Our PCS to Hawaii: What We Packed In Our Totes (& What We Forgot)

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There is SO MUCH effort and planning that goes into a PCS to Hawaii. Putting aside the actual traveling, the packing and shipping of the cars and household goods, and the mound of paperwork that comes along with a big move, the process of just living in the chaos is not for the faint of heart.

(Check out this post: You Got Orders to Hawaii…Now What? for advice on what you should do before packing even begins.)

Basic activities like cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, etc. are 100 times more difficult when you don’t have your stuff. That’s in addition to not having real beds or furniture, only having one car, and having little in the way of entertainment. It’s a super frustrating and chaotic time for everyone involved.

The whole process of our PCS to Hawaii went like this:

  • October 6: Ship car
  • October 9: Pack household goods
  • October 11: Ship household goods
  • October 20: Go on leave to Florida
  • November 2: Drive back to Texas
  • November 3: Fly to Hawaii
  • November 6: Pick up our car from port
  • November 17: Move into new house
  • November 30: Receive household goods

When we packed our things to ‘camp out’ in our empty house in Texas, we had to keep in mind that whatever we kept with us, we either had to throw away or take on the plane with us to Hawaii. We also had to camp out in our empty house in Hawaii until our household goods arrived (and we heard that sometimes it can take months).

Trying to keep the number of totes that we had to travel with to a minimum and still be able to ‘camp’ (at least semi-comfortably) in our empty houses was a weird balancing act.

How Many Totes are You Allowed to Take?

This depends on what airline you are flying with. [Of course, you don’t get to decide what airline you use, the Army books the flights for you.]

During our PCS to Hawaii, we flew on American Airlines. Thankfully, they have a generous policy regarding military families traveling on orders! We were allowed 5 bags EACH and up to 100 pounds PER BAG!

We used 27-gallon stackable totes that we purchased at Lowe’s for $10-12. Each tote is considered a bag. So, technically we could have travelled with 20 totes!

I can’t imagine having to lug all of that through the airport or having to load and unload all of it. However, I’ve seen families post pictures online of them traveling with that many totes and suitcases. So, it’s possible.

Here’s what we packed in our totes and what we forgot.

PCS to Hawaii: American Airlines rules for bags.
(Screenshot of American Airlines baggage policy as of February 2024.)

Extreme Duty 27 Gal. Tough Storage Bin in Black 4 pack with LidsExtreme Duty 27 Gal. Tough Storage Bin in Black 4 pack with LidsExtreme Duty 27 Gal. Tough Storage Bin in Black 4 pack with LidsHDX Tough Polypropylene Plastic 27 Gal. Storage Tote in Black (5-Pack)HDX Tough Polypropylene Plastic 27 Gal. Storage Tote in Black (5-Pack)HDX Tough Polypropylene Plastic 27 Gal. Storage Tote in Black (5-Pack)


What We Packed for Our PCS to Hawaii

All of our clothes and shoes were packed in our suitcases. We had 1 suitcase per person and an extra suitcase for toiletries and random things that wouldn’t fit in our individual suitcases.

All of our electronics and important documents were brought with us in our carry-ons. We all used backpacks as carry-ons. Not only were they able to hold a lot of stuff, but having backpacks freed up our hands to push carts and wheel suitcases through the airport.

Then we had 4 totes that were filled with:

All of our suitcases and totes to load up for our PCS to Hawaii.
(All of our stuff ready to be loaded into the car.)
(At the airport in Texas waiting to check our bags.)

Stuff for Sleeping:

  • 1 air mattress (one of our air mattresses popped in Texas & we bought a replacement in Hawaii)
  • 2 sets of sheets
  • 4 blankets
  • 6 pillows

What we forgot: extra blankets.

Initially, I only kept out 2 blankets for our air mattresses. I forgot how cold air mattresses get underneath you as you sleep. So, we ended up going out to buy 2 new blankets to put under the fitted sheets to make a our air mattresses a little warmer.

Sleeping on an air mattress during our PCS to Hawaii.
(Sleeping on our slowly deflating air mattress in Texas.)
(Hanging out on our new air mattress in Hawaii.)

Stuff for Cooking:

  • 5.5-quart pot & lid (the one we use for soups/pasta)
  • 2.5-quart sauce pan & lid (the one we use for rice/sides)
  • large frying pan
  • colander
  • 2 big cooking spoons
  • spatula
  • George Foreman grill
  • 2 baking sheets
  • 2 knives
  • plastic cups, plates, bowls, and silverware
  • a few spices
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 kitchen towels
  • 2 dish rags
  • dish soap
  • zip-loc bags

What we forgot: measuring cup, cutting board, and can opener.

We had to go out and buy these things. Which the cost wasn’t really a big deal, but it’s extremely frustrating to be in the middle of cooking dinner and now you can’t open a can or measure out what you need.

(Our Texas kitchen during the packing process.)
Our kitchen was pretty bare during our PCS to Hawaii.
(Our Hawaii kitchen was pretty bare before our household goods were delivered.)

Stuff for Bathing

  • 4 beach towels
  • 3 hair wrap towels
  • bath cloths
  • toiletries
  • shower curtain liners
  • blow dryer/hair straightener

What we forgot: extra towels.

I thought I was being so frugal and saving space by only keeping 4 beach towels. In Texas, we could use them as bath towels and in the hotel in Hawaii, we could use them when we went to the beach. And it wasn’t a bad idea, but one towel per person is NOT enough.

Even though we had our hair wrap towels for our hair, we made a mess stepping out of the shower because the movers took the rug. So, I would plan for 2 towels per person or at least have a bath mat to put on the floor during your PCS to Hawaii.

During your PCS to Hawaii, make sure you keep a shower curtain liner and hooks!
(Put a ‘Do Not Pack’ post-it on your shower curtain liner so the packers don’t take it!)

Stuff for Living

  • 4 camp chairs (the kind that fold up into bags)
  • phone/tablet chargers
  • kids’ tablets
  • laptop & charger
  • portable dvd players & dvds
  • laundry bags
  • trash bags

What we forgot: card games, projector, coloring books, and colored pencils.

My kids were 11 and 12 during this PCS, so they’re past the age of playing with toys and are pretty entertained with their tablets. However, I wish we would have kept out some card games and our projector. That way we could have played games or watched movies together as a family.

So, even if you have older kids, plan on bringing some entertainment. My kids told me that they wished they had brought coloring books and colored pencils.

Loaner furniture we used during our PCS to Hawaii.
(The loaner furniture made us feel like we were on a janky set of ‘Golden Girls’.)
Laundromats are a fact of life during a chaotic PCS.
(Nothing will humble you faster than folding your muumuus and granny panties in front of the public at the laundromat.)

Random Stuff the Movers Wouldn’t Take

There are always a bunch of items that the movers won’t pack. Each moving company does things differently, so call your movers ahead of time to see what they won’t be able to take.

For us, there was a LOT of stuff left out in our garage. Most of which we gave away to family and friends that could use it. We gave away a ton of paint, wood stains, motor oil, epoxy, fertilizer, bug poison, etc.

Even if we were willing to lug all of this stuff through the airport, I wasn’t sure that they airline would allow it. And to me it wasn’t worth worrying with, especially since I knew that my dad would gratefully accept and use a lot of it.

These are the things that movers wouldn’t pack that we put in the totes and took with us:

  • batteries
  • candles
  • syrup
  • sugar for cotton candy machine
Sitting on the floor in my empty house during a military move.
(We were so tired of ‘camping out’ in our empty houses.)
The moving truck arriving with our household goods during our PCS to Hawaii.
(We were glad to see this truck arrive after 52 days without our stuff!)

All in all, our PCS to Hawaii went really smoothly. I credit much of that to all of the planning that we did ahead of time and shipping our vehicle and household goods early.

It was all worth it for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We truly are living in paradise! While it has only been 3 months since our arrival, we are enjoying everything this beautiful island has to offer.

I hope this post helps to prepare your family for this exciting new chapter!

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