How To Move Across the Country, One Step At A Time

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Last winter, after waffling between leaving or staying in Brooklyn for close to four years, I finally bit the bullet. I decamped to Seattle. I used to think I couldn’t live without an egg & cheese from the bodega, McGolrick Park, or Pete’s Candy Store (where there’s no candy, but plenty of liquor). Now I do a lot of Pacific Northwest things, like stare at ferns and trees while I’m on hikes, and drink cups of coffee that take 10 minutes to brew. I am chill as hell.

When I first decided to make the jump from the East Coast to the West, my friends thought I was crazy ... mostly because I made the final decision in great haste. You see, in 2014, I’d gotten laid off twice and went through a breakup. After the second layoff, my mindset was basically, “FML, I’m getting out of here.” I broke my lease and announced I would move across the country in eight weeks. It wasn’t easy, and I learned a lot, sometimes the hard way. And even though everyone I knew advised me to give it a little more time, would you believe I actually pulled the damn thing off? May you benefit from the learned wisdom that can only be attained by stubbornly making a choice that everyone you know thinks is utterly stupid.

Trash everything you can. Goodbye stuff.

Make like Marie Kondo and toss any item that doesn’t “bring you joy.” If you’re feeling somewhat less meditative about the process, then stack it all on the street corner and make bets with your neighbors about how fast your 5-year-old IKEA lamp will disappear. List the heaviest items of furniture on Craigslist, so you get the double bonus of not having to move them yourself and some extra cash. This is the time to throw out every pair of old socks you’ve been hanging on to so you could hold off on doing laundry for one more day. I decided that as long as I could bring my cat Marty with me, nothing else would be labeled an absolute necessity.


Oh, yeah: Your pet will cost you an extra $100-$400 to bring along.

The plane ticket for pet travel costs a cool $100. Then add $200-$300 for a vet check-up so you can get the papers certifying they’re healthy and safe to travel. And this is only if your pet is less than 20 pounds. As far as big dogs go, you’re pretty much fucked. Every airline has different rules when big animals fly in the cargo section of the plane; some won’t even allow it. Price is determined by weight, so a 50- to 85-pound dog will cost you anywhere from $275-$300 for the transport alone. (And let’s not even get into whether or not the cargo conditions are safe for your beloved animal.) If you’re driving to your destination with your pet playing co-pilot in the passenger seat, then go ahead and add a few days worth of hotel, food, and gas expenses to your budget. I’m by no means advising you to give away your pet. I’m just glad mine is only 8 pounds’ worth of fur.


Plan a budget for your move. Then double it.

Oddly enough, I didn’t fully realize just how expensive moving was when I put down the rather large security deposit for my new pad ... or when I charged multiple cross-country flights on my credit card ... or when I contemplated buying a car for the first time in a decade. But my first trip to Target when I arrived in Seattle—to stock up on house essentials and basics—changed all that. As I watched the cashier ring up all my little purchases—the dish racks, the dust pans, the waste basket and shower curtain for the bathroom—and the total went over $400, it was a slap in the face. A cross-country move comes with a thousand unforeseen expenses. Plan all you want, my friend. It’s going to end up costing you a lot more than you think. Don’t believe me? One trip to the grocery store to restock your spice cabinet will put you in your place. (Didn’t think of that, did you?) That said, buy what you absolutely must have and can’t live without first, and work outwards from there. Your new place isn’t going to be as cushy as your old one for a little while, and that’s okay.


Combat unforeseen costs by thinking through the bigger numbers.

For instance, take the cheap red-eye flight. It’s only one way, you can suck it up. And for God’s sweet sake, research your shipping costs. AmTrak, UPS, and FedEx don’t allow you to ship furniture en masse. While a piece or two might make sense, it’s not recommended for large-scale operations. They suggest skipping anything breakable as well. You can rent a U-Haul, but again, you have to factor in gas, lodging, and food costs for your journey. You also have to own a car, and, if you’re traveling alone, you have to consider whether or not you’ll feel safe. (Seriously. What if you break down and you’re alone in the middle of Wyoming at night?)


The pricey quotes from shipping companies will likely make you want to vomit, and I’d recommend avoiding going that route unless absolutely necessary. Your best bet are these sort of transportable storage units that you can pack and the moving is done for you; they can get expensive depending on what size you choose, but they still beat out the stress and cost of traditional packing/shipping companies. I discovered these little pods from UPack, and chose this option even though it cost close to $3,000.

This is when you have to get realistic; it might cost a lot more to try and furnish an entire apartment all over again. Would you rather have your old things and spend the money now? Or pack lightly and refurnish (and spend the money to do so) once you arrive in your new home? It could be utterly depressing to live in bare rooms until you can afford to do so. You need to think about what best suits your needs, sit down, and spend some QT with Google. If you’re going full Kerouac and plan on doing some couch-crashing before you settle, then by all means, pack lightly. Use UPS to ship a box or two of clothes to a willing friend’s house. But if you need a more stable and familiar environment to settle into upon landing in your new place, I cannot recommend the pod highly enough.


Suck up your pride and ask for help.

I asked my parents for a loan. I asked friends to introduce me to pals who lived in my new city. I asked mentors and friends for advice. I asked former co-workers to connect me to potential job opportunities. I had to ask for help.


Here’s what I did not do. I never forgot to send thank you cards. I never forgot to follow up with the names and numbers they provided for mutual friends to meet or potential job opportunities. I don’t forget to call or email my parents and let them know their wayward child is doing okay in a different timezone. The rule for asking for help is simple. When people are being nice to you, don’t be a stupid asshole in return. Then they don’t mind helping you out. If they’re happy to come through during a transitional period and lend you a favor, you’ll be served well to be grateful and keep your basic kindergarten-level manners in mind.

Get ready to feel awkward and lonely.

Welcome to your new city, the place where you don’t even have a favorite bar yet. What’s that? You don’t know where the coffee shops are? You didn’t realize there’s only one Apple store for the next 40 miles, and it’s a 90 minute bus ride away? You don’t know anything, you dummy. Back in your old haunt, I’m sure you had about five favorite watering holes and a readily available group of friends to text to accompany you for a drink. Unless you’re moving to a place where you’ve got a foundation already, things won’t be the same. Personally, I didn’t anticipate how strange it would feel to post up after work and not go to happy hour. Or to not be able to call friends or family back home because they were in an entirely different timezone and probably sleeping. (On the flip side, you’ll get a lot of drunk dials when you’re relatively sober, and this is amusing.) These feelings are temporary, sure, but in the moment, they’re terribly disorienting. You may also be trying to meet new people, and make new friends and peers, so there’s the extra special gift of feeling like you have to be on all the time. If you’re single like me, then lucky you! Be prepared to feel like you’re on a never-ending first-date. It can be exhausting, but it too will pass with time.


Seek out weird stuff that reminds you of home.

I used to hit up Chipotle with my old coworkers, so sometimes I swing by the one in Capitol Hill for a burrito bowl when I miss them. Or I listen to a stupid Big Sean single we used to shout across the office. My dad made me pack a belt sander before I left for reasons still unknown to me; sometimes I open the closet door and peek at it on the shelf, because it reminds me of how much he wanted me to have everything he could possibly provide. (Even if that was, strangely, a belt sander.) These things are bizarre and they’re not meant to be understood, but they’ll make you feel better. It’s good to have rituals. You need these reminders that you have a squad who loves you, even if they’re no longer a consistent presence in your day-to-day life. Keep these little rites personal and keep them special (i.e., keep them to yourself). Nobody but you needs to know the little things you do to get by.


Once you move, keep busy.

The New Yorker that’s left in me is going to advise you to start walking. WALK EVERYWHERE. It’s the fastest way to get your lay of the land. Stick your earbuds in and get out. Have a nice stroll. You’ll make friends soon enough, so use this time for new discoveries. Find a library, find a record store, figure out who boasts your favorite cup of coffee. Lunch is always a good time to solo dine. If the weather is nice, ask to sit outside. If you like to cook, find the farmers’ markets. Try out the beginner’s packages for gyms and yoga studios in the area. They’re shockingly cheap, so you get to keep your costs down, pick a preferred workout spot, and stay active all in one. When it comes to homesickness, any place that is not the inside of your apartment is a good place to start. I made a list of parks in Seattle and checked them off on the days I wasn’t interviewing. Basically, sign out of Netflix. Back away from the Netflix.


You should also schedule phone dates with friends, but do keep in mind people get busy. Texting pictures back and forth is a good way to keep in touch. Sending a sweet, “I saw this and it made me think of you!” will probably get a better response than a panicked, “I’m so lonely, I’m dying!” I also demand frequent photos of my friends’ children, instead of waiting for them to send me some snaps. Keep reaching out. When you’re lonely, you’re going to fall down the rabbit hole of forgetting communication is a two-way street, or take it personally when someone can’t talk to you right that second. Activities relieve the pressure of relying solely on others. (And hell, if you’re single and super bored, than just sign up for OkCupid and go have a few drinks. Can’t hurt.)

Stop whining and go already.

Even though I no longer inhabit Brooklyn, I still miss it every day. But moving to Seattle is the best thing I’ve ever done, simply because I did it. If you’ve always wanted to have the balls to make a big move—if you’ve thought about it for years—then you should go. It will make other challenges seem significantly less stressful. It will allow you to say yes to opportunities you can’t imagine right now. You’ll also find that you have far less tolerance for other people’s crap. (Let me tell you, this is a delight.) There’s no time for shady suspects when you’re trying to figure out a new place and you were brave enough to get yourself there. You’ll be a person who made a move that other people daydream about on the regular, but never consider in a meaningful way. It’s possible. Pack your shit and get out. Bon voyage, my friend.


Lindsay Hood is a writer and the music editor of Seattle’s alt-weekly paper, The Stranger. She tweets at @LindsH.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

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