Military woman and her two kids hugging.

22 Moving & Packing Tips for Military Families

Moving to a new city? Relocating can be an overwhelming process for anyone. But for military families who tend to move frequently, there are even more details to consider before heading to your new base. Whether it’s your first Permanent Change of Station (PCS) or your fifth, make your next military move more efficient, less stressful, and maybe even a little fun with these helpful packing and moving tips for the entire family!

Start Letting Go Today

Woman carrying box of clothes. Photo by Instagram user @military1source
Photo via @military1source

A top military moving tip is to purge items early and often. Depending on the branch of military you or your partner serves in, your family could be moving often in the coming years—if you haven’t changed stations a lot already. Maintaining a schedule where you’re regularly donating or selling old items can save you time and stress when new orders arrive. If anything is still in boxes from your last move, ditch it now. There’s no point in moving an unpacked box again!

Schedule Moving Details Early

Two moving men shaking hands. Photo by Instagram user @tmt_knoxville
Photo via @tmt_knoxville

As soon as you get official orders, you’ll want set up a meeting with your base transportation office and the family center at your new base. They can explain all of your relocation options, discuss the military housing available, and provide you with a moving sponsor and resources for the entire family. Next, hire a moving company for military families that you trust and that’s covered by your reimbursement package. The sooner you choose movers, the better rate you can lock in, and the more likely you are to get your preferred moving date. Another thing to consider is booking a hotel near your new base for any gap time between moving out of your current home and into the next. If you have children, explore military child care options early, file any necessary school transfer paperwork, or get kids on the necessary waitlists if you’re hoping to enroll them in private or charter schools.

Avoid the Busiest Times

Two men unpacking while kid runs around. Photo by Instagram user @twomenandatruck
Photo via @twomenandatruck

If you receive orders to move between May through August, keep in mind that rates will be higher, roads will be busier, gas will be more expensive, and many military moving companies could already be fully booked. But even if you can’t avoid moving in the summer, you can still cut down on costs by moving mid-month, mid-week, or having the movers arrive early in the morning.

Make the Most of Resources

Military kdis connect resource page. Photo by Instagram user @milkidsconnect
Photo via @milkidsconnect

Whether you’re preparing for a PCS move or an Outside of Continental United States (OCONUS) move, there are endless resources for military families. From moving allowances and entitlements to inspiration on establishing roots in a new city, you’ll find a wide range of helpful tools and websites. Build a custom military family moving checklist on the Department of Defense website with the Plan My Move tool. All members of the armed forces can utilize the “It’s Your Move” sheet to create a budget and gain information on storage and shipping procedures. Help your children meet friends in your new city with Military Kids Connect. Milspouses can also sign up for career coaching and educational resources through the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program or find job opportunities in their new city at the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.

Get Organized with a PCS Binder

Black and white PCS binder. Photo by Instagram user @sarah_vicrod
Photo via @sarah_vicrod

Need to re-register your car in a new state? What about enrolling your kids at a new school? From legal paperwork to vaccination history, it’s a good idea to keep important documents safe and make them easy to locate during the chaos of packing and unpacking with a PCS binder. Some items and paperwork you should include are:

  • Orders
  • Past or future housing paperwork
  • Contact info for the new base
  • Inventory of household items
  • Unpacking map
  • Marriage license
  • Birth certificates
  • Car titles
  • Insurance documents
  • Medical records
  • Government issued and military IDs
  • Passports
  • Pet documents
  • Travel reservations

For more inspiration on what you need and how to keep it all organized, review this list of PCS binder must-haves from Love Always, Catherine.

Use a PCS Checklist

Hand checking off boxes in pink marker. Photo by Instagram user @damovingco
Photo via @damovingco

Another crucial document for milfamilies to include in their moving binder is a relocation checklist. Using a tried-and-true PCS packing list from those who have done this many times before can help make the moving process a little less overwhelming. Check out this free printable checklist for an overseas military move or these ten things you likely forgot to put on your PCS checklist.

Consider a PPM

Couple moving boxes together. Photo by Instagram user @taylormorrisoncharlotte
Photo via @taylormorrisoncharlotte

While a standard PCS military move typically involves hiring packers and movers, some families may opt for a Personally Procured Move (PPM). Doing all the work yourself can be a great idea if you’re trying to save money or are a seasoned pro at packing and hauling your belongings. However, you must first get approval and file the necessary paperwork to do so. While this option offers you a chance to pocket some of the reimbursement money, you’ll have to decide if the added responsibility of keeping track of all receipts, weight limits, travel details, and the potential risk of broken items is worth it to you.

Utilize a Home Inventory

Cellphone with the sortly app pulled up. Photo by Instagram user @sortlyapp
Photo via @sortlyapp

Creating a thorough home inventory is crucial for any PCS move. Printable home inventory lists and online spreadsheets are great for keeping track of serial numbers and manufacturer warranties—just be sure to take photos or videos as well. If you want all of these details in one place, free inventory apps like Sortly make it easy. Tracking down this information might seem arduous at first, but it will simplify packing and unpacking, as well as streamline the process for filing a claim if something was lost or damaged along the way.

Make the Most of Military Discounts

Christmas tree from Trees for Troops. Photo by Instagram user @the_ta_landi16
Photo via @the_ta_landi16

Getting your vehicle serviced, buying plane tickets, securing a no-fee passport, and having cancellation fees at the gym waived are just some of the many discounts and free services that could be available to your family. In addition to these moving specific deals, there are lots of unexpected free items for military families that can help you get settled into your new city! If you’re an Army family in particular, take advantage of the ACS Lending Closet, which loans out household supplies until all of your personal items arrive.

Determine Your Unaccompanied Baggage

Wooden crates next to blue wall. Photo by Instagram user @dynamicaircargo
Photo via @dynamicaircargo

Just received orders for an OCONUS? There’s a lot to consider when preparing for an overseas PCS! Choosing important household items like uniforms, towels, a coffeemaker, and other necessities to be moved ahead of time as unaccompanied baggage can make the big transition easier. Just remember to only ship the items you’ll need right away, as there’s a military household goods weight limit that’s determined by rank and destination.

Maximize Every Box

Boxes being packed on a chair. Photo by Instagram user @moving_relo_new_york
Photo via @moving_relo_new_york

Once you have the details of your military move planned and scheduled, you can focus on moving out of your current house. If you’re packing boxes yourself, try a few moving hacks from this how to pack boxes guide, such as using small boxes for heavy items and large boxes for light items.

Utilize Long-Distance Packing Tips

Packing paper-wrapped plates in boxes. Photo by Instagram user @lonestarrelo
Photo via @lonestarrelo

Moving across the U.S.? If your items are being driven or flown across the country, extra care is needed to make sure as many items as possible arrive in one piece. Discover all kinds of tips from how to take precautions when packing dishes to how to load a moving truck strategically from this cross-country moving guide.

Create a Labeling System

Colorful stickers for labeling system. Photo by Instagram user @findingmagickieper
Photo via @findingmagickieper

A top military moving tip for families is to choose a packing system and stick with it! Label boxes with garage sale stickers, colorful duct tape, numbers, or a variety of markers. Any of these ideas will help movers put boxes in the proper room, as well as make it easier for you to locate your child’s lost toy, your favorite coffee mug, or the bathroom towels when you need them in your new home.

Talk to Children Early About Moving

Dad and kid packing a box together. Photo by Instagram user @military1source
Photo via @military1source

It’s a good idea to sit down and go over your move with your children sooner rather than later! Not only should you discuss their questions and emotions about the relocation, but you could also involve them in the packing process. Make a game or rewards system out of packing to help ease the transition. If you have younger children, consider gifting them with one of these children’s books about moving.

Perfect a “Don’t Pack” Box

Box that has drinks, food, and cleaning supplies. Photo by Instagram user @twomenandatruck
Photo via @twomenandatruck

Keeping certain items in the car or in your personal suitcase will provide some peace of mind, and it allows you to access what you need right away. Consider keeping these things with you:

  • Uniforms
  • Valuable or sentimental items
  • Important paperwork/PCS binder or checklist
  • Bedding and towels
  • A week’s worth of clothing for each family member
  • Cooking supplies or disposable plates and utensils
  • First-aid kit, medication, and toothbrushes
  • Chargers, adapters, and WiFi router
  • Favorite toys for children and pets

Prepare for Surprise Expenses

Budget sheet with pen and clipboard. Photo by Instagram user @thebudgetlife_
Photo via @thebudgetlife_

Even with carefully accounting for all expenses and knowing you’ll receive a military reimbursement for moving, there will likely be some unexpected moving costs. Pricier gas stops, extra packing supplies, and household items you need right away can add up. If you start saving early and preparing for any extra costs, you can eliminate stress later during the busiest parts of the move.

Plan Ahead for Pets

Female military member petting cute dog. Photo by Instagram user @military1source
Photo via @military1source

Can you PCS with your pet? This will depend on what kind of animal you have and where you’re being stationed. After you’ve determined if the family dog or cat can come along, make sure to acquire any necessary medical or immunizations records from the veterinarian. Planning ahead to have someone watch your pets while you pack boxes or when the movers come will give you one less thing to worry about, too. Those driving or flying with pets should remember to leave water and food bowls unpacked. If you have OCONUS orders in places like Hawaii, Guam, Japan, Korea, or any other country that has a mandatory quarantine period for pets, you’ll need to make accommodations and prepare for some time without your animals.

Explore Options for Your Car

Truck of cars being transported. Photo by Instagram user @directconnectauto
Photo via @directconnectauto

Wondering what to do with your car when you move overseas? Curious if the military will pay to have your vehicle shipped to your new state? Whether you just got orders for a OCONUS move or you don’t want to drive the family car across the country, you can find information about your options and what’s covered with your vehicle on PCSmyPOV.

Ask for Help

Man and woman putting box down together. Photo by Instagram user @damovingco
Photo via @damovingco

Another popular military moving tip is to make the most of your resources before you move. Set up a play date for your children and pets while you pack. Ask friends and other milspouses to come help supervise the packers and movers to ensure your instructions are followed. Utilize any nearby assistance now before completely starting over.

Join Online Milspouse Groups

Four women sitting outside laughing. Photo by Instagram user @movingwiththemilitary
Photo via @movingwiththemilitary

Moving somewhere totally new? You don’t have to unpack or get settled in all on your own! Fortunately, there are lots of contacts and resources on social media who are willing to help military families move and get to know their new base. Looking for inspiration? Here’s a list of Facebook groups for milspouses.

Turn the Move into a Road Trip

Mountains in a review mirror. Photo by Instagram user @squintphoto
Photo via @squintphoto

Driving to your new base? A top moving tip for military families is to turn the journey into a mini vacation! While you’re creating a packing checklist, take some extra time to make an itinerary with stops at museums, water parks, restaurants, or national parks!

Get to Know Your New Base

Tower in Fort Sam Houston Army Base. Photo by Instagram user @_dkerr
Photo via @_dkerr

In addition to learning about your new city, you’ll want to learn about the base that will be your home for the foreseeable future. Explore in-depth base guides for each branch of the military to get to know the local area on and off base and find information for any contacts you might need!

Searching for more military moving tips? Read this tried-and-true advice from military wives to help make your next move a breeze, or discover inspiration on how to get settled in a new city. Looking for ideas to put on your military dream sheet? Check out one of these best U.S. bases for military families!

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Need temporary or permanent storage during a military PCS move? Extra Space Storage has convenient storage facility locations throughout the U.S. Find a storage unit near you!

Moving & Packing Tips for Military Families

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