I Used the GI Bill to Attend Online School and Travel the World

Garrett Gardner

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  • I thought I’d travel the world as a linguist in the US Air Force but ended up in Augusta, Georgia.
  • When I left the USAF, I enrolled in an MBA program using my GI Bill benefits.
  • The GI Bill provided a housing stipend for distance education that I used to travel while I studied.

When people think about joining the US Armed Forces, they probably have a few different visions in mind. It’ll be hard, surely, but you’ll make some of the strongest friendships of your life and you’ll be able to travel the world. 

That’s what I thought when I enlisted in the Air Force in late 2009. Joining as a linguist, my recruiter had dazzled me with tales of faraway lands I might someday visit. Korea, Germany, Alaska, Hawaii, and the United Kingdom were all on the list of possibilities, which seemed positively exotic for a girl who had barely left the US. 

Alas, my hopes were dashed when I was given Arabic as my designated language to learn — and subsequently told I’d be living in Augusta, Georgia, for the length of my career. So, yes, I traveled, clear across the United States from California and down into the deep South. 

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I prioritized travel after leaving the Air Force

Seven years later I left the Air Force (and Georgia) to strike out on my own. I didn’t have any solid plans, but I was pursuing an MBA from Norwich University, a school that specializes in distance education. And since I hadn’t traveled much in the Air Force, my first priority was to hit the road. 

That meant selling my house, putting all my things in storage, and stuffing my dog into a soft-sided kennel for her first trip to Europe. 

I won’t lie. It was terrifying leaving behind a career with no clear destination in mind. I’d picked my degree in the hopes it’d help me diversify my skills while I figured out what I was going to do. 

But from the instant I touched down in Madrid, Spain, I knew my life was changed. Travel filled a need I didn’t even know I had, and I haven’t slowed down since. 

I’m a writer now, bouncing my way around the world as I tell my tales. I wasn’t then, though, and the only way I was able to afford my travel was courtesy of the good old USAF.

I used the GI Bill to travel and get an education

Many of us have heard of the GI Bill, which helps service members reach their higher-education goals. Depending on which version of the GI Bill you choose, you can receive many tens of thousands of dollars in funding for your degree. 

I had long ago opted for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, whose varied benefits include direct tuition payments to your school, a book stipend, and a monthly housing payment deposited into your bank account. 

While the book stipend was nice and obviously free schooling is something for which I’ll always be grateful, it was the monthly housing payment that gave me my freedom of movement. 

Generally speaking, the GI Bill calculates your monthly housing allowance (MHA) based on the location where you’re going to school. This means that if you’re attending classes in, say, San Francisco, you’ll be eligible to receive $4,797 each month for housing. 

However, you’ll also be paid a housing allowance if you’re enrolled in distance education. The number for this is calculated at 50{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} of the national average for housing, thus making your monthly payments (for 2022) $917. 

Obviously, that’s much lower than the total you’d receive if you were enrolled in a local class, but taking advantage of distance education also opens the door to ultimate flexibility. $917 per month isn’t a ton of money, but it funded my travel across Europe and Asia for the better part of a year as I studied. 

There are stipulations for using this program, of course. Your benefits max out at 36 months of school, which is enough for a four-year degree (though some people may be able to receive up to 48 months of benefits).

Your monthly housing allowance is also dependent on how much school you’re taking. In order to maximize the payment, you’ll need to be enrolled as a half-time student or more. Those with fewer classes receive correspondingly lower MHA benefits. 

Nowadays, veterans can take advantage of the Forever GI Bill, which never expires and can be used at any point in your life. However, the distance education benefit remains the same, which means new veterans can also take advantage of distance education to travel the world. 

My GI Bill days are long behind me now, and at this point I’m able to earn my living working full-time as a freelancer. But I’ll never forget that my love of travel was sparked — and kept alive — by the benefits I earned during my time in the US Air Force.

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