A Guide To Moving Cross Country – How We Did It

We have moved so much over the last few years that I like to joke that we have never watched back to back seasons of Game of Thrones in the same apartment. This is true. Also, that’s how I measure the passage of time…in Game of Thrones seasons.

Here are my steps to moving cross country, while trying to stay on a budget. I am making the assumption here that you are, like we are, moving with a job in your new location i.e. you can expect a paycheck relatively soon after moving. I don’t know that this would be as helpful for the person who moves without a job offer as this plan means replacing items AFTER moving.

Step 1: Getting Rid Of As Much As Possible.

While living in New York, a lot of our furnishings were from Ikea (given their price and expertise at furnishing small spaces this made sense). When it was time to move, it made sense to sell our items, use that money for moving expenses, and start fresh in Seattle. Perhaps with less Ikea furniture and more space.

For those who aren’t on the “easily replaceable” furniture bandwagon, when trying to decide what large pieces to move with or not move with, ask yourself these questions

  • Will I be buying a new version of this within the next year anyway?
  • Will I be using this item in the 30 to 60 days following my arrival at the new place?
  • If this item is damaged during the move will it be easily repaired or will it need to be thrown away?
  • Is this going to be expensive to replace or can I buy the same item/new version for a cheaper price after I move?

I’ve found that asking these questions helps with making the decision on what is really worth shipping/moving with. For us, it was pretty clear we would not be taking our furniture. So, for the last few weeks in New York we sold things on Craigslist (with much success). With two days before our move we had sold all our furniture including the flatscreen TV.

Step 2: Deciding How To Get There

Once you’ve decided how much or how little furniture you plan to move with, you have to decide the best way to actually move.

Option A: The 100% DIY move. Load your things in a rental truck or car and then drive to your new home (this might be the cheapest option depending on how far you have to move, gas prices, sleeping arrangements, etc).

Option B: The 100% “hands off” move. You hire a moving company (Allied Van Lines, Mayflower, etc) to pack and transport your items while you fly to your new destination with little luggage.

Option C: The 75% “hands off” move. You pack your larger/heavier things in boxes you’ve purchased and pay a LTL shipping/trucking company to transport your items (uPack, ABF, etc). Then you fly/drive to your new destination with little luggage.

Option D: The Combo DIY/”Hands off” move. You ship some things with shipping services like FedEx/UPS and then either drive or fly with your remaining items.

Option A is great if you want a long road trip and an “adventure”. I wouldn’t say it is a stress free option especially if you are moving cross country. We actually considered this option but the idea of driving from New York to Seattle was a bit much for us. I also had a horrible dream about being stuck somewhere in South Dakota after a truck break down.

Option B is the most expensive option and also the least stressful. This is great if you have a new employer willing to pick up the tab. This was an option for us but the price was a little ridiculous and I didn’t think our (mostly) Ikea furniture needed all that special treatment.

Option C is the most common option I think. Using an LTL shipping company means you pack your things and label the boxes. Then, you either deliver your items to a freight center or the trucking company comes to you for pickup. The one downside with these services is delivery. It is common to have your things arrive much later than you expect. This might be the most cost effective option for someone who wants to take some furniture with them.

Option D was our choice. We used FedEx for shipping things like books, dishes, small kitchen appliances, shoes, tools, even two lamps! Then we flew with RJ because we wanted to arrive in Seattle with a few days to settle in and relax. The advantage of FedEx/UPS over some of the LTL shipping companies is delivery. We shipped about 300lbs worth of items using FedEx Ground. It cost a bit more than the LTL freight but everything arrived when they said it would.

Step 3: Packing & Shipping For A “Combo” Move

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Once we decided to do a “combo” move using option D. We had to get packing supplies.

If you are packing items to be shipped and handled by someone else, I recommend the Heavy Duty moving boxes sold at Home Depot. Here’s a good shopping list for moving cross country and shipping your things:

  • Heavy Duty moving boxes (we like Home Depot heavy duty). This is important because your boxes will take a beating during shipping so a thicker cardboard box is best.
  • Strapping tape. I like Scotch brand but there are other brands out there. This is a reinforced shipping tape that you may not be familiar with. It is very sticky and will hold your box closed no matter what. I recommend ordering online as it can be cheaper.
  • Shipping stickers that say “Fragile” and “This Way Up”. We ordered these stickers. Almost all our boxes had fragile items so labeling was important. Don’t be afraid to stick these on every side of the box. Your shipper may not always pay attention to the labeling, but you will always be able to say this was clearly marked.
  • Lots and lots of newspapers or packing paper. This is great for lining boxes and padding fragile items.
  • Bubble wrap if you have extra special fragile items that need extra protection.

We packed up smaller items (books, dishware, small kitchen appliances, smaller home decor pieces) very carefully into the heavy duty moving boxes.

It is very important when you’re packing boxes to make sure you fill up the box but stay within the box weight limit. We could have shipped fewer boxes than the 7 we ended up shipping. But, we wanted to make sure to stay within the weight limit of each box.

Another thing that is important when packing a box for shipping is, to make sure you don’t have empty space in the box. Empty space means your items will be jostled about when the shipper inevitably puts your box upside down (labels be damned). For example we know that our boxes were not always right side up because of some pieces that ended up displaced a certain way on arrival. Packing a box tightly is important to make sure things don’t break. You can use bubble wrap or packing paper to fill up space.

We shipped most of our items a week before our flight to make sure our arrival would coincide with the arrival of the boxes.

Using all these tips, we shipped 7 boxes and about 300lbs worth of stuff via FedEx Ground (which took 7 days). Our boxes arrived in excellent condition. Fragile items that made it to Seattle intact include: the famous Olivia Pope wine glasses, these elephants, our NINJA blender set, Vera Wang Wedgwood vases, all of our ceramic dishes/mugs/cups, two CB2 lamps, etc etc. There was some damage (nothing is foolproof). The glass in a small picture frame broke, also a large ceramic bowl broke. That’s it.

Not a bad outcome considering the boxes were in transit for a week.

Step 4: Flying Cross Country With A Pet

Given that RJ is not a small dog there was no way he would be able to fly in the cabin under a seat. We knew he would have to fly as cargo. When selecting our flight from New York to Seattle my only criteria were: an early morning departure and a non-stop flight.

We used United Airline Petsafe. I first used United Airlines Petsafe in 2013 when moving from Chicago to New York in a similar move so, I was comfortable using them again. The important thing here was that we wanted to be on the same flight so we worked with the United Airlines representative to book RJ’s travel first and immediately booked ourselves on the same flight.

For a week before the flight we replaced RJ’s sleeping crate with his airline travel kennel so he could get used to it. We had this crate from his previous flight so we used it again. I think it is important to do this so that your pet feels comfortable in the kennel. Things will be uncomfortable enough for your pet on flight day without having a new “home” to get used to.

When we arrived at the pet drop off, there were other dogs that kept whining and barking and scratching at their crates while RJ stayed calm. So, I would say getting him used to the kennel helped.

We wanted to make sure we flew early in the morning to make sure temperatures were cool on both ends of the trip. We departed New York at 7am EST and arrived in Seattle at 10:30am PST. I have read horror stories about pets being left in the summer heat during loading/unloading so flying early meant cooler summer temperatures in the event the airline left RJ outside for long. Our reasoning for a non-stop flight was simple. It lessened any chance of issues transporting RJ during a layover and meant less travel time.

Step 5: Packing Luggage To Avoid Airline Overage Fees

Most airlines allow each passenger 2 pieces of checked luggage weighing no more than 50lbs and within certain dimensions. We had to order new luggage for this trip and every traveler knows spinners are awesome so that is what we ordered. To avoid luggage overage fees when flying we use this scale to weigh checked luggage before a flight. It means we avoid getting to the airport and then finding out we need to re-arrange things. When we checked in at the airport, 3 of our 4 pieces of checked luggage were at exactly 50lbs so we were close! We would have been much further off without the scale.

FYI some airlines, like Southwest Airlines, will allow passengers free checked luggage without needing a frequent flier card. I used Southwest Airlines when moving from New York to Chicago a few years ago. This can help save you money in luggage fees when moving. However, Southwest wasn’t an option for us because there were no direct flights.

Step 6: Arriving At Our Destination!

Given all the planning and work that went into this move, our actual “move day” went smoothly.

There was a small hiccup trying to find the pet drop off center at the airport but we had allowed enough time for any issues so this wasn’t a problem after all.

I am happy to say we all arrived in one piece (RJ was a bit dehydrated) and are settling into Seattle quite well so far!


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