How to Prepare for a Long-Distance Move

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What’s the difference between preparing for a local move and a long-distance move? If you guessed “time”, that’s only part of the equation.

You have lots of options to prepare for, and unlike a local move, there are more steps you need to take for better results. After moving people for, give or take, a couple decades, here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to preparing for a long-distance move.

What transportation should you get for a long-distance move?

Unless you’re selling everything you own and driving into the sunset, you’re gonna need something safe and reliable to get all your stuff to your new place.

What you need depends on your unique move. Don’t worry, you’ve got choices. Here are your best transportation options for a long-distance move.

Legend: $ out of “$$$$”

Get a Rental Truck

The three major rental truck companies you’re likely to have access to are U-Haul, Budget and Penske. (There might be alternatives near you for you to check for better prices.)

It’s true that you will get a better mileage rate for doing a “one way” drive (taking a rental vehicle from one store to another store), but your invoice will still likely be considerably higher by the end. If you’re willing to drive, though, this could save you plenty of money over other options.

Pros: Most affordable long-distance move option.

Cons: Much fewer customer service options, way more time investment, no labor estimate, very difficult without movers.

Price: $$

Moving far away?

Do it cheaper.

 

HireAHelper.com can save up to 40%, compared to traditional interstate moving companies. Click here to learn how.

Hybrid Long-Distance

What if you don’t want to figure out where to get the truck? (Or you don’t want to drive it?) Well, Hybrid-Interstate is an attractive option.

For long-distance moves only, HireAHelper connects the dots and pieces together the best value of labor and transportation companies for you, so you don’t have to spend eternity calling a million businesses. All the customer service and insurance options stay under one roof too, so it’s not only cheaper than Full-Service, it’s a heck of a lot easier.

Check out the rates here. If you’ve already budgeted for a Full-Service move, you may be pleasantly surprised how much it can save you.

Pros: Your move is figured out for you, the best-reviewed moving service online.

Cons: More expensive the more stuff you have, less affordable than a DIY move.

Price: $$$

Renting Space on a Truck

ABF

This is the service a lot of the big-rig companies offer; you’ve probably seen their trucks on the road: ABF/UPack, Old Dominion, and more.

This is how it works: a trailer is dropped off at your home, you load your stuff (or have someone load it for you), and you partition it off to keep it separate from other customers’ belongings.

A driver will come to take the trailer away and drive it to your new home. Sharing space on a trailer with other people who are moving is a cost-effective way to get your belongings across the country because you only pay for the space on the trailer you take up. Beware, these trailers don’t offer the smoothest ride, so you really need to protect your stuff with smart loading.

Pros: You pay only for the space you use, transportation all taken care of.

Cons: Often less flexibility with loading and unloading dates, high claims rate.

Price: $$$

Get a Portable Moving Container

PODS.com

Moving containers are ultra-convenient for long-distance moves for a few important reasons.

The biggest plus for moving containers is being able to load your belongings at your own pace. Companies like PODS bill you monthly (while others are at least give you a few days). Like a freight trailer but a lot smaller (another bonus for people who don’t have their own private driveway), your portable container is dropped off empty and picked up when full, then kept in storage untouched until you request delivery at your new home.

But be aware: unlike more traditional self-storage, access to your portable container is only easy if you keep it in your front yard; an appointment is generally necessary and will cost you extra, so plan ahead.

Pros: The most flexibility of any long-distance moving option, transportation is taken care of.

Cons: Costlier the more items you own, can add complexity if you send your stuff into their storage units.

Price: $$$

Get a Quote from a Full-Service Moving Company

Two Men and a Truck

If money and time is no object, call a Full-Service moving company. They can assess your home and schedule a crew of movers to come with the packing supplies to pack, load, drive, and unload your stuff within the month of your choosing.

Pros: Your move done for you, minus the coordination.

Cons: Almost always the costliest option, lengthy to coordinate and requires more time.

Cost: $$$$


Wondering which option is best for your move? Go ahead and ask the pros.

How long does it take to pack for a long-distance move?

Here is, generally speaking, the time-required estimates for packing a home:

  • Studio/1BR Apt – 1 Day*
  • 2BR Apt – 1-2 Days
  • 3BR Apt – 2-3 Days
  • 2BR House – 2-3 Days
  • 3BR House – 3-4 Days
  • 4BR House – 4-5 Days

* “One day” is about eight hours of one-person packing.

Knowing this, the single best strategy for packing is to start well in advance of when you think you should start, no matter which transportation option you choose. (In all my experience, I never heard someone say that packing took less time than they expected.)

Tips for fast packing

Try this: pick a closet or a room, or even just part of one room, and time how long it takes to pack.

This may give you an idea of how long it will really take you to pack up your entire home – and it will probably start looking like it will take much longer than you originally thought. Fair warning.

Make a checklist of the kinds of things you don’t need for a while. This can help minimize time spent deciding what to pack once you get started and are faced with that mountain of accumulation in the closet or the spare room.

The Most Trusted Moving Checklist on the Web

The Moving Checklist: Everything You Need to Know to Move

Things you don’t need for a while often include:

  • Out-of-season clothes
  • Holiday items
  • Books
  • Sentimental items
  • Decorations
  • Seasonal bedding

Even if you are undecided about what to do with some of your belongings, other groups of items are a no-brainer. Get them packed and out of your way.

Shelve the sentimental. You will undoubtedly come across stuff you think you might want to get rid of but aren’t quite sure. Expect it, and set all that stuff aside for later. The monstrous task of packing tends to make people see with much more clarity what they really need and what they can let go of.

Label boxes as you go! You will forget what is in all those boxes. Trust me.

DO NOT pack important paperwork, forms, documents. Shred those you don’t need. Things to to not pack away include:

  • Cash, credit cards, checkbooks
  • Bank and other financial statements
  • Insurance documents
  • Jewelry, high-dollar jackets/coats
  • Laptops/tablets w/cords, data backups
  • Medical/dental records, prescriptions/medicine
  • Personal documents, professional files/papers
  • Cell phones, chargers
  • Car/House keys
  • Family photos/irreplaceables
  • Identifying documents – birth certificates, social security cards, drivers licenses, passports

And get used to the idea of having boxes around.

Where can I get packing materials for a long-distance move?

The easiest way to get clean, sturdy boxes and packing paper are from your moving service provider, who often sell these things. Many self-storage facilities also carry these things, along with tape. Though from a price perspective, you might be better off getting it from a home improvement store.

If you are looking to shave some dollars off your move, check out where you can find some free moving boxes here.

Protip: Bubble wrap is an attractive option for particularly expensive/hard-to-replace breakables, but it is bulky and becomes expensive quickly. Packing paper is more than adequate for packing most things. It is also easier to handle. Make sure you use the right kind of tape, too.

For some extra padding and protection for your most important and fragile items, consider using clothing/towels to wrap those items and/or line your boxes.

How do I load my vehicle for a long-distance move on my own?

Deciding to go it alone? Make sure to do this:

Load your belongings in what movers often call tiers. This means building walls, i.e., vertical layers of furniture, boxes, and assorted loose items. Furniture pads are crucial for this.

For example: set down your dresser and a desk (padded of course), some not too heavy boxes set on top of them, and top them off with outdoor equipment, pillows in plastic bags, etc. This all makes up one-tier.

Build one tier at a time, mixing furniture, boxes, and miscellaneous stuff. Cluster your items together like this to keep your stuff safer in the long run. Naturally, not all your tiers will be uniform. It is critical to pack tightly to avoid having everything shift and bounce around in transit.

To learn how pro movers move heavy furniture, check out this detailed post.

How do I move long-distance with a pet?

This, obviously, depends on the pet. For a typical dog (or cat), some rules of thumb include:

  • Minimize anxiety with a toy
  • Ask for help watching your pet
  • Build a safe space during load/unload
  • Keep them tagged
  • Keep medication unpacked, if necessary
  • Feed them lightly

If you want to learn all the little details of how to move with a pet, check out this post.


Got more questions?

We’ve got plenty of info in the form of reviews from customers of Penske, Budget and U-Haul on Moving101, as well as some alternative companies to look into for comparison shopping.

The 3 Things to Never, Ever Procrastinate on When You Move

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Procrastination, as a strategy, is starting to get more and more interest from the scientific community.

For example, Adam Grant points out in his book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” that Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright and Leonardo Da Vinci were all notorious procrastinators. And hey, it worked out pretty well for them, so what’s the big deal? This train of thought has given me plenty of ammunition to justify all the times I’ve procrastinated for a test, a presentation, or heck, a daily shower.

But I know that one of these times this strategy is going to really backfire. Life is going to punch me in the mouth and, if it weren’t for my wife, our recent move would have been a disaster.

So Abraham Lincoln aside, here are a few areas where procrastination is absolutely not the best strategy. Take it from me, I’m an expert.

Finding All Your Moving Boxes

For our move, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say we used 50 boxes. And I’m talking good sized boxes, like the kind a kid would hop into to pretend they’re an astronaut.

So let’s compare approaches:

Procrastination Chris: “Oh, you know, we’ll figure it out. A couple nights before, we’ll go into a Wal-Mart and ask if they can spare a few extra boxes. That should be easy.”

The reality: Retailers aren’t always on board with giving away their extra boxes. I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s like going into a restaurant at the end of the day and asking for any spare food; On paper, it makes sense since they’re gonna throw it out anyways. But in practice? Places of business don’t want to deal with this every single day.

My wife’s solution: Reaching out to friends who work retail weeks in advance, then getting the boxes in. She began the process weeks before, rather than a few nights before.

Booking the Moving Truck

I feel like anyone who buys a pickup truck automatically puts a bullseye on their back. You really need to start coming up with excuses for why you can’t help everyone in town move well before you put down your first downpayment.

Case and point: I remember being at a buddy’s bachelor party down in South Carolina and everyone that showed up had a pickup truck. Ford F-150, 250, even the 550, which is a monster truck that also fires off a cannon. I looked around and thought, “Man, if you ever have to move, you’ve got a small army here!”

But in most places, a lot of people don’t even own cars, let alone pickup trucks. And no offense to your buddy with a Mini Cooper, but that’s not gonna get the job done.

Procrastination Chris: “Eh, we’ll just get a U-Haul. Easy!”

The reality: Moving trucks aren’t totally simple. For one, they don’t have a normal rearview mirror; They’ve got these big side mirrors that stick out to give you a view when backing up. If you’ve never driven one before, it’s a lot to get used to. And maybe it’s just me, but it’s amazing how accustomed you get to a backup camera once you have one in your car. Without a backup camera and none of the “beep, beep, beep-beep-beep”, I’m surprised anyone before 2007 ever had a scratch-free bumper.

Most importantly, moving trucks get booked ahead of time. Yeah, that means you’re supposed to coordinate your move date with the date you need the truck, usually well ahead of time – especially during the busy season. Oops.

My “I got lucky” solution: One of my buddies loves helping people move. It’s like having a friend who enjoys doing taxes. He once drove a U-Haul from Chicago to New Orleans, so driving this one a couple block was small potatoes. Phew.

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Getting Help From Your Friends

In fairness, I sent out a calendar invite at least three weeks, maybe a month in advance to some co-workers and another friend.

I cannot, cannot, cannot stress this enough! Without a minimum of four regular friends helping out, I don’t think any move has ever been possible. And yeah, I know there’s an exception out there: the dude who sleeps on an air mattress and only owns like two outfits. But for the vast majority of us, we actually need help moving all of those boxes.

This is where procrastination can backfire big time. If I would have reached out only the day before – nevermind the morning of – they could have all had other plans and/or they could have quickly come up with an excuse. (“I, uh, gotta walk the dog.”)

This is one you don’t want to leave up to chance. Even if it works, it’s sort of like when a basketball player fires up a terrible shot and the coach screams, “No! No! No!”, but then it goes in anyway and they let out a sigh. Yes, procrastination may work every now and then, but not a great long-term strategy. Especially for moving.

My “hope-they-still-talk-to-me” solution: Very patient, very tired friends.

Make Moving Not Suck

Everyone’s moving situation is different, whether the city, suburbs or small town. I think back to that fleet of pickup trucks in South Carolina; Some people are lucky or they’ve got all their buddies around with the right vehicles for a move. They’re all set.

But for most of us, we’re not so lucky.

Most moves involve someone fresh out of college with their mom and dad, and the dad is getting upset because his kid procrastinated, and now his back hurts, and the mom is upset because the dad is upset, and then someone’s like, “Hey, you can’t park here,” and the mom looks over at the dad before he snaps, “Carol, I know, but I have to go feed the parking meter!” All the while the kid’s younger sibling is on their phone taking a selfie (#MovingDay). And everyone is about one step away from not getting together for Thanksgiving.

It’s not worth having one of the worst days of your life with your friends and family. Find some help. If you’ve got the friend brigade of pickup trucks, awesome. If not, hire it. It’s cheaper than you think.

And whatever you do, just don’t procrastinate on this one. No matter what DaVinci says. 


Chris O’Brien is an author writing out of Chicago. His latest release, “Moving Sucks”, captures all the pain of moving day, but with a comedic twist. Watch for its release on Amazon.com this November. For more info, email Chris@mediumraresizzle.com.

Movehacks: How to Unpack and Organize Before, During and After You Open a Box

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Some people tell us unpacking is the most enjoyable part of their move. (“It’s like Christmas!” they say.) Others dread unpacking like nothing else in the world. (“It’s worse than a triple root canal!” they cry.)

Either way, unpacking can quickly turn your new home into an ocean of cardboard and newsprint. To make the process more manageable – dare we say more enjoyable? – here are some industry tips for getting your unpack off to a raging start.

What to Do Before the Unpack

Yeah, you gotta clean before you unpack 

You might not want to hear this right off the bat, but be prepared to clean before you begin to unpack. Even if it’s just wiping the shelves and countertops and giving the floors a quick sweep, unpacking in a clean home is infinitely more pleasant than unpacking in a dusty one. These items definitely take priority when it comes to cleaning:

  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Refridgerator
  • Bathtub and bathtub jets
  • Stove
  • Inside the washing machine

For more a more in-depth look at the how and why for house prep, check out this post.

Don’t unpack from down on the ground, clear some counter space

In the kitchen or dining room, do whatever you need to do so you can get your boxes up high. Why? Because you’ll need that counter space to place boxes on before you carry your things around your new place.

Why on a shelf? Because if you unpack from the place you dropped down that heavy box, you’re going to feel it in your lower back the next day. And week. Trust me, unpack up high. Always.

Unpack to shower and sleep first

No one in the history of unpacking has ever unpacked in one day. Unless you think you can be the first, don’t wait to unpack your bedding, set up your bed, hang your shower curtain and dig out what you need to feel clean and refreshed after a long day (or week? or month?) of moving.

Protip: Yes, this involves a little foresight when packing. Mark the boxes that contain the things you want to access first. (This may also include real plates, glasses and utensils to make you feel more at home when you sit down for dinner that first evening.)

What to Do During the Unpack

Unpack the “easy” boxes first to make room 

It takes almost no time to unpack your books and stick them on the shelves of your bookcase. In a matter of minutes, you can transfer your t-shirts and jeans from boxes to dresser drawers. And for goodness sake, get those massive and bulky wardrobe boxes unpacked and out of the house!

Go about halfway with the pictures 

Unpacking large pictures, mirrors and paintings is also quick, and you can then get rid of those bulky mirror cartons. Some folks, however, suggest hanging your pictures up early on to give your new place that homey feel. I say lean them up in a corner somewhere until you get all your furniture in place. Later on, you can do the “a little to the right…a little more…no back left…no not that much…okay there, no, a shade higher…yeah, that’s perfect” thing.

Make a quota of boxes unpacked per day and stick to it

If you are the motivated type, feel free to skip this tip. If you are easily distracted and tend to put things off, you might find it helpful to …. Hey, are you listening? …  set goals for yourself. Commit to unpacking one room per day, six boxes per hour, whatever. And reward yourself for sticking to your plan by going out afterward. Just remember how satisfying it will be when you’re all finished. 

Repack what you don’t actually need for storage

As you empty your boxes, set aside those items you decide you won’t need right away – or for a long time. Keep a few of those now-empty boxes handy and consolidate those items you put aside for quick transfer to the basement, the attic or the back of your closet.

Protip: Just as you did when you first packed, write the contents of each box with a marker as you go through your consolidation.

Don’t unpack the TV

The ultimate distractor. Do unpack the tunes, though. 

Purge. Again

We suggest purging while unpacking. On move after move, it’s common to see people wait for weeks (or months) for the family’s stuff to arrive. Living without most of their stuff, they often realize that so many things were unnecessary. And while packing stuff in a box allows you to forget about it, having to unpack it and find a place for it helps you decide whether you really need it. As with the stuff you’ll be storing in the attic or the basement, set up a box or two for these things you’ve decided to part with.

What to Do After the Unpack

Hide your paper trail

Keep a couple of medium-sized boxes on hand, and use them to stash all the packing paper that would otherwise turn the floors of your new home into a churning sea of crumpled newsprint. Flattening and folding all that paper will save a lot of space – if you have the time and patience – but doing so also helps you find smaller items that can go unnoticed and disappear forever. I can’t count how many times a customer dropped their used moving boxes off at our warehouse with items still buried in the packing paper inside.

Protip: Packing a large box with flattened paper can make it surprisingly heavy. Medium boxes are more manageable in this respect.

Now, about getting rid of all those boxes…

First, get them out of your way. The garage – if you have one and there’s room – is the obvious choice. (Think twice before stashing them in the basement “temporarily”.) If the weather is good and it feels appropriate, start breaking down your empty boxes and putting them out by the curb. Unless your new home is on a cul-de-sac it may not be long before you see passer-by stop and take those boxes off your hands. If this doesn’t work, here are three ideas that don’t require a box-hungry passerby.

  • If you have the time, the storage space and the mental fortitude try passing on your boxes to someone else who is getting ready to move. Facebook groups and Craigslist are two widely-used resources for advertising moving boxes for sale or for free.
  • Some moving companies will be happy to take your boxes and your packing paper off your hands. If none of the smaller local movers will take them, check for national van line agencies in your area (like United, North American, Atlas and Allied). The agencies I worked for never bought used boxes from people, but we were always happy to take them if they were in decent shape. 
  • Recycle if you can’t find someone who will reuse them.

Unpacking can prove a more formidable task than expected. Whether you think it’ll be like Christmas or a root canal, putting these tips into practice will help you feel at home faster.

Then you can sit back and watch the TV.

Every Place You Can Get Free Moving Boxes

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People say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, how about a free box? We hear a lot about those, but where are they?

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