10 Tips for Moving Cross-Country From Someone Who Did It

Moving across the country is exciting—so much to look forward to, from the journey to your final destination. It’s also different from any other move you’ll make. The amount of upfront work that’s needed to make it happen without hiccups is extensive. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, it’s anything but.

Before you pack up your car and head out, learn a few lessons from someone who’s done it before—me—eight years ago, when I moved from Vermont to San Diego.

1. Weigh the Cost of Shipping Your Car

One of the biggest pains of moving cross-country is determining whether you should ship, drive or sell your vehicle. If you lease your vehicle, shipping your car is likely the best option to avoid exceeding your allotted miles or putting any extra wear and tear on your vehicle.

Shipping is possible, but you need to consider the cost, which depends on the vendor you choose. The average cost is $950 nationwide in the U.S., according to HomeAdvisor.

If you want to see the country—arguably the best part of making this move—drive yourself to your new home and then trade or sell the vehicle when you get there for extra cash. Or keep it and avoid the expense of buying a new car.

2. Do Your Career Homework

It may seem obvious, but in the excitement of making a big move, it’s easy to forget about important details like: Does your desired location support your career industry? For example, if you want to move to California, you may read through a report like Fastest Growing Industries in California, from Premier Talent Partners.

If you already have a set career path, now’s a good time to reach out to recruiters as well. It can be challenging to secure interviews when you’re still out of the state. A recruiter will know how to navigate this obstacle and help you secure a position before arriving, if that’s important for you.

3. Get Your Finances in Check

When was the last time you took a serious look at your finances or even checked your credit score? The cost of living in your new home state is guaranteed to change. What you’re used to paying for groceries, rent, gas and healthcare will likely be drastically different.

For example, rent prices are 45 percent higher in San Diego than Burlington, Vermont, where I was coming from. You can find the same data by doing a comparison of Cost of Living with Numbeo’s Cost of Living calculator. This is something I was not fully prepared for and made the first few months challenging.

It’s important to consider your credit score at this point as well, which will also be considered when renting or buying in your new state. Check out MyFico’s guide for improving your credit score before making any major moving decisions.

4. Part Ways with Things You Don’t Need

You never realize how much stuff you actually have until the boxes come out and you start packing. Think of packing as an opportunity to get rid of belongings you no longer need and start fresh—especially for a move across country. If you’re not renting a van, you’ll need to fit everything into shipping boxes or your car.

To start, create three separate piles—keep, donate, and sell. This will help you pare down items to what you truly need. For items that you plan on selling, use apps like OfferUp and LetGo, which allow you to sell all types of items and conveniently connect with buyers in your area.

5. Pack Your Clothes Strategically

There are only so many boxes you can take on your journey across the country. Packing your clothes strategically is key. Your clothes can be the hardest items to pack—from winter jackets to shoes, sweaters, and pants—as many of these items are bulky and take up a lot of space.

Rather than haphazardly throwing a bunch of clothes into boxes, follow some of these expert packing tips from CD One Price Cleaners:

  • Rolling: Rolling clothes not only allows you to travel with clothes wrinkle free, but it’s a huge space saver. Simply roll your items and tuck them into boxes. You’ll be shocked how much more you can fit in each box.
  • Make Use Of The Gaps: There will be gaps between the rolled clothes—use these spaces to squeeze in small items like socks and other delicates that don’t need a lot of space.

6. Tap Into Your Network

Chances are you know a family member or friend of a friend who’s lived in your new home state. Leverage your network to help you get ahead before arriving. For example, ask a friend to drive through a neighborhood you’re interested in or to check out an apartment you’ve been eyeing. They can be your eyes and ears before you get there.

7. Save Your Moving Receipts

If you’re moving for work, the government might give you a break on your taxes. If you moved to a new location due to your job, you may qualify to claim the cost of your moving expenses as a deduction on your federal income tax return. 

To ensure you have all your ducks in a row come tax season, collect all of your moving receipts—such as the cost of boxes, any shipping costs, and gas mileage—and keep them in a safe place. Learn more about this option at TurboTax.

8. Don’t Forget the Little Things

It’s easy to forget the little things when you’re caught up in the excitement and stress of moving to a different state. Before you leave, don’t forget to wrap up these little—albeit important—things:

  • Schedule and transfer your utilities
  • Forward your mail
  • Cancel or transfer gym memberships
  • Arrange for key drop-off or transfer
  • Collect all personal records, such as medical, veterinarian, school

9. Be Flexible

You can make endless to-do lists and have 10 different backup plans, but something is almost always guaranteed to go wrong, big or small. Your movers might arrive three hours late or you could get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.

During these times, it’s important to be flexible and remain calm. Moving cross-country is no easy feat—even for the most organized and prepared individual.

10. Explore Your New Home

Once you’ve unpacked your last box, it’s time for the fun part—exploring your new home. I made a point to say “yes” to everything I was asked to do when first arriving in San Diego. This helped me make new friends, find fun local spots, and step out of my comfort zone.


Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and has written for a wide variety of publications, including AARP, Reader’s Digest and Lifehack and regularly contributes to The Financial Diet, Remax and Homes.com and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.

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