Confession: I (kind of) like PCSing.
But I love, love, LOVE, the adventure of getting from Point A to Point B. The 3 times that my husband and I have moved we’ve made PCSing into a vacation. And not just any vacation, a pretty epic one.
See, we are those people that love a good road trip. It hasn’t happened yet but I want to do the full cross-country move where you stop at all of the “world’s largest” things on the side of the road. The Army hasn’t given us that route yet but we have made each of our moves epic adventures.
We have driven up the California coast. We made it to the Mighty 5 in Utah. And we found Walter White’s house from “Breaking Bad” in Albuquerque.
How do we turned our PCS road trips into epic family vacations? With these 7 simple steps.
How To Take Your PCS Road Trip And Turn It Into An Epic Family Vacation
Check ALL possible routes. When my husband and I did our first PCS from Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state we knew we had to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Was there really another route? Well, fast-forward 4 years and we were going from Washington back to Arizona and we didn’t want to drive the same way. At first we thought that we could do Yosemite National Park and a few others in central California, but then my co-worker suggested Utah. A quick look at Google Maps made us rethink our whole trip. And we did it!
I’m so glad that my co-worker pushed me in that direction because it was the most incredible trip.
While it may seem like there is only one way from Point A to B, there isn’t. Pull out your map or zoom out on Google Maps and see if there is another way that may have something new to see.
Look at a calendar. We have been fairly lucky that we have never had to rush to get to a military installation. Now this does mean that our household goods get put into storage, which is sometimes not ideal.
Work backward from the day that your spouse needs to report to his or her new duty station, look at the route you want to take, and figure out how long it will take to do everything you want to do.
For example, when we drove up the California coast we added a full day in Sonoma for wine tasting. We also knew that we weren’t going to drive 8 hours every day so divide drive time by what you think you’ll actually do. Sure you can drive straight through, but what are you missing? Once you have a general sense of how much time you have from when the movers show up and when you need to be at your new duty station you can start planning.
Also, remember that you may stumble upon something cool that you didn’t know about. When we were driving into Utah we saw a sign for the Golden Spike National Historic Site, the place where the continental railroad met in the 1800s. Being huge history buffs, we took a detour. We knew that we could add an hour or so to our trip because we hadn’t planned an ambitious driving day. It was a fun stop for us and added a great story to our trip.
Make a plan. I love spreadsheets so I map out our schedule from the day we’re leaving to when we arrive. I have columns for date, starting and ending point, travel accommodations and stops we want to make. I’m a visual person so this works really well for me, and has everything in one place for when we’re on the drive and I need to look something up. It also helped me budget our trips, so I knew how much we were spending on lodging versus when we were staying with family or friends (if we could) on the way.
When we were moving from Arizona to Texas I didn’t do a great job looking at the calendar and realized we missed a day. So double and triple check that you didn’t miss any time. Fortunately for us we were able to add a day in Santa Fe which gave us more time to explore and relax.
Save money. Since my husband and I add days to our PCS travels we do have to pay for some of it out-of-pocket but we pull from our vacation savings fund to do just that.
Think of PCS road trip as your summer vacation. Sure you’ll get paid back for mileage and the number of days the military allows for a move from your old location to the new location, but sometimes you may want to splurge on a nice hotel or restaurant. And that’s OK, but factor that in while you’re making your plan so that you don’t come out on the other side with sticker shock.
Make those reservations. You have a plan and you know your budget, so book away!
My husband and I did a mix of hotels and camping for our Utah adventure, but we knew we had to book all of those ahead of time. We were traveling in peak summer vacation season. This meant that at times we stayed a bit further away from places that we would have liked, but we made changes to our plan as need be.
If you plan on camping, check with the park if they allow reservations or if it’s first-come, first-served. If you’re like me and like to have a plan this will help you know if you need to get somewhere early or go nearby so that you know you have a place to sleep.
Pack accordingly. Days before the movers showed up at our house in Washington we got in a car accident. Everyone was fine, except for our SUV.
It was totaled.
It was the car that we had planned on driving (we were going to ship our sedan) and it holds so much stuff that I wasn’t worried about our do-not-pack area.
As soon as we knew that we were going to be driving our sedan I got super stressed. My husband and I kicked it into gear and did a pre-pack of the car of everything we wanted to take with us – luggage (not filled), important files, a few things to survive on when we got to our new home, and camping gear. Once we knew how much stuff fit in the car we could pack and add some camping gear to the pile for the movers.
Also, check the weather of places you’ll be going. Do you need jackets? Bathing suits? Spend some time before the movers arrive to sort your clothes, kitchen gear, etc. and see what fits in your car. Then you won’t be as stressed when the movers dump everything into boxes.
Have fun! Knowing that I have a fun adventure in the middle of the craziness that is a PCS really helps me cope with uprooting our lives.
The road trip helps us relax, recharge and see new parts of this amazing country that we all call home. So take pictures, unplug as much as you can, and live in the moment. The military may not send you on that route again, so make the most of it!