They say that moving is the third most stressful life event after death and divorce. So, what if you have to move during the Coronavirus pandemic? The stress is pretty remarkable.
I’ve moved across the U.S. five times in my life—Texas to California, California to Texas, Texas to Wisconsin, Wisconsin to Oregon, and most recently…Oregon to Wisconsin. With the exception of the California-Texas moves when I was younger, the other three moves involved moving with two screaming cats. Just to add another layer of complexity.
So, me and my husband have done cross-country moves by car (with screaming cats) a few happy times. In January, we officially decided to move back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We didn’t exactly factor pandemics into the equation.
After I shared a story about my cross-country COVID-19 move, I received a couple of questions from people who have to either relocate or travel for essential reasons right now.
To help some of you in these stressful situations, I’ll share my experience so you know what to expect and how to prepare. Do keep in mind that we moved on March 25 and much has changed during that time. Alright, here we go.
You Are making Life harder
Moving makes life hard. Quarantine life is hard. When you’re moving during the coronavirus pandemic, life doesn’t magically get easier. It’s quite the opposite, as you are amplifying stress and uncertainty during stressful and uncertain times.
Leading up to our April 1 move-in, we handled everything in advance. Leases were signed. We sold our only vehicle, because we were downsizing and planning to rent a cargo van for the move. We also sold all of our furniture, so we could fit everything in the van. This was the cheapest possible way to move.
Let’s pause for a second and look at what these moving preparations really meant once the Coronavirus pandemic was in full swing.
We were in-between homes. No longer did our home feel like “home” anymore. With the coronavirus happening, we practically felt displaced and strongly considered backing out multiple times.
But, the house was re-rented. We either had to do it or find another rental in Portland—a highly desirable West Coast city with a competitive/expensive rental market.
The good news—if you can even call it that—is that the people moving into our Portland house were also relocating across the country (from New York). They were in the exact same stressful and uncertain situation.
Our landlord was very cool to work with throughout this process. And, our Milwaukee property management team were beyond helpful and accomodating.
Both Portland (where we lived) and Milwaukee (where we were moving to) are completely walkable/bikable/Uber-friendly cities. We also run our business from home, so we never drive. Downsizing made perfect sense back in January.
But, in March? Not having a vehicle added to the “trapped” quarantine feeling and also made running errands inconvenient during the move. When all of the Portlanders were escaping to gorgeous Pacific Northwest nature settings, Mr. H and I were stuck at home. It was too cold to get around by bike and riding in Ubers needed to be kept to a minimum.
Getting groceries delivered was another issue. We had been using this delivery service for a year already. But overnight, everyone else was suddenly getting groceries delivered and we couldn’t get deliveries.
Thankfully, we had a store within walking distance…the most expensive grocery store in Portland. Bell peppers? Dish soap? Eggs? Cha-ching.
Let’s get rid of everything…whoo! Our intentions were good. We were ready for a fresh start. Plus, moving yourself is always more economical than paying for movers or shipping pods. Shit had to go!
Putting all of our shit up for sale early on Facebook Marketplace was a blessing and a curse. We sold all of our big furniture pieces before social distancing measures were out in full force—and while people were still willing to buy second-hand items.
And, now fo the curse. We ended up sitting in an empty house for almost a month. It was deeply unsettling, uncomfortable, and it totally added to our displaced feeling.
Plan Ahead and Get REady to Improvise
Start moving preparations as early as you can. Go on—embrace your control-freak tendencies.
Order moving supplies early to account for slower shipping speeds. Make reservations and confirm them. Confirm them again. And again. Meal prep. Above all, get ready to improvise.
Transportation services, like moving trucks and vans, are essential. However, even if you have a reservation…confirm, confirm, confirm.
Because we didn’t have a car—and we knew we couldn’t book cross-country movers at the last-minute—our entire move was dependent on our cargo van rental. As time went by, and quarantine restrictions increased, we got antsy. Would we be able to even leave Portland?
We moved our departure date up a week, so we had to change our van rental reservation. We ended up with a smaller van, which meant we had to toss/donate more things we hadn’t planned to get rid of to make everything fit.
I bawled when I realized I had to leave my plants behind. It was one of several breakdowns, which I won’t get into.
Moving companies are essential businesses, but this could still be up in the air. If you are working with professional movers, confirm everything to make sure they are going to show up. Remember, essential businesses that are open are operating with skeleton crews.
Mr. H and I didn’t have much to move, so we did not need professional movers. We still needed some help for the sake of efficiency. I could work on packing dishes, if someone packed the van with Mr. H.
We booked a mover on Task Rabbit and he canceled on us the day before our move because he didn’t feel comfortable. We found another guy who was willing to help us out and he showed up on moving day (phew!) with a bandana over his smiling face.
That was back toward the end of March and much has changed since then. Can you still get movers through a service like Task Rabbit today? I have no idea…and good luck!
Another thing. We moved ourselves in when we got to Milwaukee. Even though we have plenty of friends and family around, we didn’t feel right asking anyone to move us in. I recommend doing the same, so you don’t put your loved ones in that position.
With hotels, again I would confirm everything—even if you have a reservation. You’re probably better off with big chain hotels over smaller hotels.
We were traveling with cats and it’s much harder to “wing it” if hotel plans fall through. Pet-friendly very often does NOT mean cat-friendly. PetsWelcome is a great site for finding appropriate hotels, since you easily filter by cats or dogs. Still call the hotel to double-check.
A couple of days before we left Portland, I called each hotel to confirm they were still open. I also planned to call each hotel the day we were checking in. For the majority of our stays, the hotel actually called us to confirm we were still checking in before I even had a chance to call them.
Even with our reservations confirmed, every hotel—except the one in Bismarck, North Dakota—were ghost towns. There were maybe three vehicles in the parking lots, including ours.
When we rolled up to our hotel in Bozeman, we thought it was closed. The hotel was very dark. I almost hugged the front desk person when I saw her in the lit-up lobby. Obviously, I refrained and kept my social distance.
At your hotel, do not expect any amenities or frills. I booked hotels with indoor pools and gyms to try to sneak in some wellness activities. Yeah, right. Everything was shut down. The complimentary breakfast was a lame snack bag that we skipped.
Restaurants are always hit or miss when you’re traveling, especially in remote, unfamiliar places. Just like anywhere else during the COVID-19 lockdown, some restaurants are offering take-out. Some. Doesn’t mean they are good restaurants.
Another thing to keep in mind is that restaurants have shorter operating hours. Don’t expect to roll into town at 8pm and get a hot meal. Meal prepping while packing all of your shit for a move sounds impossible. Figure it out, so you have food with you.
A couple of weeks before our move, I made a double batch of these Healthy Blender Banana Oat Muffins and froze the extra batch. I simply threw the freezer bag in the cooler on moving day. I stocked up on protein bars, nuts/seeds, jerky, portable produce, and individual Greek yogurts. I also hard-boiled eggs (to eat alone and mix with tuna) and made hummus.
Gas stations were open, but we did have a situation in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin where a gas station closed early. And, we were almost out of gas. There are plenty of open gas stations to choose from. Now is definitely not the time to push your luck and let your gas run low.
When you get to your new home, internet installation might be an issue. It was for us. We got stood up by a smaller company in town, even though we had an appointment. You might need to work with a different provider or use your phone data…we ended up doing both so we could run our business.
Find Some Peace and Enjoy the Ride
Between moving preparations and settling in at the new place, we had nothing but time on our hands on the road. We covered 2,065 miles over the course of four days.
There was no more planning or worrying. We were on our way and it was just us. We experienced some unexpected peace amidst the COVID-19 chaos.
I’ll be honest with you…we hoped that other places on the road would be “normal.” That a few restaurants might still offer sit-down service or that one indoor pool might be open at a hotel. It was the same lockdown situation as Portland.
I was disappointed at first, then I realized we are all in the same boat. Truly. Never in my life can I say things have been this way—a leveled playing field, so to speak. So, in a way, knowing we are all experiencing the same situation was oddly clarifying and comforting.
For the first time in weeks, we finally had the chance to unplug. The media frenzy had taken over our lives.
Mr. H and I tried to stay productive with work and creativity, but it was impossible. Mornings, afternoons, and evenings were filled with increasingly negative outlooks served up by media publications and social media feeds.
Driving meant that Mr. H couldn’t look at his phone. Shoddy WiFi meant that I couldn’t sneak in updates either. This gave us an unbeatable opportunity to separate ourselves from all of the Coronavirus news, something we would not have managed at home.
I also realized this might be the only traveling I will get to do in 2020. I’ve been all over the world, everywhere from Cuba to Bali. I had big plans to travel this year after the move. Who in the hell knows if that will ever happen?
Even though the traveling circumstances were far from relaxing, I made myself appreciate the journey—marvel at the ruggedly awesome North American scenery and the endless open roads.
You won’t deal with traffic, not even when you pass through cities at rush hour. The roads are all yours. This can add to the isolated feeling, if you let it. Or, you can see the open roads as a chance to roam free before you enter your quarantine at the end of your move.
Everything is up to you, how you handle this journey. Look past the logistics, the stress, and the uncertainty whenever you can. Overcome, breathe, and try to enjoy the ride.