Wednesday, July 14, 2010

6 Tips for Moving Across America

A lot of readers have expressed their desire and uncertainty over making a big move, and many have been so sweet to congratulate and commend me. I want to send that love right back to you and tell you that moving across the country was an incredibly empowering experience. I want to encourage you all to take a leap of faith, be bold, and do it, too! Find your dream destination and move there! This can seem really intimidating, so preparation and planning are key. Believe me, I was terrified and confused 8 months ago when I began planning our move to Portland, but after achieving this feat I feel unstoppable. If you want to move, but don't know where to start - don't worry! Here's where I come in and pour out all my knowledge of cross country moving...but first, a little story...

I can't tell you how many places I'd dreamt of moving while in college...Paris, Barcelona, LA, Portland...I had a new idea every few months but was really uncertain of how to follow through. I remember a friend of mine saying "Pssh yeah right, you said you were moving to Portland last week! You're never leaving Gainesville!" and I thought, wow I'm only twenty years old, I'm still in college, and I can't even get a little confidence in me from my friends? Spite has often driven me to prove people wrong, so I was inadvertently challenged to get my ass in gear and move out of Gainesville. If anyone doubts your courage, don't listen to them. Believe in yourself and don't forget that it's okay to be scared of the unknown.

1. Make a moving budget. 

Before you decide when to move, sit down and figure out how much it will cost to get to your destination and how much you'll need to be secure for the first few months while you look for a job. Get a piece of paper and a pen! 

Ask yourself, "How will I get there? Will I drive, fly, or take a train?" Consider how long it would take to drive, how much you will spend on gas, food, and hotel fare. Take your vehicle into account, is it running well enough to make it across the country through mountain ranges while towing your belongings? Will you need a car when you get to your new home? If not, check into train and air fare. 

After considering all the options I decided that flying would be the cheapest and least exhausting strategy  - especially since my cat was coming with us. I just couldn't make her hold her bladder during eight hours a day in the car. The train was out too, since pets aren't allowed on unless they're a service animal. Flying requires only a one way ticket, and nowadays small pets can fly in the cabin with you in a designated carrier right under your the seat (for a fee of about $100, depending on the airline). I do not suggest checking your pet as cargo, the conditions are awful and many pets get hurt or die in transit. I just don't think it's worth the risk. If flying with a pet, you will also need to budget in the cost of a flight approved carrier (usually under $50 at a pet store) and a certificate of health from the vet (it cost me $60 to get this slip of paper, given that Stella was up to date on rabies shots, etc). 

You will also need to research housing costs in the area you're moving. When you sign a lease, you'll most likely need first and last months rent, plus a security deposit. It would be a good idea to have that, plus a few months rent ready in case you can't find a job right away. 

2. Consider shipping your belongings on Amtrak.

If you own a truck and are driving, you can rent a u-haul trailer to tow your boxes behind you. In my opinion, renting a large moving truck was just too expensive. If you're flying or taking the train, you'll need another way to get your boxes to your new home. I first considered shipping our belongings via the postal system, but had a nagging feeling that it would be too untrustworthy and too costly. After doing some research online I found a random blog that mentioned shipping your belongings on an Amtrak train, and a little light went off inside my head. 

Shipping 40 boxes and 2 bikes (1000 lbs.) from Chicago to Portland cost us only $500. Our boxes were kept together on individual pallets and shrink wrapped to keep everything safe and unharmed. It took the train 4 days to arrive at the Portland Amtrak station, enough time to find an apartment and borrow a truck to bring our stuff home. The prices vary depending how much you have to ship, but I believe it started at $49 for the first 100 lbs. and it was $250 for 500 lbs. Amtrak even had bike boxes for sale at $15 a piece and we didn't have to take our bikes apart - the boxes are big enough to roll it right in. Amtrak also unloads and labels each box, so you don't have to worry about lifting boxes or addressing them beforehand. 

Call Amtrak for more details, their website isn't very in depth. 

3. Set a time frame.

It's easy to dream of moving and starting fresh in a new city, but without a set time frame it is really hard to focus on sticking to that plan. So, once you figure out how much your move will cost, get to work on saving! Write out a budget to calculate how long it will take you to save up the money to move - whether it's 6 months or a year - start putting money into your savings account! 

4. Downsize your belongings

Moving is a great opportunity to shed all the little odds and ends, old clothes, furniture, and material objects that have been weighing you down. Donate, recycle, and sell what you can. Try to avoid simply throwing things away, as that is just plain wasteful and unsustainable. If you have electronics, paint, chemicals, etc look into a recycling center that will take these off your hands and dispose of them properly. 

Downsizing doesn't mean getting rid of everything! The first time I moved from Florida to Indiana, I over simplified my life by getting rid of my kitchen equipment, sentimental items, art, etc...I got rid of so much that I didn't have any of the things I needed when I finally settled down! So, I strongly suggest you keep your pots, pans, blender, hair dryer...all that stuff. Don't be a typical consumer by ditching what still works! If you really want to know why, check out the Story of Stuff.

5. Don't stress! 

Moving can be incredibly stressful and worrisome, but remember that you're simplifying the process and tackling challenges head on by being prepared. If there are any loose ends to be tied, don't wait! Make time to spend with family and friends before you're gone, so everyone feels good about the big changes coming. Visit your favorite places and restaurants before you take off, say goodbye to the folks who've crossed you path during your stay (I still miss the ladies at my favorite thrift stores and our barista at the bookstore coffee shop). Trust your gut! If something doesn't feel right, investigate it until you find the most appropriate way to get yourself to a new place. Most of all, remind yourself that moving IS a challenge, but it's one that will leave you feeling confident and prepared for anything that comes your way. 

6. Take it all in stride

When you get to your new destination, odds are that you'll feel a bit panicky and lost in a new city. Try not to let that anxiety stop you from appreciating the accomplishment you've already conquered! Stay focused - you're almost settled in an entirely new city! It's a good idea to secure a place to stay for a few weeks while you search for an apartment, a place to rest your feet after a long day walking around looking for rental signs. We found short term housing with a couple folks on had central location, was cheap, and we ended up becoming good friends with our roomies. Don't get me wrong, craigslist has crazies so be careful and make sure you're comfortable with the situation before you commit. It definitely helped that I had Alex to keep me safe, but if you're a worried check into hostels or ask family/friends to reach out to people who may be able to house you.

When we arrived in Portland, finding an apartment was a full time job. The only places that had "for rent" signs were motel style apartment complexes that I had no interest in. I really felt like we'd never find a place, but we walked all over town searching, asked everyone we met for advice, asked to look at apartments that had moving trucks outside them, and checked craigslist 10 times a day. It took a week of searching, but we had put in two applications after finding open house notices on craigslist. We were lucky enough to get the apartment we wanted, mostly because we were the first people to turn in an application. I couldn't be happier where we are now, but the first few days on the hunt left me feeling lonely and negative. Stay positive, you will find a home! 

My next move will most likely be to that will take a whole other system of planning, but after successfully moving across American soil I know I can achieve it!