how to make a move with little kids and not lose your ever-loving mind

I can NOT believe that we made it happen. A year ago we were sitting in our backyard in Canada chatting about maybe, possibly, perhaps moving to Ireland and poof now we’re here!

Of course, every big move comes with a zillion small decisions along the way. Some are fun to think about, some are not so fun. I must say that of all of the moves I’ve made – and there have been many – this one went the smoothest.

The serious amount of planning and preparation made all the difference. Now that we have kids there’s no more winging it and moving was certainly no exception. I’m proud to say that we got from points A to B with no major meltdowns, no fighting, no blood, and very few tears. We arrived at our destination with all family members and luggage (and sanity!) accounted for.

If you’re also dreaming of a new chapter for your family read on! Here’s what I learned along the way along with a timeline of what we did and when.

Started looking for housing (12 months out)
If you have a lead time to plan housing for your move, start early. With the crazy demand for buying and renting, the housing situation can be tricky. We decided to buy a house before we moved without seeing it in person. Not ideal, but I’m happy that we did because there are very few houses available out there.

Planned to move in the summer (plan 12 months out)
Kind of intuitive, but moving in summer made a huge difference. It was really handy to be able to entertain the kids outside while packing. If you need to vacate your house for new renter/buyer viewings it’s handy to go for a quick bike ride or walk without having to rug up. It was also much simpler to pack for the interim time when we were living out of suitcases.

Applied for a Visa (12 months out)
Depending on where you go, you may need a valid visa to work, enroll kids in school, and apply for social services like health care. Best to get visas sorted asap.

Reached out to school & childcare (11 months out)
As soon as you have an idea about where you’ll be living it’s a good idea to start reaching out to schools or childcare if needed. Generally, the first meeting is over the phone or online anyways, so that can be done in advance.

Organized belongings into shipping or selling (10 months out)
Long-haul shipping isn’t economical in any way. The price of fuel is high and shipping is expensive. But if you have stuff that you love it might be worth it. We shipped 3/4 of a shipping container from Canada to Ireland and the cost was about $9,000 CAD.

For the stuff that didn’t go in the ‘shipping’ pile, we sold sold sold. We actually ended up making decent money for larger items and electronics. For the rest, we donated and gave locally.

Scanned a copy of passports and health cards (9 months out)
When packing up a house, things can easily go missing. I almost shredded my husband’s original birth certificate because it ended up in the ‘paper shred’ box. Just to be safe I highly recommend saving a soft copy of important docs. If things go missing it’s much easier to replace them if you have a soft copy.

Arranged movers (7 months out)
If it’s available to you, hiring professional movers is money well spent. Relocating with kids is stressful as it is. Good movers will make the whole process less painful. If it’s not available, aim for getting as much help as you can from friends and family.

It’s worth it to do a bit of research on moving companies before you commit. This is what I asked each company when reaching out for quotes:

  • What’s included with the pick-up? packing, furniture wrapping, extra boxes 
  • Do you handle the customs paperwork and submit them? If so, when is that done?
  • Will there be any additional charges if there are shipping delays? If so, what are the fees based on?
  • Do you offer insurance for lost or damaged property?
  • How long is the expected delivery from door to door?
  • What is included with drop off? unloading, boxes, and moving material removal, resembling furniture.

Purchased plane tickets (6 months out)
If it’s in the budget make sure the tickets are changeable. With a big relocation literally one million things could happen that could cause you to need to change the day.

Determined what to do with our vehicle (6 months out)
Depending on your situation this might be a no-brainer. If your move is drivable you might take the vehicle, if you move farther it might make no sense at all. Whatever you decide, I recommend making the call early. This will be important in the moving plan. The logistics of selling a vehicle quickly can be stressful. We had a ‘for sure’ buyer for our car who backed out 2 days before we were set to fly overseas. The stress was high and we ended up leaving the car with a very kind family member who sold it on our behalf after we moved (shout out to uncle James!).

Remember that you may need to cancel car insurance well in advance to avoid penalties.

Planned temporary accommodation on the other side (6 months out)
In order to avoid post-travel meltdowns from kids and parents alike, I highly recommend organizing easy accommodations for when you arrive at your destination. We luckily had a family to take us in, but if we didn’t a hotel stay would have been on the cards for sure.

If you have a home to move to, you’ll still need to collect keys, maybe clean, or do a walkthrough so chances are that there will be a time in limbo. Booking accommodation or staying with friends or family will take some pressure off everyone.

Prepared kids for the move (2 months out)
In the craziness of packing, planning, and preparing it’s easy to forget that the kids also need to prepare themselves. I sometimes assume that my very small children will intuitively pick up on what’s going on and just get it. That happens zero percent of the time. Obviously.

It was really important to us that they had an idea about what was going to happen and to include them in the process when possible. How do you do this with a one and four-year-old? Make a Social Story! If you haven’t heard of this, it’s basically a short story that you can create online or collage with paper that tells a story about an event and outlines what happens during each stage. No fancy storyline or crazy characters are needed, just the basic who, what, when, where, and why about what is going to happen.

I can not stress enough how simple this can be. In the midst of a move, there’s nothing you need less than a time-intensive craft project. Just a few pages with simple steps and some cut-and-paste images.

Our 4-year-old loved that he was a character in the story, and would call out the correlating page numbers as things were happening – ‘Now uncle Barry is going to meet us at the airport, just like on page 5!’.

Here’s a great tip sheet on how to make a Social Story.

Planned for the week of the move (1 month out)
I knew from experience that the moving week is hell on earth. That might sound dramatic, but it’s the truth. I wasn’t going to be caught off guard and stressed out by all the last-minute details if I could avoid it.

So I put my event planning past into action and made a schedule for each day of the week leading up to boarding the plane. Here’s what I included on the daily schedule:

  • What moving-related tasks needed to be accomplished that day, and who was responsible for completing them.
  • Activities for the kids to keep them busy including approximate activity times
  • The childcare backup if something last minute came up; babysitter, family member, or friend.
  • Meal plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks each day.
  • The packing list of what was included in everyone’s travel bag.

I’m completely aware of how extra this seems, but putting in the meticulous planning was very worthwhile to save sanity.

A big move is super exciting and can be a wonderful experience to do together as a family. If we can make it happen without losing our cool, then you can too!

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