Permanent change of station season is always stressful, but the farther your move and the bigger your family, the more challenges you are likely to face. Add in the Coronavirus pandemic, and this may be the most difficult year for a cross-country PCS move. But don’t be afraid. Whether your children are teens or babies, I have the sanity-saving tips you need to move cross-country with kids, even during the pandemic. I’m a mom of five kids, and our longest PCS move was five days of driving coast-to-coast. We all made it in one piece, and you can too!
Before the Move
With kids, a PCS move begins months in advance. Prepare the kids for living in a new town by showing them pictures of the new base, their school, their house and local areas of interest like parks or playgrounds. There are pictures of nearly every base in the “indepth overview” on Military INSTALLATIONS, or you can use Google maps and image searches so they can get a sense of the fun opportunities at their next base. Explain that they won’t have to give up their friends and activities, they will just find new ones!
Talk to your children about COVID safety precautions while traveling. If they spent most of quarantine at home, they need to practice wearing masks in public and washing hands or using hand sanitizer every time they go into a building. When you are packing, bring extra hand sanitizer and masks (in case they drop theirs on a bathroom floor!) and talk with your family about how to handle rest stops and meals.
Since some states have closed restaurants and are limiting places to sit down and eat, you’ll want to be prepared with extra food for the family. Pack a cooler with basics for snacks and lunch in case you can’t find a place to stop. Be prepared to eat in your car or on a picnic blanket.
Plan out your drive so that all your stops and hotel reservations are made in advance. It will be difficult to do more than six hours of driving in a day, since you will have to make stops for food, bathrooms trips and perhaps at a park to let the kids run around.
During the Move
OK, it’s time for the big cross-country drive! Load up the car and prepare the kids for a successful trip. Pack a separate backpack for each child that will remain within their reach during the trip. For younger children include busy bag items (look up ideas on Pinterest), art supplies like coloring books, and dollar-store gifts. The idea is to give them lots of new, interesting items to explore that will take up time without breaking the bank. We bought small dollar-store gifts and activities and handed them out whenever we crossed a new state line. We also changed out their backpack items at the hotel each night, so they had new books to read, pictures to color and toys to play with.
Packing electronics is an important step too, for any age. If you are using your car’s built-in DVD player or a portable DVD player, remember to pack the headphones and DVDs! For older kids using hand-held devices, check that they have their charger cords. Be sure to download apps and videos ahead of time that will work without Wi-Fi, then download new episodes or movies in the hotel room each night. If you have more kids than devices, use a splitter so two kids with headphones can listen to the same device.
For other forms of entertainment, play car games or listen to books on tape that will interest a majority of family members. You can download stories from apps like Audible or buy your favorite series online. For older kids, find a satellite radio station or podcast that plays mystery and detective shows. That will keep everyone interested while driving along flat, boring highways.
During the trip, try to keep the kids on their normal eating and sleeping schedule, even as you cross through different time zones. Pack simple snacks they can eat in the car, and make sure each child has their own water bottle. If younger children are used to taking naps, plan a car-wide quiet time in the afternoons to help them get a little rest. Plan at least one day for relaxing activities to give everyone a break from the drive. Whether you are staying with friends or at a public hotel, look up the COVID guidelines in each state. Swimming pools will likely be closed, so focus on outdoor places with walking trails, nature hikes and playgrounds where kids can burn off energy after a long drive.
After the Move
Once you arrive at your new duty station, the move isn’t over for the kids. If you are in temporary housing without your household goods, help the kids get out and explore their new base as much as possible. Are the parks and playgrounds open? Can they get a library card and check out new books or movies? Providing fresh, new distractions will be important when it’s time to start unpacking all the boxes!
Moving across several states with children can certainly be a daunting challenge, but with good planning and a patient attitude, you can conquer the long move and start making fun new memories with your family.