Just before Thanksgiving, my family and I packed up our lives and moved from Georgia to New Hampshire. I wrote about why we made the move – unusual as most people would consider it – in a post last week. Today I want talk about the mechanics of the move, because the story could be a benefit for others. To save many thousands of dollars, we did a self-move. It did save us money – a lot actually – but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in most cases. Certainly not for a long distance move, like we did.
Here’s how that self-move played out – the good, the bad, and the ridiculous.
Constructing the Self-Move
My daughter and I went up to New Hampshire in late October to find a place for us to live. My wife and son were unable to come due to job obligations. We spent a week looking at dozens of houses, apartments, and condominiums. It took us the entire week to find a place, and in fact we came home not sure if we had. Details had to be wrapped up on the place that we did choose but only a few days after we returned to Georgia.
As far as planning out the move itself, we decided on following:
- We would rent a large truck
- We would load it ourselves
- I would drive the truck, and my wife and son would drive our two cars behind me (we sold our van)
- The trip would be done over three days, since driving the truck would limit us to no more than about eight hours of driving time per day
- We planned on two overnight hotel stays in undesignated locations
- We would hire professionals to unload the truck once we reached New Hampshire
In general, that’s the plan we loosely followed. But as the saying goes the best laid plans of men and mice go awry, and that’s largely what happened.
Renting the Truck
When my wife and I moved from New Jersey to Georgia more than 20 years earlier, we hired a professional moving company to do the job for us. It cost several thousand dollars back then, but with inflation and the fact that we now have a family and a lot more possessions, the cost would be much higher.
Since we had done a number of local moves by renting a truck and doing it ourselves, we decided to do the same for our multi-state move.
We rented a truck from Penske Truck Rental, as we had done in the past on local moves, or when we needed to move large items. Penske is an excellent company that I highly recommend for local moves.
Though the original quote for the five day rental was $1,097, we ended up closing out the bill at $1,036. Though it was a savings of only $61, it was a welcome change from the far more numerous times we have had to pay more for something after the fact. That’s one of the reasons we like working with Penske. Their quotes are always firm.
Loading the Truck Day
The four of us, with help from a few of my sons friends, spent an entire day loading the truck. We started at 9:30 in the morning, and anticipated being done by 6 pm. But by 11 pm we were still loading – in the dark and in the rain.
One of the corollaries of Murphy’s Law is the first 90% of the job takes 90% of the time; the last 10% of the job takes 90% of the time. That’s how it works with moving. The big stuff goes out pretty quickly, but the “little stuff” is what eats up all your time. As well, we had zero room in the truck for any more stuff, and even the cars were loaded to the point that there was barely enough room for my wife and kids.
You don’t really know how much stuff you have until you have to load all of it onto a single 26 foot truck (see the photo on the left). And we’d gotten rid of a lot beforehand. We’ll be getting rid of a lot more going forward.
It was almost midnight by the time we went to bed. We slept on mattresses on the floor, then loaded them on the truck in the morning.
The 1,200 Mile Drive that We’re Lucky We Survived
We were up at 6 am for moving day, intending to be on the road by 6:30. Unfortunately, with all the last minute little stuff, we didn’t get on the road until almost 7:30.
Driving the 26 foot truck was the part of this move that I had dreaded for weeks. I’m a blogger, not a truck driver, and I’ve never driven anything larger than our family van or a small moving van. A big, fully loaded truck doesn’t handle anything like a car, or even a van. You have to take turns wide and slow, push it hard uphill, and ride the brakes going downhill. And cruise control – the truck had it, but the traffic Thanksgiving week was unforgiving, and I was unable to use it at all.
1,200 miles and we hit traffic in and near every city we drove through. We also had intermittent rain that complicated everything.
On the first day we planned to drive to Fredericksburg, Virginia, which would allow us to cover the first 550 miles of the trip. We made it, but with rain most of the day, we didn’t get in until about 8 pm, rather than 6 pm as we’d hoped. But still we had achieved a moral victory of making the first leg of the move as planned. Nearly half the trip was already behind us.
Driving – Day Two
The second day, we planned to get to New Jersey. We got on the road by 8 am, and planned to stop by 5 pm since it would already be dark. (I didn’t want to drive that truck in the dark, but ended up doing it all three days!). We hit heavy traffic in Washington DC and in Baltimore. In fact, we had traffic all the way to Harrisburg, PA.
But something unexpected happened when we got past Harrisburg. The service engine light went on in my car and it was stuttering, especially up hill.
I was in a panic. We brought it to Autozone for a diagnostic check that revealed a problem with ignition coil #5. It’s a problem we know well, so we were able to deal with it even on the road, except for one minor problem – Autozone didn’t have the needed part.
We located the part at a nearby Advanced Auto Parts store. But it turned out that the problem wasn’t the part, but that the wire going to the coil was disconnected. How the heck we had driven 750 miles with a disconnected coil wire is beyond me. It was of course a simple fix, but we kept the new coil anyway, and went on our way. But by now it was dark, so we spent the next three hours driving from Harrisburg to NJ in the dark, and in ridiculously thick traffic, including a lot of trucks. We reached a suitable hotel in NJ after 8 pm.
Driving – Day Three
The next day was our last driving day, and we expected it to be easy. It wasn’t.
Weeks before the move, my mortal fear was driving that truck on the New York Thruway, around New York City. It’s only about a 25 mile run, but it was the most treacherous stretch of the whole trip. From previous experience I knew it would be. Too many merges, and drivers who don’t stop when entering the highway from onramps (if you live in that area you know exactly what I’m talking about). Twice on the Thruway my wife almost got hit – including once by a runaway truck.
Connecticut was fairly clear of traffic, at least by Connecticut standards (people who don’t live in the Northeast don’t appreciate the multi-state dimension of traffic problems here). There was the usual downtown traffic nonsense in the cities, but on balance it wasn’t terrible. I can’t say that for Rhode Island. We hit Providence just before 3 pm, and were promptly greeted by an Atlanta-sized traffic mess. We lost at least an hour in that traffic, traffic that had no apparent cause other than volume.
But the coupe de grace was Massachusetts. It was generally clear in Mass on I95 and I495 – until we reached the Mass Turnpike. It’s moving toward 5 pm at this point and all of Eastern Massachusetts is on the interstates and heading home – but apparently home is New Hampshire for the vast majority of them. The closer we got to the state line, the worse the traffic got. It was well past 7 pm when we reached that line, after driving in a 50 mile unbroken traffic jam.
And once again we were driving at night. We finally reached our destination in New Hampshire just past 7:30 pm.
We had made the trip in three days – as planned – but the eight hour days turned into 12 hour days. We were exhausted, and my nerves were shot from driving that truck.
One more important point…the truck runs on diesel, not gasoline. If you’ve never had to use diesel, I can tell you that it’s a fiasco all by itself. You usually have to get it at a separate bay hundreds of feet from the gas station, and very few of them accept credit or debt cards at the pump (they prefer company cards from truckers). That was a nasty surprise. I knew diesel costs a lot more than gasoline, but I was unprepared for how complicated it was to get it.
Unloading: We Got Professional Help
We correctly anticipated that we would be exhausted and mentally drained after three days of continuous driving, and we were totally correct.
Several days before we left Georgia, I had contacted a local mover in New Hampshire through Craigslist (I love Craigslist, no matter what its detractors say!). They were a complete pleasant surprise. Two guys came and unloaded the truck in the space of just three hours – which was really good news, since a major snowstorm was coming in as they were unloading. It was only $150 for the movers, and it was the best money we ever spent.
What We Would Do Differently
We had done local self-moves in the past, and they went very well. However, doing a self move over 1,200 miles, and across 10 states, was far worse than anything any of us had ever imagined. Yes, we saved a lot of money, but the physical and emotional tolls were just too much.
I would certainly do a self move again if it’s just local. But as far as a long distance self-move, we’ll never do it again. I’d recommend against it if you’re thinking of doing one yourself. There are so many unforeseen variables, especially as the distance that you’re moving increases.
One option I should have investigated more fully – and certainly will if we ever make another long-distance move – was through United Van Lines. They advertise “From Full-Service to Do-It-Yourself Moving & Storage”. If some sort of hybrid approach could be arranged – say self-loading and unloading, with them driving the truck to the destination, that would be the way to go.
Driving a large, unfamiliar truck across ten states and in various weather conditions and traffic patterns isn’t even safe. If I had to do it again, this is a change I’d definitely make. It’s tough enough getting yourself and your family to a new, distant destination. Leave the moving your stuff part to the professionals.
Have you ever done a self-move over a long distance? What are your thoughts or recommendations?