21 Tips for Relocating Your Family Across the Country

Relocating is difficult, but relocating with a family adds complexity. My wife and I moved 3 boys under the age of 8, a cat, and a dog over 2,000 miles (30-hours). This move is the third cross country move we’ve accomplished. First, we moved from Washington to Kansas, then from Kansas back to Washington and now, from Washington to Texas.

When it comes to relocating a family, we have a lot of experience to share. You can have a terrible experience filled with stress and missed expectations, or an enjoyable experience. We want you to have the latter.

We were able to save thousands of dollars by moving ourselves and budgeting for all of our expenses. We were able to save enough money to cover our closing costs by intelligently moving.

I drove the largest UHAUL I could rent and towed my SUV on a car trailer. In total, I was pushing 40’ in length. My 8-year old rode shotgun in his booster seat along with our beagle Henry. My wife drove her Honda Accord with the other two boys (4 and 2-years old) with our cat Winston. If you follow us on Instagram you would know who Winston is.

I’m going to discuss 21 tips I have learned in relocating my family across the country multiple times. It’s valuable information that can save you thousands of dollars and keep you from making the same mistakes we’ve made.

1. Plan Ahead

Failing to plan is planning to fail. It’s 2020, within minutes you can choose many different routes to your destination. Quick routes, sightseeing routes, cheapest gas routes, etc…

Consider what an ideal trip looks like. Are you stopping at the world’s largest ball of twine, or cruising from rest stop to rest stop. Planning can greatly enhance your experience on the road and reduce the stress of having to make snap decisions at the moment.

2. AirBnB’s vs Hotels

We have 3 boys under the age of 8, a dog and a cat. Also, we were hauling a 26’ moving truck with a car trailer. AirBnB’s offered a lot of comforts compared to a hotel. The pets add a layer of difficulty as most hotels and many AirBnB’s won’t allow them.

The pet-friendly AirBnB’s were a great decision. We had a backyard, kitchen, multiple bathrooms, space for all the kiddos and could do our laundry during the trip! Although it’s more expensive, it was well worth the premium to stay in AirBnB’s over hotels.

3. Have Dinner Delivered

The duration of travel each day varied anywhere from 4-hours to 9-hours. By the time we rolled into town, we were exhausted, overstimulated, and simply ready to relax. Making this experience as turnkey as possible was a priority.

Ordering dinner via DoorDash or Uber Eats allowed us to focus on the kiddos and get them decompressed, bathed, and ready for bed.

4. Eat a Light Breakfast

I’m not much of a breakfast person as it is, but avoiding a large breakfast while traveling has many benefits. You’ll need to use the bathroom less, you’ll be more alert (in my opinion) and you’ll save money.

Whenever we eat Mcdonald’s breakfast or the like, I always feel sluggish. Not to mention, it takes extra time and money to make that stop. When traveling with kids, time is extremely valuable.

Typically, I would get on the road and Kayla would stop at a Starbucks to grab a coffee and a light snack. We would meet up at the next gas station outside of town to exchange and fill up.

5. Stick to Water

Besides coffee, Water is all I drank for the entire trip. The reason is, you’ll dehydrate without realizing it. Also, drinking soda will increase your frequency to stop for the bathroom and can overstimulate you from the caffeine.

This Amazon Choice seat cushion was the best thing for our lives.

Sticking to coffee in the morning and water the rest of the day worked out perfectly for me. Just don’t overdo it. Nobody wants to be stopping to use the bathroom every 50 miles.

6. Stay Hydrated

You will get dehydrated on your drive. Whether you’re traveling in the Winter or Summer. The climate inside a moving truck is not ideal and you’re likely losing fluids due to sweat without realizing it. Liquid IV can be an easy way to stay hydrated on long road trips.

The dry air conditioning can have a desiccating effect on your skin and leave you feeling dried out at the end of your trip. For me, the first sign of dehydration on our trip was a constant dry mouth/throat.

7. Move Yourself

I’ve moved our family across the country 3 times in the past 10-years. Each time moving, even when the military offered to move us free of charge. For those that don’t know, you can earn money moving in the Air Force (or at least you could back in 2010).

A moving truck might seem daunting at first, but once you get some miles under your belt, it’s not that difficult to drive. If you can avoid getting yourself into a sticky situation, it’s a pretty neat feeling to be moving all of your stuff from one place to another.

This time, I did get a quote from a moving company. They quoted me at $6,000 just to move our boxes and furniture, not including shipping my car. Keep in mind, we didn’t have a dining room table and weren’t planning on bringing our couches.

In the end, the moving truck, car trailer, gas, food, AirBnB’s, etc… totaled about $4,000 for a 5-day move. You simply cannot beat the cost of moving yourself. Hiring a company would have totaled close to $8,000 in total.

That savings covered the closing costs on our new house ($3,400). What a great way to give yourself a head start after relocating!

8. Parking for the Moving Vehicle

Between the moving truck and car trailer, I had about 40 feet of total length. Needless to say, finding parking was a pain.

Because we chose to stay in AirBnB’s, we didn’t always have a place to park the moving truck. We messaged the hosts in advance to inquire about the room to park and of course, they all claimed to be able to accommodate the big truck (likely because they didn’t want us to cancel).

In an attempt to find a place to park, I got stuck going down a dead-end in Salt Lake City, Utah. I nearly got stuck trying to turn around in someone’s driveway (ran over their bush), and had to stop traffic to back around a corner in Boise, Idaho. My dad skills were challenged.

We ended up finding our groove and parking in a nearby neighborhood. I discovered that parking on the side of the street next to a long fence line was ideal. I wasn’t blocking anyone’s house and we would be gone first thing in the morning.

Pro tip: when in doubt, go around the block. Especially when your son is telling you it’s a dead end.

9. Account for Extra Drive Time

It never failed. Google Maps would tell us to expect a 5.5-hour drive and somehow it took us 7 or 8-hours. Between stopping for the bathroom, to stretch our legs, or filling up on gas, the time adds up.

Instead of trying to drive for 10+ hours per day, give yourself an extra day or two of travel time and enjoy the process. Nothing is worse than cranky, tired, constrained children in the back seat. If you reduce your expectations, the stress remains minimal and the trip can be more enjoyable for everyone.

10. Travel During the Day

I’m not a fan of traveling long distances through the night. Our kids travel best when we leave first thing in the morning, let them nap in the car, and arrive at our destination in time for dinner.

Keeping our kids on their normal eating and sleeping schedule makes the trip much easier. They fall asleep faster, they stay nice and full and they complain very minimally.

11. Get an Early Start

By starting first thing in the morning you can take advantage of cooler weather, less traffic, hot coffee, and content children. We like to wake up, feed the kids breakfast, get the car loaded, and head out of town.

By beating morning traffic, you can get out of town sooner and fill up with gas before all the big trucks wake up and pull out of their truck stops.

We found the morning to be the best time to eat up as many miles as we could each day. As the day wears on, the boys grew tired of being constrained and the time between stops reduced.

12. Only Stop for Necessities

There were minimal sights to behold on the drive from Washington to Texas. Because of the COVID-19 situation, we didn’t stop anywhere that wasn’t food, gas, or bathroom. That kind of stinks, but the majority of attractions weren’t open and we were able to see a lot of neat things from the road.

Each time you stop you add time to your total day and that cost greatly outweighed the benefit. Especially since our destination is a new place we’ve never been to before. Plenty of new sights to see when we arrive.

13. Fill a Cooler with Drinks and Snacks

Before the trip, we bought a simple large cooler. We filled the cooler full of waters, juice, cheese sticks, milk, eggs, and other snacks.

Having a cooler in the trunk saved us money and time to be able to pull into a rest stop, give everyone a break (including the dog), get a snack, hydrate, and continue on our trip. It’s also much easier to pull the moving truck in and out of a rest stop than a gas station or fast-food restaurant.

The milk and eggs made for a quick breakfast for the boys. We packed some bags with snacks and quick treats as well.

14. Take Time to Decompress

Driving all day is pretty stimulating. All-day long, your brain is receiving input and is on high alert.

Driving through Wyoming and Northern Texas was a battle just to keep the moving truck on the road in the high wind. By the time we arrived at our destination for the night, I was wired and found it hard to chill out.

By just taking a few minutes to have a hot shower and unpack in silence (away from the kids) it was much easier to unwind. My oldest was in my car and my wife had our two youngest in her car. It’s fair to say she needed some alone time after the trip was over.

15. Fill Up Outside of the Cities

Filling up with gas before or after a city is the best advice I can provide. The gas stations are larger and more spacious, they’re less busy and you don’t feel rushed.

Even if you have half a tank of gas, it’s best to fill up outside of the city. You never know what traffic will be like or how many times you’ll have to circle the block in search of a place to park.

My moving truck held 60 gallons of gas. Most gas pumps would shut off before filling up. To avoid multiple transactions at the same pump, I just got gas when it was most convenient and usually, that was before or after a large city on the route.

16. Maximize Time Between Stops

When traveling with young kids, time is your greatest asset. Stop only when you need to and get back up to speed as quickly as possible. When the opportunity arises (nap time) try to cover as much ground as possible.

I continued to drive until my wife called me to inform me the boys had to stop. They were the weakest link in our chain so we worked around their schedule.

Early in the morning, cover ground. Naptime, cover ground. Afternoon snack time, cover ground. Tablet time, cover ground. I think you get the idea.

17. Avoid Small Town Speed Traps

Every single small town we drove through had a speed trap set up. From 80 mph down to 35 without much warning and a local officer sitting somewhere in the 4 square blocks of town.

It’s easy to get into a flow state when driving long distances. Most road signs start to blur and you simply ignore most of them. Don’t ignore speed limit signs. Nothing is worse than having to smash the breaks on a massive moving truck full of everything you’ve ever owned.

These are prime locations to get a speeding ticket or to give a cop an excuse to profile yours out of town license plates. Just know that anytime you approach a town (no matter if it’s just one building) there’s usually a reduction in the speed limit.

18. Avoid Road Construction

Avoiding road construction is easier said than done (especially if you don’t know the route). Each morning before we left, I would check the road conditions and maps to see if there were any areas of stagnant traffic. Luckily it was pretty smooth sailing.

Most major cities will have road construction when entering or leaving the town. These are pretty unavoidable, but getting stuck in hours of slow traffic can put a damper on your move. That’s another good reason to get out of town early in the day.

19. Pre-plan for Sight Seeing

Before embarking on your adventure each day, look and see what sights might be available to see along the way. I found that seeing a site from the road is just as cool to my kids as pulling over, getting out and looking at it from the road anyways.

You don’t want to see a sign for the world’s largest waffle and take a detour that will add hours to your travel time for the day. Especially if you’ve booked hotels or AirBnB’s. You can’t just get a new, same-day reservation if you don’t make it to the destination.

20. Divide and Conquer

Kayla and I are naturally this way, but it helps tremendously to split responsibilities. Being in charge of the moving truck, parking it, and moving our luggage from the truck to AirBnB each night was my primary responsibility.

Kayla handled the booking of AirBnB’s, leaving reviews, ordering dinner each night, etc… I’m sure she did a lot more than I did, but she’s the planner in our marriage.

I had the dog and our oldest son, she had the cat and our two youngest sons. I drove the moving truck and pulled my car and she drove her car. Once we arrived, we tag-teamed putting the kids to bed and it worked out well for us.

21. Get a Wellness Check on the Pets

Before relocating to Texas, we discovered our pets would need to have paperwork. We had to get them a wellness check at the vet before leaving.

While at the vet, we were told that many states require their paperwork before you bring a pet into their state (even if you’re just passing through). This paperwork was $50 per state.

We did the wellness check and elected to rely on that if stopped ( we traveled through 7 states). I wasn’t about to pay $350 to prove my 100% of indoor pets don’t have COVID-19.

Summary

This was a tough list to compile. I had so many ideas I wanted to share with you, but I also wanted to keep it as valuable as possible. These tips have the potential to turn a bad trip into an enjoyable trip. They can save you time and money and provide wonderful memories for you and your family.

If you have any questions or experiences of your own, please share them in the comments below.

FIRE worksheets & budgeting course

    We’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.