The best way to move across the country?
January 12, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

What’s the best way to move halfway across the country if I’m leaving the biggest items behind?

For me, "the best way" = a balance between lowest cost, least hassle, and best protection of my stuff. I do not have my own car. If you've moved long-distance before, what worked or didn't work? How did you decide which items to sell off and which to bring with you? Details:

I'm moving from the east coast to the midwest at the end of next month and will live with my parents for a few months before moving abroad. I'm selling off a lot of things beforehand, including all of my furniture. (unless you tell me otherwise.) But I still have a lot of stuff to get from point A to point B.

First, the easy ones: books, small kitchen items, DVDs, office files and supplies, clothing/shoes, and other knick knacks. These are able to be packed up in boxes and shipped UPS ground without much trouble or worry, I think.

But what about these types of things, which are more delicate/bulky?
1) a couple of computer mini-towers, a Mac Mini, and two external harddrives.
2) a widescreen LCD monitor without its original box (I should've kept it, I know!). It's about 19" on the diagonal.
3) a couple of vases.
4) sentimental photographs, and other memory-filled items. (I keep a lot of things like that and am a little scared to ship them UPS.)
5) sentimental mugs and pint glasses
6) some heavier/bulkier things, like a couple of tents and tarps, framed wall hangings, pillows, blankets/linens, some board games, etc.

I've looked into PODS/Door-to-Door moving solutions as well as a one-way car/van rental, and both come in around $1000 or more. For the sake of price comparison, I priced out a 40lb box, 20x20x20" via FedEx home delivery and it costs about $30 each. Hard to say how many boxes it will take; I don't think I'll know until it's all packed up, though. (FWIW, I live by myself in a small apt that has one bedroom, a living room and a galley kitchen, if that helps to estimate the amt of stuff I have?)

Unless I wind up driving, I'll spend about $200 on a one-way flight, as well.

So given all that, what would you think is the best way for me to move myself and my stuff? Any creative solutions I haven't thought of? Thanks in advance for your advice. :)
posted by inatizzy to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The most cost effective way to move will be by rental truck. I think I moved from South Carolina to Chicago in a 12" truck and with gas it was less than $250. (Just please don't use U-Haul, they are an evil, awful, company.)

As for what to take and what to toss, I evaluate my choices like this:

- Will I need this in my new home?
- Is this item worn and in need of replacement anyway?
- How hard is to move vs. how easy is it to replace once I get there?

My first big cross-state moved happend when I was about 22 or so. I had a ratty home made desk, the base of which was made from several cinder blocks. I moved them, like an idiot. When I got to my destination the friend helping me unpack was all like, "Cinder blocks? WTF? You can buy these new for $1.99." Lesson learned.
posted by wfrgms at 2:08 PM on January 12, 2009

One strategy that isn't necessarily convenient, but does save some shipping costs, is to put smallish delicate heavier and/or precious items (external hard drives, mugs, photo frames) in your carry-on. I lugged some All-Clad pots, 3 laptops, and assorted other heavy stuff on a cross-country flight using a camping backpack and small roll-on. The rest I shipped strategically: USPS for any books/documents that could go at the cheaper media mail rate, FedEx for most of the rest. Check out shiptool. When going abroad, I'd say buy all you can overseas but bring appropriate converters and plenty of your favorite US snacks. Good luck with your move!
posted by xiaolongbao at 2:12 PM on January 12, 2009

Move it yourself.

I moved xcountry a few years back and I did a ton of research. I wish I still had the address of the web site that dealt with all the moving scams, but there are a great many of them out there, and they prey on people who are broke and can't afford a ton of money. they give you a great price, and then when you get there, they essentially hold your stuff hostage unless you cough up $$$. Do your research on anyone you want to hire.

If you call a reputable place, they will insist on coming to your house to see your stuff, and they'll be able to eyeball how many boxes it will be.

I have moved cross country twice and cross oceans twice, and I can tell you that you always bring more than you need or want. I wince now at what I PAID someone to move. So unless you have priceless antiques, do not bring your furniture. Get a uhaul and some friends and do it yourself.

In terms of what to NOT bring with:
--PILLOWS. unless everything was a $125 down pillow, buy new when you get there.
--office supplies
--secondhand furniture unless it's an antique.
--Ikea furniture. It doesn't reassemble as well as you'd like it to. Don't take the wobbly bookcase.
--cleaning supplies
--kitchen basics
--linens. take your good stuff, but then pick out a backup set and get rid of the rest, or use it to wrap the breakables. don't bring the ratty comforter you used to use when people stayed over. it's not heavy but it takes up room.
--clothing. this is the time to go through it now and get rid of what you don't need.
--books. This is the time to pare down your library. I discovered that I had shelves of books on subjects I was once passionate about but was no longer so. I was able to make some bookstore owners very happy and make some $$ for myself.
--CD's. Same thing goes here. I'm not going to suggest that you get rid of all of them, but this is the time to pare down your collection.

Your sentimental mugs and pint glasses would be the first thing i would urge you to give up if i was your practical friend who lived next door. They will break in transit and then what?

Your tarps and tents - are these expensive speciality items or something you could pick up again from a local hardware store? Think about it hard.

When moving in the US it's about weight, when you move overseas it's about volume (if you ship a container) and then weight (whatever you bring via air).
posted by micawber at 2:15 PM on January 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I moved from Boston to Boise, we shipped most of our stuff via UPS. The boxes were pretty beat up by the time they made it to us, but all we lost was one frying pan (the handle snapped off). So I think you've got the right idea there.

If you can fit everything you're not comfortable shipping with you in a minivan or an SUV, it's typically MUCH cheaper (after gas and other moving-van related expenses) to rent a car than a moving van, especially if you're avoiding UHaul (which is cheapest for a reason).

I moved a bunch of stuff from Boise to Seattle recently, and rented an SUV from AVIS for $99, and most major chains will do one-way airport-to-airport rentals between major cities, often with unlimited miles, you just need to fill it up before you drop it off.
posted by ThePants at 2:17 PM on January 12, 2009

If you have enough books to fill a box, ship it USPS Media Mail. It's cheaper than either FedEx or UPS, as they offer media mail at a pretty substantial discount. Caution: they can search your box, and if it contains anything that hasn't been published, they can and will ship the box back to where it was shipped from. It's not super common, but it does happen.

I learned this the hard way when my boxes of personal notes and boardgames got mailed back to Brooklyn, where I no longer lived. I'm looking at you, mean Park Slope post office, and it was a huge hassle to go get my boxes from my old apartment buildling.
posted by foodmapper at 2:30 PM on January 12, 2009

Thanks so much everyone! So helpful. I look forward to more tips, so keep it comin'. :)

wfrgms: $250 seems amazingly inexpensive. How many days did it take you to do the whole trip? (packing up, driving, unloading.) I'd want to give myself at least 4 days, and when I plug that in to Budget it's coming up around $900 for a 10' van. But I'd love to find the deal you had!

xiaolongbao: thanks for the tips. If I fly I'll be using your carryon tip for sure. And I'm going to bring abroad just what I can fit on my back!

micawber: so, within the US, would a lot of small boxes cost about the same as a few big boxes, if they add up to the same weight?

ThePants: like I mentioned above, I'm having a hard time finding rentals for under $900... maybe that's because I want it for 4-5 days, but do you have any tips for where else to look? I could pick up at Boston's airport and drop off at the one in St. Louis, MO.

It's made me wonder about renting a car (not a truck) and attaching a trailer to the back. Is that too risky? (I'd be nervous about taking turns, etc.)

Time to do some serious online price comparison, I think.
posted by inatizzy at 2:37 PM on January 12, 2009

FWIW, I agree 100% with renting a truck. I'd actually pay *more* to go that route than to pack stuff for shipping, and to ship it. (That seems like an amazing hassle to me.)

But as it turns out, it's probably cheaper anyway. Pack everything in boxes, pick up a truck, load it yourself (easy cheesy if you don't have furniture), and drive to your destination. Unload; drop off truck. I've done this countless times, and recommend it without reservation.

Good luck!
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:53 PM on January 12, 2009

Not sure if this helps any, but I left Ontario for British Columbia on New Years. Similar circumstances, small one-bedroom amount of stuff, $300 flight to get here. Decided on a moving company. One-way U-Haul was going to be twice the cost and I didn't want to drive for a week, and also taking into consideration food on the road and motels, etc.

The moving companies all tended to charge by the pound, and usually with a 1000lb minimum (rounded-up if the weight is less).

Sold almost all the furniture except for my armchair, bedframe, night table, and dresser. Wanted to keep them, sort of the basics you'd find in a motel/hotel room.

As each box was, well, boxed I numbered each with a pen, used a bathroom scale to weigh it, and kept a fairly detailed list of what was in it and its weight. This gave me a good idea of how I was doing against my target 1000lbs limit. Since the stuff is going into storage until I find more permanent accommodation in a desirable neighborhood, the list will help me locate the items I want in the meantime, as soon as the damn truck gets here. If you use a moving company, you might want to avoid the lowest bidder, and especially combined with an extended holiday period such as Christmas and New Years.

What went in boxes was definitely a struggle to judge what was worth keeping and paying moving truck shipping, versus what would be more easily replaced at this end, versus what I needed until the last day since the moving truck was dispatched to me before the holidays.

Things that were really important, I took on the flight. Things that were slightly less important I sent to myself by ground mail with tracking and insurance. Things that achieved the more expensive or inconvenient to replace than ship criteria, went on the moving truck. Everything else I sold or gave away via Kijiji/Craigslist. Unused non-perishables went to the local grocery store food bank bin.

For packing, if you're able to rent a car or get a taxi to a nearby moving or storage company office, they should have boxes and things like bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts to help protect the more fragile items.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:58 PM on January 12, 2009

One other thing, if you rent a truck and drive yourself, but need help loading, I've in the past just posted an ad online offering $20/hr times a couple of hours. I got several responses, and the guy I chose was a big help. I've moved a lot, almost always doing my own load/unload but it was definitely money well spent at a time when things are stressful enough.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:04 PM on January 12, 2009

Another truck option is Penske. I made a move from TN to DE. They were great and affordable. I was taking alot more (and driving a 25' truck). But this is always my preferred way to move.
posted by kimdog at 6:23 PM on January 12, 2009

inatizzy, you'd have to talk to the shipper about that. not sure about the per piece restriction.
posted by micawber at 6:46 PM on January 12, 2009

If you're still considering paying someone else to move things for you, is the site micawber mentioned above.
posted by po at 7:02 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

How long will you be overseas? If it is any serious length of time, sell the computers now while they still have some value.

Good for you on getting rid of the furniture. Make sure you are equally ruthless with everything else -- keep only the most important of sentimental items, and things that really do have a lot of value to you. Remember that if you are heading off for some big overseas trip, you will probably come back a different person, and some things that seem important now won't seem that way when you get back. Don't store for the sake of storing something, and don't store things that won't store well, especially if the boxes are going into a damp garage or basement.

Can you reduce your stuff to fit into a rental minivan or SUV? If so, that should be a lot cheaper than a big rental truck (less gas, if nothing else), and much more pleasant to drive. When I've had to rent cars, I've found that by searching each and every company, plus checking for AAA and other discounts, there is usually one deeply discounted deal that is much cheaper than the others. But it takes searching each website, plus sometimes phoning the companies.

Car rental companies usually forbid you from pulling a trailer with their cars, though there may be exceptions to this.

Finally, why do you think you will need five days to drive? Google maps says that it is 1200 miles, which is two semi-long days, or three super easy days. Even in winter weather (barring a major storm, of course), this is not a five day trip. Save money and get the vehicle for just the number of days you will actually need it.
posted by Forktine at 8:11 PM on January 12, 2009

I would look into a PODS, ABF, or similar freight situation again, but don't use their door-to-door option. Use the terminal-to-terminal option instead and rent a van on both ends. I recently completed a move from the Midwest to the East Coast and I used ABF and the whole process went pretty smoothly.

First a caveat. I opted not to rent a truck and haul the stuff myself because at the time, gas was still over $4.00/gallon and it made that option ridiculous

ABF's service is great. I used the ReloCube option and I was moving the equivalent of a studio apartment and still had room to spare. The main reason I decided on a cube was because the cubes are water-tight and the trailers they use aren't and I had some new furniture I was worried about. I also had a coupon that I searched for online which knocked $75 off the price.

I hired someone off of craigslist on the cheap to help me with my stuff on both ends. All in all, I think the total came out to about $900 (including the flight) which I thought was reasonable seeing I was researching prices double that renting a truck or doing the door-to-door option. If you do end up going with this option, be near manic about padding and securing everything. It's a freight company, not a moving company.

If you're leaving/selling your furniture, it doesn't sound like a ton of stuff. Considering your "best way" I would sell a bunch of stuff and send the rest using USPS. In general, I agree with Forktine about being ruthless about getting rid of stuff. I spent a good number of years overseas and came back to a basement filled with stuff that I eventually left or gave away because I didn't need them anymore. Good luck and have fun overseas!
posted by borjomi at 9:00 PM on January 12, 2009

you don't mention which country you'll eventually be moving to... but take that into consideration when you're selling/donating/tossing things. It may be cheaper to buy new (and so much less trouble!) than to haul your stuff across the world.
I live in China now and moved from the US. Regrets: bringing too much stuff. I highly recommend only taking your bare neccessities and maybe leaving most of your sentimental things with your parents and just taking some of it with you. Then your stuff won't be put at risk of being damaged or lost while on the container ship to your new country. One friend simply packed suitcases with the stuff they wanted to take, stored the rest locally in a long-term storage warehouse (cheaper than box storage) and took off.

Might it be cheaper to ship items to your new overseas home directly and skip the ride to your parents house? It might be worth contacting a company that moves overseas to get an estimate... our moving company stored/held the items as a courtesy until we had our new address and were ready to accept them. Or maybe you could store the boxes with a local friend since you don't have much and then ship directly to overseas address? It seems like a waste of money and resources to pay to move them twice.
posted by MuckWeh at 10:19 PM on January 12, 2009

I'm moving from DC to Kansas City, and yesterday I priced a 12' Penske truck that was under $600 after a "web discount." There was also this previous thread, where Penske is resoundingly praised. One poster mentions that they give a 30% discount just for asking, although I don't know if that works with the web discount. Or if it still works.

Finally, why do you think you will need five days to drive?
Forktine, the rental companies have a minimum rental period based on the length of the trip; one of the websites I was looking at (Budget?) claimed it was federally mandated.

My Penske quote was for *six* days, by the way, and I could only add days - 6 was the minimum.
posted by averyoldworld at 7:57 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Forktine, the rental companies have a minimum rental period based on the length of the trip; one of the websites I was looking at (Budget?) claimed it was federally mandated.

Yes, rental trucks do have long minimums, because they allow lots of time for loading and unloading. But rental cars have much more reasonable minimums, which might be a way to save significantly.
posted by Forktine at 9:01 AM on January 13, 2009

Consider too, taking photos of things that you feel sentimental about, but don't really see yourself using or even unpacking in the future. That's my latest scheme, since I have to incorporate some of my father's belongings into my own (already full) 50's tract home. We went the Re-Lo cube option and even though it cost us more than renting a truck and driving, I don't regret it. My husband and I would both have had to drive from Columbia, MO, since we inherited his vehicle and not being sure of the weather/tired/emotionally stretched, opted to stay together in his car and let the freight company handle the bulky stuff.
posted by jvilter at 9:20 AM on January 21, 2009

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