Just like long checkout lines at the commissary on payday, the permanent change of station move is a certainty for service members and their families. While many would prefer to let professionals handle the heavy lifting — on Uncle Sam’s dime, no less — a few rugged individuals like myself choose to tackle this duty themselves, putting those extra PCS bucks in the bank.
For those unfamiliar with the PCS move, here’s how it works. Normally, the travel office sends a moving company to your house at the government’s expense to pack and move all your earthly belongings across the country, delivering them to your new residence safe and sound (if you’re lucky). In a do-it-yourself, or DITY, move, you rent the truck, do the packing, driving and unpacking, take all the responsibility and get paid for your efforts.
This cannot be thought of as a get-rich-quick scheme, however. Yes, there are a few bucks to be made if done correctly. And why not, right? It’s just a U-Haul. Surely you can drive one of those. Maybe you’ll even stop at a few fun places along the way — call it a family vacation. This type of thinking makes an old DITY veteran like me cringe. In reality, the DITY move requires more pre-planning.
It’s been several years since my last DITY move, but the memories still send a chill down my spine. What was I thinking? How could I have been that foolish? How did I survive? These are the thoughts of a much older, wiser and safer man. Here’s my story:
It was shaping up to be a gorgeous summer, and I had 1,780 miles between me and my next assignment. I’d reserved a rental truck, calculated the per diem, estimated seven travel days and packed my tent in the back of the vehicle. On paper, the math looked good. I could clear almost $800 for a week of driving.
What didn’t show up in my calculations were the move’s physical demands before ever pulling away from the curb. Between averaging four hours of sleep a night during the last week of outprocessing, packing up the whole house and loading the truck, I was exhausted. That last night, I stayed up late cleaning so I could clear base housing the next morning. Oh, and there was also the 2 a.m. encounter with the huge rat living in the dumpster enclosure. After a short nap on my friend’s couch, it was finally time to hit the road. The clock was already ticking on my travel days, so there was no time to waste.
Three hours into my drive, I was at 7,000 feet and starting down the first big grade in a mountain range, barely able to keep my eyes open. While I had driven this road a few times before, I’d never done it in a 24,000-pound-gross-vehicle-weight truck loaded to the brim. I’m still not sure how I made it down that hill, but dumb luck prevailed and I was able to reach a campsite by about 9 p.m.
After a fitful night’s sleep, the next day wasn’t much better than the first. A line of thunderstorms made the road impossible to see through the windows. Then I came to a detour that took me off the interstate and onto a small two-lane highway. So instead of passing the Rocky Mountains on the interstate, I was now playing chicken with 18-wheelers that really didn’t belong on that road. That’s the one part of the trip that still makes me shiver.
I could go on and on with the chilling details, but I will spare you (and me) that experience. I eventually made it to my destination on time, clearing about $400 for the trip. But the extra cash didn’t pay for the physical stress or the very real dangers that came with it. While my experience is not unique, nor is it indicative of how every DITY move will go, I hope you glean a little bit of wisdom from it. Ask yourself the following questions when thinking about taking on a DITY move:
• Can I safely drive the moving truck? Can my spouse?
• How long will it take to pack the house?
• Can I get help loading/unloading the truck?
• Do I have enough time to do everything else and a DITY move?
• Where can I get a good night’s sleep before I get on the road?
• Is the extra money worth the added stress during this already taxing time?
If a DITY move is in your future, remember to add a layer of safety to your thought process. Take your time, don’t hurt yourself or others, know your limits and make smart choices for goodness sake. The money you think you’re saving isn’t worth your life.