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.