How to Ship Things Across Country Cheap

When shipping items across the country, the costs can accumulate. Learn about the cheapest ways to ship items across the country in our full post.

Molly Henderson

Molly has been writing about the moving industry for more than 10 years and knows exactly what makes a mover great.

 ·  7 min

When shipping a few items across the country, there are plenty of convenient and affordable options. 

You could go with cross-country movers, but delivery times can be maddeningly long with small shipments, and you’ll pay more per pound than you will for larger loads. 

Of course, you could always rent a U-Haul truck or find an anonymous service provider on Craigslist, but these options have lots of drawbacks too. 

The fact is that for small shipments, they’re usually not the best choices. 

So whether you’re relocating to New York for a new job or to Southern California to take up surfing, you’ll want to take some time to consider things from every angle. 

Small move considerations

Before asking for referrals and going online to find small shipment movers, think about – 

  • How many items you’re shipping
  • Their total weight and volume
  • Whether your load is made up of boxes and/or furniture and bulky items
  • If your shipment is valuable or fragile
  • If you’ll need storage
  • The distance between your old and new homes
  • When you need shipping services (the peak season between June and August is most expensive)
  • If you’re able to do the loading and unloading yourself
  • Whether you can drive a moving truck 

UShip – where shippers (you) and carriers (truckers) meet

When it comes to easy shipping services, Uship is tops. 

Founded in Austin, Texas, in 2003, Uship specializes in connecting people who need things moved with transportation services providers

The online marketplace is used by thousands of independent contractors with equipment ranging from pickups and cargo vans to box trucks and tractor-trailers. 

It’s as easy as – 

  • Posting your shipment information on the company’s move board 
  • Getting bids from interested transportation companies 

This system allows movers and truckers to fill unused space and increase revenue while the competition keeps prices reasonable for you. 

It’s a win-win, but there’s a big drawback – since each shipping company is an independent contractor, service levels can be all over the place.

Not surprisingly, customer reviews are important, and Uship’s vendor verification system helps weed out the few bad apples. 

Posting a shipment is free and easy, which is why we always suggest giving it a shot.

You never know. You may get a great quote from a high-ranking carrier that’s too good to pass up. 

Go with a van line

Piggybacking 10 boxes on the back of a cross-country mover’s truck is definitely convenient, especially since loading and unloading are included in the price. 

In some cases, full-service movers are inexpensive, but they’re not usually the best options for that intent on keeping moving costs low.  

Though it’s not so well-known, most van lines’ tariffs have minimum weight clauses that can make transporting small shipments unaffordable. 

Van lines do this because moving 200-pound loads just isn’t worth their time.   

Big players like Allied Van Lines and Atlas Van Lines have 1,000-pound minimums, while United Van Lines’ minimum is usually 2,100 pounds. 

This means that even if you’re just shipping 500 pounds of boxes, you’ll pay for at least twice, and in some cases, more than four times that weight. 

However, if you’re moving between 30 and 50 cartons that together weigh approximately 1,000 pounds, using Allied or Atlas may make sense. 

Just remember that when movers have more business than they can handle in the summer, your small shipment may be a very low priority. 

You may still get great service, but you’ll pay less and get your items more quickly if you ship them during the fall or winter. 

Train and bus

In the recent past, you could actually ship boxes by Amtrak, though this service has been suspended according to their website.

On the bright side, shipping by bus is still an affordable option. 

Greyhound Package Express

“Go, Greyhound, and leave the driving to us.”

It’s a catchy motto, and it’s not just for passengers.  

In fact, those big buses have tons of cargo space under the seats, and to maximize efficiency, Greyhound hauls freight – which is where you come in. 

The ubiquitous national bus company offers the following three service options – 

Standard shipping

Pros

  • An economical choice for shipments that aren’t time sensitive
  • Customers can opt for door-to-door or counter-to-counter service
  • Pick-ups and drop-offs can be made during normal business hours

Cons

  • Space limitations may mean delayed shipments (space isn’t reserved for standard shipments)
  • Larger shipments and those with bulky items are subject to longer transit times

Priority shipping

Pros

  • A good choice for time-critical shipments
  • Your items are guaranteed to ship out on a regularly scheduled bus 
  • 100% money-back guarantee (shipping is free if your items are late)
  • Additional hours and locations are available for pick-up and drop-off

Cons

  • Only available on shipments going 1,300 miles or less
  • Pricier than standard shipping

Direct drive

  • Fastest option thanks to dedicated buses servicing major routes
  • Door-to-door services is included 
  • Guaranteed bus space for your items

Cons 

  • Expensive
  • Your items must be ready for pickup at the time of booking 
  • Only available to limited destinations within 400 miles of your pick-up location

With so many variables, you’ll need to go online to get an instant price quote.

Other things to keep in mind – 

  • Discounts may be available to students, veterans and active military members
  • There are multiple daily departures from most terminals
  • Payment must be made with a credit card (no COD)
  • Service is only available in the continental US
  • Bus cargo areas are bumpy and may not be suitable for fragile items
  • Packages are limited to 29″ x 47″ x 82″ and 100 pounds
  • Boxes may need to be inspected before they’re loaded, in which case packing tape will be available to reseal them
  • Shipments can be tracked online

Freight shipping – put your boxes on pallets

This option requires more work on your part, but the rewards can include cheap shipping prices and quick transit times. 

That said, you’ll need to prepare your boxes for transport like commercial shippers do. 

Here’s how –  

  • Stack your items neatly and evenly on a standard shipping pallet
  • Make sure nothing is hanging over the sides and that it’s no more than 5-feet-tall
  • Shrink wrap your items together and to the pallet like your life depends on it
  • Tape labels to each side containing your name, phone number, and origin and destination addresses
  • Keep the pallet in an easily accessible location like your garage
  • Call around to LTL (less-than-truckload) transportation companies like Yellow (YRC), FedEx Freight and Old Dominion Freight Line
  • Give them your move information including dates, locations, and the weight, dimensions and value of your shipment

If they give you a price that sounds unreasonable, don’t be afraid to haggle. 

And remember, since your pallet will be picked up at your home, the driver will need a pallet jack and a trailer with a lift gate to get it onboard.

They should know this, but it’s worth mentioning to avoid unnecessary move day hassles. 

At your new home or apartment, your pallet will be delivered to your driveway, garage, or parking spot, but it’ll be up to you to get everything inside from there.  

ABF U-Pack

Since partnering to provide moving services more than two decades ago, ABF and U-Pack have moved more than a million families

They handle household goods shipments of all sizes through the following service lines – 

ReloCube moving containers

ReloCube containers are great options for small shipments. 

At 6′ x 7′ x 8′, each container has more than 300 cubic feet of usable interior space, which is usually enough for the contents of one moderately furnished room. 

U-Pack containers take up less room than a small car, so they work well in apartment complexes, storage facilities, and other areas where parking is limited. 

Here’s how it works – 

  • You book your container(s) online
  • They’re delivered to your home, apartment or business
  • You load your items inside
  • A truck will pick up your container and haul it to your destination address (you won’t have to drive a clunky moving truck) 

28-foot “pup” trailers

ABF’s trailers are perfect for larger shipments, and you’ll only pay for the floor space you use, not what you reserve

Trailers can be parked on the street or in your driveway, and ramps are included to make loading and unloading easy. 

In addition, each trailer comes with a free locking divider wall to keep your items secure during transit. 

A driver will pick up the trailer and deliver it to your new address when you’re finished loading.

It’s worth noting that U-Pack doesn’t offer local moving services, but they do handle shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, and Puerto Rico. 

Use a big parcel carrier

If you’re just shipping a box or two, parcel carriers like FedEx and UPS may be the way to go. 

Just pack your items carefully, label the boxes clearly, and drop them off at one of their locations or schedule a home pickup

On the downside, this is usually only a good option when shipping a few boxes, and size and weight limits apply. 

For larger shipments, you’ll probably have to use another shipping method. 

Use the United States Postal Service (USPS)

The good-old post office is another option that often gets overlooked when shipping a few items. 

The following services are worth considering for small shipments –  

Priority Mail Express

Priority Mail Express features competitive flat-rate pricing, and delivery is usually made in 1 or 2 days

There’s also a money-back guarantee if you don’t get your things by 6 PM on the appointed day, and service is available nearly everywhere in the continental US. 

In addition – 

  • Packages can weigh up to 70 pounds
  • You can take your boxes to the Post Office or schedule a home pick up 
  • In major metropolitan areas delivery may be available on Sundays and holidays for an extra fee 
  • Packages can be tracked online

Priority Mail

Regular Priority Mail is similar to Priority Mail Express, but prices are lower, and delivery windows are slightly longer.  

Media Mail

Bookworms rejoice!

Media Mail is a little-known USPS mail classification that allows the following media to be shipped inexpensively – 

  • Books
  • CDs and DVDs
  • Printed music
  • Educational materials
  • Video and sound recordings
  • Play scripts, book manuscripts and more

Transit times are usually between 2 and 8 business days, and rates start at just $3.19. 

Please note that – 

  • There’s a 70-pound weight limit
  • Large items are prohibited
  • Computer hardware and video games don’t qualify

For more specific information on USPS shipping options, click here.

Frequently asked questions (faqs)

How do you ship personal items across the country?

You can ship personal items across the country with a van line, Uship, the Post Office, and ABF U-Pack, to name just a few. 

How much does it cost to ship belongings across the country?

Shipping a small package across the country can cost as little as $4 while moving 50 boxes from one cost to the other with a full-service van line during the summer can cost thousands. 

What is the cheapest way to ship items across the country?

It all depends on what you’re shipping, the volume, weight, and value of your items, and the distance between your origin and destination addresses.

What is the cheapest option for shipping heavy items?

It’s usually best to hire a professional moving company when moving heavy and bulky items like ATVs, pianos, and hot tubs.

What packing materials will I need? 

Depending on what you’re shipping, you’ll usually need sturdy moving boxes, packing paper (or bubble wrap), tape, shrink wrap, labels, and a marker. For furniture and other loose items, you’ll also need quilted moving pads.  

What’s the best way to get a small shipment moving quote? 

It’s easy to get free shipping quotes over the phone, online, or by scheduling in-home estimates with local movers. 

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Molly Henderson

Molly has been writing about the moving industry for more than 10 years and knows exactly what makes a mover great.

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