The first time I moved across the country, the trip took three days by train and covered nearly 3000 miles, including some driving and time spent on a bus. With me, I brought a backpack with seven books, a change of clothes, a few snacks, and a notebook. Before Iíd left, I mailed a box of my clothes to my new address and sold my car. I left everything else behind.
Five years later, Iím planning for another cross-country move that Iíll make in a little more than a month. Unlike my unattached younger self, I now have a much fuller life that includes a significant other, two cats, furniture, dishes, and a bed that cost more than $20, among other possessions that will be coming with me.
Itís going to be a challenge, but Iím taking steps now to ensure that the trek will go as smoothly as possible. Here are some of the best tips Iíve found to prepare for the move. Hopefully they will help you as well.
Consider the Big Picture
Moving long distance can be a thrilling adventure, but there are so many things youíll need to do to prepare. As you go through the process of finding a new place to live and scheduling when and how youíll transport yourself, family members, pets, and your belongings, it can be easy to miss some important details.
Itís a good idea to start your preparations about six weeks before the move, using a detailed moving checklist to keep you on track. Your plan should include things like scheduling utility services like electricity, water, cable, internet, and trash disposal to begin at your new place as well as scheduling a cutoff date for services at your current home. Similarly, you should file a change of address with the post office along with any magazine subscriptions, healthcare organizations, financial institutions, and other groups that may need to contact you by mail.
Packing and cleaning your current home can take much longer than expected, so starting early and packing a little bit each day can avoid the physical and emotional burden of having to rush at the last minute.
Downsize and Purge
One of the best ways to make the move easier and save money is to get rid of as many things as possible. Especially in a long-distance move, shipping heavy furniture or fragile appliances and electronics can be costly. Also, depending on the space youíre moving into, you might not have room for everything. Or you might just want a chance to find new items that better match your future home.
As soon as you know youíre moving, itís a you should begin considering what is truly essential and what you can part with. By giving yourself plenty of time, you can make plans to donate, sell, or throw away items you donít need, without having to stress at the last minute. This is especially true for large furniture, which may require extra effort to dispose of.
One way to unload excess belongings all at once and turn a profit is to host a moving sale. If possible, ask family members, friends, and neighbors to sell their unwanted items too. The more people who are involved, the better publicity the sale will have. Just make sure to put different colored stickers or tags to show who owns which items. As an added benefit, if youíre selling your current home, a moving sale can be a great way to attract potential buyers and give them a preview of the property.
You can also sell things online, though youíll probably want to use classified services that only target buyers in your community. While opening your sales up to broader regions would ensure youíd actually sell an item, paying to package and ship things to buyers creates a whole new set of tasks that could bog down your other preparation efforts.
Be sure to donate or responsibly dispose of any items you canít manage to sell. Keep in mind, in some cities, putting things like furniture, mattresses, and appliances on the curb or in a dumpster intended for household trash is illegal.
Pack Like a Pro
The biggest thing you can do to ease this process is to begin early. At least a few weeks out from your move, begin packing a box or two per day. Choose the least essential items to your daily life. Try to organize boxes by each room the contents correspond to, and clearly label each box with the room it belongs in and the approximate contents so you wonít struggle to find things. Using a different colored marker or label for each room can provide an extra level of clarity.
Itís worth investing in some basic packing materials, even when cheaper alternatives may be available. For example, using newspaper instead of packing paper may result in bleeding ink onto some of your things. While you may be able to find free boxes from grocery or liquor stores, they may not be as clean or sturdy as boxes designed for moving.
If possible, donít pack any foods or liquids. If your move takes longer than expected, the foods may spoil. Even when liquids seem to be in secure containers, there is a chance they could spill, especially if the pressure inside the container changes due to shifts in elevation. If you decide to ship soap bottles, unscrew the cap and cover the opening with a plastic bag before replacing the cap. This isnít foolproof, but itíll give you the best chance to avoid leaks.
Before you break down entertainment systems, computers, and other complicated electronics, take photographs of the cords and how they are set up. Unless youíre very comfortable setting these things up, youíll thank yourself later.
When packing dishes, wrap them in packing paper and place plates on their side rather than horizontally in their boxes. This will help prevent them from breaking if someone drops the box. Fill in any extra space with bubble wrap to prevent things from shifting and cracking.
Make copies of important documents like birth certificates, passports, social security cards, insurance papers, and tax forms, and if possible plan to keep these with you as you travel.
Pack a ďday oneĒ box of basic items youíll want to use soon after arriving at your new home. This could include a few dishes, basic pots and pans, a change of clothes, and anything youíll need right away. Even if you clearly label all your boxes, this will save you from digging through many boxes looking for one or two things from each.
Ship Your Belongings
You have many options to get all of your stuff to your new home, and Iíll focus on three of the most popular:
1. Renting a moving truck and driving it yourself is a good option if you want to have full control over moving all of your things. Youíll carry all the boxes yourself, ensuring nothing gets dropped or damaged. Youíll also have more flexibility with when to begin and end the move.
Rental companies usually offer a variety of sizes to choose from, and itís a good idea to overestimate the amount of space youíll need. Of course, driving a large moving truck will be much different than driving your personal vehicle. Youíll need to make much larger turns than normal, and itís best to stay on main roads and highways, keeping the height of the truck in mind. To be safe, you should purchase supplemental insurance for the truck as well as your belongings.
Although the rental company will provide a quote for the costs, this may not include additional fees for things like moving supplies, additional fuel, and any extra tools you may need. If youíre planning to drop the truck off at a different location closer to your new home, this is considered a one-way rental and may also carry additional costs.
2. Hiring a moving company allows you to relax as a team of trained professionals take care of the heavy lifting and transportation of your belongings. While more expensive than doing everything yourself, moving companies are often efficient and may have tools and techniques you wouldnít have considered. Make sure you choose a reputable company and put in the time to research their services, guarantees, and customer reviews.
Itís worth noting, youíll have less control over the schedule of the move, and itís possible the crew will need to make multiple stops on the way to your new home. This means your belongings could arrive a week or more after you arrive at your new home.
Also, it can be stressful to allow strangers to carry and transport all of your belongings. Aside from the risk that they could mishandle precious items, moving scams are very real. Thatís just another reason you should exercise due diligence in finding a trustworthy moving service.
3. Shipping a mobile storage unit is a good compromise between the first two options. Youíll cut down on the costs of hiring a full-service moving company, and you wonít have to worry about driving a large truck across the country. The company will drop off the moving container at your home, and youíll have several days to load it with your belongings. Then the company will pick up the container and ship it to your new home, where youíll have another few days to unload your things in the new home.
If you need more time, many of these companies also offer more flexible rental periods, including month-to-month storage options. This can be a good choice if you are planning to take an extended road trip on your way to the new home or if you want to unpack very gradually.
Take Proper Care of Your Pets
As I mentioned, I have two cats that will be moving along with me. While they donít take up much space, understanding how to take care of them during the move is one of my highest priorities. Thereís no way I can explain to them what is happening or why, and the chaos of packing up a home and traveling long distances can cause a lot of anxiety in pets. Itís not just dogs and cats that have issues. Fish, birds, small mammals, and reptiles all have a difficult time adjusting to new environments.
Before moving with pets, be sure to visit your veterinarian in order to ensure they have the proper vaccinations and to get an updated copy of your petís health records as well as a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, which is required by most states and countries when transporting pets. Itís a good idea to research the area where youíre moving in order to make sure there arenít additional requirements. Youíll also need to update your petís tags and microchip information to reflect your new address.
On the day of your move, try to keep your pet in their carrier, in the backyard, or in a room away from the commotion until everything is loaded out and the rooms are cleaned up. If you canít find a quiet area, you might ask a friend to watch your pet or place them in a kennel. As much as possible, aim to maintain your petís normal routine with meals, walks, and play.
When it comes time to travel, cats and small dogs can ride in carriers in the backseat of your vehicle with seatbelts securing them in place. In order to avoid accidents and distractions, itís best not to let your pets roam the car while youíre driving. For larger dogs, you may need to put the seats down in the backseat and keep the dog in a large wire kennel. Some animals may feel calmer if you throw a blanket over their carrier. This prevents them from seeing things passing by the windows, which can be disorienting and frightening for pets.
Create a travel pack for your pet that includes a gallon of water and plenty of food, kitty litter, grooming tools, toys, and other necessities. Itís best not to feed dogs or cats before a long drive as they may get motion sickness. You should plan to stop at least every few hours to allow your pet to drink water, use the bathroom, and stretch their legs. Be sure your pet is wearing tags with your current contact information, and never open the door before they are wearing a properly fitted leash or harness.
For cats, itís worth investing in a few disposable litter boxes. You can place them in the backseat floorboard when you stop at rest areas, and once your cat has done its business, you can just throw the litter box in a trash bin. Itís convenient, and it will keep your car from stinking.
When you first arrive at your new home, once again, try to keep your pet in a separate room or some other secluded area until the majority of your belongings have been moved into their approximate areas. Restricting pets to a smaller area gives them time to gradually adjust to the new space, and you can ensure that there are no open windows, poison pest-control traps, improperly stored cleaning supplies, and other potential hazards before letting them explore further.
While Iím still gearing up for my first fully committed move over such a long distance, I feel prepared to make the trek. Moving can be stressful and overwhelming, but you can set yourself up for success by creating a detailed plan, starting the process early, and researching your options for various shipping products and moving services.