Here's how to camp in style during a PCS

By Lizann Lightfoot

Last summer, our military family didn’t just PCS across America from coast to coast. . . We camped our way across the country– in a tent! I admit that I wasn’t too excited about the idea at first, especially because we had four young children; however, my military husband had years of experience moving troops, organizing gear, and setting up tents. He eventually convinced me to try it. The kids and I are so glad we did!

Not only did we save a lot of money during the PCS, but it ended up being a wonderful trip and a vacation we will always remember. Our family has now gone on several camping trips, and we are currently planning our next one.

If camping sounds a little too primitive and uncomfortable to you, remember that there are many versions of camping, and not all of them involve a tent. Decide whether your family priorities are to save money, visit beautiful locations, or have a unique experience during your next PCS trip. Then, see if one of these camping styles is right for you.

Save money by camping at National Parks

Tent View from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Rob Lee, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Did you know that military families can enter the National Parks for free? The annual pass is free to service members and is available at the main gate of any National Park. Campsites should be reserved in advance and may have a $15 fee, but the park entrance fee will cost you nothing. You can spend a day or two hiking and enjoying some of American’s most beautiful scenery for much less than your PCS per diem allowance. That means you’ll be able to pocket a lot of the extra cash.

National Parks have fairly primitive campsites. There will be a bathroom available, but you may not be able to take showers near your site. Plan ahead and bring what you need to be for sleeping, cooking, eating, and washing dishes.

Don’t worry about being bored– each National Park has tons of free activities, including guided hikes, ranger presentations, and nighttime adventures. Kids can enjoy the Junior Ranger activities which include coloring books, free classes, and story time areas around the park.

Every National Park has something special to offer. You can plan your trip and find a park near you at the National Parks website. Depending on the route you choose across the country, some convenient parks might be:

  • Great Smokey Mountains, TN
  • Hot Springs, AR
  • Rocky Mountain, CO
  • Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Zion, UT

Camp with all the amenities at a family campground

Playmates_camping_2014_150 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Jennifer Longaway, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

If you are new to camping, try a travel-friendly campground like KoA or a full-service private campground. These may have tent, RV, or cabin sites, bathrooms with showers, playgrounds, Wi-Fi, swimming pools, and possibly hot breakfast or dinner available for purchase.

Companies like KoA are located all over the country, so a membership will save you money at any of their locations. These campgrounds may not be very scenic, but they are convenient for travelers, since they are typically located near major highways. If you are just trying to cover a lot of miles between two locations, then these campgrounds are easy and much more affordable than hotels.

Skip the tent and camp in an RV

TCT_Spring_2010 2612 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Terry Bone, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

A one-way RV rental will allow you to see the country and camp at affordable locations without having to set up a tent. You can save time because you can pull into a campsite and almost immediately have dinner and beds ready to go. An RV also allows passengers to prepare meals while driving, take a comfortable nap, or play games around a table while on the road. This is a great option to let older kids stretch out and not be cramped in a car all day. Some RV’s can be used to tow your car across the country.

Basic RV sites offer electrical and water hookups. Full service sites include sewer hookups. You can take your RV to National Parks, private campgrounds, and even onto military bases. Some bases offer great discounts on campsites, so check if there are any along your route.

‘Glamping’ is full-service camping in comfort

Glamping from Flickr via Wylio
© 2015 Alex Graves, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Glamping is a fun and glamorous way to camp. It’s more expensive, but you won’t need to buy tents and sleeping bags, which will save you time and space in the car. Glamping companies do much of the work for you–they secure a site, set up a large tent, fill it with comfortable bedding, and often include snacks, wine, and a hot meal prepared by a chef.

Many sites include en-suite bathrooms, luxurious showers, and heated rooms. Prices are similar to hotel reservations, but the experience is a lot more memorable. You can camp in a tree house, a log cabin, or a canvas tent with a king-sized bed. Find out more about glamping locations here.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at