For most people, moving is not a happy thought. Collecting, packing, then shipping everything you own, from that mug you don’t really like to your favorite armchair, is equal parts tedious and anxiety-producing. It’s also expensive.

However, with a little planning and a lot of bubble wrap, moving can be a liberating experience. Having completed six moves in the last two years — two of them cross-country — I’ve learned a few key lessons for making the upheaval as painless and affordable as possible (and in some cases, even enjoyable).

Before you start: Channel your inner Marie Kondo

If the act of packing and unpacking all your possessions has any silver lining, it’s that it forces you to evaluate whether each item is worth keeping. After all, if you’re not going to use an item after lugging it from one place to the next, what’s the point?

A wise first step is to identify items to sell or donate, since both require some time and effort. Selling items online has never been easier thanks to sites like Craigslist, LetGo, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace. (In my experience, Craigslist seems to be best for selling furniture.) Because they integrate with phone cameras, the mobile apps for these sites streamline the process of posting items for sale.

Channel your inner Marie Kondo (and download the eBay app) before a move.
Alice Heyeh/Staff
Channel your inner Marie Kondo (and download the eBay app) before a move.

It’s important to take clear, well-lit pictures of the items you’re selling — not just of packaging. An image of the box for a mint-condition electronic keyboard might generate only a few lowball offers. Add some high-resolution out-of-the-box photos and you’re more likely to get full price and/or multiple bidders.

For tough-to-sell items like clothes, plan to make a trip to a Goodwill, ReStore, Salvation Army, or another secondhand store. Don’t forget that your friends may also want some of your stuff.

A way to save: Shipping items

To reduce the amount that you need to fit into a car and drive to your new home, consider shipping bulkier items such as books and bikes. It’s cost-effective, if unconventional, compared with options like moving pods and U-Haul. It also comes without the headache of maneuvering a box truck or securing an expensive street permit.

USPS is generally less expensive than rivals FedEx and UPS, but in one category it really stands out: media mail. This is the special shipping rate for certain copyrighted works, including all books (but not comic books and magazines), CDs, DVDs, and even sheet music. Shipping about 60 pounds of books in three boxes from California to New Jersey cost about $50, which also included $200 of insurance. Just be careful to abide by the rules of media mail, and know that USPS can inspect your package if they suspect it’s not just media.

USPS Media Mail can help you save in shipping costs on books, CDs, even sheet music, but be sure items don't contain advertising.
Alice Heyeh/Staff
USPS Media Mail can help you save in shipping costs on books, CDs, even sheet music, but be sure items don't contain advertising.

For non-media items, USPS can still ship them if they weigh less than 70 pounds, but at a higher cost. Just don’t go overboard.

For bigger stuff, there are plenty of shipping options, but busing — via Greyhound Package Express or a cheaper reseller like BusFreighter — provides cost and convenience that’s hard to beat on a per-pound basis. The service isn’t heavily advertised, but at about $1.10 per pound and a maximum package weight of 100 pounds, it’s absolutely worth a look. Depending on origin and destination, you may be able to pay an extra $50 to $100 for door-to-door shipping instead of station-to-station. (Amtrak offers similar services, with a 500-pound maximum and different restrictions.)

Using BusFreighter, I shipped a 55-inch-long bike box and three 27-gallon plastic storage containers from coast to coast for $280, including $1,000 of insurance. Everything arrived in a week. Thoroughly reading reviews helped prepare me for a smooth move. My takeaways:

  • Buy the full $1,000 in insurance. For a coast-to-coast move, the difference between $100 and $1,000 was $12.
  • Even that amount of insurance will go so far. Reduce risk by keeping small valuables such as fancy watches or headphones with you. Alternatively, consider placing two shipments to get twice the insurance coverage.
  • Inexpensive plastic totes arguably offer better protection than a cardboard box. Some totes can also be zip-tied shut.
  • Make your own labels and tape them all over your packages to prevent one from getting lost.
Shipping items via Greyhound or BusFreighter can reduce the bulk of items you have to pack into a car and move yourself.
Alice Heyeh / Staff
Shipping items via Greyhound or BusFreighter can reduce the bulk of items you have to pack into a car and move yourself.

Moving your car: Make it a road trip

Shipping a car coast-to-coast typically costs between $1,000 and $2,000, while gasoline will only cost about $350 to $650, depending on your vehicle’s mileage. Unless an employer covers the cost of shipping, driving yourself is usually more affordable — even factoring in maintenance. Driving is also an amazing way to see national monuments and landmarks impossible to access any other way.

As with other items, selling your vehicle is an option. What you save in shipping costs may cover sales tax for a new car. Keep in mind that vehicles located in regions with harsh winters and high-humidity summers don’t last as long as those in temperate zones.

If you don’t have a car of your own, there are a couple of options for deeply discounted moves — if you can be flexible.

Have you ever wondered what happens to a rental car or RV that gets returned to a different location than its origin? Many vehicle rental companies hire third-party companies, like Imoova, that recruit road-trippers to drive them back. Others, such as Apollo RV, solicit the public directly.

If you have flexibility, consider making your move a deeply discounted road trip with services like Imoova and Apollo RV.
Alice Heyeh/Staff
If you have flexibility, consider making your move a deeply discounted road trip with services like Imoova and Apollo RV.

For Imoova, if you have a driver’s license and are older than 22, you’re able to relocate a vehicle for pennies on the dollar. Most vehicle relocations cost $1 per day for everything from an Audi SUV to an RV with room for five. Some listings even include limited reimbursement for fuel.

Relocation listings vary considerably with the season, and most pop up during the summer. There are many stipulations, such as mileage limits and specific pickup/dropoff time frames, but if you’re lucky enough to have everything align, a tedious move could become an awesome road trip.

Nicholas Quigley works in the tech industry. He has moved from Baltimore to Ithaca, N.Y., to Manhattan to New Jersey to San Francisco to Fremont, Calif., to Philadelphia.