No matter where your Point A and Point B may be, moving can be expensive — but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we’ll cover every aspect of the cost of moving across the country so you can save as much money as possible. We’ll talk about every method of transport and which of those methods is your cheapest option. Moving across the country doesn’t have to be an expensive, stressful undertaking. By the time you finish this article, you’ll only have the packing left. Now, onto the list of the cheapest ways to move across country!

In This Article:

  • Find Out if Your Company Will Pay For Your Move

  • Begin Saving Money for Your Move

  • Plan to Move Across the Country During the Off-Season

  • Prepare to Pack by Purging

    • Declutter
    • Sell
    • Gift
    • Donate
  • Pack Your Belongings

  • Cross Country Moving Options to Consider

  • Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Fly

    • First Place: Southwest
    • Second Place: JetBlue
    • Honorable Mention: Virgin America
  • Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Drive

    • Driving Your Car
    • Shipping Your Car
    • Towing Your Car
    • Renting a from a Car Rental Company with Unlimited Mileage and Where the Cars Don’t Need to Be Returned to the Same Location
  • Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Take the Train

  • Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Take the Bus

  • Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Use a Service like PODS

  • Summary of Cheapest Moving Options

    • Cheapest Moving Option for a Minimalist
    • Cheapest Moving Option for a Hobbyist
    • Cheapest Moving Option for a Hoarder
    • Cheapest Moving Option for Most People

Find Out if Your Company Will Pay For Your Move

If you’re moving for work reasons, make sure to ask your boss whether or not your company will pay for your move as soon as possible. It’s common for employees of large companies to have their belongings packed, shipped cross-country, stored, and unpacked at their company’s expense. Alternately, some companies will offer their employees the cash to take care of things themselves, often thousands of dollars — and after reading what’s in this article, you could stand to pocket a significant amount of that money.

Do you own your own company? If you’re moving for business reasons, you can have your company pay for the move instead of paying out of your own pocket.

Even if neither of the above options are for you, remember that any personal moving expenses are tax deductible. So the cheapest ways to move across country are even cheap if you’re financing your move yourself (depending on your tax bracket) .

Begin Saving Money for Your Move

If your company isn’t paying for your move, you’ll need money. Save early to avoid stress later on. Depending on the moving method you choose, you may have many costs to consider: movers, a moving truck, a rental car, a plane ticket (or more than one), hotels, food while traveling, shipping costs, and don’t forget a rental deposit on your new apartment or a down payment on a new home. You may also want to consider getting a AAA membership. AAA offers discounts at over 100,000 places including retailers, restaurants, hotels, and more; they also offer special benefits for travelers like a $60 locksmith and 10% on labor at auto shops across the country. You also get 5 miles of free towing which can offer you great peace of mind if you plan on driving your old beater cross-country. Join online starting at around $60 annually or call AAA at (800) 922-8228.

Plan to Move Across the Country During the Off-Season

Airline tickets, plane tickets, bus tickets, truck rentals, and basically everything else you need you move have seasonal price variations. Moving between October and May will save you the most money. Everyone wants (or needs) to move during the summer, so you’ve got to set your sails against the wind if you want to really save money. If you have some flexibility in choosing your move date, consider an off-season relocation if you want to save the most money possible.

Prepare to Pack by Purging

Declutter

If you want to move across the country easily and cheaply, you’ll first need get rid of unloved possessions. If getting rid of things is hard for you, we strongly recommend the following books:

Sell

  • If you’ve got furniture, sporting goods, baby gear, or other large or bulky items, Craigslist is a simple way to get rid of your stuff. If you’ve got many items to sell, make sure you create an account and always sign in before posting an item so you can easily manage all of your inventory from your account. Learn more about how to get rid of your stuff on Craigslist, even if you’re short on time.
  • eBay can make it harder and more time-consuming to list items, requires shipping, and takes more time overall, but eBay may give you the greatest return on items with a special market. For example, electronics, designer clothing, and antiques will likely fetch a higher price if they’re posted for all the world to see than if they’re only advertised to users in your local area. Learn more about getting the most for your items on eBay.

Gift to Friends

It may be nice to give your friends items to you remember you by, especially if they’ve had their eye on them for some time. Just make sure you’re not just giving them your old garbage. If it’s not an item that they truly need or they seem reluctant to take it, it probably should be donated or discarded entirely rather than shoved resentfully into your friend’s basement.

Donate

Goodwill takes (almost) anything. Drop everything off there instead of throwing into a landfill, and you’ll get a receipt so you can deduct your donation on your taxes instead of having to pay the dump. Learn more about Goodwill’s donation guidelines and the few items they don’t accept.  

Packing Your Belongings

Find Boxes

The cheapest ways to move across country all require boxes. After you look through this article, you’ll know how you want to move; based on the measurement requirements for your move type, you can begin collecting boxes. Start by saving newspapers (or asking a friend or family member to save theirs) so you can pack up dishes and other fragile items. You can find boxes at work, at grocery stores (call to find out what day they get deliveries), from people who’ve moved into your neighborhood, and on Craigslist, but two especially great sources are bookstores and liquor stores; both will have sturdy boxes coming in on a regular basis, and they may be happy to let you take them if you ask very nicely.

Consider Shipping Your Belongings

Consider shipping options ahead of you. You can ship books via USPS media mail which is very cheap. I recommend this if you want to fly and not take a car. Or if you just can’t quite fit everything in your rental unit/rental vehicle.

Cross Country Moving Options to Consider

Before considering your moving options, understand what your time is worth. The cheapest options take the longest. If you must skip three days of work to save only a few hundred dollars, the cheapest option may not be worth it. Also, the longer you’re on the road, the more convenience food you will have to buy and hotel rooms you will need to pay for. Those costs can really add up.

First, we’ll sort the cheapest options by which moving method you prefer: flying, driving, taking the train, or riding the bus.

Second, we’ll look at the least expensive options by how much stuff you own; you can sort yourself and decide whether you’re a minimalist, a hobbyist, or a hoarder.

Third, we’ll simply give you the cheapest option for moving across the country for most people.

Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country: Flying

This may surprise you, but moving cross country via plane can be quite inexpensive. You can actually check quite a few boxes just as if you were checking bags. It’s also worth noting that you can sometimes use frequent flyer miles to check baggage, and some credit cards also allow you a free checked bag as well. Take a look at the top three airlines to choose from: Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America.

First Place: Southwest

Southwest allows its domestic travelers to check two bags for free, and each bag can be a maximum of 50 pounds. So that’s you + your carry-on + one personal possession + two checked bags for just the price of a plane ticket.

Second Place: JetBlue

JetBlue is the second best airline for getting you and your stuff across the country. JetBlue allows for one free bag that can weigh as much as 50 pounds.

Besides Southwest and JetBlue, no other US airline allows you to cheaply load its planes with your belongings. Checked baggage fees on other airlines range from $25-$100. Here’s a complete list of prices by airline.

Honorable Mention: Virgin America

While none of your checked baggage will fly for free on Virgin America, passengers flying in the main cabin (AKA economy) can check up to 10 bags at only $25 each. Each of those 10 bags can weigh up to 50 pounds; bags that go over the 50 pound weight limit will cost $50 each. This means that you can move up to 500 pounds of your household items for only $250 in addition to the price of your plane ticket.

Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Drive

If you don’t want to pay $1,000 or more for driving, shipping, or towing your car, you can always sell your car and buy a new one when you get to your new location. Just remember you’ll have to pay new licensing fees and sales tax. You’ll also take on the added liability of a vehicle with which you’re unfamiliar in addition to the changes of living in a new place.

Driving Your Car

If you’ll still want your car at your new destination, it makes the most sense to transport it yourself. To find out what it costs to drive just the car and your belongings, follow these steps:

  • Calculate your move route via Google Maps.
  • Write down the mileage.
  • Calculate your average cost per mile. While there’s no perfect way of doing this, the best way is probably using the federal mileage reimbursement rate. For 2017, it’s 53.5 cents per mile. For example, for the driving distance between NYC and LA, or 2,789.4 miles (41 hours, if you’re curious), it’ll cost around $1,492.33.
  • Adjust your average cost per mile depending on your highway fuel economy. The 53.5 cents per mile covers future maintenance and repairs as a result of your driving; if you have an older car or a really economical car, your costs will be lower. You can determine your highway fuel economy by checking fueleconomy.gov, then add however much feels appropriate based on your car. If it’s cheap to repair and maintain, you could use a lower cost per mile on top of the fuel costs.
  • To save costs on driving, see if anyone wants to come along with you to split the costs. Ask around — someone may want to go along just to see the country. Make sure that they don’t bring too many of their own belongings and you’ve agreed on who will pay for what in advance. You don’t want to add a dispute with your travel buddy to an already stressful trip.
  • Keep in mind when driving cross country it may be worth purchasing a roof rack or trunk/receiver hitch rack. This will expand the cubic footage of storage space you have available without significantly reducing your fuel economy.

Shipping Your Car

While driving your car across the country is expensive, shipping your car will cost about the same price, possibly somewhat less. If you choose to ship your car, you may need additional insurance in case the car is damaged in transit. You’ll also have lost your ride across the country (which may not be a concern if driving across the country doesn’t appeal to you).

Towing Your Car

If you’d like to have some extra room to take your belongings with you, you can rent a truck and a car dolly to tow behind it. This way, you get to fill a moving truck and your car with stuff, but you only need to drive the truck. There are 3 main companies that offer dolly rentals where you don’t have to return to the same location:

U-Haul

Penske

Budget

Renting a from a Car Rental Company with Unlimited Mileage and Where the Cars Don’t Need to Be Returned to the Same Location

For a more complete list of car rental companies that offer unlimited mileage (most can be returned to a different location) read this article.

Ace

Avis

Budget

Enterprise

Fox

  • Unlimited Mileage: Yes, comes with all rentals
  • One-Way Rental Available: Yes, available on some rentals
  • Bonus: Get 5% off your rental by using this link (scroll down on the page and click a discount such as student discount, weekly discount, etc.).
  • Reserve a vehicle with Fox.

Hertz

National

Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Take the Train

Amtrak is the only cross-country train option. Amtrak offers two free checked bags, and you can check up to two additional bags for $20 each. This is a total of four bags for $40. Amtrak can be a really cheap option for getting across the country; if you’re a student ages 13-25, you can even save 15% with Amtrak’s student discount.

We ran a price analysis for a train leaving one month out, departing on a Wednesday. Here’s the price we were quoted:

Visit Amtrak online to see how much it would cost for you.

Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Take the Bus

Greyhound is the only option for taking a bus across the country. You can bring a carry-on bag that weighs up to 25 pounds, and you also get one free checked bag weighing up to 50 pounds. You can get one additional checked bag for only $15. This is a total of one carry-on and two checked bags for $15. Explore Greyhound’s discounts for children, students, seniors, and military members to save even more on your move.

We ran a price quote for the same general time frame as our Amtrak price quote, and here’s what we learned:

Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Use a Service like PODS

PODS, U-Pack, and ZippyShell are trailers that the company drops off at your house or apartment prior to your move. You pack all your belongings in them and then schedule a pickup date. Your belongings are taken by truck to your new location, while you fly, drive, take a train, or ride the bus. In the quotes we obtained below, we indicated that we had a one bedroom apartment. Your needs may vary, and you may need a larger number of pods or a larger size of trailer than is seen here. For each of these moves, we indicated that we were moving from NYC to Los Angeles.

U-Pack

Note: In some areas, ReloCubes, as seen in the quote below, may not be available. In these situations, U-Pack offers space within a larger 28 foot long trailer. When we asked a customer service representative about a move from New York City to Los Angeles, we were told that for $2,343, we would be given a 4-hour loading period to load all of our items in the trailer into a space of 7 ft by 7 ft by 8 ft (additional feet will be charged at an additional cost). After 6-8 business days, our hypothetical one-bedroom apartment of household goods and furniture would arrive in Los Angeles, and we’d then have 3 business days in which to unload our things.

Learn more about how much you can fit inside a ReloCube.

Learn more about U-Pack.

PODS (Phone Quote)

The total cost from NYC to LA came to about $4,800; we’ll break down the process for you, since different services cost different amounts. This is with a 16-foot container (the smallest option) compared with U-Pack’s 7-foot trailer space as described above, so it’s almost double the space for much less than double the price, making it a very competitive option.

Five days prior to the initial delivery, you’ll need to pay the first month’s use of the trailer and delivery fee, which comes to about $950. The cost of driving the trailer across the country is around $3800, and delivery is an additional $99.99 (includes pickup of the empty trailer).

Learn more about PODS.

ZippyShell (Phone Quote)

ZippyShell was by far the cheapest option that we found when researching PODS-type companies. For our quote, the representative I spoke to told me that ZippyShell includes the cost of their movers loading and unloading your packed boxes and furniture in less than 3 hours, which the other services we’ve mentioned don’t include. This is partly because the areas we used in New York City and LA don’t allow ZippyShell to leave a trailer on the street for you to load yourself, but this loading and unloading service may be available in other areas as well. Everything is shipped in dry, covered tractor trailers. We were quoted $3,258.50 (based on current national fuel prices) for a 15x7x7 foot container with limitless tie-down capabilities and $50,000.00 in content protection.

Learn more about ZippyShell.

Summary of Cheapest Moving Options

Cheapest Moving Options for a Minimalist

Here are the cheapest options for someone with just a few bags, from least to most expensive:

  1. Greyhound
  2. Amtrak
  3. Southwest

The longer the road time, the more your move will cost you. Since the variance between all these services is approximately $100, we’d recommend choosing Southwest.

Cheapest Moving Option for a Hobbyist

Rent a truck and dolly your car, towing it behind you.

Cheapest Moving Option for a Hoarder

ZippyShell

Cheapest Moving Option for Most People

If you’re established and want to keep most of your belongings, go with ZippyShell. If you’re young or you can get rid of most of your belongings before leaving, get a truck and dolly your car.

In Summary

Moving itself is stressful enough without spending months worrying about how you’re going to transport yourself, your family, and your personal belongings across the entire country. Even if you can’t get your company to finance your move, you can find a cost-effective way to fly, drive, take a train, or ride the bus to get to your new home. Moving your belongings doesn’t have to be a challenge either — you can pack them up in free or cheap checked baggage, pack them into a moving truck while towing your car behind you, or have someone else move them for you with a storage trailer or carton-style moving service. Whatever you choose, you’ll now have the tools you need to move in the least expensive manner possible.