Lucky 13: Moving Across Country, Part I

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It was this very week a decade ago that I moved away from home for the first time. Since then, I have relocated exactly 13 times (not counting my summer jobs in Arizona in college). (Insane, I know. I start to wonder about my state of mental health, too.) I’ve always done your typical broke-and-in-your-twenties routine: Make as many trips as I can back and forth between Old Home and New Home, cramming my Taurus or (now) Altima or a friend’s car with as much stuff as possible on each attempt. Coming out to California from New York, I shipped everything via UPS (and subsequently made all my money back when the boxes arrived smashed with all the fragile contents broken). Our move from San Mateo to San Francisco exactly 18 months ago was the first time SVV or I actually hired movers (well, we hired a U-Haul and convinced a couple of day laborers hanging out in the Home Depot parking lot to do the heavy lifting for us for cash and dinner).

But this time was different: This time, I was moving 3,000 miles (again) but actually have nice belongings and furniture I care about. This time, we enlisted the help of 1-800-PACK-RAT to ensure our nice Pottery Barn office set and our antique couches and the Vera Wang mattress and all the pretty things we received at our wedding made it across country without a hitch.

First Things First

We started by boxing up all of our personal belongings back in May before the six-week road trip and our two-week cruise and tour of New England. We had friends staying in our apartment while we were gone, so obviously we needed to offer them up the closets and our drawers. This made it far easier when we returned in July for a full 17 days—17 days in which we had to close down all of our San Francisco accounts; clean, paint and fix up the apartment; have last dinners and parties with all of our friends and family members; sell our cheap, throw-away IKEA furniture; and the other senseless tasks you forget accompany such a major life change.

How It Worked

Step 1: Getting a quote, closing the deal, obtaining a city permit.

To be honest, prior to our decision to move—which was recent news, but has been in the cards since last October—I knew nothing about Pack Rat or any sort of pod shipping services. It was SVV who first suggested looking into it, and we began getting quotes even way back then. We started with the only one we knew of at the time, PODS, then came across Pack Rat, who promised they would beat PODS’ quote, which they did. Right away, we loved the commitment to customer service, and the company seemed much smaller and more intimate than a giant like PODS, which is what we wanted, seeing as we were entrusting them with, well, our lives. And also, they’re Southern (based in North Carolina), and you know how well that jives with me.

The one issue that we ran into—and that could have been semi-major—is that while Pack Rat obtained the city permit for us so they could leave the container in front of our place for three days, they were unable to get the police permit for us blocking off the spaces in front of our building for the week (though our local “handler,” Chris, tried his hardest to tackle this for us…but alas, you had to be a resident of the place to get such authorization). This isn’t an issue if you live in a house and have a driveway; however, if you’re in a city apartment building on a busy street, it can be a challenge.

We could have gone down to the police station and paid $150 to obtain the permit ourselves, but we simply ran out of time, and these things could take all day in San Francisco. The 17 days we were back between the cruise and our move slipped away like sand in an hour glass set to warp speed mode. So instead, we monitored the parking situation in front of our building starting over the weekend and, the second one opened up—just the night before, thanks to an alert from our lovely neighbor Linda—SVV, who has a city street parking permit, moved his Jeep to the middle of the two spaces we needed, and all was well. Talk about a close call!

Step 2: The pod arrives.

The pod was scheduled to arrive during a two-hour window, and once the driver was a few blocks away, he called to let us know he was on his way. We ran downstairs so SVV could move his Jeep, and the truck pulled up in his spot. Then, the driver hooked it up to a power source and a crane of sorts lifted the box and dropped it in the empty space. It was such a cool process to watch!

He left the weatherproof container and a heavy duty lock behind so we could start doing our thing.

Step 3: Load all of your belongings.

The pod sat in front of our building for three days, which you would *think* is plenty of time to fully load a San Francisco apartment. And yet somehow, we were still playing one giant game of Tetris with our belongings, taking things out and rearranging, up until an hour before the driver was scheduled to pick up the container on Saturday morning.

We knew going into the ordeal that the fit was going to be tight, as the largest container you can order is 16 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet (which estimates holding space for three to four rooms…we had about six). When we moved back into the city just 18 months ago from our San Mateo house, we filled an entire 26-foot moving truck. But this time, we got rid of a lot of furniture and packed things to the brim, hoping it would all be OK.

There were plenty of times I was stressing out when the pod was nearly full and there were still approximately 37 boxes still upstairs ready to be carried down, but in the end, we managed to squeeze every last ounce of space out of that thing by unpacking boxes and stuffing clothing, kitchen supplies, and other odds and ends into every nook and cranny (and once we gave away SVV’s bike in the 11th hour and unloaded our jungle’s worth of a plant collection onto my sister-in-law and her husband).

This was also helped by the fact that Pack Rat supplies its users with 20 packing blankets to wrap furniture and breakable. We used nearly every last one, too! Other packing supplies are available for purchase, but we had stocked up on boxes, bubble wrap and packing tape long before the pod arrived, so we were set to go.

I still can’t believe we managed to fit all of our crap into this neat, little container—which was brand new and had never been used, by the way—without employing Hermione Granger’s special beaded bag of infinite depth. Families and those with apartments bigger than 900 square feet might want to consider ordering two (or more) containers.

As is typical in San Francisco in July, though, it was frigid and gray and foggy, and the wind was so strong, it kept blowing away our pillows and empty boxes, and I found myself often sprinting down the street after them as they’d land in neighbors’ yards.

Step 4: The pod leaves your apartment.

We actually had already vacated our apartment and were over in Oakland when the driver returned to pick up the pod, but our good pal Herb across the hall monitored the situation and made sure the pod was in its place and en route to Tennessee. Each container is loaded onto a semi-truck with other pods, then shipped across the country to its final destination.

There’s also a weight restriction—8,500 pounds—and seeing as we didn’t really have a mechanism to weigh the container before we sealed it, we were holding our breaths hoping that stuffing the thing so tight wasn’t going to backfire on us. Herb called to report we weighed in at 8,000—talk about cutting it close!

What Happens Next

All of our things will hopefully arrive in Shelbyville before we fly out to Boston on Aug. 20 for the beginning of Semester at Sea; we’re told containers arrive at their final destination five to 10 business days after departing their origin, which is pretty miraculous all things considered. We could have left our things in the pod at just $200 a month and recovered them in December once we were back—this is a helluva deal compared to PODS’ $400-a-month charge or really any storage facility in a major city—but opted to unload it ourselves as my dad owns a storage facility (meaning free storage for however long it takes us to settle, which could be awhile as we want this next move to be for the long term). Still, for the average person making such a huge move, this is such a convenient service. You don’t have to rush into finding a place to live or even finding a nearby permanent storage facility until you buy a house or sign a lease; you can simply leave everything you own in the container for as long as it takes you to find a home and then it will arrive at your new place of residence once you’re settled and ready. In the meantime, you can get into the climate-controlled warehouse to access your belongings whenever you need.

In the end, I was so very relieved we could leave San Francisco with just my (semi-crammed) Altima and not worry about towing a U-Haul all the way across the country and actually enjoy the drive. I’ll report back when all of our stuff arrives to let you know how the process works on the other end!

Have you ever tried a pod service for a cross-country move? Did you, like us, find it much easier than dealing with physically moving your belongings yourself?

*****

*Full disclosure: For the purpose of reviewing their services, Pack Rat offered us a 30% media discount. That said, all opinions are our honest experience with the company.

COMMENTS
  • August 1, 2011
    MLE

    We did something similar with our move from Denver to Northern CA, though instead of a delivered container, we used ABS and drove all our stuff to the shipping yard where the container was and loaded it there in about a million trips (borrowed Dan’s dad’s truck). We also got rid of most of our furniture before we left. With ABS, you pay for the number of feet you use – we estimated 8 feet of the container, and it turned out to be 9. They fill the rest of the space with commercial goods. Still, considering the cost of our other options, and considering we had to drive 2 cats across the country with us, we were thrilled not to have to drive a UHaul over the Rockies. The only downside was that the container took a little longer than expected to arrive at the shipping yard closest to us (they wouldn’t deliver it all the way up here where we are) so we had to rent a local uhaul, unpack everything from the container into the uhaul, and drive that up here, unload it, and then drive the uhaul back to Santa Rosa. But all told we only paid about $850 for the whole shebang, so not too shabby!

  • August 1, 2011
    Samantha

    YAY! I am so excited to have you closer to home and to me 🙂 I know you will miss SF, but if you ever want to go back for a visit I am only a phone call away and would love to go with you! Miss your face and can’t wait to catch up! Be safe!

    • August 2, 2011
      Kristin

      I want to officially reserve your couch for the Derby in May, ha! =)

  • August 1, 2011

    We used PODS to move once, though not cross-country. It sounds like your experience was much more friendly and accommodating. Also, some of our stuff was damaged during transport, but that was probably due to the way we packed. We didn’t completely pack the container full, and it was impossible to tie everything down perfectly. It doesn’t sound like you’ll have that problem! 🙂

    • August 2, 2011
      Kristin

      I’m glad to know we opted for the friendlier one! I honestly don’t think it’s possible for anything to be damaged, it’s all wedged in there about as tight as is possible!

  • August 1, 2011
    MLE

    Oops, it was ABF, not ABS! Ha!

    • August 1, 2011
      Kristin

      Scott looked into that one, too! Logistically, it just seemed a bit more difficult. Though funny enough, not an hour after I read your comment while on the road (not driving, obvs…in the passenger seat), an ABF truck drove right past us!

  • August 1, 2011

    Sounds like it all worked out perfectly in the end – I’m glad to hear it! I don’t even want to think about eventually moving stuff from Chile to the US. I don’t think most of our furniture will make the cut considering the costs and hassle involved, but even so our clothes and personal items that we will definitely want aren’t going to fit into two suitcases each, so we’ll get to experience the “joys” of packing, shipping and customs.

    • August 1, 2011
      Kristin

      You guys are moving back to the US? Anytime in the near(ish) future?? I cannot even imagine that process–the two times I lived in Europe were hard enough just moving my clothes and electronics, and I did that all in suitcases on a plane!

  • August 1, 2011

    Moving is a great way to confront the amount of crap treasures you’ve accumulated over the years. Well-done!

    • August 1, 2011
      Kristin

      And yet, we still don’t have the strength to part with most of it either!

    • August 1, 2011
      SVV

      We have culled just about every superfluous item from our possessions but you are SO right. It’s hard to ignore those high school yearbooks and miscellaneous drawers when you move!

  • August 1, 2011

    When I moved out to DC, I used City-to-City movers, which sounds a lot like Pack Rat–they had GREAT customer service, and were very easy and efficient to work with. They also had 30 days of free storage, which was good considering I didn’t have an apartment for the first three weeks I was out there, and bounced from friend’s couch to friend’s couch.

    99% of my personal belongings are still at The Swede’s house in Maryland, and will probably stay there for the next few months or so. Getting them BACK to Chicago should be interesting, considering I have way more stuff than I did when I moved out to DC. (You know, like, a bed. Actual furniture, that sort of thing.) City-to-City and now Pack Rat will definitely be looked into to make that all happen!

    • August 1, 2011
      Kristin

      How does that happen? The accruing double the stuff you had before? Because, without fail, it happens every time. Even though our previous move was only 18 months ago, and we threw out bags and bags of stuff before this move, I swear we still had double what we moved with last time!

      Free storage, that’s pretty awesome!

  • August 1, 2011

    Sounds like you made the right decision in the end! Safe travels and I hope all your stuff arrives in 1 piece!!!

  • August 1, 2011

    I used ABS as well. It’s still pricey… but it was the cheapest option we found at the time. Pack Rat sounds interesting, though!

    • August 2, 2011
      Kristin

      I don’t think there’s a “cheap” pods option–at least not one we found–but I do like that Pack Rat guarantees they’ll beat PODS’ price!

  • August 1, 2011

    You did good to get your worldly belongings into this pod. I was going to have about 8,500 lbs. of Mom’s stuffed moved professionally and it was going to cost over $1000. But when plans changed I ended up renting a UHaul for about $400. Hope all arrives in good shape, including yourselves.

    • August 1, 2011
      Kristin

      Moving is NO cheap feat. I think we paid something like $200 for one afternoon just for the U-Haul truck when we were moving WITHIN the Bay Area. Hence why we wanted to avoid having to rent and drive something our own–particularly when you factor in gas prices and the possibility of break-ins when you’re parked at some roadside motel overnight!

  • August 1, 2011

    WOW! Good on you guys for fitting all your treasures in there and managing to get a spot for the pod! Moving in San Francisco can be like an extreme sport!

    • August 1, 2011
      Kristin

      You have recent experience with that, no doubt =) So many things in San Francisco are like extreme sports–I love that analogy!

  • August 2, 2011

    I think that last picture of Scott says its all. Please share what you were thinking at that moment 🙂

    Safe travels across the country!

  • August 2, 2011

    This was super helpful, and I’ll be curious to learn how things turn out in the end. The husband and I are in the same position – we finally have stuff we actually want to keep – so we’ll be looking into this when we make our big move next year. For our first two moves (Detroit to Seattle, Seattle to Chicago) we sold pretty much all of our crap Ikea furniture, packed the rest of our stuff in boxes and shipped it UPS, and then flew with the cats. Upon arrival we then had to run around town buying basic furniture to get us through the first few days. This way seems a lot less stressful.

    Did you have any concerns about someone breaking into the pod?

    • August 2, 2011
      SVV

      Not really. The lock was quite substantial and one of those “ring” locks that can’t be cut without a blowtorch and the closing mechanism seemed tamper-proof. The only way I could see someone breaking in would be to remove the metal from the sides which while definitely possible if thieves had the right tools the amount of time required wouldn’t be worth it.

      WAY less stressful! Particularly if you have pets.

  • August 2, 2011

    I’ve never really moved far enough away as an adult to facilitate the need for such a thing, but if I ever do, I think the pod route is the way to go. I like being able to load my own stuff, because I don’t trust people and am weird like that with regard to people touching my stuff, but the not having to drive it far, far away part seems lovely.

    Also, I’m mighty impressed with your stuffing and packing abilities!

    • August 2, 2011
      Kristin

      When Scott was stationed in Sicily in the Navy, they gave him a pod (about half the size of this one), so I’d like to think he was already a pro at utilizing every last square inch of space =) Me, I just carried the boxes up and down the stairs and watched in awe as he made everything fit (much to my skepticism throughout the whole process!).

      But hopefully, this is the last long-term move for us! We’re hoping Nashville is IT.

  • August 2, 2011

    Between the time I moved to the Bay Area until I moved to Europe – 14 years, I had 13 addresses – you aren’t crazy 😉

    • August 2, 2011
      Kristin

      Birds of a feather! And if we count the times I moved just for the summer and back each year, it’s even more!

    • August 2, 2011
      SVV

      Me three! We might not be crazy but there is definitely something wyrd with us.

  • August 3, 2011

    Just reading/viewing these photos in this post stresses me out. I feel for you. Moving sucks. Hope you packed shorts and a fan cause it’s hot as hell here in Nash-vegas. I pretty much don’t go outside these days. Good luck and safe travels!

  • August 3, 2011

    My significant other has years of experience stuffing stuff in to helicopters, airplanes, moving trucks, etc… he has an eye for what fits, how to make it happen and he can stuff an elephant in to a thimble, it’s impressive 😉

  • August 4, 2011

    Good luck with the move! I’m not sure where you are in the drive, but here a few suggestions for fun things to do along the way if you have time (I made the trek in Feb):
    1. Bedrock CIty, AZ just south of the Grand Canyon. Its literally a replica of the Flinstone’s Bedrock City, i.e. a fantasy land.
    2. Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo – amazing! Bring spray paint to add to the ever-changing face of the cars. http://tinyurl.com/3nyzcp3
    3. Also in Amarillo, Big Texas Steak House – biggest slabs of meat I’ve ever seen, 72oz of beefy glory
    4. Not sure if you’ll go this far (might be a fun day-trip though once you’re back from SAS), the World’s Largest Tree House in Crossville, TN – I have never seen anything like it anywhere
    Roadside America attractions at their finest! Drive safe and I can’t wait to read about SAS – so exciting!

    • August 4, 2011
      JeJe

      I go through Crossville almost once a month. And I’ve NEVER heard of the Tree House. I can’t wait to find it. Thanks Kelly P.

      • August 4, 2011
        Kristin

        JeJe, if you’d read your own daughter’s book, Tennessee Curiosities, you might have heard of the treehouse =) I’ll take you there post-SAS!

        Kelly, thanks for the tips! We’re in Albuquerque now and driving through Amarillo today. I think I had read about Cadillac Ranch on your blog, and we are definitely going to do our best to find it! =) Though I’m super bummed we missed Bedrock–we were just in Santa Fe yesterday, and I was telling Scott some of the houses there totally looked like the Flintstones’ house!

  • August 7, 2011

    I’ve moved cross-country three times now (holy crap). I’ve always hired movers and just been done with it. The Pack Rat idea is great though! Perhaps next time (should I not just sell all of my belongings and leave America), I will use a service like that. They sound like a great company, too.

    • August 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Selling your belongings and leaving America is something I support, too =)

      • August 10, 2011

        Well, good. Cause at this point, that is a lot more likely. And, you get a fun place to visit/holiday!!

  • August 9, 2011

    See I don’t own furniture which has made my 8 moves in the past 7 years much easier. Fortunately, as it involved moving between USA, Australia, Spain and Mexico!

    • August 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Every time I’ve moved to and from Europe, I’ve done so with just two suitcases…I can’t imagine trying to do that move with actual furniture and valuables!

  • August 9, 2011

    Oh wow I do not envy you Kristin, although it would be nice to own enough stuff to actually need a truck.

  • August 10, 2011

    I have never done a cross country move but good lord it looks like it takes it out of you!

    P.S. I had no clue that Vera Wang made mattresses.

    • August 10, 2011
      Kristin

      I was just waiting for someone to comment on that fact! We literally tried out every single mattress in five different mattress stores, and the ONLY one we agreed on was the Vera. Of course Scott, not knowing who she is, could not make enough Wang jokes…. 😉 We’re mature.

  • August 10, 2011

    Only you could make moving shots look artistic! I also move all the freaking time and am quite over it honestly. Good luck!!!

    • August 10, 2011
      Kristin

      We’re going to spend A LOT of time after Semester at Sea house- and neighborhood-hunting before we commit to anything, as we want this move to be permanent (or at least for many, many years!).

  • August 13, 2011

    Fortunately, I have never had to do a major move. But even the shorter moves were terrible. It is worth paying someone else to make it easier and stress-free.

  • August 16, 2011

    The pod method sounds absolutely blissful. We’ve done two major cross-country moves, and both were more of the “24′ Penske and the insides of both our foreign cars” variety. Completely exhausting. The second was a bit easier than the first though, seeing as our wedding 6 months earlier left us with a metric ass ton of fantastic Create and Barrel boxes. But certainly not something I’m eager to do again.

  • January 4, 2012
    Tom Schiff

    We loved our time in “Bagdhad by the Bay” – just loved it – during the “happening 70’s”. But first my wife (then girl friend) went from being #2 at my ole law school (UC Hastings) to being the #1 fund raiser/alumni organizer at the University of San Diego law school – and then I decided: What the hey – law had been a good run but now – how about Commercial Real Estate – as San Diego was booming in the early 80’s.

    Different places for different times in our lives – and hope you guys love Nashville and sounds like you might have even more in mind than just relocating?

    Best.

    Tom

  • June 15, 2013

    Wow you did a wonderful job writing this article. I am a professional mover and I definitely know what you mean about the city parking permits…they can be a real pain in the butt sometimes! I’m glad you’re move went smooth and you were happy with your POD experience. Pods are definitely a good moving option, especially if you storage as you mentioned. Thanks for sharing. Cheers!

  • January 6, 2015

    I don’t know if I have missed this point in this post, but I would like to know if you had any kind of insurance provided by the moving company you hired? Or you have done it of your own?

  • June 5, 2015

    That definitely was an exhausting move..It is very exciting that you are moving! All the best! Thanks for sharing! Greets, Man with Van Emerson Park Ltd.

  • August 27, 2015
    Ann Ross

    Moving across country is though. There are so many things to do in order to have a successful interstate move. I am really amazed how good everything went, no matter all the struggle you had a pretty smooth move. Hiring a mobile storage and a moving company was a great decision. Our company (http://www.removalsandstorage.com) works exactly in the sphere as me offer moving and storage service options. We have many clients who are moving across country and need to hire storage for all their thing. The difference with you is that most of them lack organization skills and this makes everything much harder! Thanks for sharing your across-country-moving experience! It is nice to know what is to be on the other side, as a client!

  • October 9, 2015

    Your article is interesting and can be very helpful overall. Let me add 1 helpful moving tip. It’s about packing: plan to unpack BEFORE you pack. Take photos of the rooms in the new home before you arrive with furniture, plants, appliances and family in town. Write down on a clip board where the items should go at your next home before packing, then carry it with you on the moving day. List out the major items that need to be assembled first. As you place each item in its new room, cross it off the list and you will be one step closer to enjoying your new home.

    ~ Shepherds Bush Man And Van Ltd.

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