By Lizann Lightfoot, Military Spouse

Packing for our last PCS move was tough—we had to clean the house, map out the route to our next duty station and buy a tent. Yes, we camped in a tent when we moved cross-country from Pennsylvania to California. It was a big tent because we are a family of six. When we moved, our children were ages 7, 5, 3, and 1.

It may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it ended up being one of our most interesting and memorable family vacations. Best of all, the government paid us to take the trip!

I should clarify that this was not a full DITY move, now called PPM (Personally Procured Move).

A PPM is when you personally pack up and drive all your belongings to your next duty station, without using a moving company. During our camping trip, we were not driving a moving truck because we did a partial DITY move. In a partial move, the government movers come to your house, pack most of your furniture and belongings, and take them to the next duty station. However, you agree to move some of your belongings yourself. The government reimburses a portion of your moving expenses based on the weight of what you choose to move and the mileage to the next duty station.

In our case, we were returning from overseas, so the government moved all our belongings from Spain to California. We could have flown across the country on government-funded airplane tickets. Instead, we chose to drive. My husband insisted that we had to because before moving to Europe, we had stored many things at our parents’ houses—including all our wedding china. Since it wasn’t in a government storage facility, the only way to get it safely to our new home so it could be included in future moves was to pack it into our car and drive it across the country. Our partial DITY included camping gear, wedding china, and a large new cartop carrier.


When we first started planning our cross-country trip, I assumed we would stay in hotels. After all, during PCS moves, the government reimburses a per diem cost. This is calculated to cover moderate quality hotels during the number of days it takes to drive from one duty station to the other. When moving cross country, you can claim five days of per diem. If you choose to draw the trip out longer and make a vacation out of it, you can do that. However, the government will only pay for the first five days of travel.

During a PCS move, there’s no rule that you must stay in hotels. If you spend a night visiting family or sleeping on a friend’s couch, then you can pocket the cash you save. Similarly, if you reserve a camping site for $15 instead of paying over $100 for a hotel room, then you get to save the difference. When my husband and I crunched the numbers, the amount we would save covered the cost of the camping supplies and more.

So we turned our PCS move into a camping trip!

After numerous trips to Bass Pro Shop (which has a military discount), we had a tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, and lots of camping accessories. Then we planned out our route. We knew that military get free admission to National Parks and many historic sites, so we made reservations at Zion National Park in Utah. We also decided to camp next to Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. My husband is a Civil War buff, and he wanted to share that history with the kids. In between, we found KoA campgrounds to reserve. These are affordable sites with amenities like hot showers, swimming pools, and camp convenience stores. They are conveniently located near highways for travelers who want to quick place to stop for the night.

Great for the Kids

I was concerned about camping with four small children, but now I am a big fan! Camping gave them a chance to run around and explore after being stuck in car seats most of the day. It was much easier to get them to settle down to sleep in a tent than it ever was in a hotel room. They made such vivid memories of hiking, card games, campfires, stars, and s’mores. It’s exciting to hear them still speak fondly of that trip.

The hardest part was finding grocery stores and planning meals. We needed to get groceries and fill the cooler with ice before we got to each camp site. Luckily, we stayed with friends one night in the middle of the trip. This was a welcome opportunity to get hot showers, a good meal, and to refill the cooler. My friend gave us the energy to finish the journey strong and refreshed.

If you want to try camping during your next PCS, don’t be afraid. Sign up for a partial DITY move to make the most of your reimbursement funds. Then get your camping supplies, choose your destinations, and get ready for the trip of a lifetime!

Author: Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and of the Seasoned Spouse blog. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.Find military encouragement on her Facebook page. Find inspiration for care packages, deployments, and more on her Pinterest page.