Cheapest Ways to Move Across Country (With Numbers)

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. 

In This Article

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 more than 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 five miles of free towing which can offer you great peace of mind if you plan on driving your old beater cross-country. Join AAA online starting 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 to get rid of unloved possessions. If getting rid of things is hard for you, these very popular books may help:

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.

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.

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.  

Pack 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 If You Want to Fly

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 airlines to choose from: Southwest and JetBlue.

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.

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 U.S. 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.

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 2019, it’s 58 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 $1,600.
  • 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. 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 that 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

Suggested Article: Rental Car Companies That Allow Towing.

 Renting a Car (One-Way with Unlimited Mileage If Desired)

Suggested Article: These Are the Rental Companies That Allow One-Way Rentals (Some with Unlimited Miles)

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; and several types of discounts are available.

To learn more, see our article dedicated to Amtrak’s Shipping Rates.

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.

Using 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

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 customer service 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 three 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 three 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

For Minimalists…

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.

For Hobbyists…

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

For Hoarders…

ZippyShell

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.

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28 comments

  • Christina says:

    Hello. I have already driven most of my belongings across the country, but I am looking to ship the rest of my furniture, etc. Time is not an issue, but I want the cheapest option. The main hurdle is that I moved to Alaska. PODS and many other of the you pack type moving options do not have service in Alaska. Advice?

  • danawane says:

    Am I the only one who is confused as to how ZippyShell could be by far the cheapest at $3,258.50 when U-Pack is listed as costing $2,343? Which one is incorrect?
    FYI, U-Haul pods, the only company that seems to allow you to check prices without providing contact info and/or wait for a quote, indicted it would be about $3,000 for a trip that is about 8-10 hours shorter than your hypothetical move.

    • Rebecca Turley says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi there!

      We came to our conclusion based on the size of the container ZippyShell provides (15 feet) and the fact that they have movers and unload your packed boxes — a service that other storage companies do not provide.

    • Darkstarius says:

      Danawane: First of all, the zippyshell is 15ft – much larger than a pod – it’s more like the size of 2 pods really. Second off, our quote was locked in this spring PRIOR to the “hot moving season” so if you got a quote now during the busiest time of year, you’ll probably be quoted a bit higher – that’s why it pays to plan ahead. WI to UT came to just under 3k and that includes both the loading and unloading (2-3 guys) and they did a fantastic job. They also have storage for 30 days included and insurance. I got a quote from U-Pack and other cube companies and they were higher and didn’t include any loading or unloading. I’m just telling you how it is and am happy I went with Zippyshell.

  • Hi, I am moving a family of 3 in a 2 bedroom apartment in California to a rural area in North Carolina. Neither PODS, nor UShip delivers to my location. Only storage centers about 100 miles out, so I would have to move my stuff to a local moving truck or company at that point. We are trimming out most big furniture but this is still looking like a headache already!!

      • Darkstarius says:

        I found the cheapest of the “pod” options to be ZippyShell! It came to under $3k for a move from WI to Utah for a 15 foot container and that includes 2 people that load and unload the container. They also give you 30 days of free storage if you need it. I compared them to other options like Pods and even a rental truck and they were the cheapest. They also have a lot of positive reviews!

  • We are planning a move from CA to NC. My husband has a garage full of heavy tools and saw tables. He does not want to part with anything. We also have a 40 foot storage unit, packed to the gills. I am all for purging and taking almost nothing. Not sure what he will part with. We have things at the storage location and at our current location. In essence, we will have to move twice! We plan to drive my car and sell his car prior to moving.

    Any money saving thoughts?

  • I’ve applied to Ohio State for the fall semester and if I get in, I plan on moving from California (around the Bay Area) to Columbus, OH. I want to try and move in mid to late July and while I don’t have much. It would be my first time moving out so I only have my room at my mom’s and possibly a car, but I’d most likely need to be covering the costs all myself. I’ve started saving now but my bank accounts are pretty much empty (under $100 each) and I only work part time. What do you guys think would be the best bet for me?

    • Hillary M. Miller says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Christa,

      In your case, the biggest deciding factor is likely to be your car. If you plan to have the car with you on campus, you’ll probably want to simply load up your belongings and drive out to Ohio. You’ll want to spread the driving over several days (Google Maps says it’s 36 hours driving from SF to Columbus), but you can definitely save some money by planning ahead and booking motel rooms in advance — that way you can have some time to shop around for the best deals instead of searching for an available motel room when you’re tired and ready to check in. (You could even look for a well-lit Walmart parking lot in a safe area and sleep in your car for one or two nights of the journey if money is particularly tight — I don’t necessarily recommend this, but it’s been done.) If you aren’t taking your car, flying Southwest will likely be your best option. With two free checked bags and a carry-on, you should be able to bring the majority of your belongings without too much of a problem; if there’s something important to you that you can’t take with you on an airplane, you can always ship it to yourself. (It helps if you can be a little un-sentimental about the things you bring — there are plenty of Targets and Walmarts in Columbus where you can purchase anything that doesn’t fit in your suitcase!) I hope this helps, and best of luck with your application!

  • I’m moving from Kansas City to Boise, ID in January, and I’m really lost on how to even get started. I have nice furniture (sectional and dining table) that I don’t want to get rid of, but I’m trying to minimize the rest of my belongings. I’d prefer to not tow my car on a truck, due to the fact that you have to drive so slow and this will be in the winter, but I’m not sure how to get it all there with me. I also don’t want to pay out the wazoo to do it. Thoughts?

    PS, I will also have my dog with me.

    • Hillary M. Miller says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Callie,

      As far as transporting your furniture, PODS is likely to be your cheapest option — and that’s still not too cheap. With PODS, you’ll be able to avoid driving the furniture yourself. It’s also worth getting a quote from similar companies who offer the same type of service, such as SMARTBOX and ZippyShell. If you’re planning to keep the car at your new location, you can avoid driving it there with car shipping services such as Ship A Car Direct, although that will add to your total as well since you’ll still need to transport yourself and your dog. If you do decide to ship your car, and you have few other belongings, you may be able to get away with the two free checked bags that come with a Southwest plane ticket (assuming your dog is small enough to travel in-cabin). This is probably the cheapest combination of options that avoids driving entirely. I hope this helps, and best of luck with your move!

  • Moving from Maryland to Monterey, CA in January with my dog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. My things are currently in storage.

    • Hillary M. Miller says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Kathy,

      Bringing your pet with you can definitely add an extra layer of stress to the move. Since you’re traveling with your dog, you can probably rule out Greyhound and Amtrak (although dogs are technically allowed on Amtrak, in certain cases). Depending on how big your dog is, flying may still be an option, if you’re comfortable with that. If you plan to have your car at the new house, driving to Monterey yourself may be the best option. (That is a long haul, though — I’ve done Chicago to Phoenix several times and it takes at least 2-3 days to do that comfortably, and I’d say Maryland to Monterey is double that distance — so with one driver, that’s likely a bare minimum of 4-6 days, unless you want to drive for 14+ hours a day.) As far as moving your possessions, PODS might be ideal. You’ll just pack up the shipping container and then it will be driven to your new home for you, so all you have to worry about is transporting yourself, your car, and your dog. Best of luck with your move!

  • Moving from MA to WA in January (preferred thankfully there is some wiggle room on time) committed to splitting the driving with my fiance since neither one of us has seen the country. I’m thinking of going the POD route but we live in a 4th floor walk up and I think we would both keel over trying to move out ourselves even if we took our time. We also have a very narrow driveway that tenants park alongside. I’m a newish driver and not particularly comfortable with the idea of driving a U-Haul my fiance is not particularly thrilled with the idea either. Does this only leave hiring a moving company? Am I going to have a heart attack at their quotes? Thanks.

    • Hillary M. Miller says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi P.S.,

      A POD might be a great option, since you won’t have to drive it yourself. If you want to avoid hauling your things down all those stairs, you could look into hiring a local moving company just to help you move all your possessions downstairs and into the POD. Here are the Yelp listings for the best-reviewed moving companies in Massachusetts in case you do go that route. Many of the reviews for Stairhopper Movers and Raimond’s say that both these companies offer quite reasonable rates. Best of luck with your move!

  • Sherilyn M Martin says:

    We’ve been exploring shipping options for both car and shipping container. We’ve seen some third party shipping companies and I was wondering if you have any recommendations? They all look kind of shady and have very mixed reviews. I can’t find a gold standard essentially. Thanks!

    • Anthony Joseph says:

      I’ve moved across the country multiple times and always used Upack for containers and Autolog for my car. Always with no issues and the cheapest costs. Good luck.

    • Cheryl Justyce says:

      Whatever you do, do NOT trust *any* reviews from transportreviews.com. They are a shady company themselves and will not post negative reviews about any company unless they have every piece of information short of a DNA test (probably require that too). They protect the shippers very adamantly, probably because they are being paid by those transport companies… so not trustworthy at all. I’d even bet most of the positive reviews on that site are posted by the companies themselves. Shady, scummy and pandering to crappy shipping companies!

    • Hillary M. Miller says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Sherilyn,

      It looks like you’ve already gotten some good advice! Upack and United Road are definitely both options worth investigating. It’s tough to find a shipping company with consistently strong reviews. SMARTBOX and ZippyShell are both companies where many customers have had good experiences with shipping containers — but again, the service might depend on the particular location that you’re working with. Ship A Car Direct has a pretty solid reputation on most review sites, so that could be another good option for car shipping. Best of luck with your move!

  • Katie peede says:

    Im attempting to plan my family of 4 moving from Indiana to Nevada in October. We have a lot of stuff we cant get rid of yet… and two cars. Im thinking PODS. And then drive my big SUV and tow his Jeep Wrangler behind me.
    But then i think, since im already driving why not just drive a u haul truck and tow a car. But then that leaves one car to deal with. This is stressing me out! Suggestions?

    • William Lipovsky says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hey Katie,

      First off, you have time on your side so that’s great. So here are the costs you’re dealing with: cost of PODS + tow rig for SUV + cost to drive SUV while it tows the jeep vs. cost to rent U-Haul truck + tow rig for the truck + fuel costs + cost to drive 2nd vehicle cross-country. I’d get a quote for PODS and a quote from U-Haul for your exact dates to see exactly what numbers you’re dealing with. Then consider the fuel costs and wear and tear costs of each of the two scenarios outlined above. Remember the wear and tear because you can expect your SUV to cost about 70 cents/mile for fuel + wear and tear (that’s based roughly on AAA estimates). So it really just comes down to running the exact numbers. Should only take about 30 minutes. Though money of course isn’t the only factor. How do you like comfort? Driving your SUV cross-country will be much more comfortable than driving a U-Haul. Also, driving two vehicles will take two people’s time while they drive so that means someone will have to commit another roughly 25 hours of their life to driving across middle America. That’s a huge cost if you’re a busy person. Your question is a good one but if I had to just pick without running the numbers, I’d nudge you towards the PODS option. Good luck! Let me know if this analysis needs updated in any way as you get closer to your October departure date.

  • We just did a cross ocean move. We found it cheaper to sell our stuff (great when planning) and ship boxes via USPS through the post office. It saved us 60% of the cost of using shipping companies. Also, posting stuff for sale months in advance earned us enough money to by brand new furniture in our new place. Also, we didn’t buy a house right away. We decided to learn the area, the real estate market and live the places we were interested in before purchasing a home.

    • William Lipovsky says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Smart! That does sound like the cheapest way to move across an ocean. It seems like you enjoyed the freedom that comes along with getting rid of a lot of your stuff as well. I like your house hunting methods too! Smart stuff others can take note of.