How to Move Long Distance with Little Kids

Moving long distance is an incredibly daunting, scary, and exciting thing for a person to take on. Add little ones, or kids of any age for that matter, into the mix and it's just plain nerve-racking. I've been there, I've gone through it, and I'm here to tell you how we made it happen as seamlessly as I think we could have. 

There's a lot that goes into a big move in terms of preparing kids emotionally, but this post is the logistics of our cross-country move from Southern California to Northwest Arkansas. I'll go over:

  • How much it cost
  • How we handled all our stuff
  • The decisions we had to make in the process
  • The three-day road trip with the kids
  • All in all, how we did it

Preparing For the Move

The morning we got the phone call telling us Brian's transfer request had been accepted, and we were moving to Arkansas was bittersweet. Here was the key to our big adventure, to a (hopefully) better lifestyle for our family, but also a new season without family and friends nearby. We knew this was the right thing for us, and we knew we had our work cut out for us. We had to prepare for a giant step in our lives in just a couple weeks' time. Here's my advice to you, looking back with 20/20 vision. 

We had a plan: Brian was going to work a ton of overtime hours to help us afford this big move, and I was going to prepare the house and get us all packed up. 

The first thing I did was minimize everything we had to the absolute necessary.

We had researched a lot, and we quickly saw that in order to take all our furniture and things with us to our new house, we needed upwards of $7,000. We looked around, and while we loved our house and all the cute things we had accumulated, the fact was that most of it was IKEA furniture and things that weren't worth all that money. We made the decision to sell almost everything and start fresh, which was extremely liberating. I kept some of my favorite wall decor that I just couldn't bear to part with, but sold pretty much everything except our mattresses, the dining table, and the boys' bunk beds in a giant garage sale, on Craigslist, and Facebook garage sale pages. 

Next, we prepared our car to haul us and all our stuff halfway across the country. 

We had a 2012 Nissan Quest at the time of our move. We rented the 5x8 U-haul trailer (that's not a typo, that really is the size trailer we moved our family of six with) which cost us $500. We had to have a hitch installed on the van so it could pull it, which cost us $420. So clocking in at just over $900, plus selling all our furniture, we actually made money on our move instead of losing $7,000-10,000 bringing easily replaceable stuff with us. 

Brian had a friend come over to help him patch up wall holes in our house, load up the trailer, and I went behind them scrubbing baseboards and washing windows so that we could get our rent deposit back, which we did. More money for the move!

Financial stats

  • Trailer: $500
  • Hitch installation: $420
  • Packing supplies: $100

And then we set out on our big adventure!

The Road Trip

This is the part that had me really worried. Our kids were ages 6, 4, 3, and 10 months at the time of our move. I was dreading all the bickering, the long hours of being strapped into our seats, and the constant begging for snacks. 

I have to say that I was floored by how well my kids behaved on our road trip. We took it nice and easy, taking three days to get to our new house 1500 miles from our old one. We stopped in New Mexico and Oklahoma for a stay in a hotel, and got into our new place on the third day. 

I was super prepared for anything. Our plan was that Brian would drive the entire time, and I would move throughout the van as needed and be in charge of keeping the baby happy, handing out water and snacks, whatever needed to be done while he drove. I hardly had to get out of my seat! I was so pleasantly surprised by how well it went! Here's what worked...

Audiobooks

This was huge. We thought about buying portable DVD players for the trip but ended up opting to save money wherever we could. I found the Kids Pop! app for iPhone and put on lots of stories for them to get lost in. It really helped them quiet down, and it really helped time go by quicker.

Snacks

Each kid got their own basket full of healthy snacks (sugar highs and road trips don't mix) and a refillable water bottle with an attached straw. This eliminated all the "I'm hungryyyyyyyy" and "I'm thirstyyyyy" complaints. They could snack as they pleased, without having to ask. That freedom really excited them, and they ate up. This saved us a lot of money on eating out. I had a big cooler in the trunk loaded with water and snacks, and I would restock our snack baskets at the end of each driving day. We all basically just snacked around for breakfast (plus a coffee stop) and lunch, but stopped int he evening for a good dinner before hitting the hotel. 

Activities

Little kids can't just sit still for an entire day of travel, and we shouldn't expect them to. We got each of our kids a lap pad with coloring paper and crayons. Everything was attached with Velcro to help prevent messes and lost art supplies. Each kid also had another basket, like their snack baskets, with books to look at, car games to play, stickers to put on paper (but not the car! That was a rule), and little toys to play with like animals and cars. 

Trash bags

When you're living out of your minivan for three days with three kids and a baby, things can get messy real quick, making it difficult to find things you need right when you need them. I had one trash bag (a grocery bag with handles) up front for Brian and I, and one in the middle of the car where our three-year-old and the baby sat in captains chairs, as well as one in the very back seat where the four and six-year-old sat. Putting granola bar wrappers and empty Ziplock bags in your trash bag was another rule for the trip. I emptied the bags whenever we stopped for gas. 

Headphones

Being able to listen to Amy Poehler's autobiography while the kids slept and Brian played his metal music was a lifesaver. You have to be able to tune out the sounds of the car every so often. Headphones keep a family from killing one another, because they sort of put a wall up between the people sharing a small space. You get to listen to what you want, and they get to listen to what they want. I have a pair to our six-year-old too and let her borrow Daddy's iPhone and listen to audiobooks that way a couple times throughout the trip. 

Games & goals

If you do one thing from this entire post, let it be this. I had a bag of dollar store toys under my seat. There were tiny superheroes, little coloring pads, animals, miniature Barbie dolls, and tons of other cool stuff inside. When the kids started to get fussy, I would get a post-it out and write down a time about an hour or hour and a half from whatever time it was at that moment. I would get excited and say, "It's _____ o'clock right now, if you guys don't fight and you're super good, when the clock say THIS time (on the post-it) you'll get a new toy." The kids would get super excited and watch the clock. When the time on the post-it came, I would pull one new toy for each of them from my stash, and that would keep them happy and busy for at least another hour. This whole process gave us a minimum of another two hours of peace and allowed us to make it to the next gas station stop or to the hotel we were staying at for the night. Lifesaver!!

Other 'getting there' tips and tricks

  • Our kids ended up not needing to every time, but we always offered for them to get out and stretch each time we stopped for gas. One time I got them all out and walked them across the street where there was a big open field, and played games with them which forced them to run around and get all that pent-up energy out. 
  • Bring a soccer ball or frisbee or something for stops. Rest stops usually have areas where kids and dogs can run wild, and having something to play with helps inspire some much-needed movement. 
  • You can order potty bags for the car. I know this sounds disgusting and you're thinking you'll just stop every time someone needs to use the bathroom. Let me tell you that you've got to get real, because if you have kids and you stop driving every time somebody has to go, you'll never get home. When someone had to go and we had already done a gas stop, I would climb into the back and help them aim into a potty bag, then seal it up and put it in the trash bag. No mess, no odor, no problem. Another road trip lifesaver!
  • We don't have a dog, but we did bring a cat on our road trip. Our cat, Chicken did great. We had a sedative from the vet (cost was $12 + the required physical appointment) that we ended up not needing to give her because she was super calm about the whole thing. We brought a small cat kennel and put her in it whenever we were opening the doors to protect her from getting out and being hit by a car or getting lost. While we drove, she was able to walk around and that worked just fine. She hung out on the baby's lap and in the back with our oldest most of the time. We sneaked her into the first hotel and let her run around, but on the second night she stayed in the car with her food, water, and the little litter box we made her (a cookie sheet, litter, and a mini scooper from the pet store).

Financial stats

  • Hotel rooms: $60 first night, $80 second night (we booked with the Priceline app about two hours before arriving in the town we'd be staying in)
  • Gas: $250 in a V6 van 1500 miles
  • Eating out: $200

Coming Home

Getting to our new home was an amazing feeling. No more driving! As soon as we got there, we unloaded the mattresses and set them up in the bedrooms. We all took a big nap before tackling the trailer. Once we unloaded, it was clear how much furniture we had to buy! It was a process, and three months later I am still not done, but I would sell all my stuff again if I had a do-over. 

The day after we moved, my mom came out for a week and helped with the kids while Brian and I went to IKEA, got the new house set up, and he started his new job. It was so nice having her there to help while we go settled. If you have young children and the ability to fly a relative out, I highly recommend it!

Financial stats

  • Down payment on new rental: $400
  • Utility company start-up deposits: $200
  • Stocking empty pantry: $600 for a family of six on a clean eating diet

Total long distance move cost: approx $3,000

I think we did a pretty good job saving money and making this move as cheap and easy as we could. I don't think I'd change much about how we did it looking back, and that says a lot about our process. I hope this article is helpful to you who might also be preparing for a big move! Feel free to leave any questions you might have for me in the comments section. Happy moving!

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Allie Casazza

Allie Casazza , Murrieta, CA