How to Move During a Pandemic

by Ari & Vanessa

Moving is always stressful. Moving during a pandemic? Extremely stressful. Lucky for you, we (Ari and Vanessa) both just moved, and we lived to tell the tale. We took our own personal experiences, a bunch of generously shared advice from Autostraddle readers who have also moved over the past six months, and put together a guide to help you through this particularly fraught pandemic task. We’ll get into the nitty-gritty details in a minute, but before we dive in, we wanted to emphasize these overarching helpful tips.

  1. Wear a mask.
  2. Be more organized and pro-planning than you ever thought possible.
  3. Be as honest as possible with your landlord/rental company about the situation you’re in.
  4. Focus on your own safety and precautions, yes, but remember that your move is going to expose other people to you and your germs, and you need to be proactive about protecting them from your germs, too.
  5. Be kind. We’re living through a pandemic – everything is taking so much longer because folks are getting used to an impossible reality. Your organization and planning will help a lot with this step because if you’re not doing something at the last minute or feeling very anxious you can be more patient, but even if you do get stressed or overwhelmed, try to remain kind.

If you’re feeling really overwhelmed and need help conceptualizing what a successful move would look like without a pandemic, we encourage you to start with this helpful guide written by Rachel in the Before Times: Moving 101: From Point A to Point B With Minimal Crying. Once you’re done reading that, come back here and join us for our Pandemic Moving 101 Journey!

We believe in you, you’re gonna do this! Here’s how.


What To Do Before The Day of Your Move

Like we said in the intro, you’re going to want to be more organized than you ever thought possible during this move. Here are some things you might want to be thinking about – this is just a starting point, so if you think of more organizational elements that will help your specific move, add them, too. And don’t be shy about actually writing everything down – that will help you keep track and not forget anything.

  • Where will you get your boxes? (Friends? Home delivery from a big box store? Curbside pickup from U-Haul? The post office? The grocery store?)
  • What supplies do you need to gather, and will you be purchasing online or going into the store? (Whichever you decide make sure you’re not taking a million small trips – you’ll want to limit your exposure to others as much as possible because COVID does not care that you’re moving!)
  • Can you isolate yourself for 14 days before the actual move so you know you aren’t accidentally spreading asymptomatic COVID?
  • Can you isolate yourself for 14 days when you reach your destination (same reasoning)?
  • Can you form a small pod of people 4-6 weeks before your move so you don’t have to hire movers and can rely on your the folks in your “germ pod” to help you? (This point is especially crucial if you live alone and are moving solo!).
  • If you’re hiring movers, how many people should you hire to maximize efficiency and minimize exposure for you, your housemates, and the movers? (We have more advice for you if you decide to employ people with your move in the next section.)
  • What are the administrative tasks you need to take care of before your move to help you have a smooth landing, and also to allow yourself to quarantine properly for 14 full days if that’s something you’re otherwise able to do? (For example, file a change of address on the USPS site so your mail will be forwarded efficiently, let your doctor know well in advance that you’re moving and ask how they recommend you transfer your prescriptions, research the government services you’ll need access to – like the DMV – to see if they’re working and how their procedures have shifted due to the pandemic.)

Another way organization is key for your pre-move planning is the way you actually pack your belongings. Autostraddle reader Megan emailed us and shared this tip: “When packing, I tried to consolidate things into boxes and bins and tote bags as much as possible to minimize the number of surfaces being touched, i.e. distributing things in boxes by weight and not by room.” If you’re using a pod or a box to ship your belongings, consider what will need to be washed when you get to your new destination (anything that wasn’t in a box, like your pillows or sheets – I know that there is conflicting research about how long COVID can live on different surfaces, but tbh I think this is great advice even when not dealing with a pandemic so I’m including it!).

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Finally, the research is in: wear a mask. Wear a mask when you go to the store to buy all your moving supplies! Wear a mask if folks outside of your pod enter your home to help you move! Wear a mask while you’re sorting through boxes in front of your local liquor store! Wear a mask when you get on the airplane! MASKS: GET INTO THEM!

Choose How You Will Actually Move

There are so many options for how you can move, and there’s no best way. The primary thing, no matter how you move, is if you’re around people, wear your mask. WEAR YOUR MASK; DO NOT TAKE IT OFF. We’ve covered some of the basics here, but of course you may use some, none, or all of these! Do what works best for you!

If You Hire Movers, Tip Extremely Well and Respect Their Time

If you hire movers the biggest tips here are well, to tip, and stay out of their way. Movers are essential workers, and unlike grocery clerks, you’re able to tip them! And you should tip them! I understand if it’s unreasonable for you to be able to tip a full 100%, but if you’re a person of means, that’s exactly what you should aim for. And because these are essential workers, they’re seeing lots of people who are and aren’t taking this pandemic as seriously as they should be. So, help them out (and honestly, help yourself out), and stay out of their way. Okay, now that we’ve moved past basics, let’s talk about some other ways you can treat your helpers well.

Logistically, you want to check what safety measures the moving company is putting into place. Six months into the pandemic, most moving websites I’ve visited have very clear messages about how they’re sanitizing their trucks and materials. Regardless of how the company is handling cleanliness, you should provide hand sanitizer and a clean sink with soap and water for them to use. If you’ve got disposable masks, it’d also be really nice to offer those – when I moved, I went through twelve masks in one day. Having fresh, clean, masks available will make the process easier for everyone.

You also want to be sure to be very organized, more so than you’d usually be for a move! If you have the ability, think about moving everything into a central room so folks don’t have to go all throughout the house. Have your mattress already wrapped in plastic so strangers aren’t touching it, don’t use boxes that will fall apart or have difficulty closing. The main reason you want to be organized is, obviously, to respect the time of the movers. Folks are able to move fewer people than previously because of the sanitation measures they’re taking, so if you can turn your two hour move into an hour and a half, you’re offering them more time to rest and clean!

If Your Friends / Germ Pod Help You Move, Express (COVID-Cautious) Gratitude

If your friends help you move we offer much of the same advice as if you hire movers. One of the biggest differences to keep in mind is the usual “I can give you pizza and drinks after to say thank you!” You probably should not do this! Instead, think about sending their favorite meal to their home via your favorite delivery services. When I (Ari) moved into my new spot, the old tenant, a friend, left popsicles in the freezer, and those were amazing treats to give folks on their way out as they headed back home. Be nice, send thank you cards and don’t hug, as much as you want to!

How to Choose Between a Van, a Truck, and a Pod

Getting a van, truck, or pod might be the best option for you if you don’t have many friends with large vehicles, or want to do the move by yourself in your own time. If you’re getting a van or truck, see if the company has a contactless check-in system. U-Haul has one that requires a phone with GPS enabled, and will require you to take a picture of your ID as you sign in. No, you cannot use an old picture of your ID that you have on your phone, and yes, I know this from experience (which is to say: remember to bring your ID with you!). Pods are nice because similar to no-contact check in, you also can keep it at your home for long periods of time, and it’ll get sent to your new location! If you aren’t a strong driver and are moving a long distance (like Vanessa), we love the idea of a pod.

Be prepared to wait! Just like movers are sanitizing between moves, companies that provide moving trucks are doing the same, so your truck reserved for 8:30 might not be ready until 9:30, and you just have to be okay with that. Don’t be the person yelling at essential workers because you’re inconvenienced. We’re all dealing with inconveniences!

Finally, be okay with taking as long as you need. If you think you’ll need four hours, reserve the truck for seven, just in case. If you think the pod will arrive within one week of your arrival, pack a suitcase with enough underwear for two weeks, just in case. Keep your necessities close, and get comfortable waiting. Things are taking longer now, depending on where you are, it’s hot as hell, and the last thing you want to happen is to end up in the ER or urgent care because of exhaustion. Treat yourself gently, this is gonna be hard, it’s gonna be sweaty, and we aren’t used to having three layers of cloth covering our mouths and noses at all times.

How To Actually Move Yourself and Your Pets During The Pandemic

Depending on where you’re moving and how far away it is, your choice of how to physically take your body (and your pets!) from point A to point B will differ. I moved across the country and chose to fly instead of drive; Ari moved within their city and managed their move with a U-Haul van and a friend’s car (which said friend had to drive because Ari doesn’t drive). Regardless of your mode of transport, there are ways to take precautions to keep yourself and those around you as safe as possible.

Here’s What To Do If You’re Flying During The Pandemic

Research the airlines and see which companies are taking a strong stance on COVID safety. I flew JetBlue and they require masks on the plane and (as of July 2020) are not booking the middle seat at all. I also bought a face shield (to be worn as well as a mask, not instead of a mask!) and to be honest I loved it and will probably start wearing one at all times. Many airlines have consolidated their flight schedules because fewer people are traveling right now, so plan in advance to make sure you can book a flight on your desired date and also see if you can get a trip at a non-peak time.

Here’s What To Do If You’re Taking The Train During The Pandemic

Full disclosure, neither Ari nor I have moved via train (ever!) and none of the readers who wrote to us have either, but I’d imagine the tips for flying are relevant if this is your preferred mode of transport.

Here’s What To Do If You’re Driving Long Distance During The Pandemic

I really want to stress that we should be thinking about the overall health and safety of everyone throughout this pandemic, not just of ourselves. I’ve seen a lot of entitlement surrounding “getting outdoors” or “going into nature” or “driving so I’m safe” on social media, and I want to stress that we are still in a pandemic and now is really not the time for a fun road trip.

If you need to drive to get from point A to point B that’s cool, but I personally do not support stopping at a bunch of national parks or extending your trip any longer than you have to. The longer you’re on the road the more likely you’ll be interacting with individuals in small towns who did not consent to being exposed to your germs, and I think the goal should be to make the lightest footprint possible.

Autostraddle reader Emily suggested sleeping in your car if you’re able to; camping is another great option, though if you stay in hotels or other rentals be mindful of the workers who are going to have to sanitize after you and take care to clean up after yourself. Try to limit how often you’ll be entering grocery stores (I would…not stop at restaurants) – musician and longtime Autostraddle pal Mal Blum recommends packing protein-heavy snacks so that you won’t have to stop for food so often. I know it’s not fun to survive for a few days on Cliff Bars and beef jerky, but again, this isn’t really about having a fun road trip. It’s about moving during a pandemic and being mindful of the health and safety of those you encounter along the way.

Here’s How To Move Your Pets During The Pandemic

Give yourself extra time and grace when you’re moving with pets. Take out your carriers earlier than usual, if putting them in carriers is your want. Use pheromones in the weeks leading up, because seeing you stressed out and masked is not going to make your pets feel any happier or safer (trust me, this is from experience). If your pets really struggle with travel, think about talking to your vet about a sedative (if you’re flying, you’ll need to make sure your airline doesn’t have any rules against sedatives…although…how could they check?). In the most ideal world, you’ll either move your pets before everything else is moved (I, Ari, moved my cats to my new spot the night before my Big Move, slept there and fed them in the morning, and then locked them into the bedroom), or very last thing. If you can help it, I would not move pets, especially cats (what I know best), into your new place while everything else is happening. It’s just not gonna be fun.

You Made It Through Your Pandemic Move, Now What? Quarantine!

Yay! You made it to your new place! I’m so happy! Please go take a nap, I’m sure you’re tired. Once you’ve woken up from your nap, think about how you will keep yourself and your new neighbors and community members safe in the upcoming fourteen days. If possible quarantine strictly before and after — that’s 14 days of no-contact with other humans! We understand that’s not possible for everyone but if it is, go for it. Are you living alone? Many utilities aren’t requiring someone to show up at your place anymore to turn them on, call them to see if they’ll provide you with a self-installation kit. Need groceries? Count on your housemates, if they’re able to help, or if you’re alone, feel comfortable using Instacart or Shipt or whatever delivery service is available near you. The folks shopping for you already live in the community and won’t be introducing new germs into the environment, so it’s probably safer for them to go shopping than you.

If you live with housemates, have a pandemic protocol meeting with your housemates. If you can do so beforehand, do so; it’s nice to know how people are navigating the pandemic before you move in with them. Even if you do have one beforehand, it also might be nice to have one once you get there as well. Being on the same page matters! You don’t want to be surprised by a “socially distant hang out” on your first night there.


We’re so happy you’re moving somewhere new, and we hope that your new home provides you with safety and happiness! Because of this pandemic, moving is going to be hard, but you can do it! Keep these tips in mind, and everything should work out fine! We love you! Be safe!! WEAR A MASK!!!!!

Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 322 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. i, too, just moved and i would like to add that it is likely that very little or maybe even nothing at all will go as planned during your pandemic move, especially if it is a cross-country move as mine was. i had my campsites and moving truck booked and then – surprise! – needed to change the dates on everything to accommodate quarantining. i used to live in colorado but went to stay with my parents in march in new york so all my stuff was still in colorado, and i very carefully planned out the three days i was going to spend there moving my storage unit into a rental truck, doing maintenance on my car, etc etc and literally not. one. thing. went as planned for those entire three days. it’s comical to look back on but i sure wasn’t laughing at the time! so my advice is to pad your time to allow for things to go wrong with hopefully minimal disruption to the grand plan and make sure you are as rested, hydrated, and fed as possible so when things do inevitably change, you’re resourced enough to roll with it the best you can!

  2. This is great advice! For long-distance drivers, I’d encourage keeping “what will allow me to be a safe driver?” as a part of your overall ethic of reducing the risks you’re putting on yourself and others. For some people, sleeping in your car or camping might be the best answer; if you know that it will keep you from getting any sleep or will exacerbate a health concern, finding a hotel with strong safety protections for staff and learning how you can reduce their risk as much as possible might be better.

    Similarly, planning enough overnight stops that you have the time to stop for phone calls, texts, playlist customization, stretching, mental breaks, snacks, etc. = safer driving = a lower risk of putting yourself or a stranger in a strange hospital or in a tow truck, garage, etc., mid-pandemic. The marathon drive feels really appealing and low-contact, but driving awake and alert can’t be overrated as a community care measure!

  3. I’m in the process of moving from Atlanta to Denver in early September, and one of the things I realized I had to figure out ASAP was voting!! Check out the residency/voter requirements and deadlines in your new state and see if you’ll be able to vote in your new state, whether by mail or early, or if you should request an absentee ballot in your old state.

    In my case, I’d be cutting it too close if I tried to register to vote in Colorado so I’ve decided to request an absentee ballot from Georgia as soon as I arrive in CO!!

  4. This is so thorough and awesome! I just moved out of state myself (partner is an essential worker, move was non-negotiable at this time) so I will share a bit just in case it’s helpful to anyone else…

    -Unfortunately, some of our movers wore masks and some didn’t. We did have hand sanitizer, extra masks, etc, available, but it truly turned out to be a toss up on whether or not they wore them. Perhaps others can chime in with advice on how to handle this in a more assertive way, but I just kept my mask on and stayed out of the way.

    -We rented a Uhaul to drive ourselves and our stuff, and while we registered for a contactless pick-up, we ended up having to go into the store anyway, which is not a big deal in itself, but in terms of avoiding people, keep in mind contactless stuff doesn’t always work (app issues, or so on), so have your masks and whatnot ready.

    -We moved cats! We did a vet check-up and got medication to give them for the move. I cannot recommend this enough (and make sure you get enough to give them a trial dose before the move, to make sure they react well to it)

    -Some of our utilites were able to turn on without someone coming by, and some weren’t. Again, the masks here ended up being a toss up.

    I hope that doesn’t freak anyone out, but I just want to share my experience in things not going perfectly… We still made it!

  5. I too just moved across the country and I second all of these tips.

    One thing I failed to consider was supply chain disruptions. I didn’t have any furniture worth the cost of moving it 2k+ miles, so showed up with basically no stuff. Finding places where I could buy a mattress or a couch and get it in less than a month was much trickier than I anticipated. I did manage to cobble together enough that I’m not sleeping on the floor, but in hindsight I would have started that process well before I left.

  6. Currently in my new kingdom of boxes, so my advice:

    You may not be able to get used boxes from stores, depending on their policies. The only place that was willing to risk it was a dollarstore because the owner didn’t think it was a big deal.

    Every company I needed to call to change details and get services connected had their employees working from home. The sound quality was terrible, and if they need to ask a superior it takes much longer. Be prepared for it to suck more than normal.

    Your mask is gonna get real gross and damp on moving day. Have spares on hand.

    Even if you’re able to physically move stuff at the same pace, you’ll be slowed down by having to sanitize every time you need to take a drink. And you’re probably not drinking often enough, so make sure you do make yourself stop to eat and drink – having to remove your mask each time makes it easy to keep putting off.

    Download a picture to PDF app. My realtors didn’t want anyone coming in to the office, but still needed me to provide documents and sign and send things back, which is real challenging with your tech all in boxes and the internet not yet connected

  7. I just moved, and can confirm that the article and the comments have great tips!
    I’d also add:
    -if you’re renting and not doing in-person walk through appointments, take lots and lots of pictures before moving in and after moving out.
    -if you’re driving a long way, think about your bathroom stops well in advance. For my trip, rest stops were normally the cleanest option, but I was caught off guard by some welcome centers being closed.

  8. Thank you Ari and fellow commenters for all the advice. I am preparing for a move from Colorado back to Michigan for work, and I’m nervous about it (let alone about the prospect of hybrid teaching…). There’s a lot on this list I’ve thought about, but a lot that I hadn’t!

    I appreciate miskate’s suggestion to include “what will allow me to be a safe drive” as part of the overall ethic of safety, since I feel conflicted about accepting my mom’s help with the move. It will bring one more person across state lines, and she will have to fly back, but on the other hand I just could not do it by myself! My knee gets sore after just an hour or two of driving, so this trip would take much longer and be painful if I tried to do it alone, and then I’d probably have to hire movers to help with furniture… There are a lot of trade-offs and nerve-wracking aspects about this move, but overall I’m trying to stay hopeful about getting to point B and settling in there.

  9. I found myself in a situation where people I’m staying with have decided to sell their house and buy something out-right across the country and I am trying to stay in California where I’m at so that kind of complicates things. Trying to find a place to crash, with people I know, until I find something else is stressful. Really appreciate these tips.

  10. I just moved about two weeks ago, and can vouch for this advice (including the stuff I wish I’d known!) I especially want to emphasize having extra masks on hand on moving day, especially if it’s hot out. It was super muggy on my moving day and my mask got really gross and significantly less effective over the course of the day.

    If you’re moving a cat, I highly recommend getting sedatives from the vet and doing a test run in advance! One thing: make sure to have extra yummy food on hand if you need to trick/coax your kitty, and have a backup plan. My guy is usually pretty chill about taking meds with food but he HATED the gabapentin I tried to mix with his wet food and later with tuna and it took much longer than planned for him to take it. It was my #1 source of stress in the mornings of both move days and I wish I’d planned for it.

    Also! If you’re moving your own stuff don’t forget to take snack and drink breaks!!

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