How To Manage A Cross-Country Move

The medical journey offers many opportunities to make some big moves, whether it’s to start medical school, residency, fellowship, or for that first “real” job. A move, especially one across the country, requires a good deal of planning. You will undoubtedly have many questions. How do I move my stuff? How do I find a place to live? What about my cars? The list goes on and on.

Before we jump into the specifics of the moving process, I want to share some perspective. My spouse and I have been married for 12 years and we’ve lived in nine different states during that time! (My husband is prior military.) Every move was a mixture of anxiety and sadness for what we were leaving behind, and a nervous excitement for the unknown that lay ahead.

Each uprooting stretched and challenged us in ways we could have never expected, and gave us beautiful opportunities to grow as people and members of society. We gained incredible friendships and had numerous experiences, both amazing and disheartening, that we would have never had staying in the same place. I believe moving is an incredible gift!

Although change is hard, you absolutely can do this! Here is my biggest piece of advice for you:

If you look for the good, you’ll find it. If you look for the bad, you’ll find it, too. It’s up to you how you perceive what you experience.

Please remember this, especially in those extra hard moments. Now onto the logistics of the process. In our experience, every move is a little different, but the planning strategy will look the same. Let’s dive in!

WHERE TO LIVE?

Once you know where you’ll be moving, it’s time to do some research. If you’re familiar with the city, great! But if you’re not, you’ll need to do some digging. Begin your search with the following:

  • Do you plan to rent or buy? (See “A Financial Team” for more information on this topic.)
  • Ask friends or family if they know anything about your new city. Then take that information with a grain of salt! Living in a place is very different than visiting it, so keep that in mind when you listen to advice.
  • Search online for places that you might frequent and map out their locations. For example: where is your spouse’s school/work; where is your school/work (if applicable); where are the grocery stores, gyms, or places of worship that interest you? Do you want to be close to these places, or are you okay with a commute?
  • Look at the schools. Whether you have children or not, school ratings may help you select a neighborhood.
  • Read online city guides from the city’s government website, search “top things” articles for the city, and buy a travel guide. These resources will give you an idea of the “what” and the “where” of your new community. Where are most of the acclaimed restaurants and nightlife, or the parks and outdoor events like concerts, free movie showings, 5K runs, kid’s events like Easter egg hunts, and festivals?

Once you’ve received enough information, start the process of securing a rental or searching for a house to buy. If you are able, schedule a trip to your new city to view properties and make some deals.

WHAT’S YOUR TIMEFRAME?

Once you know where you’re going to live (or are in the process of working that out), the next logistical puzzle piece is to determine the move out date of your current residence and move in date for your new residence. Will your move be seamless where you can pack up your household goods and go straight from one residence to another? If so, you’re in luck!

If not, you may need to account for an overlap in rent/housing payments for a bit of time, or for temporary storage somewhere.

Work with your calendar and see how the timeline will come together. Start by answering the following questions:

  • Do you have any trips or events planned in between your move? Where do you have to be and when?
  • What date can you move out of your current residence?
  • What date can you move into your new residence?
  • How long can you rent a moving van, or how much time will a moving company take to ship your goods?
  • Can you allow for a few “free” days in your new city to take care of necessary tasks? Registering vehicles, setting up utilities, and tackling “to-do’s” from the program (i.e. paperwork, ID badges, parking permits, etc) usually require you and your spouse to be available during normal business hours.

FINDING A MOVING COMPANY/RENTING A MOVING TRUCK

Once you have your timeframe figured out, you can start inquiring about options for moving your household goods. Options range from full-service movers that do all the packing and moving, to “do it all yourself.” I personally prefer something in between.

Basic Moving Options

  • Full service – movers pack, move, and unpack your goods
  • “You pack, they ship” options such as a portable storage unit or trailer (i.e. PODS, Upack)
  • “You pack, you drive” options (i.e. Uhaul)

How to choose

Don’t assume that one moving option is cheaper than another! Call around and ask. Get the quotes and then factor in the amount of work you’re willing to do.

My biggest piece of advice in this area is to hire movers to load and unload your goods. On our move for medical school (Virginia to Ohio), we drove a UHaul, but hired movers for about $250 to come and unload our stuff into our storage unit. It was the best money we’ve ever spent! Instead of a whole day of moving and feeling guilty with subjecting our friends to endless hours of hauling, it took under two hours for the movers to transfer our goods from the truck into storage. It was incredible! Since then, we’ve always hired movers to do the heavy lifting and it is worth every penny. I highly recommend it!

NEW CITY BASICS

Car Registrations and Licenses

One of the real joys of moving (insert sarcasm) is figuring out how your new state handles car registrations, vehicle inspections, and driver’s licenses. Every state does things a little differently, so be ready to learn something new.

Some states have a DMV and some go through the county offices. Some let you register your vehicles and get licenses at the same location, while others do them separately. I suggest researching the details online and then doing a quick visit to the office in person before trying to get things done. See what the lines are like, ask what you need to provide, and come back later when you feel ready to take on the job.

Random side note: during our many moves, we discovered that some states require you to notify them if you are moving from the state. If you fail to notify them, they will charge you late fees for not renewing your car registrations and will even suspend your licenses! Take the time to ask if this notification is required.

Public Libraries

No matter what stage of life you’re in, the public library is a treasure trove of information and entertainment. Not only do they have books, audiobooks, and movies, they have community boards, librarians that can tell you about the city, local magazines and newspapers listing all sorts of local events. It’s a great place to start!

Finding a Community

The sooner you connect yourself into your new community, the better! You will start out like a hermit, since you’ll be spending your first days unpacking from your move, but try not to let this process stretch out for weeks on end. Start getting out of the house, ASAP. Go to a happy hour, check out a cafe near you, or look up local events and go to something that sounds interesting. Pretend you’re a local! For more advice on this topic, check out “How To Make Friends and Find a Community.”

MAKING YOUR NEW HOUSE A HOME

A friend once asked me, “What can I do to make my new house feel like home?” My response was this:

For us, there hasn’t been one physical thing that has made a place feel like home. Pictures, furniture, candles, and beloved trinkets make us feel comforted, but a place becomes home after taking outings and adventures together, and making new memories as a family. We search for a place we love going, or find a treat from some cafe or restaurant that becomes “a thing” for us. When you start to feel like part of the community, you will start to feel at home!

Amy Rakowczyk

Amy Rakowczyk is a medical spouse, mother, writer, singer, and former voice instructor. She currently resides in Galveston, TX with her husband and two young daughters. She enjoys helping other spouses navigate the world of medicine and actively participates in support groups and activities. Her husband is a Family Medicine resident at UTMB Galveston and did his medical training at The Ohio State University.

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