Tips for PCS Survival in TLF and Extended Stay Hotels

Long term military lodging room

Photo from Canva

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The PCS dust has settled and you’ve arrived at your new location.

Most military families are pros at living out of suitcases during a move, but what if your time in temporary lodging ends up becoming a matter of weeks... or even months? When temporary becomes not so temporary, it’s time to make a plan.

The longest stint our family of six spent in TLF (temporary lodging facility or extended stay hotel) was nearly four months. Needless to say, we learned a few survival skills for making the most of a less than ideal situation.


While I hope that you won’t face such a long-term scenario, there are some situations that may call for extended stays in temporary lodging: OCONUS moves, waiting for designated housing to become available, or other factors.


While there’s no magical solution to make the time pass more quickly, consider these tips we've garnered from experienced military families to make your long stay in military lodging or extended stay hotel easier and maybe even enjoyable.

1) Establish a routine. 

If you’re in temporary lodging for a lengthy period, the military member will be back on duty long before you’re settled in your new home. During this time, it becomes essential to establish a new, temporary normal for the rest of the family. While the military member's life might regain some semblance of normalcy due to their work routine, the family needs to find stability and comfort within their temporary living situation.


For families with young children, creating touchstones throughout the day can help provide a sense of stability and routine. This can include having meals around the same time each day, ensuring that regular naps are maintained for those who need them, and finding opportunities for playtime outside if possible. Even seemingly mundane activities like visiting the laundry room or regular trips to the lodging lobby for hot cocoa can become part of the daily routine, helping to add structure to your family’s day-to-day life.


Families with school-aged children will find establishing a routine quickly to be a great help, especially if children will start school while still in temporary housing. Now'a the time to begin implementing consistent bedtimes and wake-up times, breakfast, and a morning routine.


If you’re moving with a dog, plan daily walks which will have the benefit of exercise for both of you and get you outdoors. Explore! Drive to local nature trails or greenspaces if there’s nothing near your lodging. This consistent routine will also help you become more familiar with your surroundings.


woman walking dog on nature trail

Photo from Canva


2) Ask for what you need to make your stay more comfortable. 


If your room lacks a few comforts of home, one solution is to approach the front desk and inquire about the availability of additional items that could make your stay more enjoyable, such as extra blankets or a coffee maker.


If the lodging facility is unable to meet your needs, check in with the installation's family support services. These services are designed to provide a warm and welcoming environment for newcomers, and they often go the extra mile to ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible.


As part of their "welcome" amenities, they often offer household items for temporary loan for just such scenarios. Items can include everything from kitchen essentials like pots, pans, and utensils, to creature comforts like extra blankets, pillows, and even small appliances like toasters. These options can help you feel more at home from the moment you arrive, without having to worry about the logistics of bringing all your own items.

3) Tidy up. 

While living in the compact space of temporary lodging, you may feel less cramped and more comfortable if things are relatively picked up and clean. Coming back to lodging after a long day of sightseeing or househunting is more enjoyable if you’re not greeted with a mass of clutter, a stack of dirty dishes, or a pile of laundry.


Some ideas for creating a more pleasant temporary living environment:


  • Regular pick-up time: Dedicate a few minutes each day to put things back in their designated spots. Enlist kids' help to corral their belongings before bed.
  • Keep dishes in check: Rinse dishes after use and place them in the dishwasher (if you have one) or regularly wash dishes. Another chore the whole family can help with!
  • Laundry management: Tackle laundry as needed to prevent clothes from accumulating.
  • Designate storage spaces: Assign specific areas for each person to keep their own items to avoid scattered belongings.
  • Regular cleaning routine: Perform light cleaning tasks, such as wiping down surfaces and sweeping.

Utilize the housekeeping services if possible. That can help you stay on top of the messiness that can go along with living in close quarters! It may also be one of the things you miss most once you leave temporary lodging.


housekeeping services in temporary lodging


Photo from Canva


4) Build in special treats. 


Life in temporary housing can quickly become mundane, but introducing unexpected moments of fun can infuse a sense of adventure and joy into your experience. And the best part? These little treats don’t need to break the bank. Even simple gestures can make a world of difference.

Interestingly, even activities you've enjoyed in the past take on a renewed charm in a different place. It's as though the novelty of the new environment adds a touch of magic! Before heading out on your adventures, check out online reviews, then drive around the area and scout out what you’re looking for. Then, take to the road or try out the public transportation and find the area’s hidden gems—a charming church, a local pizza joint, a serene park, or a cozy coffee shop. 

Whether it's locating the nearest Target in the U.S. or stumbling upon a hidden castle tucked away in the heart of Germany, even small explorations can give you an escape from the everyday.



family in bowling alley with bowling ball

Source: Flickr user Joe Lewis


It's important to remember that creating moments of fun and connection doesn't require elaborate plans. In fact, some of the most cherished memories often emerge from simple activities.

Some ideas: learn a new card game, such as “Stack” Uno or Euchre. Start a new puzzle together that you’ll race to have finished before you get into housing. Evening walks or watching a favorite cooking show together are other simple pleasures that help everyone in the family feel the security of normal life.


5) Plan ahead for what you'll need. 


You won’t necessarily know that you'll be confronted with an extended stay in Temporary Lodging Facilities (TLF). However, by considering the possibility beforehand, you can make strategic choices while packing your luggage that will ensure a smoother and more comfortable transition.


Laundry can be washed, so perhaps pack less clothing and allow more space in your luggage for special toys, books, and games. Or, ship a box of these items to your forwarding address before you move. Of course, there’s always Amazon for whatever you forget!


If your PCS move coincides with a change in seasons, it's wise to be prepared for the transitional weather. Packing light jackets or swimwear, depending on the direction of the seasonal shift, can save you from the uncertainty of when you'll be reunited with your household goods!


In a nutshell: prioritize special items, plan for various weather scenarios, and embrace flexibility.





Photo from Canva

6) Unpack what you need; stow the rest. 


If you discover after arrival that you’re in for an extended stay, corral what can become a tornadic TLF mess by hanging up clothes, utilizing the dressers and shelf space, and then stowing the luggage and anything else you won’t be using immediately, such as dress clothes and seasonal clothing. Check under beds and at the top of closets for hidden storage spaces. You can even put a suitcase or two in the trunk of your car if needed!


If you've brought along an assortment of toys and games, consider rotating them to keep things engaging and fresh for the kids. Kids get to experience that "new toy" excitement even with the stuff they've had for a while.


Less stuff out also means less stuff to put away, which equals a happier you and a smoother daily cleanup routine. And let's face it, when parents are happy, everyone's happier!



clothes hanging up in hotel closet

Source: Flickr user Emily May


7) Make the most of your assigned sponsor and the installation's family services. 


As mentioned, your family support office on the base (each service branch has its own version of this) may offer a loan closet for you to borrow some household necessities. But these centers are also hubs of connection and information, providing resources for the military member and the entire family, such as career and volunteer opportunities; information about drop-in childcare, pool and gym classes; and probably a newcomers’ tour or orientation. 


You can also find out about upcoming tours and area attraction discounts. And you just might meet your future next door neighbor at a newcomer's orientation!


Make use of your sponsor, if you've been assigned one. Their knowledge will be invaluable as they show you around the installation or point out must-see local sights, helping to make your transition smoother.


couple walking down city street at night

Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

8) Stay active.


When the newness begins to wear off and you feel like you’re slogging through the same Groundhog Day over and over a la Bill Murray, hang in there! Force yourself to leave your lodging space on a regular basis, even if you don’t feel like it. Whether you prefer to hit the gym or need some fresh air outside, time away from the hotel will give you a new perspective.


Taking a stroll, exploring the area, or just soaking in the local sights can work wonders. The mere act of being outside can help rejuvenate your spirits. It's like hitting the reset button on your daily routine. And here's the magic part – this doesn't just apply to you; it works for the whole family. A change of environment can spark new conversations, rekindle enthusiasm, and remind everyone that there's a world beyond the walls of your temporary home. And… that it’s temporary!


Living in close quarters for an extended stay with your whole family can be a challenge. Though you might drive each other a little batty in a cramped space, the shared family history of “the night the power went out” or the time you battled mice in the ancient hotel will likely become memories you laugh about later.


If you’re facing a PCS move and will be living in military lodging or an extended stay hotel longer than you'd like, here’s hoping it’s over before you know it, that you cultivate new coping skills, and that you find little ways of your own to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. 


By Jen McDonald




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