This blog, The Pedestrian is an online guide to living in Los Angeles without a car.
In harder times, relocating involved harnessing a team of oxen and stuffing your belongings into a wagon. But today, in America, the Conestoga has been supplanted by the car: especially for cross-country moves. LA, in particular, is the destination for thousands of starry-eyed automobile owners each year. When someone looks you in the eye and breathes, erogenously, that they’re “pickin’ up and moving to Cali,” there’s a strong likelihood that LA is what awaits at the end of the rainbow. There's also high likelihood that making this move will cost more than $5,000 of combined shipping costs, fuel, and vehicle depreciation.
So how do you move to LA if you don’t have access to a car, or if you don't want to decimate your savings?
That’s what we’ll explore in this feature. Not only is an LA relocation without a car quite easy, it can be quite economical too.
PART I. THE PRE-MOVE
To get an idea of how breezy or cumbersome your move will be, the first decision to make is what you’ll be bringing. When the equation does not include a car, this becomes especially important. If your inventory includes heavy furniture or other bulky items, relocating without a car will be a more daunting task than heading to LA with a bushel of clothing and some books. But regardless of your situation, it can be done.
Here are two pre-moving sequence I recommend before spiriting off to LA.
THOSE WITH LESS
Step #1: Pull out everything that you plan to bring with you to Los Angeles. I’m talking clothes, toiletries, tchotchkes, books, kitchen equipment, sporting goods, you name it. It may take awhile to amass all of this stuff in one place, but in the long run, it will save you time and energy.
Step #2: Take a walk to your local post office and stock up on large Priority Mail boxes. These can be sent for a flat fee of around $18 and will be delivered in two business days to the address of your choosing. On the way home, swing by a stationary store and grab a few regular cardboard boxes. You can also try asking for boxes at a liquor store: they’ll often give you these for free.
Step #3: Once you’re home and you’ve assembled some of the priority mail boxes with packing or duct tape, start “pretend” packing those boxes with items from your Moving To LA pile. But hold back on clothing, books, movies, and albums. We’ll get to that later.
Step #4: Pull out your biggest duffel bags or suitcases and “pretend” pack them with all of your clothing and footwear. This is what you’ll be checking on the plane to LA. (Flying is the only easy moving option if you don’t have a car.) This is also a good opportunity to assess what has to be laundered or dry-cleaned. The more you do before moving, the faster you can get settled in LA.
Step #5: Take the regular cardboard boxes and use them to “pretend” pack all of your books, movies, albums, and photo collections. These items qualify for media mail shipping prices, which are considerably cheaper than regular mail. The first pound will cost you $2.38, and from there the poundage price drops.
Step #6: Once you’ve got all of your effects “packed,” go and book your flight. If you’ve only got one or two bags of clothing to haul out to LA, Southwest still has the best deal on checked luggage: the first two bags are free. Those with more luggage are likely to save the most money by booking with Virgin America, JetBlue, or Alaska Airlines, as these carriers offer the most competitive checked bag fees of major US airlines.
Step #7: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll have to decide where exactly you’re shipping all of this stuff. If you’re lucky enough to have housing in LA set up before moving, you should check in with your landlord, realtor, or roommates and find a time to send the stuff to your new front door. If you’ve got a housing hunt ahead of you, try finding a friend or family member who would be willing to hold onto your stuff and ship it for you once you’ve found a place to live. Assuming you fall within the Those With Less category, this shouldn’t be too much of a spatial burden.
But if you’ve got quite a load to send to LA, then read on for another approach.
THOSE WITH MORE
Step #1: Pull out everything you’re bringing to LA that won’t fit in a priority mail shipping box or a duffel bag. I’m talking furniture, kitchen appliances, machinery, instruments, artwork, home decor, etc. Amass all of these possessions in one place so you can size it up.
Step #2: Once you’ve got an accurate sense of how much unwieldy stuff you have to get to LA, consider whether your moving budget is in the low or high hundreds. This will determine your next step.
Step #3A: For those with a budget in the high to low hundreds of dollars, your best bet will be shipping the majority of your possessions using USPS mail services, and selling the furniture and appliances that are too large or heavy to pack in boxes. You'll be surprised how many people on Craigslist are willing to fork over money for a used blender or memory foam mattress.
Step #3B: If your moving budget is on the higher end - and if the value of all of your stuff exceeds $2,000, then a U-Haul truck or a moving pod could be the answer. The truck needs little explanation: you pack it, drive, and unpack. Easy. The "pod" is a fortified storage unit, delivered to your old residence before the move so that you can cram it with as much stuff as possible. Furniture, clothing, books, you name it. The pod is then shipped to your new home, so that you can unpack your goods without every starting an engine or putting on a seat belt. The pod will likely cost more than a truck, but it will save you considerable time and energy.
Now that we’ve covered the importance of the pre-move, you’ll find that the rest of your journey to LA will be relatively easy. Here’s what you should plan to do when the day of reckoning arrives.
PART II. THE MOVE
#1: A few days before leaving, ship all of your boxes or leave them in the care of your designated shipping surrogate. Be sure to get receipts and tracking numbers for all items sent through the mail, and consider buying shipping insurance for packages that contain treasured and/or expensive items. Each additional $100 of insurance per package will only cost you a few bucks: it's well-worth the peace of mind.
#2: Get to the airport early: especially if you don’t usually check bags while traveling. Dealing with a massive TSA line is stressful enough (thanks, Congress,) but when the baggage check line is out of control as well - especially at airports that don’t offer self check-in kiosks - arriving an hour before your flight departure is very risky. It’s easy to forget this unfortunate reality of US air travel until it blindsides you.
#3: Take a good last look at your old town as the plane roars down the runway. Wherever you’re coming from, I guarantee that LA will be very different.
#4: When you land at LAX, head to the baggage claim and get a luggage cart for your bags, since you’ll have to lug them outside soon. These carts are free in Europe, but alas, in America, a luggage cart will cost you an average of $5.00, unless you manage to find a discarded one and discreetly make it your own. This isn’t exactly ethical, but if you ask me, neither is monetizing something that many of the world’s airports offer as a complimentary amenity, and then charging the cost of a draft beer to use said amenity. (Sorry for the rant.)
#5: Assuming your bags made it safely, your next and final decision will be determining how to get to your new residence with all of your stuff in tow.
The ideal solution is to arrange for a local friend or family member to pick you up at the Arrivals zone. But if this isn’t possible, then you’ve got three options: a taxi, a ride share, or a group shuttle. Of these choices, I wholeheartedly suggest the group shuttle. Why? Because companies like Super Shuttle will quote you a flat transport price that won’t be affected by LA traffic, which, we know, can be horrendous. (LAX to central LA will usually cost about $25.) Uber, Lyft, and cab companies don’t operate like that. If you get stuck in rush hour gridlock after leaving LAX, you’ll probably pay extra for it.
The one drawback to the group shuttle is that it can take awhile to deliver. The driver has to take every passenger to their specified destination, and if you’re near the end of the list, you may have to wait for well over an hour to arrive at your new abode. At this point, the transportation question comes down to a individual persuasion. What matters most to you? Time, money, or peace of mind? If you chose Time, get an Uber and bite the bullet if the traffic proves gnarly and/or you get surge-priced. Otherwise, the group shuttle is your unsexy but reliable friend.
And that’s it! All the steps you need to make it from wherever you are right now, to the front door of your new home in LA, with your possessions in tow. Though, if at all possible, you might see if your landlord or living companion would be able to stick a bottle of something strong and bubbly in your fridge, prior to your arrival. You will have earned it, and with all the money you’ll have saved by moving to LA without a car, you’ll be able to plump for something from the highest shelf.