How To Pack Suitcases For A Cross-Country Move

Moving across the country is definitely stressful. Besides feeling the stress from pursuing a new life and moving your things to your new place, you’re probably worrying about how pricey it’s all going to be too. Trust me, I know. I actually just recently flew back to my new home state (Arizona) from my old state (New Jersey) and one of the reasons I traveled there is to finally move most of my stuff from the other side of the country, using suitcases.

My original plan was to ship my old car with my stuff in it but learning upon how expensive that was… I did it in a more efficient and affordable way. My best friend Leslie and her family held my car for 7 months (with all my items stuffed in there) before I sold my old 2001 Toyota Camry car to one of my best friends, the one whom I would live with for a month and 2 weeks while I was visiting New Jersey. I moved to Arizona by the very end of September 2018 and flying there with only one luggage because I was still undecided if I wanted to make a new life out there or go back to New Jersey.

My friend still let me use the car while I was out and about there, thank goodness. I only had one month and 2 weeks to go through the items that I left behind in NJ, which might seem like a lot of time, but if you have A LOT to shift through yet tried to make time for all your loved ones back home, it definitely added to the stress.

But, don’t fret. I found a better solution that my sister inspired me with: pack all your stuff into suitcases and make that cross-country move less expensive and worrisome. It might seem like a weird idea, but it’s not uncommon. It’s going to help you become a minimalist and it’s one way to get that move on.

Here are some of my useful tips to help you pack your suitcases (keep in mind — they most likely need to weigh 50 pounds and under) when you’re making the cross-country move:

1. Sort through your things. Let go of the sentimental meaning behind some items.

If you have your stuff all stocked away in the storage or somewhere like it, you’ve most likely accumulated a lot of things from your clothes, shoes, makeup, toiletries, organizers, furniture, and more. But, the question lies, do we really need all of them? There are some things you’ve kept aside but probably don’t use all the time or not at all. These are things you have to figure out. Separate the items you really want to keep (maybe you want to keep them all, but realistically, there are things you shouldn’t) to the ones you can get rid of.

I was quite devastated that I had to let go and give away my quality makeup mirror that I’ve had for over 5 years, shelf hanging closet that was really great, bed sheet set that reminded me of the time my cat would cuddle up with me on, and other things. These things though should not mean much in reality because materials like these are always replaceable.

The first step to feeling like you need to rid of things is to let go of the sentimental value you probably hold with them. It’s going to be really tough, but after a while, you’ll stop thinking of those items.

2. Throw out all unnecessary items.

The more things you own, the more you probably have knick-knacks (small worthless objects) stored away. These things can come from events or festivals giving you small items, little gifts passed down to you, and somehow, small things that landed on your lap. These are more likely unnecessary items and you might have held onto them thinking you’ll make use of them one day, but chances are you won’t. So, throw them out and make space for things you need to fit into your suitcases. Hold onto more valuable and useful items.

3. Keep the necessary and donate or sell them.

Are there things you feel are good quality but you know you no longer have a use for them or don’t think it’s worth flying out with you? Then donate them! Or sell them. It’s hard to say goodbye to some items as I mentioned before but if you know it’s not realistic to take with you as you’re flying or if it can even fit in your luggage, why not get rid of them?

I highly recommend using apps like LetGo, OfferUp, Mercari, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace to sell your items. For donating, I recommend The Salvation Army and Goodwill.

4. Make sure you have your large suitcases and a carry on ready for packing.

Obviously, you won’t be able to do any of this moving (or even follow this guide) without suitcases haha. It’s a fact that suitcases are PRICEY. A brand new small suitcase, carry-on size, can cost $40+ and a large suitcase can cost $70+. If you already have a suitcase, great. But, if you need more (it’s more likely you need more than one), try to ask family members or friends if they’re willing to donate or sell you one or a few for cheaper. You can also do it in the reverse way of tip #3: buy a used one.

I admit I’ve bought one of my suitcases from Goodwill because I wasn’t willing to shell out more for a new one. Keep in mind though that not all suitcases are 100% cleaned out and new. You need to double-check the suitcase you’re about to purchase has no signs of bed bugs at all and no matter where you buy your suitcase, spray some Lysol spray or any spray that kills bacteria all over it (inside, outside, in pockets).

5. Buy vacuum sealer bags — it’s a must!

Now, let’s get to the most efficient way to pack all your things inside your suitcases. I have always heard about vacuum sealer bags and my sister swears by them when it comes to packing with as many things as possible but to downsize the size those things will take up. With vacuum sealer bags, yes, you will actually stick a vacuum pump through them to suck up the air in these bags then zip them up. In result, it will tighten up the bags with all your items in it while really flattening them.

The best things these bags can seal up are clothes, but they can basically work for anything that isn’t over the top. The ones that I used are these Spacesaver ones. They’re so easy to use and great!

6. Roll up anything you need to try to fit in.

If there are things you do not want to put in vacuum sealer bags and still need to fit things such as your clothes into a suitcase (since you’re more likely going to leave good enough space for them there), try rolling them up, specifically using the military roll way. This is a good way to fill up those random spaces in the suitcase. I usually like to put the clothes that I’ve recently worn in there while I have vacuum sealed majority of them.

7. Try to section things together.

As I mentioned, there are some things you might not want to just throw into a vacuum sealer bag. A hack that I personally did for my move was to buy zip lock bags, the small sandwich bags and large slider ones. These are efficient for smaller items and things you just can’t seal into bags like your toiletries, office supplies you want to keep, jewelry, and much more.

Trust me, this is quite a hack if you do not want to have your random things flying all over your suitcases and organizing them into the same category they belong in will make it easier for you to pick them up and place them where you want to in your home.

I sometimes like to use my tote bags or purses and fill them up with pieces of items in it as a way to section them off.

8. Choose an airline that has good checked-in bag deals and read into policies.

Besides buying suitcases that can add up in $$$ and getting an airline ticket (if you did the one-way option as I did), checking in your suitcases can rack up in cost too. Most of the time you won’t get away with paying the price of checked-in luggage. There are however some good airlines that can help you get away from that.

If you’re lucky in packing your stuff in just two suitcases, I suggest Southwest Airlines, the airline I actually took for my move. Southwest Airlines allows your first two checked-in bags to be free and then any luggage after is $75 each (that’s where they get you). I had 4 suitcases in total to move over here, so I had to pay $150 for the last two. If you think about it though, a total of all 4 for that price would be the same if you were to take another airline and check-in all of them with a payment of $30+. Plus, the airfare wasn’t that bad and you can bring a carry-on and personal bag/item for free too. So, if you have two suitcases you just want to fly over, do Southwest Airlines!

I would also read into the airline’s policies of how much and what kind of things you can carry in a suitcase or in your carry-on. They must also fulfill the recommended sizes.

9. Don’t be tempted to buy anything else until you move.

I mean, why would you want to add more into your suitcases when you’re very limited with how much to fly over? I know it’s hard sometimes to NOT buy things when you’re visiting your home state such as if you find a cute decor in like a flea market and you think it would look super adorable in your new place. The smartest thing you can do is hold off on the idea of buying decor or necessary products when you fly over to your destination. You’ll thank yourself when you’re at the airport!

10. Weigh your suitcases!

As I said, most airlines only allow a certain amount of weight for your suitcases and the average from major airlines in the US is 50 pounds. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made (you can read my story here) was relying on a home bodyweight scale to measure the weight of them. A more accurate way to weigh them is specifically buying a luggage scale, which you attach right onto the handle of a suitcase, and they’re quite affordable too.

You can also weigh them right when you go into the airport and see a scale available outside the check-in lines, but even then it might be stressful because you have to figure out right there and then what to fit and what not to fit. It’s always a bit less stressful for this at home while doing your elimination process.

It’s going to be alright when you’re moving away to start a new life across the country even though the challenges there seem overwhelming. The first and most necessary thing when you decide to do this is, of course, packing it all away using suitcases. To move them in these suitcases across is affordable if you don’t own a car. You’ll more likely be forced to become this minimalist, but every aspect of moving is life-changing and it’s best to experience it now than never.


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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Having recently moved myself, I was nodding in agreement with each of the items on your list. Great list!

  2. The vacuum sealer bags are a genius idea for getting everything into your suitcase! I would have never thought of that. I’ll have to share that with my son who has some college friends that will be traveling home at the end of the semester after graduation.

    1. Right?! The vacuum sealer bags are by far the best invention for travel/packing. Thank you so much for later sharing it with your son and his friends! I know they’ll find it very useful.

  3. Although I’ve never moved across the country, I did move quite a few times. I was always amazed, how much unnecessary stuff you accumulate without realizing it. Great tips, especially on going through your stuff and getting rid of what you really don’t need.

    1. Yes, it blows my mind too when I see what things I’ve collected that should’ve not been. But thank goodness for moving to really put you in that position to realization. Thank you so much!

  4. Great tips! So many of them about letting go of unnecessary items are helpful whether you are moving far away or not. Great bonus tip on using vacuum bags!

    1. Thanks Sierra. Yes, it’s always good practice to sort out what you think is important or not. Vacuum bags are magical.

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