Tips for Short-Distance Moves: Your Guide To Moving Locally

Not every move is a coast-to-coast journey. Sometimes you only need to move across town, or to the next town over.

Still, local moves of 50 miles or less can require a lot of work, too.

From budgeting and scheduling to deciding whether you’ll use a full-service mover like American Van Lines — one of our top picks for best moving companies — or rent a truck from Budget Truck Rental — one of the cheapest moving truck rentals on the market  — there are a lot of decisions to make to get to your new home.

In this post, you’ll find helpful tips to make your short-distance move swift, efficient, and affordable. To stay organized and on schedule, be sure to also check out our moving checklist

The best short-distance movers

Based on our own research and the experiences of our reviewers, the following are some of the best companies to consider for your short-distance move:

What’s a short-distance move?

While not a hard-and-fast rule, a short-distance move is generally any move where the distance between your old and new residences is 50 miles or less and you’re not crossing state lines.

For these local moves, you can work with:

  • Professional moving companies: Though not the cheapest way to move locally, full-service moving companies handle all the packing, loading, assembly, disassembly, and driving for you.
  • Moving truck rental companies: You pack, load, and move everything yourself.
  • Moving containers: You load the container and the moving container company drives it to your new home. You can also use it as a storage unit until you are able to move in.
  • Tow-behind trailers: You hitch up the trailer, load it, and drive it across town. Though cheaper than a rental truck, you need to have the proper know-how and a car with the capability to tow.

Basically, your options are wide open for a local move.

Short-distance vs. interstate moves

As noted previously, a local or short-distance move is generally considered to be any move that is 50 miles or less — with one exception. As soon as that move crosses state lines, it is considered an interstate move (even if it’s less than 50 miles).

Even for “short-distance” interstate moves, you need to work with properly licensed movers that have the designated authority to transport goods from one state to another. These moving companies are subject to more regulations than local movers, which means that the move itself is usually more expensive.

Of course, most interstate moves are much longer than 50 miles — and with the added distance and labor requirements, you can expect costs to go up significantly compared to a short-distance move.

Is it worth hiring movers for a short-distance move?

Yes, sometimes it makes sense to hire movers even when moving locally.

Moving across town may not seem daunting at first, but you may want to hire movers if any of the situations below apply to you.

1. You have a lot of heavy pieces of furniture

Do you have heavy items such as exercise equipment, a piano, sofas, and appliances? If so, you may find it worthwhile to hire movers to help you get these items sorted.

This is especially important if you don’t have friends or family members who can help or if you need to take these items up or down a flight of stairs. Doing the heavy lifting yourself can save money, but it carries high costs in terms of effort and skill. Moving heavy items yourself can lead to injuries or you may damage the item — making your move more expensive in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you have a lot of heavy items or specialty pieces like pool tables, hot tubs, or antiques like grandfather clocks.

Check out our picks for best antique moving companies

2. Time is of the essence

Are you relocating for work? You may have a limited time to move all your things before returning to the grind.

Movers are comfortable working within strict time limits, so consider calling a professional moving service to speed things along. The average short-distance move with the aid of pros takes between a few hours and a few days.

3. You have health or mobility issues

Hiring movers may be the way to go if you have a bad back, chronic health issues, or aren’t as young as you used to be.

Attempting to handle everything yourself will stretch out your move, put you at risk of an injury, and may interfere with work or other elements in your life.

Tips for handling a short-distance move

Many of the same principles you’d apply to a long-distance move will apply to a local move, as well. Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing for a short-distance move.

1. Plan as early as possible

The earlier you start planning your move, the more time you have to get it done. Avoid last-minute moves to keep the moving process stress-free — or at least less hectic.

We recommend planning your move at least three months in advance. Moving involves coordinating several moving parts — pun intended. You’ll want to consider downsizing, decluttering, and clearing out your closets to make moving day easier. Plus, packing up and labeling your boxes can take longer than you may think.

Planning three months ahead will give you plenty of time to sell or donate unwanted items and find the best short-distance movers or best companies for small moves.

Our moving cost calculator is a great way to get a free quote and a general idea of how much everything will cost.

2. Downsize and reduce clutter

The longer you live in one space, the more time you have to build up clutter.

Do you have furniture you no longer need or clothes you never wear? Decluttering for a move might involve calling your local thrift shop or charitable organization and scheduling a pickup.

Donating unused items is environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and may give you a much-needed write-off at tax time.

3. Keep it simple

When you’re short on time and money, don’t try to be fancy with your move. As long as your items are packed properly, you can skip elaborate wrapping and bagging.

If your clothes are still on their hangers, consider tossing them into a heavy-duty trash bag. If you have a bunch of knick-knacks around the house (and they aren’t too fragile), pile them into a box and pad it out with newspaper.

4. Pair items logically when packing

Unpacking will be much faster when you pair related items together. For example, keep your bathroom items in the same box and your bedroom items in the same box, etc.

5. Label your boxes and bags clearly and accurately

Reduce confusion when it’s time to unpack by clearly labeling moving boxes. Label each box with a short description of what’s inside or what room it belongs to. Get some painter’s tape and a Sharpie so your labels don’t peel off during the move.

We don’t recommend writing directly on the boxes or bags so you can donate them back to a charitable organization or friend in need.

If you work with a full-service local moving company, they may offer packing services and packing supplies as part of their moving estimates. They can also securely pack up valuable and fragile items like marble tabletops and expensive artwork for peace of mind.

6. Pack a bag of essentials

Short-distance moves often see you loading everything up at your old place and unloading it at your new place all on the same day. This can leave you too exhausted to unpack everything — but you don’t want to be stuck without toiletries and other essentials!

Pack an “essentials bag” that you’ll keep with you during your move. This bag should contain items like toiletries, medication, changes of clothes, phone chargers, important documents, keys, your wallet, and cash. This way, these items will be readily accessible and you won’t have to go digging through boxes to find them.

7. Research your moving options

Give yourself time to research moving companies in your area. Whether you want to rent a moving truck, hire a full-service moving company, or use a moving container, get quotes from a few different companies so you can compare your options.

Of course, you should also check reviews, ask for referrals from friends or neighbors, and confirm that a moving company is properly licensed and insured. This will help you avoid any unpleasant surprises on moving day.

How to save money on short-distance moves

A short-distance move can be inexpensive if you’re resourceful.

We have a few ideas you can try if you’ll be moving on a tight budget.

1. Get cheap (or free) supplies from local businesses

You don’t need to break the bank trying to move. Instead of shelling out money for essentials such as moving boxes, tape, and bags, consider reaching out to businesses in your area.

Many local businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and retail stores have unwanted cardboard boxes and bags they don’t need. Many are happy to get rid of surplus and give you items for free, while others may charge a small fee. Make sure the boxes you get are free from holes or water damage so you don’t damage your items while moving.

You can also use storage bins, suitcases, or trash bags to pack items for a short-distance move without spending extra money.

2. Get family, friends, or co-workers to help

Reach out to your “network” if you can’t afford a professional short-distance moving company.

Getting help is generally easier on short-distance moves because it’s more convenient for those willing to lend a helping hand. 

Does that mean you shouldn’t provide compensation? Depending on who you’re working with, offering a little money or buying a coffee will go a long way in showing gratitude and getting people to want to come help.

3. Downsize 

The value of downsizing is worth repeating because it doesn’t just make moving day easier. It also makes it cheaper. The less stuff you have to move, the cheaper your move will be, regardless of whether you DIY or use full-service movers.

With fewer items, you can rent a smaller truck or moving container, which will cost less. And moving labor will go much faster, further lowering your expenses. Better yet, if you’re able to sell any of your unwanted items, you can use the proceeds to help cover your moving costs.

4. Don’t forget perishable food

Depending on the distance, moving locally means you might not have to throw away perishable food items. While these items shouldn’t be packed in a moving truck, you could use your own vehicle to transport them to your new place. Just be sure to keep them cool throughout their journey and put them in the fridge or freezer right away.

Not throwing away food means you’ll be able to save money on groceries, and you’ll have food that’s ready to use your first night in your new place.

The cheapest way to move a short distance

Even when moving a short distance, moving can be a hassle — not just in terms of how much work it requires, but also how it affects your budget. For many, finding the cheapest option for a short-distance move is a top priority.

Unsurprisingly, the cheapest way to move short distances is to do it yourself. Renting a moving truck for a local move typically costs between $130 and $200 for the day, depending on the size of the truck you rent and your total mileage. Getting family and friends to help you load and unload everything will be cheapest, but you can also hire moving labor if needed.

The next cheapest option is to rent a moving container. Renting PODS for a short-distance move will typically cost between $350 and $500. You’ll still be responsible for loading and unloading everything, but the moving container company will take care of transportation.

Working with a full-service moving company is the most expensive option. Many movers charge hourly for local moves, so your costs can really add up if you have a lot of stuff. For example, move costs in Phoenix will be about $1,500 to move a three-bedroom house with four movers.

Make the most of your move

Feeling ready for your short-distance move? Whether you choose to work with professional movers to limit the amount of effort on your part or choose a DIY move to save money, these short-distance moving tips will help you accomplish the task at hand. For more help on planning your move, check out our moving checklist, which breaks down the typical costs you can expect to encounter.

Be sure to use our moving cost calculator to compare quotes and get the best price for your needs. For a great moving experience, make sure to check the mover’s license and complaint history with the USDOT.

FAQs about short-distance moves

What is considered a short-distance move?

A move is considered a short-distance move if it is 50 miles or less and does not cross state lines.

How do you pack for moving a short distance?

While packing materials like boxes and padding are a must for fragile items, moving a short distance means you don’t always have to be as intense as you would with a long-distance move. 

For example, you could leave nicer clothes on the hanger and put other clothes in garbage bags to pack quickly. You can also use suitcases and storage bins to help pack your items instead of buying boxes.

What is considered a long-distance move?

A move is generally considered long-distance if it is 400 miles or more. 

What should I look for in a short-distance moving company?

When trying to find the best moving companies, start by asking for referrals from friends, neighbors, or family members. Our Better Moves Project includes first-hand moving experiences from customers but you can also check reviews on Yelp or Google. Check that movers are properly licensed and insured. 

Once you’ve found at least three short-distance moving companies that seem like good options, request quotes and compare against our moving cost calculator. Be sure to ask about potential add-on costs, and confirm whether you’re getting a binding estimate.

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