The logistics of a cross-country move in USA

It’s coming up on nearly three years now since our family moved from Florida to Portland, OR. I wish I had written this post a little sooner, but alas, we’ve been out exploring and enjoying our new home!

While this post is mostly about the logistics of a cross-country move, I have a separate post going over the route we took and the places that we saw.

Our move was very much a DIY move. We didn’t have any packers, no trucking company, no nothing. We did everything ourselves, and we learned a few things along the way, which I’d like to share with you to help you avoid some of the inconveniences and pitfalls that we hit.

Getting ready to move

Once you know you’re moving, some planning and organising can really help you out and help you to save some money.

We needed to have a good sense of how much this whole thing was going to cost, so we started looking at costs early on. In doing so, some of the bigger expenses were targets for finding savings. The most obvious of these in our case was the moving truck.

We got some quotes for moving trucks. Let me just tell you that U-Haul are going on name recognition and will never be the cheapest option. We were quoted over $4,000 for a U-Haul. After shopping around, we found that Penske was about half that price. Some further investigation found that AAA member saved 15% on the cost of the rental at Penske; we weren’t AAA members, but for $50, we could be and it would instantly save us $300, so it was a no-brainer. Additionally, having AAA coverage while doing a cross-country trip isn’t a bad idea, not to mention that many places along the way (hotels, restaurants, attractions) will offer discounts for AAA members, so you may save more money yet.

Our moving truck with my wife’s car on a dolly behind it.

We also did our best to be as organised as possible with our packing, getting everything that we didn’t need for everyday life into boxes several weeks before we got on the road and labelling everything well. It was a bit of a different story at the end when we needed to pack up all of our every day stuff, so much so that we had to postpone leaving for one day, which meant frustration and missing out on another day of sightseeing on the way across the country, so do what you can to pack as much as possible as early as possible. Use disposable cutlery and crockery for a few days to help get your kitchen packed up.

Being that me and my Dad were doing this road trip together and it was going to take 9-10 days, we also wanted to make the most of it, so we planned out our route to go through parts of the country that we wanted to see. We used Furkot to plan our trip and it was really helpful in brainstorming places we might want to see and how to schedule our whole trip.

Me and my Dad at one of our planned stops, Route 66.

Moving with animals

If you’re moving with animals, there’s a few options: you can either take them with you, or fly with them. Given that we were going to be on the road for 9-10 days and our cats get nervous from being in the car for 15 minutes to go to the vet, we decided to make it as painless as possible for them by flying with them. However, we were also aware of the dangers of putting animals in the cargo hold, so we wanted them in the cabin with us. My first piece of advice here is, book your flight as early as possible. Each airline has limits on how many animals they will allow in the cabin on any given flight, so you want to make those reservations as early as possible.

In our case, the airline (Delta) also only allowed one pet per passenger, so we had to pay for three of our friends to accompany Martina so that we could get our four cats across the country. Between the pet fees ($150/cat) and the flights for our friends (~$600/ea), it ended up costing over $2,000 just to get our cats across the country.

We signed up for SkyMiles credit cards because each one had a 50,000 miles bonus for signing up, which helped, so look for deals like that that might help you out.

Moving with kids

This is one area that I think we did really well in. It’s also an area where I recognise that we were quite lucky and privileged and this may not be an option for everyone.

In Florida, we lived next door to my mother-in-law, so she was always willing and able to help look after the kids. With that in mind, we came up with a plan to cause the least disruption to the kids and to us trying to get us moved across the country.

First of all, me and my Dad left town on a Sunday and it was going to take us ~9 days to get to Portland (including some planned stops). Martina and her friends had flights booked for that coming Thursday, so me and my Dad were more than half way across the country when they flew to Portland. They got an AirBnB in Portland, since we didn’t have any furniture or amenities at our house in Portland yet, though they did take the cats to our new, empty house. They had a few days together to have fun while me and my Dad continued to make our way across the country.

All the while, we left our kids with my mother-in-law. She kept them in Florida for about 2 weeks after Martina left, to allow me to get to Portland and to allow us time to get the house all set up so that when they finally got here, it was just like home and everything was all set up for them. It went really well and I highly recommend doing it that way if you can.

Driving cross-country

If you’ve never ventured too far from home, or you’ve grown up in a country where you can reach everything in one day and you’re never far from civilisation (like the UK), then driving across America can be quite a different experience.

Nothing but road: fully expect hundred of miles of road with not so much as a house along the way.

Depending on where you’re going, you may encounter huge stretches of road where you encounter no one and nothing. On our route, we found this to be especially true in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. There were times where there would be 150-200 miles between towns. With this in mind, and coupled with the fact that when you’re driving in mountainous areas, your fuel efficiency plummets, you should fill up your vehicle at every opportunity. You might fill up, go 50-100 miles and comes across another town with still 2/3-3/4 of a tank of gas. Fill up! We almost got caught out 1 or 2 times where we literally coasted into town, running on fumes. Those roads are pretty lonely and with no cell phone reception, you’ll be up shit creek if you run out of gas.

Plan 1-2 days ahead. This is especially true in the winter. We kept tabs on the weather so that we could reroute ourselves if there was a storm expected up ahead. This in fact happened to us: we were supposed to cross into California south of the Sierra Nevada but poor weather meant we decided to stay east of the Sierra Nevada as long as possible. In fact, we kept going north until we could cross the Cascades at The Dalles on the Columbia River. Even in doing so, we caught a snowstorm in Reno, NV. CHP had shut down I-80 going into California and CHP had put chain controls in place on US-395, so we were forced to go and find snow chains for our moving truck and my car. We finally got them (after a delay of a few hours and a big dent in my wallet), only for CHP to lift chain controls for a couple of hours because of a break in the weather – we got lucky, but be prepared for winter driving, including the need for snow chains.

Be prepared for winter driving conditions. We weren’t expecting them, but we certainly encountered them.

Speaking of winter driving, bear in mind that some roads get closed in the winter. Plan your route well in advance and if you need to make a change, vet the route thoroughly and make sure that it is open.

If there’s more than one of you making the trip in separate vehicles, get a couple of radios. They’re less than $50/pair on Amazon, but they help you to make plans on the fly, chat about what you’re seeing, and pass the time.

If you’re used to always having access to cell phone data and think you’ll be able to stream Spotify on your whole trip, think again. Once you’re in the desert and the forest, you can fully expect to have no cell phone service, so make sure that you download everything ahead of time. With that in mind, it’s also a good idea to have a hard copy of your driving plans. Most apps also have a feature where you can download maps for offline use, so familiarise yourself with those and put them to use.

Know how much your moving truck weighs and whether you’ll be required to stop at weigh stations. When we left Florida, we weren’t too sure, but we decided to skip them when we went past. When we arrived in Mobile, AL that night, we realised that we were supposed to stop in Florida (sorry FHP!), but all of the other states that we were going through didn’t require us to stop, so we were in the clear.

Expect your plans to change. You’ll get on the road with the best of intentions, but weather, bad traffic, events, an upset stomach, a headache… any number of things can put you behind a couple of hours and now all of a sudden, you’re not stopping where you thought you were for the night. We never booked our hotels until 2-3pm on the day of travel. We’d make a pit stop and figure out about how much further we could go before sundown. Then I’d get online and find a cheap place to stop for the night in that town. This proved to be quite a good strategy, especially because you can nab some pretty great last minute deals. Also keep your AAA discount in mind if you bought that.

One of the nicer hotels that we were able to stay in, for not much more than we were paying for motels.

Get lots of rest! Even though you’re “only driving”, it takes quite a lot out of you, especially if you’re driving the moving truck. Try to get a full 8 hours of sleep a night.

Get yourself a strong lock for your moving truck and make sure that all of your possessions are out of sight in your vehicles. Where possible, back up to a wall so that no one can get into the truck, even if they break the lock, and try to park in well-lit, well-trafficked areas. We didn’t have any problems, but there’s definitely a bunch of people who have had troubles on trips like this.

Beyond these tips that we picked up along the way, use some common sense: try and tell someone your plans for the day and check in with them each night, carry some basic supplies with you, like water and snacks, and have all of your important documents with you.

Most of all, enjoy yourselves. Where possible, make an hour or two (or a day or two if you can) to see the places that you want to see. It’s an amazing opportunity to see some really unique places, and you’ll want to kill yourself if you just decide to drive straight through.

Me and my Dad in Vegas, making a point of seeing it since we were driving through.

By Dave

Dave is the proud father of Ellie and Jack. There's nothing that makes him happier than spending time with his incredible wife and their amazing children. He's a civil/mechanical engineer and he also builds and maintains WordPress websites.

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