What is it like to drive from So Cal to Wisconsin? Part One: Tips for Packing and Preparation

After looking at the prices of moving trucks and moving pods, my husband and I decided we would drive a Penske truck with my husband towing his car and me driving my own car behind him. It was an interesting little parade across the country, and I saved my notes-to-self along the way. If you ever have to move across the country, I hope these tips make your journey easier (and more entertaining).

Transportation-Preparation

Nothing ruins your peace of mind like a “Check Engine” light that comes on when you’re in the middle of a long drive. My “Check Tire Pressure” light came on about two hours into our drive to Wisconsin. I laughed because it was about the same place a “Check Tire Pressure” light came on in the rental car my husband and I drove from California to Wisconsin for our wedding. During that road trip, we found out later (when we actually bothered to check) the air pressure in one of the back tires was low. The indicator was telling the truth. However, I bought brand new tires before my cross-country move, so when the “Check Tire Pressure” light came on, I thought it might be lying to me. At the next gas station, I checked the tires and all of them were fine. But the light remained on. How annoying.

 

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5’1.5″ girl driving a 10’6″ truck… what could possibly go wrong?

 

If you’re renting a moving truck:

  • Make sure you know where everything is. The defrost button, windshield wipers, hazard lights, air conditioning/heater, seat belts, gas gauge, speedometer, the button to pop the gas tank cover, any USB or charging ports, radio buttons, CD player, and ESPECIALLY the cruise control buttons. Make sure you know how to operate the windshield wipers for both rain and dirt. You will collect a lot of bugs…

If you’re going to be driving your own vehicle:

  • It’s best to make sure you get a full checkup with your trusted mechanic beforehand. Have them check tires, air conditioning, all the fluids, windshield wipers, etc. My mechanic told me I had a couple hundred miles left on my front tires. However the drive from Huntington Beach, California to Pewaukee, Wisconsin is over 2,000 miles. So I bit the bullet and bought four new tires. That weekend I spent $700 getting my car ready for the move. If you didn’t already know this, I should point out that moving across the country is not cheap.

Packing a Rental Truck

If you do have a moving truck, make sure you put all your tall heavy stuff at risk of falling over on the left side of the truck interior. Since left turns are more open and more gradual than right turns, the momentum of a right turn will make your items shift or lean to the left. If your tall, heavy items are already leaning against the left wall, they will stay upright and sturdy.

That said, you want to make sure the whole load is balanced. If you put all your heavy furniture on the left and all your light boxes on the right, bad things will happen. I’m not sure what those things are, but I’ve been told it’s not good. The truck could flip over or you could get bad gas mileage…just don’t do it.

Stack wisely. Not only should the load be balanced left to right, you should balance front to back. In other words, don’t stack all your boxes to the ceiling against the back wall of the truck if you can’t maintain that height of a stack throughout the whole truck. All the stacks of boxes should be about the same height to make sure no tower has any room to fall over on top of another shorter tower.

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I consider myself a Tetris Master so packing was actually kind of fun. I was able to find boxes that fit on top of each other nicely without the bottom box being crushed. I was also able to make sure all my stacks of boxes fit snug against their neighboring stacks so there was very little room for movement.

While my Tetris skills are legendary in my own circles, they pale in comparison to those of my mom.  Where do you think I learned my Tetris skills? My mom was able to help me load the moving truck, which made the whole experience even more fun. Yes, really, loading the moving truck was fun for me. Having the two of us together was great because it was good to see her right before I left, and it was also good to build off of her Tetris skills (pun intended, as always).

 

Before You Leave

Before you go there are a few things you’ll want to stock up on.

I was wise enough to stock up on a bunch of snacks and a bunch of different energy drinks. In fact, I got one at least one energy drink for each of the 5 Levels of Fatigue. The way the 5 levels of Fatigue works, you want to have a drink with an amount of caffeine that matches exactly how tired you are. Don’t bring out the big guns when you’re tired because you’re dehydrated. Alternatively, you don’t want to use one of those weak sauce healthy energy drinks when you needed the big guns to keep you awake for the last few hours of your trip. [See GreenEyedGuide.com for more details.]

I’m also glad that I thought about bringing a big giant water bottle. All of the gas stations I went to were gracious enough to let me fill up my water bottle with the water from their soda fountains at no charge.

I also stocked up on gum, tissues, fruit snacks, Sour Skittles (which always help me make it another 20 minutes when I feel like my bladder is about to burst), and protein bars.

Since the drive was going to take a couple of days, I brought extra dog food and packed clean clothes, toiletries, my laptop, and chapstick in a backpack. I put the dog food and my backpack in my car where it would be easy to retrieve when we stopped for the night.

The one place where I messed up is in not downloading more podcasts to my phone beforehand. There was a stretch in Nebraska right when we crossed the Colorado Nebraska state line where I didn’t have any service so I couldn’t listen to Spotify. Fortunately, I still had these old-fashioned things called CDs in my car.

Comfort During the Drive

If you’re driving with your pet, make sure she is super comfortable, like a princess. When my husband and I drove from California to Utah, our poor little bulldog kept falling asleep sitting up because she was too uncomfortable to lie down. We kept pulling her legs out to force her to lie down but she would sit back up. We figured out she must have felt like she was going to fall forward in the crack between the back seat and the passenger seat back seat.

At the next gas station, we reorganized the back seat and made sure the crevice was filled so that her dog bed could sit level across the seat and the luggage in that crevice. As soon as we did that she laid down and slept like a rock for the next several hours. Make sure your animal is comfortable in whichever area you have them in for the long journey.

As soon as the pillows and blankets were in the car, Gjalla was on-board (pun intended)
As soon as the pillows and blankets were in the car, Gjalla was on-board (pun intended)

Also, make sure you are comfortable. Since bulldogs have short snouts, they overheat easily. My dog likes it cold so I had to keep the air conditioning for her during the long drive. Unfortunately, this meant I had to wear a jacket for most of the ride. I made sure I had plenty of water because sometimes the air conditioning makes my mouth dry. Don’t ever forget the chapstick.

Other items I kept handy during the drive were my chapstick, sunglasses, and a hat. There are times when it’s too cloudy to wear sunglasses but too sunny to wear no eye protection. Having both sunglasses and a baseball hat can be really helpful so you are prepared for all variations of sunlight.

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Brush up on your walkie-talkie jokes, Rodger

 

I bought a pair of walkie-talkies in preparation for the drive, and I am so happy I did. Having the walkie-talkies was really fun. Since there is a stretch of the drive where you may not have reception, the walkie-talkies are essential to making sure you can communicate when your cell phones don’t work. Since I was driving my car behind my husband in the Penske truck, the walkie-talkies were a fun way to make sure that we stayed connected — connected in the sense of knowing where each other was, and also connected in the sense that we could chat as if we were sitting in the same car.

 

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