This past year I faced one of the greatest challenges I have been through during a PCS.
No, it wasn’t the stress of packing the house, the confusion of adjusting to a new place or even saying “see you later” to dear friends and familiar places. My challenge came in the shape of four innocuous walls that made up our one-room hotel room.
While waiting for a house to become available on base we were sequestered in this one-room hotel room for about two months while I worked full-time remotely with my toddler and golden retriever in tow and no childcare or vehicle.
Harrowing times to say the least.
While the first week before my husband started work an hour away felt like a free vacation, the novelty began to wear off fast as we adjusted to the reality of an entire family living out of 500 square feet (or less) with as much of our things as we could carry crammed into every spare corner. They were the best of times and they were the worst of times, as they say, but we all made it through in one piece and I learned some tips along the way to help you (and your sanity) should you ever find yourself in a similar position on an overseas PCS.
Scope out local attractions.
If you have small children they will not be content to stay in a tiny hotel room all day and you no longer have the luxury of a yard for them to run and play in, look up local attractions or areas where you can take them daily to let them run around and get some energy out. Maybe a park, a beach or even an attraction such as a zoo. We were lucky enough to have a small zoo within walking distance and purchased a season pass that we utilized at least a couple dozen times while we were waiting to get into housing.
Join a local gym.
We were not lucky enough to have this option available to us, but if you have a car or a gym within close enough proximity to walk to see if you can sign up for a short term membership at a local gym with childcare. Many gyms offer 2 hours of free childcare included with your membership and the luxury of being able to exercise by yourself and even take a shower by yourself can be priceless.
Throw them in water.
Not literally of course, but most kids LOVE bath time. If this is true for your little one, buy some bath toys and bubble bath and make long bath times part of your daily routine. Bath time was my savior when it came to getting dressed and ready daily. My son was able to happily splash around with bubbles while I watched him as I dried my hair and did my make-up at the mirror right next to the tub.
Be realistic about what you can take on.
If you are working, prioritize and be realistic about what you can get done or take on during this time in your life. This is not a time where you will be able to be as productive as normal. You may have to re-prioritize and cut down on your goals or workload while you are in limbo.
Eating out will get old.
The novelty of eating out daily for every meal gets old fast and this is especially true if you have young children or babies. Additionally, if you are in an expensive location, that per diem money only stretches so far. You can still eat in one to two meals a day if you have a mini-fridge. Find a local supermarket and buy yogurts, oatmeal packets and foods you can make for lunches that don’t have to be refrigerated, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If you don’t have a microwave in your room, call the concierge and see if they have one you can use. Hotels often have microwaves available for guests that request them.
Accept that sleep rules might go out the window for a little while.
Prior to this move my son was a champion sleeper and always happily slept in his own nursery room by himself. However, all the changes of a PCS and the adjustment to living out of one room together can wreak havoc on sleep training. (For us this meant that our son suddenly became terrified of sleeping alone and needed someone to sit next to him for over an hour to go to sleep for several weeks…) Accept that this time in your life is about survival and you may have to be flexible on any sleep rules you previously had. This period is temporary and you will eventually be able to go back to old routines when your lives settle down.
For that matter, accept that a lot of rules may go out the window for awhile.
You may need to relax your regular rules and routines at home for a little while during this transition time for your sanity. This might mean you let your kid watch a little more tv than normal in the hotel room or stream Netflix sometimes during your many, many restaurant stops or that nap times/bedtimes are a little more flexible than normal and that’s ok. The temporary lax in rules won’t do any harm and you’ll eventually be able to go back to your routines at home.
Focus on the positive.
When again will you be able to try so many new restaurants or be able to spend weeks without having to worry about doing dishes or making your bed? Try to focus on the silver linings and see this time period as an adventure.
Give each other grace.
It can be tough living out of a tiny room with your spouse and kids with no real privacy or alone time for weeks. Try to be patient with each other and consider trading off some alone time while one of you watches the kids so that you can get some time to yourself. A walk or a couple hours alone can be extremely refreshing and it’s ok to ask for some time to yourself to regroup.
Consider hiring a local babysitting service.
If you are living out of a hotel room for an extended time period and need a break, considering hiring a local babysitting service for a couple hours so you can have some time to yourself or you and your spouse can go on a date night. In large cities, there are often many local babysitting services that have seasoned, vetted, and background checked nannies available for short term babysitting. Ask your hotel concierge for a recommendation for one in the area.
This too shall pass.
It can be very stressful moving to a new city without a house, a vehicle, or your things and living in very close proximity for an extended period of time. During the hard moments try to keep in mind that this difficult period in your lives won’t be forever and you will eventually be able to make a home here and get back to normal. One day soon you will look back on this time period as a fun adventure that your family went through together that brought you all that much closer together.