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How to Move Safely During a Pandemic

A woman loading moving boxes into her car while wearing gloves.

In July, I accomplished the nerve-racking, but necessary, task of moving during the COVID-19 pandemic. During my cross-country journey from Seattle to New Orleans, I learned quite a few things that can help you move safely, too.

Of course, it’s ideal if you can sequester yourself in one place until the specter of COVID-19 is gone. But for many people, that’s just not possible. You might need to move for family, work, school (like me), or a host of other reasons.

No matter the impetus, here are my tips for making it to your new home in good health!

Put Yourself First

While you’ll also need to move your stuff (we’ll get to that later), the biggest issue is moving yourself from one location to another with minimal risk of infection. If you’re moving to a different city or state, your first task should be deciding how you’ll get where you’re going.

The ideal moving method is one that allows you to remain distant from others, such as a car or—if you’re really lucky—an RV. However, if that’s not possible, you’ll want to choose the method that minimizes your exposure to others the most.

For many people, this is flying. While it’s not risk-free, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most viruses don’t spread easily on flights. Flying also shortens your travel time, minimizing the time you spend near people who might be infected, as opposed to other methods, like a train or bus. However, some trains do offer private rooms that would increase your safety.

No matter how you travel, keep yourself safe by wearing a mask, washing your hands often (especially after touching any surfaces), and socially distancing as much as possible. There’s really no perfectly safe way to travel right now, but these steps are important to minimize your risk.

Prepare Your Route

If you’re traveling by car, you’ll want to spend some time researching your route. While car travel can be safer than other options, you still face the risk of infection anytime you make a stop.

Map out the possible routes to your destination. Then, research the cities along each one and see if any are currently experiencing a major outbreak. If so, try to choose a different route that avoids any COVID-19 hotspots.

Stopping for gas, food, and bathroom breaks can’t be avoided. However, pack snacks to keep your meal stops to a minimum. Bring hand sanitizer, gloves, and disinfectant wipes to protect yourself from dirty surfaces, like bathroom door handles. Be especially cautious when pumping gas, as those handles are some of the dirtiest surfaces you ever touch.

Of course, you’ll also need to decide where to sleep. You can call hotels along your route and choose those that are following good safety protocols, like extra cleaning and contactless check-in. Private Airbnbs are another option. If you own a tent, you can even stay at campsites, although campsites can be crowded and risky, too.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the journey. You might want to do some sightseeing along the way. However, avoid cities and popular vacation spots. If you want to make fun stops on your route, look for lesser-known national parks and more rural areas where you can take in the sights, while avoiding crowds.

Lastly, check for travel restrictions in the states or areas you’ll be passing through. For the most part, you can travel within the U.S. without any issues, but new restrictions could pop up at any time.

Plan for Your Stuff

Movers wearing masks, carrying boxes into a new home.

Now that you know how you’re going to get where you’re going, you have to plan for your stuff to get there, too. Chances are, you have too much stuff to just pack it all and take it with you. So, what’s the safest way to move it?

Renting a moving truck so you can isolate yourself and your stuff on your journey is ideal, but it can get expensive. You can also ship your items (Amtrak is a surprisingly affordable option). No matter what, though, you’ll likely need to hire a moving company to help you pack, unpack, or transport your belongings.

Choose your movers with care. Contact companies ahead of time to find out what their protocols are for keeping customers and employees safe. Look for those that require masks and social distancing, and that make it easy for sick employees to stay home.

Whether you hire movers to do the packing or do it yourself, sanitize your belongings first. Make sure you always have a sink and hand soap, or hand sanitizer, available for the movers. They might appreciate having access to disinfectant wipes and cleaning supplies, too.

Always wear a mask when they’re around, and avoid having too many people in your house when the movers are there. They’re taking a risk every time they go to work, so try to minimize it as much as you can, for your sake and theirs. Also, be sure to tip well.

Rent with Care

At some point in all this planning, of course, you’ll need to line up the new place you’re moving to. For many people, this means renting a house or an apartment. Renting during a pandemic is also different than usual.

First, you’ll want to be very careful about the roommates you choose, if you plan to live with others. Do your best to find people who take the coronavirus seriously and follow safety practices, like social distancing. Otherwise, no matter how carefully you move, you’ll only face more risks in your new home.

You should also take care to avoid rental scams, which take your money as a deposit for a home that’s not actually available. These are more prevalent now than ever. Scammers prey on people who are distracted, stressed, and short on cash by offering too-good-to-be-true deals.

Be extra vigilant when renting from individuals, as opposed to an established apartment complex. If anything seems odd or suspicious, look elsewhere. Read the reviews of any apartment buildings you’re looking at, and be wary of large complexes with no online reviews at all. Ask for a virtual tour of the space, and avoid sending any money until you’ve signed a lease.

It might take longer than usual to find a home you feel comfortable renting, so start your search early. If you’re moving to an unfamiliar city, research neighborhoods online and ask questions of anyone you know who does live there.

Lastly, if you’re moving for a job or school that might require you to attend in person, try to rent a place that will minimize your public-transit commute. For example, while I would be happy to take the bus to school during pandemic-free times, I chose an apartment within walking distance of my campus.

Plan to Get What You Need (Safely!)

A man taping moving boxes closed with a tape gun.
Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock

When packing, you’ll need stuff like boxes and packing tape. Then, once you arrive at your new home, you’ll need more stuff, like food, furniture, and new cleaning supplies. The less time you physically spend in a store, the safer you’ll be. Consider online delivery options for everything you need before and after you move.

For example, try to save boxes from old online orders for packing, so you don’t have to venture out to buy them as often. You can order other packing essentials, like tape, scissors, and markers, online. Speaking of tape, a tape gun is so much easier than peeling and cutting it by hand, so be sure to snag one of those.

Once you get to your destination, you won’t want to spend hours scouring local stores for what you need. Luckily, everything from groceries to mattresses can easily be bought online. Use the internet to outfit your new apartment as much as possible. Measure your spaces and check the dimensions of large items online to make sure they’ll fit before you order them.

Consider waiting a day or two before unpacking any new deliveries. This allows any viruses that might be on the boxes time to die off. The same goes for the boxes of your stuff the movers drop off. The bonus is you’ll save a lot of time by ordering things online, giving you more time to unpack and familiarize yourself with your new space.

Moving is complex and stressful at the best of times. Right now, it’s even more so. On the bright side, though, a new location can shake up this difficult year and give you a fresh perspective. While you shouldn’t move unless it’s necessary, these tips will make the process far more manageable so you can relax a bit and enjoy the journey.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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