Packing to move might be the most time-consuming part of the whole moving process, but don’t worry. With some planning and organizing, it’s completely possible. In fact, our 35 packing tips for cross country moving are all about saving yourself time, while still making sure that your belongings are safe and sound for the big journey.
Strategize your packing
The key to packing for your interstate move? Planning ahead. It might sound obvious, but you won’t believe how much more streamlined your packing process will be if you do these two things: figure out what you need (and in what quantities) and come up with a timeline.
Start by gathering the packing supplies you already have. Chances are, you have a few boxes, markers, tape, scissors, and so on. Next, use our packing calculator to figure out what you still need to purchase. We recommend ordering your moving supplies six weeks before the move.
Then, our moving checklist can help you determine a timeline. Five weeks before the move, you should start using up refrigerated food and pantry items. You should also consider selling, tossing, or donating your stuff and which furniture and appliances to take with you.
Make a checklist for moving (or several)
Here are some checklist examples that you can follow closely, or you can use them to inspire your own:
Take a look at these additional tips about moving cross country that can help you make your checklist(s):
Create a moving file
Storing all the documents that you’ll need in a moving file, binder, bin, or box is a great way to stay organized. You’ll thank yourself later when things get even more hectic with your move. This folder should contain moving-related documents, like your moving estimate, bill of lading, inventory documentation, and “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” booklet. This booklet is actually federally required and must be provided by your mover.
You’ll also need to organize the paperwork and documents related to changing your billing address (e.g., credit cards, utilities, and memberships). Finally, update your driver’s license, voter registration, school records, pet-related documentation, and mail-forwarding information. Some can be updated before the move. Others will have to wait until you’ve relocated and established residency in your new state.
Perhaps, this is the most obvious piece of advice on our list of packing tips for cross country moving. Moves across the country are less forgiving than local moves. Everything that you want to take with you must be packed and ready to go on moving day.
Ideally, begin packing a month before the move. Start by boxing up non-essentials and seasonal items. These include summer or winter clothing, off-season sports gear, and home decor items. Pack essentials last, such as kitchen necessities, toiletries, and pet-related items. Also, it might be helpful to keep valuables and important documents separate from everything else.
Learn how to pack like a pro
Even if you’re using professional movers for your move, doing the packing yourself will save time and money. You’ll need to have everything packed before the movers arrive. So, take some time to learn best practices for tackling the task at hand. Start with these below:
Declutter: Sell, Toss, or Donate
Chances are you’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. Take an honest look around your home and assess what you might no longer need. By doing these three things — selling, donating, or simply tossing your unwanted belongings — you will benefit in several ways. You will save money, for one. Think about it: The less you have to move, the easier and less expensive the move will be. Second, you will also make unpacking easier.
These tips should help you declutter:
- Go through your belongings room by room. Open the closets and the cabinets. Don’t skip any drawers. Get an idea of how much you’ve got and make notes of what can go. Take inventory of what furniture isn’t worth moving, too.
- Purge your closets. Whether it doesn’t fit, is out of style, and/or hasn’t been worn in a year, get rid of it. The same goes for your children’s closets, linen closets, and bathroom shelves.
- Sell your stuff online. Thanks to online marketplaces, such as Mercari, OfferUp, Facebook, eBay, and Nextdoor.com, selling items online is easier than ever. Don’t forget to consider offline avenues with specialty and consignment stores.
- Get rid of items you wouldn’t buy again. When deciding whether an item serves a purpose in your life, ask yourself whether you would go out and spend money on it if you didn’t already have it. If you wouldn’t, then you likely don’t need it.
- Make donation pickup arrangements. For those donating big items like furniture and rugs, schedule a pickup ahead of time. This way, you can be certain that you have an organization picking them up. Check out this list of charities that pick up donations. This will leave you one less thing to worry about during your move.
- Consider short-term storage. You may want to put them in a short-term storage unit if there are some items that you can’t commit to getting rid of yet. It will give you some extra time to evaluate whether you want these items or not.
- Hire a junk removal company. It can take a lot of time to clean spaces like garages, basements, and attics. Let a professional junk removal company do it for you. They’ll dispose of the trash, clean up, and even donate items to local charities. Not only you won’t have to lug unwanted heavy items like a mattress or a couch, but you’ll also be free to focus on other tasks.
Find free moving boxes and supplies
The average cost of hiring professional movers for an interstate move is $4,890 (based on an average weight of 7,500 pounds and an average distance of 1,000 miles). So, it’s understandable that you might want to cut some costs associated with your move. One pretty easy way to do it is to source free boxes and moving supplies.
Try to find used boxes and packing paper from local retailers, online marketplaces, and community groups. To give you an idea, try local liquor stores, U-Haul Box Exchange, bookstores, offices, recycling drop-off points, grocery stores, local schools, and big-box retailers. Here are our guides to finding free moving boxes and moving supplies near you.
Get the best boxes for every room
Corrugated and wardrobe boxes work best for the kitchen, plastic bins for the bedroom, and banker boxes for the office. Sure, free boxes are great, and you can use a variety of sizes for the living room and garage, but if you have the opportunity (and budget) to get specific kinds of boxes, do it.
You can purchase them at our Box Center, The Home Depot, Amazon, Lowes, U-Haul, and U-Line. Even if you mix and match the purchased boxes with the others you get for free, you’ll be in good shape.
Pack a small duffle bag or suitcase with the personal items that you’ll need access to during your move. Some examples include important documents, medications, chargers, basic toiletries, a couple of changes of clothes, etc.
While it might seem like a hassle to add an extra task to your to-do list, you’re just setting yourself up for success. By having an essentials bag packed, you won’t have to stress yourself out searching for important items when you need them.
Put together a moving essentials box
Here’s one of the ultimate packing tips for cross country moving: The essentials box (or the open-first box) will save your sanity on your first night in your new home. It should have everything you’ll need right after the move, like paper towels, toilet paper, water, paper plates, plastic utensils, and so on.
If you’re moving with a small child, you’ll need to add diapers and extra clothes as well as favorite toys and baby food. For pets, you’ll have to have easy access to their food and food bowls, the leash, treats and chews, the bedding, a litter box, cleanup bags, and your pet’s favorite toys.
Rent a portable moving container
One popular cross country moving alternative is to rent a portable moving container. These moving containers double as storage pods and are especially helpful to those in need of storage before, during, or after a move.
Popular moving container companies include PODS, ABF’s U-Pack ReloCubes, U-Haul’s U-Boxes, 1-800-PACK-RAT, Zippy Shell, SMARTBOX, Go Mini’s, and COWs. Here’s our current list of the best moving container companies.
Ask for help
Ask your family members to help out with the move. The kids can pack their toys, for example. Your spouse can pack their own closet. You can also enlist some free help from extended family and close friends on moving day if you’re not using professionals.
Don’t feel like you’re alone in this. When you’re going through a stressful life event, like moving, it’s okay to ask for — and accept — help. You’d do it for your loved ones, and we’re sure they’d be happy to return the favor.
Get moving insurance
Yes, it pays to be protected. You may not be as concerned if you are moving down the street, but for a long-distance move, it’s certainly worth considering. What if your precious belongings are lost, damaged, or destroyed? At the very least, you should look into the possibility of getting moving insurance.
In some cases, it’s absolutely worth it. To help you decide, read our guide to moving insurance coverage to see why you might need it, what it covers and doesn’t cover, the cost, and your coverage options. And, of course, talk to the moving company you’re hiring about what type of coverage it can offer you.
Document the condition of your items
As you pack your belongings, take photos and/or videos of all items to document their condition at the beginning of the move. This way, if anything breaks or becomes damaged while in the hands of the movers, you will have proof that they were mishandled.
This visual evidence could help with filing a claim and seeking compensation for your belongings. You might have to do it if you’re using a professional moving company, anyway. Many of them require an inventory of your belongings. Even if you’re DIY-ing the whole move, we suggest you still consider taking this step.
Examine items for damage after the move
While unpacking your belongings, make sure to carefully examine each item, particularly large or valuable items, such as furniture, antiques, and china.
If belongings were damaged or broken while in transit, you may be able to file a claim and receive compensation for these items. Be sure to compare the condition of your items to the photos or videos taken before the move once you begin to settle in.
Isolate your important paperwork and valuables
Don’t pack valuables, such as jewelry and family heirlooms, with the rest of your belongings. Instead, pack any valuables in a separate and secure bag. The same goes for important paperwork and documents, like birth certificates, marriage licenses, and passports.
When moving cross country, these types of special items and documentation should all be carried with you to ensure that they stay safe. The last thing you want to do when you arrive at your new home is stress out about the location of a particular item or document.
Set up a packing station
Gather your packing supplies first. The essentials you’ll want to include are boxes, packing tape, scissors, packing paper, bubble wrap, markers, old towels and blankets, plastic bags of various sizes, including small sealable bags and garbage bags, color-coded stickers, and more.
Set up a surface for your packing station. It could be a folding table or if you can spare it while you pack, the dining room table. That way, you won’t waste time looking for any supplies and can use the station to tape and label boxes.
Pack the packing supplies last
Your packing supplies should remain with you throughout your moving journey. Try to keep supplies — like bubble wrap, tape, and markers — unpacked until moving day. It will be easier on your if they remain at your designated packing station until the very last minute.
When the time comes, pack them in a corrugated box and travel with them in your vehicle or DIY moving truck. By having them on hand, you can fix any issues as they arise on the road, like reboxing certain items or fixing a piece or two of packing tape.
Put your linens, towels and other soft items to use
Use linens and towels to cushion fragile, difficult-to-wrap items, like lamps, vases, and art pieces. Cushion smaller breakables, like drinking glasses or perfume bottles, in socks for thicker padding. For kitchen items, use dish towels to securely pack knives and other sharp objects, then secure them with a rubber band.
You’ll be amazed by how many household items you already have on hand that can be used for packing. There’s nothing better than cutting some corners and saving a little bit of money here and there. Plus, it’s eco-conscious and cuts down on paper and plastic usage.
Utilize your suitcases for heavy items
You can get away with packing heavy things in suitcases since their wheels make them easier to move. Suitcases are excellent for packing things that aren’t easily transported in boxes, such as books or heavy serving dishes.
If you’re usually one to pack clothes in your suitcase, consider using one or two smaller bags as your “essentials” bag(s). It’s easier to carry around your clothing, toiletries, chargers, and other immediate necessities, in comparison to the heavier belongings you own.
Set up boxes only as you need them
Keep your space as clear and manageable as possible by only setting up boxes as you’re ready to fill them. Once a box is filled take it to the packing station for taping and labeling if you haven’t already. To prevent the boxes from falling apart, line up the sides closely when building them so that there is no overhang, then use two layers of tape to secure the sides in place. For added protection, put a perpendicular layer of tape on the area where the sides meet the end of the box.
Your packing boxes can hold about 30 to 150 pounds, depending on their size and whether they are single or double-walled. Stick to their limits, and you’ll be happy that you did.
Put destination rooms on the boxes
Put the name of the “destination” room on every box or label boxes with their contents, especially if a single box contains multiple types of items. This will reduce confusion when you begin to unpack.
Using movers? Make sure the destination room is the clearest label on the box. Then, make note of the items in a smaller print for yourself.
Mark boxes as fragile
Everyone moves some sort of fragile item or belonging. It’s important to remind yourself, friends and family, or movers that certain boxes need to be handled with care.
While you’ll likely have insurance with a professional mover, it’s better to communicate via labels at the get-go. No one wants to go through the process of making a claim for damaged items. Doing a DIY move, instead? These labels will be a cautious reminder that you’ll be grateful to have in the long run.
Know what not to pack
Before you start packing boxes, make sure you’ve read up on what not to pack. Moving companies are not allowed to transport hazardous items, perishables, and certain valuables. Rental truck companies also prohibit various items on their vehicles.
Examples of items that can’t be transported include propane tanks, scuba tanks, fertilizer, matches, pool chemicals, frozen or refrigerated food, plants, produce, tax documents, and medicine. Make sure to ask your moving company or a truck rental company for a full list of non-allowables before packing the house and keep those items separate from everything else.
Have an unpacking plan
Once you get to your new home, start unpacking your essentials bag right away. Make the beds you need for the night, and then focus on the kitchen when you have your first opportunity. You don’t need to unpack every item immediately, but having a functional kitchen will make your new place feel more like home and be easier on your wallet.
Next, focus on the living room, so you have a space to relax and congregate. As you begin to unpack other rooms, realize you don’t have to unpack everything in one day or even one week. In fact, some rooms might take time to piece together, especially if you need new furniture. Go at a steady pace, but consider scheduling a housewarming party and give yourself a deadline to have all (or most of) your boxes unpacked.
Packing a Moving Truck For a Cross-country Move
Going the DIY route and renting a truck to drive it yourself? Then, you might want to read a few more of our quick tips for packing your truck. Here’s how to pack a moving truck like a pro:
Protect your moving area
Before you start loading the truck, clear any items from your path that can get in the way or damaged in the process. A tarp or spare cardboard from extra boxes can cover the floors to prevent any damage and keep outdoor elements at bay.
Furniture items take up quite a bit of space on a truck. To save room, make sure to disassemble them. This should help maximize the space inside the truck and distribute the weight of heavy furniture more evenly. You can disassemble everything from dining room tables and bed frames to desks and dressers. Be sure to wrap any special or delicate pieces to prevent damage, as items in your truck are likely to shift during transit.
Load the largest and heaviest items first
All of your heavy items need to go on the truck first. These are your mattresses, bed frames, tables, chairs, refrigerators, washer and dryer sets, couches, and coffee tables. Given the weight and size of these items, they should be on the bottom of your moving truck so as not to crush and damage other boxes. Place the heaviest of these items toward the front of the truck near the cab where the driver sits.
Place couches, headboards, and tables in an upright position
Large furniture items take up more cubic feet in a moving truck when laid in the truck horizontally. To save space in your truck, place all couches, headboards, and tables in an upright, vertical position. It’s also a good idea to provide extra padding and protection around these furnishings. We suggest using moving blankets or plastic wrap to protect upholstered couches and chairs and packing everything in as tightly as possible.
Roll up the rugs
All rugs should be rolled up and secured in plastic wrap to save room on the truck. Before rolling up your rugs, ensure that they are cleaned to avoid spreading bad odors. To properly roll a rug, you must roll it with the top side facing out. This will help avoid damaging or straining a rug’s backing. Once the rug is rolled up, tie it securely and place it upright in the truck — like your other heavy items — to save space.
Load the lightest items last
After you’ve finished packing your heavy items onto the truck, it’s time to start loading the medium to lightweight objects. Remember these tidbits when loading lighter items onto the truck: place mattresses in mattress bags, pack kitchen appliances in their original boxes to keep track of them, and put collectibles, jewelry, and valuables in their separate, clearly labeled boxes. Finally, pictures, mirrors, and TVs must be properly protected before being loaded onto the truck.
Distribute the weight evenly
Distributing the weight evenly throughout the truck will make it easier to load and unload. It will help you control the vehicle while driving on the road. Make sure that the heavier items are located toward the cab and against the walls. Medium-heavy items should go on top of the heaviest items, and lighter items are your final addition to the moving truck.
Keep moving straps handy
As you pack your belongings, you’ll want to make sure that they are secured with moving straps. This will prevent your items from shifting while in transit to your new home. Strap down one section of the truck at a time. So, for instance, as you load your heavier belongings, strap these into place first. Then, strap medium size items in place — and so on. Moving boxes should be strapped down to hold them in place during the trip, as well.
Invest in a good lock
Lock up your belongings to prevent theft while you drive across the country through various cities, suburbs, and even rural areas. A strong, high-quality, and well-functioning lock is always a worthy item to include in your moving toolkit. Just don’t share your key or lock combination.
Recruit help —free or for hire
Packing a truck is a big job. Don’t do it alone! Ask your friends and family to help you load and unload the truck. Not only it’s pretty impossible to carry heavy, bulky items by yourself, but also hauling boxes for hours solo can potentially cause an injury. Plus, having help will speed up the moving process. Another option is to hire day labor just for loading and unloading the truck. Here’s our current list of the best moving labor companies.
FAQs About Packing Tips For a Cross Country Moving
How do I start packing for a cross country move?
You should order moving supplies six weeks before the move. Five weeks before the move, start using up refrigerated food and pantry items and making an inventory of your belongings. It will help you decide what to sell, toss, or donate. You should ideally begin packing a month before the move. Box up non-essentials and seasonal items, like books and off-season sports gear. Pack all fragile items with extra care and label boxes as clearly as possible. Keep valuables and important documents separate from the rest of your belongings.
Is moving cross country difficult?
It can be, but with careful planning and hard work, it can be done. The main thing is to properly budget and stick to the schedule. Our cost calculator can help you get moving estimates, while our moving checklist lends a hand with planning. And, of course, all of our packing tips for cross country moving will encourage you to make it through the toughest aspects of the process.
What is the cheapest way to move across the country?
The cheapest way is to DIY your move. By doing this, you may end up renting a moving truck or a moving container or using a freight moving trailer. You also might ship your belongings or hire moving labor for the moving day only. The best way to move between states will depend on your individual needs and budget.
Is there specific paperwork you’ll need when moving out of state?
You’ll need to keep track of moving-related paperwork, like your moving estimate, bill of lading, inventory documentation, and “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” booklet. Also, you’ll need to file a change of address request with the USPS and any documentation related to changing your billing address (e.g., credit cards, utilities, and memberships), driver’s license, voter registration, school records, or pet-related documentation.
Are there items not worth moving?
You might want to sell, donate, or throw out some of your belongings before you move. Ditch your old appliances, outdated furniture, old clothing, surplus linens and towels, and anything else you just don’t use anymore. The questions to ask yourself before you decide whether to keep it or ditch it are: Does it work well? Is it cost-efficient to move? Do I use it? Does it have sentimental value?
What should you not pack in a moving truck?
Truck rental companies should provide you with a list of non-allowables when renting a truck. It’s never a good idea to pack flammable and/or hazardous items inside a moving truck. These are acids, ammunition, fertilizer, cleaning solvents, aerosols, fire extinguishers, gasoline, matches, fireworks, paint thinner, paints, and pesticides. Avoid packing perishables, such as refrigerated foods, frozen foods, and plants, too.
Ready for your cross country move?
Get organized for your cross country move by using Moving.com’s comprehensive Move Planner. It features customizable moving checklists, personal tasks list, helpful recommendations, email reminders, and plenty of coupons.
When looking for the best moving company, refer to Moving.com’s guide on the best cross country moving companies and our extensive network of reputable and reliable movers. All relocation companies in our network are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your move will be in good hands. We hope that these packing tips for cross country moving have decreased your stress to some degree. Good luck, and happy moving!