Turn Your Cross-Country Move From Scary to Enjoyable

How to reduce stress from a life-altering experience

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Doing a cross-country move is difficult enough when you have plenty of time to make plans. The degree of difficulty changes greatly when it all must happen within a matter of weeks. This is something I learned from experience this past year, and not only did I survive it, but I also managed to enjoy this life-altering endeavor.

As of last mid-December, my fiancé and I were living in New England when she applied to a job on the California coast. She was quickly hired — it happened so fast. After receiving her start date, we determined that we had a little over three weeks to get all of our stuff ready to move and transport ourselves and our dog and cat to our new home. No big deal, right?

In no small part due to my fiancé, who I swear possesses superhero powers, we made every deadline and reached our destination safely and in a timely manner. We even had some fun. Here are some of the things that we learned along the way.

How to get all your stuff to the other side

Moving out of a modestly-sized one-bedroom apartment and only owning one vehicle, we were unsure of the best way to transport our belongings. We decided we would fill our car with as many necessities as possible, but needed another way to move furniture, larger items and everything else. We first discussed renting a truck or hiring a moving service, but decided against it as driving a large truck ourselves seemed daunting and moving companies were prohibitively expensive.

After speaking with friends who had made long-distance moves in the past, we discovered the wonders of moving pods. A number of companies offer shipping containers of varying sizes that you can fill to the gills and then have transported along with other pods, or even freight, to your destination. Pods are certainly not cheap, but if you can afford it, they’re less stressful than other methods.

PODS is probably the best-known company but wasn’t available where we were moving from. We ended up going with U-Pack, which was local to us and offered very similar services. The company delivers a container to your address and arranges a pickup time. You simply fill it up, lock it and it’s picked up with a guaranteed delivery date of when you want it at your new home. There is no need to worry about driving a larger vehicle, finding parking or figuring out fuel costs. A few less things to worry about.

The containers also have locking snap-in walls, so we only got charged for the space we used. Unused space can be used by others moving, or even freight that is being shipped. You only manage and secure the space you need and then the rest is filled by the company depending on their needs. It was a nice convenience to know we had enough space, but not have to pay for the luxury of simply having it available.

One word of advice regarding PODS is that while there are typically straps inside, there can be items moving around while in transit. Accordingly, make sure larger items are strapped, fragile items are wrapped in padding and everything is wedged together as strategically as possible.

Keeping your vehicle healthy

We knew that it was a must to get a checkup for our car before we left, even though we barely had 10,000 miles on it. Everything checked out fine and the only issue we experienced along the way was a minor tire air pressure issue in New Mexico that was resolved quickly.

It’s fine to take your car to a garage for a tune-up, but there are also plenty of websites and publications that provide helpful lists and tips to help you get the vehicle ready for long-distance travel. Since neither myself or the fiancé are “car people,” the information we found by doing this research was invaluable.

In hindsight, we should have also gotten another inspection soon after our arrival to our new home. Obviously, putting over 3,000 miles over various terrain in a short period of time is taxing. However, adding in factors like being weighed down more than usual with a full car can add variables to the mix. Not long after being in California, we discovered that our tires — which still had 20,000 miles left on their warranty — were stripped down.

How to move the fur babies

Perhaps the most stressful decision that we made was how to move our younger energetic dog and older routine-driven cat. Every conceivable idea was considered, from having family/friends drive or fly them out; us flying them out; hiring a pet relocation service. Not only were such ideas looking to be very expensive, but also had very negative aspects. Larger animals such as our dog would have to travel in the cargo area. Not only was that something we did not want to subject her to, being in the dead of winter meant that it might not even be allowable in certain areas because of a temperature threshold that must be met for animals to take to the air in cargo. Air travel and pet relocation services also very likely meant sedating the pets (and probably us as well to ease our fears) to get them through the stress as best as possible.

Ultimately, we decided that while not ideal for the pets or for us, the best and safest thing to do was to have them travel with us in our vehicle. Separate spaces were made for each, with the cat being in a crate large enough to house her litter box. Each also had a favorite blanket to provide some familiar comfort. We also identified some natural calming aids (There are tons to choose from) in case things got too dicey.

As it turned out before we had gone more than literally the first mile, we had to stop because the whining of both animals was so significant. We had a couple of minutes of playtime, gave out some treats and calming aids and hit the road again. Wouldn’t you know it, there were no more issues and both were absolute champs the rest of the way!

Think about where you’re spending the night

Unless you are staying with friends and family along the way, deciding where you will be spending each night is a must. Airbnb is always an option, but that must be booked in advance and obviously you have to do set driving goals each day — no more and no less in order to meet your reservations.

We elected to stay in hotels. If you have the money, staying in luxury spots is obviously nice. We wanted clean, affordable places that were also accepting of our animals. We found that places like Best Westerns and La Quintas by Wyndham were not only plentiful across the country but have kind pet policies, with some requiring a small pet deposit. While not high on frills, these hotels are clean and had everything needed to get a solid night’s sleep and shower before hitting the road again.

Staying at these chain hotels also allowed us to modify our daily schedule if needed. If we felt like driving more/less, we would identify a hotel in a city near where we thought would be a logical endpoint and call to book a reservation. There are literally so many of these hotels that it was easy to book just an hour or two in advance, and often at great rates! It certainly took a lot of stress out of the overall trip planning process.

You don’t need to be a road warrior

Our cross-country trip-experienced friends often spoke about doing long days, sometimes exceeding 12 hours of driving. That sounded excessive to us, but we figured if they could do it, surely we could as well.

The first day we were ready to pack it in after about five and a half hours. We made arrangements to stop for the night and realized that we would not be powering across the country in just three or four days.

The rest of the way, we typically drove seven and a half to eight and a half hours a day. We realized the importance of taking regular breaks to stretch, get the animals moving, and changing up our own perspective by checking out a roadside attraction or having a meal. Naturally, the faster you get across, the less expensive the trip will be. If you can afford to do it, taking it just a bit slower can have very positive results and make it much more enjoyable.

Book the entertainment in advance

An important element of a long driving trip is entertainment. There is always the radio, but why not spice things up a bit with some variety? My fiancé was in charge of setting up our travel entertainment and predictably did a stellar job. She created several playlists on Spotify and identified a couple of audiobooks and podcasts. In particular, the Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard Podcast is perfect for long drives. It touches on topics of humanity and life experience, with thought-provoking interviews and banter.

The entertainment variety turned out to be great because having options kept us engaged and able to be on the road longer. With little to occupy your mind, other than the open road, going cross-country is a good opportunity to catch up with things like books and podcasts that you might not have had time for otherwise.

Take advantage of the trip to get some culture

Even if you are taking your time, you don’t want to drag out something as arduous as going cross-country for too long. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it and see some things along the way. After all, traversing the country is an infrequent experience and will often take you places you have never been and may never go again.

We didn’t plan anything specific but tried to take advantage of our surroundings. We sought out local cuisine, looked for specific landmarks (As a big baseball fan, I thought it was super cool to see Busch Stadium, home of the Cardinals, when we went through St. Louis.), and made quick stops in places like snowy backwoods Pennsylvania, Coachella, and Santa Fe, which we had heard much about but had not yet experienced.

It’s impossible to see everything, but no matter what route you take there is plenty along the way to see and experience.

We made it!

Our trip was a big success. We made it to our new home by the time we wanted and had everything intact, including our belongings and our sanity. The animals seemed no worse for the wear and realized that while tiring, the trip was enjoyable. Thinking about and planning to travel cross-country by car can be stressful. However, appropriate planning and knowing what to look for can make for a fun experience. The next time — or the first time — you have to make such a trip, keep this in mind and know that it can be more fun than scary.

Written by

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports and education.

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