Debating Transport

Our move this summer will take us about 2500 miles from here towards the Great Lakes region.  “Us” includes me, four children, two small dogs, and one cat.  I thought we would drive.  We haven’t had a vacation in years and it would be a great opportunity to see parts of the country we may never visit again, as well as a chance to see friends whom we seldom see in person, and meet blog readers and supporters.   We have been mulling over the potential routes – south through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma before heading north, or slightly more middle of the country through Colorado and across the plains?  We’ve been reading up on National Parks and other areas of interest that we could visit if we just allow for some slight zigs and zags along the way – the Grand Canyon? Carlsbad Caverns? Yellowstone?

There is a lot to be said for driving and one big negative weighing against those positives.  It would be expensive.  Our mini-van is old and in need of a variety of repairs to make it road-worthy for such a long trip, among them new brakes, and repairs to the transmission and power steering and air conditioning (I’m only listing the major items).  It is also too small for a long trip and has minimal cargo space.

My thought was to sell the trailer and the mini-van, and use that money to purchase another vehicle – perhaps a larger SUV that would be a more comfortable ride and could carry more of our possessions, thus cutting down on the amount that will need to be shipped.  We could even tow a U-haul and cut out shipping costs entirely. We will need a vehicle once we arrive and an SUV would fit into our new lifestyle.  Fuel, meals and lodging costs would have to be considered.

Another idea would be buying a small motor home.  I’ve seen several on our local craigslist and they are generally a bit cheaper than the used SUVs. It would mean fewer restroom and meal stops and would have the benefit of providing sleeping space allowing us to park at campgrounds instead of staying in motels during the journey.  It could also provide some living space until our housing situation is worked out. And the pets would be more comfortable in a motor home. The downside would be the gas mileage – fuel costs would probably be double that of an SUV and of course we would need to sell it and buy a car of some sort once we reach our destination.  Depending on the market we might not get enough money for it.

We could fly.  The cost of transport to and from the airport, airfare, baggage fees, and flying three pets would be around $2,500 – probably half what a used vehicle will cost us.  It would be a lot faster and we would save on meal and lodging costs but we aren’t on a deadline.  We would still have to ship our possessions (I need to get some quotes on that) and we would be out the $2,500, leaving me less money with which to purchase a vehicle when we arrive.  Another obstacle to flying is not having money for tickets until the trailer is sold – at which time fares would undoubtedly be higher than the advance purchase airfares I found online and tickets might be harder to buy at the last minute.

We could take the greyhound bus.  Yeah, just kidding.  But in the interest of being thorough, I did research it and the tickets would be about half the price of flying.  No direct routes, naturally.  The journey would require four transfers, two of which would take place in the wee hours of the mornings. And by the end of the 58 hours and 32 minutes it would take to reach our destination I would probably be completely bonkers!   And we would still have to ship possessions, make other arrangements to get the pets there and purchase a vehicle once we arrived.  Seriously, I’m just not up to traveling across the country with four children on a greyhound bus.  I know my limitations!

I didn’t look into the train.  I suspect it would cost less than flying and more than the bus.  It would not be direct and while more comfortable than traveling by bus it would still be a long and arduous trip.

I haven’t made any decisions yet, I continue to look through the vehicle listings on craigslist and add data to my growing spreadsheet. A lot depends on how much money we can get for the trailer.  We paid $4,000 and I believe it was sold below value so I’m hoping to make at least that much.  The mini-van isn’t worth much and may be difficult to sell in its current condition.  If we don’t make enough to buy either a SUV or a motor home then I guess we will have to fly. And in all of the above possibilities we face the hurdle of trying to sell one thing and buy another nearly simultaneously – losing both housing and transportation and replacing them with another form of transport and then almost immediately hitting the road.  It’s going to be quite the juggling act!

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29 Responses to Debating Transport

  1. julia says:

    I’m curious, have you figured this out? Have you gotten an estimate on the necessary repairs for your mini van? Renting a vehicle sounds good but then you’d almost immediately have to purchase a new car upon reaching your destination, wouldn’t you? My solution would be to stay in California. Moving costs always seem to be far more than anticipated and that’s when moving to an actual residence of sorts. And while I don’t personally know you at all, I have a terrible feeling you might end up regretting the move but would then be stuck.

  2. lea says:

    Having done a fair bit of traveling with both kids and pets, I will say summer traveling with a pet is particularily difficult. You can’t leave them in the car even to run into a gas station washroom because it’s too hot and even if you leave the windows down a bit, some do-gooder will be there ready to smash your window to rescue your pet when you come out.

    You have to plan your stops around rest stations or parks so that the dogs can get out of the car with you.

    I personally would tent it, that’s what we do, make sure to get an easy set up tent. and make sure you know all the parks and rest stations along the way.

    good luck!

  3. j says:

    This isn’t entirely related to your trip — but I can’t find your FB page! This deal might be good for you – and for fellow readers trying to help you out! $5 for a $10 giftcard at Amazon.

  4. bogart says:

    For very cheap, another option would be driveaway cars, though I don’t know what the policies are about travelling in those with kids or pets, nor not having a credit card. If you google the term, you’ll see what I mean; it’s a very cheap way to get access to a car; you drive it cross-country (on behalf of the owner) in exchange for getting to use it. I know 3 people who have done that over the years (2 pairs of European visitors, 1 family member + partner) and all have found it affordable and practical.

    I’m relieved you won’t be traveling with the cat, but even so would be cautious about the dogs, the kids, an unreliable vehicle, and (potentially) hot/dry conditions. I drove solo cross-country some years back, taking 10 days and starting out on the east coast, ending up in San Fran (seeing the Badlands and Yellowstone, among others, en route). I had no reservations and camped the whole way, but it was just me and I was driving a close-to-new Toyota pickup with 5 gallons of drinkable water and 5 gallons of (extra) gas in the bed. I didn’t have problems (indeed, it was a fabulous trip), but I was glad to know I had assorted resources if things went wrong (this was in the days before cell phones, but even today I wouldn’t rely on having coverage just anywhere).

    I think I’d be inclined to rent a vehicle and to pack a good amount of drinkable water in there somewhere.

    Again, I do hope this forms the basis for a positive new beginning for you.

  5. Eliza Jane says:

    gas, sistah -gas. Paying for the gas to drive that suv or camper across the country,and then day to day. You need to look beyond the trip. I’ve moved by myself across the country several times, the last time with a small dog, a giant dog, and 6 cats. Your best friend is a used Ford Focus station wagon with a roof rack. One kid in the front with you, 3 kids in the back. Small dogs on laps or in crates in the back of the wagon. One cat in a crate in the back of the wagon. Luggage stowed on the roof rack. Since you will be traveling with pets, you need to take the fastest route to get there and not spend time site seeing. Your cat is going to go insane. You are going to have to carry pet food and a litter box with you. You are in survival mode. It would be wonderful to see stuff on the way but you need to get yourself and your family there in one piece and have a useable vehicle that you can afford to drive when you get there. Your family will have all kinds of new things to explore once you get there, and years ahead of them go back over the route for site-seeing. But please focus on just getting there safely and economically. You can make the drive all the way in 3 days, maybe 2.5. $200 for hotels. A couple of hundred for gas.

  6. Kelly says:

    I would recommend a diesel SUV with a small trailer or a roof rack carrier if at all possible. Why diesel? Yes, it costs a little more per gallon ($4.10 compared to $3.79 for regular gas here), but you’ll get much better mpg with a diesel. You’re going to need a vehicle when you get where you’re going anyway – you may as well make that investment now instead of paying for a rental or tickets.

    Another suggestion – if you decide to go for a Winnebago-type motor home, check the craiglist ads in the area you’ll be landing to see what the going rate is for a used motor home there so you can resell it quickly. Maybe you could even engineer a deal before you get there – motor home for reliable used van/SUV? Best of luck! I’m praying for you!

  7. NEG says:

    Moving is a lot of work. I just moved from CA to FL, and even with packing and moving paid for, it is a ton of work. We’ve been here 2 weeks and not even close to unpacked. I just spent an hour in the garage going through boxes again looking for something, smoothing out paper, trying to figure out where to put things.

    Unless something is a heirloom, it doesn’t make sense to pay to move it. Packing and shipping a crockpot may cost you $4, and you could just go buy a new (used) one at the thrift store. Think about paying $2000 to move – you could buy a lot with that money on the other end. I paid about $2000 to move in a PODS 2 years ago, and I actually preferred that to using a commercial van line this year. More control, less space, more requirement to toss stuff.

    It’s not a vacation, and while I don’t think you need to rush by every single city, the trip as you describe, stopping at the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone (which by the way are not near each other), visiting friends, camping will take weeks and cost a lot. Summer is the high season at these campsites. Camping is not free. Some park don’t let animals in. It is hot hot hot in July. After a week you’ll just want to BE there. Driving though the Rockies is hard on cars, and really hard on them when it is 100 degrees.

    Many of the schools in the midwest start in Aug. Your kids won’t be out of school until late June, so you basically have July to move and get settled, check out schools, start a job, etc. as they’ll need to be ready to go to school by about Aug. 15.

    I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer, but don’t look at this as a vacation. You are on a mission. You need to get to the new life as quickly and cheaply as possible. My kids haven’t been on a family vacation in about 6 years. Yes, they’ve done fun things like go to camp or away on a weekend, but for the first 4 of those years we didn’t have any money and for the last two I’ve been paying back debt and we’ve had little time. I’d love to whisk them away to a fabulous land and really have fun, but I need to work to pay debts and they have school and activities and they actually prefer to be able to do a few activities at school with the ‘vacation’ money or perhaps even buy a new dress for a party.

    I’m doing my taxes today. After the taxes, maybe I can afford a vacation this summer, or maybe next Christmas, but I’m not going to do it until I can pay for it in advance, no matter how much I think I deserve it (and I do deserve it).

    • boxcarkids says:

      Our schools are actually out in early June (thanks to school funding cuts we have a short year) and we expect to be on the road the next Monday! If we drive we won’t go to all the destinations I mentioned but would pick one to see and would spend a day there. Even driving non-stop, which I cannot do as long driving stints make me very sleepy, a dangerous condition, it would take over 2 days to get to our destination. If we drive I plan on taking 5 days. While we might want to get started on our new life ASAP we don’t have any deadlines and rushing would just make the trip more stressful and less safe. And camping at the Grand Canyon costs only $15 to $24 a night.

  8. Steve says:

    Can you camp instead of getting hotel rooms if you drive? That could save some money, especially with pets. You also could use the tent after you sell the trailer, so you wouldn’t have to leave your area immediately after the sale.

    I’d say either buying a car and driving or renting a car/van/truck/uhaul/etc. would probably be the most cost effective, but you also have to consider if you can afford the food and lodging for the longer trip.

    • boxcarkids says:

      We could – we would have to purchase a new tent as we wore out the old one and discarded it when we got the trailer. We would probably need to nail down our route soon and make campground reservations – June is a very popular month at parks!

  9. Celeste says:

    If it was me I would sell off everything but the most personally dear items, and rent either a minivan or a passenger van and turn it in at the journey’s end. I can’t see how that could possibly cost as much as plane fare, and it would let you carry your pets the way you do now plus some belongings.

    • boxcarkids says:

      I had not considered renting – thanks for the suggestion! I checked it out, and if we picked up and dropped off the car at an airport we could rent an SUV for about $1600 for one week. Possibly there are discounts that would bring that down a bit. It would make some things easier – car would likely be in decent shape and I would not have to bother registering a new (used) car first here in CA and then at our destination a week later. I’m not sure how easy it would be to rent without a credit card (I only have a debit card and have found some businesses do not consider them equivalent). I’d probably have to opt in for the insurance which would increase the cost since my own insurance would be cancelled when I sell our van. Something to think about!

      • Celeste says:

        Try Budget car rental, they are famous for accepting debit cards and I have personally done it, too.

        Also, check with the state you are moving to. Almost none of them require that you get your new license within a week. I mean, you first have to have an address! I assume you would be staying with someone or at a hotel at first. Anyway, I’ve moved a lot and you do have some lattitude on this part.

        Good luck!

      • Celeste says:

        Also, check with your insurance company. Just because you wouldn’t be insuring the vehicle any longer, can’t they still insure you as a driver? Teens get insurance as drivers for their parents’ vehicles, for example.

      • Val says:

        Enterprise also takes debit cards. If you decide to use that option, I have a great discount code

    • Jynet says:

      That is a great suggestion!

  10. Amy says:

    I, too, would not dismiss the train out of hand. Having gone on 2-day bus trips and 2-day train trips, the latter were much, much more manageable.

    Also, you can carry a whole lot onto a train. With 4 kids, you are only really limited by how much you can physically carry, since they would also get a luggage allowance. One strange tip: you can “carry” more than you can actually carry if you have a huge hiking backpack and fit more into it than you can actually lift. I once made a trip using two such backpacks, neither of which I could remotely lift as each weighed far more than I did. I would drag one for a block, leave it there, go back for the second one, drag it for a block, and repeat, until getting onto/off of the train. The thing is, when the bags are so heavy, nobody can actually steal them easily! An older child could also assist in standing guard. Not to suggest it is pleasant, but if money is tight….

    I did three cross-country moves without paying for shipping. It was honestly cheaper to sell anything too big and buy a replacement in the new destination. In some cases it was cheaper to simply abandon things and buy new ones than ship them.

    The most recent time I moved cross-country, I instead shipped things. You know what? Packing it all up and sending it and moving it in was actually much more taxing on my body than dragging those backpacks had been! It wasn’t easier, it was harder, surprisingly!

    Just my own experience.

  11. Barb says:

    My 2 cents is to just drive. That way you control the stopping and staying. The pets can have a break also. Stay in pet-friendly motels along the way. Do an analysis of whether it’s worth it to fix your vehicle for the trip and beyond, or to just turn it in for a newer vehicle. Where are you heading? If you pass through the Minneapolis area, I would be happy to let you bunk here for a while.

  12. Lisa M. says:

    I would buy an SUV, and a tent and camp stove, and drive cross country but still take advantage of campgrounds. I wouldn’t fly/train/bus because of the animals. but also, when you stop to visit a park, you might want to invest in a hotel room, for the a/c (for the animals) (and depending on what time of year you are traveling).

    I haven’t been to the other places you have mentioned, but I have been to Yellowstone, and can recommend it HIGHLY!!

    How exciting! I’m excited, thinking about it for you.

    • Eliza Jane says:

      I would be really nervous about camping with a cat. They get so freaked out and they are master escape artists. Years ago my family moved from New York to Arizona and drove with our cat in the car on a leash. Several times he almost managed to pull out of his collar and escape. The two times that I have moved across the country with cats, I kept the cats in crates all day during the drive (if it was really out I put ice cubes in zip lock bags in the crates to help them stay cool). Then used a luggage dolly and a couple of bungee cords to pile the cat crates onto wheels and wheel cats and their food and litter boxes into a motel room. I didn’t let the cats out of their crates until I had everything in the room for the night, then I could let them out to eat and use the litter box and not worry about them escaping the hotel room.

      Another useful trick was to take giant garbage bags for the kitty litter. You can put the litter box inside the garbage bag and then fill the box with litter so that the bag lines the box – then in the morning when you are ready to go, turn the bag inside out, seal it, and you’re out the door with a clean litter box and no mess.

      I looked up pet friendly hotels before traveling and calculated how far I could drive in a single day, then made reservations at those hotels so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a place that would allow my pets.

      • boxcarkids says:

        At this point I think our best bet is either sending the cat ahead via plane, or leaving her with a friend and having our friend send her once we get there. Neither solution is perfect, but either is probably better than driving with her. Unlike a cat I had years ago who loved riding in the car, our current cat does hate it and while she will also be miserable on the plane it is a much sorter trip that way!

  13. May God bless you on your new journey and new life. I hope you find just what you are looking for. If you do come through Texas, let me know – we can put you up for a night!

  14. Em says:

    On shipping your things, check ABF and UPS. Both let you load a portion of a tractor trailer yourself and then they ship to your destination where you pick up. It’s really cost effective. You do have to work on a schedule though as you need to be there to pick up your things when the trailer arrives. PODS is another option, but they don’t cover as much area.
    I have done the train, the Greyhound and air, and only one would I NEVER, EVER do again- Greyhound. It’s horrible. The train is an interesting experience and cost efficient. But if you do the ABF/UPS route you may find that it’s difficult to be at the shipping yard to pick up your things in time.
    To me it sounds most cost effective to use a ABF/UPS trailer, get a new vehicle and hit the road. You need the new vehicle anyway.
    The last time we used UPS we did so by coordinating on a website called Customer service was pretty good. Shipped a small house worth of stuff for $400. Good luck! Keep us posted on everything, you never know how your readers could help you along the way!!

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks! I had not heard of the ABF moving – I will check it out. I think we can get down to about a 5×10 storage unit worth of goods to ship. I’ve sent a few boxes of books ahead but that cost $15/ 30 lb box at media postage rate.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Sounds to me like driving is going to be the easiest option. That said, I realise it may not be possible so I thought I’d throw in our experiences of taking the train long distance in the USA.

    First, it’s surprisingly cheap, even close to the date of travel. (It’s a lot cheaper than anywhere in Europe, never mind the UK. I could travel the US coast to coast for what I pay for a month’s commuting here). Prices do go up though, so if you can book ahead it would be better.

    Second, it’s a lot better than the bus because there’s a lot more space to move around and do stuff, plus the seats are larger with better leg room – particularly if you can book your seats to be a table set (I’m not sure how available these are) and some of the trains have dining cars which are like diners (more tables, and somewhere kids can go to get away from each other).

    You can check baggage but we didn’t so I’m not sure how that works (limits, e.g.). And I don’t know anything about taking pets, either, I’m afraid.

    A lot of the railway lines are through really rural areas and you can see a lot more from the rail than the road due to the added height and no barriers. This may or may not be a benefit – trees are trees, right? – but some of it was beautiful.

    All in, I can see how this journey could suck, so I really hope you find an option which you feel good about and that works for your family. Just thought I’d throw in my 2p (pence here, of course!) as I remember long coach journeys as a kid / teen and the train is a lot more pleasant all round.

    Good luck!

    • Sharon says:

      I would second the suggestion of a train! While it can get expensive if you want to include a sleeper car, my experience of travelling with my son when he was young was excellent. Scenery was fantastic, you often pass through many small towns with a long enough stop to get out, stretch your legs, and see at least a bit of the town (15 mins worth). People can be very convivial, and you don’t have to worry about the “creep” factor as much as with other forms of travel. One word of warning, though – train travel is VERY slow; since Amtrak often travels on freight train tracks, they have to pull over and defer to freight trains if there are scheduling conflicts (at least they did in the Northeast). All in all, train travel can end up being as much a part of the trip as the destination. All aboard!

      • boxcarkids says:

        I just checked it out – we could get there by train for about the same amount as the bus and fewer transfers but it is a similarly long journey (64.5 hours) and the last leg would be by bus with no checked baggage allowed. The train had ‘rooms’ you could book but that increased the price by $1,000 to $1500.

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