I'm renting a van and moving myself. Tips, advice?
January 31, 2013 3:35 PM   Subscribe

A few questions about doing a longer trip to move myself and my stuff to a different city, for someone who hasn't done it before.

I have a small amount of kitchen stuff, plus the contents of one bedroom excluding most of the furniture. As far as furniture goes, I'm not particularly attached to most of it (Ikea), but I'll take it if I can (bookshelf, small chest of drawers x2.) Plus, one bicycle, a computer, monitors, and ~4 boxes of craft things.

The plan: I've rented a van, which I got a very cheap deal on - the company needs their vans to be moved from one city to the next, so total cost: $20 - including enough fuel to do ~90% of the trip. The catch: it's not a moving van, it's a campervan - one of these. I think I'll fit. If not, the bookshelves get left behind.

1) I've never done a long distance trip like this. Google maps says the total drive is 9 hours - if I start at lunchtime on Monday, and want to get there late Tuesday afternoon (unpack/return van Wednesday) - is this reasonable? How often should I take a break? How long a break?

2) There's no floods, fires or road closures on the way, it's the end of summer and the weather forecast looks boringly mild. What other contingencies should I have a plan for?

3) Any tips for securing items within the van? Should I be disassembling my bicycle, or is plan: just stick it on top likely to work? About half my stuff will be in boxes, the rest will be clothes/etc in suitcases/garbage bags. I have a roll of spare packing tape and some washing line rope, and one friend to help me pack it all.

4) Stuff to have separate/available for the trip and immediately after. Clothing, food, ???
posted by Ashlyth to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One day of 9 hours of driving is no big deal, as long as you have some good music or a book on tape or something... I would start at 7 or 8am on Monday, stop for lunch, and then finish the drive before dinner, with maybe one more stretching break in there. Although if there will be a lot of rush hour traffic where you're starting from or going to that would be an issue -- regardless of when you leave figure out where you're going to be from like 4:30-6:30pm, and try to avoid any major metro areas in that time.

But for me the priority would be to have more time to unpack versus less time in a car in one day. Doing a 9 hour drive in 2 days is crazy easy.
posted by brainmouse at 3:52 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

1. I normally drive for about six hours straight before my legs start hurting - so this sounds like a reasonable estimate. Take a break every time you feel sleepy because it can get really boring. It helps if you have something nice to listen to, like an audio book or good music. During my breaks, I go to the bathroom, stretch my legs, get something to eat or walk around for a bit. I usually take half an hour every four hours or so, but I'm used to driving a lot.

2. You can't forsee accidents, so I would turn on the traffic channel every hour or so to see if anything is happening. Also, there's also rush hour to account for. You might want to just sit out during rush hour times because otherwise, you'll be hanging in your car doing nothing useful.

3. If your car is pretty packed, you don't have to worry about securing things. Everything will be good to go. If there's a lot of empty space, I would take apart the big things (like your bike) so they don't come flying at you from the back.

4. Bring a physical map. GPS can and will fail you. It's always good to have an actual map as a backup!
posted by cyml at 3:54 PM on January 31, 2013

Best answer: I've done this a few times, only in my own car and not a van.

1) I'd say this is more than reasonable. 9 hours does not strike me as a long drive; I tend to get tired and spacy after about 11 hours driving. So I'd do it in one shot, on one day, leaving early in the morning. If you're doing it in two days, then you can pretty much stop whenever you want. If you're traveling through a lot of cornfields/desert/wilderness, stop when you see a gas station or rest stop. You don't want to need gas/water/a place to pee when you're an hour from civilization, that's annoying. I would leave very early on the Tuesday morning though, just in case. When I've done this, I've always been really impatient to unpack as soon as I arrive, so if you're the same you shouldn't have a problem getting the van back on Wed. And even if you don't want to do it, you probably should push yourself so you're not stressed Wed. morning.

2) Depending on where you plan to stop, I would either look up potential places to stay ahead of time, so you have a choice and don't have to scramble as the sun goes down in an unfamiliar place (that's if you're staying in the middle of nowhere) or make a reservation well in advance (if you're staying in a city or a town with something going on the day you're passing through.) Also, roads can always close at the last minute for accidents, random construction, etc, so it couldn't hurt to look at a map beforehand to see what alternate routes, if any, you might be forced to take. I'd bring a paper map, too, though I usually use my phone. Sometimes they're much more reliable.

3) Don't know.

4) For the trip, water bottles, and food like fruit that's easy to eat. Eye drops if your eyes are dry (my eyes always get dry when I'm staring ahead of me for hours.) Sunblock, since it's summer where you are - you can get seriously tanned in unfortunate ways from spending 9 hours in a car. And lots of music! For when you get there, basic paper goods and drugstore stuff so you don't have to run out and find a drugstore the minute you arrive. Make sure you have scissors and whatever other tools you need to unpack. Box cutters, maybe, and gloves if you're going to be carrying rough boxes. And pack a bag of essentials, the bag you'll take int the hotel (I assume?) with you, and also use the first night in your new place if you don't feel like going through your boxes. This would be the same stuff you'd pack for a weekend away.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:58 PM on January 31, 2013

Honestly, I would plan on leaving in the morning on Monday (in the sense of being all packed up and ready to go on Sunday night). In my extensive experience moving myself, the process of packing EVERYTHING into a van or car always takes a few hours longer than expected, even when you don't have too much to pack. I don't know how it happens but there's always just *stuff* that somehow isn't in boxes or that you planned to pack the morning-of and it takes a while.

It sucks to leave on a long drive at 4pm or 5pm when you had planned on leaving earlier. And if I'm wrong, and it takes you only an hour to pack up your van, score! You might make it in one day, or at least be able to finish your driving while there is still daylight out and a chance to stretch your legs with a walk.
posted by iminurmefi at 4:03 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sounds perfectly doable in one day to me, if you can get an early start (say, leave at 9am, an hour for lunch and another hour for a handful of brief breaks, and an hour for unforseen things = arrive at 9pm.)

If you haven't packed your stuff into a van for moving before, keep in mind that the constant vibration will bang things up anywhere they touch (both your stuff, and the van interior that your stuff is against, which the van owner might care about more than you care about the ikea shelving). That's what moving blankets are for, but towels or a few old tshirts will do in a pinch. Or just arrange things so that the cardboard boxes & bags protect any hard surfaces from each other.

Bring some food to eat while you drive.

Stop every couple of hours just for a few minutes of walking around, a drink of water, use the restroom somewhere: you'll feel a lot better. If you're on the interstates, use the rest areas.

If you have a mechanical problem, does the van company have a number for you to call? Or are you expected to deal with that on your own?

I second the recommendation for an oldfashioned paper map of your route.

Are there any steep grades (mountain passes, etc) along the route?
posted by hattifattener at 4:07 PM on January 31, 2013

Will you need to leave the van unattended while all your stuff is in side?
Be careful you don't get your windows broken and your stuff stolen.
It's a happened to many people I know doing the rental van move thing.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 4:09 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and: remember your stopping distance will be way longer than you're used to (and longer than the car in front of you, so leave some extra space), your turning center might be in a different place than you expect, backing up may be difficult, and that kind of thing.
posted by hattifattener at 4:15 PM on January 31, 2013

Response by poster: It's worth noting that starting early Monday morning is not an option - the earliest pickup for the rental is 10am, then I have to load it. With 2-3 people, I'm hoping it shouldn't take too long. Planning on an overnight stop will probably be easier.

I don't think there's any steep grades, etc, as the road I'm taking is the main freight route between the two cities.

Thanks for the advice on things to eat while I drive, having something to listen to, maps, etc - keep it coming!
posted by Ashlyth at 4:19 PM on January 31, 2013

Packing the van in advance? Be sure to lock the van! Put it in a garage if you can. Every now and then TV news covers the agony of some self-movers who have had all their possessions stolen.
posted by Cranberry at 4:27 PM on January 31, 2013

Best answer: If you are not used to driving a van, measure its height in advance, and double check all heights of low structures you have to go under. This won't be an issue on the road, but it might be when you pull off for parking, or on private property. The one time I used a van (and had some low-profile stuff on a roofrack on top), I drove into a parking building, reversed into a parking spot where the roof beams came rather low, and crunch! destroyed all the stuff on top (and scraped the van itself). This would not have been a problem if I had paid attention to the sign saying, "Low ceiling, no vehicles taller than..." and knew how tall the van + stuff actually was.
posted by lollusc at 4:42 PM on January 31, 2013

Best answer: "... 3) Any tips for securing items within the van? Should I be disassembling my bicycle, or is plan: just stick it on top likely to work? About half my stuff will be in boxes, the rest will be clothes/etc in suitcases/garbage bags. I have a roll of spare packing tape and some washing line rope, and one friend to help me pack it all...."

If you have quick change drop outs on the bike, take off the wheels, wrap the chain in newspaper and an outer layer of Saran wrap, and secure the frame with the rest of your load, possibly with bulk bungee cords. Find secure places for the wheels where they won't rub on other goods, and won't be crushed or distorted by shifting of other load items. Small boxes, baskets, and plastic tubs are better to pack in, easier to carry, and easier to secure than larger containers. Plastic tubs, in particular, are often designed to stack securely when filled, and nest when empty, and you can readily resell them via Craigslist, if you don't need them for long term storage at your destination. If you do, most are air tight, water and humidity resistant, and bug free in the long term, much more so than cardboard boxes, and if needs be, you can push/pull/drag them up stairs, and along floors with much better success, for much longer/farther, than you can with cardboard boxes.

Pad your load, if necessary, with your bedding. At your destination, it will be the first thing you unload, to get to the rest, so if it gets dirty (or dirtier), you can put it to wash and dry, while you unload the rest. Last thing you'll probably do on arrival is make up your bed, with clean bedding...

For safety in handling and braking, keep the majority of the weight of your load between the axles of your van. That means load relatively light boxes/tubs containing clothing, etc., and light furniture items like lamps, bedside tables, coffee tables, etc, at the back of the van (behind the rear axle), and heavier boxes/tubs containing books, and heavy furniture, dishes, etc., farther forward, in front of the rear axle.

Make sure your tires are fully inflated (to maximum sidewall label pressure) while cold, and before setting out (dealer or pickup point might not check, and a blowout/tread failure due to low pressure is easily avoided with a $5 truck tire gauge, and a 10 minute stop at the air station, when you gas up). Check all outside lights, especially headlights, brake lights and signal lights, before setting out. Check wiper condition and function. Check oil, coolant and power steering/automatic transmission and brake fluid levels before setting out, and at every gas stop (in a rental van, you never know if the last person to rent, or the last rental dealer just topped off fluids and sent you down the road with a slow leak in a major system. CHECK YOURSELF!! CHECK AT EVERY GAS STOP!!)

Drive slow - 45 to 50 mph. A loaded van, even with excellent brakes, takes longer than you think to stop, and besides, lower speeds improve your fuel mileage substantially. Also, a rental van may not have brakes in tip top shape.

Good luck with your move.
posted by paulsc at 4:57 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pack some cleaning supplies in a little box that you can access easily and quickly when you arrive and start unpacking. Pack a backpack or similar with overnight supplies for yourself for two or so days (clothes, toiletries, towel, any medications; maybe sleeping bag or similar depending on your planned sleeping arrangements). As was mentioned above, pack some healthy and easy road snacks (the "healthy" part really helps with alertness on long drives, I find). If you have a cooler, that gives you some additional options for food to take with.

If you can get multiple friends to help load the van, hold a moving party; buy everyone pizza and beer/soda once the van is loaded (even if it's just the one friend). Lift with your legs, not with your back, take breaks as needed while loading and unloading, etc. (giving your arms a repetitive stress injury mid-move is not a great idea - trust me on this one). So plan in some short rest breaks when thinking of how long loading the van will take. I find that it's often helpful to have one person (who is good at packing and arranging) be kind of more in charge of deciding where and how things will fit. Conflicting visions may result in poor packing and stuff-breakage, not because either vision was wrong, but because they were just incommensurate with each other.

Put heavy boxes with non-breakable items (eg. books) on the bottom (floor of the van, not so much on the seats, so that you don't leave permanent indentations from heavy things in the seat cushions). Make use of space within furniture (eg. pack clothes in garbage bags in dresser drawers - move the dresser frame with the drawers out, and then load the drawers back into the dresser frame once it's in the van; that sort of tactic). Your furniture should probably go on top of these heavy boxes. It depends a little bit on what exactly you have and the relative sizes and weights of things. Try to have everything heavy packed in regular-sized boxes, so that it can stay low down without complicating the van packing scheme. Try to pack things tightly so that they don't shift around - test this every so often as you are loading up the van. You want to avoid putting uneven weight and stresses on any given box or item, as well. If you end up tying things down inside the van to keep them from shifting, consider where the weight is and what directions things might want to shift in when you are speeding up, slowing down, and turning left or right, and plan your rope placement accordingly. A trucker's hitch knot is your friend. Practice Tetris between now and your move:P On preview: seconding paulsc's recommendations as well.

(There seem to be a plethora of online videos demonstrating techniques for packing boxes efficiently but carefully, if that is helpful.)

You will likely be a little bit tight on space based on your description of your possessions. Take furniture apart as much as possible to save on space. Put screws and similar hardware in a little plastic bag (one for each piece of furniture) and tape it to the furniture that it goes with.

Put the monitor face-down on a seat, unless you have a nice box to pack it in.

Wrap the greasy or dirty parts of the bicycle in garbage bags or something, as described in previous comments. If you're worried about it moving around, tie it down with some rope. Since it's just inside the van, you won't need anything particularly heavy duty by way of rope - the washing line rope should be fine. Make the decision on whether to disassemble the bicycle or not when you load it. You might not need to, in which case don't bother. If it doesn't fit whole, try just taking the handlebars and pedals off first.

I don't know what region of the world you are in and what the late summer temperatures are like. I suspect you may need to be careful that the inside of the van doesn't get overheated if you stop for longer driving breaks. Drape towels over temperature sensitive stuff (computer or similar electronics, vinyl records) if they end up packed where they might get sun through a window.

If you're not used to long road trips, stop and stretch every hour. If you listen to cds, you can stop every time the cd finishes to stretch and change the cd, for example. Have a short (eg. 10-minute) stretching routine so that your drive doesn't morph into 18 hours with driving breaks. Stretch your forearms, shoulders and neck, lower back, and legs (calves and thighs).

What everyone else said about driving a vehicle that is larger and has more mass than you may be used to.
posted by eviemath at 5:32 PM on January 31, 2013

Will your utilities be turned on? Have a torch, just in case you arrive to a dark apartment. Also have some pain reliever (you may be sore), some bath salts (a bath will feel great) and the tipple of your choice, so you can enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer when you're in the new place, even if you're just sitting on the floor. Good luck!
posted by cyndigo at 6:37 PM on January 31, 2013

Are you planning to sleep in the van overnight, or stop in a town and get a hotel room or something? If you want to sleep in it (I would - as bottlebrush tree mentions, it would make me nervous to have everything I owned just sitting out in a car all night), think of this while packing and try and leave a way to get the bed set up without unpacking the whole thing.

If you're not going to sleep in it, then it kind of depends on how empty the area you're driving through is - you might want to decide on where you're staying ahead of time and book it, then drive until however late it takes you, or you might want to look up a couple options and just tell yourself you will stop at the first place after 5pm or something.

I would aim to be halfway there by Monday evening. Then you'll probably be up pretty early on Tuesday (if you're in the van, it's unlikely to be as comfortable as usual, and if you're in a hotel, you'll have to check out) so you should be able to make it by early or mid afternoon.

Things to have available and not packed - a car charger for your phone, a book to read on your overnight stop, pyjamas.

And you should have some extra time, with the schedule you've given, so if there's anywhere along the route or slightly off the route that you'd like to see, go ahead and do it!
posted by jacalata at 8:08 PM on January 31, 2013

Best answer: Where are you staying when you get to your destination? New apartment? Hotel? Friend's house? That will affect what you need when you get there. But basically have accessible/available what you'd need for a few days' trip.

We did a three-day car trip moving from New Orleans to San Francisco last summer, so a few things about driving:
- Even if you have GPS or a smartphone, get paper maps. If you're in the US and you have AAA, I think they're free.
- If you plan on stopping overnight, reserve the room ahead of time. FWIW, we had good experiences staying in La Quinta Inns, and they have free breakfast.
- Bring food and water with you in the car so you have snacks and hydration.
- Podcasts are a great, free way to pass the time.
- Remember that you are going to be going more slowly in a van.
- I think we stopped every 3 hours or so. It's nice to just get out and stretch and use the bathroom and look at all the weird stuff they sell in rest stops!
- If you are staying overnight, if possible park the vehicle so that the big doors (on the side of that one I guess?) are against a wall, making it difficult/impossible to unload. That said, take anything mega-valuable/irreplaceable inside with you.
- If it's hot just be careful and keep an eye on the temperature gauge.
- If you don't already have roadside assistance, think about getting it.

In terms of the actual packing:
- It's worth it to invest in new boxes from a storage/moving place. They're not generally that expensive although I'd do a little comparison shopping. The great thing about getting these types of boxes is that they're all going to be uniformly sized, and the various sizes are designed to fit together nicely on each other. I tried to cheap out and use some random boxes discarded from work, but they made things awkward and they weren't as sturdy during the move. Suitcases are fine, but garbage bags are probably best left to in-town moves where you are throwing stuff in your car.
- It sounds overly anal, but it's actually less work overall to make a spreadsheet of everything in your boxes and just number the boxes. Then you aren't awkwardly trying to write on the boxes with sharpies. I printed out a bunch of numbered labels and also labels with my name and phone number. I also got some colored labels and organized the boxes by room so it was easy to know what goes where. I promise that a little forethought goes a long way!
- Use some bungee cords if you are worried about slipping.

If you are moving into an empty apartment, the only other thing that you're going to want to make sure you have is a shower curtain, liner, and rings. I have tried to take a shower without a shower curtain and I do not recommend it!
posted by radioamy at 9:04 PM on January 31, 2013

Oh I forgot to mention that there is one other advantage to having a spreadsheet with all your box contents - it makes things a lot easier if something happens to your stuff. Our storage unit got broken into, and I was able to pretty easily make a list of what was taken because I knew what was in each box.
posted by radioamy at 9:12 PM on January 31, 2013

Response by poster: Place I'm moving into is mostly furnished, just not the bedroom - I'm sharing. So there will be utilities, furniture, etc - and shops 15 minutes walk away.

A lot of things I hadn't thought of, so thankyou everyone! Will check back tomorrow for anything else.
posted by Ashlyth at 9:35 PM on January 31, 2013

Here are some tips that I've learned from many, many, many moves.

1. Don't move 'knock-down' furniture. It just wasn't meant to withstand repeated assembly and disassembly. The partical board will wear and it will be more and more wobbly and squeaky. Sell yours at your originating place, and then buy someone else's at your destination, or go back to Ikea and buy it new.

2. Don't take your clothing off of hangers. Tie groups of hangers together (with twine or rubber-bands), and cut a hole at the bottom of a huge Lawn and Leaf garbage bag. Slide the bag over the group of hangers, like a dry cleaner would. Now your clothes are protected, and very easy to pack, haul and unpack.

3. Ship your media. In the US we have media mail. Use small, sturdy boxes (the ones with lids that hold reams of paper at your job are PERFECT) and pack and secure them. Ship at media mail rates. Even beter, digitize all your stuff.

4. For the price of a cardboard box, you can probably get some nice plastic tubs with lids. These will be study in case something leaks, or it's wet outside. They stack a treat, and they can hold more and heavier stuff. When you're done with them, they'll all stack together for storage, or you can sell them to some other savvy mover.

5. If you must use cardboard boxes, go to a liquor store for them. They're a great size and they are very sturdy. Use the bottle separators for your glassware.

6. Wrap plates in plain newsprint and don't stack them flat, stack them on their edges. Much less chance of breakage that way.

7. Sell what you can, and only take expensive stuff and sentimental stuff. I have a set of dishes I bought for $20. It would be madness for me to move them. My mother's wedding china. Yeah, I've moved that plenty and I'm terrified to actually use it!

8. Label your boxes. I have a pretty photographic memory for crap. So if I can prompt myself, something like, Kitchen-Pots-Pans, is good enough. Even better, clear plastic boxes.

9. Use your towels, linens, pillows, etc, as packing and wrapping material. Two birds, one stone.

10. Take the bulbs out of your lamps!

Hope these help. You can do 9 hours in one day. And the vehicle looks like it's going to be a blast!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:27 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I disagree with 1-4 and 7... but really, your moving system matters less than picking a single coherent system rather than attempting to mix incompatible elements of different systems.
posted by eviemath at 9:52 AM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: It sounds like you have little or no experience with distance driving. I recommend stopping frequently; get a soda, have a bathroom/ fresh air break, take a walk, stretch, etc. It can turn a 9 hour drive into a 12 hour drive, but it keeps drowsiness at bay. I tend to get drowsy after 2 hours of driving, so I stop for a cola(ice & caffeine) and then am usually able to drive 4 - 6 more hours. If you are really drowsy, stop & have a nap at the next gas station, rest stop, etc. Bring a variety of music and/or podcasts. I love NPR-type talk radio for driving, as well as familiar music to sing with. There's a point at which more caffeine just makes you anxious, so pace the coffee.

If it's a passenger-type van open to the cargo area, remember that a sudden stop can send unsecured items sliding forward, so pay attention to whatever's behind your head. Bring chewing gum; it helps ease the drudgery, plus a bottle of water or 2, some fruit, and food for meals, like a couple sandwiches, granola, yogurt, some juice. I like to stop for coffee and snacks, just for the break. Pack a backpack or box with toiletries, towel, change of clothes, medications if needed, a book, and your sheets, to make bedtime easier.

I've slept in my car on lots of trips. On the east coast of the US, at least, rest stops on highways fill up with large trucks over the course of the night, blocking my ability to leave, and I felt vulnerable walking to the bathroom at night. Also, big trucks can be quite noisy. I usually stop at a gas station or restaurant if I want to catch some sleep.

Ask the van owner about their insurance, and what to do if there's any kind of breakdown. It's unlikely, but you should be prepared. You need a copy of the registration and insurance, and you'll definitely need your driver's license handy. Have a great trip.
posted by theora55 at 10:57 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: An update - the drive went well, and I arrived safely with all my stuff. Thanks everyone for the advice - it really helped!
posted by Ashlyth at 2:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the update.
posted by theora55 at 12:21 AM on February 7, 2013

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