Moving Cross Country on Budget: Book Rate/Media Mail and Other Questions
May 31, 2013 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm an academic, and am moving across the country (SF to Boston) for a one year gig. The new university is unfortunately not paying my moving expenses (nor a very high salary), and I'm trying to figure out the best way to get my stuff there. I'll be driving with a station wagon full of stuff, which should be fine for most of my stuff. But I'm not sure *all* of the boxes will fit, and I have a piano and couple of pieces of furniture that I would like to, but don't have to, bring. More below.

I've decided to send the books via book rate/media mail. That part should be pretty easy, and I'm happy to pay for insurance on them. I also have several boxes full of photocopied articles, manuscripts with notes, etc, related to my dissertation. Is it possible to send those via media mail/book rate?

Also, I have a beloved albatross in the form of a family heirloom piano, plus four small bookcases I love and a stationery desk I've had for 20 years. I was only in SF for a year, so the rest of my stuff is all on the east coast. I'd like to have everything in one place, and I have a place to keep the piano for the time being. But I would *really* like to have it in my new apartment. I got a quote for a piano mover for $1500, which seems reasonable, but I'm trying to figure out if I can have a moving company just bring the other stuff, which is light. Anyone have any luck moving a small amount of stuff with a mover, and if so, who was it? Or should I just let go of the bookcases and desk? I don't really want to, but I also don't want to spend thousands on this move.

If it helps, I am driving a large station wagon with a V6 engine, so I can take lots of stuff. Is a rooftop carrier an option? I was worried that heavy stuff might not do well in it.

I'd like to stay below $2500 all in if possible. I'll be camping and staying with friends along the way, so those costs should be low. Sounds like gas will be about $560.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!
posted by betsbillabong to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
ABF U-Pack might be an option. Give them a call and see what they say.

Any nationwide mover can give you a quote. I've used Bekins for cross-country moves and they've been pretty good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:29 PM on May 31, 2013

Seconding ABF U-Pack. I've moved MA->CA and CA->MA using ABF U-Pack (once the trailer, once the pod) and it was a good experience both times.
posted by disaster77 at 3:32 PM on May 31, 2013

You can certainly send those boxes media mail.

The other option, that I used when I went from Michigan to LA, was sending boxes via Greyhound. That's how I sent my speakers, since they were too large and heavy for most of the other options, and Greyhound handled them just fine, but it took about a week to get 'em.
posted by klangklangston at 3:35 PM on May 31, 2013

What about pulling a small enclosed trailer? Sounds like your furniture (minus the piano) would fit on one of those, and you might even have room for boxes.
posted by scratch at 3:41 PM on May 31, 2013
4.0 Content Standards for Media Mail
4.1 Qualified Items

Only these items may be mailed at the Media Mail prices:

a. Books, including books issued to supplement other books, of at least eight printed pages, consisting wholly of reading matter or scholarly bibliography, or reading matter with incidental blank spaces for notations and containing no advertising matter other than incidental announcements of books. Advertising includes paid advertising and the publishers' own advertising in display, classified, or editorial style.

b. 16-millimeter or narrower width films, which must be positive prints in final form for viewing, and catalogs of such films of 24 pages or more (at least 22 of which are printed). Films and film catalogs sent to or from commercial theaters do not qualify for the Media Mail price.

c. Printed music, whether in bound or sheet form.

d. Printed objective test materials and their accessories used by or on behalf of educational institutions to test ability, aptitude, achievement, interests, and other mental and personal qualities with or without answers, test scores, or identifying information recorded thereon in writing or by mark.

e. Sound recordings, including incidental announcements of recordings and guides or scripts prepared solely for use with such recordings. Video recordings and player piano rolls are classified as sound recordings.

f. Playscripts and manuscripts for books, periodicals, and music.

g. Printed educational reference charts designed to instruct or train individuals for improving or developing their capabilities. Each chart must be a single printed sheet of information designed for educational reference. The information on the chart, which may be printed on one or both sides of the sheet, must be conveyed primarily by graphs, diagrams, tables, or other nonnarrative matter. An educational reference chart is normally but not necessarily devoted to one subject. A chart on which the information is conveyed primarily by textual matter in a narrative form does not qualify as a printed educational reference chart for mailing at the Media Mail prices even if it includes graphs, diagrams, or tables. Examples of qualifying charts include maps produced primarily for educational reference, tables of mathematical or scientific equations, noun declensions or verb conjugations used in the study of languages, periodic table of elements, botanical or zoological tables, and other tables used in the study of science.

h. Loose-leaf pages and their binders consisting of medical information for distribution to doctors, hospitals, medical schools, and medical students.

i. Computer-readable media containing prerecorded information and guides or scripts prepared solely for use with such media.
posted by payoto at 3:42 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also have several boxes full of photocopied articles, manuscripts with notes, etc, related to my dissertation. Is it possible to send those via media mail/book rate?

It is very important to note that media mail has a poor reputation for everything arriving, or arriving in good condition. It does generally come through just fine - but if it were me, and my dissertation, I would absolutely not trust them to media mail. Insurance for books makes that part easy; your notes, however, cannot be replaced at all.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:50 PM on May 31, 2013

I would investigate shipping via Amtrak, as it's very inexpensive. I think $15 per package--size limits are, I believe, the dimensions of a pallet, and if you package your things actually on a pallet (shrinkwrapped and everything), I think there are no weight limits. They're good for moving furniture, and basically anything but appliances.

The downside is that they change per item per day for storage (I think $15, but could be less) if you're not able to pick them up on the same day.

I've never shipped via Greyhound, but if they treat customers' packages as badly as they treat their customers, I'd be afraid to let them handle anything remotely valuable. (Their people-moving model seems to be "anyone who could afford to drive or take any other form of transportation would, so fuck you, captive audience!" as the oversold bus drives away with your luggage on it but you on the curb.)
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:00 PM on May 31, 2013

Like I said, I've shipped a fair amount of stuff Greyhound, and they did a great job.
posted by klangklangston at 4:04 PM on May 31, 2013

I highly recommend Amtrak. Relevant AskMe is here.
posted by jabes at 4:09 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used an ABF trailer for a one-bedroom apartment and it worked well / was cheapest for me. However, it was well over $1K and almost cheaper to just re-buy everything at the destination - price out your options.

If you're moving for a job and working >39 weeks in the first year there, you should be able to take a deduction on your taxes for moving expenses, which is some consolation for how expensive moving is.
posted by momus_window at 4:52 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you need to hire a mover anyway for some of your stuff, look for movers that charge by the cubic foot. My cross-country Las Vegas to Central Virginia movers charged just under $4/ft^3 regardless of weight and that ended up being cheaper than media mail for my books.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:37 PM on May 31, 2013

I used UHaul's U-Box (it's like a Pod) to move cross-country. It was about $2000, and it fit everything in my one-bedroom apartment. Did it twice, actually, and both times went fine.
posted by meese at 7:58 PM on May 31, 2013

I sent my desktop, books and materials via UPS ground from Chicago to SF that worked out well.
posted by infini at 1:37 AM on June 1, 2013

If you're only moving for a year, I'd look into the cost of a storage unit (secure, climate controlled, etc.) where you are now for the piano, furniture, and anything else you don't absolutely need. If it costs less to store the items for 12 months than it would to move them twice (and remember the cost of having the piano tuned each time you move it, too), leave them where you are now and retrieve them when you move permanently. Ship only what you will actually need for the next year, and store the rest. Storage units are designed for situations like this: when you don't have room for stuff in your life now, but you will be able to take it back at a discrete, known time in the future. Just make sure it doesn't end up being a permanent solution, because it's way too expensive for that.

Also, can you scan those photocopies and notes? A standard photocopy machine should be able to scan reams of loose paper pretty quickly, and then you'll always have them. From what you've said, it doesn't sound like most of your paperwork qualifies for media mail status, which the post office, in my experience, is very strict about enforcing. Basically, media mail is books, films, sheet music, blank standardized test paperwork, video and audio recordings, scripts, single-topic reference charts, medical paperwork, and pre-recorded computer media. Some of your manuscripts may qualify, but if they have extensive personal notes written in them (as opposed to just editing and proofreading marks), you may find that they arrive with a bill for first-class postage, so I wouldn't chance it, because that's happened to me. Ask your local post office for more details. The regs are really complex, and I'd want to make sure you understand them completely before you trust a bunch of your stuff to them.
posted by decathecting at 8:49 AM on June 1, 2013

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