Groups cancel tours, familes rethink travel plans during DODDS break
March 27, 2003
In a little more than a week, thousands of students attending Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe get their annual spring break.
It’s often a time for short family vacations, trips sometimes planned months in advance. But events in Iraq and tensions around Europe make this year’s break more than a little different.
Some tour groups, which scheduled almost daily outings during spring break, have canceled some trips. Organizers are still accepting reservations for others, but say that it’s possible there won’t be any trips.
Some of those traveling on their own have decided to change their plans, while others are proceeding, but making some adjustments.
“Some people it hasn’t affected much at all,” said Ann Strawhorn, public relations manager for SatoTravel in Europe. “They’re going to travel anyway. Others aren’t going anywhere.”
Strawhorn said Sato hasn’t received many cancellations, and agents are still helping people make travel plans for spring break.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Jim Wells and his family are still planning to travel to southern Italy. Wells, his wife, Amy, and their four children — from sixth-grader Victoria to 2-year-old Stefan — have had the trip set for about seven months. Traveling on spring break has become a family tradition, Wells said.
“We considered not going if there had been a lot of trouble where we’re going,” he said.
But he’s been following events pertaining to the war on the Internet and his wife has been watching Italian television. All they’ve seen are a few isolated protests.
Wells said he and his wife did alter a few of their plans and added that they’ll both be more cautious than usual.
Kathy Turner, who teaches at Aviano High School, said she purposefully didn’t make vacation plans early, because she wanted to see what was going on in various locations she might visit.
“I’ve waited until the last minute to book some things,” she said. “The place I’ve chosen to go seems like it is going to be OK.”
Fellow teacher Mark Fix said he’s not really going anywhere.
“My travel plans are to entertain some people here,” he said. “But if they weren’t here, it wouldn’t have changed my plans.”
He’s considered a trip to the Nile, for instance.
“I think a lot of it is whether you feel you’re going to blend in or not,” Fix said.
Frank O’Gara, a spokesman for DODDS-Europe, said administrators haven’t issued any guidelines to staff or students. But he said people traveling should always use common sense and that they should leave intineraries with someone in case contact needs to be made.
“I think this year will be a little different for the kids, because so many of their parents are deployed,” O’Gara said.
That’s not the case for Joshua and Jordan Kent, who attend schools in Aviano. Their father, Doug, a sergeant first class in the Army, and mother Debbie, an Air Force captain, did cancel vacation plans, though.
Doug Kent said they would keep going to work at the base.
“It’s probably prudent to stay closer to home because of everything that’s going on,” he said.
Instead, the family will take a few short, local trips.
One of the largest cancellations thus far is Club Beyond’s annual trek to the Czech Republic. The Christian youth ministry had expected to take about 500 high school students and adults from across Europe on a working holiday, building playgrounds at schools in one of America’s newest NATO allies.
But Dave Sanders, the European director of Military Community Youth Ministries, said the trip won’t happen this year. He said people are disappointed — not only the Americans who were going, but also residents in the Czech Republic — because the group has built a reputation there over the last several years with the projects it’s built and paid for.
However, the organization doesn’t plan to halt its community service projects. Local chapters have switched gears and will concentrate on projects closer to home.
“We really believe that canceling to the Czech Republic does not mean canceling what we are about,” Sanders said. “And if we are going to do some stuff locally, we may actually pick up more people.”
Tracy Steel, the Club Beyond director at Aviano Air Base, Italy, said the 35 students and adults who had signed up for the Czech Republic trip are looking for projects on and off the base.
“We’re going to find out what we can do locally,” he said.
Another group of teens that hoped to travel from Aviano has had to alter plans as well. The base’s teen center was sponsoring a trip to London involving about two dozen people.
But concerns about the London airport they were flying into led base officials to cancel the trip.
So the center will remain open during the week to provide a place for teens to go.
Camp Darby, located in northern Italy between Pisa and Livorno, is a popular spring getaway for Americans, including those stationed as far away as the United Kingdom and Germany.
Although the nearby American beach doesn’t open until Memorial Day weekend, there’s still plenty to do. The campground has more than 90 sites with electricity, and the camp’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program runs day trips on a regular basis.
Margaret Robbins, the MWR program coordinator at Camp Darby, said many people wait until the last minute to reserve spots during spring break. So she couldn’t really tell how many people will visit this year.
And it’s hard to say at this time what kinds of trips the base will be offering for vacationers.
“We do have a very long list planned for spring break,” Robbins said. “But we’re still waiting for approval to see if they’re going to happen.”