5 Cheap Ways to Move Cross Country

Are you thinking about moving across the country? If so, have you looked into the cost of hauling all your worldly possessions thousands of miles away? It can be expensive enough to make you consider selling everything you own. When I was planning my move from California to New York a little over a decade ago, I nearly abandoned the whole endeavor after getting some shocking price estimates from a few moving companies.

The good news is that you don't have to remortgage your soon-to-be new home just to get your possessions from point A to point B. There are plenty of low-cost moving solutions if you avoid rookie mistakes and spend some time on research. Consider these five options for moving across the country at a reasonable price.

Shop rental trucks strategically

One of the cheapest ways to move is to do everything yourself instead of hiring a professional. Penske, U-Haul, and Budget are among the rental companies that can provide you with a variety of trucks and vans to drive across the country with all your stuff. Shop around and factor in the size of the truck, the rules for how you're charged (per day or per mile), the costs of insurance, and the fuel efficiency of different rental options to get the overall lowest price.

There are also a few tactics for dropping the price of your rental truck further. Move sometime between Monday and Thursday to dodge the higher weekend rates, and also try to avoid moving at busy times like the very beginning or end of the month, when most apartment leases end. One-way rentals do cost more than round-trip options, but you may be able to save some money by returning the truck to a nearby city instead of your closest drop-off location.

Lastly, if you have a vehicle that can haul it, a trailer is much cheaper to rent than a truck. It won't be able to fit as much -- perhaps the contents of a studio apartment -- but it could save you three or four figures in moving costs, and you won't have to tow your vehicle or have someone else drive it to your destination.

Do the loading and unloading, but not the driving

If you're OK with packing up your own possessions but you can't drive them across the country, consider renting a portable moving container. For example, U-Pack, offered through ABF Freight, will drop off a "ReloCube" of your chosen size. You'll have three days to load it up, and a few days later it will show up at the door of your new home. Meanwhile, you can take a plane, train, or bus to your new home, saving yourself the cost of gas and overnight hotel stays. This was the option I chose for my cross-country move, and when I factored in the savings of avoiding a lengthy road trip, it wasn't much more expensive than it would have been if I'd driven myself.

PODS and Ubox offer similar services. You'll have to provide your own moving boxes; your local hardware store, dollar store, or shipping company could be a great place to buy cheap boxes in bulk.

Put your possessions on a bus or a train

Amtrak and Greyhound both allow you to ship items, with Greyhound's BusFreighter service offering both terminal-to-terminal and door-to-door shipping options. Door-to-door will cost more, though if you choose terminal-to-terminal, you'll have to pick up your shipment at your local bus stop.

Amtrak accepts packages and pallets, while Greyhound does allow you to ship both boxed items and furniture using Package Express. BusFreighter can be much less costly than going directly through Greyhound for shipments, so start there first. If you only have a few big items to move and can fit the rest in a couple of suitcases or your car, this option may be much cheaper than hauling your items in a moving truck.

Make use of the mail or another shipping service

For those items you can't quite squeeze into your car or rental truck, consider using a shipping service like UPS, FedEx, DHL, or the good old U.S. Postal Service. While this usually makes more sense for smaller and lighter options, it can be surprisingly affordable to send some of your possessions using a ground shipping service. UPS and the USPS offer "media mail" services, which allow you to ship heavy books at reduced rates, and you can also check out flat-rate shipping deals to get some of your other hefty items moved for less.

Pack some suitcases and fly on an airline with low baggage fees

Airlines are notorious for charging fees for overweight or excess baggage. However, some airlines allow you to bring several suitcases on board at a low cost. Virgin America, for example, allows you to check up to 10 bags weighing 50 pounds each for just $25 per bag.

Make sure you get each bag to right up to the weight limit without going over so you can take as few bags as possible. If you don't have many large suitcases, check Goodwill or a local consignment shop. It doesn't have to be in great shape if you only need it for your move.

Flying with several suitcases can be a great way to move your wardrobe and personal possessions across the country -- especially if you can affordably send your bigger items by freight or moving container.

Of course, you'll also want to take advantage of any moving tax credits you're eligible for, and you should also do your best to purge some items before you start packing. Try putting some of your lesser-used items into moving boxes a couple of months before you move. If you don't get them out or miss them at all, consider donating them before you pack the rest of your belongings for your low-cost move.

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