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Planning Your PCS Road Trip

The Road Trip, part of the Great American Military-Family Experience, right?

We do it to PCS across the country. We do it to visit family at home and catch up with friends we moved away from so many years ago. We do it for some R&R and to get out and see parts of the country so many American families will never see. The road trip, it is part of the American Military Family definition. How do you prepare for such a great part of your experience as a military family?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Create the packing list.

Start with a great packing list. Find a notebook, get creative, and think of this as your travel journal. When planning a trip, make your packing list and plan on keeping it. Then, make notes of what you didn’t use, what you wish you would have brought, what was essential. This is a fun yet practical journaling approach. It will be fun to watch your packing lists (written in that same notebook) evolve over the years, from diapers and formula, to coloring books and video games, then maybe simple lists that involve just your service member and you, gallivanting across the country as empty nesters. It happens faster than you know.

2. Organize the entertainment.

Another important part of the Road Trip is entertainment. After all, the minivan’s DVD player only keeps them entertained for so long.

I made a kit for my boys on our last across multiple-state road trip. It was a big hit, and they still have their personal Vacation Journal binders with all the knick-knacks they picked up along the way. In your Vacation (or PCS!) Journal, include activities the kids can do while sitting. Car Bingo, Tic-Tac-Toe sheets, and travel scavenger hunts are all great ideas. They will need crayons, pencils, tape, extra paper to draw on, and even a handy pouch to keep things that they pick up along the way. Throw in a set of fresh batteries for their handheld games, but with this much fun, they may not need them. Foster an environment of adventure, and you will hear less “Are we there yet?” and more “Ooh, check this out!” or “BINGO!”

3. Be prepared for an emergency.

Accidents happen. Kids have accidents, things get spilled, life continues. When you pack your car, be certain to leave a few things in the trunk that you can very easily access.

Take a gallon-sized Ziploc bag for each child. Label it with their name and keep a change of clothes in each bag, to include pants, a shirt, socks, underwear, and a change of shoes. The last thing you want to do is dig out suitcases at the bottom of the trunk in case of a big spill or a didn’t-quite-make-it-to-the-restroom-in-time moment, all while stopped on the side of the road.

Even if you don’t have babies in diapers, buy a pack of baby wipes before you hit the road. Put that on your “to buy” list right now—it’s a a car-trip necessity! Wipes clean up hands and faces, sticky seats and windows, and even dabs of fast-food ketchup or mustard dropped on the driver’s lap. It’s amazing what experience teaches us.

Don’t forget a big new garbage bag (or three or four) that you can tie closed. One particularly long and winding country road last winter made me glad we were prepared.  My 5 year old was in the back of the van, and he suddenly said, “Mom, I don’t feel so good.” I turned around quick enough to see him projectile vomit in three directions. Vomit everywhere, with at least four hours of car ride in front of us.

We pulled over and he changed into that spare set of clothes I mentioned (I am writing from experience here!). We used the baby wipes to clean up his face, his hands, the seat, the windows, anything within a 10-foot radius of his seat. Then, we stripped the high-back booster seat cover off and threw all the dirty clothes, the seat cover and anything else drenched in vomit in the garbage-bag and sealed it as tight as possible. That incident could have completely ruined the rest of our trip, but that lone garbage bag made the hours remaining in the car tolerable.


What tips do you have to offer? What do you absolutely have to have on a road trip? How do you help your family stay organized for an outing involving hours upon hours in the car?

An organized trip is less chaotic, more enjoyable, and an adventure waiting to be had. Happy travels!


  • M:M Command Team

    With over 159 years of military spouse experience and 68 PCSes under their belts, the M:M Command team is the ultimate Battle Buddy to help navigate Milspouse life. Powered by volunteer spirit and optimism the M:M Command Team could run a small country, but instead are dedicated entirely to the global empowerment of military spouses to help them conquer adversity, foster confidence, and thrive in this military life.

1 Comment

  1. Beth

    Make sure your spare is a full size tire and not a donut, they aren’t made to travel long distances on. Also, make sure to have basic First-Aid emergency kit, and a basic tool set, duct tape, bungy cord, flares, and water-proof matches, if it’s winter time always have appropriate winter attire or spare sleeping bags, and a shovel. If you go off of the road into a snow drift, make sure to dig the snow away from the tail pipe so you don’t get carbon monoxide back up inside the vehicle.
    Every driver should know how to change a tire, use jumper cables, and set up a road flare in case a needed situation should arise.


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