Practical Tips on a Cross-Country Move, by P.J.G.T.

We are moving from the East coast to the Northern Rocky Mountains, and here I sit in a Midwestern state at my cousin’s house waiting for a part for our car to be shipped in. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to put down on paper the best answer I have come up with to a question I had before the move: How do we move our family across country with limited funds, lots of stored supplies and more than a handful of tools? My husband and I are walking a fine line to make this move the best adventure that our family has ever had instead of the worst disaster ever. The key is commitment and determination!

It is a coincidence that JWR recently advocated moving to the American Redoubt states at the same time we are moving to one of them, albeit a very wonderful coincidence. We did our homework. We would have even had our retreat purchased (thus avoiding the “apartment in town” stage) had our teenagers not asked why we would go on this adventure without them. So, we are off…

First, let’s discuss the wisdom of moving an intact family if possible. We had a plan to move from the public corporate world to a much less secure and lower paying career after the children graduated from high school. However, I can now see how much heartache that would have caused. We are a very close family, and it would have caused undue pain to be separated by over 2,000 miles from our adult children. It would also have been a terrible thing to leave our oldest daughter living in the East as the United States disintegrates. We began looking at an eventual move from the East where we were raised when our oldest was only in fourth grade. Back then, things didn’t look like they would go bad so quickly. My parents have already moved to the West, but my husband’s parents are choosing to stay in the East. They will visit. We expect siblings and their families to migrate our way.  I suggest that it is better to move the entire family, including grandparents, if possible. Close extended families are difficult to break apart. However, be determined to go and accept that well-timed visits can do wonders.

Consider your timing. Although my husband’s job doesn’t start until December, we are moving the children this summer. There are several important considerations that determined this.

we consider the education of our children as primary. Our oldest is going to be a senior in high school. Senior year is not the time to arrive midway through the year. Our youngest is going to attend a rigorous private high school through a generous scholarship that offset the tuition. If our children were young now, they would never attend public school. However that is not the path we are choosing to take at this time. There is a large, like-minded church community waiting for us in our new town.

, I will have to return to work from being a stay-at-home mom, and I am a teacher. August is a better time for me to move as well. I have been able to get my teaching certification and a job as well.

, summer is a much better time to travel and move into a new place than fall or winter – especially in the American Redoubt states.

, my children have had much experience traveling and camping with only Mom, so we know they have the fortitude needed. This gives us a chance to do some additional backcountry camping and exploring as well.

Fifth, sports start in August. What a great way for the children to know classmates before they get to their school. Much can be discovered about a person after two weeks of close and physical team training. Consider the altitude difference and accommodate as needed.

, having the double income will help with the financial transition. There just are not any available teaching positions back east right now.

, the empty house will give my husband the time he needs to complete projects to prepare it for sale. Resulting, we anticipate, in a higher selling price and quicker sale. After determining that most of the family would be moving before the school year began, the planning really progressed into high gear. The goal of downsizing was tempered by the idea that if something was valued, it needed to be kept. As we progressed, we began to look more closely at what we valued. It is good to have the opportunity for levels of downsizing to allow for “letting-go.” After our first round of downsizing, we all agreed that it was a benefit and couldn’t believe we had kept so much. As we progressed, we did have to say some sad good-byes. But, as stated, if anything still had value to a family member, it was going to be kept – whether hand-carried, stored or shipped. This has been a major factor in keeping our move an adventure.

What else has worked for us?

* Our youngest applied for and was accepted at the college-prep high school specific to his interests. This was a lengthy process that needed to be completed by a certain deadline to qualify for the scholarship. Watch for deadlines. This allows him a level of excitement that has far exceeded his dread of meeting new classmates and leaving his friends.
* Food that might spoil, was frozen, would be difficult to move and was close to being outdated (by my definition) was used as quickly as possible. Food whose value was not worth the space or weight to move or ship was donated to the local food pantry. This took the place of our purchasing canned goods for such donations. Family members were instructed on what dishes to offer to bring for the many end-of-the-year potluck events so that excess foodstuffs were used.
*Any unopened cleaning supplies and extra light bulbs were sold at a garage sale along with other unneeded and useless items. Eventually we did have to sell items that were just too heavy and/or bulky to move (i.e. the dining room table) or too difficult to move (pretty candles, drinking glasses and glass knickknacks)
*Some things were sold or given away that will need to be replaced either because we knew that another  family really needed the item or it was almost ready for replacing ( I seem to go through dehydrators, and will gladly be looking into a better quality one out West!).
*Many items were listed on Craigslist and taken to the local consignment shop for sale.
*Some items were listed on, given to friends, or put out on the curb for free. In this way, we were able to conscientiously downsize without throwing away items that another family could use.
*We even have loaned out some items for at least a year (piano, kayaks)
*We rented the pavilion at our local park for a nominal fee one Saturday before we left and hosted a good-bye potluck for our friends.  It gave everyone closure. The local pool, a Frisbee and a soccer ball provided an active outlet for the children.
So, how does a family move without using a moving company (not even an option financially) or renting a moving van (costly and it would leave us with a vehicle and trailer to move)? Well, here is what worked for our family:

  1. Find a friend or relative who is willing to store and mail boxes as you have the money and the need for them. We numbered our boxes on the top and all four sides. The corresponding number was put on a list with the contents listed. The USPO has detailed specifications as to what can or cannot be shipped, what size the boxes can be, and how the boxes need to look in order to be mailed. They also offer a( lower cost) media rate if regulations are followed. We packed all our media into separate boxes. It is best to attend to the weight of the boxes as well. A simple check with the post office could save money in the long run. This system has worked well for me in the past. Just remember to be detailed in listing the contents of the boxes, not lose the list, and do not mark what is in the box on the outside (I once had items stolen that I still miss today).
  2. If possible, find a reliable place to store items that cannot be shipped or are too large to be shipped. We have a family camp and are storing some furniture and a number of boxes there until we return next summer to determine what to do with them. This way we do not have to rent a storage unit, and we do not need to get rid of things that are important to us or will be costly to replace. We are storing our winter wheat in new metal trash cans, and leaving some white buckets as well. Label, label, label – having your items clearly identified as your family’s avoids problems and arguments later.
  3. Bring what is important to you! Some may question what we are bringing, but we are moving for good. We are not looking to see if our move will work, we are not on vacation,  and we are not on a long term research project. No, we are committed to this move, and as such it is important not to store all our treasures and only bring the pragmatic items. In fact, many of the pragmatic items can be shipped or brought later. In moving this summer, I will not be canning for the remainder of this year. Therefore, we will bring the canning supplies next trip, or even mail them if needed. I am carrying my rather heavy, but spectacular rock collection. They are not replaceable, but canning supplies are. Funny, but the idea that each person should be able to choose what is valuable is sometimes not remembered in the ruckus of the move. Yet, there are adults who still pine for a special item that was not seen as important by their parents. Take care to consider each other as decisions are made. Do not proceed in haste – make lists and check them twice. Tweak, tweak, tweak
  4. Consider packing clothing and linens in vacuum pack storage bags. These bags are a good way to reduce space. However, remember that some cloth items can be used for padding and to fill spaces in boxes to be shipped. Consider how soon you will need the items and plan accordingly. The bags are said to be reusable, however I find that about half of them will actually be able to be vacuum packed again. The bags can be reused still, however.
  5. We are driving across the country and have planned our route to visit a cousin while taking a much needed break. In fact, that is where I am right now. We are traveling in two groups so my youngest child and I could visit with my parents at the same cousin’s house. This gives our oldest more time to work, visit with friends and earn spending money for the transition to a new community. The car I am driving has a hard plastic storage container (consider purchasing one if you do not own one as they are really durable and hold a tremendous amount) on the roof and is fully packed. We are camping, so our backseat holds the camping equipment, our plug-in cooler, camp stove and food stores. The rest of the car’s contents are items for our move.
  6. My husband and older child will be towing a trailer filled with a snowmobile, bicycles and household items. The have been practicing her towing abilities so she will be able to drive as well. They will also have the two doggies and their kennel. Their goal is to drive as directly as possible across the county. They will be camping if needed, but expect to drive straight through to Nebraska my cousin’s for a visit and a rest, and then finish the trip.
  7. We have scouted out the country for the place that best meets our needs, and have taken some month long camping trips over the years. As a family, we are prepared for this move.  To save even more, we look for free or low cost campsites. National Parks are a good option, but require purchasing an annual park pass. The good news is that it is valid for a year, so purchase it as late in the summer as possible. That way, half of the next summer might just be covered. Some camping in National Parks is free, and most is low cost. State parks can be a real bargain. We also use and choose the “official” sites since we have children with us and are tent camping. I know of one family that travels by night and camps near a playground and pool during the day. Dad sleeps during the day while the children play, and he then drives while the children sleep in the car at night. Other families stay in motels or hotels each night. Do what is best for your family.
  8. Prepare your vehicles ahead of time.  And, as I can attest to, even that may not be enough. Join an organization (we use Good Sam, but have used AAA in the past) that provides towing services and such. It is nice to be able to get into your vehicle after the keys are locked in without ruining your door or paying someone heavily to do so. A rechargeable portable battery “jump pack” jump starter has come in very handy – especially when someone has left the interior truck light on after a late night venture to get their pillow. It can be charged while driving if needed. I never let my gas tank get too low. Better to fill up one extra time than run out of gas.
  9. Pack a tote bag for the rest stop – include personal items (nothing refreshes like a washed face and clean teeth after driving for twenty hours), some activity toys for the children (soft football, Frisbee, blow-up beach ball) to use for a few minutes, and any messy fruits and foods to eat. Switching the activities by stop or state keeps things hopping. We also carry gallons of water to refill drink containers.
  10. A plug-in cooler is a gift for traveling. As it cannot take ice and melted water, I like to freeze plastic water bottles ¾ full of water, unsweetened iced tea or juice. I also like to stock some treats for when the ride gets taxing to ease the tensions. The cooler is a good way to keep fruit and veggies cool, as well as cheese and yogurt. Or, whatever foods your family likes to eat. When there is room, I like to keep the bread in the cooler to keep it from being squished. Our cooler has an electric adapter that can be plugged in if we camp with access to electricity. A large black piece of plastic covers it nicely in case of rain and to keep it out of sight.
  11. We also find a DC-to-AC inverter to be a lifesaver for recharging phones and running any electric items you might want to have. It saves having multiple chargers for items that might be electric. (like this one.) An inverter also allows for listening to audio books or viewing DVDs on a laptop. We are watching a Teaching Company series on physics as our son will be taking that class this fall. Just remember to unplug the inverter when you leave the car.

Each family needs to consider what is best for them. As we decided to move earlier than planned, we needed to find ways to move that cut costs and eliminate the problem of what to do with our possessions that we may want or need in the future. The possibility that we would have worked so very hard to live the self-sufficient life and have to give it all away propelled my husband and I to look at this move as a multi-step process. We are so very blessed, and hope that what we have learned might be of use to another family heading out.