Long Distance Move Comedy of Errors…and 10 Lessons Learned

By Cole Mayer

Moving truck on Nevada HighwayI’m never moving again. Let’s get that out of the way first. I’ve bought a home, I’ve moved out of my apartment, I’m done. The mistakes, bad luck and poor choices my wife and I made during the move from California to Idaho would impress Shakespeare. We learned plenty of lessons along the way, and share them in hopes that you can avoid our mistakes.

Let’s back up to 2013. My wife – then still my girlfriend – had just got her teaching credential, but she and my mother-in-law were thinking of moving out of California. Being that I was a newspaper reporter at the time, our total income was nowhere near enough to buy a place in California in the next century. After some research, they settled on Boise, Idaho. A few visits later, and we had commissioned a home to be built, and started looking into apartments to move into in the meantime.

As moving time neared, we hired a service to take away our junk for donation and recycling – we wouldn’t need our appliances, as new ones were part of the price of the house. We packed what we could in a yellow moving truck we named Sven. We rented the truck for longer than we thought we would need and it was definitely a good idea – we never thought we would have to make a second trip back and forth from California. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lesson 1 – Hire a service to pack the moving van

We hired a service to actually pack Sven – I can’t recommend this enough. This was one of the few smart moves we made. Even though we didn’t pack the truck, packing everything in boxes was tiring.

On June 24, 2015, my wife fired Sven up while I drove her car. Fun fact: In 2015, Idaho was ranked second in terms of percentage of people moving into the state vs. moving out, with 63 percent of moves inbound.

Lesson 2 – Leave early in the day so you arrive at daylight

We ended up leaving California just before noon. We had about 540 miles to go, and we didn’t arrive at our new apartment until just after midnight. We literally crossed railroad tracks to get there. The complex was also just across the street from a psych ward. That’s not foreboding at all, right?

We had agreed to the apartment, sight unseen, before moving. It was the right price, but we had no idea what the location was. I’m not one to make snap judgments, but I wouldn’t doubt the weird couple across the fence from the parking lot were methheads. It was that kind of area. But fine, we could deal with that, we’d just lock the doors. No big deal.

Bonus tip: Don’t arrive in your new city during rush hour. The combination of a large van and unfamiliar streets will be stressful.

Lesson 3 – Get damage insurance for the moving van

My wife scraped a car as she was trying to park Sven. The parking lot was not exactly wide. Luckily, the only damage was to Sven (who had upgraded to Sven, the Owl Killer after a suicidal owl hit the truck during transit). And, smartly, we opted for damage insurance. We were covered, and the other car was fine.

Lesson 4 – Never rent sight unseen, even for a short period

We were shaken, and it was now 12:30 a.m when we walked up the stairs to the two-room apartment. As the door opened, a decade’s worth of cigarette smoke wafted out and assaulted our nostrils. We tried to turn on the light inside the door. It wouldn’t turn on. On closer inspection, however, it actually was on, but was a black light. Wait, what? What use is that? No, I changed my mind, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.

The apartment only barely looked like the pictures. I’m sure if I looked, we would have found mold. I was starting to understand why the management company was willing to let us sign the papers for the lease the next morning – anything to rent out this apartment. Luckily, we hadn’t given them a check yet, and without a signed lease agreement, we decided to slowly back away and never come back (with a nice email to the management saying thanks, but no thanks.). Learn from this major mistake – do not rent an apartment or buy a house without actually seeing it in person.

Lesson 5 – But if you must rent sight unseen, have a backup ready

We were officially homeless, 540-odd miles away from everything and everyone we knew. It was nearing 1 a.m. We called the hotel where we stayed during our trips out to find a house. They were booked up, but the woman at the front desk knew of a hotel with at least one opening. A quick call later, and we had a bed to sleep in for at least the night. We had no idea what to do with Sven, but that was a bridge to cross in 20 minutes.

There was, thankfully, a parking lot across from the hotel that allowed overnight parking. Parking reset at 5 a.m., which meant I had to get up early and renew the permit. Better than nothing.

Now awake, we frantically looked for apartments. Most places either didn’t have any openings, or didn’t want to only do a six-month lease. We finally found a new apartment complex that did, but they had to run a background check, which would take at least 24 hours. We quickly agreed, having no other options. We lucked out, in that we were able to tour the facility, and the one-bedroom apartments were brand-new – we were the first occupants.

Lesson 6 – Contract a storage facility in advance

Things were looking up. We went to the storage facility we had contacted just prior to the move (another good tip, especially if you, like us, are moving into an apartment pending a house being built).

Lesson 7 – Hire help to unpack the moving van

We started unpacking things from the truck by ourselves. Bad idea. How bad? Dropping-a-wooden-hutch-on-your-wife’s-ankle bad.

It bled. Profusely. On top of her being exhausted and with a cold. It’s surprisingly hard to find a doctor’s office that is open after 3 p.m. on a Thursday in Idaho. The first place we went to, the doctor had gone home sick. Bear in mind we were only driving Sven at this point, and only my wife was licensed to drive the truck. The second doctor, much further down the main road, finally saw us. When that was done, at about 5:20 p.m., we went back to the hotel and ordered delivery from a local restaurant – something else I highly advise when moving in.

We hired more helpers for moving our stuff out of the truck and into storage – something we should have done in the first place, based on our experience packing the truck. When done, we quickly fled the state, back to California for the rest of our stuff. We again hired someone to do the heavy lifting.

Lesson 8 – Medicate your pets for long drives!

Less than 24 hours after arriving back in California, we were on the road back to Idaho and our new apartment. This time, I had my car, and our cat – who averaged a distressed meow every 30 seconds for 12 hours. Next time, she gets kitty Xanax.

Lesson 9 – Check the weather forecast for your moving day

On June 27, we officially started our Idaho living in a beautiful one-bedroom apartment for the same price as the horrible two-bedroom on the wrong side of the tracks. It was worth it. Getting the hang of this, we hired the same guys who had unpacked the truck the first time. Which was good – June 27 and 28 were two of the hottest days of the year in Boise, at 106 and 110 degrees (Our thermometers showed 113 on June 28), and our movers nearly melted.

And finally, lesson 10 – Know where you packed your best glasses for a celebratory after-move toast

We celebrated with whiskey in our fancy champagne flutes from our wedding.

A former professional journalist covering crime, court and fire stories, Cole spends his free time freelance writing, playing video games, and slowly writing a crime novel.


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