Here’s the way things started: I had an opportunity, a big one, but I needed to move across the country to take it. And I had to take some of my stuff with me.
But the biggest issue? The move needed to happen in April, and I would be traveling across the northern part of the country from Idaho to Pennsylvania, plowing through late winter snows and other potential issues.
Oh, and I’d be doing it alone.
I started off with a plan, some goals, and some ideas of how things would go. And as is typical of these kinds of adventures, not everything went smoothly. Here is what I learned on my long distance solo journey.
I Went With a Rental Truck
One of the first moving related decisions you have to make is what how to move, including if you should go with a rental truck.
You ultimately need enough room, but you don’t want to pay too much. If you opt for a rental truck, you need one that is reliable the whole way across, and that gets as good of fuel economy as you hope for from a large vehicle. (You will save a lot of money driving your own truck versus a Full Service option, but it’s still roughly a $1,000 rental after expenses, on average.)
Which rental truck do you go with?
I chose to rent from Penske. According to Moving101 user reviews, it was the brand that was both the most reliable and comfortable. I had a sense this was true, thanks to my package delivery days when we had to rent delivery vehicles whenever our own trucks were in for repairs.
How do you tell how much room you need?
In my case, the most important things were in my office, like a desk, books, computers, other supplies, and books. About 1-2 rooms worth of stuff. This meant a small truck was fine for me, which would also get better mileage not being weighed down. Huge, since I’m the one paying for the gas!
Do you need movers?
Lastly, since I was by myself at one end, and then only had my cousin to help me unload at the other, I hired pros for the heavy lifting part for just a couple hundred bucks. This was a way more affordable way to move across the country, as opposed to hiring a van line for several thousands of dollars, which I didn’t have time to wait around for anyway.
The movers I got packed my truck way better than I could do by myself, which ensured that nothing would slide around or get damaged. And the person I got on the phone at HireAHelper was invaluable from start to finish, finding me the most affordable and highest rated movers for both ends of my journey in maybe 15 minutes.
I Dealt With Weather
Sometimes when you gotta move, you just gotta move.
Early spring is often the time for late winter in the northern United States, and snow was a real possibility—one that turned into a reality in Utah, Wyoming, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
In Utah, the snow was almost blinding for over 150 miles!
What this ultimately meant to my move was a slower drive and a later arrival. Another unusual factor you don’t really read about while moving in those flyover states: wind. And with a moving truck that wasn’t loaded with overly heavy things, it was a larger factor than I at first imagined.
Adding to the adventure was the need to pass large semi-trucks carrying heavy loads, something that often involved those rumble strips on the side of the freeway and white knuckles on the steering wheel.
Finding Alternate Routes Actually Helped Me
Besides snow and wind, early spring is often the time when states start their annual road construction projects on freeways and highways. For the most part, I let Google pick the fastest route across the country, like most people. The good thing about that is that Google Maps knows how to bypass rush hour in cities I was not familiar with. The downside? Google did generally point out road construction … but it didn’t know what kind of vehicle I was driving.
Orange cones, narrow lanes, and slow speed zones were all things I encountered along the way. Having alternate routes mapped out was seriously a lifesaver for me a couple of times on my trip.
(I’m looking at you, eastern Wyoming.)
I Didn’t Reserve Places to Sleep Ahead of Time
I decided to go with the reservation-less trip, and risk not being able to find a place to stop for the night. Since I was traveling alone, I figured at worst, I could sleep in the cab of the truck for a few hours.
As you might have predicted, this actually turned into an issue.
As I passed the Chicago area, there suddenly were no vacant motels for a long time. I finally spotted a Motel 6 sign and pulled off the exit to find a large concrete structure I was convinced had once been a bunker or a hospital. A couple of weary looking truck drivers followed me off the exit, and we all seemed to be ready for a bed, any bed.
The rug-free floors and bare walls, the old television, and the lack of other amenities did not matter as I fell onto the aging mattress.
The rest of the trip I was able to find reasonable lodging wherever I went, but I was close to cab-resting a couple of times. Next time, if there is one, I might plan things a little differently.
I Kept Eating and Drinking Alarms on my Phone
I had to eat, drink, and stay alert as I drove. Driving by yourself for a long time makes that tough to do. Here are some things I found helpful to do after my alarms went off every five hours:
- Grocery shop: All that road food is not great, so I grabbed some healthy snacks at a grocery store each morning along the way and kept a small cooler in the passenger seat to put them in.
- Drink wisely: I needed to stay hydrated, but didn’t want to have to stop too often to empty my bladder. On the other hand, bathroom stops offered a chance to stretch and walk around, so I eventually found the right balance of drinking only every few hours and not being afraid of semi-frequent pit stops.
- Know your caffeine tolerance: Caffeine helps keeps me awake. But it’s is also a diuretic, and too much tears up my stomach. Caffeine is not a super great long-term plan.
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Staying alert also involves listening to the right things
Silence is not good, and neither is soothing music. I rolled down the windows when possible, listened to talk radio or audio books; these were all things that kept my brain engaged. I also had to pre-download listening materials, knowing there were big sections of land with no radio reception.
Finally, I had a hands-free way to talk on the phone in order to stay in touch with people along the way. In some states, hands-free phones are the law, but in all of them it’s a good idea.
You Will Be a Magnet to Law Enforcement
As I traveled across Illinois, I was pulled over by a state trooper. Then it happened again.
Not because I was doing anything wrong, but because I was driving a moving truck, plus it was windy … so I wandered over the fog line a couple of times. Okay, okay, want to know the real reason they pulled me over? Apparently, it is quite common for drug runners to use moving trucks filled with junk to disguise their shipments.
Understand that even the most minor traffic violation in a moving truck might get you pulled over. Since it quickly became clear to officers I was not a drug smuggler (the second state trooper bought one of my books from me!), they let me go. But it was still a delay.
Simply know that the police will be watching, be sure you have all of your rental paperwork in order, and don’t carry anything illegal across state lines—even if it is legal in the state you’re going to. (We’re looking at you, marijuana). You will get in trouble, the kind that can really stick with you.
Moving across the country by yourself is a challenge, and one not all people are up to. Once I arrived at my destination (during a gentle snowfall, actually) everything was fine. The best news: I got to my unloading movers on the right day! The move was more about the journey than the destination. I am now back in Idaho, but I learned a lot along the way:
Choose your truck, your timing, and your route carefully. Have goals, but be flexible. And keep things legal. It will turn your trip into something you will never forget.