For those of you who have had the privilege and opportunity to live abroad thanks to your military spouses’ service, you know how stressful an overseas move can be.
Once you settle into your new world overseas, the excitement of the new place sets in, exploring starts, and quickly fades the memory of the trip over. Fast forward 3, 4, 5 years or even longer…and you can be staring down a PCS move home like a deer in the headlights. Well, not to worry, fresh off the “PCS back home” boat, I’m here to offer some tips for success which will allow you (spouse) to keep working, volunteering, or doing whatever you do all the way up until you leave.
Tip #1: Set Expectations
This step is the foundation that will set the tone for your whole move. Who is going to be responsible for what? In my house, whomever has the orders is responsible to execute the checklist attached to those orders. Since this was my husband’s move, we agreed that he does all of that checklist – hotels, flights, movers, etc. I took care of the kids and dogs. That way we each had our tasks and were never waiting around for the other person to do it. Communication is also key. We gave each other updates as things progressed.
PRO TIP: Get a binder to contain all of your move paperwork in one place.
Tip # 2: Back-Plan
What needs to be done and by when? Start with the end in mind and work your way backwards. This is crucial, especially when trying to book certain things such as hotels on-base stateside, and pets on a flight. Some hotels only open up their schedule 60-90 days before the date you’re wanting (stateside time don’t forget), so set an alert on your phone. The same goes for the airlines, there are restrictions on how far out you can book pets. Then once you do book, you need to provide certain documentation, photos, etc.
Also, when it comes to your household goods, where do you want the hurt? Overseas or stateside? Because it’s going to hurt on one end or the other. What I mean by that is you are going to be without your prized possessions for a few months – no matter what. So embrace the suck and decide which side of the house is easier. For us, Okinawa is an awesome place to live bare bones. The base provides a loan locker with everything we need. So we shipped our stuff two months before we left in order to have it waiting on the other end. But if you plan to live with family for a while, or have a house already furnished and waiting for you, then wait until the end to ship it, because it won’t matter when it gets there.
Tip #3: Start the purge
Don’t wait until the last week to start getting rid of stuff, do it now…like right now! You have orders, right? OK then, you know where you’re going, the climate, the type of house you’ll be in, rent, or buy depending on the area, and hence, can start making a plan for all of that stuff you’ve acquired along the overseas journey. I like to think of it like this step as STD… I’ve got your attention now right!? Ship, Trash, Donate.
SHIP: This is everything leaving with the military movers. You will need to plan for two trips: the big haul and the express shipment. Get your house as organized as possible before the movers come. It will make their job much easier, and save you time on the other end trying to unpack items from one box that go in five different rooms in the house.
TRASH: This is all of the stuff you could keep until the day you move out of base housing/off-base housing and into the hotel. You trash it all. Think, old towels, floor mats, chipped dishes that you don’t want to donate but used in the interim between your express shipment and your hotel stay. Things that you plan to replace at your next duty station that aren’t in good enough condition to pass on go in this pile.
DONATE: These are items that are in good condition, but not really worth your time trying to sell on a base yard sale page. Donate to a friend, do a curb-alert, or donate to a thrift shop on or off-base.
Tip #4: Label Label Label!
Moving labels will be a saving grace when you end up on the other side, stateside. The trick is, to label your items not in the room they are being packaged in, but in the room you want them to go in at your future home. The reason for this is that the likelihood your house stateside is going to be the same as your house overseas is pretty slim. Plus, let’s face it, we all live a little bit weird overseas and we just make it work, but what I had in my master bedroom may go to a different room stateside. Once the movers show up in the states, I go off MY labels, not what the movers wrote on the packaging wrap. Easy peasy.
Tip #5: Don’t Forget About the Pets
A lot of families bring their furry loved ones abroad, and many more acquire them while in country. While it’s typically a lot harder to bring pets into a foreign country, than back into the USA (as a military family), don’t get lazy and forget about them. Their shots need to be up-to-date, and you need to be very proactive with booking them on the airlines. Book, get confirmation, and then confirm again. The last thing you want is to show up for your flight and they aren’t on the manifest. Also, don’t forget about the 10-day health certificate required by the airlines and plan their vet visit accordingly to meet that window.
Also, if they don’t usually use a crate at night, start about a month out getting them used to eating/drinking from the tray, and sleeping inside. This will help them be less stressed when they have to stay in the crate for the long haul back to the states.
Finally, for the love of God, don’t abandon your pets. Not only is that an uncool thing to do, but it gives American’s overseas a bad name. You made the decision to take on a pet, now be an adult and deal with it.
So there you have it, 5 quick tips to make your PCS back to the states a smooth one. I could write 100 more, but these are some foundational ones that will help get you started. Ultimately a smooth PCS comes down to excellent organization skills and being proactive. You wait until the end to do everything, you reap what you sow…and that’s a lot of stress. Don’t let the PCS own you, you own the PCS!