In less than a month and half I will finally get the opportunity to take my two weeks of environmental leave from Afghanistan. Everyone who deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan, assuming they are not confined to base due to some sort of punishment is given the opportunity for 15 days of leave. The government (taxpayers) will purchase a ticket to anywhere in the world that a soldier wants to go, so long as the area meets certain safety requirements. A very large majority of soldiers simply fly to their home in the states to visit their wife, or girlfriend, or hang out with some friends. For me deciding where I want to go for my leave, has been one of the most challenging decisions I have faced since beginning my deployment.
I knew when I began this deployment that I would not come home to the states for my leave. I miss my family, and enjoy every opportunity I get to spend with them however the opportunity to do some world traveling is hard to pass up.
During my first deployment to Kosovo and Bosnia I met my parents and sister in London then we spent a week and half traveling around Europe. Three nights in London, which was great to see but very pricey. Followed by a trip on through the chunnel on the high speed train to Paris for three nights. Hit the big tourist areas of the Louve, Eiffel Tower, and lots of walking in between. Also expensive, but still not as bad as London was. We then took an all day train to Munich Germany, where I rented a car and started our stay at the military resort in Garmish. We traveled throughout much of southern Germany, spending a night in a Castle owned by the Rassler family near Stuttgart, along with night in Heidelberg. Finally finishing in Frankfurt where my parents and sister flew home.
During my second deployment I was a bit more adventurous and flew to Sidney Australia. Sidney was only my stopping and starting point, as I tried to see as much of the country as I could in my two weeks. After Sidney my first destination was the resort town to the northeast, Cairns which is also near the Great Barrier Reef. I spent a few days and took lessons to earn my Scuba endorsement. Following my time exploring the reef I then flew to Melbourne, and just walked around the city for three days with a day trip excursion along the Great Ocean Road. One of the highlights for me was travelling to the capital city of Canberra, granted it took me a day tavelling on a train and bus to get there. I really enjoyed visiting the museums and walking through parliament. After another day on the bus I made back to Sidney to wait my time out till my return flight. In the few days I had walking through the city I obviously walked through the Opera house, but also being the fruggle traveler that I am I managed to visit just about every free park or museum that the city offered. To add to my thriftyness I managed to stay only in hostels the entire time, which was a new and unique experience for me.
Deciding where I want to go for leave has been a much more difficult process. Growing up two of my biggest travel goals were to visit Europe...check, and to visit Australia...check. There is so much that I have yet to see in Europe which would make that a fun choice, however I to travel to someplace exotict or at least someplace that would not normally consider traveling to. Plus I think that when I return from my deployment next spring I'll probably take a trip to Europe to visit some of my Croatian friends.
Basically my criteria has come down to a place that I've never been to before, and chances are will never go to again. Someplace where the length of the jet flight makes me feel as though I've traveled somewhere. My choices came down to South America, Asia, and Africa. Asia, at this point really doesn't really excite me that much, mostly due to language issues. South America really interested me, especially because during my leave dates it will be spring time there. Plus a year back I met a cute girl from Columbia that I've corresponded with, and I think I would enjoy visiting. However I think that South America would be a relatively easy place for me to visit from the United States.
So my military decision making process brought me to decide upon visiting Africa, specifically South Africa. Egypt would be cool, however after spending a year in Iraq and this deployment in Afghanistan I've seen enough sand for the next 10 years or so. South Africa will allow to check the Africa block. Plus the Queen's English is spoken there, which will hopefully make my travels a bit easier. South Africa was highlighted recently with the 2010 World Cup, but I really didn't pay that much attention to the Cup. South Africa was kind of peaking my interest before the cup. I really don't know what I will see or visit while I'm there. Obviously while I am in Africa I will try and make an effort to go to one of their national parks and or go on a safari to try and see some of the Big 5 animals (elephants, rhinos, etc). I'm also hoping that I can try and go Scuba diving again. South Africa is know for the number of Great White sharks that they have off their coast. While I consider myself a bit adventerous, I have no desire to recreate one of my favorite movies (Jaws) and climb into a shark cage.
I'm hoping that in the remaining days before I begin travels to South Africa I'll be able to come up with some sort of itinerary of where I want to go. Part of the beauty of being single and travel alone is I can make up route of travel as I go. The one frustrating part of traveling single, obviously is the increased self security measures I need to take, is that I don't have anyone to share the memories with. I can take all the pictures that my camera will hold, however it is no fun to go somewhere and not be able to come home with a good story or two.