A Cross Country Adventure: 12 Lessons From My First Move

Allow me to set the scene: It’s the middle of August, and classes start in three weeks. I’ve chosen my apartment, my grad school application was accepted, and now all that’s left is to actually move in.

The goal: Move from a Philly suburb to Memphis
Distance: Just shy of 1000 miles
The duration: 2 days (~15 hour drive with overnight stay in a hotel)
The people: Me, my cat, and my SO (who was kind enough to come with me for the trip)

Now, let me to share a few lessons I learned during the move.

1. Pack smart

My mom and I spent the several days before my move piling my things by the door and packing as much as we could ahead of time. She was constantly reminding me to be selective when choosing what to bring, because not much would fit in my tiny car, so I had most of my things divided into “definitely” and “only if there’s room” piles. My mom was kind enough to do most of the actual packing–somehow, she was able to condense a room’s worth of things into what would essentially be about a five foot square space; socks and t-shirts became padding for my dishes, silverware nested inside water bottles, and the disassembled components of the vacuum cleaner were tucked in a laundry basket filled with Ziploc brand space bags (which work astoundingly well, by the way).

When moving day finally came around, the goal was to take off around 10 in the morning (of course, this didn’t actually happen–it was a quarter to noon when I finally pulled out of the driveway). My mom, my boyfriend, and I loaded the car, which was essentially like playing life-size Tetris, and to all of our surprise, there was actually enough space left over for quite a bit of my “only if there’s room” pile!

2. Bring snacks

While the last few things were loaded in, I prepared a bag of snacks for the road, and although my boyfriend laughed at how much food I was bringing just for the trip, we ended up eating all of it and still wishing for more (it turns out driving all day is really boring and snacks make the time go faster. Who knew?). I also put some of my most important things for the trip in the snack bag, since I knew I’d be keeping that within arm’s reach. Phone charger, water bottles, the paperwork I’d need for the landlord when we finally got to my new place, etc. all went in the bag right beside the chips and PB&Js.

3. Prepare for pet accidents

I drove for the first bit of the trek, and my boyfriend and cat got the passenger seat. And honestly, I don’t know which of them complained more for the first five minutes of the trip. The cat at least had a reason to complain–he hates his carrier, hates the car, and needed to use the litter box (as we found out shortly).

After I had gotten gas and cleaned out the cat’s carrier (like I said, it turned out that he needed to use the litter box), we set the GPS and headed toward the highway. When my cat calmed down, I finally relaxed a bit and managed to enjoy some conversation and tunes. And snacks, of course.

4. Bring music and audio books

We managed to keep the conversation going for quite a while, but even the most interesting of people can’t talk non-stop for like eight hours straight, and there was only so many times I could force my boyfriend to listen to the same three CDs on repeat. Fortunately, we had planned for this–The final book in a trilogy we were both super into had come out a few weeks before, and we had bought the audio-book and saved it for this occasion. (For the record, the book was from Dennis E. Taylor’s Legion series. 10/10, would definitely recommend!)

5. Take frequent rest stops

We stopped every couple of hours to stretch our legs, let the cat have some time with the litter box (which, by the way, he refused to use), and to switch drivers (fun fact: neither of us enjoyed driving very much when the rear-view mirror was entirely obstructed by boxes).

6. Pay attention to time zones

Eventually, FINALLY, the GPS gave an estimated arrival time at the hotel of under an hour, and boy was I excited. I was very ready to get out of my cramped car and and take a hot shower. As the time on my dashboard clock grew closer and closer to the GPS’s ETA, however, and the directions showed no sign of stopping, I began to grow suspicious.

“How can we still have thirty miles to go on the highway if we’re supposed to get there in fifteen minutes?” I asked, to which my SO replied, “Oh, we switched time zones a while ago. Subtract an hour from whatever time the car says it is.” Cue sad violins. That next hour and fifteen minutes were the longest of my life.

7. Keep an eye on gas gauge

The last bit of driving excitement of the day came when my dashboard light came on and my car started dinging at me, letting my know that it had been quite a while since I last filled my gas tank and that it would really appreciate if I would go ahead and do that again, you know, now. That was fun, trying to reassure myself that “everything is okay, there’s more gas left than I think, there’s an exit right up ahead, I can get gas there.” Of course, this was all true, and it was completely fine, but you can bet I paid close attention to my fuel gauge after that.

Around 7:30 PM, we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel where we were staying. I grabbed the cat and the litter box, my boyfriend grabbed our duffel bags, and we quickly checked into our room, eager to be well away from the car.

8. If possible, bring someone along

Now, I’m a person very prone to anxiety, so honestly, the fact that I had made it this long into the trip without freaking out was actually pretty impressive. Trust me when I say that your first move is a stressful experience, no matter how fun it is or how excited you are about it. The best advice that I can give you about moving is to make sure you have someone to be there for you when the stress hits, whether this means having a friend, SO, or parent with you while you move, or just having them on your speed dial and letting them know you may need to talk.

My boyfriend sat with me for awhile, reassuring me that everything was alright, my cat definitely didn’t hate me, an that I was going to love my new place. Eventually, I calmed down, and we sat in bed watching T.V. until we fell asleep.

9. Remember to stock entertainment and snacks for entire trip

The next morning, we woke up bright and early so we could be back on the road by 7:30 (well, I woke up early, anyway. My boyfriend refused to get out of bed until minutes before I started the car). After a disappointing continental breakfast, we loaded into the car and were back on our way. There was only an hour or so left in the audio-book we started the day before, so we knocked that out pretty quickly. I couldn’t convince my boyfriend to listen to another book or one of the same skipping C.D.s from yesterday, and he couldn’t convince me to listen to his favorite board-game review podcasts, so we had to find some other way to entertain ourselves. We also had no snacks leftover for our second day of driving, which was poor planning on my part. If you know your journey will take multiple days, pack enough food for the entire trip, or plan to pick up more before you reembark.

10. Prepare to handle traffic at destination

As we neared the end of our trek, the three cups of coffee I’d had that morning wore off, and I asked my boyfriend to drive the last stretch. This ended up being a really good choice, because I was NOT prepared to drive in the traffic around Memphis. I’ve driven through D.C., but even that did not get me ready for the the absurd seven lane merging, 85 mph, bumper-to-bumper highway. Fortunately, my boyfriend was actually used to this kind of driving, so he was able to handle it without spiraling into panic the way I would have. (Ed. comment. Try to time your arrived outside rush hours.)

As he pulled into the parking space in front of the apartment complex’s main building. I grabbed my folder full of paperwork (my lease, money orders, checks, I.D., etc.), my boyfriend grabbed the cat carrier, and we walked in. I awkwardly waved to the woman behind the desk, and she motioned me over.

11. There will be more paperwork

I swear, the pile of paperwork I had to fill out was an inch think, and that’s not even including the stacks they had previously faxed me and I had filled out at home. The one good thing about the hour we spent filling out forms was that, because of some of the issues I originally had getting them to process my application in a timely manner, the woman helping me gave me a free pool pass.

12. Home, sweet new home.

Then, finally, it was time to see the apartment! We did the official walk-through of the property, and while I knew I should have been super excited, in that moment, honestly, I was so overwhelmed from everything and tired from the drive that I barely felt much of anything.

The woman showing us around asked me what I thought of the place, which, honestly, I thought was a weird question in the moment. I mean, I had already driven all the way across the country with everything I owned, given her my money, and signed the lease. If I didn’t like it, there wasn’t much that could be done. We walked through the rooms (living room, kitchenette, bedroom, bathroom, patio), and I pointed out a couple spots of damage or stains. I felt like an ungrateful jerk doing this, but they were things I definitely didn’t want to get charged for having caused. To make up for it, I tried to point out the things I liked as well, but I was really moving on auto-pilot right then. It was going to be a little while before it all sunk in.

There were several furniture order mishaps–the “couch” I tried to order from Walmart’s website ended up just being the arm and backrest portions of a couch, and each day, a new item I’d ordered from Amazon would appear (and usually it would resemble the product image I had seen online).  Over the course of the week, my place slowly grew more and more furnished, until, by the time I had to take my boyfriend to the airport, he was leaving a place that actually resembled a home.

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Taylor LaSon is a recent Hamilton College graduate who is currently living in Memphis while seeking her Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology. She and her cat prefer a quiet, introverted lifestyle full of Netflix binges and arts and crafts, but when she does go out, she enjoys rock climbing and making silly faces at small children.

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