11 Tips for Moving Across Country with Kids


We have been in California for almost 2 months and the dust is finally settling on the whole moving process. This was our third move as a family of 4, but the other 2 were both local moves within 30 miles. Still, I think we’ve started to grasp what does and doesn’t work for us when moving.

Full disclosure, Chris’s company paid for all our moving expenses. This included a company to pack our stuff, move it, and store it at the destination until we were ready for it. I don’t know how much this all cost, but it made moving incredibly easy and I would recommend it to anyone.

The following are the things that worked the best for us and a couple things that didn’t work at all:

11 tips for moving across country with kids

#1 Move out of your house a few days to a week before you leave town.

In our case, this meant arranging for the movers to pack and load our belongings a week before our flight left. For the last week, we stayed with my parents, met with friends and family, and had some last minute work done on the house. It meant that we had a week with no stress or deadlines allowing us to say goodbye at our leisure.

Ice cream with Oma and Opa
Enjoying Chick fil A with Oma and Opa before leaving town.

#2 Arrive at your destination with enough time to completely recover from jet lag before starting at new jobs or schools.

We generally live by the one-day-for-every-hour rule and we arrived with 4 nights before work and school began. It was a good thing because both adults had some pretty gnarly colds, and honestly, my husband could not have gone to work the day after we arrived. You definitely don’t want to risk needing a sick day your first week and jet lag makes it so hard to fight through a bug.

#3 On the flip side, don’t allow too much time at your destination before starting at new jobs or schools.

You want to hit the ground running as soon as possible. Quickly establishing routines will help both adults and kids feel at home. The more time you spend in flux, the antsier you’ll feel.

#4 If possible, arrange permanent housing prior to the big move.

Most companies who offer relocation will pay for a househunting trip and I absolutely recommend taking advantage of this. It may seem like a lot of hassle to come for a weekend when you’ll be back in a few weeks anyway, but it was critical to the success of our move.

We left the kids in NC with my parents and really hit the ground running. We were able to scope out the area, check out preschools (3), visit churches (2), look at apartments (11), and apply for a place during our 2.5-day trip.

Ultimately our arrival schedule worked that we: arrived on Friday, started a lease on Saturday, and had the movers unload our stuff Monday. That meant that we were mostly unpacked by the end of the first week and ready to start adjusting to the new-normal. If we hadn’t pre-selected a place to live, we would have had to use this time scrambling to find a place and it would have taken significantly longer to settle in.

Kids on plane
It was so nice to know we had a home waiting for us!


#5 Don’t bring too much stuff, let the movers bring it!

When we had the movers pack up the house, we were not yet approved for our apartment so we thought there was a possibility we would end up in corporate housing (without access to anything the movers were bringing) for a month. So we packed for a month. Big mistake.

Even if we had ended up in temporary housing for a month, I should have brought less stuff. I brought way too much and it was a huge hassle at the airport. We ended up having to upgrade our rental car (to the tune of an extra $250/day) just to bring all our stuff home from the airport. Here’s specifically what I won’t do next time:

  • Don’t bring toys and books for the kids (I brought a whole suitcase). If it takes a while to get access to their stuff buy them a couple new things to play with while you are in corporate housing. You’ll have some toys and books in your carry-ons anyway.
  • Don’t pack for a whole month. Bring 3-5 outfits for each person and plan on doing laundry. Just make sure everyone has layers if you’re going somewhere chilly.
  • Don’t bring the bike on the plane. It was a huge hassle and we should have just sent it with the movers and rented a bike until it arrived. The checked bag fee for a bike was $150 and we had to disassemble and assemble it on either end.
  • Don’t bring a lot of shoes. Next time we’ll bring two pairs for each person: sneakers and a versatile pair like Tom’s. Everything else can wait until the movers arrive.

#6 Start cooking right away!

I love eating out but it’s just not as enjoyable as it was pre-kids (actually pre-walkers, eating out with babies was awesome!). Throw jet lag in there and you’re looking at a lot of greasy take out, not the healthiest way to start your new life! We visited Safeway first thing and picked up a rotisserie chicken, pita bread, and mixed greens. Voila! Dinner wraps! We also grabbed plenty of fresh fruit, milk, and some Emergen-C  to help us fight our colds.

We were also motivated to eat in because of our budget and it definitely helped with that! The first weekend in the hotel we kept it simple and nutritious but budget friendly by purchasing all our food from the grocery store and cooking it on the stovetop or microwave. Once we moved into our apartment we unpacked the kitchen straight away and started full blown meal preparation.

First meal in California
What are the chances that I would have a picture of this?

#7 Unpack as quickly as possible!

I set myself the goal of unpacking everything in 3 days and that definitely did not happen, but the more I unpacked the less transient we felt and the happier we were. We set up the kid’s room for sleeping and the dining room for eating first and then made sure the kitchen was unpacked and ready for cooking.

Empty Apartment
The whole family in the kid’s room before the movers arrived, you can see we had plenty of toys already!

#8 Don’t forget about lights!

If you’re moving to a new area, chances are you may, at least temporarily, find yourself in an apartment without overhead lighting. My personal tolerance for this is 0, which meant we made a trip to Ikea before the movers arrived so we could have light in every room.

#9 Wait a month before committing to activities

The first week we arrived I was ready to sign the kids up for swim lessons, soccer, karate, gymnastics, and dance. I wisely held off and I’m so happy I did! Right now they are only taking swim lessons and participating in a church program once a week and our schedule is really pretty full. I may look into soccer in the fall, but for now, I’m glad I gave life a little time to happen before committing to all those activities.

Kids with goggles at swim lessons
Getting ready for swim lessons!

#10 Go ahead and plan a trip back “home”.

Of course, it will depend on how deep your roots are in the town you are leaving, but for us, we were leaving a lot of our family and friends. Just knowing that we had plane tickets booked for a trip home for Easter (only 2 months after we left) really helped combat any potential homesickness. I think this would help even if the trip were further off (6 months to a year) since I like to have something to look forward to and open ended trip possibilities just don’t do it for me.

If you don’t know when you’ll be able to get back, convince a friend or family member to plan a trip to visit you! Then you’ll have some little piece of home to look forward to during your transition!

#11 Get out exploring!

Even with killer colds our first weekend in town, we tried to visit all the playgrounds and parks within walking distance and it really helped the kids get excited about the new area. We also drove the route my husband would bike to work and generally familiarized ourselves with the area.

Over the first almost 2 months we’ve been exploring every weekend and it’s been so fun and exciting! Almost like a big extended vacation 🙂

Tire swing
Exploring new playgrounds in the best!

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