Adventures in Cross-Country Moving

I've moved cross-country seven times, and I have gone through nearly every permutation of the logistical exercise of moving my stuff from here to there (and back again).

This page is a brief summary of my experiences, the methods of moving stuff that I liked and didn't like, and some advice for others.

My advice mostly applies to the move that doesn't involve a whole lot of stuff. If you're moving a houseful of furniture and possessions, obviously you have fewer choices. Your mileage may vary.

Thanks to everyone who visits this page. It's become more popular than I expected it to ever be, and it's very satisfying to share my experiences with so many. By the way, if your company is looking for a Perl programmer in Las Vegas or for one who telecommutes, here's my resume. I'm also looking for contract work writing, rewriting, or fixing Perl stuff, especially scripts and modules that are so fouled up that no one else wants to even look at them anymore.

December 1992: Herndon, VA to Henderson, NV: Full-Service Move

Full-service moving is by far the easiest way to get stuff moved. Folks who know a lot about getting stuff from one place to another come to your home, pack everything up in boxes, run it out to a truck and drive away. A few days (or whenever you want) later, the truck shows up at the other place and the boxes are taken to the rooms in which they belong.

For the apartment-dweller without a lot of stuff, full-service moving is very expensive, usually at least two or three times more than other choices, mainly because there's a lot of overhead involved.

In this instance, my stuff went by full-service moving only because my new employer was paying for it. It worked out great.

February 1996: Henderson, NV to Lorton, VA: Bare-Bones

I took a job on the East Coast for which I had to arrive quickly. Combined with the fact that all my furniture and various other belongings were rather old, the prospect of paying any non-trivial sum to get it all moved to Virgina seemed unwise, so I decided to fill my car with the "important stuff," and get rid of the rest.

The main problem with this idea was that one's imagining of how much his car will hold is very large, and the imagining of how much stuff is "important" is very small. When it came time to put the latter into the former, some problems developed.

I didn't have time to make other arrangements, so I wound up making some rushed decisions about what to keep and what to discard. Not recommended.

March 1997: Lorton, VA to Sunnyvale, CA: General Delivery

I had fully embraced the contractor lifestyle when a somewhat lucrative opportunity presented itself in San Jose. I had purchased some new furniture and such with the idea that it was expendable, and so that wasn't a problem. For the other stuff, such as books, TV, VCR, and computer stuff, I considered some alternatives and decided to ship everything to myself c/o General Delivery in Sunnyvale. This worked out very well. Each parcel was insured according to its contents, and some of the parcels could be shipped by book rate, so the overall cost was very reasonable. One drawback was the the box in which my television was packaged was too large, so that had to go UPS.

Picking the stuff up on the other side was particularly easy - just go to the post office, show ID, get your stuff.

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How General Delivery Works

August 1997: Sunnyvale, CA to Springfield, VA: UPS

Sometimes opportunities are lucrative because everyone else ran away screaming. After a few months of a job that can only be described as Dilbert without any of the funny parts, it was not that hard to be convinced to return to Virginia.

Because I already knew that the television had to go UPS, I decided to just send everything through them. This was also easier because there was a specific address in Virginia to which I could send everything; I don't recall whether UPS offers the equivalent of General Delivery.

The only bad part about this was that my move coincided with the lengthy UPS strike, so my stuff was in limbo for however long it took to resolve.

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Parcel Shipping Options

April 1999: Springfield, VA to Las Vegas, NV: ABF

By the time I decided to return to Nevada (as a telecommuter!), I had acquired furniture and such that could not be practically moved by any parcel service. Full-service moving was still as bad a choice for someone moving as little stuff as I had. I'd heard from some friends about "self-service moving." Basically, someone brings a truck trailer to your home, you put your stuff in the front of the trailer, and they get the trailer to your destination within a few days. (In the meantime, they have loaded other stuff in the remaining space, hauled it all to the destination city, and unloaded the other stuff.) Payment is typically by the amount of space that you use in the trailer.

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How Self-Service Moving Works

May 2000: Las Vegas, NV to Blacksburg, VA: U-Haul

Because there wasn't a place to put an ABF trailer at either my apartment in Las Vegas or at my new apartment in Blacksburg, going with ABF wasn't going to be practical. I decided to complete my survey of all the ways to move by renting a U-Haul truck. This turned out to be one of the more enjoyable moves.

Because I would be driving the truck, I took my car to a car-delivery service. This worked out well too. I dropped the car off at the depot and then took a cab to the U-Haul place. In Virginia, I dropped off the U-Haul truck in Roanoke and took a cab a few miles to the place in Salem where my car was dropped off.

I boxed all the stuff and prepared the furniture for moving, then I had some local loaders put it in the truck. It was probably about $100 for their time and effort along with a reasonably generous tip. It was money well spent.

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How Car Shipping Works
How Truck Rental Works

After 2000

Since living in Blacksburg, I moved back to DC for a while, and then made yet another move to Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, I moved from an apartment on the far west side to a very nice place by the airport.

For my in-city move, I hired one of those places that provide a truck and two movers for a fixed rate per hour. This is the best option for in-city moves, I think, because just moving in itself takes up a lot of energy and time. If I'd had to move all the furniture myself and with whichever friends "volunteered" to help, it's more work and effort than I would want to expend.

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How In-City Moving Works


My conclusion after all my moving around is that you should get as much help as you can reasonably afford. Some of the options are more expensive than it might seem they ought to be, but I have discovered that they're worth every penny.

I hope I won't be moving anytime soon, but you never know!


If you're reading this page because you're looking for information on how to move, here are my recommendations:

Local Moves

Hire a moving service like the one described a few paragraphs above. For something in the neighborhood of fifty to one hundred dollars an hour, you get two movers and their truck. I try to have everything boxed up before they arrive, so that their time is spent loading, driving, and unloading.

Long-Distance Moves

Self-service moving is the way to go. I equally recommend using a self-service trailer such as ABF or renting a truck from U-Haul or similar. It probably depends on whether you need to drive your own car and how easily it will be to get a trailer to your old and new homes. For apartment-to-apartment moves, a U-Haul truck probably works better. For house-to-house moves, a trailer move works just as well.