I am an extreme planner. But I’ll admit that the task of planning a cross-country move during a pandemic with a suppressed immune system (and a sassy cat named Brünnhilde) was a daunting one.
It was a plan born of necessity; I have Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the intestinal tract, as well as psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis — conditions that are managed through a rigid medication schedule that suppresses my immune system, leaving me particularly vulnerable to all manner of infections.
Immunocompromised individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19 and can be sick longer once they are infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Which means I spent nearly 100 days sequestered in my apartment in Brooklyn this spring, leaving only to get the mail. After weeks of relying on the kindness of friends and delivery services, I decided to move to Kansas City to have more space to socially distance and to be closer to family.
I am far from the only person who has moved this year, but because I had to be particularly neurotic about it, I am sharing my reporting — based in part on reader questions — on how to navigate the experience safely.
Is it safe and ethical to hire movers?
In most states, moving companies are considered essential businesses and many have altered their procedures to minimize risk for their employees and clients.
But it’s best to call each company in advance and ask them about their new coronavirus protocols, because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to safety. In general, you should be looking for companies that require employees and customers to wear masks, that detail how they practice social distancing, and that can explain what steps they are taking to screen and protect their employees from becoming sick.
Get multiple quotes and compare them to the cost of renting a truck for yourself.
I chose to pack my own belongings and hire a moving company to do the heavy lifting. My movers wore masks throughout the process, and the company required that I have a hand-washing station available on both ends of the move. Everyone practiced social distancing.
Some readers asked if it is ethical to hire individuals using Craigslist or TaskRabbit, a platform that lets people pay freelancers for odd jobs and that recently introduced contactless services. Safety in both cases depends on talking to the individuals you hire before you hire them. Do what you can to minimize risks for all involved and make sure you tip generously.
What personal protective equipment should I wear on the road?
Disposable gloves are helpful for small transactions like getting gas. But really, just wear a mask, keep hand sanitizer close and wash your hands as frequently as possible. (And don’t touch your face!)
When it comes to sanitizing the surfaces around you (inside a car or moving van, say), you don’t need to go full Naomi Campbell. The CDC has said since March that contaminated surfaces are “not thought to be the main way” the coronavirus spreads.
Still, cleaning high-touch surfaces regularly is good practice. Make sure to follow the specific instructions for each cleaner you are using.
How do I find a new place to live?
Looking for a new apartment or house is a stressful and time-consuming process in normal times. And right now, you might not be able to see the property in person before committing to it. Doubly stressful!
Make a list of your must-haves for your new home. Ask friends, family and colleagues if they have neighborhood recommendations. Then use your digital sleuthing skills to learn about the area or properties and narrow your choices.
Use Google Street View to virtually tour the neighborhood. Find Facebook Groups or city-specific comment forums that put you in touch with — or give you insight into — the people who live there. Read online reviews of apartment complexes. I’ve also used location searches on Instagram to get a feel for certain apartment communities and their surrounding neighborhoods.
Regardless of whether you are working with a real-estate agent, landlord or a leasing agent, insist on taking a video tour of the specific property you are interested in. Ask detailed questions to help paint a clear picture of the property. Don’t rush — you’re making a major decision and should feel comfortable before signing a contract.
How do I donate or sell my clothing and furniture?
Many clothing and furniture donation sites either have temporarily closed or there are long lines to drop off goods. So I sold most of my furniture through my neighborhood Facebook group.
I cleaned each piece, arranged the pickup and asked that anyone coming to claim the items wear a mask. Advertising your free stuff on Craigslist can also work very well.
Is it safer to fly, drive or take the train?
Given that all travel choices include some risk of infection, the decision will most likely depend on the distance and cost. My move required a combination of flying and driving.
Other than the belongings that the movers were taking, I needed to haul a small jungle of plants and Brünnhilde home to Kansas City. So my father generously volunteered to fly to New York to help with the 19-hour drive.
My dad took the first flight of the day (in hopes of being on the cleanest plane), wore a mask throughout the journey and disinfected high-touch surfaces as he went. The flight had about 30 passengers on board. Upon arriving in New York, he picked up and disinfected a rental van. He stayed in a hotel in case he had picked up any germs from the flight and brought a separate set of clothes for the road trip.
For those who would travel by train, Amtrak says it is offering private rooms on some routes, limiting capacity to encourage distancing and changing its cleaning procedures.
Strong personal hygiene and mask wearing is necessary no matter your travel method.
Where to stop for food and gas if you’re driving
“Don’t go far, stay in your car,” Robert Sinclair Jr., a Northeast regional spokesman for AAA, told The Times.
Of course, you’ll need to take a break sometimes. Scenic overlooks are a great place to appreciate nature while stretching your legs. If you’re stopping at a truck stop or gas station, look for an option that seems less busy.
Sanitize your hands each time you leave the car. When pumping gas, Sinclair advised, sanitize your hands after you replace the pump and before you touch the car door handle. Disposable gloves work here, too.
Sanitize your credit card before and after you hand it to an attendant. Don’t forget to bring snacks for the road. And did we mention you should wear a mask?
Is it safer to stay in Airbnbs, hotels or at a campground?
Airbnb and many hotel chains have made changes to ensure extra cleanliness.
Marriott’s new standards include use of electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, and Hilton recently released a detailed explanation of how guest rooms and common areas are cleaned. (A room seal indicates no one has entered a bedroom since it was cleaned.) Airbnb has published a new cleaning guide for hosts based on current CDC guidelines.
As far as camping goes, which sites are open varies state by state. Check local listings.
Contactless booking and check-in options help ensure social distance. For my trip, we stayed one night in a hotel, using an electronic check-in that loaded the door key onto our phones. We didn’t see or speak to a soul.
What’s the best way to move with children?
My colleagues at Parenting have written extensively about how to help children cope during the pandemic. Moving to a new home may make your child feel less safe, which they may manifest as misbehavior, complaining or crying.
Establishing some systems and routines before, during and after a move can help kids — and parents — better handle the situation.
What’s the best way to move with a pet?
Many airlines require a pet-specific ticket, so make sure to call ahead to book one if you fly. Your pet will have to come out of the carrier when going through airport security, but you can request a private security screening for you and your animal if you’re worried about a Great Escape. If you’re driving, call any hotel or places you may stay to confirm they are pet-friendly — this usually comes with an additional fee.
Consult your vet about any documents you may need. Your veterinarian may recommend a mild sedative to help your pet have a smoother journey. (Brünnhilde is a pretty chill lady, but she does benefit from calming cat pheromone spray to help soothe her travel anxiety.)
Don’t forget to pack food, a water bowl and any other supplies they need.
Other advice for those with chronic illnesses
When talking to people during the moving process, I found that being upfront about my compromised immune system was a quick way to make clear why I was asking about hygiene and accommodations.
I also tried to schedule my moving dates around my medication schedule to minimize side effects and stress. I suggest working in advance with your medical team and insurance provider to refill any prescriptions, and to find new doctors if you’re moving to a new city. (And of course, don’t forget to take medications with you.)
Living through a pandemic is exhausting, and even more so if you are navigating these times with a chronic illness or other vulnerability. Don’t forget to take breaks and be kind to yourself.
Enjoy the journey
You’re entering a new chapter of your life. Don’t forget to enjoy it. The American countryside is beautiful. Look out the window and take it in.