Everyone has a different checklist of what to pack for a cross-country PCS move. For our family, essential items include our tent and sleeping bags. During our last PCS, we didn’t just move from coast-to-coast, we camped across the country! And it was actually fun!
When my husband first suggested that we go camping with our four small children during our PCS move, I hesitated. OK, to be honest, I freaked out. I hadn’t camped in a tent since I was little, and knew it would add a huge amount of stress to an already difficult move. Internet searches for “camping with kids” turned up only Pinterest-perfect photos of outdoorsy couples camping with one child. I asked my husband, “Why do I have to be a pioneer military spouse?” But we survived, and now I can share my pioneer experience with you!
Our Top 5 Reasons for Camping across the Country
Eventually, my husband convinced me to try camping. These were the selling points:
1. You will save money by camping instead of staying in hotels.
When you move across the country, the military will reimburse you based on mileage, rank and dependents. Any money you don’t use, you can keep. The reimbursement is calculated to cover basic hotel rooms and meals on the road. Our family of six would need two hotel rooms per night, which would have cost thousands for a one-week trip. But we could all stay at a campsite for $15 per night. Yes, we used some of those savings to purchase camping supplies. But then we re-used the gear to save money on a post-deployment vacation! So, money saving all around.
2. Military can enter National Parks for FREE!
A National Parks pass is valid for any National Park in the U.S. The pass is usually $100, but it is free to active duty military. Some camping sites still require an advance reservation and a $15 reservation fee, but the service member can get the parks sass at the main entrance. Depending how you drive across the country, some excellent parks along the way might be:
- Great Smoky Mountains, Tenn.
- Hot Springs, Ark.
- Rocky Mountain, Colo.
- Grand Canyon, Ariz.
- Zion, Utah
3. Kids can run around and will sleep better outside.
One of my biggest concerns for our children was that they would spend so much time cooped up during our move. During the week-long drive across the country, we sometimes spent eight hours per day in the car. After that, I couldn’t expect them to settle down quietly in a hotel room and go to bed. Camping gave everyone a great opportunity to stretch, get fresh air and go to sleep once it got dark.
4. Summer PCS season is great for camping.
If you haven’t been camping before, summer is the perfect time to try. You don’t have to worry about extreme temperatures overnight, so there is no need for expensive camping gear. A cheap sleeping bag and a sweatshirt will be comfortable overnight in most parts of the country. (Just remember, it will get colder in the mountains!)
5. You’ll make great family memories!
The more time you spend doing something new, the more memorable it will be. Yes, there were times during our trip when we were all tired and cranky. But now, when our kids talk about our cross-country move, they will tell you how excited they were to make s’mores and see the stars, and how they each had a different color flashlight. They remember hiking to beautiful waterfalls, or playing with cannons at historic battlefields. This was our most memorable family vacation, and it was partially paid for by the military! If you get orders to move across the country, try to see it as an opportunity for a unique vacation.
Are you convinced yet that tent camping at national parks could be an amazing way to spend your cross-country PCS? I hope so! But if you are like me, you still have a lot of questions and doubts. Don’t worry, now that my family survived our trip, you can learn from us!
My biggest advice: Trust your spouse. My Marine had 15 years of military experience when he suggested this family camping trip. I should have trusted that he knew a few things about moving troops, making fires and keeping everyone hydrated. I was way outside of my comfort zone, but he was right in his. I learned to trust him instead of worrying and fighting him, and that made the trip much more enjoyable for everyone.