Renting A Moving Truck – And Moving Cross-Country!

Hi, I’m Alex, Alissa’s boyfriend. As regular readers to this site know, Alissa (and I) just completed a cross-country move from hipster-y Brooklyn to frat-y Chicago. The move went well – thanks for asking! But I’m sure what you’re really interested in are tips on how to do it.

First: take a deep breath. Moving cross-country is going to be stressful and expensive. It just is, unless you don’t have any possessions, or have so few possessions that they all fit in your car, assuming you have a car. Then, it’s pretty straightforward….

But, say you have many things. There are two strategies:

1. Sell as much as possible and re-buy when you get to your destination. The virtue in this is that the actual moving won’t be as expensive or stressful as if you kept the stuff. However, when you arrive, you’ll have a barren apartment and you’ll have to repopulate it – basically, this is a good strategy if your possessions aren’t particularly nice or if you feel that they’re fungible. I’ve done it before, and it was fairly successful – when I moved from Minneapolis to New York, I managed to get myself and a rented minivan full of essentials to my new abode for about $750 – and then spent another $400 on furniture when I arrived.

2. But, if you have a new flat-screen, an expensive bed (which has a terrible resale value thanks to bed bugs), or you’ve invested in some high-quality furniture, you’re going to want to bring it with you. To do that, you need to get a moving truck. I opted against paying movers to do everything for two reasons: first, it’s wicked expensive if you choose a decent company ($3,000-$4,000 base for our 1.5 bedroom) and second, the more discounted it is, the more stops across the country the movers are going to make – they’ll load your stuff in a truck with other people’s stuff, who aren’t necessarily moving to where you are. They’ll plan a route and unload the stuff in order of convenience for THEM, one-by-one, which means that if you’re not first on the list, you could be in your new location for a week or two before your stuff arrives. Which stinks. Trust me, I’ve heard stories.

What we did was rent a 16-foot moving truck ourselves and then hire movers to load it up. I drove the truck from New York to Chicago (no easy task, mind you) and then we hired movers in Chicago to unload it. The cost for this was approximately $1600. ($1100 for the truck, $500 for the movers in New York, $250 for the movers in Chicago and $300 for gas, minus the $550 dollars we saved in not having to buy plane tickets to get to our new location – we don’t have a car. Remember that whatever you end up deciding, getting yourself to the new location, even sans stuff, will cost money. Factor that in when you consider the cost of the move.)

Anyway, moving with our own truck was nice – we were certain our possessions were well-taken-care-of and when we arrived, we had our stuff immediately.

Some recommendations:

1. Invest in the furniture pads that are optional in the rental, unless you want very scratched furniture. Buy clothesline for the movers to tie your stuff down. Buy plenty (read: 12-15 rolls) of packing tape for them. Since the movers are not using their own truck, they won’t bring all of their equipment. Make sure you ask what they need to make your move successful.

2. Make sure the movers on the front end are very good – if you’re going to be driving your truck hundreds of miles, you want someone who is conscientious and competent – and not all movers are. All of your possessions should be properly tied down and secured so they don’t shift or fall during your trip, which could cause hundreds of dollars in damage. You might want to check on this as your truck is being loaded.

3. Make sure you buy a lock! A little known fact: when you rent a moving truck, it does not include a lock for the back. If you’re moving cross-country, you’ll need this, since you’ll make stops. Go to a hardware store and pick up a heavy-duty lock for $15 or so – don’t get the cheap kind that you used for you locker in middle school. Thieves can break that easily.

4. The movers on the back end are far less important – unloading is much, much easier than loading. Think about it. …Unfortunately, I did not – the movers in Chicago I contacted all had minimums of $250, which includes up to 2 hours. The Chicago movers unloaded our truck (which took 4.5 hours to load) in 45 minutes. ….But, we still had to pay them $250. …So, if you have strong friends in your new location, or can find a helper or two on craigslist, you’ll save some coin – and you don’t have much to worry too much about quality. All they have to do is put your boxes on your living room floor for you, which is about as simple as it gets.

Hope this helps and good luck on your own move – if you have more tips or ideas, feel free to post them in the comment section below. See ya!

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Author My First Apartment

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I've lived in apartments in 6 cities (including 2 foreign countries). Does that make me an expert? As of now, my ceiling isn't leaking and I don't have rodents (knock on wood) -- so I'm going to say yes . . . but ask me again tomorrow:) These days, I'm enjoying life Chicago style, but my years in Brooklyn are never far from my mind. P.S. By day I work at, but these opinions are totally, 100% my own.

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Comments (6)

  1. Avatar Rhianna Hawk

    I’m in the process of your first step: selling everything I can to make room for the move. My husband and I are planning to move to a new house here in a month to be closer to his work and his brother, and clearing out all of our unnecessary junk is going to take a lot of time, though maybe earn us some extra cash, as it did for you. However, we’re planning on renting a professional moving truck instead f just a minivan, especially as we have a house full of things to move instead of just an apartment-full, and we definitely want room for our tv and other essentials, as you said.

  2. Avatar Taylor Bishop

    Thanks for going over some things to think about when renting a moving truck. I’m glad that you mentioned that you find a moving company that is conscientious. It sounds like it could be good to maybe ask them some questions about their company so that you can learn more about the equipment and the techniques that they use.

  3. Avatar Leviticus Bennett

    I like your tip to buy a lock for the back of the truck. I’ll be sleeping in a couple hotels on the way to my new home, so I’ll want to make sure my truck is safe in the parking lot. I’m moving this summer, so it’s good to know what to expect.

  4. Avatar Tyler Meredith

    I like what this article mentions about investing in furniture pads to prevent furniture damaging the truck or vise versa. I wouldn’t want there to be any complications when making the move, so I’ll definitely have to take proper precaution when renting the van. Thanks for the post!

  5. Avatar Barb Clements

    I am researching moving trucks at this time.

    One thing I have learned is that Penske does not have a car hauler that is capable of hauling a ranger pick-up truck.

    Another thing I learned is that U-Haul will bargain with you to get your business and you can ask for the newest truck that they have on site.

  6. Avatar Brandon Scivolette

    Great information about self moving. A few additional tips for the readers:

    1) You made a very smart choice by renting a moving truck and hiring movers, you can (and did) save a lot compared to full service moving. I recommend looking into all three truck rental companies, U-Haul, Budget and Penske. Although most people opt for U-Haul by default (due to name brand recognition), Penske and Budget are usually as affordable and have better quality trucks.

    2) The physical aspect of loading your household items is the most important part. Make sure you hire a quality moving labor company that specializes in loading and unloading moving trucks and PODS.

    3) As you mentioned, furniture pads are incredibly important. Very few people recognize the importance and fail to get enough. The industry recommends one dozen pads for every 5′ of space.