Moving Across the Country? Here's Everything You Need to Know
New job in a new city? Moving back home to be with family? Setting off on an adventure to start a new life on the other side of the country? Moving across the country can be a huge, stressful task, whether you're moving a studio apartment or a four-bedroom house. Our ultimate moving guide has tips and advice to help you get everything together so you can move smarter, smoother and more affordably.
A Timeline for Moving
Packing and getting ready will take longer than you think, so get started early. You should get started up to 12 weeks before your scheduled move date, depending on whether you're hiring professional movers or doing it all yourself. You'll find a detailed timeline to help you plan in our Moving Tips section. Here's a condensed version to give you a rough idea of the work involved.
8 to 12 Weeks Before Your Move
6 Weeks Before Your Move
- Get moving boxes and packing materials.
- File a change of address with your post office.
- Notify cleaning services, lawn services and any other scheduled services of your upcoming move.
- Do a whole-house purge and make arrangements to sell, donate or dispose of the items that don't make the cut.
- Make arrangements for cleaning services, pet care and childcare services for the day of your move.
4 Weeks Before You Move
- Start getting your papers in order. Collect birth certificates, passports and financial documents you'll need.
- Plan out your menus to use up food in your freezer and cupboards over the next month.
- Start packing.
|Pro Tip: Clear space in one room — or the whole room — to serve as a packing HQ. Store your moving boxes and packing supplies there, and move packed boxes into the room as soon as they're full. Even better, rent a storage unit to hold your packed items until you're ready to go. It will make it feel less like you're living in the middle of chaos, which is good for everyone's mental health.|
2 Weeks Before You Move
- Pack out-of-season clothing and things you won't need for a while.
- Coordinate child and pet care for moving day.
- Notify any remaining companies of your upcoming move.
1 Week Before You Move
- Assemble an essentials bag to travel with you.
- Start disassembling furniture.
- Send out change of address notifications to friends.
- Schedule time to say goodbye to friends.
1 Day Before You Move
- Unplug and prepare any major appliances.
- Check your first-night box to ensure it contains everything you'll need on your first night.
- Finish up last-minute packing.
- Pick up a moving truck if you're DIY-ing.
- Pack the truck — with plenty of friends, if possible.
- Do a walk-through to make sure you've got everything.
- Clean the house.
- Turn off all the lights and lock up.
|Pro Tip: Check for your kids' birth certificates and get copies if you don't have them. It will be much harder to get copies from a distance.|
Getting Ready for Your Move
One of the very first decisions you'll have to make (after you've decided to move, of course) is whether you're going to hire a professional moving company or rent a truck and make the move yourself. If you decide to hire a pro for an interstate move, you'll want to book at least 8 weeks in advance, unless you're moving in the summer. In that case, you should start calling moving companies 3 months before you plan to move.
DIY vs. Full-Service Professional Mover
Trying to decide between moving yourself and hiring a moving company to do it for you? There are pros and cons to each approach.
- Cost: You can save a lot of money if you go the DIY route, but be sure to figure in all the costs. Once you add in mileage, insurance, gas and moving equipment you need, the DIY option may not be as affordable as you think.
- Convenience: A professional moving company may be more convenient, but you may have to work around their booking schedule. It can be especially tricky if you're moving on short notice.
- Labor: Professional movers obviously will save you a whole lot of hard labor. You can even hire professional packers if your budget allows. On the other hand, when you do the packing yourself, you can give all your belongings the loving care they need.
A few other things to consider when making your decision:
How much stuff do you have to move?
If you're on your own and moving from a small apartment, DIY makes a lot more sense. You and a few friends can probably get everything packed into your truck and ready to go in just a few hours. Unpacking at the other end may take a little longer if you don't have friends along, but there are ways around that.
If, on the other hand, you have a whole house and have accumulated years' worth of furniture and other belongings, a DIY move is a whole lot more complicated and costly.
Do you have all the equipment you need to move?
Professional movers will show up with all the equipment needed to move and protect heavy furniture (and your home!) as they pack. You can generally rent things like moving dollies, shipping blankets and haul straps, but it will add to your costs.
Do you have a lot of friends who'll happily help you pack up to move?
Packing a truck is a lot easier with many hands. That said, keep in mind that you'll also have to unpack at your destination.
Is it as expensive as you think?
It's smart to comparison shop before you decide to do it all yourself. Moving quotes vary widely from one company to the next, and even from season to season with the same company. Check with several different movers, including those that offer budget moves. You might be surprised at how affordable it can be.
Do you know someone who can drive the moving truck?
This can be a sticking point, especially if you need a large truck to fit everything.
Tips for Choosing a Cross-Country Mover
Choosing the right professional mover will make a big difference in your experience. These tips can help you get the information you need to make the best choice.
- Ask friends for recommendations, especially those who've moved recently.
- Read online reviews. Check several of these sites to compare ratings, reviews and features.
- Check to make sure they service the areas you want to move to and from.
- Get several quotes from several companies.
- Ask the right questions.
- Write everything down! A spreadsheet or moving planner can help you keep everything straight as you work through your decision.
- Try to move during the off-season. Summers are especially busy for moving companies, so you'll pay top dollar — and will have to book your move much earlier.
Other Options for Cross-Country Moves
DIY or hiring a pro doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing decision. There are a number of in-between options that can make it easier, less expensive or more convenient. They include:
- Shipping your belongings ahead to meet you at your destination. This can be a good option if you don't have a lot of items to move, or if you only want to ship a few large items, like your grandmother's heirloom dining room set.
- Rent a moving pod. Portable storage containers or moving containers can save you a lot of cash. The company drops the container at your house. You pack it yourself. They pick it up and transport it to your new home. You unpack it, and they pick up the container and take it away. The containers come in many different sizes suitable for anything from a dorm room to a medium-sized house. You'll generally pay a flat rate per container.
- Rent a freight trailer. It's the same basic idea as renting a moving pod, but super-sized. If you have a lot of belongings or a larger house, this may be a better option for you.
How to Get Organized for Your Move
The more organizing you do in advance of your move, the smoother your actual move will be. Print out our Ultimate Moving Checklist and keep it handy (perhaps on the front of your fridge). It will serve as a reminder of tasks that often get overlooked in the busy-ness of packing.
|Pro Tip: Consider investing in a move organizer/planner. For about $10, you'll get a slew of checklists to help you keep tabs on everything from your moving company research to inventories of household belongings.|
Who Do You Need to Notify?
You know you need to notify your utility companies, cable company and other services that you're moving so you can get service stopped and started on the right dates, but it's easy to overlook some of the people and places you should notify. Some of those include:
- Cleaning service/landscaping service (be kind and give them enough notice to replace you as a client!).
- Your kids' schools.
- Your kids' doctors. This is especially important if they (or any family members) have specialized medical needs. Their current providers may even be able to provide resources and advice on finding providers in your new city.
- Insurance companies.
- Registry of Motor Vehicles in both states.
- Credit card companies and other financial institutions.
- Any professionals you see on a regular basis.
Declutter and Purge
Before you start packing anything — or book a mover — get your Marie Kondo on and start downsizing. The more you downsize, the less you have to pack — and pay to move. Here are some resources and ideas to help you get started.
- Downsizing Tips for Empty Nesters
- When to Downsize Your Home
- Tips for Selling Your Belongings on Craigslist and eBay
- How to Sell Your Unwanted Belongings Online
- Host a yard sale, garage sale or tag sale.
- Donate furniture, clothing and other items to local charities.
- Host a "swap meet" for friends.
Acquire Moving Boxes and Supplies
Once you've thinned out your belongings, it's time to start getting everything else packed up. You're going to need boxes. A lot of boxes. More boxes than you think you need. How do you figure out how many boxes you need to pack up your whole house?
- Home Depot Moving Calculator
- How Many Boxes Do You Need from Updater
- Allied Vans Packing Calculator
- Bankers Box Moving Calculator
Plug the details into one or more of the calculators above, and hold onto your hat. Unless you've done this before, you're probably going to be shocked at the number of boxes they recommend. You should expect to spend $200 to $500 on packing boxes and supplies. There are a couple of ways to save money on packing boxes.
- Check with nearby package stores and bars for small- and medium-size boxes. The boxes are generally sturdy enough to take the abuse of a cross-country move, and most small businesses are happy for you to take them.
- Check Facebook buy-nothing, mutual aid and neighborhood groups, especially near the start of the month. People who have just moved into new homes are often happy to pass along their gently used moving boxes. If you don't see anyone offering, don't be shy about posting and asking.
- If you've hired a mover, ask them about boxes and supplies. They won't be free, but they may be more affordable than buying from a retailer.
- SmartStop also offers packing boxes in various sizes, as well as a range of moving supplies, either individually, or in our SmartKit.
|Pro Tip: Remember to include specially made boxes to protect your televisions and other electronics, artworks, mirrors and other items that need extra padding and special handling.|
How to Pack Up Your Whole House (With Less Stress)
There's no getting around it. Fitting everything you own into a bunch of boxes — even after you've decluttered and downsized — is stressful. Here’s how to make your whole moving experience smoother.
Pack by the Room
In each room, start by packing items you won't need immediately — out-of-season clothes, for example. Next pack the things you don't need right now. Your goal is to be almost completely packed at least a week before your actual move, leaving just the absolute essentials that you can pack at the last minute.
It’s a good idea to pack "open me first" boxes for your kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. Pack each box with items you'll need your first day/night in the house. It will save you the trouble of running out to the store before bed.
- Bedding for each bed.
- Curtains/window treatments — it can be really creepy sleeping with bare windows! Don't forget window hanging hardware.
- Pajamas, facecloth and towel for each family member.
- One complete outfit for each family member.
- A pack of new toothbrushes, toothpaste and hand soap.
- The coffee maker and coffee mugs.
Labels are a key tool in your moving supplies. As you pack, label each box with the room it goes to in the new house. If you're hiring movers, that will help them place the boxes in the right rooms, cutting down on your manual labor at the other end. Add a list of the contents so you can easily find what you need when you reach your destination. It will save you the frustration of rifling through half a dozen boxes to find the can opener on your first night at home.
|Pro Tip: An inexpensive set of moving labels takes a lot of the work out of organizing for a move. This set is color-coded, features standard rooms pre-printed on the labels and has plenty of room to list the contents of each box. It also includes special use labels like "This side up" and "Fragile" to avoid mishaps.|
Special Packing Tips for Special Items
Some items require special handling. There are some you won't want to pack in the moving truck and others you'll want to be sure to protect.
How to Move a Mattress
- Wash and pack bedding separately.
- Clean the mattress. A light vacuuming will get rid of any surface dust.
- Pack the mattress in a mattress bag of the right size.
- Some mattresses, such as memory foam mattresses, should travel flat instead of standing on end.
- If your mattress has seen better days, consider replacing it instead of moving it with you.
How to Pack Your Wardrobe for Moving
Let's be real. It can be tempting to "pack" your clothes in your dressers and put the whole shebang on the moving van, but that's really not your best option. Packing your clothes properly for a long-distance move can save you time and headaches at both ends of the move. (FYI — these same tips are helpful if you're storing your clothes for another season.)
- Sort your clothing and launder/clean them. You'll be happy you did when you unpack them.
- Pack a moving bag with enough clothes for a few days for each family member.
- Fold non-hanging items neatly and pack them into boxes, sorted by family member. Use small to medium boxes and line the inside of the box with packing paper or plastic wrap to protect the clothes from spills.
- Pack hanging items in wardrobe moving boxes. They're sturdy boxes with a hanging rod built-in to keep your clothing neat and undamaged.
- Got luggage? Pack your clothing into suitcases to cut down on the number of boxes you'll need.
- Moving dressers? Fold your clothing neatly into the drawers, then wrap the entire drawer securely with packing stretch wrap. When you get to your new place, unwrap the drawers and slide them into the dresser.
How to Pack Jewelry for Moving
Jewelry can easily get lost, damaged or tangled in a move. These tips can help you pack your jewelry so all your rings, necklaces, and earrings make it safely to your new home.
- Take inventory, especially if your jewelry collection includes some pricey pieces.
- Use one or more jewelry rolls.
- Slip necklaces and chains through a straw and clasp them closed to prevent tangles. For larger, chunkier pieces, do the same thing with toilet paper and paper towel rolls.
- Pack small pieces, such as rings or earrings, in pill cases. The compartments are perfectly sized to hold a single pair.
- Pack your jewelry in a locking jewelry box or jewelry case.
- Keep your jewelry with you instead of packing it on the moving van. Most moving companies won't take expensive jewelry or items with sentimental value, anyway.
How to Pack Books for Moving
Book lovers tend to pay a premium for moving their book obsession. After all, most moving and freight companies charge by weight, and books tend to get heavy. If you're packing up your library full of books, these tips can help you pack them efficiently and save some money on your move.
- Find a good home for as many books as you can bear to part with.
- Use clean, sturdy boxes.
- Before packing, seal the bottom center seam inside and out with packing tape.
- Stand hardcover books upright in the packing box, just as you would put them on a bookshelf. Make sure they're snug, but not tight.
- Protect valuable books (including those with sentimental value, like photo albums) by placing stiff cardboard between the books to help keep spines straight.
- Pack paperbacks flat, or spines down. Packing them with spines up can bend the pages.
- Before sealing the box, fill any space with wadded paper or bubble wrap.
- Tape the box closed and label it.
- If you're packing books for storage, check out available storage options to get one that's climate-controlled.
It may be more affordable to ship books to your new home. Compare shipping rates at USPS (media mail), UPS and FedEx. If you have more than a few boxes, check out the costs of freight shipping. It could save you a considerable amount of money.
How to Ship Cars
The easiest way to get your car to your new home is driving it yourself, but it may not be the best option for cross-country travel. If you're driving a UHaul or flying out ahead, and need to figure out how to get your car to your new home, these tips are important.
- Plan ahead. You should figure there might be a four-week wait before you can get your car on a transport truck.
- Closed transport will protect your car, but can cost up to 60% more than booking an open transport carrier.
- You can save money by scheduling an open transport date. The shipping company will notify you when they have room on a truck heading in the right direction. If you need to ship on a certain date, you'll pay extra.
- Comparison shop, and budget for the shipping. Cross-country transport can cost more than $2,000.
- Check your insurance coverage, as well as the shipping company's liability coverage.
- Do a full inspection of your car both at pickup and dropoff. It will be important to establish the condition of your car if there's any damage on the trip.
How to Ship Plants
If you don't want to leave your plants behind, there are a couple of ways to get them to your new home — shipping them or packing them to move in the moving van. There are also a couple of different ways to pack them to travel safely.
- For small plants, you can remove them from their pots and carefully package them in a sturdy box after wrapping the roots in a damp paper towel, covered with plastic wrap to retain the moisture. They can then be shipped via UPS, FedEx or USPS.
- For larger plants that you don't want to remove from their pots, wrap them in a bedsheet or packing paper before placing them in a moving box or dish pack. Be sure to punch holes in the sides of the box to let your plant breathe.
How to Ship Dishware, Cookware and Utensils
Your kitchen dishware can be some of the most fragile items you pack, while sturdy cookware can add weight to any box. Here are some tips to keep them safe, whether you’re packing them in a moving van or shipping them:
- If forks, knives and spoons are already in a tray of some kind, simply wrap the entire tray in plastic wrap to keep all your utensils in one place.
- While you can splurge on dish-specific boxes that some moving companies sell, a basic box will work just fine — as long as you use plenty of packing paper. Wrap individual dishes in packing paper, then stack a group of 3 to 4 wrapped dishes upside down and cover them all with another sheet of packing paper. Repeat this process and pack snugly into a box thickly padded on all sides with packing paper. Use plenty of biodegradable peanuts or bubble wrap if shipping the boxes.
- Always write “Fragile — THIS SIDE UP” on boxes with dishware.
- Nest cookware by size, adding packing paper between each item, before snugly placing them in a box lined with packing paper. Use thick clothes, peanuts or bubble wrap if shipping.
Tips for Moving with Kids and Pets
Moving is already stressful. When you add kids and/or pets to the mixture, things can escalate into crisis mode without warning. Check out our posts on how to make moving with pets and kids less stressful.
Saying Goodbye — and Hello
Moving is stressful for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is saying goodbye to your old friends and settling into a new home. Here are a few trips to ease that transition.
- Plan time to say goodbye to important people. It's especially important if there are kids in the family. If a friend or family member can host a send-off party in the weeks before you move, it can help ease the transition.
- Don't forget to say goodbye to places, too. They become part of our daily rituals, and it can be hard to leave them behind. Visit your favorite restaurants, hike your favorite trail one last time and take a last-day tour of all the most important places in your family's life.
- Check out our city guides (just tick Guides and Checklists in the sidebar) to read up on your new city — we're adding more all the time. You'll find lots of information and places to look forward to getting to know as you get comfortable in your new home.
Check out some of these other resources to help you with some of the other aspects of your move to a new city.