Updated: May 5
Oh the PCS, the military rite of passage which if done correctly, can resemble a treasured icon of American culture—The Great American Roadtrip. If you think about it (between stress attacks from packing mayhem), a PCS is essentially an almost entirely paid opportunity to travel. Those of us who’ve hacked the moving system see orders 2,500 miles away as a massive opportunity to plan a trip of epic proportions, and you can too. Next time the military takes you from Seattle to Savannah, try out these 9 tips for turning your next move into a (positive) core memory.
1. It's not a race and not all days are traveled equally.
There are a lot of ways to tackle driving thousands of miles. Beating your GPS’ total drive time is not one of them. The key lies in the route plan (we’ll get to that), but first, let’s clarify a few items when it comes to the number of days or miles you’re planning on.
According to Defense Travel, you are allotted 1 day of travel for every 400 miles, and additional days for every 350 miles after that. There is no distance requirement per day.
350 highway miles is about 6 hours of driving per day.
If there’s no requirement saying you must drive 350 miles or stay in a hotel exactly 6 hours down the road each covered night, that means you are free to drive more or less in a day.
If your PCS covers 5 nights in a hotel, those 5 nights are covered…even if you spent 2 consecutive days in the same location, or your hotel is an hour north of “the route.”
2. Route planning- Major do’s and don’ts
Choose the route with at least 1-2 major points of interest.
Zoom in on Google Maps along the way (in all directions of your route) to see if something amazing to see or do is only a short distance away.
Factor in the time of year you are traveling and how much weather may affect your plans.
Opt for the “cliff notes” version (see below) while visiting a place if that’s all that time allows.
Consider if you want to extend your travel time (aka plan for unpaid hotel and mileage reimbursement) if the location is worth it.
(Always) choose the fastest route.
Underestimate the time it will take you to take in the sights you plan to see.
3. Take your meals to-go
Stopping for full meals eats into precious adventure time while on the road. Cutting out dine-in eating can provide up to 3 extra hours of daylight per day on the road.
4. Leave at first light (or before)
When it comes to travel, the early bird gets—the chance to drive through Badlands National Park before the sun sets or end their long day kayaking on lake Cascade in McCall, Idaho. It’s all about the timing…and researching what time things are open along with a traffic buffer.
5. The cliff-notes version can be just as good
Can most National Forests and Parks justify an entire week (or more) to experience all there is to offer? Yes. Does hitting the short but scenic 1-mile trail still give you a sense of adventure? Also yes.
True story: We had assumed we would regret a “cliff-notes” version of Mt. Rushmore during our last PCS. Truth be told, we got in and out in about 20 minutes and were so glad we had even more time to drive through the Black Hills than the other way around.
6. Back up your outdoor plans
When weather throws your trip off course, make sure to research indoor options for the entire route as a great backup plan. This can be anything from a cool museum to paying a bit extra for the hotel with the indoor waterslide.
7. Have phone numbers handy
Yes, it may be 2022, and taking pencil and paper notes is way outdated, but when traveling large stretches of the country, many of which are without cell service, having the appliable phone numbers for reservations, hotels, and state parks handy can and will come in handy when you finally get a signal.
8. Don’t get tourists trapped (or do)
One of the biggest mistakes can be trying to see it all, especially the tourist hot spots when driving long distances. While researching pre-trip, list the top 3 sights for each leg of the journey, each with varying time commitments if possible.
9. Don’t forget to walk your kids
No, not a typo. Somewhere a ratio exists that relates the time your child can sit still in the car to the cool things you planned along the way. Always err on the side of caution and #optoutside for the maximum time possible at every stop.
Happy PCS travels friends.
-The MW Team