Moving Cross-Country with a Pod

In the last month, Kyle and I moved from a townhouse in Durham, NC to an apartment in Seattle, WA. While I initially had dreams of abandoning all our worldly possessions for this cross-country move, ultimately we decided to sell just our bulky furniture and move most of our stuff. We used UPack, a pod-based moving company, to move our things from Durham to Seattle, and took our car on a cross-country road trip to transport it and ourselves.

 

Pod-based moving is fairly standard across the industry. One or more empty pods (portable storage containers) are delivered to your old residence. You have a certain amount of time to load the pod. The pod is picked up from your home and transported to a storage facility in your destination city. When you are ready, you schedule the pod to be delivered to your new residence, and you have a certain amount of time to unload the pod. Finally, the empty pod is picked up.

 

Why We Chose to Use a Pod-Based Moving Company

 

The price point for pod-based moving is generally between that of total DIY moving and using professional movers.

 

We called a few full-service moving companies to get quotes, but those services alone would have cost more than the total relocation allotment from Kyle’s new job.

 

We also did not want to rent a moving truck/trailer to drive cross-country because 1) we didn’t want to drive a truck/trailer over the various mountain ranges we would be crossing, 2) we didn’t want to worry about our stuff being stolen all through our vacation and housing search, and 3) as we didn’t know where we would be staying during the trip, we didn’t know if we would be able to park a large vehicle and didn’t want to further restrict our lodging options both on the trip and in Seattle.

 

We really liked the idea of pod-based moving because we could pack and load everything ourselves and make sure it was secure but not have to worry about the transit logistics. Another bonus was that our pod would be kept at a storage facility until we were ready to accept it, so it didn’t matter much how long we took on our cross-country vacation and housing search. The price point was also just right for this trip at about 50-75% of our total relocation budget.

 

Why We Chose UPack

 

I got quotes from seven different pod-based moving companies, using their recommendations for the size/number of pods to order based on our residence size. PODS, the most well-known company, had a very high price point. Door-to-Door gave us the lowest quote, and UPack was second lowest. Some of the other companies matched the prices given by the better-known companies.

 

We spent a bit of time reading online reviews of all the companies, looking for one with a clean record. Online reviews of these types of moving companies seem very polarized, and each company had a healthy percentage of negative reviews. For most reviewers, the move went as expected. For a fraction of reviewers, something went terribly, terribly wrong – their pod was broken into, their stuff was damaged by water, the company was days late with pickup or delivery, the company held their stuff for ransom, etc. We decided that we couldn’t do any better or worse by choosing a particular company based on reviews, so we decided based on logistics and price.

 

Door-to-Door and UPack both offer smaller pods, so they each recommended that we use two to pack our two-bedroom townhouse. We would have three business days to load the pods and three business days to unload the pods. Door-to-Door anticipated 2.5 weeks for shipment from Durham to Seattle and UPack anticipated 1.5 weeks.

 

Door-to-Door was the clear frontrunner based on price ($1,300 less than UPack), but their service plan deviated from the industry norm in one important way. At their Raleigh location at the time of our move, they did not have the means of leaving the pods at our residence. Instead, they wanted to provide professional movers at no additional cost to load the pods. Basically, instead of having three days to load the pods, we would have to have 100% of our possessions packed and ready to be loaded by the appointed time, and other people would load the pods for us.

 

To most people, that might sound like an advantage – professional loaders provided for free – but we were very attracted by the idea of loading the pods ourselves slowly. Frankly, Kyle thought he could do a more careful and space-efficient job loading the pods than movers could, if given more time. But was that preference worth $1,300?

 

We went back and forth on this and in the end decided to use UPack so that we could pack the pods ourselves. If Door-to-Door had been able to provide their standard service to us, we would have gone with them.

 

One note about booking: Pod availability and appointment slots fill up, especially in the summer, so you should book the service as soon as you have made a decision on the company and timing. Prices also increase as you get closer to the move date.

 

Moving with UPack

 

We had a good experience with UPack, which is to say that they provided the service that they said they would.

 

Loading in Durham

 

We had our two pods delivered on a Friday (we had to be present to receive them), which meant that we had until the following Wednesday to load them. We initially planned to put one pod in each of our parking spots, but one of the spots had a tree overhang that did not meet UPack’s height specifications for the pod placement. Fortunately, both pods fit in one parking space in our townhouse complex. We called our leasing office in advance for permission to place the pods (our parking spots were only used by us but technically not reserved), but they had no issue with it.

 

two pods in a parking space next to our car

two pods in a parking space next to our car

 

UPack’s pods are 6’x7’x8’, made of metal, and have slats in the interior for ratchet straps. The driver was very careful to position the pods exactly how we wanted them.

 

We packed most of our things on Saturday and began loading one pod with the help of my parents. We purchased a few moving supplies: boxes (we also got free boxes from craigslist and local grocery stores), packing tape, foam padding, bubble wrap, ratchet straps, and moving cling wrap. (Kyle learned about the cling wrap from some moving TV show, and it did come in handy for protecting and securing.)

 

On Sunday, Kyle decided that he thought we could fit everything into one pod if we were very, very careful about the loading, so he and one of our friends totally unloaded the pod and then re-loaded it. They filled what seemed like 100% of the available space, and we packed the rest of the miscellany that didn’t fit in the pod in our car. We ratchet-strapped everything in place so that it would not shift during shipping. We had to buy two locks per pod that met UPack’s specifications, to which we kept the keys. We scheduled the pod to be picked up on Wednesday, the day we left town (we did not have to be present for the pickup). We were able to track our pod’s location as it was shipped.

 

full full full pod

full full full pod

 

Our original quote for two pods was $3,708, but since we only used one pod we actually paid $2,472. (We were told up front that we should err high on the number of pods to reserve because we could drop the number for no charge.) Since we needed fewer pods than we initially ordered, it was good that we decided to go with a company that had smaller pods that we could load ourselves. If Door-to-Door had loaded the pods I’m sure we would have ended up with two, and we also would have ordered too large a pod size from PODS.

 

We additionally paid for up to a month of storage in Seattle as we didn’t know how long it would take us to find an apartment, which was $155. Without this storage fee, UPack would only have stored our pod for two business days.

 

Unloading in Seattle

 

When Kyle and I found our apartment in Seattle, we knew we would have a slight problem with the pod delivery. Our apartment has non-reserved off-street parking, but it was on a slope (as is much of our neighborhood). UPack said that it is up to the driver to determine the suitability of the spot for the pod, but we were pretty sure the parking spaces would not meet their specifications. There is a fee for a pod being sent out for delivery if it cannot be placed. To leave the pod on the street in front of our apartment (which was actually closer to our door), we had to apply for a permit with the city and paid a fee of $232. (This is a ridiculous fee, but we wanted to play by the rules.) Thankfully the permitting process only took about an hour, though we did have to go in to the office.

 

After we secured the permit last Thursday afternoon (effective Friday), we called to schedule the delivery, hoping it could be delivered on Friday so we could have the weekend to unpack. Unfortunately, UPack was all booked up for deliveries for Friday, so we had it delivered on Monday. The delivery was one hour after the four-hour window UPack specified, but that didn’t hurt my schedule. It took just the two of us about 2.5 hours to unpack our pod into our second-floor apartment.

 

Kyle after we emptied the pod

Kyle after we emptied the pod

 

It was apparent that the contents within the pod had shifted slightly but frequently, as some edges and sides of our possessions seemed worn and some boxes had become damaged. I am very glad that we cling-wrapped and ratchet-strapped everything so securely in place. Also, there was a very fine dust that had accumulated on a few surfaces within the pod.

 

On Tuesday morning, I called to have the empty pod picked up, and it was picked up that afternoon.

 

Would I Recommend UPack?

 

Yes, based on our good experience with UPack I would recommend it for people interested in pod-based moving. However, as price was an important point for us, I would not necessarily recommend it over Door-to-Door. Of course, our possessions were not pristine when they arrived, but we expected that. I would use a pod for a future long-distance move.

 

What methods of long-distance moving have you used in the past and were you happy with them?

 

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24 Responses to "Moving Cross-Country with a Pod"

  1. Julia says:

    I had friends use a pod to move a few years ago but they ran into a rather annoying weight restriction on the loaded pod. Did you notice that when comparing companies? And yay! Seattle! Enjoy the best weather ever for the next couple of months! 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      You know, the weight limit didn’t even register with me until we were already packing the pod up. If I remember correctly, it was 2,500 lbs. It definitely was not something we comparison-shopped or tracked as we were loading it, but since UPack shipped it with no comment I have to assume we were under the limit. Were your friends shipping particularly dense items (all textbooks?) or did their company have a low weight limit?

  2. Leigh says:

    Oh gosh I have only moved cross country with two suitcases on a plane and one more shipped along, aka during/after college. I’m not sure what I would do if we left our current city, though we have no plans to move either.

    1. Emily says:

      Haha yeah that’s how I moved during college, too. It makes me a bit sad that we didn’t move that way again, but I also like a lot of our things (mostly the gifts we received for our wedding). One point Kyle made, though, when I was like “sell everything and buy what we need there!” was that we are being reimbursed for moving expenses, not buying-new-stuff expenses. So it made sense for us to ship a lot of things.

      1. Leigh says:

        Yeah, in that case, moving your stuff was a good plan. I was able to get a lump sum instead of moving expenses when I relocated here for my last job, which I then used to buy new furniture since I had nothing worth moving 🙂

        1. Emily says:

          A straight bonus would definitely have been preferable for us, especially because I think we’re going to ask for well under the maximum allowed. Ah well, we are happy to have negotiated for any relocation package!

  3. We waited too long to use any of the major pod-based systems this time around. We did the “whatever you can stuff in your car” method. (We’ll actually be posting about this during our monthly mortgage post for september.) In the end we’ve spent somewhere between 2-3K on new possessions for the year including new bikes and borrowing a piano for a year. But all our regular stuff is staying with renters while we’re gone. So we haven’t been on the look out for anything permanent. Still, I think the place doesn’t look too bad with our assortment of cast-offs and other goods.

    1. Emily says:

      It’s amazing what you discover you don’t need/want when you don’t have access to it. That stinks that you didn’t have the option to move with a pod, though.

  4. Mrs. PoP says:

    Congrats on the move! Hopefully we never have to move that distance ever again, but I think we’d look seriously at selling most of our furniture and just moving *stuff* and the pods might be an easy way to do that. Moving was easy before we had a house and started accumulating furniture and tools and stuff like that. The last two moves we had a little bit of furniture accumulated from our tiny apartments, and they were relatively local (within a couple hundred miles), so we rented a truck and drove it ourselves.

    I actually hired movers to pack the truck when I was moving out of my studio and was amazed at how good a job they did packing everything into the truck. I’m sure we would not have used the space nearly as well as I would have and secured my belongings so that nothing was damaged. They were well worth the $150 for a couple of movers to help for a couple of hours.

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, this is our first long-distance move with significant possessions, having just rented a truck to do our moves within Durham. I think if we liked more of our furniture we would have tried to move more, but we never intended to collect nice furniture while in grad school.

      I was more on the side of using Door-to-Door because I thought professional movers could do a better job than us and Kyle was more on the side of using UPack because he had the ambition to get it all into one pod. Having seen how much care and time he and our helpers put into packing the pod so efficiently, I think it was the right decision to pack it ourselves. It just took so much time to get it right, I don’t see how professionals would have been able to take so long or even be ambitious/motivated to get it all into one pod plus our car. If we weren’t just on the edge between needing one and two pods, we may have gone with Door-to-Door.

  5. Fiby says:

    The only long distance moves I’ve done so far are from home to undergrad and back, and then to grad school. Neither of these moves “really count” I think because
    a) There was essentially no furniture involved in this move
    b) I still have some stuff at my parents’ house.

    I think Fruagalwoods said shipping via Amtrak is also an economical option? I don’t think they actually tried it but they mentioned it.

    And hey, pretty cool to know that almost all of your possessions fit in a space of just 336 cubic feet!

    1. Emily says:

      Having done this move it’s hard for me to think that our previous moves count, either, because they were either when we had hardly any stuff (college, to grad school) or local. And I’m sure once we move with even MORE stuff later in life, this one will seem like a cakewalk!

      I didn’t look into shipping with Amtrak but that is an interesting suggestion.

      336 cubic feet plus our sedan. 🙂 We had a LOT of stuff in the car with us on the trip!

  6. It’s awesome that the company offered to take care of some of the relocation expenses for you guys. As I mentioned in another comment, we’re in the process of moving ourselves and are taking on the cost of the move. Because of that we went with the cheapest option, which was a U-Haul. Sooooo, we’ll be making a 5-day trek from FL to TX with one of those ugly trailers attached to the truck. Such is life. But as it turns out, my partner’s advisor asked him to bring a couple of his boxes with him to TX, and he offered to cover the cost of the U-Haul. So, at the end of the day, things will work out ok.

    Our next move will likely to be together rather than apart, and I imagine that we are going to need a lot more help and logistics together to coordinate that and make it happen. It’s helpful to know that these pod based systems will likely be around for a long time. We’ll have to check it out when that next move rolls around.

    1. Emily says:

      If we hadn’t been getting any relocation expenses reimbursed, we might have done what you are planning but skipped the vacation aspect of our move and just gotten it over with as quickly as possible. We definitely would have had to choose a different driving route, though, because our car could barely handle the 10% grade we went over, so I’m sure a truck wouldn’t have been able to! Thankfully FL to TX is pretty flat, right? That is really nice that your partner’s advisor is covering the cost of the UHaul for just a bit of cargo!

  7. Dane Hinson says:

    Informative post! I always think about how we’ll move if a new work opportunity comes up. Professional moving companies are so expensive, but Upack looks like a great alternative. Best of luck settling into your new digs.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m glad you found the post informative! It is good to have a lay of the moving-options landscape if you may have to do it on short notice. These methods were the second thing we looked into after we decided we were moving long-distance. A pod-based company really was the best option for us for this move.

      Thanks! We are unpacking a small bit each day… This is going to take a while! 🙂

  8. […] be reimbursed, so I am only counting $1.05 against our money puddle this month. In addition to the pod-based moving company we used, we bought some moving […]

  9. […] a bit of trepidation, we decided to pack up our things in a pod and take a cross-country trip without yet knowing where we would be living in Seattle. We planned […]

  10. […] that progress in favor of sending my initial pitch email to all my target universities before our move last month. I am also starting to think about creating video courses, which two of my Durham friends […]

  11. […] month, Kyle and I moved from Durham, NC to Seattle, WA. We shipped all our stuff using a pod, and we moved ourselves and our car via a cross-country trip. I already shared with you the total […]

  12. Anthony says:

    Great

  13. Ross says:

    Thank you for the very informative post! I will be moving to Seattle in July, 2018 and have reserved the UPack ReloCube that you described in the post. My future Seattle apartment only has (unpaid) street parking. You mentioned that you applied for a permit with the city and paid a fee of $232. Could you please elaborate on this process? Did you have to get NO PARKING easels for this? Also, is there a website you could point me to for the permit? Thank you!

    1. Emily says:

      You got it! We had to block off a portion of the street in front of our building. We didn’t use an easel, just parked our car in the area we wanted and moved it when the pod arrived. It looks like you can find more info here: https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/permits-and-services/permits/storage-container-and-residential-dumpster-permits

      Honestly, the fee seemed very high for the amount of time we actually had the pod on the street (like 1 day), but we’re “better safe than sorry” kinds of people.

      1. Ross says:

        Thank you very much for the reply!

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