensive information about each military installation and the surrounding community. Search for programs and services, access information on temporary housing, check-in procedures, schools and more.
  • The military sponsorship program helps service members and families settle in after a PCS. This program is available to all service members and families no matter where you are moving to. Your unit will assign a service member of similar rank and family make-up to help you learn the ropes at your new duty station. Learn more about how sponsorship can help you settle into your new home.
  • And check out the Blog Brigade website to see what other service members have to say about moving.

Personally procured moves for do-it-yourself movers

If you prefer to organize your move yourself, you may be able to choose a personally procured move. You are eligible for a PPM when you have PCS orders, a temporary duty assignment, or face separation, retirement or assignment to, from or between government quarters.

During a PPM move, you coordinate the move of your household goods yourself without using any military moving services. This means that you are responsible for all the planning and communications that a military-coordinated move usually handles. Doing it all yourself can mean added stress and possible problems.

But military moves don’t have to be exclusively one or the other. You can use some military moving services and manage other parts of the move yourself. For more information, contact your installation Household Goods/Transportation Office or ask a Military OneSource moving expert.

Whether this is your first PCS or you’re a seasoned professional, let Military OneSource help you master your move so you can get on with your mission.

Explore Your Base and Beyond with MilitaryINSTALLATIONS

The Annual Air Force Installation and Mission Support Industry Day held at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

You have a permanent change of station coming up or you’ve just arrived at your new duty station. You may want to learn about activities on your installation and schools in the community. You may be looking for check-in procedures, child care, a veterinarian or other useful information. MilitaryINSTALLATIONS is the place to get answers.

MilitaryINSTALLATIONS is an online information directory for military installations worldwide. The website provides contact information for many of your installation’s programs, services and more. You can search for information by installation, program or service, or by state. Check out MilitaryINSTALLATIONS prior to your move for key information about the installation programs, services and resources that are available to assist you in your move and in your new community.

How to use MilitaryINSTALLATIONS

MilitaryINSTALLATIONS has three main categories – military installations, state resources, and programs and services – so it’s easy to search for what you need to know.

Military installations

Select “Military installation” from the drop-down menu on the homepage. Type in the name of an installation or click “View all installations” below the menu for a complete list. Each installation’s page offers a wide selection of contacts, programs and:

  • An overview of the installation’s mission and resources. For a deeper dive, click “View the in-depth overview.”
  • An installation website, photos and a map showing the installation and surrounding community.
  • A customizable installation directory. Create and download your own booklet of key resources and contacts for easy reference.
  • Local community information. This link takes you to the “Neighborhood Navigator,” where you can build detailed reports on community information, school information, nearby establishments and home values for 30,000 communities nationwide.

State resources

Select “State resources” from the homepage drop-down menu. Type in a state name or click “View All State Resources” below the menu to find the state you want. In this section, you’ll discover:

  • A list of state and federal resources for military members.
  • Links to community and military resources, such as chambers of commerce and military family programs.
  • Local community information. This link takes you to the “Neighborhood Navigator,” where you can build detailed reports on community information, school information, nearby establishments and home values for 30,000 communities nationwide.

Programs and services

Select “Program or service” from the homepage drop-down menu to find contact information for programs and services on an installation. Follow these steps to do a search:

  • Type in the name of a program/service you’re looking for or click the small grid to the right of the search bar for an alphabetical list.
  • Pick a program category, such as Adult Education Centers or Veterinary Services.
  • Select an installation or ZIP code, then click search. The search will pull up all local contact information in your area, both on- and off-installation.

Programs and services vary by location, but here are some you can look for:

  • Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP, Enrollment or Family Support
  • Family Advocacy Program
  • Legal Services/JAG
  • Morale, Welfare and Recreation, or MWR
  • School Liaison Office/Community Schools

Other Moving Resources

Looking for help with your next PCS move? Plan My Move and help you get organized and figure out next steps.

Go to for additional moving resources.

Find what you need? Now plan your next move.

From the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS homepage, you can also access Plan My Move, an online tool that helps you create a custom checklist for your move. It features information about the tasks you need to complete and how to get them done. Your checklist tailors to the unique needs of you and your family.

If you have any questions about using MilitaryINSTALLATIONS or any other part of your MilLife, contact Military OneSource directly to find the military and government resources you need.

What Do Travel Restrictions Mean for Military Families?

A globe and a map

Current as of June 3, 2020

The Department of Defense will begin phasing out travel restrictions in areas where conditions allow. The DOD put the restrictions in place to limit the spread of coronavirus disease 2019, to protect your health and to keep the military force effective and ready.

Below, find answers to the most frequently asked questions about travel. For more information about the restrictions, see Understanding the State of Travel Restrictions.

Q: When will the travel restrictions be lifted?add

Q: What conditions must be met to resume unrestricted travel?add

Q: How will the decision be made to lift travel restrictions at my service member’s installation?add

Q: What are the travel restrictions? add

Q: Who do the travel restrictions affect? add

Q: What is government-funded travel?add

Q: My recruit is waiting to go to basic training. What should we expect?add

Q: Is my service member allowed to go on leave? add

Q If my service member is TDY in the United States can they come back home?add

Q: My service member is already on leave outside of their local area. What should they do?add

Q: My partner is a service member and I would like to visit relatives out of state. Is that allowed? add

Q: What about people who work at the Pentagon and travel on official business?add

Q: Are there exceptions to the travel restrictions? add

Q: Can my service member ETS and retire within the directive window?add

Q: Will any other exceptions be granted? add

Q: How will the travel restrictions affect my service member’s special or incentive pay? add

Travel restrictions outside the continental U.S.

Effective April 20, the Department of Defense has extended the 60-day stop movement order for all official overseas travel through June 30. This order applies to foreign travel, permanent change of station moves, temporary duty and personal leave. It will also impact exercises, deployments, redeployments and other global force management activities.

Q: We were preparing to PCS back to the continental U.S. Will we be allowed to return home? add

Q: My service member is on leave in CONUS from duty overseas. Can they return to their duty station? add

Q: My service member is on leave overseas. What should they do? add

Q: My reservist is on active duty overseas and due to return home soon. What should we expect? add

Q: Will my service member receive an allowance if ordered into quarantine while on TDY in a Level 3 country? add

Travel restrictions and your PCS logistics

Q: I just learned that my PCS has been put on hold. But my household goods have already been picked up for transport. What should I do? add

Q: What about my POV? I have an upcoming appointment to drop my car off at the Vehicle Processing Center (VPC). What should I do? add

Q: I left my vehicle at the Vehicle Processing Center. How can I get it back? add

Q: We already ended our lease and don’t have a place to live. add

Q: Will the military cover our temporary housing until we can travel? Can we put the charges on our government travel card? add

Q: What kind of help is out there for a service member and family delayed in his/her PCS? add

Want to find the phone number for your installation’s housing office or military and family support center? Find those and more on MilitaryINSTALLATIONS, an online information directory for military installations worldwide.

Understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly changing. For updates and information specific to your location, visit your installation’s official website.

For Department of Defense updates for the military community:

A Family Checklist for Moving OCONUS

Runners begin the half marathon in Afghanistan

When you receive orders for a permanent change of station overseas, you will have a lot of preparation to do before you move. Fortunately, Military OneSource and the installation’s Military and Family Support Centers provide assistance to service members and family members who are making a permanent change of station.

Consider these helpful steps to plan your move overseas

When you receive orders, Military OneSource or your installation-level relocation assistance program are your places to turn to assist in this journey. As soon as you receive your orders, it’s time to start planning. Here are some of the first things to consider:

  • Obtain command sponsorship: If you intend to take your family with you overseas, you’ll need to obtain command sponsorship. This designation, which will appear on your orders, ensures your family will receive travel compensation, housing support and legal protection in your host country.
  • Think housing: Whether you stay in government housing or receive an overseas housing allowance, there are certain things to consider before you leave, including how much stuff to bring.
  • Set up your move: Visit or contact your transportation office to set up the logistics of your upcoming move as soon as you receive your PCS orders. Follow this moving checklist, and a few other steps to make your move a smart move.
  • Check your finances: Moving can be costly. You’ll likely face unexpected expenses even with the military picking up your tab for travel and household goods. Be sure you’ll be able to cover any last-minute surprises and keep records of reimbursable expenses. If you need assistance, financial support services are available.
  • Don’t overpack: Take inventory of all your belongings before the movers arrive and decide what you’ll really need. Find out your “household good weight limit” and stick to it. If you don’t need something, don’t bring it. Remember, it will likely take a while for your regular household goods shipment to arrive.
  • Prepare for a new culture: Even the most seasoned travelers may experience surprises when moving to a new country. A new language, new food and different customs take some getting used to. One of the best ways to prepare: attend a Far Away Places Workshop; which is specifically designed to help you and your family anticipate and prepare for moving to a foreign country.

Resources to ease your move overseas

The resources to help with your transition are already in place. These include the relocation assistance program, emergency financial help and the military-wide sponsorship program.

  • Contact your Military and Family Support Center to talk to a relocation assistance service provider. These experts can provide information, education and resources, including the Far Away Places workshop and online tools to help you navigate the moving process or connect you with additional resources like those below.
  • Use Plan My Move: Military OneSource’s online moving tool can help you make smoother work of an overseas permanent change of station.
  • Check out MilitaryINSTALLATIONS, an online directory of information about U.S. military installations worldwide.
  • Sponsorship: A sponsor can be your very best resource for figuring out what your life will look like overseas. Sponsors can tell you about your new unit and life on base, as well as fill you in on cultural norms and quirky customs. They might even pick you up at the airport.
  • Help for kids: Kids are resilient — and military kids are more resilient than most. Still, it’s important to prepare them for the huge change of an overseas move. Your current and new installations will both have the resources to help.
  • Family members with special needs: If you have a family member with special needs, consultants with the Exceptional Family Member Program can help you make sure their needs are met during your move.
  • Health care: Contact TRICARE to notify them of your move and discuss your options for care at your new location.
  • School liaison: Many installations have a school liaison program to serve as a bridge and facilitator between schools and military families. Find your installation’s school liaison contact information on MilitaryINSTALLATIONS by searching for “School Liaison Office/Community Schools” under programs or services.
  • Housing: Contact the housing office on your installation to begin the process of finding a place to live in your new location. Also, is a service that connects service members and their families with housing rentals located near military bases.

Embrace your new home and community

Living overseas gives military families a wonderful opportunity to experience the world as very few others can. It takes some work, but with the right preparation you can have the adventure of a lifetime.

Plan Your Trip With Space-A Travel

Plane taking off on runway

Note: Effective March 21, 2020, Air Mobility Command temporarily suspended most Space-A travel due to COVID-19.

Service members and their families can use Space-Available flights – formally known as Military Airlift Command or MAC flights – to travel around the country and world at little to no cost. Though sometimes unpredictable, military flights are perfect for families with flexible plans and limited travel budgets. With the right planning and documentation, Space-A travel can be the best way to take a trip with your family.

Space-A Tips and Tricks

Learn how to take Space-A flights like a seasoned pro with these seven tips.

Space-A travel basics

These flights are not commercial, but rather military flights with a mission. That means there are certain restrictions to travel, including:

  • Only service members, retirees and their families are eligible. Only with certain qualifications are reservists, National Guardsmen and family members without an accompanying active-duty sponsor permitted.
  • Flights are typically free of charge, but you should contact your closest Air Mobility Command, or AMC, passenger terminal or the terminal at the location you intend to depart from for specific information.
  • Most terminals have a Facebook page where they post flight information, including their 72-hour flight schedule.

Space-Available travel eligibility

Once you sign up for a Space-A journey, you’ll be put into a category that determines your priority for a flight. A complete listing of eligible passengers by category is contained in DoD Instruction 4515.13. For the most recent instruction, search the DoD Directives Division website for “Air Transportation Eligibility.” Categories include:

  • Category I: Emergency Leave Unfunded Travel.
  • Category II: Accompanied Environmental and Morale Leave, or EML.
  • Category III: Ordinary Leave, Relatives, House Hunting Permissive Temporary Duty, Medal of Honor Holders and Foreign Military.
  • Category IV: Unaccompanied EML.
  • Category V: Permissive Temporary Duty (Non-House Hunting), Students, Dependents, Post Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence and Others.
  • Category VI: Retired, Dependents, Reserve, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program and Civil Engineer Corps members.

Prepare for your Space-A flight

AMC has a travel page that includes the following important information about Space-A travel. You should review this travel page for up-to-date information, including what type of identification is required for you and your family, baggage allowance for checked and hand carried baggage, and prohibited items.

  • Travel instructions: travel eligibility; locations; required travel documents; registration, flight schedule and checking-in information.
  • AMC Form 140, Space Available Travel Request (fill out a form online and email it to your desired AMC passenger terminal)
  • Listing of Facebook pages for stateside and overseas locations.
  • AMC passenger terminal contact information.
  • Various travel information links.
  • Legal information for Space-A travel.
  • Operations security for social media and travelers.

Fly commercial with TSA Precheck

If Space-A travel isn’t right for your plans, take advantage of TSA Precheck to expedite your time at the airport when flying commercial. Use your Department of Defense ID as your known traveler number.

You’ll bypass long security lines without removing your shoes or jacket or taking your laptop from your bag. Family members under the age of 12 can pass through expedited screening with you.

5 Tips for Using Credit Cards Overseas

Service members boarding large aircraft

Whether you’re stationed out of the country or just traveling, plan to use your card wisely while overseas. Credit cards are a safer option than ATM cards, and here are some quick tips to keep you secure.

  • Pick a universal card. Stick to widely accepted credit cards and choose a credit card company that makes traveling as easy as possible.
  • Notify your issuer. If your card company sees your card being used in places you don’t normally go, they might suspend your account. Save yourself that hassle by letting your card issuer know you are going abroad before you leave.
  • Ask about fees. Before you depart, ask the card issuer what fees they will charge for using your card abroad. If you have more than one credit card, take the one with the best rates for withdrawing money and making transactions.
  • Keep card issuer contact numbers handy. Look up your card issuer’s international phone number and keep it with you so you can get assistance quickly in case something goes wrong.
  • Save all receipts. The most important thing to do when abroad is to save all your receipts. By keeping your receipts, you’ll know exactly what you’ve purchased and how much you’ve spent.

Prepare before your trip and using your card overseas won’t be a problem. Manage your spending safely and securely from anywhere with the financial resources from Military OneSource.

Celebrating the Holidays at an Overseas Duty Station

Service member holiday abroad

The chance to live overseas together is an exciting opportunity for military families. While the distance might mean that you can’t celebrate every holiday with your extended family, your new community abroad offers a way to liven up old traditions, start new ones and celebrate new local holidays.

To create a warm holiday feeling when you’re stationed overseas and living in another culture, plan ahead and be open to celebrating in new ways with new people.

  • Bring holiday keepsakes with you from home. Bring those homemade ornaments your kids made from macaroni, your favorite holiday photos and cookie cutters, your grandma’s delicious holiday recipes and your favorite holiday music.
  • Shop early. Plan to shop well in advance for holiday supplies and presents. Ordering goodies by mail takes time, so start planning your holiday shopping around mid-October. Order from the internet, but before you do, check with the postal center or U.S. embassy in your host country to find out about any delivery restrictions.
  • Make your own tree. Buy a native tree or shrub, or make your own tree out of papier-mâché, felt or wire. Decorate with those made-with-love ornaments you brought with you, or make or buy new ones after browsing local shops.
  • Create your holiday meal. Make a Passover Seder, a Christmas dinner or a sundown feast during Ramadan, but prepare to improvise — all your favorite, traditional ingredients might not be available.
  • Gather together. Plan a potluck dinner with other military families or take advantage of holiday programs through the U.S. embassy, consulate office or American clubs in the area or on the installation.
  • Reach out. Organize an annual Christmas or Hanukkah party, celebrate with new friends in the local community or support local charities to help people with special needs.
  • Learn about holiday traditions in your host country. Check out your installation for programs about local traditions or search the internet for online resources about your host country. Check out CultureGrams on the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library for cultural information on more than 200 countries.
  • Include new friends in your celebrations. Invite folks from the host country to share your holiday meal and exchange stories about holiday traditions with each other.

Stay Deployment Strong

If you are stationed overseas and your spouse is deployed, check out the Plan My Deployment tool on Military OneSource for resources to help you stay connected. This tool acts as a how-to guide for valuable tips, resources and articles that will help you and your family prepare for all phases of the deployment cycle. Sort by Pre-Deployment, Deployment, and Reunion and Reintegration to find the information most relevant to your situation.

Expanding your holiday traditions is a great way to connect with your new community and home overseas. Visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for important contact and services information about your overseas duty station. Also, check with your Military and Family Support Center for information about the host country. The Plan My Deployment tool is another great resource to help you master the holidays during a deployment.