PCS (permanent change of station) season is almost upon us! This is the time of year where everyone anxiously packs up all of their family’s precious memories and treasured items and moves them to a new duty station...praying the whole time that nothing is broken, stolen, or lost...and that it all fits once you get to the next place. As you might imagine, this is a very stressful time for military families!
If you’re like us (and the NextGen Milspouse crowd), we look at PCSing as an opportunity for adventure. We know there will be hiccups and challenges as we navigate another PCS season, but we also know there are chances to see new places and make memories as a family. If you’re on board, we have some tips on how to take this upcoming PCS season by the horns and turn it into an amazing summer that you’ll look back on with a smile.
Budgeting a PCS move is extremely important. If you know you’ll be moving and have a few months to plan and save, we recommend doing this as soon as possible. Adding a family vacation around a PCS is an added expense, and though we’ll share some cost-saving tips below, it’s still important to factor the vacation cost separately from the PCSing cost.
If you have pets, make arrangements for them as early as possible. Keep in mind that you may need some help with them while you’re away on vacation, but finding another place for pets while you have packers and movers in the house is usually best for everyone. Whether you decide to board them, have a friend or neighbor take care of them, or have them stay with family for an extended time, make sure they are up to date on all vaccinations, medications, and have their vet records updated before the rush of all of the other PCS to-dos kick in.
If your service member is lucky enough to be able to jump in on your family vacation, make sure he or she has approved leave paperwork. Depending on where you’re heading, this may require some extra preparation, so start as early as possible.
Summer Vacation Options
Now the fun part begins - deciding where to go and how to get there! Talking about your upcoming PCS move with kids can be tricky, but inviting them into the conversation about a possible summer vacation in conjunction with the PCS can be a fun way to involve them and help them feel like they have some control. So, pull out that family travel bucket list and start some dinner conversations about possible vacation spots! As you discuss, keep the following things in mind:
Does your family prefer to lounge by the beach or soak up historical sites?
What will the weather be like in the places you’re interested in visiting?
How easily can you access the places you’re interested in - is it best to fly or create a driving plan that lets you stop and explore?
Keep that budget in mind! Some places might not be feasible due to your budget and that’s ok - those vacation destinations can be visited another time.
For those families PCSing overseas, it is common to have a few days in a new city before flying to your new duty station, especially if you’re shipping a vehicle that has to be dropped off on a certain day. If you’re in this camp, we have some great tips:
Start investigating that city ahead of time - look for festivals, markets, and special events that might interest your whole family.
Do some research on public transportation, especially if you’ll be shipping your car out as soon as you arrive in the city.
Invest in a money necklace or money belt to keep important documents safe and on you at all times and consider getting an expandable file folder to keep all other moving documents safe and in one location as you do some vacationing and then continue with your move.
Planning a vacation before or after your packout, especially during the busy summer months when shipments may be delayed, could be a great way to avoid sitting around an empty house on camping chairs and sleeping on air mattresses.
This is a great opportunity to take advantage of some big military discounts at amusement parks like Disney World or Universal Studios. These parks are crowded during the summer months, but if you take advantage of things like park hopper passes, FastPasses, and a vacation planner, your PCS stress could melt away at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Many cruise lines also offer military discounts on selected cruises. If your family enjoys cruising, this would be a great chance to take advantage of those discounts. If you’ve never cruised before, look for options like childcare rooms or teen hangout locations, excursion options in selected ports, and entertainment options. If you’ll be headed to any foreign ports, make sure your entire family has up to date passports and keep them with you at all times.
One important note about this option: talk to your kids about this situation. If you’ll be going on vacation and then heading straight to your new duty station, make sure your kids understand this. Allow them time to spend with their friends before leaving so they can close that chapter and move on to the next one.
Many military families find that PCSing offers the opportunity for an extended road trip. We’ve taken many of these over the years and though they require some logistical planning, they also offer us a chance to get off the beaten path and explore hidden parts of America that are absolutely magical. If you want to turn the trip to your new duty station into an extended road trip, here are some ideas.
Make some stops to see family and old friends. Military families often live hundreds or thousands of miles from family, so if you have some extra time, this could be a great opportunity to spend time with grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Military families have free access to national parks and national historic sites. If your kids haven’t climbed the orange and red rocks at Arches National Park or walked through a presidential birthplace, consider giving them those opportunities during this vacation. If your family is adventurous, bring along some hiking or camping gear and spend a night under the stars in one of the national parks. Free entrance into the places managed by the National Park Service is an exceptional military benefit that we’d love to see more military families taking advantage of.
Consider planning your route off of Interstates. Small towns along historic Route 66, like those in the Fort Leonard Wood Region, are friendly and offer a fun glimpse into what life was like when families first started taking road trips as part of an annual summer vacation. You could even stay at a fun historic motel or check out a drive-in movie.
However you decide to tackle this upcoming PCS season, we hope you and your family enjoy being adventurous together! Start planning early and embrace those unavoidable glitches and snags...they usually end up making the best memories and leave you with stories to tell your grandchildren.