How to Move Across the World and Stay (Relatively) Sane

Pardon my silence, dear readers! It has been a hectic couple of months.

In September, Chico, Bug and I picked up and abruptly left Montreal, headed back to the old country (or at least the old continent). We are still very much in transition, but one thing is for certain: we will not live through another Montreal winter. Huzzah!

We will miss a lot of things about Montreal, especially the good friends we’ve made there.

Since our move was pretty quick, and quite an adventure, I thought I’d tell you a bit about it and give some helpful tips for how to move across the world and stay (relatively) sane.

Selecting a moving company

Friends of ours who left Montreal in the summer had a devilish time with their moving company. It was such a fiasco, we were determined to avoid such a mess.

In an earlier life, I worked for an international company, managing expatriates’ moves all over the world. So I felt like I had a handle on how to approach this.

First, look up moving companies. I did a Google search of moving companies in Montreal and then read online reviews. I ended up choosing AMJ International and Westmount Moving for estimates. They got pretty good reviews, and they also responded quickly to my calls.

They each came in to do a survey and estimate the volume for the move. The key is to make sure both companies estimate the same (or similar) volume. If not, you’ll want to figure out where the discrepancy comes from (did one company forget to look in the basement? etc.).

After that, it’s a matter of comparing the quotes, and picking the one that seems most reasonable. Compare the “origin services” and “destination services” offered to see that they’re comparable (parking permits, crates for special items, etc.), and then pick your company.

We chose AMJ, simply because we knew people who had worked with them and were happy. Either company would have been fine, though.

A word on scheduling

Never, ever, EVER schedule your move for the same day you fly out.

Have I made that clear enough? Good. Here’s why: THINGS GO WRONG.

We were lucky; our movers were great. But we had friends who weren’t so lucky. They had scheduled their move for the same day they traveled, with packing and moving on the same day. It was a nightmare.

If not otherwise specified, ask that the movers come in one day for packing, and a second day for loading. Also, ask that yours be the first move of the day. That way, they’ll arrive early and finish early, leaving you time to do other things.

Some organizing tips

Make notes:

The movers are professionals, and they work FAST. They’ll make notes on the boxes, but you might want to make your own. If you can get in fast enough, make a note of which boxes contain the essential items you’ll want to unpack first when you arrive.

Move out before the movers arrive

I recommend booking a nearby hotel room once the packers have come in. They can leave your bed and some linens unpacked if you like, but you’ll probably be more comfortable in a hotel.

That also allows you to leave whatever suitcases you’ll be taking with you out of the way so they don’t get packed up.

We actually booked a hotel room for the night before, since they were arriving early in the morning and we needed to get the Bug set up with a baby sitter outside of the house. That leads me to another point:

Arrange daycare for children.

You’re going to need to focus on the movers, answering their questions, making notes on the boxes, etc. That’s why I recommend getting your kids out of your hair.

We were lucky enough to find a babysitter to stay with our Bug for two whole days while the movers did their magic. She even came in and babysat on our last evening in Montreal so we could enjoy a fabulous dinner at la Fabrique with friends!

Whether they’re at daycare, school, or with a babysitter, you don’t want to have to worry about keeping your kids out of the way of the movers.

This might sound easy, but…

Reading this, you may think, “Wow, it sounds like Jane really had things under control.”

There you’d be wrong.

For a couple of weeks leading up to the move, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, always thinking of just one more thing to do.

They say that next to divorce and a death in the family, moving is the most stressful thing in a person’s life. That is entirely true. There’s always last-minute details to iron out, people to say good-bye to, and a suitcase that’s waaaaay over the weight limit.

We managed to pull it off in three weeks, and if we can do it, anyone can. Just organize yourselves as you do best (I am a notorious list maker), and know that sooner or later it will be over.

Once the container is sealed, things are out of your hands, and all you can do is look forward to the new phase in your life that is to come.



Life in Montreal Part 1: The Good

Because this post was getting to be long, I’ve decided to split my Life in Montreal article into three parts: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  No copyright infringement is intended.  Uh, don’t I have to say that?

I probably can’t claim to be entirely new to Montreal now that I’ve spent more than one winter here.  But my arrival experience is recent enough to give a few pointers for newcomers to Montreal about what to expect when moving here.

I came to Montreal in January 2012 knowing very little about the city.  Friends of mine who had lived here told me it’s fun, but they also warned that it gets extremely cold.  Other than that, I had few expectations.  Chico had been here for about half a year before I arrived, but since he’s always jetting here, there and everywhere, he wasn’t a reliable source of information about the city (I love you, Chico!).

First, the Good!

Life in Montreal: The GoodThe Good

Montreal is surrounded by natural beauty.  If you are an outdoorsy person, this is the city for you.  Even on the island there are tons of parks, even a national park at Cap St-Jacques on the west end of the island and the famous Mount Royal that gives the city its name.

There are bike paths all over the city.  As soon as the weather turns warm, people kit up and cycle to and from work.  (Remind me that I need to come back to this point in the Bad section.)    There’s a public bike system called Bixi that is active from April through November which makes biking around the city so convenient and easy.  It’s been one of my favorite parts of Montreal!

Public transportation is pretty good (though a little pricey at a monthly pass rate of nearly $80), and though also a bit expensive, food shopping is decent with two large markets in the city at Jean Talon and Atwater.  There’s a lot of retail shopping options (I got my wedding dress up at Plaza St-Hubert!), but as the Canadian dollar is quite strong these days you are better off making a quick cross-border weekend trip and hitting up shops in Vermont, New Hampshire or New York state.

Jean Talon Market Montreal
Peppers for sale at Jean Talon market

Montreal is also an incredibly diverse city.  There’s of course the mix of English and French which makes the city unique.  But then there’s the huge “allophone” (as the non-English and non-French speakers are called) population that makes Montreal so vibrant.  My home is not far from the Portuguese neighborhood and there’s an Italian quarter, Jewish neighborhood, Greek area, and more.  The city has done a lot to bring international businesses here, so in the streets you hear all kinds of languages as you walk down Ste-Catherine street.

With all these diverse cultures comes a large variety of food.  A bad meal in a restaurant in Montreal is a crime, and sometimes you can feel overwhelmed with choice for dinner spots.  I use UrbanSpoon and Yelp, but there’s also RestoMontreal and of course individual recommendations.  The café culture here is great, and as soon as the weather turns nice, restaurant terraces pop up along the streets.  Ste-Catherine street is shut down to traffic most of the summer, and pretty much every weekend there’s some kind of festival or street party going on.

Perhaps my favorite part of Montreal so far has been the combination of European style and North American customer focus and friendliness.  People are polite and positive (for the most part) and if you come here speaking both English and French (or at least willing to try speaking both), that immediately ingratiates you with most people.

There’s more that’s good, but I’ll end it there.  Tune in at some later date (I’m not making any promises of regularity here) where I discuss the Bad parts of Montreal.