How to Prep for a Cross-Country Move

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Moving is often a stressful time. Everything feels chaotic. All your worldly positions are packed in little boxes, and you have to pick up and relocate your whole life. Doubly so for a cross-country move.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a job offer out on the west coast of Canada, and while I’m excited, it’ll be the biggest I’ve ever made. My new home is almost 3000 miles away from my current one. Moving from one state or province to another also comes with its own set of required preps and things to do that you don’t even have to consider if you’re staying in the same one.

Paperwork and official documents

A big part of prepping for a move like this is doing the research ahead of time to figure out what documents are going to need to be changed and things like figuring out your new insurance. Here are the things your going to want to remember to research, and do ahead of time if possible:

  • Get a new driver’s license for your new state or province. Many places have rules that state you should be updating these documents within 30 days of living at your new home.
  • Call your car insurance company. Not every insurance company covers every state or province. My current car insurance will only be valid in my new province for 30 days, at which point I have to go with a local company. So make sure to give yourself plenty of time, and call your car, health, and life insurance to see if any changes will need to be made and what you need to do.
  • Change your address with things like your bank, your cell phone, any credit cards, your vehicle registration, or anyt that ever sends you mail.

What will driving conditions be?

When you’re moving cross country, especially if you’re driving, it’s important to do a little research ahead of time to know what your driving conditions will be. This will help you to better prepare for anything that may happen. With my move, I’ll be driving through the Rockies in winter, which I’m sure will come with its own set of obstacles. Luckily, coming from Ontario, I’m used to snow, but it doesn’t mean I won’t have things easily accessible if needed.

Here are the things you should have for your emergency vehicle kit, especially for a big move.

Make sure you know where any preps you may need, even if unlikely, are before starting your drive. Make them easily accessible because you never know when you could get stranded.

Staying organized and planning ahead

With moving, it’s so easy just to throw everything in random boxes and call it good. I know I’ve been guilty of it a time or two myself. When you take the time to be organized though, it makes everything on the other end of the trip so much easier. Whether you just give a general label of what’s in each box, (i.e. clothes, dishes, toys, etc.), or go into more details (i.e., plates and bowls, winter clothes), those labels will make it a lot easier to sort things upon your destination into the proper rooms, as well as find the things you need just that little bit faster.

Keep all your documents in one place

While doing a long drive, make sure you have all your necessary documents in one easily accessible place, doubly so if you’re crossing a country border. I’d also include either a copy of your job contract or a rental agreement if you already have one.

Collect all your receipts

Having an envelope ready near the driver’s seat for any expense you incur can be very helpful. If your move is being compensated via a relocation package with a new employer, it’s not just beneficial. It’ll probably be necessary as they will require receipts in order to reimburse you. Make sure if you are being reimbursed, you know what is and isn’t covered along the way.

Have a printed map or atlas.

Most days, people use their GPS or phone for directions, myself included. When you’re making a big move, though, you never know what you’ll run into. You may go through a stretch of road with no service, rendering your phone almost useless. If you don’t have a map or printer, most welcome centers and truck stops will often have maps of that state, as well as those nearby, either for free or cheap.

Don’t forget to have fun with it.

It’s not every day you get to road trip across a country. If you haven’t had the chance to before, do a little research and see if you’ll be passing anything cool along the way! When doing a move in one day, it’s not as realistic, but with a multiday trek; sometimes it’s worth the hour detour to see something amazing you’ve never had a chance to do before. While I’m still in the research stages, I fully intend to make my first drive through Yellowstone National Park and probably at least one or two other detours.

If you have the extra time, spend an hour or two and do something neat along the way. Maybe it’s trying a restaurant you’ve seen advertised, or maybe it’s going to a museum for an hour or two. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but if you’re already doing the drive, you might as well get the most out of it.

Have you ever moved cross country?

It can be daunting, but in the right circumstances, a cross-country move has the potential to be more fun than stressful. What are the things you make sure to have in easy reach on a cross-country move? What other tasks are essential? What are some things that surprised you? What was your experience like?

Let’s discuss it in the comments section.

About Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget in a prepper household. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her dog, Rhea. 

Check out her work on TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com where she writes about food, frugality, finances, and self-reliance, or her work on Medium, where she writes about lifestyle, mental health, and writing.

Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan

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  • Oh my gosh Daisy, you must have read my mind, great article. We have just sold our house here in Florida and purchased a home in a small North Carolina town, (think ‘One Second After’) type of town. It has been very stressful; we don’t want to leave ANYTHING behind but did have to make a few hard choices. Organizing is the key to moving to another state, every box is marked with the room it goes to and a general idea of what’s in the box. Disconnecting utilities here and connecting utilities there! Makes your head spin. But I’m a list person myself and that has really helped us. Pack what you don’t use on a daily basis, we are packing what we must have immediately when we get there, (think meds and person items), but don’t close those boxes yet. We are moving from cooler weather to colder weather so have those warmer clothes handy too. New mailing address: we had to get a PO box along with physical address but will have our mail forwarded also. After the U-Haul is loaded, I’ll make sure the house is in good order for the new owner. The home in NC is ready for us to move into. Don’t forget to look into banks in your new area. Some states don’t have the same banks. A big shout out to our daughter Bryar for helping us find our next home! Could not have done it without her.

  • Suggestion: Designate and keep a special bag/purse to store that oddball key for the cabinet you normally never lock, the screws for the TV stand that didn’t get into the box with the TV, special power or data cords, an extra roll of box tape and a sharpee to add to the labels as the packing process proceeds. A flashlight, screw driver and razor knife come in handy too.

    Make SURE this bag is with you at all times, doesn’t vanish into some miscellaneous box or is otherwise misplaced.

    • Yes! This is such a good tip! I’ve done a lot of moves, and usually designate my laptop bag, or my big go-to purse for this. It makes a HUGE difference!

  • “It’ll probably be necessary as they will require recipes in order to reimburse you.”

    I understand that freshly baked brownies can help in obtaining cooperation. 8^)

  • Long ago when I had to drive cross-country through several states away from my home state to undergo six months of military training, I had no idea of the hazard I would run into along the way. By the time I had reached the destination state I was still a few hours from the destination city. It was late at night and I had no idea of the dozing off risk I might encounter. Unfortunately I did partly doze a bit and ran off the road. I was lucky it was just a dirt ditch or I could have killed myself.

    The better strategy would have been to leave a day earlier with plans to sleep along the way. When limiting the number of miles you drive in any day is needed … it’s worth remembering that it could save your life.

    –Lewis

  • Also, let your CC company know that you will be making charges out of your usual area. Otherwise, they may trigger a fraud alert and freeze your card.

  • Yes, I moved across country – a total of 2400 miles. Some things that popped into my mind – Bring food and water for those long stretches with no options for stopping. Toilet paper also! And if you conceal carry, make sure you know the rules of the states you are passing through. Try to map out rest areas, campgrounds, hotels, and the like ahead of time. If you’re traveling with a trailer/RV/Uhaul make sure you build lots of extra time in the schedule. Often, it takes a lot more time to go through places like the Rocky Mountains with a U-Haul than it does with just a car. It also helps pass time if you do some sort of game – like guessing how many Cracker Barrels there are along the way and the winner gets a free meal there in your new location. If you’re driving through mountainous areas, bring chains, kitty litter and a shovel just in case.

    I’m sure I’ll think of more as soon as I hit submit but that’s it for now.

  • I moved 1500 miles in Feb 2020. I had no Driver license while I was preparing, so I took care of that, but still had no car, so I rented a U-Haul truck. It was “my truck”for 4 days, which was a delightful feeling. It would have saved a few hundred dollars to get a good car for towing first and towed a U-Haul trailer. U-Haul was wonderful, I give them 5 stars. They knew everything because they’ve been dealing with movers for decades. They had all the supplies you need. The truck was super easy to drive. I checked the weather carefully, and picked a start date that should give me a snow-free trip, and that’s what I got. If you are making a winter move, checking that is vital.

  • I just completed a move from SoCal to NW Florida. This was rather a big deal – I brought a lot of furniture with me (inherited, mostly). I used one of the storage pod companies for my move, and I am satisfied with the result – although I will say that the company was unable to deliver the pod until ten days after my arrival (the pod was in my destination city, but the company had a shortage of staff to deliver it). There are several of these companies available. I did have to hire local movers to unload the pod after I arrived (if you have family or friends to help, this may not be necessary).

    I also shipped my car rather than driving cross country. I was not completely satisfied with the result; although the car arrived on time and was not damaged, the truck used for transport had a terrible diesel smokestack problem and required a deep cleaning, both inside and out, to get it cleaned after I picked it up. Other than that, no problems.

    Lastly, I brought *way* too much stuff with me! Try to pare down as much as you can when you are packing, and don’t be sentimental. If something has been in a closet for twenty years, you don’t need it.

  • I moved some years ago and used a moving company. To keep tracked of all my boxes, I labelled them all ‘1 of 24’, ‘2 of 24’ etc. That way the company and I could easily keep track of everything. All boxes were taped up really well, so none could break open if dropped.

  • Don’t dump your pets because you are moving. Yes, people actually do this. Their logic is, “well I will get another pet once I get settled in my new place.”

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