Daily Mom Military: Surviving a PCS Roadtrip with Littles

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You’re about to set off on an epic road trip across the states! You’ve got an awesome playlist already streaming through your mind. You’re thinking of pitstop junk food, dreaming of wind in your hair, and embracing the essence of letting go — seeing where the road will take you.

And then, with the tug of your shirtsleeve and a little voice in the background yelling, “Mommy,” you wake up.

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Oh, the trip is very real. Only now you may not classify it as epic. Instead, you have legitimate fear in your heart, dread in your soul, and insanity on the brink. You are no longer 20-something and heading out on the open road with your BFF. Oh no, you are getting ready to pack up the minivan, hitch up a U-Haul, crate the animals, strap in the kiddos, play Raffi on loop, and head out on the Google-mapped route to your next duty station. You are in the midst of a permanent change of station (PCS) with young children…how will you survive?

First of all, you can, and you will survive. Repeat that aloud until you believe it. Whether by plane, train, or automobile, doing a little pre-travel planning will help you all get there in one piece (with most of your sanity intact).

Map out your route to include lots of stops! Obviously, young children and sitting for long periods of time do not mix. Most adults want to get to point B as fast as possible, but that’s not always feasible with kids. As you map out your route, find places to stop about every two hours. You don’t need to make each stop a big thing; just allow enough time for everyone to stretch their legs, take potty breaks, and maybe eat a snack.

Make it fun and exciting! If you’re driving across the country, you’re looking at days, not hours, of travel. Take a look at some of the cities you will drive through, or cities close enough to justify a detour. Research them and see if there’s anything of interest there. Maybe there’s an interesting landmark, a great zoo, a fun museum, or a beautiful hiking trail. If you find something great, make it a pitstop where you can stay overnight. You can often find nice Airbnb accommodations that rival the cost of a small hotel room.

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Pack an arsenal. So, what do you do when you’re actually in the car and not off on a fun little side adventure? Make the car ride fun too! Buy a bin or bucket that can fit in the backseat with your kids, and fill it with their favorite small toys and books. Make sure you buy a few new items as well — ones you’ve saved just for the trip. The excitement of “new” will keep your kiddos entertained for at least a few extra minutes. Sticker books are always a hit, and art lap pads are awesome (plus there are now mess-free options)!

Make a travel binder…for the kids. The iPad is a great backup if all else fails, but it’s important for kids to be aware of their surroundings. Emphasize looking outside and taking in the changing landscapes — swamps changing to plains, plains changing to deserts, deserts changing to mountains. Make a travel binder to help your kids understand and learn about where they’re going and what they’re seeing along the way. Include a map, so they can trace the route. Add in some travel- or destination-themed coloring sheets. There are plenty of fun, free, printable travel games on Pinterest, like car bingo or road trip eye spy.

Traveling to your new duty station may seem daunting, but doing a little prep-work can see you through all those miles. Make your travel time an adventure. You’ll be glad you did!

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Lauren McKinnon
Lauren McKinnonhttps://scout.gomillie.com/en/laurenm
Lauren is a proud Air Force spouse of 10 years. With a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education, she taught school for several years before deciding to stay home with her two beautiful (and sometimes exhausting) boys. Lauren’s passion for fitness has recently propelled her to become a yoga and group fitness instructor. She is also in the midst of opening her own Tinkergarten chapter at her next duty station. Along with the rest of the craziness in her life, Lauren moonlights as a MILLIE Scout, helping military families find their next home. Originally from Colorado, Lauren and her family enjoy traveling to new and exciting places and exploring the great outdoors. https://scout.gomillie.com/en/laurenm https://tinkergarten.com/leaders/lauren.mckinnon