Should I get a tourist passport?
...ask yourself these questions:
*Do you want to travel to other countries?
*Do you want to go on MWR trips?
*Do you want to travel home to visit again before your 3 years are up?(if you answered yes to any of those questions, then YES, you should get a tourist passport.)
I am amazed at the number of families stationed here in Germany that do not have tourist passports! Did you know that the free passports the military issues you is to be used only for getting here and getting home again when you PCS? There may be other situations when you might use one such as if you had to fly home for the death of an immediate family member and were on emergency orders, or you were flown back to the states for a medical/health reason. They are for "official" travel only, as in when you are under orders to go somewhere. Generally if you are going on vacation you will need a tourist (paid) passport (even on space-a you should have a tourist passport.)
If you are planning to visit other countries while you are stationed in Germany you will need to apply for a tourist passport for each member of your family including your sponsor (soldier/airman/sailor, ect). I would recommend doing this as soon as you apply for your no-fee passport through the military. You can fill the application out online and print it out, but you will need to apply in person in a passport office if it is your first time. Renewals can be done by mail. For adults passports are valid for 10 years!
You are going to run into many people here hell bent on giving you the wrong information and telling you it's ok to travel without a passport, that Europe has open borders now, or that they've done it. While it's true that you may not get stopped every time you wouldn't want to get caught driving a car without a license would you? I don't think it's worth taking that risk. Do you think that person swearing to you up and down that you'll be fine without it is going to come bail you out if you happen to get caught? Will they pay your fine for you? It may seem like an unnecessary expense but being able to travel anywhere you want during your time overseas will be worth it. If you travel outside Germany without a tourist passport you are taking a chance on getting arrested, fined, being denied entry and getting your spouse in trouble with his command. Imagine you went to all the time and expense of planning a vacation for your family. You don't want that time and money to be wasted if you get stopped somewhere and don't have the proper documentation. (Just because the European Union has open borders now does not mean that you can travel freely without a passport. That is for citizens of the EU and they will have identification stating that. )
The Army doesn't really properly prepare you to move overseas. Most of the research is left up to you when you've already got enough going on. I hope you find this information and links helpful. I can't imagine being stationed here in Europe and not being able to get out and see any of it. It's such a wonderful experience. I was so excited to see as much as I could that the first thing we did upon getting orders to Germany was go apply for our passports. The military actually recommends getting out and travelling and making the most of your time here, but you're going to need a passport. Think of it like an investment in your sanity ;)
**Update** here is a GREAT article someone sent me put out by the Army about travelling on your no-fee passport http://www.army.mil/article/29276/using-no-fee-passports-on-leisure-can-leave-you-stranded/
I also want to stress the importance of getting an International drivers license if you plan on driving in other countries during your travels. After you PCS and get your USAREUR license you can get an international license. There's not much to it. You take your license, a piece of paper stamped by the drivers exam station on post and a passport photo. They give you a bill which you take to the German bank and pay, then you bring back the receipt to show you paid it. I dont' remember the exact amount. I believe it was around 17 Euros? (Take a 20 Euro bill with you and it should be plenty.) You will in return get your international license. It's not a card like your stateside license. It is a thin booklet about passport sized and it translates your intormation into multiple languages.
If you will have friends or family visiting you overseas it's also a good idea for them to apply for an international license while they are stateside. Even if they don't plan on driivng it's always best to be prepared. More information about international licenses is available here at this link.
Have a great time during your time here!!