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It’s the Journey, Not the Permanent Change of Station

I love a good, organized plan. Color-coded pens, highlighters, sticky notes, binder tabs, maps, timelines — be still my heart. So when my husband and I decided our best plan of action was to weave a family vacation into our upcoming permanent change of station move, I got goosebumps — like, “I’d like to thank the academy” goosebumps.

KristiStolzenberg My husband cautioned that it was going to take a lot of planning. At that moment of caution, if my thoughts could have materialized into one of those little comic book thought bubbles, you would have seen me imagining myself as the lesser-known super hero, Organization Girl — hands on my hips, cape and perfectly-styled hair blowing in the breeze.

The ink hadn’t even dried on our web orders (yeah, I know they don’t require actual ink — just run with the picture I’m painting), and I was already using the Internet to map routes, calculate miles, divvy up the hours between travel days and pick points of interest along the route.

For three days straight I had no less than 12 browser tabs open online while I connected the dots between travel reviews, popular attractions, lunch stops, maps, national parks, free fun for the kids and military lodging options. After hours of Internet research and more math than I ever wanted to voluntarily take on, I capped my pink highlighter and confidently dropped it to the desk.

The plan takes us from south Texas up the eastern shore to visit with family before heading west to the Pacific coast. I ended up with a grand total of:

  • 5,271 miles
  • 25 states checked off of my kids’ bucket list (and 25 cheesy, obligatory state welcome sign pictures)
  • More than 20 family members visited
  • 11 days of driving
  • At least five national park visits
  • Three U.S. coasts
  • Two or more Blue Star Museum stops (depending on timing)
  • One family photo shoot
  • One wedding
  • Infinite cups of coffee
  • As much patience as we can stuff in the car

I’ve typically been a pedal-to-the-floor type mover. But with this move, I was overcome with the feeling to stretch out the trip and shape it into a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Maybe the whole YOLO thing is finally sinking in, or maybe I’ve just accepted that no amount of my planning can make our name move to the top of the base housing list any faster — base housing, yet another first for this move.

For the distance of this trip and all that our kids haven’t seen — even things my husband and I have never seen, like the Grand Canyon — it made sense to us to see a little bit of everything. I like the idea of picking out a good balance of stops that will help the kids burn excess energy and give us all a little taste of what each state is all about — history, culture, local favorites and such.

If you too are planning a PCS vacation:

  • Consider how much ground you have to cover. Pick out points of interest between point A and point B, and be open to a slight detour for something really cool. The Flight 93 Memorial is a little out of our way, but what a precious piece of recent history to see.
    Calculate how much time you can spend en route.
  • Poll your family (if your kids are old enough for a vote). We skipped this step, since my son would have just voted for eight days at LEGOLAND. Instead, we made a plan and just started talking it up to the kids.
  • Research how your military ID can be your all-access pass to summer fun. Use it for ticket and travel discounts through your Travel and Leisure Office. Show it at the gate of a national park for your America the Beautiful park pass (free admission to all national parks for one year). Search for participating Blue Star Museums on your route and enjoy free admission between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • Use all of your resources. Military families make up this insane web of information. I polled a spouse’s group on Facebook for family fun ideas in cities along our route. That’s where I got roughly 75 percent of our itinerary activities.
  • Make a plan B. As beautiful as my color-coded timeline is, I’m expecting deviations from the itinerary. In fact, I’ve planned for them (come on, it’s me we’re talking about). For our road trip, I’ve listed the top three hotels in the cities we’re likely to stop and a city or two before that in case we run behind. I am forgoing advanced reservations, except for military lodging which fills up quickly. If your plans include outdoor activities, don’t forget to flex for bad weather.

Are we a little crazy? Probably, but I didn’t need an epic road trip to confirm that. It will be the absolute longest trip any of us has ever taken — that’s including my husband’s deployment “adventures.” But, this PCS is our chance to take on a trip like this. When else would we have the time or the reason? Embrace the PCS vacation.

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