By Rebecca Alwine, Army Spouse
Winter is upon us. For most of us that means hot chocolate and warm blankets, but for many military families, it can mean a winter PCS move. While not as popular as the summer PCS cycle, it is growing in popularity. We’ve moved 3 out of 4 times over the winter, and there are some great benefits to it. The main reason I like to move then is the numbers. There are drastically fewer people moving in the cold months than in the summer. It’s a race from May to July for moving companies, housing, and spots in schools. But in the winter months, there are plenty of open dates for moving companies, generally better packers (or we like to hope so!), and housing lists seem to be lower.
Not Good or Bad, Just Different
Of course, there are some downsides too. Things like being displaced for the holidays, taking the kids out of school and of course the weather. Even after battling the added craziness with our winter PCS rotation, I like it. I like starting the year in a new place, I like moving before (or after) everyone else. I like being slightly different.
So I reached out to other military families and asked them for their tips and tricks to conquer the winter PCS. The responses ranged from silly to helpful, personal to general, and extreme to normal. Some simply said, “Don’t do it!” Clearly that isn’t always an option, but hopefully, some of these techniques will help you as you prep to move in the cold months of winter.
Winter PCS Tips
- Have an emergency kit in the car. This is a tip good for any road trip, but if traveling through particularly wintry states, it can quickly become a necessity. Recommended items to keep in this kit include flashlight with extra batteries, blankets, snacks, water, gloves, boots, and a first-aid kit. Additionally, things like tire chains, an ice scraper, flares, and jumper cables could also be very useful, depending on your route.
- Get your car seats checked before the road trip begins. My friend and Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Laurel Frock constantly reminds me that car seats need to be checked before any transition. “Take the time to make sure that your child’s car seat is installed and being used properly,” Laurel says. And here’s a great website to find a local certified technician. (Safekids.org) And it’s not enough just to make sure the car seat is installed properly, the usage is important as well. Most car seat manuals warn against using bulky clothing since it can prevent a proper fit. In addition, a thick coat or puffy jacket might compress during a crash, leaving slack in the harness. It can also add bulk under the harness, which may be unsafe. Having to adjust the harness slightly for another layer is okay, but be wary of significantly loosening the car seat harness for winter layers. Laurel reminds us that these rules also apply to kids in boosters and even for adults using a seat belt!
- Winterize your vehicles before moving. All vehicles are not created equal, and some of them are simply not cut out for the cold weather locations. Waiting until you arrive at Fort Drum in December to discover your Ford Mustang is really not the best idea is scary. Definitely consider the condition of the tires, the age of the vehicle, and the proximity (and cost!) of preparing your car for a harsh winter. Of course, as my friend Jenny Hassan discovered, finding someone to winterize your car in Georgia for your move to Alaska can be difficult. But don’t skip this step. Find a reliable mechanic to perform this service before you leave.
- Prepare some cold medicine bags. One for the car, one for the luggage. This was a great tip! Changing climates, eating out, staying in hotel rooms, having the entire family crammed in a car… germs are going to be bouncing around everywhere! Having cough drops, Tylenol, and other medicines readily available will help prevent the 2am Wal-mart run in the middle of Nowhere, USA. And, because we all know it’s true if you have it ready, you won’t need it.
- Think about the weather in BOTH places. Again, what a great tip! Some people like to pack in layers to prepare for the drastic weather differences. Others prefer to mail things ahead to a sponsor, friend, or PO Box. Chances are, if you are PCSing in the winter, you are going from a warm place to a cold place. No one ever gets lucky enough to go from cold to cold or warm to warm, right? And, when push comes to shove, if you are moving stateside, you can find a lending closet, thrift store, friendly new neighbor, or Target to help get you through.
- Put the kids in school immediately. Leslie Hocker arrived in Arizona the week before Christmas Break. Her kids started school that last week. “While they weren’t doing much work and were having holiday parties, the kids thought it was fun and made new friends fast,” she remembers. “It certainly made going back after the break easier.
- Make friends fast. Another family moved with two school-aged kids in December and spent a lot of time finding activities to do when they arrived. Family activities over the break helped the kids make friends before diving into a brand new school. Check out what the new installation has to offer, like a Winter Wonderland or Night of Extraordinary Lights, or some sort of family get together.
- Decorate any way. It’s hard to want to decorate when you’re moving, but it’s equally hard to not have anything up! My husband and I got married over Christmas, on December 29th, and immediately after the honeymoon we were moving. So I didn’t decorate my apartment that year. About December 20th I regretted it. So I bought a tiny tree, with cute little ornaments and I immediately felt better. We had that tree for a few years and it was always wonderful to be reminded of the first time. So when you unpack, put up those holiday decorations!
- Save the garage sale for Spring. Amy Trimble shares advice she was given, to save the purge for after the winter PCS. “My friend said most people are inside due to the cold weather and you’ll have plenty of time to unpack and purge since you might not make friends right away.” Instead of purging and planning a garage sale before you move, spend time with your friends where you are. Plus, who wants to sit outside for a garage sale in the winter?
- Clear the installation before Holiday Block Leave begins. Or wait until the New Year to start. This one is crucial. Have you ever tried to get anything done during those magical two weeks when no one is working? It’s impossible. When we left Germany in 2010, our originally date to leave was January 4th. Luckily, my husband was able to push it up to mid-December, because we quickly discovered that there was no way to clear the installation during the holidays.
- Space saver bags for winter coats! This was an amazing tip, passed along by my friend Ashley. Winter coats take up so much room when packing them in the car or in a suitcase. If they aren’t needed at the departing duty station, put them in those space saver bags and tuck them away until the weather gets cold. Or vice versa. Sometimes, you may even need them during the middle part of the journey only. This is a great space-saving technique, and would even work well with extra blankets or layers.
- Visit Santa early. This was the best idea I’ve heard of for families traveling with kids. Definitely make visiting Santa a priority before moving. This may be the only good thing about Christmas Creep. Santa is available earlier and earlier each year. Your child will want to explain to Santa about the move when delivering their list. It’s really important that they do that because as Amanda experienced, there could be a meltdown on December 23rd when said child realizes that Santa doesn’t know where she is. And the last thing you want to do is go to the mall on Christmas Eve to stand in line to let him know!
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic.Rebecca Alwine