Most military families can tell you there’s 5 seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter and PCS. For my non-military friends out there, PCS stands for permanent change of station, which is short for leaving the place you’ve made a home and all those awesome friends you’ve (finally) made to head off to somewhere you’ve never been so you can make that your new home and make some friends before starting this process over again.

Okay! So it’s not always that bad!

For us, it’s a chance to explore new cultures and history as we make our new home in Germany. Yep! That’s right! We’re leaving Washington state and flying over 5,000 miles across the ocean to a place we’ve never been. Some call this intimidating, but we call this just another move.

This will be our third transoceanic move and our second with small children. I wanted to share some of the lessons and tricks we’ve learned to make big moves like this easier, whether you’re going across the state, across the country or (like us) across an ocean.

Book Hotels In Advance. We will be visiting family before we head overseas, so we’ll be driving from Washington to Iowa and back. We made this trip when we moved here, so we’ll be taking about the same route. We choose to break our trip up into 4 days, 2 long and 2 short. Knowing how long we needed to drive each day helps us plan our meals and rest stops so the kids could get out of their seats for a while. Since hotel check-in is usually around 4pm, this gives us a chance to have 2 days where we could sleep in a little, take advantage of the hotels’ continental breakfasts and have a leisurely lunch. And speaking of hotels….

Book A Hotel With A Pool. One of the best pieces of advice we received! After a long day of being strapped into seats, being able to splash around a bit it and burn off some energy is great for everyone. If you can find a hotel with a water park, like the Best Western in Sioux Falls, SD, that’s my vote! We made sure to book the same hotels this time around so we know they have pools or indoor water parks.

Bonus: Being able to switch out and enjoy the Jacuzzi for a few minutes gives the adults some self-care and decompression time. Nick and I took turns playing with the kids in the pool while the other one soaked in the hot tub. Even a short, 10 minute soak after a long day on the road feels amazing! The best part was, after 30 minutes at the pool, the girls where worn out and ready for bed.

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Plan meals ahead of time. This is a huge money and time saver! We pack snacks and stuff for sandwiches in a cooler for rest stop lunches where we can all get out and stretch our legs.  We also look up what’s close by the hotel before we get there so we don’t have to find something last minute.  Also, planning our meals ahead of time helps us make semi-healthier choices.  Knowing whether we can get breakfast at the hotel or if we need to leave 10 minutes earlier or whether we can grab a rotisserie chicken and sides from the grocery store for dinner or if we should order a pizza helps continue meal planning to ensure we aren’t overspending or choosing something because we feel obligated to go to the drive-thru since it’s right next door.

Technology is your friend. Okay, so first off, I’m nowhere near anti-screen when it comes to my parenting style. So if you’re not all about the screens, you’ll want to skip this one. With 3 kids under 6, a full time college course schedule and business to run, I could use all the help I can get.

When Nick + I bought each other new Kindles we gave the old ones to the kids. The only thing on them is ABC Mouse and they get limited play time, but at least we know it’s educational. We will downloading a movie or two on each one for the plane rides overseas too. Also, our minivan has a DVD player, which is amazeballs! The kids only get to use it on longer trips and we have a DVD case full of kids movies to help keep them entertained. We will also be bringing our Fire Stick with us so we can still access our favorite shows while we’re in hotels (because…Game of Thrones).

Pack a traveling toy box. This was one of our more ingenious ideas during our last move. I packed a small suitcase with toys and books for the kids to play with while we were in the hotels. Since we will be in a hotel and only have one car before we leave Washington, as well as when we get to Germany, being able to entertain 3 kids is a must. Last move it took us 4 months to into our house and get our household goods, so having some sort of “toy box” was a godsend. It even doubled as a chair for Anora.

Travel-friendly crafts. This is a new one, since the kids are a little older this round. I wanted to make sure the kids still had a way to be creative while on the go, so I found some travel-friendly ideas, like Color Wonder coloring books and markers, water pens and this super cool water coloring mat. The bigger kids got these lap desks for Christmas that will fit in our carry on making it all easy to store and access.

The Go Bag. I give Nick all the credit on this one! On one of our past cross-country adventures, he decided we should a “go bag” with the essentials we needed for a night in a hotel, that way we didn’t have to completely unpack and repack the car every day. Here’s what we’ll be packing in our “go bag” this time around:

  • A roll of clothes for each person for each hotel stay (including pajamas)
  • Bathing suits and large zips to put them in (in case they’re still wet)
  • Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razor, minimal makeup, q-tips, cortisone cream, vitamins)
  • Pre-measured baggies of dog food
  • Dog bowls
  • Lovies for the kids to snuggle
  • A book or bedtime stories
  • Our Fire Stick

It sounds like a lot, but all this fits in one bag and makes it super easy to get in and out of hotels.

The PCS Binder. I came across this idea when we moved from Hawaii to Washington and I love it! Basically, this is a zipper binder (old school Trapper Keeper) with all our important paperwork that stays with us. Besides the Go Bag and our wallets, this is the only other thing we keep on us at all times. Birth certificates, passports, copies of orders, vet records for the dog, marriage certificate, receipts we need to keep, itineraries, etc. all go in the binder. Some people us an accordion folder or a clear file folder, so find what works best for you if you want to make one. There are even templates for sale on Etsy to help you build one.

Make it exciting for the kids. We’re pretty lucky our kids are young enough that they haven’t built a ton of friendships or memories yet. We’ve only had one move related breakdown so far, because Anora will miss her friends and her babysitter. To help make moving more of a fun adventure than a scary plot twist, we try to talk up the positive things that come with it. From having a new room to decorate to new places to explore and fun things to do.

When we found out we were going to Germany, we started showing the kids pictures of places we could go like a clock factory, castles and the winter markets. We also started introducing them to some of the cultural aspects like what type of food they eat (Anora is convinced she’s going to live on soft pretzels), the music and traditional dancing and the language (thank you YouTube!). We let the kids ask lots questions about our new home, which ended up mostly things like “do they have beds in Germany?” 😂

Simplify and leave margin. Have you heard of the Deployment Gnome? Well, he’s a little that comes around and causes trouble during deployments. Mice in the walls, door falling off the minivan, house being delayed 2 extra months…all the work of the Deployment Gnome.  So why mention this little guy in a blog post about moving? Well, because he has a cousin: The PCS Pixie.  This little guys is known for changing things at the last minute, over complicating what should be simple tasks and moving things you swear you “just put right there”.  Simplifying as much as possible and leaving  margin for the inevitable hang ups and last minute changes will help you roll with it and stress less.

Have any tips or tricks I didn’t cover? I would love for you to share them in the comments!  Good luck on your next move!

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Posted by:Amy Clark

Hey, sunshine! I’m a proud entrepreneurial mama with three kids and a hunky husband. I worship chocolate like a deity, drink homemade lattes like my life depends on it and think jeggings are one of the greatest inventions of the 21st Century. A photographer, educator + military spouse, my happiest days are spent helping creative-based small business owners reach their business goals. Have questions about photography, business or life with 3 littles?- feel free to email me!

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