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8 Ways to Make Moving Across the Country During a Pandemic Less Stressful

Trying to move across the United States during a pandemic isn’t exactly easy. After graduation, I was hellbent on sticking to my original plan and heading out to Phoenix, Arizona to begin my job as an accountant for Honeywell Aerospace. My office is still wfh, but the allure of Camelback Mountain and the Sonoran Desert was too strong to ignore. So, I packed up my car on a deadly humid night in Florida and headed out west on July 2. 

While everyone else was bunkering down, stocking up on canned beans and wrangling with their masks in the toilet paper aisle, I was driving 2,180 miles to start my new life in the desert. Moving during normal circumstances is hard enough, but finding an apartment, buying furniture and figuring out finances is pure chaos when there’s a deadly virus hanging out in your country – not to mention booking hotels and scouting out restaurants alongside the highway when everything is closed. Although the four days on I-10 and the scramble to put my new apartment together was vaguely apocalyptic, it was totally doable. Especially for new grads, your future doesn’t have to wait for a vaccine to be developed (thank you masks and hand sanitizer). 

Below are my tips for moving across the country, even during a pandemic. You’re an adult now – might as well “come of age” during a tumultuous time!

1. If possible, drive to your new city

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If you have a car, I would definitely recommend driving to your new location instead of flying. Although the travel time might increase by a few days, you decrease the risk of COVID-19 exposure and have more freedom for packing. You don’t have to put liquids in Ziploc baggies or stuff everything into a suitcase – plus, you can play road trip tunes and see National Parks along the way. Also, if you already have a job lined up post-graduation, your company might offer relocation packages that can offset the costs of moving. Driving yourself is way cheaper than flying and/or shipping your car. 

Without wheels but still want to avoid flying? You can always rent a U-Haul (about $1200 from Florida to Arizona) or rent a regular car to make the drive. Rental rates vary by company (and most have minumum age requirements), but by my calculations, renting an SUV from Budget costs around $500-$600 for a 4-day road trip. 

2. Reserve hotels a few miles outside of busy cities

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This is a must-know hack when moving across the country! Chances are, the major cities along the highway (i.e. I-10) are COVID-19 hotspots. When I was moving from Florida (which was already a hotspot), I had to pass through New Orleans, Louisiana, San Antonio and El Paso, Texas and Tucson, Arizona. Instead of booking hotels in the heart of the cities, I chose smaller areas a few miles outside downtown. In addition to having lower COVID-19 cases, these one-horse towns were a charming throwback in time – it almost seemed as if the pandemic never happened there. My favorite was Abita Springs, a hushed town outside of New Orleans famous for their eponymous brewery (seriously, their Purple Haze IPA and Andygator Doppelbock are luxurious). 

3. Tour apartments online and get employer recommendations

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Looking at apartments in person isn’t the most feasible thing in the world now. Before the pandemic happened, I was planning to fly to Phoenix a few months before moving to choose my apartment in person. Once that housekeeping dream dried up, I decided to take my chances with online apartment hunting. Using apartments.com, specific Google searches and a list of housing recommendations from my employer, I was able to find a place that fit my price range and amenities list. It was hella scary signing a full-fledged lease online, but it worked out. Definitely do your homework before signing a lease: talk to apartment complex staff, take their “virtual tours,” and read online reviews until your eyes gloss over. 

For apartments that aren’t part of an official complex and are landlord-operated, I would still set up a Facetime tour with the landlord to confirm the address is legitimate. The last thing you want is to get scammed while moving to a new city or pay extra to find a last minute broker. Apartment browsing online doesn’t have to be sketchy though – it’s possible to find a genuine space and kickass roommate from your couch (thank you video chat). 

4. Order furniture in advance 

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I wish I had done this! I was naive and thought that IKEA’s delivery people would be at my beck and call, ready to deliver my cheap queen bed and futon. However, because of increased demand, my delivery time couldn’t be for another month. Learn from my mistakes and order your furniture (from IKEA or another outlet) way in advance so you’re not running around IKEA all sweaty because you’re stressed out and it’s 117 degrees outside. If you procrastinate, you’ll end up stuffed in a warehouse with hundreds of other customers who may or may not be wearing their masks properly. 

I also recommend using Facebook Marketplace when getting your apartment together. Since you’ll be meeting up with only one other person, the risk of exposure is lower, especially if you specify wearing masks beforehand. 

5. Make appointments for essential services early

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For “adult things” like getting a new driver's license, changing your license plate and confirming your I-9 verification for employment, make these appointments early. Services you used to take for granted (i.e. the DMV) are either closed or operating on limited hours, which leaves a bottleneck for all the people who need services. When I called the Motor Vehicle Division for Arizona, I was told 300 people were waiting in front of me! 

Before making your appointments, check your local county’s website to see if any services are now offered online or on the phone. I was able to update my voters registration through Facebook and change my credit card address by phone, but I had to see someone in person to get an Arizona Travel ID. State law varies on when you have to officially switch residency, but Arizona required me to swap my license plate as soon as I moved.   

6. Join online community groups ahead of time

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it: moving to a new city during a pandemic restricts your chances of making friends. Going out to bars or volunteering locally isn’t really an option anymore. Before moving, I recommend joining online communities, either in your area or with members from all over the world. Most people are getting social interaction online these days, so it’s possible to feel sociable when your physical friend group is limited. I joined the Down Dog, Web Developer Bootcamp and Impala Skate Squad Facebook groups.

If you’re feeling antsy because you haven’t met a new human irl in six months, websites like Bumble BFF, Meetup, and Nextdoor have your back. There’s no shame in swiping right to find your new brunch squad or hiking group! 

7. Hobbies, hobbies, hobbies

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This ties is with Tip #6, but now is time to pile on the hobbies. When in-person connection is limited, it’s important to still feel fulfilled and inspired by what you do. The last thing you want is to uproot your life and stay stagnant because “normal” activities aren’t available anymore. Integrating hobbies with your new surroundings is a huge bonus because you can explore your city while working towards something greater. For example, I started rollerblading while watching the sunset dip below Camelback Mountain, and cooking all the time

8. Moving away = masking up

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Also, this goes without saying, but always wear your mask in public. Even if you’re just gassing up at Shell or picking up take-out from Chick-fil-A, you need to be protected and smart about the world situation. Moving to a new state is still possible, but only if you’re willing to adhere to local guidelines. 

When it comes down to it, moving cross country takes a healthy dose of planning and optimism. Good luck to all the new grads out there who are trying to navigate this upside-down mess right now. You can make connections with others and grow in your career, despite these outward challenges. A new city is still a kaleidoscope of experience, even if its inhabitants are masked up and socially distant. ?

Mackenzie Patel is a proud 2020 Gator Grad and an accountant for Honeywell Aerospace. She has previously worked at Spoon HQ and written countless articles about food, lifestyle and culture. She LOVES yoga and classic literature (special shout outs to Cicero and Hemingway).
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