Shipping Computers and Other Hassles
February 7, 2014 2:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be spending 3 months in California, staying with my girlfriend, starting in March. I'm not moving house, exactly, but I do want to move some large/heavy/bulky things (like my beast of a desktop) and I'm not sure of the best way to go about it.

I'll be flying, not driving, because we'll be taking the cats (plus my car is *useless* for carrying anything bigger than a breadbox.) So I'll need to find another way to get the following there:

- Computer (large) and accessories, possibly including relatively flat-packable desk if that's cheaper than replacing it.
- Box of kitchen stuff, including possibly half-drunk bottles of very good scotch.
- Box of papers/books
- Probably another box of stuff I haven't thought of yet.

I could theoretically take stuff on the plane, but since we'll be traveling with two cats, anything we can do to simplify the flight is worth paying somewhat more for. (I'd rather not carry anything other than a shoulder bag if I can help it, let alone two pieces of checked luggage each.) Is shipping this stuff via UPS the way to go? How does one get proper packing materials for a huge Alienware desktop? Am I going about this completely wrong?

N.B.: This trip may turn into a long-term stay, which will involve a proper moving truck. It may not, so ability to reverse the process is a consideration.
posted by restless_nomad to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
Just take it to the UPS store and say "I want to ship this" and they'll sell you packaging for it and put it in the mail for you.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:22 PM on February 7, 2014

For the papers/books, I'd suggest USPS Media Mail. For best results and not making your postal workers hate you, split into reasonably-sized boxes if you can, since paper's heavy.
posted by asperity at 2:23 PM on February 7, 2014

Several years ago, my sister used Amtrak to ship bulky stuff from California to Austin. You might give them a call to see if it's a viable option.
posted by nightwood at 2:25 PM on February 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can also ship large items with greyhound.

Personally I would warn against USPS media mail, they have lost two boxes of mine and one of my sisters, and don't give much recourse other than I can go to Atlanta to try to find it. UPS has never done me wrong shipping-wise. They will also pack your stuff for you.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 2:30 PM on February 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Concur with Amtrak Freight but it comes with the big caveat that they do not offer this service at all stations, call the number at that link to find out. When I did it between San Diego and Austin I had to pick up from San Antonio, for instance.

They do not guarantee against damage for things like a computer and it's relatively slow. Your flight will beat your stuff to your destination by several days to a week. Have the computer insured and FedExed.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:31 PM on February 7, 2014

Ok, so we did this twice this year, including the two cats and super-heavy (and expensive and fragile) tower. My very strong recommendation is renting a minivan with Stow-N-Go seats. This can be surprisingly affordable, particularly when you factor in $75 per pet carry-on fee with your airline and checked bag fees and mailing crap fees, etc...

I assume you're going TX-CA? That is a super easy 3 day drive (I have made that drive for various reasons 3x this year). The Stow-N-Go seats fold flat into the floor so you're left with essentially a cargo van. Make the cargo van a cat playground (including a litter box and multiple hiding locations, food and water) devoting 2/3 of the van to the cats. Carefully pack the rest of your stuff in there two securing the load so you don't accidentally squish kitties.

Our kitties were super-cool with driving after some initial angst. What they really hate is being left in a crate. So the drive was very relaxed with a purring cat on my lap most of the way. We stayed at hotels that are pet-friendly. There are a wide variety that are pet-friendly, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The nice thing about the minivan is you can climb into the back to stuff the cats into the cat boxes before opening any exterior doors, preventing any possible escape attempts.

We lined the bottom of the van with a plastic tarp covered with an old comforter but didn't have any problems with "accidents" - the cats liked that they still had a designated litterbox, food area, etc., which I think lent some normalcy to the unfamiliar surroundings.

If you CAN'T rent a minivan and drive, I'd recommend:

Leave the desk, buy a sub-$20 one in California on craigslist.
Mail the box of papers/books media mail (cheap! should be around $20!)
Fly Southwest (free two checked bags! Cheapest carry-on pet policy at $75/pet!)

Good luck, this is surprisingly easy to do.
posted by arnicae at 2:33 PM on February 7, 2014

Agreed on the train.

Another option is to find someone on Craigslist to transport your stuff. Pay them half (or none) at the beginning of the trip and the balance once it gets there safe and sound. My brother did this in a Chicago-Seattle move.
posted by Madamina at 2:49 PM on February 7, 2014

I was able to take a tower computer/monitor set-up with me by stuffing it into a roller-suitcase, surrounding it with clothing and just paying for a checked bag. YMMV, but mine made it through without any issues/breakage. This was for a CO - > WA move.
posted by stubbehtail at 3:06 PM on February 7, 2014

Can't weigh in on the desktop, though I will say that I used excess baggage for heavy sensitive stuff when I moved cross-country via air. Yes, you pay $50, but you'd pay at least as much to ship, and it gives you a degree of peace of mind.

Re kitchen stuff and "stuff I haven't thought of yet": USPS for sure.

Re books and other media: USPS Media Mail. I shipped ten boxes of books cross-country for under $100.

You could also consider Amtrak for the kitchen and etc. shipments, but since you're already dealing with baggage and USPS, it might be easier to pay the slight premium just to have only two methods of transit.

Some UPS stores will pack items for you, which seems worthwhile in the case of a desktop PC if you're not intent on putting it in the cargo hold of the plane.
posted by Sara C. at 3:19 PM on February 7, 2014

Oh, and another note about Amtrak Freight, since it's been brought up.

They do not accept electronics of any kind. Anything with a plug is no-go. Your desktop PC would be absolutely out of the question.
posted by Sara C. at 3:20 PM on February 7, 2014

okay i kind of love arnicae's idea the best. do that if you can.

otherwise, take everything to ups. doesn't have to be in boxes. the only way you can reliably collect on insurance in case of damage is if THEY HAVE PACKED IT FOR YOU. ask me how i know. they will pack things exceptionally well if they are anything like my ups store.

fuck the desk. you can get a new one for cheap on craigslist if you don't care about amazingness.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:53 PM on February 7, 2014

nthing UPS ground for the desktop and other stuff. that's how i shipped my desktop from chicago to san francisco
posted by infini at 3:57 PM on February 7, 2014

I'd probably go for shipping everything with UPS or FedEx (leave the desk behind, those are easy to replace), and I'd also agree with having them deal with packing things up for shipping. Costs are dependent on the amount of weight, so try to weigh the items and use their shipping estimators before you get to the store.

If your desktop is liquid cooled, this may not be an issue, but one problem I've had when shipping desktops that have anything larger than a stock heatsink is that the CPU heatsink would slide or move around during transport and destroy the pins on the CPU or motherboard. So, you may want to make sure that the heatsink is well-secured or removed entirely before you move it.
posted by Aleyn at 4:59 PM on February 7, 2014

I'd take the desktop apart, pack it (motherboard with RAM and CPU in antistatic bag and box, heat sink and power supply in a box, video card in an antistatic bag and a box), ship the parts (except the case), and put the parts in a new case at the new location; keep the new case's packing material and ship the computer in it when/if you move back.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:31 PM on February 7, 2014

Response by poster: These are all great answers, keep 'em coming!

Monday, stony Monday, I wish I could do that (it'd be vastly cheaper) but it's an Alienware in a proprietary case. I used to work at Dell, and I would be shocked all to pieces if it were possible to find a case that would work without more effort than the savings would be worth.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:51 PM on February 7, 2014

From what I've seen online, in principle, if you have an Area-51 or an Aurora desktop, it should have a standard ATX/microATX motherboard, which will fit in any standard ATX case and can function without the other electronic boards Alienware put in there. You'd have to scrap the liquid cooler and replace it with something like a Cooler Master Hyper 212.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:26 PM on February 7, 2014

Response by poster: Well, I have made it to California (and mostly caught up on my sleep) so I figured I would post my final results.

I ended up a) driving my car myself with b) the big annoying computer riding shotgun and c) flying the cats on JetBlue. I shipped two boxes of random stuff UPS, two boxes of books media mail, and did end up taking all my free checked baggage, which was a pain in the back but not worse than that.

The cats... well, they survived. One of them meowed for ten straight hours despite the Xanax, and the other one had several bouts of diarrhea on the plane (ever tried to give a cat a bath in an airplane sink? I don't recommend it) but we made it, and they adjusted very nearly instantly. (Or, at least, when the pooper dried off from her mandatory shower.)

It was a kind of complicated week, logistically, but ended up being reasonably inexpensive. Plus living with my girlfriend kind of rocks :) Thanks, all!
posted by restless_nomad at 9:23 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I love it when people post the resolutions to their questions.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:00 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Freighter Canoe   |   Best Books for Ancient History? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.