Janie has Cholera, the Wagon Wheel broke but at least there are Buffalo!

A practical guide to moving to the west coast..

Maybe it was the infamous Oregon Trail game or my Dad’s undying love for the Beverly Hillbillies, but I’ve always aspired to travel west.

When I was seven years old, my parents planned a family vacation to Hawaii. Half of my dad’s extended family attended. It even involved me missing some school. This was no joke.

One of my greatest memories of this trip was spending three hours in San Fransisco, waiting in the airport! This is a taste of how much I loved the west coast. I was drawn to this place and there was nothing that was going to stop me from getting there at some point in my life. Nineteen years later, here I am!

This is the practical guide for anyone who is curious, interested or dead set on moving west.

But first, my California Trip Highlights!

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

OK, back to business, for you movers and shakers…

Answer one tough question.

Why do you want to move? The nude beaches, my new job, I’m running from my current life, I want to smoke pot legally. You’ll need something a more than, “Well, the weather is nice.”  These should not be reasons why you don’t like your current location. Be brutally honest with yourself for wanting to move 3,000+ miles. The more justified reasons you have to move, the easier it’s going to be. Answering this question and making the commitment to move is 80% of the game. The rest is a disciplined formality.


If you’re in your early twenties, you’re likely own or lease a car that serves as your primary mode of transportation. There are a few options you should consider for westward transportation.

1) Drive your car

This is what my roommate Pete and I decided on. I was able to fit everything I needed or really wanted in my car and I sold the rest (ie: bed, secondary guitars). My hatchback boasted 30 miles/gallon… not bad for a 4-cylinder foreign compact, with approximately 450 lbs of payload including myself. I planned for $450 in gas and tolls.

Don’t neglect oil changes and check ups before the trip! At the time, my car only had 80k miles and was in great running condition- I knew it could tackle the challenge of The Rockies.

Is your current car going to get you there? Ask your mechanic if you’re not sure. You’d be surprised what constitutes as an acceptable unit of vehicular travel. The engine and structure are what count, not appearance. And if it’s especially ugly, you’ve got a built-in theft deterrent.

If you own a vehicle that can tow, getting a small trailer is an option (for those of you that can’t part with your entourage of shoes). Check your owners manual. The hitch (connects the car to the trailer) I found priced around $150 new. The actual cargo trailer rental was about $350 through UHaul.

Another option is a roof box ($$$- Google this one) or a roof bag ($140- price is approximate). They’re both practical options for extra space and they’re waterproof.

My friends Candice & Enzo just drove cross-country through rain and sleet with the Cross-Country roof bag. No problems reported. They recommend buying the 3 internal duffel bags for $35. Note that you’ll probably want to empty out the roof bag each night, they’re not theft proof.

Pete mounted a roof rack for his road bike. The bike racks go for approximately $250 for the main chassis, depending on where you look. Each bike rail is an additional $100. Shop around for bike racks, but make sure they’re sturdy! Also, these are not theft proof. Plan on dismounting your swag daily or using a heavy-duty bike lock.

Pete's roof rack

2) Hire a moving company

My other roommate Dan chose this option. The service ended up costing $2,700 total, door to door. If that’s scary to you, skip this option. You’ll typically have the option to let the moving company do everything, provide boxes and pack the boxes, for a nominal fee. Dan provided and packed his own boxes. They picked up the 45 boxes at his home on the east coast and 15 days later, they were in our apartment on the west coast.

Maximum box size, rates and contingencies vary between companies. Shop around. Some contracts may state when your stuff will arrive, but if it’s not specified, be prepared for it to be a late. If you’re flying or driving, keep that in mind. Also, most companies do provide insurance for about 2% of the total declared value.

Dan’s words of wisdom:

“Shop around”

“Only take what you need

“Check the contract for ‘time of arrival’ ”

“Overestimate your number of boxes!”

3) Drive in the moving truck.

This is an option we considered. The moving truck cost would’ve been split between Pete and I, but we couldn’t justify the cost of gas for the truck, $10/gallon. The idea being we’d put all our stuff in the truck, tow one car and drive the other car. If we were taking furniture, this might have been ideal. But we wanted to make this a killer road trip and the thought of driving a gas guzzler over the Rockies was not inviting. Bed, meet Craigslist. Hello California Ikea.

My best advice would be to pack light. It’s much easier to sell your stuff on the east coast and buy new stuff on the west coast. Also, buying new stuff is awesome.

4) Take the Bus or Train

These are options I’m not familiar with, albeit they seem great if you don’t like to drive. It’s likely to be more expensive than the above options.

The Bus

The Train

5) Walk

You think I’m kidding…

Housing along the way

1) Motel/Hotel

This is the nicest and most expensive way to sleep. Most Motel 6′s offer rooms from $45-55 a night. You can find nicer hotels to frequent if that’s how you roll. If you’re going for cheap, skip this option.

It is nice to sleep in a comfortable bed to break up a nine day road trip. One way to save a few bucks is to register with the hotel as one person, especially if you’re traveling with two or three comrades. Sometimes the hotel will charge you more for each person sleeping in a normal room. If you’re morally comfortable with that, go for it.

Keep in mind you’ll likely be buying dinner at a nearby food establishment. For a more fulfilling experience, ask the concierge for the best local watering hole. Don’t settle for Applebee’s. It will be worth the story.

2) Camping

This is a very affordable option. Most camp sites are $15-22 a night. Ask if they provide showers. At a minimum, they should have a simple public bathroom with sinks, an on-site fire pit and a table. The nicer camps have internet service, a public pool, jacuzzi, bar, lighting, lean-to structures, and showers.

I think there’s a line between deciding to “rough it” where certain utilities should not be easily accessible. But towards the end of the trip, I  gladly accepted Wi-Fi to update Facebook . My favorite camp site was KOA, based on it’s many amenities and reasonable price.

Camping in The Badlands was a favorite for me because of the scenery and pure magic of the place..

Camping in the Badlands

Hiking near the campsite

3) Hostels

Many people recommended this option, but we never followed through with this idea. I might try it on a future trip.. not much more I can tell you on this. Get feedback from someone who’s actually done it.

4) Couch Surfing

We looked into this and loved the concept.

Basically, fellow world travelers have created an online social network for people who want to crash on someone’s couch for a night. You can be a traveler seeking a couch or a stationary resident offering your couch. It’s not a dating service.

You have to sign up to become a member and create a profile; some the riff-raff are sorted out through this process. We didn’t sign up in time to make this a viable option for housing. My advice- start early! It takes a few weeks to make friends, build creditability and convince few kind souls you’re not a crazy person.

5) Sleep in or near your car

I do not recommend this. In some states it’s illegal to sleep within 150 feet from the road and dangerous, depending on your outdoors-man knowledge. Bears will smell your food and trash. Try it at your own risk. If you have a very comfortable vehicle and space to spread out, it may be bearable… yeah, I just made that joke.

Temporary Address

Most of the people I know that moved out west arranged some form of temporary living space prior to the move, until they found a job or an apartment. If you have a job, you’re ahead of the curve.

This person will likely help you acquaint yourself to the area and it’s likely a relative. Ask them if it’s OK to temporarily forward your snail mail to their address. Do this a day or two before you leave.

Location, Location, Location

I’d highly recommend looking for housing near your place of work, or where you’re likely to be working. Although, the cheaper apartments in Los Angles are in the San Fernando Valley or “The Valley”.

You can find affordable housing in most districts if you look hard enough. The undisputed apartment searching service is West Side Rentals. We found our apartment in 1.5 weeks. You’ll likely want to get a lease at the beginning of the following month so it’s good to sign up the first week of the month. This will give you all month of check out prospective living quarters.

Keep in mind that L.A. is a city and traffic sucks at the respective rush hours. Be aware that a 30 min skip-across-town could easily become a 60 minute Swashbuckler’s fiasco.

What’s your plan?

For the 9 day trip I allotted $450 for gas, tolls and national park fees, $200 for food & beer, $150 for shelter, $100 miscellaneous. Have money saved before you go; I’d recommend at least $10,000 in savings. Depending on your work  and housing situation in California, you can get away with having less savings, but I personally would not move without less than 6 months of wealth. Meaning if you had no income, you could survive for 6 months on your savings.

I cannot stress how important it is to stay focused on what you actually want to do, in life. Writing and reviewing your goals weekly is a great way to do this. Think back to the reasons you decided to move. Do they still hold truth for you? A little thinking could save you a lot of time and effort down the wrong road. Stay positive in your mission. Show your goals to a mentor that you trust. Ask them to hold you accountable to those goals. If it’s still not working, maybe you’ve got the wrong goals?

Lastly, have fun!! You only live once.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” -Helen Keller

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12 Responses

  1. bekah says:

    sigh…. i owe you an email… i’ve been putting off writing you back from your Fb msg to me forever ago.. sigh… we’re still here…. still haven’t been able to write my “how to move to LA” post yet…
    bekah´s last blog ..You better run… My ComLuv Profile

  2. Matt Fonda says:

    Hey Bekah! It’s all good, let me know if you guys need anything or have any questions.
    I’m diggin Dead Man’s Bones- it’s like Queens of the Stone Age (sans guitar) meets a young Johnny Cash. Creepy indeed.

  3. Ben says:

    Good post!

    However, I can’t say that I’m not disappointed that none of the advice I gave you over the 8 years I’ve known you ended up making it into this blog post….how sad.

    Also, a proofreader methinks you may need sir.

  4. michelle says:

    WOW! thanks for this! i’m moving cross country NEXT WEEK! and have planned zero. i’m leaving L.A. for N.Y. in a station wagon and was searching for rooftop cargo options and stumbled upon your blog.
    totally helped! ‘cept… how do you get rid of the “but i LOOOVE this town” jitters?! yikes. (“this town” being L.A.!)

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