Making Your Move Without Losing Your Mind
Relocating to your next adventure can be crazy stressful. But it doesn't have to be. Part 1 of my moving guide goes over what you need to consider when shipping your belongings:
This article is a bit out of my typical scope as a writer. But the more I relocate, the more I realize lots of you may also one day move in pursuit of your next adventure. When I was researching my move, I found a lot of ads disguised as advice pieces.
I’ve decided to put together what I’ve learned, here. Like I said, this usually isn’t my lane. I just thought I’d share more of my tangential experiences. Normal outdoorsy content comes next week.
I almost jumped off the floor when my phone rang. I’d been sitting up against the wall reading a book while waiting for an update from the movers., who had all my furniture. The news I got wasn’t good.
“Probably another week out,” the driver told me when I answered the phone. “And it’s gonna cost a little more. Extra 600, cash.” My heart sank. Sure, he was being polite about it, but I knew he was running an all-too common extortion tactic on me. He had almost everything I owned. What choice would I have but to pay?
My experience moving from Florida, to Colorado actually made the list as one of the seven worst experiences of my life, which I wrote about more than a year ago in one of my favorite personal essays to date, exploring gratitude.
I admittedly felt less grateful in the moment. When I decided to make the move back to Florida, I was determined to ensure nothing like that would happen to me again. I’ve put together what I consider to be the absolutely definitive 3-part moving guide, to get you through without losing your belongings, or your sanity.
Part I: The Groundwork
Planning your move is the least labor intensive, but involves the most critical decision making that can set you up for either success, or disaster. In this section I’ll explain how to choose what kind of move is right for you, how to hire a good company, and ensure your possessions are protected.
The Cardinal Rule of Custody
Before we get started, I have one rule that reigns supreme above all others: never under any circumstances, allow your possessions to leave your custody. By custody, I mean only you should ever have unrestricted, unsupervised, and exclusive access to your belongings.
No-no situations include, but are not limited to:
Your belongings loaded onto a mover’s truck
Your belongings, stored in a mover’s warehouse
Why? Because if you become 100% dependent on the mover to grant you access, they can charge you whatever they want for that privilege. This is one of the reasons I chose to use PODS. Even though the container leaves your immediate control, it’s locked. You have the only key.
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Deciding Your Move Method
The first part of the move — sometimes even coming before finding an exact apartment or home — is deciding how you want to send all your stuff there. You really only have a couple options.
Full Service Mover
Someone picks up all your stuff. Loads it into a truck, and unloads it for you at the new destination.
You only have to deal with one company, so coordinating the move is less work
You don’t have to purchase extras like moving blankets
You will not have custody over your belongings
Many moving companies will load and unload your belongings between multiple trucks and warehouses, increasing the chances of loss or damage
Moving companies tend to have bad insurance, paying out by item weight rather than actual or replacement value
*Some moving companies slip into your contract that they reserve the right to subcontract your move. That 4.8 star company with 1,000 positive reviews may quietly turn over your stuff to a 0 star fly-by-night operation with a reputation for stealing
Obviously that con list is a lot longer than the pros. Don’t get me wrong, I think moving companies have their uses. I just don’t think you get your money’s worth for a distance move.
If you do go this route: carefully read the contract for that subcontracting clause. Ask if they will be the ones handling your move, or whether another company will pick it up part of the way. Ask if your belongings will be loaded on or off the truck. If so, how often?
Send them the address you will be moving to. Ask them to confirm — in writing — whether the move will require your belongings to be placed on a smaller truck for an increased fee. Even after all that, you better believe I’d still be slipping a few trackers1 into my belongings.
No Roots, No Problem
If you’re not particularly attached to your possessions, or just don’t really have a lot of stuff to begin with, you may be tempted to just cram what you can in your own vehicle. The rest can be sold, or given away.
You won’t have to shell out a huge sum to transport your belongings. If you’re a minimalist, there’s a chance it’s actually cheaper to buy all new things, than hire a moving service
Less vulnerable to theft
You get a fresh start when arriving at your new place
The process forces you to declutter
You still have to get rid of your belongings. That means hiring a junk service, dealing with meet-ups and sales, trips to donation centers, etc.
If you have a lot of stuff — or own a lot of specialty equipment — your belongings may be more expensive than you think. Sometimes the cost and hassle of replacing them will dwarf what you would’ve spent on a move
Even if that’s not the case, you still may have to deal with the inconvenience of living without certain items until you replace them
Moving this way requires you to actually have a pretty good idea of what you own and what it’s worth. It’s also a bit unrealistic for most couples or families (or outdoor lovers who have expensive gear.)
Rent a Truck or Trailer
You can load it yourself, or hire someone to help with the heavy lifting. Then simply drive it to your new home.
You maintain full custody of your belongings. They are with you at all times. You lock it. Only you can access it
Your stuff arrives when you do. Don’t undervalue this point. If you go with full service movers, or hire something like PODS, or U-Pack, you’ll have to either send your stuff on ahead of you, or wait around for it to arrive. In my experience moving cross country, that means you could be sleeping on the floor wearing the same clothes for between 1 week and 1 month
Cheaper than a full service move
You can still hire local movers to do the heavy lifting. But you’re always in control of your stuff
You bundled all your valuables together, slapped a sign advertising “good stuff to steal,” then put it on wheels to make a thief’s job as easy as possible. Truck and trailer thefts are a huge problem, especially if you’re moving to escape a high-crime area
You need to be comfortable driving a truck or towing a trailer. This also becomes a limiting factor in parking at rest stops and hotels. This will also reduce your maximum speed
Some roads and bridges actually toll you by axel, so you’ll pay more. You may also face lane use restrictions on certain highways
You will need to supply your own moving blankets and cargo tie downs. These are expensive, but necessary to prevent items from shifting and getting damaged
I prefer this to a full service move, but the theft risk and trailer driving is still worth considering. If you have a tow hitch, and not that much in the way of furniture, this may be your bet.
Container Shipping Service (PODS, U-Box, U-Pack)
You can load it yourself, or hire someone to help with the heavy lifting. Then it’s loaded onto a flatbed and shipped to your destination.
You maintain full custody of your belongings. Even when they are not with you, they are locked and secured
You do not have to worry about driving a trailer or truck
It’s hard for a thief to break into one of these containers. They’re up high on a massive truck, which will be occupied by a driver almost constantly
Cheaper than a full service move
You can still hire local movers to load and unload
More expensive than renting your own trailer
There isn’t a precise drop off and pickup time. That means you need space available to store these crates/containers for at least 3 days. (Drop off, load, pickup)
Same as above: You will need to supply your own moving blankets and cargo tie downs
Ultimately, this is the option I went with. Having actually tried everything on this list, it’s also the option I recommend for most people. It requires a bit more careful planning, but has the fewest variables that could cause you headache, once set in motion.
PODs VS. U-Box
…and if you do go this route, which of the similar options should you pick? I spent a lot of time considering this, and was frustrated by the lack of answers when planning my move.
I went with PODs. I have friends and coworkers who have used U-Boxes. Depending on your needs, you may choose differently than I did. This is my best, most objective comparison:
PODs containers are made of metal, and feel sturdy. They are advertised as weather resistant, and stand up pretty well to the elements. They come in 3 sizes, the largest of which can hold roughly 850 cubic feet of stuff.
It takes up roughly as much space as a standard parking space. Fair warning though, because of the wheel size on the delivery cradle (pictured above,) you’ll need extra clearance on each side. This typically means taking up two side-by-side parking spaces at an apartment complex.
If you’re moving outside of your city, you can only use the largest, or smallest size. This can be a bit frustrating if you have a 1 bedroom apartment; you’ll either have to downsize and cram into a small, or overpay and go with the larger container. That means more empty space, and a greater likelihood of item shift and damage.
A U-box is quite a bit smaller, holding 250 cubic feet per container. It’s basically a massive wooden shipping crate, covered by a tarp. If the tarp isn’t secured properly (or it gets torn, skewed, blown off, etc.) your belongings could be more vulnerable to water damage.
There is only one size. The idea is, you order a bunch.
Because of the design, it will be easier for the delivery company to maneuver them into tight spaces near your home. On the flipside, you’ll also be forced to pack a lot of large furniture items vertically.
That said, a snug container isn’t a bad thing. Movers seem to prefer them because it’s easier to tie down and secure your belongings, meaning less shifting.
Pods allows you to cancel up to 4pm local time, the day before your scheduled drop off. You can also reschedule your delivery date within two full weeks of your original reservation if something changes, and your rate will stay the same.
By the way, when you make your original booking, I recommend you ask the representative to price check the month immediately before and after your desired move to see if they are cheaper. I saved $400 by booking the POD for February and then immediately rescheduling to March.
U-Haul says their service does not charge cancellation fees. You also have the option of ordering more U-Boxes than you think you’ll need, and send back the ones you don’t wind up filling. They do charge a restock/redelivery fee for this, but it wasn’t anything astronomical. (I think it was $150.)
By nature of the box size, it’s also easier to purchase the exact amount of shipping space you need.
PODs is a bit less transparent about pricing, forcing you to actually speak with an agent to get a quote. Based on my estimate though: a large container cost roughly $4,000. For the sake of comparison, that turns into a rough shipping price comparison of $4.70* per cubic foot.
U-box has a price calculator on their site. The first box will cost you around $1,000 with each additional unit costing around $400. I put the price per cubic foot around $2.47* for a comparable amount of storage.
*By the way, I think the cubic foot comparison is also extremely useful because it makes you think very carefully about the amount of junk you’re packing, as well as the empty space you might be leaving in your belongings.
POD has the best customer service, hands down. It was easy to get someone on the phone to ask questions, update information, make changes, etc.
Based on the experience of my friends and former coworkers who used the service, I’ve heard not-so-great things about their customer service. Complaints range from difficulties actually getting ahold of someone to help you, all the way to not having any boxes available on delivery day.
However, they do offer a delivery date guarantee. Every day past this deadline deducts from the balance you owe for the move.
U-box also includes some of the moving supplies you’d otherwise need: two-dozen moving blankets per box. As you’ll find in my next guide on buying moving supplies: these things are an expensive necessity.
Why I left U-Pack off my list
I considered putting U-Pack on this list but left off the detailed comparison because it’s either prohibitively expensive, or violates my number one rule (see: custody.)
Using their “ReloCubes,” you get an eye-watering cost of $5.25 per cubic foot. You can also opt to rent space on one of their trucks for about $2.38 per cubic foot. But any space not used by you will be used to ship “commercial goods.” If other stuff is getting loaded in with your belongings, that means someone else can access your possessions.
Laying the Groundwork
Insuring Your Success
Before you call anyone, or even select which movers, or type of move you want to do: call your renters or home owner’s insurance provider. Ask them if your policy covers items damaged, lost, or stolen over the course of the move. Ask whether your coverage is for replacement, or actual value.2
I discovered my insurance covered loss or damage, but only on the property where I was living. If anything happened in transit, I’d get nothing. I wound up spending an extra 60 bucks to insure the POD and its contents on the road. Whether you’re willing to take the risk is entirely up to you.
I used a local mover to help pack the POD. Believe it or not, local movers are actually the most in-demand part of the service. You should book them first. If you plan on hiring local movers, and money is an issue, the movers that pack your belongings are much more important than the ones that unpack.
When you make your booking, explain that you are doing a POD or U-box load. Ask the dispatcher/receptionist that you speak with what supplies they need you to prepare.
When you finally do reserve your POD or U-Boxes, keep in mind they cannot guarantee a precise delivery time. Don’t try to schedule a drop-off and pickup on the same day. I also recommend you schedule a pickup at least a full week before you actually move out. Remember: you want your belongings to get a head start in their journey.
If you do opt for full-service movers: make sure you double-check the fine print in your contract for any clauses that let them sneak in extra fees. Some common ones:
Defining “stairs” by the number of steps, not flights
Reserving the right to subcontract your move
Surcharges for loading your belongings onto a smaller truck because the big one can’t get to your home
And there you have it — the first stretch of your journey is complete. The bulk of the logistics and planning are out of the way. But the literal heavy lifting has only just begun.
Subscribe to make sure you get the next piece of my guide, going over exactly what you need to pack for a stress and damage-free relocation.
And if you have any lingering moving questions I didn’t address here, please feel free to ask below in the comments. All of this is still extremely fresh in my mind. I simply could not cram it all into the guide!
I plan on sprinkling these moving guides in with my regular posts over the next couple months (or so.) Next week I have a lovely story lined up about making friends. I’ve been wanting to write it for years, and can’t wait to actually share it with you.
Tile trackers or Air Tags are great for this purpose. I’ll talk about them in greater detail in the next part of the guide.
“Actual value” covers the item’s current worth. The couch you bought ten years ago may have cost you $1,000, but the insurance company may decide after all those years, it’s only worth a fraction of that. “Replacement cost” takes into account that even if your couch is only worth $50 bucks now, it will still cost you hundreds to get a new one. The latter cost of insurance is more expensive.