3 Ways to Move Across the Country — and How Much Each Costs

Updated October 26, 2016
by Carson Kohler
Junior Writer
Cheapest way to move across country

It’s my least favorite thing to do.

Ever.

Worse than folding clothes. Worse than going to the grocery store. Worse than packing (or even worse — unpacking) for vacation.

It’s moving.

I’ve done it a time or two: Florida to South Carolina to Florida to Missouri to Colorado to Florida. I’m settled now — but my boyfriend, Jacob Brunson, is preparing to make the nearly 2,000-mile trek from Denver to Tampa.

We aren’t the only ones on the move: About one in nine people moved between 2013 and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With any move, I just feel money being sucked out of me. But this time, with Penny Hoarder blood running through my veins, I resolved to help Jacob save.

However, three minutes into the research, my brain was swamped with confusion.

To keep you from experiencing this same overwhelming, lung-constricting feeling, I decided to outline our research and findings. I hope this post will save Jacob — and you — from some of those extravagant moving expenses.

To simplify the process as much as possible, I investigated three options: Drive everything, ship everything or sell everything.

After considering these options, he might choose to mix and match — but more on that later.

Option 1: Drive Everything

Pamela Moore / Getty Images
Pamela Moore / Getty Images

If you have a car, great — stuff that sucker to the brim. But you’ll still likely be forced to leave some belongings behind or need a trailer or moving truck.

And Jacob doesn’t have a car — just a motorcycle — so he needed a vessel. Cue generic Google search: “Cheapest cross-country moving trucks.” The big names pop up: Budget, Enterprise, Penske and U-Haul.

Again, these estimates are from Denver to Tampa for a one-bedroom apartment.

1. Budget Truck Rental: $891.20 + fees

Good news. Budget has a 20% off discount code (20DIS) until the end of the year.

The 12- and 16-foot trucks are priced the same, so I go for the larger option, which has a loading ramp and towing capabilities — perfect if you have a car. Add an extra $175-$350, at least, for that.

Budget also gives us the option to rent furniture paddings ($29 per dozen) or a hand-truck ($39). We opt out of that, as well as the damage waivers; we live life on the edge.

The price also includes unlimited mileage. Score!

Budget does charge an underage fee for those 18-24 years old. Although Jacob is months away from 25, we can’t fudge that. I don’t continue on to see what that charge would be because I don’t want to enter my credit card information.

2. Enterprise Truck Rentals: n/a

You have to return the truck to its original location — womp womp. The site suggests you call if you want more information, so Jacob calls and receives little help.

We decide to move on. (Get it?)

3. Penske Truck Rental: $1,028 + fees

Photo from Penske/Facebook
Photo from Penske/Facebook

Be sure to book online for a 10% discount. I also used my AAA club code for an extra discount, but, even so, the estimate isn’t cheap.

Like Budget, the 12- and 16-foot trucks cost the same. Again, the 16-foot truck has towing capabilities. If you want to use that, you need the Penske-owned car carrier or tow dolly — another fee.

Also, again, there’s free unlimited mileage.

Add the $9 environmental fee and any other taxes, and that’s your estimated total. If you’re underage, you should probably expect a surprise fee there, too.

4. U-Haul Truck Rentals: $1,792 + fees

Photo from U-Haul/Facebook
Photo from U-Haul/Facebook

U-Haul has 15- and 17-foot trucks, so we look into the smaller of the two, which had towing capabilities like the other options.

However, renting a trailer for a motorcycle costs an extra $537. We’d probably just perch it up in the truck with some contraption, but it’s nice to have the option. Towing a car is a cheaper option: $169 for a dolly capable of handling a compact car.

Still — it’s expensive.

5. Other options

For those of you with cars with towing capabilities, you can rent a cargo trailer. This is good for those big items: mattress, couch, tables. Of the brands I looked into, U-Haul seems to be the only one with these. Prices range from $405 to $942.

Either way, there are more expenses to consider once you start your move.

More Cross-Country Moving Expenses

I see us on the road. It’s hour 10, and we’re squirming while more money is being sucked away. I consider the following additional expenses:

Time. It’s money, right? We’d spend 26 hours on the road — traffic not included.

But the big expense is fuel. As of mid-August, diesel cost an average $2.31 per gallon. Because I hate math, I used a nifty miles to gallon conversion calculator and typed in my numbers: 1,860 miles, an average of 11 miles per gallon, priced at $2.31.

We would spend about $390 on gas for the entire trip.

But I just don’t see us driving 26 hours all the way through. I ambitiously estimate we’ll only need one night of lodging.

About 14 hours from Denver — en route to Tampa — is Mount Vernon, Indiana. I’m a huge fan of Airbnb, so I look there first. Our options are in Evansville, Indiana, about 30 minutes away, and the cheapest is $50.

To be sure, I check out the hotel scene in Mount Vernon. A two-star Days Inn would cost about $81. We also have a tent, so I suppose we could set that up. However, after 14 hours of driving, I think we’ll opt for the cheapest option: the $50 Airbnb.

Finally, we calculated the food. We’ll grab a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly for the road. We’d just need the bread, which would cost about $7. We’d also grab a case of bottled water — about $5.

Let’s tie in a $15, on-the-road snack fee to be safe. Realistically, we also might want something else, like Chick-fil-a. I add on $20 for the splurge.

We designate about $50 for food.

In Conclusion…

After crunching the numbers, Budget seems like our best bet. We can have the truck for a week, which gives us plenty of time to pack and unpack.

Considering the other expenses, our estimated grand total for this method of travel is close to $1,400.

If you have a car, you’ll want to add on the extra car carrier or dolly. If your car has towing capabilities, simply opt for the pull-behind trailer.

Total to Move Everything: $1,400

Option 2: Ship Everything

Martin Barraud / Getty Images
Martin Barraud / Getty Images

We also consider shipping everything.

Because Jacob doesn’t have a car, this seems promising. Even if you have a car, you can also consider this option. You’ll simply ship your vehicle — and save miles and gas.

Here’s what we found out.

1. PODS: $2,800 + fees

Photo from PODS/Facebook
Photo from PODS/Facebook

I find the number online to get a quote from PODS — ugh. Luckily, I don’t have to wait long.

PODS rep Zach helps me. He’s awesome, and lets me know I’d have a full month to utilize the Pod with a fixed price.

First snag? PODS doesn’t ship any types of vehicles. Bummer. I continue anyway.

There are three rounds of charges: delivery to the current address, shipping and delivery to the new address (within a month, guaranteed). The eight-foot Pod totals about $2,800. If the mattress wasn’t a factor, the total would be closer to $2,100.

Zach politely tells me PODS probably isn’t my cheapest option. I hug him through the phone.

2. U-Box: $1,489.95 + fees

Photo from U-Haul/Facebook
Photo from U-Haul/Facebook

I cross my fingers and hope the U-Haul shipping boxes will be cheaper.

I scroll through the FAQ page and find we can ship vehicles in the box, as long as all fluids are emptied. (Then you’d also have to consider the cost of refilling, which will likely entail trips to the mechanic both before and after the move.)

I read my plywood box won’t be insured, so we’re out of luck if anything happens in transit.

One of the shipping boxes is only $69.95 — enough for a studio apartment or dorm room’s worth of furniture. The shipping total rounds up to $1,420 from Denver to Tampa.

In this case, the guaranteed delivery date is 10 days after pick-up. Not bad.

3. uShip: $700, depending on bids

I start thinking outside the pod — err, box — and find uShip.

You can ship everything on this ecommerce site: vehicles, boats, furniture, appliances, heavy equipment and animals — although I can’t say I’d ship my 30-pound cat.

The site estimates it’d cost about $514 to ship Jacob’s motorcycle. The catch? I have to submit it for a bid. Good thing Jacob already had this idea and sent one out.

He created a package for bidding: the motorcycle, coffee table, bedside table, three boxes of belongings, three guitars, an amp, some fishing poles and a 55-inch TV. He decided he’s OK parting with his Craigslist mattress.

The site tells him he’ll have to wait up to 14 days to receive a bid from someone. He puts down $8 to create a “priority” listing.

Two days later, he receives his first bid from A-1 Affordable Movers for $1,800. He passes.

He starts getting bids from private movers, including a much more affordable offer for $700 without the TV and another for $850 for everything. Finally, he gets his best estimate: $700 for everything. The bidder seems professional and works out of Tampa.

It’s worth noting this option takes some patience — and trust.

4. Amtrak: n/a

You can ship your packed car by rail on Amtrak as long as you too have a passenger ticket. However, this option is only viable between D.C. and Orlando. If that’s you, it might be worth looking into, but you can’t move any big items this way.

5. Cross-Country Movers: n/a

Allied Van Lines and Mayflower are two companies I’ve seen on the road — and the first two to pop up on Google.

The process: Type in your information and wait for a phone call. It takes about three minutes for Allied to ring. The agent wants to set up a time to come out to see what I’m moving. I ask if I could just get a rough estimate for the time being. Nope.

Then I wait for Mayflower. About 20 minutes later, I’m asked again to set up an appointment for an in-home estimate. I ask the representative if she can give me the average price for moving one bedroom. Yes, she can.

She says it depends on weight, but the base price is $2,600-$2,900. I ask about a car, which can also be moved. She says often the company bundles those up as a package for a discount, but it all depends.

We weren’t convinced it was worth an estimator visit.

More Shipping Expenses

Don’t forget yourself.

Jacob has a Chase Sapphire credit card, which gets him tons of travel points. He’ll pay nothing for a flight. However, if he didn’t have points, it would cost about $300.

Consider: This research was done only about two weeks before the move, and the flight is on Labor Day weekend. If you plan better than us, you’ll likely find better deals.

And the dog. Donny Cyde, the moody Jack Russell terrier, will cost $100 to fly on Southwest. That baggage ain’t free.

In Conclusion…

If Jacob were to go this route, he’d opt for the $700 estimate from uShip estimate. He’d then buy a plane ticket — free for him, but $100 for Donny.

For his clothes, Southwest lets him check two bags for free, 50 pounds max.

Total to Ship Everything: $800

Option 3: Sell Everything

Serenethos / Getty Images
Serenethos / Getty Images

This was me. I filled my Volkswagen Tiguan up with the essentials, sold the rest, then took off.

Jacob considers this option. He starts by making a letgo account and puts his couch, mattress, bed frame, dresser and a lamp for sale.

Offers come in pretty quickly. He sells the $100 dresser he purchased a year ago for $25.

“I’m lighting money on fire,” he says.

He gets offers on his mattress, too. Jacob purchased it two years ago for $400. One guy is supposed to come pick it up for $70 but never shows.

In addition to letgo, he considers using Craigslist, which allows him to geographically pinpoint potential buyers. Ebay’s a good one, too, but shipping a used couch to someone probably isn’t worth it.

If you’re in a college town, use Facebook groups. I recently left the University of Missouri, where we had a “Free and For Sale” group for those moving in and out of town.

After hypothetically selling everything — including his beloved motorcycle — he’d have to buy a plane ticket. Again, it’d be free with his points but $100 for old Donny.

Although Jacob doesn’t have as many clothes as me, I do want to note that when I recently moved, I took a large load to Plato’s Closet. Because I was moving from the Midwest to Florida, I purged many of my bulky winter clothes. I made $180 and donated the rest of my clothes to Goodwill.

Even though the clothes were in good condition and worth more than that, it relieved me of at least two additional boxes.

Back to Jacob. On the surface, he’d spend $100 to move. But that doesn’t consider the substantial amount of money he’s “lighting on fire” when selling items.

It also doesn’t factor in the insane amount of money he’s going to have to sink into new purchases once he gets to Tampa.

Total to Sell Everything: $100

So What’s The Cheapest Way To Move Across Country?

Unfortunately, I can’t exactly tell you. It all depends on your specific situation. Jacob ultimately decided to mix and match his options.

Jacob hopped on a Southwest flight — free with points, $100 for his dog — and checked two additional free bags.

He hired a uShip contractor for $700. And remember how I said: “The bidder seems professional and works out of Tampa.”? Jacob received his belongings in four days. Great.

However, he found out the mover’s trailer had broken and was missing a wheel. His boxes had been unloaded at another location in the rain and put back in — soaked. His guitar amp was busted, and he was missing a fishing pole — the others snapped at the ends. His snow jacket — not cheap — was ripped.

Right now he’s battling for an insurance claim. He paid about $70 for up to $10,000 of damage. The catch? He has to pay a $500 deductible, so unless all of the damage equates to over $500, it’s not even worth the effort of getting repair estimates.

So, a huge disclaimer for those who use uShip: Be cautious. Even though this guy had solid reviews, it didn’t turn out well. In this case, saving a few pennies might not be worth it.

In the end, his nearly 2,000-mile move totaled less than $1,000 — excluding the damaged belongings.

Looking back, we’d probably make different decisions. But like my mom always says, “ya live, and ya learn.”

Your Turn: How have you made long-distance moves? Share your secrets because it seems impossible to me.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. After recently completing graduate school, she focuses on saving money — and surviving the move back in with her parents.

by Carson Kohler
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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