How to Move With Just a Car

How to Move in Just a Car

Most Americans accumulate lots of stuff as they grow older, raise families, and live in the same home for years and years. There’s no need to move, so why purge the junk until you need to? However, others might be moving from college residence halls, small “bachelor” apartments, or out of their parents’ house.

Some folks just value simple, uncluttered spaces.

When discussing how to move with just a car, it’s the latter groups we’ll focus on here.

To put it succinctly, once you have large furniture items you want to hold onto, moving with just a car is out of the picture. If you own little to no furniture, though, you can move whenever you want and at little cost. Plus, you’ll know your valued possessions will be ready at hand.

So this article is for you if you’re planning to drive solo or with just one other person (or a dog). It’s also for you if you’re in a position to pack all (or at least most) of your stuff into your car and head for the open road and the adventure you can expect.

Table of Contents

Tips for Moving in Your Car

Moving in your car is no walk in the park (or trip to the supermarket). Whether a hatchback, sedan, or SUV, a car has relatively little space compared to a moving truck. So you are sure to find it challenging to figure out which items can occupy which pockets of space.

And, of course, you don’t want anything to block your view of the road and surroundings.

Get Your Car Checked Out

First of all, before even considering using your car for moving, be sure to take it to an auto mechanic or dealer for a thorough inspection and assessment of its roadworthiness. The last thing you want is to have your fully-loaded car break down in some unfamiliar place.

Weed and Purge

People who rent moving trucks or hire professional movers want to get rid of their old junk to save money during the move and enjoy the spaciousness of their new residences. Those moving by car should be doing the exact same thing to save space in their cars.

Remember, you can sell unwanted clothing, books, and other stuff you’ve accumulated. And you won’t miss any of it.

Minimalist Living
Already enjoy living a minimalist lifestyle? This article is for you!

Think of it this way: What are your “must-haves” during the trip or when you arrive at your new place? And what valuables should you take with you in the car instead of shipping them to the destination?

Ship What You Can

In our experience, even with the best-planned car-packing strategy, there will be something you don’t have room for. That’s why you should consider shipping some of your load via USPS Media Mail; for qualifying items, you will get a very low rate.

Plus, Media Mail is for heavy items like books—that you wouldn’t want or need to transport by car.

For that matter, plan ahead and ship other things you won’t need or want, whether during the trip or immediately upon arrival. Believe us—you’ll be thankful for the extra space you created!

Loading the Car

Luggage Rack
A Rooftop Cargo Carrier can be an absolute game changer when it comes to moving with just your car.

The day has arrived. It’s time to load your car and head for the highway. But first, consider the following tips:

  1. Make sure to pack heavier items first, beneath lighter ones, so the latter don’t get crushed.
  2. Use bags, not boxes, for much of what you pack. The load will be far more compactable. In fact, you might want to invest in a vacuum sealer, so clothing, bedding, etc., take up less space. Vacuum-compacted clothing and bedding are heavier than you might think, though.
  3. If you have something bulky but relatively sturdy and weatherproof (e.g., a well-wrapped futon or rug), think about renting an overhead luggage rack. You can also rent a small trailer, bike rack, and other accessories.
  4. Use every available space inside your car, providing nothing impairs driving safety. Don’t forget the glove compartment, under the seats, the tire well, and so on.
  5. Reserve a little space for what you’ll need during the trip: food and drinks, fresh clothing, medication, toiletries, etc. Be sure to keep it all together and within easy reach. That will minimize repacking when you’re ready to move on to your next stop.

Finally, before departing, do a quick check around the place where you’ve been living to see if you forgot anything essential.

Pros and Cons of Moving With Just a Car

No matter which moving option you choose, there will always be benefits and drawbacks. Moving with just your car is hardly the exception.

Let’s begin with the benefits. One is that you will save money by limited costs as compared to other ways of moving, and you’ll be in control of your trip, what you’re transporting and your freedom to stop when and where you want.

You’ll also enjoy knowing that no one else will carelessly damage or break something while loading or unloading your stuff. You, of course, will be very, very careful with your treasured belongings.  What’s more, you won’t have to wait for help unpacking (e.g., professional movers arriving) at your destination.

Still, there are drawbacks to moving with just a car. For one, the more you’re carrying or towing, the worse your gas mileage and wear and tear on the vehicle will be.

And, despite your best efforts, there still could be car problems while you’re on the road, maybe even compelling you to unload everything into a motel room while the vehicle is getting repaired.

Even if you don’t need any car repairs while moving, be careful when parking overnight in unfamiliar lodging and risking possible theft or vandalism. Try to park in a well-lighted place—near the front desk or office, if possible. Even consider asking the night clerk if they would mind checking on your car every so often.

At Journey’s End

In the end, was moving with just a car worth all the effort it took? Did you undergo any misadventures on your moving adventure? Would you do it again? If so, what would you do differently next time?

We expect there will always be itinerant people who accumulate very little during their lifetimes. Instead, they take advantage of the ability to move from place to place as the spirit (or the nature of their job) moves them. Since the pandemic began, we’ve seen many people adopt such a lifestyle and travel the country or world while carrying far less baggage than most of us.

Three cheers to them for making it work while also setting a great example of the streamlined lifestyle so many of us should be thinking about in this time of dwindling resources!


I've been a college coach for going on 20 years now and that career has led Jen and I on quite the journey. We've lived in 7 different states and have moved a dozen different times. We've learned A LOT over the course of all those moves and we want to pass on our knowledge to help others going through the moving process.

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