10 Things I Learned From Driving A Moving Trailer Cross-Country

The world is a big place and sometimes you need to move to a different place than the one from which you started to pursue the life you want. With recently finishing a home renovation, it was time to put some furniture in the place, so I took an extended Thanksgiving holiday and hauled a truck full of stuff and a car on a trailer from where I grew up to my new home. If you want to move yourself, here’s a few things I learned that might be able to help.

1. Shop around for the best deal

U-Haul’s vans have a few more pimp options than other companies, but that is really things that don’t matter too much, like lower deck height and over-the-cab storage. They are, however, much pricier. I went with Budget Truck and got my van and trailer for half the price with unlimited mileage, which was nice as I took the extra days my thousand-mile journey mandated (I did it in 1.5 days, but they insisted I take it for 5 days) and did a bonus run from Grandma’s of some other stuff.

2. Get just enough truck

Too small a truck means you cannot pack everything. Too large a truck means worse fuel mileage, but, more importantly, the bigger the truck is, the worse it will drive, and the bigger spaces it will require to turn, park, and fit through. I took a 16-foot truck, put a lawn mower, a canoe, 5 bookshelves, three cabinets, a giant office desk, a TV, a couple carburetors and a stuffed deer head in it and nothing was stacked, meaning that there was floor for everything. Going 3D with height is how you use space; you don’t need a 24-footer unless you are moving a whole house.

3. Skip Diesel

I know, diesels are awesome. They are; but their fuel is not everywhere, and these vans are not semis. The van I drove was a newer GMC van conversion with about 120k on the clock, and it had enough power and brakes to do the job. Gasoline engines will do it for you, just make sure that the vehicle is not tired out already.

Going through the hills of northern Alabama required us to pick up speed on the downhills to avoid having to drop into second gear and 40 mph at the top of the uphills; we didn’t want to do that after smelling some oil burning the first time it happened, and this van was still pretty new.

4. Check on that trailer

I hauled an old Ford van up for a restoration project, and it was fairly heavy. Check the brakes, the tire pressure, the lights, the safety chains and the hitch, everything. If you don’t know how to hook it up, ask the company employees at your rental place, and look up things on the internet. These trailers get a LOT of use, and some abuse, and they can and will fail.

5. Load carefully

Load the moving truck in such a way that your items will not shift or fall over during the ride. Bias your thinking towards braking; you can control how fast you take off, and how hard you take turns, but you might have to lock that big rig up to avoid running over some illegal in a shitbox that just cut you off, so make sure stuff won’t go forward. There are rails on the sides screwed to the ribs of the truck that make great anchor points to tie back to and loop around the load so the rope is already pulled taut.

I made big use of saran-wrap style mover’s wrap; my stuff was from Walmart. It’s a bitch to do, but, between that and some old sheets, I didn’t get anything dinged. Don’t kill yourself loading; these vans have a loading ramp that pulls out that you should use, but you should definitely get help (I bribed my brother), and take breaks as often as you need. Lift properly, and take as much time as you need, because it’s better to be slightly late than injured and really late.

6. Put the car on the trailer carefully and correctly

This van is a fairly normal sized vehicle, but it was at the max width of the ramps and just a little shy of the max of the trailer, so we lined it up really carefully, got it on, and left it there until the trip was done. Remember the primary rule of trailering; you need the load in front of the axles, not on them or behind. That means “engine forward.”

Although the trailer guide said we would have one with multiple chains, we got one with two latticed webbed nylon straps on winches for the front tires, and safety chains for the front and rear of the frame. We did bring extra straps, but didn’t end up using them, other than a small bright spot where a chain rubbed on a bump and the suspension bounced, there was no effect on the vehicle.

7. Check everything a lot

This trailer failed, but were the safety cables even hooked up?

Towing gurus say to check things in an increasing increment. Go to the end of your road, check everything. Go a few miles, check again. Go 20 or so, check again, then check each time you stop thereafter.

You want to check the straps and chains holding the vehicle down for tension and problems. If the car has not moved, that’s a good sign; mine did not move other than my straps got some slack in the rain during the overnight, and I ratcheted them down two clicks in the AM. Check tire condition and pressure. We rubbed a tire on a curb and gouged it while parking at an overnight hotel. I saw it, called the fleet service Budget contracted, and had a guy come replace the tire in the hotel lot the next morning. No muss, no fuss, but I saw that tire at night in a storm, and was able to maintain schedule because of proper vigilance, even though they may still try to give me the butt-sex on an extra bill here soon, I suspect.

Check your lights on the tow vehicle and the trailer. My running lights on the trailer did not work, and, although it was a very easy fix (the moving van uses spring clips to hold the pigtail’s connections in; just adjust the clip), we could have been running without running lights. Fire it up, get your moving buddy to stand back there, check brakes, hazards, turn signals, and running lights.

8. Drive Carefully

Don’t be this guy.

My moving van with a medium load and a heavy trailer and payload drove like a pig. Even though it was loaded properly, the combined 5500 lbs of the trailer made the van wallow a bit in steering, the brakes were functional but not impressive, and the merest suggestion of acceleration required at least one downshift. We cruised at 60, topped out at 65 a few times, and were the slowest thing on 7 interstates.

You can and will kill yourselves and others if you fuck up. These vans do not require commercial driver’s licenses, but they do require some sense. Leave plenty of room in front of you, take any corners really wide because of your trailer tracking inboard of you, and remember to slow down if in doubt, and never put yourself in a situation to have to back up.

9. Plan your route

Turn wide with a trailer

I GPSed the damn hotel and we still hit a tire on a curb. Know your route. Have your co-pilot have his map, and he should be telling you which lane to be in, and advising you about oncoming traffic to the right. Pack your lunches and coolers; the only time you should be getting off the road is to piss and stretch or get gas. Interstate rest stops are freebies; no traffic lights, no turns, and you can park in giant, pull through, semi truck spaces.

Truck stops are also awesome. You don’t need to use the semi-truck diesel side, but the car-gasoline pumps are usually laid out better as the places are bigger, plus they have nicer bathrooms and usually have fast food joints attached. Look for gas stations on the right of your route, and try to visually spot them before taking the exit so you ensure you will have easy turns and not much of a detour, respectively.

10. Pace yourself

It’s dangerous to drive at night or in inclement weather or when you are overly tired in a big vehicle. Our first leg was 600 miles with a 5:30am start and a 8 pm stop with only stops for gas and bathrooms. The non-interstate portion slowed us down and rush hour in Birmingham is intense. We were tired, it was starting to rain, and it was hours after dark. Although we reaped the reward with more time to unload the next day, it was near the limit of what we should have done.

Make sure your insurance company covers moving vans or take the optional insurance.


Road trips with family and friends are always good, even though this vehicle was a pain. You can indeed move yourself for not much money, but it will be on your time, your back, and your gasoline. Everyone should drive a large vehicle, preferably towing something, at least once in their life to experience a whole new set of driving skills. I had done towing and moving before, but this was a good refresher. Be safe, slow down, and plan every turn way ahead of time.

Read More: 4 Tips To Make Moving To A New City A Lot Easier

59 thoughts on “10 Things I Learned From Driving A Moving Trailer Cross-Country”

  1. Driving my Jeep while towing Uhaul 6X12 filled to the brim with two apartments worth of shit through a blizzard, at night, was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Would not recommend. Every hill became an “oh shit” moment. Looking back on it makes me laugh now, but damn, that shit was not fun.

    1. Every high school kid needs a cheap 4×4 to play around in the mud or snow with. Spinning cookies, pulling the e-brake at 40 on ice is not just fun, it helps you know what to do when you are actually around traffic on ice.

      1. It’s such an important skill to learn. I was amazed when I lived in Colorado at how poorly people drove in snowy conditions. Probably because a lot of them are transplants from other cities. I was glad my father taught me how to drive on ice when I was young. You have to get a feel for it, and empty parking lots make for great practice.

        1. There are two types of bad drivers, those who keep going on like normal on the freeway, and then there are some who slow down to a creep. Combine them together, and that speed variation on a road is dangerous in any conditions. Just match the traffic and maximize your distance and you will be fine.

        2. Coloradoan, but a fairly recent transplant from south/central Texas.
          I’ve slipped on ice several times since I moved here, but it’s not that different from hydroplaning so I can work with it. There’s no excuse for natives failing to understand ice, though.

        3. Ah yes, the super speeders, especially guys in 4X4’s who think they’re invincible. It seemed like every time I went skiing I saw a pickup or an SUV flipped over on the side of the road. Hitting black ice at 70-80 MPH is a recipe for disaster. The creepers are a pain in the ass, especially in thick snow when the lines for the lanes are covered. Those idiots love to sit directly in the middle of the road, and they still somehow manage to fishtail.

        4. It really isn’t. When I lived there, I moved from Georgia, so I had plenty of experience with wet roads and some experience with snow and ice. People make fun of Atlanta whenever it snows 1″ and the city shuts down, but they don’t realize just how fast that shit freezes and the freeways become a hockey rink. I slid for nearly a quarter mile downhill when going to work one day. Luckily no one was in front of me because I had zero control.

        5. That’s how Dallas is, too. I always just let my buddy from up north drive me around during icy conditions – he had the right tires and plenty of experience.

    1. I have and still do this day, I have to stop and think about which way I am turning the wheel, which way the trailer will go, if I am going to jack knife it, etc. Ugh, stressing me out just thinking about it.

      1. Practice makes perfect lol I don’t even look back anymore just use the mirrors unless I have to make a really sharp turn backing up.

      1. Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !sx310c:
        On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
        ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash600WebFreshGetPay$97Hour ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★::::::!sx310c:….,…..

  2. Good stuff. Also, driving during graveyard hours avoids a lot of traffic, especially around the metropolis areas. If you are not accustomed to driving in snow-packed mountains, avoid the Rockies from October to May if you can. I have never seen so many dedication wreaths than in Montana, because so many people slipped off the side of a cliff due to black ice.

    1. Where possible, avoid taking long late drives through places like New Mexico. The unchanging scenery gets dangerously hypnotizing around 3a.

    2. Or rurally. MT along Hwy 2 from GFalls to Sidney is littered with those monuments likely from elk/deer.

  3. I love driving long distances, If I were single, I would give up my office job and hop in a truck. One thing you learn is how much is out there that you hop over in a plane.

    1. I take that back, I would prefer to work on my game. Truckers don’t have game. But for a MGTOW, it may not be a bad idea.

      1. Honestly, it has merit for kids fresh out of high school. Pop in some useful audiobooks or podcasts, ride around the country slowly detoxing from the blue pill indoctrination, and make decent money doing it.
        Bonus points if you’ve already been prescribed ADHD meds. Meth may no longer be legal for truckers, but I’ll bet medical meth still is.

        1. true, very few high school boys have game anyway. I am going to tell my boys to wait until 23 or so before college so their SMV is higher before they enter the pool.

        2. I think I may do the opposite when I have boys. Teach them game while young via example, encourage development of social skills through stories and practice, that sort of thing.
          But I’m yet young, and my game is always weaker than I would desire (this is how I improve – I’m never good enough in my own mind). Mayhaps this will change with time and experience.

        3. I started school at 22, prior to that I worked odd jobs traveled a bit and basically goofed off until I got to a point that I could decide a direction and then I did it.
          Committing yourself to that much debt is a dumb idea if you don’t know what you are doing.

        4. That was my reasoning when I headed off to college – I was going to be an engineer, and I was going to the school that offered me the most $$$ to do it. Now I make plenty of money without a lick of debt, because I thought it through.

        5. I hate to half-ass anything, so I applied myself all throughout my schooling. It seemed useless for a decade, but in high school it definitely paid off.
          Take a lesson, kids: learn to take pride in even meaningless shit work, and eventually it’ll pay major dividends.

        6. I’ve noticed that a fair portion of folks here are nerds who got tired of not getting puss and put their intellects to the test by trying to learn how.

  4. If hauling a trailer, balance your load so you aren’t putting too much or too little pressure on the hitch. I did 5500 miles over to two weeks moving to Alaska hauling a two-axle trailer. You hit one frost heave in the road and your suspension bounces up and down like a see saw for the next quarter mile.

  5. 11. Cancel U-Haul contract and book a cross-country shipper. Drive your own car, your only cargo being fragile items.
    I’ve done it both ways. It’s better to let the professionals do their jobs. They’re a lot better at loading and packing too.

  6. I was half-owner of a small moving business in L.A. when I was 20 years old. One day, my buddy and I had to move an antique chair across town. We already had a small load on the truck. My buddy forgot to tie a refrigerator down that was at the rear of the vehicle. He slammed on the brakes at a red light, and the antique chair was smashed to kindling wood.
    The moral of the story? Always tie down the big stuff, like refrigerators, and always put the big stuff toward the front of the trailer – not the rear…

  7. For all drivers, but especially with a trailer: embrace the speed-direction rule.
    If you force another driver to change his speed or direction, you run the risk of collision. This risk is usually minimal if the speed difference is minimal (say, if moving left increases speed by ~4mph), but that’s because it is easy to match speed before the other drivers have to change.
    In addition, if you cannot be consistently faster than the lane on your right on the highway, move right. Otherwise, you will almost certainly violate the speed-direction rule.

  8. Another important part of driving a load in a U-Haul, or any other type of truck – be really freaking careful whenever you change lanes. Especially when it comes to motorcycle traffic. Driving a car is easy; driving a large truck takes more experience, as it involves unique hazards. And decapitating a biker probably isn’t something you want to experience. Side-view mirrors will give you major blind spots when driving a large truck, and motorcycles can easily get lost within those blind spots.

  9. About the offered insurance, check your credit card bennies to see if they cover it gratis. Some of the middle tier and higher do. It’s pretty expensive otherwise.
    Also, if you drive the larger sizes, the first rule of reverse gear is Never. Never back up into a parking spot, never back out of one. If you need to use reverse, you have failed in at least one aspect of planning. I used to drive cube vans and bigger for work and the absolute worst part and most dangerous to everybody is reverse.

    1. I bet if more goofballls like that were tied to a post and given a good ass striping with a bullwhip they could get their mind right.

        1. Well….there some fuckedup people out there that get their jollys in strange ways. I think though that if they had to stand up to eat for about 6 months they would find something else to enjoy.
          I reckon we could put em in the stocks for a day or two……no, hell that wouldn’t work either because they would probably PAY MONEY for an experience like that, just throw em to the gators and be done with em.

        2. I can’t think of a better way for molesters to be remembered than by being gator turds.

        3. Also “environmentally friendly” so we could check that box and maybe even get some carbon credits

  10. Man, that Birmingham rush hour traffic is something else. I went through there about this time last year at 730am, it was much worse than I expected.
    I have been hauling things on trailers or wagons since I was tall enough to reach the pedals with about every kind of vehicle you can think of. You city boys have been missing out.
    I used to haul stuff around on a 56 Chevrolet 1.5 ton truck when I was 12 or 13 I thought I was the coolest kid around.


  12. Rember the height of these vehicles and where they can fit under. Drive throughs, hotel front awnings and especially older bridges, built for olden times, are things to watch for.
    My former boss had an employee destroy a rental truck under a low old bridge. The employee abandoned the truck under the bridge, packed up his shit in his apartment and cleared out of dodge never to be seen again.
    Boss found out from the rental place whom had been called by the cops..
    It was not covered by insurance…

  13. When I moved I used my dad’s van (who got it when my grandfather died). It’s fun to drive as it is a V6 (VROOOM!) and oftimes it makes pickup trucks dwarfs. I ended up getting it a few months later. It’s odd because it ended up returning to the house it came from, and when I first drove it I drove it like a pro…
    (pic of approximate model) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e04a412b06aa5bad562ca68a1257f5f0e689e57b84227871c13f280d9a2390e2.jpg

  14. Get one of those moving storage containers dropped and shipped, ship your car, and fly to your new place. You’re welcome.

  15. A couple years ago I needed a small U-Haul van for some around town moving. They require an apartment lease (among other i.d.) before they’ll let you rent one of their vehicles. I told them I have a house, not an apartment, so I don’t have an apartment lease. The manager would not let me rent a van.

  16. So in other words learned nothing. Take cloths, cash, gold, electronics. Fuck paying more for a truck then the shit load into is worth. Just sale off nice furniture and appliances before leave…any amount is better then truck / packing supplies / time and labor. Really if moving to a new life, why drag old shit with…new better stuff will replace.

  17. If you are hauling a lot, I disagree with #3.
    I had to climb the Rockies in a shitty gas truck towing a car – driving 30 mph with my foot on the floor for hours in August with the heat on because the motor was overheating was no fun.

  18. I recently relocated but decided to get rid of most my belongings instead of the cost of moving. Was able to give most of it to my son though. There is always a tradeoff.
    Otherwise good essay. Learn to backup a trailer if you attempt this but definitely consider the total cost including hotels, your time, storage, etc.
    Having done a couple cross-country moves my opinion is hire a moving company or get rid of your crap.

  19. First figure out if it worth actually moving your stuff and what stuff is worth taking. Seriously in this age of consumerism it is usually just as expensive to buy new stuff then move it, especially big stuff like furniture.
    I moved one time, to a new metro area, and had some nicer furniture. After doing some measuring of my new place figured most of it would fit so paid the large chunk of my relocation money to have it moved by professionals. Well it got dinged up from the move and low and behold about 1/4 of it just didn’t fit right. Ended up selling it piece by piece for pennies on the dollar. I should have just bundled each room and sold it off before moving it then applied that toward new furniture. I nearly smacked myself in the forehead when I walked into a discount furniture store and figured out in my head that I could have just re-purchased pieces that were about 80% as nice for what it cost me in hassle and money to move the old stuff.
    Also, seriously, the moving industry is a scam. All those moving companies are really just front operations. They all use the same labor pool and rented equipment. They all talk to each other and know who is seeking multiple quotes. Get three quotes and you will get the “real” quote that should be pretty affordable. Also do your numbers before going the DIY approach. Once you add up the truck, insurance, tools, boxes, hassle, bugging your friends, time, etc. it tends to work out better just to get the pros. You might be paying a slight premium but not much of one. Plus if the pros break something they have insurance. Try getting your friend Dan to reimburse you for what used to be the really nice mirror that is now broken.
    And here is a tip, something I wish I would have figured out years ago. Most people who move and moving due to work. Factor that in as a few weeks off between jobs, ask for relocation assistance (which if moving more than 50 miles most companies will pay), and pay to not only have your stuff professional moved but also packed and unpacked. Then go on an f’ing vacation. Of course you need to have the money but if you do then DO THIS. Moving already sucks enough. Leave your old place and come back to your new place. Recently did this and it was the best move of my life.

Comments are closed.