Pandemic Packout

For the first time since early March, last Friday we welcomed other people into our home. But they weren’t guests; they were masked movers coming to pack so we could finally leave for Mexico, three months late to the day.

We feel super lucky to have avoided commercial air travel during the coronavirus pandemic by having a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move by vehicle to a Mexican border post. It means we can load up our (now) two cars and drive from Virginia to Texas and then cross over to Juárez, rather than fretting about suitcase weight or germs floating through the air as we wait to board a plane. But even though we are driving, we still can’t take everything by car – we are entitled to an official packout.

We initially figured we would send 450 lbs of air freight (UAB), which tends to arrive soonest and is the limit for an officer and spouse, and maybe a supplementary household effects (HHE) shipment of 200 lbs or so for the rest. (Our main HHE was packed out in Canberra a year ago, and I’d looked up what it weighed, so I knew how much I had left towards the 7,200 lb limit, since this is all still considered part of the same overall post-to-post move). Everything else would have to go in the cars.

I had realized a couple of weeks ago that on a cross-country trip where we would have to unload many items from the cars at each overnight hotel so as not to attract a break-in, it would be much easier to pack items in totes and hampers than loose throughout the cars. Not only are loose items inconvenient, but during a pandemic in which we have been sanitizing everything we come into contact with for over four months, it is disconcerting to think of traveling thousands of miles close to items that could have COVID-19 live on their surfaces, picked up from some stop along the way.

So I took a trip to Target and found just the thing: several 60 quart tubs where we could put all the things we are transporting but don’t need to access, and that will hopefully keep us from cross-contaminating everything inside as we move from hotel to hotel. V and I also packed strategically so that we only need to access a few key bags during our trip.

In the week leading up to the packout, we spent a fair bit of time sorting our household items into groups – items we planned to pack in the cars, items we planned to ship out by UAB or HHE, and no-pack items that belonged to the apartment or that we would consume or discard prior to departure.

In order to keep our small apartment liveable before and during the packout, we designated the different items by colored tags, and resorted items (and in particular in the kitchen) into color-coded cabinets by section so they wouldn’t all be piled on the floor. And then the day before the move, we began to consolidate items into piles in our very small apartment.

Strange how your items moved out of context just look like piles of stuff – at least to me

We spent Friday morning before the movers arrived bringing carts of luggage and totes down to the cars. We arranged and rearranged until we could envision how it would work.

We also designated the bedroom and bathroom no-packing zones in the apartment, swept items from those spaces that needed to be packed, and staged there what little left we have to carry down to the cars upon our departure Saturday.

The movers were supposed to arrive between noon and 2pm. At 1:40 pm I started checking for an ETA, and a half an hour later V called, but got voicemail. They arrived around 2:25 and got to work. It all went fairly smoothly, if slowly, but I had made a cardinal packout error – I had scheduled a personal appointment for 6:00. As the time ticked by, I found myself getting more anxious that everything run on time. I also got a sinking feeling when I realized several items were too tall for the UAB box, such as our vacuum and steam cleaners, and a rolling little grocery cart.

As the weight on the HHE crept up and my window to make my appointment narrowed, I felt my stress level rising and wished for it all to be over. (The movers probably did too!)

In the end, I got my shipments in below the limits (barely), got rid of a bookshelf we’d had 12 years and no longer needed, and got to attend my appointment too. So it all worked out!

Yesterday we left Virginia… again, and I have the feeling that after all these months of waiting and many PCS moves being frozen due to the coronavirus, we are finally about to have a grand adventure.

  5 comments for “Pandemic Packout

  1. fan-cy
    July 26, 2020 at 23:52

    So happy that you’re finally headed to Mexico, and I can hardly wait to follow you through the ups and downs of all the new adventures!

    Wishing you and V much happiness and good health.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 27, 2020 at 08:05

      Thank you so much! I will be glad to write about it all…


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Sarah W Gaer

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