6 Tips To Survive A Long Distance Move

Six time zones, 4,838 miles, a 9-hour flight, and a 4-hour drive—even for someone who has moved four times in the past five years, my most recent long distance move was a new record for my family. We went from living the island life in Hawaii to forgetting our jackets and choosing Chic-fil-A for every meal in Maryland. (The worst thing about Hawaii is there is no Chic-fil-A.)

Our long distance move was part of my husband’s obligation to the Air Force, but military families aren’t the only ones faced with around-the-world moves. It was overwhelming planning how I was going to get my entire family, all our household goods, and our cars to a new time zone where we still didn’t have a place to live. I won’t lie, it wasn’t fun. But now that I’m standing in our new home state with the move (mostly) behind us, I realized I learned a lot. Hopefully my experience will help your long distance move go as smoothly as possible.

Here are my top 6 tips for anyone planning a long distance move.

1. Start Planning Early

This is where I made my first mistake. Your planning should start as soon as you make your decision to move. Ideally, you want 2-3 months to make sure you have time to do everything without wanting to rip out all your hair. But if you don’t have that kind of head start, don’t panic. I planned my move across an ocean with five weeks of advanced notice, and while I can’t say there were no hair-ripping moments, everything ended up working out. Even if you can’t start packing or booking flights, here are a few important steps you can accomplish right away.

long distance move

  • Organize all your important papers (birth certificates, passports, SS cards, banking docs, password list, etc) and transfer them to a folder or binder that will be easy to keep with you at all times during your move. You don’t want to risk movers losing them.
  • Clean out your house and donate unwanted items to charity or have a yard sale. 
  • Make a list of all the maintenance projects you’ll need to do on your current house.
  • Inform your landlord of your move, or if you own, start talking to a real estate agent about either selling or renting out your house.
  • Look into what you’ll need to do to enroll children in their new schools.

2. Save and Budget

If you’re getting relocation assistance from your job, you still need to start saving your money and budgeting for unexpected moving expenses. There are obvious costs, like flights, hotels, and movers, but there are other things you might forget or not expect. We were lucky to have the military pay for professional movers and our flights, but there were other things we had to handle on our own—and those expenses added up quickly.

If you have pets, you need to budget for how much it will cost to transport them to your new home (especially if they’re flying). Feeding your family while you’re stuck in a hotel also won’t be cheap. Then there’s tip money for the hotel housekeepers and bellhops who will be a lifesaver when you show up with a mountain of baggage. You’ll need gas money to explore your new hometown, storage for when your stuff arrives but you have nowhere to put it, and don’t forget to budget for moving emergencies just in case. I learned from experience that a long distance move is more expensive than you think.

3. Hire Pros When You Can

When cleaning companies quote you at $500 to clean your three-bedroom rental and the price of professional packers gives you sticker shock, it’s tempting to say screw it and do everything yourself. Heed my warning fellow travelers: sometimes the added stress is not worth the dollars saved. You’re already running around like a maniac trying to make your long distance move come together, and trust me, your to-do list is long enough.

long distance move

As long as it doesn’t sink the budget we talked about earlier, I highly recommend hiring professionals for the most difficult and time-consuming jobs. Being the thrifty woman that I am, I decided to do all the cleaning myself. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but I was very, very wrong. What would have taken professional cleaners an afternoon to finish took me five days. I still have scars on my knuckles from all the scrubbing I did. Cleaning by myself (okay, the husband helped a little) made literally everything else more stressful. Don’t be like me. Save yourself the stress and drama by hiring pros when appropriate. 

4. Make Lists—and Then Make More Lists

I wouldn’t have survived our long distance move if it wasn’t for my lists. I dedicated a small notebook to writing down tasks, phone numbers, appointment reminders, and everything else. Every few days I would start a new to-do list, and it helped keep me organized. My brain was overloaded trying to keep everything straight, but writing it down let me see what needed to be done and when. 

I’ve always been a list person, so I was pretty excited to go full-on list crazy with this move. I had separate lists for cleaning, packing, appointments, hotel-related tasks, transportation tasks, and I made a timeline of all important moving events. You probably don’t have to go as in-depth as I did, but even a single to-do list will be useful. When you’re dealing with packers, airlines, cleaners, landlords, real estate agents, and everything else, your memory won’t be as reliable as you need it to be.

5. Keep Important Items Together

When you’re busying packing your things into boxes and then moving between houses, hotels, and rental cars, things are bound to get lost. I clearly remember at least two instances where my husband thought he lost the envelope of cash we were using to dole out tips. Life would have been easier if we kept everything organized and in the same spot.

We got better at not losing things after a few close calls, but I recommend you do this from the start of your move. If you have a lot of digital documents—like flight information, hotel confirmations, or invoices—create a separate folder on your computer or in your email. For all the hard copy documents, put together a binder with labeled sections. Designate a backpack or duffel bag as your “important things carrier” and always (no matter how lazy or rushed you feel) return items to their proper place. No one wants to get to the airport during a long distance move and realize they lost their wallet.

6. Pack Based on Your Timeline

To help keep my mind organized, I split our move into stages. There was the “pre packers stage,” “Hawaii hotel stage,” “in transit stage,” “Maryland hotel stage,” and finally the “finding somewhere to live stage.” I split up my lists by what I needed to do during each step in the timeline, and I used the same philosophy for my packing. I don’t mean the packing of our household goods. The movers came and took most things two weeks before we officially moved. (It takes a long time to ship your stuff across an ocean.) What I’m talking about is packing the suitcases you’ll lug with you around the world.

long distance move

Packing based on where we were in the move was especially important for us, because while the weather in Hawaii is always warm and sunny, once we got to Maryland, we would need completely different clothes. So I had a Hawaii suitcase to get us through the 10 days we spent on island after the movers took our stuff and a Maryland suitcase for when we landed in the early spring weather. Besides weather, we also packed based on what we would be doing and trying to accomplish. Instead of digging through multiple suitcases to find what we needed, we knew exactly where things were. We could store no-longer-needed suitcases in the trunk of the car and minimize the number of bags we had to haul around. Without this organization, I don’t think we would have made it through weeks in a hotel with our sanity still intact.

Final thoughts…

Lastly, remember to keep your eye on the prize. Every situation is different, but for my family, our long distance move took several months to complete. Even now, we’re still trying to get back to normal life. You’ll get tired, stressed, and frustrated, but try taking everything one step at a time. This time in your life won’t last forever, and when it’s finally over, you’ll be ready to start enjoying life in your new home.

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