How (Not) to Move Across the Country

Life is kind of funny sometimes, you know? I grew up never wanting to leave the South, thinking I would end somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But California called for school, and I was elated to check it out. I didn't like LA though, and so I came back after the semester was over, only to miss it so much that I moved back a year later. Seven years after that, we missed our family and needed help with our second child, and so we came back east, only to again long for California. That brings us to this year, where we decided to move back...again. That's five cross-country drives and three moves under our belt. Each one was in a different life circumstance, and various lessons were learned, but this most recent was a real challenge. Now, as we are settling in to our new place, I thought it would be fun to share that story here.

As you can tell, California must really want us, despite our best efforts to stay away. And since we arrived in South Carolina two years ago, we kept feeling that draw back west. We considered it, almost moved, didn't move, looked at houses in Charleston, decided if we were to buy a house that our ideal location was California, and then reconsidered the West all over again. Katie started applying for jobs and talking to her old school. In a leap of faith, she quit her job without a new one lined up. Thus the stress began, and that is tip #1 for moving with families: Try your best to have a job before you move. When we came out in 2009, we were young with no responsibilities. We each independently saved up a bunch of money, found some roommates and moved to LA with no job, living about four miles from each other. Each of us managed to survive through different odd jobs, most of which didn't last more than a year. Soon after, Katie was teaching full time and I was working at Comcast Entertainment Group (soon to be NBCUniversal). We survived just fine and eventually thrived, building an excellent community of friends in the process. It was integral to our growth as adults and I highly recommend everyone do something like that at some point in their lives.

We have too much stuff...

Back to the present...eventually, Katie got offered a job. I was working for an airline at the time, so she was able to fly across the country for interviews, which is how she happened to land the first one (she's good like that). A week later they wanted her to come out for a meeting, so she did. A week after that I flew out to look for apartments and when our first choice fell through, drove out one more time and then flew back to Charleston with a place secured. There is tip #2: Have an airline job. That's a silly thing to write, but honestly I don't know how you could move across the country without flexible flying. I have heard of jobs that will actually pay for you to move, but I don't know how to get those jobs, and so I have to conclude that without something like that, you need to be able to travel easily.

Alan helped me drive across the country and then flew back from Albuquerque. A true friend and ally.

(An aside on my fifth cross-country drive: The first three times we were lucky. No car troubles whatsoever. The worst thing that happened was on drive #3, when some wind from a storm that looked like it was going to kick up into a tornado nearly blew us off the road. Drive #4 was a disaster (detailed here). This most recent one was not as bad, but very stressful. Our tires bubbled up in Arkansas, causing us to stop early and buy two new ones. After that, the Prius felt weak going up hills in the hot July desert sun. I nearly ran out of oil in Arizona, which would have blown up my motor, and then limped my way to California on a seventeen hour marathon home stretch that had me delirious [but saved on hotel fare]. The big lesson here: Don't drive a Prius across the country, loaded with stuff. At least not one with 160,000 miles. The car still feels weak and doesn't get close the mileage it did before we left.)

This flight benefit is a double-edged sword, however, as Katie and I felt like we were playing tag with our kids. She was schedule to start work, and I was going to stay in Charleston another week or two to wrap things up. But after about a month and a half of not seeing each other, we were sick of it and decided we needed to get settled in the same place for more than four days at a time. This led us to a slightly brash decision to schedule a POD to pack our things in and leave with only a few days' notice. (An aside on the POD: After our disastrous move east that nearly claimed the life of my Subaru, we decided to fork over the extra $500-700 for the POD. It was mostly convenient, the only real problem being that it arrived five hours after scheduled, and then sat in our driveway at the new place for about ten days. Everything showed up mostly intact, making the POD the least stressful way to move thus far.)

It's remarkable how they maneuver these things.

With our stuff shipped, and Katie starting work the following Monday, we said some very sad goodbyes to friends and family and boarded a plane for the West Coast. We were welcomed by most of our old friends who happened to be having a birthday party at a park the day we arrived, which was nice. We had been able to store loads of stuff at my brother-in-law's house, which was more-than-helpful (we owe him a nice house-warming present, by the way). This all leads me to the next tip: Have allies in your new land. That sounds like a Settlers of Catan thing to say, but it is true. Without places to stay and people to pick you up from the airport, moving expenses are that much higher. Plus, friends are the salt of life in many ways, and being close to them makes life that much sweeter, er, saltier.

However, with our hasty move, I still had to go back home to work another shift at the airline, as well as sell a bunch of stuff and clean our house. Things went as smoothly as possible I suppose, but in our hurried exit, we left the house a mess, and ran out of time to sell a bunch of stuff, including my car! Thanks to my very nice family back home, we should be able to take care of most of this stuff, but in an ideal world, this is not a good way to move. And so tip #5-ish is to Not move the way we did.

Without any of our stuff, we had to improvise Tupperware.

You may be thinking to yourself, Rick is being dramatic, this move seemed pretty okay to me. Imagine the time it took to read this blog post, but then stretch it out over a month, reading only a few words a day. This move was a long, drawn out process. We started packing when Katie quit her job, but didn't move for about two months after that. We told people we were leaving, and then week after week were asked, "So when is the big move?," only to have no clear answer. After the job was secured, it took several more weeks to land a place to live, which gave us no location to send our stuff to, no address to forward to, and no place to live upon arrival! We literally got our apartment two days before we moved, and then spent over a week living on whatever we could bring in our suitcases until our POD arrived (That's one bad thing about the POD -- it takes a long time to get there when moving cross country).

Overall, things worked out, but we spent 2-3 months living in an atmosphere of the unknown, with kids who thrive on routine and certainty. And though I think God often meets us in places such as this, it is in no way ideal and should be avoided if at all possible. And so there is the summary of our summer, which I hope you read in its entirety and now feel a better sense about your own future moves. I could give loads more tips, which would make this thing too long (it already is too long!); and so if you want more info, contact me directly so we can dialogue. Until then, I'll be unpacking boxes and hanging shelves, in between trips to IKEA.