In the Foreign Service, certain posts entitle you to an R&R or two during your stint. What does this mean? Basically just that you and all eligible family members get a ticket to your post’s designated R&R spot (typically the closest major city — a Paris, London or Sydney, for instance) or, alternatively, to anywhere in the U.S.
You know what counts as the U.S.?
You know what’s a U.S. territory?
The U.S. Virgin Islands.
I’ve done quite a bit of Caribbean traveling and I assure you the USVIs are as pristine as Caribbean islands come.
So you’re in the Caribbean, but there are some added perks. You don’t have to use your passport. You don’t have to change any money. You can use your U.S. cell phone. You can go to the grocery store and buy Doritos.
These aren’t necessarily things that matter to the average traveler, but to us, whose regular lives are filled with otherness, this slice of Americana is comforting.
If the government’s going to pay to send you back to the U.S., can you really justify visiting Poughkeepsie instead of this?
Worried about the expense? Don’t be. You can camp at a beautiful beachside campground, Cinnamon Beach. You can rent a house at any price point. There are hotels too, of course, and if you time your trip right you may even be able to get the government rate at some of the swankiest ones. (For future reference, we lucked out in late November/early December.)
So what’s there to do in the Virgin Islands? Well, all kinds of stuff.
We did a lot of relaxing out on the beach, swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, windsurfing and snorkeling. If you’re a hiker, St. John is mostly national parks. If you’re a shopper, there are tons of places to get fine jewelry on the cheap in downtown Charlotte Amalie. If you’re a scuba driver, well, the chatty guy next to me on the airplane swore it doesn’t get much better than here.
We did a sunset sail out on a yacht. We took ferries to other islands. I ate a lot of seafood. Andy ate a lot of jerk chicken.
True to our typical travel tendencies, we also did some anthropological investigating to learn as much as we could about life on the island. Because American citizens don’t have to worry about pesky citizenship or job permit issues, there’s an interesting assortment of quirky mainland “expats.” We met someone who stopped as part of a cruise and never returned his boat. We met someone who came for a friend’s wedding and ended up selling his return ticket in the classified ads — apparently a common move before 9/11 and new airline rules. We met someone who couldn’t get an academic job in marine biology so decided to come live his passion and be a tour guide. It’s probably a good thing a cute little little toddler was waiting for us back in the States, or else I can’t promise we wouldn’t have made a similar decision.
One thing I’d warn you, though: rent a car. Sure, you can get by without one. There are island taxi services — basically pick-up trucks converted to seat a bunch of people in the back. But they’re pricy and not terribly reliable. We think we actually saved money having a car, and it was certainly more convenient.
We’re not the sort of travelers who go anywhere twice, but for here, we may make an exception.
Sadly, the rules are different for home leave, the month or two between tours when diplomats have to re-acclimate to American life and culture.
During home leave, territories don’t count as the U.S. (unless you actually come from one of them).
It’s really too bad. Weeks of camping out here? Sigh. It would have been grand.
C’mon Virgin Islands, time to make a bid for statehood.