How to Move Across the Country in the Middle of a Pandemic

It’s unrealistic to expect that people will stay in the same place forever. Over the course of a year, many people change residence. It’s common to relocate across the country for a job, loved one(s), or educational pursuits. However, moving during a pandemic is scary no matter how far you’re going.

I’ve moved plenty of times, so I consider myself a moving pro. However, I spent 13 years in the Washington, D.C. area and I accumulated a lot of stuff. An entire house and dog’s worth of stuff.

I accepted a job offer in February and planned to relocate by April 1st from Maryland to Texas. The drive between Germantown, MD and Houston, TX is approximately 22 hours. I knew it would be an awful drive. However, with the dog, it seemed like the best option.

So how did I move during a pandemic?

Well… there wasn’t a pandemic when I started moving… not until I got to Houston.

Planning to Relocate Across Country

I’ve relocated across the U.S. four times, and across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa twice. People think I’m insane when I tell them how many places I’ve worked and lived. It’s not surprising that I would uproot my fairly stable lifestyle for a new job and change of scenery.

While driving, Wendie V's Subaru Forester had items in every inch of the car. Including above and below the passenger's seat.
Even the front seat of my car was filled to the brim

As a homeowner… relocating became much more challenging than in my 20’s. I had to complete repairs and upgrades before showing my house, pack all my belongings, clean/keep clean, and take the dog out of the house for showings. All while working full time and teaching 2 spin classes a week.

For budget’s sake, I decided to complete many of the repairs myself. I installed a new light fixture in the main bathroom, painted 2/3rds of the house beautiful new shades of grey, upgraded the guest bathroom and emptied storage areas so the space seemed bigger.

All-in-all, the house looked great when I left, and I was able to rent it for a small profit which will go back into home repairs.

Preparation

From mid-February until mid-March I had a ton of things to do. Every day consisted of dog walks, my 9-5 job, teaching spin class, workouts, painting the house, making moving arrangements, packing, more painting, small repairs, cleaning, and more dog walks.

I was exhausted and have remained so for over 7 months. But it was worth it.

Here’s what the house looked like when I bought it.

Here’s what it looked like when I left Maryland in March 2020, just before COVID shut everything down.

The Move

I’ve done several cross-country and cross-continental moves before so picking up my stuff and heading somewhere new is one of my specialties. However, moving always sucks. I always try to make it as painless as possible.

Getting all my belongings, myself, and the dog out of Maryland looked kinda like this:

  1. Throw away or donate all items that are broken, easily replaced, cheap, or that you don’t like anymore. This step required about 15 trips to drop off donations or to the dump to recycle.
  2. Pack all the things that you don’t use regularly and put them into storage bins out of the way.
  3. As you use more household items, consider how many more times you will need them. If you don’t use an item daily, consider packing it.
  4. Sell large furniture items online via social media or an app. Use funds to pay for costs to ship a minimal amount of high-value furniture or plan to replace everything.
  5. Book transportation for your stuff. For this move I used PODS and plastic bins from Home Depot (on sale). This was especially helpful at the Tetris game to make sure all the bins were the same size and could stack up within the PODS container.
  6. Live like you are camping while your container is shipped (air mattress, paper plates, minimal cooking equipment, two towels, etc.).
  7. Give away all the last-minute items that you can’t take with you and didn’t pack in the PODS container.
  8. Play the Tetris game again to pack all the remainder of your belongings into the vehicle or luggage you plan to travel with and GO!
PODS packing can be tricky because you need to stack the items. This photo shows how difficult it is to stack like sized items to form a wall.
The small PODS container was packed with odd-shaped stuff. We did the best Tetris job possible.

Adjustments For Moving During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By now, most people have figured out what their pandemic lifestyle is. Everyone’s wellness recipes likely needed to be altered for the pandemic. For the most part people seem to be doing what they need to do to minimize their risk of getting sick.

At the beginning of the pandemic, less information was available so I had to make adjustments for my move due to the fact that I was leaving Maryland the first week of what would become known as “quarantine”. (The two-ish month window when everyone learned how to telework, and no one could find toilet paper.)

Moving During a Pandemic Requires Altering Plans

I skipped one of my planned stops between Maryland and Texas- New Orleans. Which proved later to be a smart move since at the time they had a raging case of COVID in the community and I would have unknowingly stayed a day in one of the nation’s earliest hot spots. The other thing I did was plan ahead to arrive in Texas a day early and coordinated with my Airbnb in Chattanooga, TN to maximize my daylight driving time.

I was originally planning to drive with my sister but later asked her to stay in California and not meet me in Maryland for the trip. That meant I would be driving alone with the dog. I made plans for meals on the road that I could eat in the car rather than stopping for food. I also made my first batch of hand sanitizing spritzer to minimize my need to stop and wash my hands or go inside an establishment.

The car was so packed, but I also was smart and made sure I had a week of food with me and 2 cases of water. I also had some toilet paper left from my last Costco run. I packed a second week of food in the PODS container to make sure when it arrived 3 days after I did, my pantry was stocked with non-perishable food items.

Renting Your House

The most stressful part moving during a pandemic was renting my house. Since 2010 I’ve done a ton of upgrades, and the thought of trusting anyone to keep the value of the property up is scary. On top of that, all of the eviction and pandemic related housing changes were confusing and possible sources of risk if my renter lost their job due to COVID-19.

I interviewed 3 representatives from local management companies and chose the middle of the road priced small women-owned business. The even more stressful part was cleaning the house enough to take the listing photos and have people coming in and out of the house with Asha hanging out.

It turns out I have a fantastic renter who Asha gave a personal tour of the house to during the viewing. Apparently, the agent and my renter both loved her. I think she did a good job selling the house.

Tips for Renting Your House:

  • Save a few bucks by taking your own photos. I took these with my DSLR and a semi-wide-angle lens. You can find lots of tips online for taking your own real estate photos. If you do go the paid route, budget about $300.
  • Make the storage spaces work for you by using some to store your bins of belongings and others leaving bare so the potential tenants see plenty of storage space.
  • Clean every day and hire someone to help you clean thoroughly before your showings start and after you move out. Finding your own cleaning service can save you money that the management company might try to charge you so make sure you keep your receipts and book the most thorough cleaning offered. I found a very good deal on a woman who cleaned my house spotless by asking my office cleaning woman if she knew anyone who also cleans homes.

Budgeting for Your Move

PODS container in the delivery system that moves in all directions with four wheels and large metal posts. The container is left on a street occupying 2 parking spaces.
The PODS delivery system requires you to have 2 car spaces free to deliver the unit, even if it’s the small one.

There are a boatload of costs to support a cross-country move. Shorter distances can cost less, however, there are some basic costs to budget for moves no matter the distance.

General costs:

The large flat bed truck holds the PODS container on top of it with the four post delivery system on wheels around the truck's bed. The delivery system picks up the container and the truck stays parked while the container is lifted to the ground next to the truck.
With the truck it really requires 4 car spaces, FYI.
  • Packing materials
  • Transporting your belongings
  • Transporting yourself and your family
  • Transporting your pet
  • Transporting your vehicle

Some of these costs can be combined, for example, transporting yourself and your vehicle. If you are driving yourself across country and towing your belongings, all the costs will be wrapped up into your drive. If you are shipping your belongings but flying with yourself and your pet, the costs may be split across airfare and a moving company.

Tips to Cut Costs on Your Move:

  1. Look for reusable packing materials. I returned a $25 box to U-Haul when I found a discarded TV box in my neighborhood that my TV fit in. However, with COVID- might be a good idea to sanitize any free boxes you acquire.
  2. If you are using a PODS container, ask them to help you reduce the cost when you are doing your estimate. I saved $1,000 by talking through my move and the items that absolutely needed to go vs. what I could get rid of with my PODS representative. He helped me select a smaller, cheaper unit. This became a challenge when packing, and I did give up a few things I missed later, but the savings was worth it.
  3. Packing your own belongings will help you save a lot of money, but not time. You will have to decide what’s the better investment.

COVID-19 Specific Moving Tips

Moving is a fact of life, everyone moves at least once as an adult. Moving during a pandemic can seem daunting, but you can take precautions to help you stay safe during your move.

Wendie's Maryland social bubble, Carl, Angie and Jack helped pack the PODS container and got a few free items that didn't make the cut.
  • Make your own sanitizing spritzer for the road using this recipe!
  • Skip the moving party or only allow the folks in your social bubble to help you pack and move. I was lucky enough to have a great team of friends to help me pack the PODS container. These were also the same folks in my social bubble in Maryland before I left. When I arrived in Texas, I had another friend (who became my TX social bubble) help me move into my apartment.
  • Have extra cleaning products available. Be sure to clean when you arrive in your new home or apartment. If possible, you can book a cleaning service in advance of your arrival. You can also request 72+ hours between when the previous tenant or owner vacates to your move-in date.
  • If you book a moving company, call ahead to inquire about their COVID-19 policies. Check reviews for adherence to social distancing, mask wearing, and other precautions that slow the spread of infectious diseases.
  • If you drive rental truck or rent any items, make sure to clean all surfaces before you use it!

Good Luck on your move!

Comment below if any of these tips were helpful!

Pandemic moving checklist- Essentials you need Pinterest pin

plastic bins
large vacuum seal bags
TV boxes
bubble wrap
durable lock
surface cleaners
disposable cleaning wipes/cloths
carpet shampooer
trash bags
dap nail hole filler
touch up paint and paint brushes
drop cloth
blue tarp

image of house and tree in line art at bottom.