Best way to move a small amount of stuff cross-country?
December 28, 2015 2:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving with a relatively small amount of stuff (probably 15-20 boxes, either no furniture or only small pieces) across the US (DC to Seattle) next month. I've done this before via USPS, but I'm wondering if there are other options I haven't thought of. Would like to keep this under $1,000.

There are a couple of reasons I am hesitant to do USPS again this time:

- I have more heavy stuff than I did back then (mostly nice kitchen gear)
- I don't have a car, so a service that doesn't involve lugging 20 boxes to the post office would be nice (I realize this may be at odds with keeping this under $1,000)
- I'll be staying with a friend when I first get to my new city, so I'm interested in services where inexpensive storage is an option.

I've looked into various pod options (none of which seem to be small enough for my needs and I would rather not pay the ~$1800 for space I'm not using), and Amtrak/Greyhound (which are nice and cheap but have the same issues as USPS). I'm interested in Fed Ex/UPS because they will pick my boxes up, but I'm concerned it will end up being super-expensive. I'm also wondering if there is a super-small-move service I'm missing out on - a smaller pod? A moving company that will handle extremely small moves? (I used a proper moving company last time, and even with all my furniture, I was at about half-capacity for their smallest move and it wound up costing close to $3,000, so I think this is out, unless there's a moving company that will take and only charge me for my small load.)

I've looked at the older questions on this topic but most seem to be at least a few years old or for people with some furniture and I'm hoping there's been some sort of innovation on this front!
posted by lunasol to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Doesn't Greyhound have a pick-up service in the US? I used Greyhound when I got stuff from Saskatoon to Toronto for my sabbatical --and vice versa. They had a small charge to pick up and drop off material.
posted by jrochest at 2:52 PM on December 28, 2015

I can't offer a cheaper alternative to USPS, but can any of the items you're moving qualify for the USPS Media Mail rate (scroll down here)? There's a breakdown of the content requirements here.
posted by juliplease at 2:53 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

ABF Upack Cubes.

Basically they deliver a container. You fill it up with your stuff. They pick it up and deliver it for you to unpack at the distant end. Based on your description I think this cube would work for you (check out the video) it's basically the size of a Uhaul trailer. Ask about storage. Most places will store for you.

I'd consider them for a long distance move in a heartbeat.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:06 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recently emptied out a storage unit of similar kinds of items and shipped them over a 10-hour drive, and I was really happy with U-Haul's pods ("U-Boxes"). They're smaller and cheaper than the PODS brand, but they have the same options where they'll ship them for you, deliver them to your location at either end, pick them up again, and store them for you at a local U-haul location until you're ready for them. I don't remember the cost, and it wouldn't be the same anyway because I did all the retrieving at either end of the trip myself, but they were more widely available than a lot of the other pods, and I know I didn't spend $1000.
posted by dust.wind.dude at 3:12 PM on December 28, 2015

Response by poster: Hey, just to head off the pod/Upack recs: I've looked into POD, UPack, and several other services like that and as I said in my question, most of the quotes I've seen were around $1,800, for a container that is at least twice the size of what I need. However, if anyone knows of a service like that which is smaller than UPack Relocubes (which my research shows are the smallest, and still $1400), please let me know. Thanks!
posted by lunasol at 3:13 PM on December 28, 2015

Best answer: I'm unaware of anything smaller in terms of container shipping, but would second USPS Media Mail even if you've got to repack boxes to make it work. That is the best deal that exists in shipping. (Just try to make the boxes a smallish size, since books/CDs/DVDs are heavy.) Doing the rest by parcel post's not bad if you can pack it well. Downside is that you'd likely want to use a car or truck to drop off and pick up at the post office at either end, but it's probably cheaper to rent a car for a day via one of the car-sharing services (or the $20 truck from Home Depot) than it would be to pay for more expensive shipping.

About storing your stuff on the other end of your move while you're staying with friends: many storage facilities give you a free month up front, so as long as you're not planning on renting a storage unit long-term, it can be remarkably cheap to get a small unit for a month or two. (They're hoping you'll just forget or give up on ever moving your stuff into your new place and keep renting the thing forever.) Go with whatever's most convenient to where you're staying and offers a good deal.

The last time I moved, all the non-USPS options came out at least double the cost or a lot more inconvenient (transportation to regional train/bus stations, palletization requirements.) Another relatively cheap option's renting a truck and driving it yourself cross-country, but it really doesn't sound like you have enough stuff to make that worth the bother.
posted by asperity at 5:14 PM on December 28, 2015

I moved across country in April and had a similar amount of stuff. I ended up hiring movers because I also had a couple nice pieces of furniture that I wanted to keep. However, I found that generally you pay for both speed and convenience. UPS/FedEx are fast and convenient, but not cheap. The USPS is cheapish, but not very convenient. Amtrak is extremely inconvenient but cheap. I didn't look into the pods because I was moving from Brooklyn and there was nowhere to keep it.

Also keep in mind how quickly you'd want the stuff on the other end--media mail is a great deal but it can also be extremely slow and unpredictable.

I wish the answer was better, there really aren't any great options that I found.
posted by Automocar at 5:25 PM on December 28, 2015

When I did this in July, Amtrak was the clear winner even when factoring in rental car costs and a handicap for effort.

Amtrak was 4x cheaper than UPS/FedEx. Greyhound's door to door delivery service was also maybe 3x cheaper? It depended a lot on the delivery locations I think. I didn't look into USPS Parcel Post for this move, but previous experience suggests they're not that much cheaper than UPS/FedEx. Media mail will be cheaper than Amtrak, but not by a ton (~$0.50/lb vs ~$0.75/lb). We had 16 boxes and about 350 lbs of stuff and it came out to ~$200. We sent 4 boxes UPS and paid about the same amount or even a bit more. Point being, the savings are definitely big enough to pay for a rental car and still have a chunk of money left over (especially if you rent from a non-airport location). Many Amtrak locations have loading docks, so getting your stuff in and out is pretty easy and they have carts you can use. There are a bunch of of old AskMes that I found to still have good information.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 6:47 PM on December 28, 2015

Nthing Amtrak. I've reccommended it multiple times in Ask. Cheap but slow - will get the job done.
posted by bendy at 8:43 PM on December 28, 2015

The Seattle Amtrak station has good loading arrangements; indeed, the only thing that makes it inconvenient is that it's central in a gridlocked city. Avoid it on game days. Other than that, it worked great for me. Welcome to Seattle!
posted by clew at 10:09 PM on December 28, 2015

It has been years but FWIW, I had about 20 boxes and 3 pieces of furniture to move from PA to CO. I priced uHaul and Penske and thought, what the heck, I'll get a quote from an actual mover. I went with that. It went on a truck that was taking items from 5 other households. I had to be somewhat flexible re pickup and drop off. And when I considered the cost of a rental with gas, it was seriously competitive. I also considered the cost of hotels and food, my time, and that an actual burly person did all the hardest work. They'll quote you over the phone.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 4:47 AM on December 29, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, all. It looks like Amtrak or good old USPS will be my best bet after all. Guess I'll just have to get a zipcar and round up a very nice friend to help. Buuuuut ... I won't actually be doing the shipping for a couple of weeks, so if anyone else reads this and has another suggestion, I'm all ears!

I priced uHaul and Penske and thought, what the heck, I'll get a quote from an actual mover. I went with that. It went on a truck that was taking items from 5 other households. I had to be somewhat flexible re pickup and drop off. And when I considered the cost of a rental with gas, it was seriously competitive. I also considered the cost of hotels and food, my time, and that an actual burly person did all the hardest work.

I already have my plane ticket (which was very cheap, I guess January is a cheap time to go to Seattle!), so no hotel or food costs involved. But yeah, it would be very nice to have a burly person do the hardest work!
posted by lunasol at 6:11 AM on December 29, 2015

it would be very nice to have a burly person do the hardest work!

So call some movers and get quotes. You can let them know you have to have a pickup before X date and they can tell you when they can deliver.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:50 AM on December 29, 2015

Best answer: Have you looked into uShip? It's an eBay-like service where you list what you have, where you need it shipped from and to, and on what dates. Truckers that have extra space (who are on a return trip, for example) will bid each other down on what price they're willing to do it for. I've used it several times for moves and have always been very satisfied with the price and service.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:57 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, BuddhaInABucket - hadn't heard of UShip but just put my move up there, so we'll see if I get any bids!
posted by lunasol at 4:29 PM on December 29, 2015

Get real-time quotes! I recommend CFR Rinkens shipping company- similar to uShip but you're going to get a more personalized, trustworthy experience. They'll provide you door-to-door service. Also, if you've thought about shipping your car, that's their specialty. A lot of people disregard the idea of shipping cars domestically but it can handled for a lot less money than most expect.
posted by evcourtexaminer at 12:42 PM on January 7, 2016

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