When my husband and I decided to move from our home in Alaska for new work opportunities in Las Vegas, Nevada, I already knew it would be stressful. As someone who has moved a few times over the course of my life, I anticipated issues with moving companies, the hassle of packing, finding a new home, etc. What I didn’t and couldn’t anticipate was a global crisis, closed borders, and having to worry about our physical health and safety in addition to our emotional wellbeing.
We originally planned to move in 2019. We put our house up for sale, but due to a flat market in our area, nothing happened. After a few months with no offers, we decided to do some improvements to the property, and try again in – you guessed it – spring of 2020. When things started shutting down, we’d just finished getting our house ready to put back on the market. We weren’t sure if selling was even going to be viable at this point, but decided to go ahead and try anyway. Surprisingly, our house sold on the first day.
Making the Move
Because we were moving across the country, we immediately started researching how to safely transport ourselves, our animals, and all our stuff to our new location. Despite the recent onset of COVID-19, I naively didn’t expect it to be too much of a problem, assuming that even in a pandemic, there would be some people like us who had to move due to jobs or family situations.
Finding a house was also going to be a problem. Quarantine requirements for people traveling in and out of Alaska meant that flying to Nevada and physically house-hunting wasn’t an option. And even if we could go there, most realtors were only doing virtual home showings anyway. We realized we’d be buying a home pretty much unseen.
In mid-March, Canada closed its borders. We had a feeling this might happen, but it was still a shock. Alaska’s only drivable route to the continental United States is through Canada, and the border closure left us with minimal options. Additional research and a few phone calls to the border provided more information: Essential travel, which includes moving to another state, is still allowed, as long as the travelers can provide documentation at the border to prove that travel is necessary. I was informed that the closing papers on our home purchase would be sufficient proof of essential travel, which was a relief.
I also found out that driving through Canada wasn’t going to be any kind of leisurely trip. Non-residents are given 24 hours to pass through each province, and you cannot stop at restaurants, hotels or even campgrounds – you can only stop for gas and drive-through food, and can only pull over and rest in specific areas. These restrictions are no joke, and failure to comply could mean hundreds of thousands in fines, or even imprisonment. One recent traveler thought he’d be able to stop and sightsee as he drove through Canada, and is now facing a $569,000 fine plus possible jail time.
We quickly realized that while we could, in theory, make the drive, trying to do so with our two dogs and two cats would be really difficult. After much discussion, we decided that flying was going to be our best option.
My husband’s dog was already registered as a service animal due to his ongoing PTSD, and would be able to fly in the cabin with him, as would our two cats. Our other dog, a young shepherd mix, would have to travel in the belly of the plane. Not ideal, but it was the best thing we could come up with considering the circumstances.
As far as our household stuff, I realized that it wouldn’t be remotely cost effective to hire a moving company, as those companies who can transport from Alaska to the “lower 48” as we call it, are very expensive.
We ended up renting two large “U-Boxes” from U-Haul. For just under $5,000, we picked up two large wooden boxes from our local U-Haul store. Delivery to our home wasn’t an option, but luckily our truck had a trailer hitch and U-Haul provides trailers. Each box provides approximately 257 cubic feet of storage space, and while they don’t look like they’ll hold a whole lot, we managed to effectively load our household into the two boxes.
This wasn’t without some sacrifice, however. We sold almost all our furniture, gutted our closets, and gave away anything else we didn’t deem a necessity. We kept our art collection, most of which was only valuable to us, a few small furniture pieces, and as many other household odds and ends we could fit.
During all this packing and selling and giving away of our lives, we were also doing a lot of virtual house-hunting. Since the onset of COVID-19, inventory in many parts of the country has become limited. That, coupled with the current low interest rates, has made most areas a seller’s market. Vegas is no exception, and our realtor had to work hard to find homes for us in our price range, then had to patiently take me through each one via FaceTime.
She could only enter while fully masked and gloved, with booties over her shoes to protect from contamination and wiping down every surface before leaving. While looking at homes through a virtual lens is a great idea in theory, it’s actually quite difficult to decide if a house is a good fit when you can’t walk through it yourself. With our realtor’s help, we were able to find a home we liked and thankfully, our offer was accepted fairly quickly.
The Big Day
Fast forward to moving day. We’d disposed of most of our worldly goods and our U-Boxes were loaded and ready to be shipped. Our dogs and cats had their own reservations for the airline, as well as health certificates from our vet. While regulations can vary somewhat between carriers, anytime you travel with an animal you can expect to pay a fee (think of it like their own airline ticket) and you must provide a current health certificate to show they are up to date on all vaccines.
We also took the precaution of purchasing extra seats. My husband’s service dog is fairly large, so we bought him a first-class ticket and paid for the seat beside him, in order to make the flight more comfortable for everyone. I was in coach with the two cats, and I purchased an extra seat as well, so they could both be stowed under the seats in front of me. Our youngest dog went with the checked luggage, which wasn’t easy on her or myself, but it was the fastest and overall safest way to transport her.
The flight itself was uneventful. I felt fairly safe with the mandatory mask requirements, and the airline had blocked all middle seats to provide better social distancing. I’ll also add that the planes themselves were probably the cleanest I’d ever seen them. I’ve always been the person wiping down the seats and tray tables when I travel, and I’m happy to report that airline representatives seem to be taking their cleaning routines to the next level.
We arrived in Vegas late that night, exhausted, drained and wondering if we’d made the right decision. When we got to our new house, it initially felt smaller and the neighborhood seemed less welcoming that I’d anticipated. We also had no furniture or household items, as the U-Boxes can take four to six weeks to arrive (my furniture for the first month was an air mattress and a television!) We quarantined at home those first two weeks, which was a bit isolating, but also gave us time to acclimate and adjust.
It’s been three months since we moved, and I’m happy to report that we’ve all settled nicely into our new home and city. Our dogs love the pool, our cats love the sun, and we’re enjoying new jobs and new friends. Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 continues to affect our lives, and I’m home more often than I’m out, but overall, I don’t regret our decision. And while I wouldn’t wish moving during a pandemic on anyone, I do feel it’s given me a stronger sense of my own resilience, and an understanding that we can still safely navigate this ever-changing world, and keep life moving forward.
Jody Ellis is a freelance writer who specializes in beauty, health, travel, fashion and style. Her work has appeared in publications such as LennyLetter, Huffington Post, BBC Future Planet, Civil Eats and Eater.