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Adjusting to a New Job

 Posted by on September 24, 2015 at 07:00
Sep 242015
 
Dani

Dani

Hey, milspouse. Congratulations! Your hard work has finally paid off and you got the job. You were given your start date and now it’s time to shop — a new first day of work outfit, a new gel pen to match your planner — oh, and maybe a new laptop bag to pull it all together? Or wait, maybe that’s just me! Sorry, I digress…

So you got the job and you have your start date. You’re more than likely about to enter unfamiliar territory, with a lot more new things ahead of you than a chic new blazer. Some of it will be fun, some not so much. Here are a few tips on how to look less like a newbie as you adjust to your new gig.

Put yourself out there. This may seem like the most obvious, I know. It’s also the most important. Make an effort to get to know your new co-workers, learn people’s names and say hello when you walk in each morning. Not only will you get the feel for the office culture, but you may find a lunch buddy or someone to chit-chat with at the water cooler. (Although, let’s be honest. The printer is totally the new water cooler. It’s also a better ice breaker because you can ask what they’re working on!) If you telecommute or are a virtual employee, find out if there is an interoffice instant messenger, and make an extra effort to say hello and ask about your co-workers’ days before communicating about an assignment or project.

Observe. At any workplace, there are unspoken expectations. Take cues from your new co-workers so you can adapt more quickly. Are people always on time for meetings, or do they consistently arrive early? Do they leave their desks for lunch, or eat and work? What hours do most people start and end their days? Is there a lot of socializing during the day, or is the workspace more quiet and focused? Do they primarily use email, instant messenger, phone calls or meet in person to communicate? Are cell phones kept out on their desks, or silenced in the drawers? There are so many little things to note so that your transition into your new work environment is a good one.

Don’t compare. Comparison can be a killjoy, so refrain from thoughts about “how it was different at my last job.” Sure, maybe the way things were done at your last job made more sense, you made more money or the people were cooler. Instead, focus on what’s good and what’s working in your new position. Take the time to understand why your new employer does things a different way, and after you have a good understanding, consider offering ideas that might work better. And for goodness’ sake, don’t get roped into any office drama or cliques! Keep a healthy distance and your personal thoughts to yourself, at least until you get a better idea of who’s who around the workplace.

Ask for examples. When you’re first starting out at a new job, it’s all new, even if you’ve been in the same field for years. Every company and manager has their own way of doing things, and it’s best to ask for an example of a task rather than assuming. You may not get it right the first time, but you have a much better chance at knocking it out of the park if you have something to base it from. If you’re not sure how to fill out a spreadsheet or sign off an email, ask for an example and keep a copy of it for future reference. Even now, four years later at my current job, I keep a folder on my desktop of templates so I can just fill in the blanks for various assignments. It saves a lot of time (and formatting).

Ask for feedback. At the end of your first few weeks, schedule a quick one-on-one with your manager or drop by his or her office to get a feel for how you’re doing so far. Is there anything you can be doing differently? An area you can focus on more? Ask, smile and thank your manager for taking his or her valuable time with you. End it with an enthusiastic, “Looking forward to seeing you next week!” Engaging with your boss by discussing your goals and proactively asking for feedback helps to establish a positive relationship, which can lead to more opportunities for you down the road.

Adjusting to a new job takes a little bit of time and a lot of effort. As military spouses, you may have to do this often throughout your careers. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the quicker you’ll adjust and make new friends along the way. Cheers to you, and congrats again on landing the job!

 

Sep 222015
 

Airborne above my bed in the middle of the night was not a pleasant way to wake up. Actually, I woke up on the way down — for once that dream of falling was real. My bed danced, possessed beneath me, and by the time the floor jumped up to catch me I realized I was in the midst of my first earthquake. I ran (which was more like a slow motion run on a moon bounce) to our daughter’s room to grab her from her crib before the stacked wardrobes fell on her. Just before reaching my daughter, I was able to push the top wardrobe back as it rocked forward toward me and by the time I got her out of the crib and away from the wardrobe wall, the quake was over.

Julie

Julie

Living on the side of Mt. Etna (a very active volcano in Sicily) meant earthquakes were likely to occur and racing through the house during one was not part of a solid disaster plan. Life doesn’t always go as planned and disasters rarely do. Being part of the military community transforms how you react to situations that don’t go as planned. The constant change prepares us to quickly adapt to situations. Here’s a glimpse into the disaster preparation in a “semper Gumby” (always flexible) mindset.

Plans A, B and C

Because world events can change so fast, our service members’ orders can too. We learn to make plans and have a few extra “just in case” alternatives up our sleeves (and sometimes we still have to make things up as we go along).

With each hurricane that came through the Hampton Roads area, I would begin making plans; one for evacuating and one for riding it out, depending on what the predictions and recommendations were as the storm moved closer.

Adapt plans D, E and F

I quickly discovered that ships sortie (leave port to protect the ship) every time a hurricane comes through, so I had to readjust my plans to evacuate or ride the storm out with the kids and without my husband’s help.

Our biggest challenge was communication, as it was unpredictable from the ship, so he planned to contact me at one of three numbers where I might be, depending on the path of the storm (my cell, my grandad’s land line in a safe inland home, our neighbors down the street). Other plans for communication include:

  • Write an in case of emergency, or ICE, contact number list for your wallet and cell phone.
  • Keep a corded phone in the house for access to landline communication if the power is out.
  • Use text or social media when phone lines are jammed.
  • Share plans with local family or friends and with one friend outside of the potential disaster area.

 

Prepare phase 1

The prep for hurricanes was always a bit stressful. There was so much to do. I was fortunate my sailor was able to help me pull in all the outdoor furniture before he had to leave on the ship one time. Other times, I had to do the heavy lifting and Tetris stacking of potential projectiles solo, but usually with the help from other military families.

I purchased all the water and food we’d need for the kids, myself and our dog for at least three days and decided to ride out the storm at home. The home improvement store in our area ran out of plywood, so boarding up my home wasn’t an option.

Adapt phase 2

Pulling from the house, garage and recycling bin, I found as much cardboard as I could. After taping the windows, I taped the cardboard to the window casings inside. I hoped that if the windows broke during the storm the cardboard would catch any glass debris before it could get to us.

With the bathtubs and sinks filled with water, the kids, dog and I all hunkered down in the nook under our stairs to weather a handful of storms. I hung sheets around the nook like a fort and that indoor campout with games, stories, songs and flashlights distracted them a bit from the noise of the storm.

Floyd in 1999 and Isabel in 2003 were the worst we experienced. Floyd flooded the office building where I worked (it was condemned and had to be rebuilt), and Isabel knocked our tree over, nearly missing our neighbor’s house and damaging our roof. We were fortunate, as there was a lot of destruction in areas surrounding us.

After the storm passes, the disaster is over or the power is out, the “semper Gumby” state of mind is what prompts the neighbors to gather outside for an impromptu block party where all freezer contents are grilled and you make the best of the current situation.

 

When All His Friends Are in Kindergarten

 Posted by on September 16, 2015 at 10:05
Sep 162015
 
Kristi

Kristi

So, you PCS in the summer between preschool and pre-K (which, it turns out, are totally different), and you decide to homeschool your little genius instead of spending 70 percent of your salary on a part-time preschool. It’s intimidating. It’s exciting. But is it crazy? Here’s our rationale:

  • We refused to spend more than our Basic Allowance for Housing to get both kids into preschool, and we just couldn’t play favorites with those sweet little faces.
  • We refused to spend our grocery money on 36 hours of “preschool” each month that wasn’t going to challenge our kids or give me enough free time to draft my first to-do list of the day.
  • Our kids might not learn a single thing in those 36 hours of preschool each month, but they would, without fail, bring germs and bad habits home to share with the rest of the family.

So, for me, it was pretty much a no-brainer:

  1. Support husband in his career — please be in touch for my wife of the year award.
  2. Save oodles of money on preschool.
  3. Spend less time stressing about deadlines.
  4. Spend more time enjoying my babies before they grow up and start calling me lame behind my back.

Our new duty station was hitting a daily home run. There was a new adventure every day — my bucket list has never been less dusty. My kids were stepping outside their comfort zones on the daily, and making new friends at every park visit. This was it. This was what thriving after a move looked like.

We had been homeschooling for about a month because the kids were bored at home before summer’s end, which — as any parent knows — is a dangerous emotion for kids. I knew if we didn’t kick off homeschool ahead of schedule those freshly-hung curtains would be ripped from the walls. We had our routine — our park days, aquarium days, school hours, picnic spots and more.

Then school started.

We stopped at the park after our first run of the week (yee-haw — double jogging stroller uphill) for the routine socialization hour. Instead of melding into a flock of loud 4-year-olds, that park was a ghost town. Seriously — I’m almost positive that there was a swing moving by itself and a tumbleweed rolling under the monkey bars.

Like any rock star mom, I kept my cool because everyone knows that kids can smell fear. I took that vacant park as an opportunity to play tag with my own kids, play on the monkey bars (welcome back, 8-year old Kristi) and remind my youngest — my shy little lady — that she is the coolest girl in the whole world.

That was all unicorns and rainbows for a week(ish). I was exhausted, but I was doing it. I was ready to see it through no matter how many hours I had to spend after bedtime to piece together some worthwhile lesson plans. Then, one day, my almost kindergartener had a meltdown. A friend that he’d come to expect seeing at the park didn’t show at the usual time.

TidalPool (800x600)After 45 minutes, we left. Or — at least — we tried to. I was loading up an armful of sweatshirts and snack bags, when I turned around to see my 4-year-old’s eyes filling with tears. Like any concerned mom, I dropped to my knees and asked, “What’s wrong, bud?”

“We can’t leave before my friend comes.”

…sob, sob…

“Why doesn’t my friend want to play with me?”

…sob, sob, snot wipe, sob, sob…

“I miss my Texas friends.”

…sob, sob, ugly cry, sob, sob…

Oh no. I hadn’t cried on a playground since the second grade, and I feared my streak was coming to an end. I’m a strong, stubborn, sarcastic woman, but a real tear in this little boy’s eye was almost more than this mom could bear.

I started exploring options right then and there for ways to mingle him with kids his age. Sure, he was signed up for soccer, and he could always play with his sister (two years his junior) or his parents (26 to 28 years his senior), but he needed something more age-appropriate and something more consistent than a game once a week.

For our family, this translated into part-time preschool (again…even though I swore I wouldn’t). For your family, maybe it’s the same. Or, maybe it’s:

  • Library story time
  • Coordinated playdates
  • Organized sports
  • Mother’s morning out
  • Child development center
  • Classes or lessons — dance, gymnastics, swimming, etc.
  • Full-time daycare or preschool

 

PicnicLunch (800x600)The bottom line is that you do what is best for your kids. Cost, convenience and sanity aside, you make it work. Sometimes your heart breaks. Sometimes your wallet stays empty to keep those little hearts full. Sometimes your best-laid plans fly out the window. Sometimes the last thing you expected to do is exactly what you — as in all of you — need.

So, whether you decide to homeschool for the first time ever or the last time ever; whether your baby is walking through the doors of kindergarten for the first time or you’re involuntarily dropping your middle-schooler off around the block as instructed; whether you enroll your child in preschool to pursue a job that you love or need, or you pause your career to pursue parenthood to the fullest, you’re OK. Your kids are OK. And no matter how hard it seems right now, you aren’t going to remember the long days, you’re going to remember the sweet moments in between rushing to and from the car — in between the stress.

Did School Start?

 Posted by on September 15, 2015 at 09:43
Sep 152015
 

School is back in full swing and I somehow missed the preparation. I’m scrambling to catch up. I wasn’t ready for summer to start and now school snuck up on me. I was that mom who sent two of her kids to school with a pencil, notebook and the promise we would buy school supplies later that evening.

Kelli

Kelli

It seems I’ve been a month behind since February. I’m not sure why or how I’m going to catch up a full month, and do I really need to? Is it possible? My head condemns me, but my heart forgives me, and somewhere in between there has to be a neutral ground to satisfy both.

I think I make up for it by singing made up songs to the boys to entertain and deflect from the fact I have failed at crafting a bento box lunch, and didn’t even have the wherewithal to draw a smiley face on their brown lunch bags. I am not so sure they view my singing as a bonus. “I’m your mother and I struggle — I’m not perfect, I’m just a muggle. Please understand I’m all you’ve got, so watch me drop it like it’s hot.” My accompanying dance is some of distorted deep knee bend. They can’t wait to get to school.

How do you catch up? I don’t think you can. I think you just have to start from where you are and move forward the best you can. Here are some things I’m trying, some a little more successfully than others.

Get organized

Did I just hear a few screams? Did you just say, “If I was organized I wouldn’t be a month behind in my life.” Yep, me too. But the sad truth of it is this is one reason we are behind. The upside is you can start now, with just one thing. I saw this super cool idea for organizing kids’ clothes for the week. I also saw this clever idea for organizing after school items, like homework, backpacks, schedules, all the papers we get, etc. — like a back to school command center.

Choose your battles

I am officially giving you permission to not be perfect in everything. I am asking you to consider choosing one area to really go after. Maybe it’s your command center, making more nutritious lunches or helping your tiny learn to dress him or herself. Just don’t try to win the war on being an A+ parent all in one week. It’s like learning to not bite your fingernails. Just start with one. Once you’ve managed to not chew on that finger, move on to the next. Pretty soon you are left with eight or nine beautiful fingers and only one or two raggedy looking appendages. Start with one area of chaos and conquer it before you move on to the next. It will feel good to have a success. That will motivate you to tackle the next corner of craziness.

We are imperfect beings

Just because someone else has a beautiful command center with fancy cubbies, or a high tech calendar on a tablet, doesn’t mean your chalkboard and shoeboxes won’t work. We are all in the process of becoming better versions of ourselves. In fact, I advise against any major investment until you figure out exactly what works for you and your family. Just start with something that helps you organize your time. I think diaper boxes covered in wrapping paper, or scrapbook paper and a little glue all over, work very well. In fact, you can make creating your command center cubbies a family affair.

Set goals

Seriously, are you shaking your head at me? I struggle with goal setting too. However, it does make a difference. Decide what you want to accomplish in the next few months that would help you manage your time and family better. Go crazy — make it fun and fancy. That always helps. I like to add a little bling to things as well. The boys don’t seem to appreciate the bling, but it makes me happy. One of my goals was putting real clothes on to drive the kids to school. I usually go in my pajamas. I decided that goal wasn’t really working for me, so now I focus on getting them to school. No one cares what I’m wearing. However, if you walk your kids to school, you would probably move the pajama challenge up on the scale of importance. And that leads me to my last tip.

Be flexible

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are we. I may not be the well-dressed mom, or the mom who bakes the really cute cupcakes or even the mom who provides the gluten free after-school snack. I mean, I want to be, but there is no way I can do it all at one time. What I do know is that I am a mom who desperately, passionately, adoringly loves my children and they know it too. The rest is the work of living and that is something we do together — with a little bling of course.

 

Life Hacks: Letting Go So They Can Grow

 Posted by on September 4, 2015 at 08:00
Sep 042015
 

Pudgy, dimpled knuckles of sweet baby fat gripped my finger for balance and then the next thing I knew, I turned BlogBrigade-JulieDymon-2015around to see my daughter looking at me eye-to-eye as we said good-bye when she started college. I think that empty nest phase is tougher on the parents and the siblings left behind than it is on the child taking flight, but military life does a pretty good job of preparing the family for this moment.

 

Deployments, homecomings and PCS moves build a family’s resilience to make it through tough times together, so when it comes to the shifting roles and changes in family dynamics, military families recognize what is going on because we’ve been through a version of it before. That doesn’t make it easier, but it does help when you recognize it for what it is. Check out these life hacks to help you prepare for, go through and come out better on the other side of the big move from full to empty nest.

Preflight tool check

I know we need to go from a parent to a friend/advisor role as our kids head off to college, tech school, the military or other workforce careers, but it’s not the easiest thing to stop parenting cold turkey. I mean, we’ve been doing this for 18 years. Ideally, we get to teach our kids the basics of how to live on their own near the end of high school, but if not, you can give them a crash course the summer before they leave.

 

Check to make sure your young adult has these life hack tools to ease their transition out of the nest.

  • Understand common-sense safety (don’t walk alone at night, use the buddy system, etc.)
  • Balance a checkbook.
  • Wash, dry, hang and fold laundry.
  • Clean up.
  • Cook a few meals well.
  • Maintain a car (either doing it themselves or when to take it in to a professional).

 

In-flight service

Parents, we are no longer flying the plane. In order for our young adults to grow into responsible adults, we have to let go of the controls and not grab on again (easier said than done). We become the in-flight service — if they push that request help button we can offer support, but that is not license to take over and fix things. They need the space and freedom to fail and succeed on their own.

If you want that new relationship with your young adult, as a good friend and advisor, your life hack is to let go so they can grow. Be their cheerleader and advisor when they ask for it. They need the freedom to:

  • Experience life on their own terms
  • Handle situations, both good and bad, and solve problems on their own
  • Believe in themselves by proving they can do it on their own
  • Be themselves as they choose their own paths

 

Post-flight phase

After they’ve landed at college, or a new home, and you’ve helped them unpack and set them up for success, it’s time to focus on the new phase of life for you and any of your other children still at home. It’s natural to have mixed feelings of sadness as you miss the one who flew and the family you were, and excitement for your new flier’s future, and the future of your changed family dynamic; but it’s time to establish new routines to keep your family healthy (both the in-home family and your free-flying adult).

Deal with your emotions from day one by setting some boundaries and ensuring connections using these communication life hacks:

  • Communicate at least once a week with a set a time that works for you and your adult child.
  • Let your adult child initiate phone calls in-between.
  • Write letters and send care packages.
  • Send texts (but don’t blow up your kid’s phone all the time).

Decide what comes next for you in this new phase of life (with more space, time and money — or maybe less money) using some of these life hacks:

  • Date your partner again — invest more time in each other.
  • Spend more one-on-one time with your kids that remain at home.
  • Look at your bucket list (or make one) and start making those things happen.
  • Learn to play an instrument, try a new craft, pick up a new hobby or join a book club.
  • Start a new exercise routine.
  • Redecorate your home.
  • Start a new business.
  • Go back to school.
  • Volunteer in your community doing something you love.

Be patient with yourself as you make this transition with your adult child and family. I cried every time we said good-bye to our daughter during her first year of college. I improved slightly this year. I didn’t cry until I was in the car on our way home.

My youngest child and I are painting his room and he gets a bit more attention these days (probably more than he’d prefer). My husband and I are working through various home and yard improvement projects and enjoying more time together. Our daughter is doing her thing at college and it’s a joy to see her grow, learn and make her own way in the world. Our new family structure is different now, as it should be, and we are learning to navigate the new dynamics through trial and error.

If you are an empty nester, hang in there, work with these life hacks and you’ll find the joy in this next phase of life. There are so many possibilities and that’s part of the excitement. Now you get to walk through life beside your adult child and lift each other up when needed.

 

 

 

Inside the White Walls of Base Housing

 Posted by on September 3, 2015 at 14:11
Sep 032015
 

It’s a strange hobby of mine to decode real estate listings. Could you imagine living in a world where base housing units were fluffed just like traditional listings? It might look something like this:

Kristi

Kristi

This charming 1950s bungalow is available in a safe, family-friendly community. This blank canvas is full of potential and ready for your personal touches to make it feel like home. Some appliances and fixtures are updated, and anything that is not updated just adds to the character of the home — they don’t make them like this anymore. The walls have a fresh coat of paint (sometimes lots and lots of coats at no extra cost). Utilities, lawn and maintenance are included, and your monthly payment just happens to equal your housing allowance. This unit will move quickly — don’t miss this chance to call it home.*

*But in case you do miss this one, the one down the street, across the street and even right next door are exactly the same, give or take an updated appliance.

Let’s break it on down now, base housing style:

  • Charming – It’s small and quirky (creaks in the floor and doors that don’t close completely).
  • 1950s bungalow – Get a count of bathrooms, electrical outlets and square footage before you sign anything.
  • Blank canvas – It has white walls — lots and lots of white walls — blah carpet and matching cabinets. I was surprised to learn that our local hardware store even has a specific shade of white paint named after our neighborhood. That is taking white paint to a whole new level. On the bright side, “blank canvas” also implies that it’s clean, which is more than I can say for some of our previous rentals.
  • Updated appliances and fixtures – Unless it says all of them, you’re either cooking on grandma’s stove or rinsing your toothbrush with water from the same faucet as the greatest generation. Your call on whether that’s a deal breaker or not.
  • Character – It’s old and quirky. Also, see charming.
  • Fresh coat of paint – This is typically a selling point, but in older base housing, you could be dealing with layers upon layers of paint (some of which could be lead — there’s a fun little guessing game). It can be thick and tacky, like an ugly holiday sweater, and has been known to peel off just by looking at it the wrong way.
  • Extras – Utilities are often included in full or in part, but it can vary in privatized base housing (even within one installation). That seems fair since your basic housing allowance is meant to cover the basic costs of living, like electricity and running water. Lawn and maintenance services vary from place to place too, and based on the management company, you could be waiting for a while. This happens in off-installation housing too, to be fair.

Kidding aside, I’m typing this from my beige couch (crammed with all four members of my family), in our base housing, white-on-white living room. We knew the drawbacks, but we frantically rushed (seriously, it was like the Black Friday of housing) to get our name on a waiting list, and then agonized for four months waiting to see if we “won” a house. It was like the worst lottery ever, minus the fact that we did eventually win.

Base housing is a new adventure for our family — technically not for my husband, since he lived in base housing as a kid and he called a few single service member housing options home before I enriched his life with draperies and scented candles.

Why we chose base housing (this time)

Glutton for punishment? No, base housing really was the best option for our family. We already own a house that, in theory, should be an income property, so we were hesitant to buy again. And rental properties near our current installation were few and far between. Many were just as old and small as our current base house, but at least we had the guarantee of a safe neighborhood in an unfamiliar place. Did I mention on base we could get a 3-bedroom place? After weeks of hotel stays, this mama was like, “Three cheers for walls.”

Here’s how we decided on base housing:

  • Safe, strictly military community — great for kids, jogging and making new friends
  • Short commute — for my husband and, eventually, for our son who starts kindergarten next year (I will not cry…I will not cry…hold it together, Kristi.)
  • No utility costs
  • Better floor plan than we could’ve afforded in the civilian community
  • Clean at move-in — apparently not always
  • A yard — hard to come by in some areas
  • Comfortable renting sight unseen

Should you choose base housing?

It might not be for everyone. We dramatically lowered our expectations. Our townhouse is basically the inspiration for the real estate blurb up top (you might have guessed). But, you know what — we’ve made it home for now. I’ve covered as much of the white walls and dorm room-esque cabinets as possible without actually painting. It’s small, and depending on the humidity, the bedroom doors don’t close, but it’s only temporary.

We wanted to make the most of this duty station, and that means leaving here with no regrets. We want to say that we saw everything we wanted to see and experienced everything we wanted to experience in our short stay here. Those memories will last longer than those of “that really cool house we lived in that one time that was so expensive that we couldn’t afford to do anything but live in it.”

5 Tips for Planning a Last Minute Road Trip

 Posted by on September 2, 2015 at 12:52
Sep 022015
 
Dani

Dani

Wanderlust for the last-minute traveler seems to be the way of life for many milspouses. My husband’s schedule changes all the time. As you may remember from my previous posts, however, I’m a fan of road trips. Whether it be with your long-distance partner or just with your pet, it’s always a fun, budget-friendly way to get out of your town for a bit!

This past Mother’s Day also fell on the same day as my birthday and our baby’s six-month birthday. To celebrate the trio of events, my husband and I decided to take a last-minute road trip and make it a weekend getaway. Although being spontaneous is part of the fun, it still requires a bit of planning to set the time away off right. Here are some pointers we figured out along the way to have an awesome weekend out of town — last minute!

1. Be flexible. The key is be as flexible as possible. If you can’t be too flexible with your dates, be flexible with your location. Travel within your means, both financially and distance-wise. If you have a longer amount of time to get away for, you may not mind driving further to your destination. If you only have a long weekend, you’ll probably want to stay a little closer to home.

For our trip, we couldn’t leave until after work on a Friday afternoon and planned to return home Sunday evening to maximize our time away. We chose to visit Asheville, North Carolina, which was about a six-hour drive for us. For some, this might be too far to travel for such a short time. But being the road trip warriors that we are, six hours was half the distance we are accustomed to traveling to get anywhere near our family, friends and hometowns. It was within our means and a destination we were itching to travel to — hello, Smokey Mountains!

2. Pack only the essentials. There’s no need to go overboard with packing for a last-minute getaway. That sometimes takes the fun out of it. Keep the season and climate in mind and pack according to the type of fun you plan to have. A nice dinner out? A casual stroll downtown? A hike in the mountains? Bring a few basics that you can mix and match. And don’t forget a comfortable pair of tennis shoes or sandals!

Having a premade packing list always works for us. I made up a basic list that I printed out and laminated, so every time I travel I can just check off what I need with a dry erase marker and reuse it the next trip. Now that we have the baby, our list has gotten a lot longer. But we’re still able to save some room in the car. I called ahead to the hotel in Asheville before we arrived and found out they had cribs they could bring to the rooms, so we just used theirs and only had to pack the linens.

3. Get directions. Timing is everything, as is the amount of time it takes you to get there. Check the estimated travel time (and the best route, as well as alternate routes in case of traffic or accidents) through your phone’s map app, a portable GPS or an in-car navigation system. And of course, there’s always good old fashioned maps and driving directions you can print from a computer. Once you have the directions, you can plan your route and get an idea of restaurants, attractions and rest areas along the way.

We pretty much use our phones to navigate everywhere, and that also comes in handy when reading reviews on the go. Once we find a place we want to go to, we read a few reviews and visit the location’s website for their address and local directions. This helped us find a great hotel, good eats, a brewery tour and parking at the Biltmore!

4. Think like a foodie. Food. Yum. The biggest expenses when traveling always seem to be where you’re staying, how you’ll get there and what you’re eating. If your destination is known for its cuisine, as Asheville is, plan accordingly! We chose to eat at our hotel for breakfast, get something easy and light for lunch, and go to a hot or popular locale for dinner. This is also helpful if you have food allergies. For example, I’m allergic to gluten, so I was able to plan out several different restaurants with gluten-free menus so that I knew I’d be good to go at meal time!

We also like to take healthy munchies for the car ride. We always take a cooler with waters, sandwiches, granola bars and veggies. That way we don’t have to stop as frequently along our route! It also helps to keep a few nonperishable snacks in your purse or diaper bag for in between meals once you’re there.

5. Prep your car. Aside from filling the tank with gas, make sure your car is in travel-ready shape. Nothing will ruin a road trip quicker than car trouble! Check your oil levels, tires, windshield wipers, etc. Also, pack some cleanup supplies. A roll of paper towels, wet wipes and a trash bag go a long way. We usually bring a stash of grocery bags so we can toss the trash at each rest stop. And never be without hand sanitizer!

However you go about it, try not to get caught up in too much planning. Sometimes driving just an hour outside of town for a change in scenery is enough of a getaway. You might find a perfect mini-vacation somewhere small and low-key. Hopefully these tips will help you manage a fun, inexpensive, last-minute trip full great memories with your crew.

Oh, and one more last-minute tip: Don’t forget the camera!

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.