Moving house during a pandemic is the last thing anyone wants to do. But many of us didn’t have a choice after losing clients, work, projects, and income. Moving is stressful enough as it is, but it’s even more so when your life is at risk. These are our tips to staying safe and avoiding the mistakes we made if you have to move.

Shortly before we moved house at the end of March, a supportive friend gently reminded me that moving was one of the most stressful things after the death of a loved-one, getting divorced and separating. Not only were we moving house, we were moving house during a pandemic and potentially putting our lives at risk. What were we thinking?

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice in the matter. After losing all our income in February as the novel coronavirus spread and businesses shut down, like so many of you around the world we had no other option but to move to a cheaper, smaller, less central apartment. The only thing we could do was research how to move safely and prepare for the move as best as we could. Despite taking as many precautions as we could to protect ourselves, things didn’t go exactly to plan.

While many countries have ‘flattened the curve’ and life is beginning to return to normal – or the ‘new normal’ – in other countries COVID-19 cases are still increasing. Unemployment remains high around the world, economies are in recession if not depression, and many of you will sadly be in the same situation we have been, and will find yourselves moving house during a pandemic.

Now that we’ve had some time to calm down and reflect, we thought we’d share our tale and tips to moving house during a pandemic safely, so you can avoid the mistakes we made.

Moving House During A Pandemic – Tips to Doing So Safely and Avoiding the Mistakes We Made

Moving house during a pandemic was the last thing we wanted. But the one-year lease on the dream apartment in lush frangipani-filled gardens with a stunning palm-lined swimming pool, slap-bang in the centre of Siem Reap, was coming to an end – just as the coronavirus began its race around the world and the planet was preparing for a global shutdown.

We had already been venturing out as little as possible, since China gave the world the bad news in January, coronavirus cases increased rapidly, and Wuhan went into lockdown on the 23rd. Siem Reap was a popular destination for Chinese tourists and a Chinese-owned business operated from the apartment above us, with staff streaming in and out every day.

By mid-February, as China recorded 58,000 cases, we were already wearing face masks, using hand sanitiser, and vigorously washing our hands after every shopping trip. Chinese travel companies closed. Flights stopped arriving. Hotels, restaurants and shops shuttered. Staff were sent on leave, returning to their homelands. Siem Reap, which had already had a bad ‘high’ season due to Angkor Wat’s inclusion in a spate of stories on over-touristed destinations (which it was not), became a ghost town.

Current and new clients cancelled agreements and projects, a cookbook contract we were on the verge of signing was postponed, publications froze freelance budgets, and our regular travel affiliate commission income on this site disappeared as travellers shelved holiday plans, cancelled trips, flights stopped, and borders closed.

By mid-March, Cambodia only had a dozen coronavirus cases, but every day brought news of more cases around the country, all arriving with foreign tourists, cruise ship passengers, pilgrims returning from a religious event abroad, and workers coming home from abroad. Our chests started tightening.

Our lease was ending at the end of March, so like many in the same position, we asked our landlords if they could reduce the rent for a while. It was a firm no. Fellow expats began to leave. Every day we’d hear news of friends who’d managed to get on the last flight home. But we had our cat Pepper (pictured above), who we’d rescued from the street six years earlier. We couldn’t go anywhere in a hurry, even if we could afford to ship our lives back to Australia.

We had decisions to make. The last thing we wanted to do was move house during a pandemic. But we had no choice but to move to a smaller, cheaper place out of the city centre. We let the landlord know we wouldn’t be renewing and I started apartment hunting, while Terence began packing. The panic attacks began.

There was hope for a few days after the editor of one of my dream publications offered us a commission that would have paid six months’ rent – until the chef upon which the narrative hung decided she no longer wanted to be in the story. The choice had been made for us. We began borrowing boxes from our friendly local supermarket. Terence began researching how long the virus stayed on surfaces. I began crying randomly.

A well-intentioned friend reminded me that moving was one of the most stressful things after the death of a loved-one, getting divorced and separating. Not only were we moving house, we were moving house during a pandemic and it didn’t go exactly as planned.

Tips to Safely Moving House During A Pandemic

From encountering dozens of strangers – real estate agents, landlords, caretakers, and tenants – as I inspected apartments to borrowing cardboard boxes from our local supermarket and hiring random guy with a truck to do our move, there were countless opportunities to expose ourselves to the coronavirus while moving house during a pandemic that swept the world in weeks. These are our tips to avoiding the mistakes we made.

Start Sorting and Packing Well Before You Normally Would Before a Move

If you’re moving house during a pandemic you need to understand that everything is going to take a lot longer than it normally would due to a whole lot of factors from practical stuff like having to leave the moving boxes you’ve acquired sit for a few days to ensure that if there was a chance of the virus being on the surface of the boxes that it’s dead by the time you move to allowing for more frequent meltdowns. I made the mistake of starting to sort and pack when I normally would under normal conditions and didn’t appreciate that it might take me longer than usual. The wine may have helped stop the panic attacks but it slowed me down.

Use a Professional Moving Company If You Can

We probably wouldn’t even be providing these tips to moving house during a pandemic had we had have been able to use a professional moving company. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to professional movers here in Siem Reap, and if we did, we certainly couldn’t have afforded them. Instead, we had a trusty tuk tuk driver we’ve been using for years hire some local guys and a truck. They do move stuff for a living and they were fantastic when it came to speed and strength and patience, but they did not come prepared for moving during a pandemic. They didn’t even seem to be aware that there was a pandemic. They didn’t wear masks nor gloves, and didn’t carry hand sanitiser. They didn’t wash their hands upon arrival, let alone washing their hands frequently, as I heard professional moving companies are now doing. If you have access to professional movers and you can afford to hire a professional moving company, ask them what their pandemic protocols are what safety precautions they will be taking during the move.

Pack Everything Up Yourself Even If You Use Movers for the Actual Move

Even if you’re in a position to hire a professional moving company to undertake the actual move, and that would normally include a packing service, if you’re moving house during a pandemic you definitely do not want half a dozen strangers handling all your worldly possessions. Even if they are following the protocols that professional moving companies are rapidly adopting and wearing gloves and masks and so on, you still won’t know if someone has the virus as they may be asymptomatic. Movers who pack touch all your stuff, and even wearing gloves they may touch their mouth or eyes, or cough or sneeze, and spread the virus unknowingly. Pack everything yourself and that’s one less stress you have to worry about. That was my intention, but because I started packing too late at one point I had several guys huddled around me, watching and waiting for a box to cart out to the truck. As we neared the end, the truck-owner who was managing the move sat down beside me to help me wrap and box the last of our dinnerware. He actually did a terrific job, but I didn’t know him before the move, so didn’t know where he’d been or who he’d been in contact with. We were lucky. We didn’t get sick. But we were certainly worried for a couple of weeks following the move.

Provide Disposable Masks, Gloves, Soap, and Hand Sanitiser for the Movers

If you’re moving house during a pandemic and able to hire a professional moving company, then they will probably have their own masks, gloves, hand sanitiser etc. If you live in a place where you don’t have access to professional movers, then do as we did and provide disposable surgical masks, surgical gloves and hand sanitiser for the movers, and encourage them to wash their hands frequently if they choose not to wear those. Now for my confession: despite having provided all of those things for our moving guys and some of them wore their masks, they didn’t use the gloves, didn’t wash their hands, and didn’t appear to have the same level of concern that we did for safety. And, frankly, because we were so focused on the move itself and I was still packing some things, we weren’t tough enough with the movers as we should have been when it came to taking basic safety precautions such as wearing masks and washing their hands regularly.

Wear a Face Mask and Wash Your Hands Frequently Throughout the Move

You may not be in a position to control what your movers do if you’re moving house during a pandemic, but you can protect yourself. Always wear a face mask and wash your hands frequently. Ideally you should also try to maintain some social distancing of a couple of metres in case someone has the virus and coughs or sneezes and droplets fall on you. However, as we discovered, social distancing during a house move was impossible. The best we could do was protect ourselves by always wearing face masks and washing our hands as often as we could. We also tried to minimise contact with surfaces that our movers touched, such as door handles and door frames, although that was incredibly challenging, so we discretely wiped down surfaces with a soapy sponge when we could.

Have the Movers Leave the Boxes Outside Your New Home

As we were moving into a fully furnished apartment, as most expats do here in Cambodia, we had planned to have the movers leave all our boxes on the landing outside the apartment and we would move then sanitise them with a Dettol spray we bought before bringing them into the apartment ourselves. That was fantastic in theory, however, we were so exhausted from the sorting, packing, moving, and general stress of the recent weeks – not to mention that we’d moved into a second-floor apartment with six flights of stairs and were moving during the hottest month of the year, which locals call the ‘Cambodian summer’. While we tried to take as much as we could from the movers in the doorway, there were heavy boxes and large objects, such as our shelves, that we let them carry in just because we were so exhausted. Try to avoid this mistake if you’re moving house during a pandemic and are serious about reducing risks.

After the Movers Leave Disinfect All Surfaces They May Have Touched

This virus is incredibly contagious if we haven’t made that clear yet, so it’s important to disinfect all surfaces that the movers may have touched after they leave and before you begin touching anything yourself. Use a disinfectant spray like Dettol, fill a spray bottle with a soapy solution, soap up a cleaning cloth, and slip on your disposable medical gloves. Spray all surfaces that your movers may have touched, such as door handles, door frames, walls, cupboard exteriors, etc. Afterwards, throw the cleaning cloth and gloves away and give your hands another good wash with soap. This was actually one thing we did very well!

Leave Your Boxes for a Few Days or Spray Them with Disinfectant

The coronavirus can remain on surfaces of cardboard so you could leave the boxes packed for a few days, but you probably don’t want to do that, so instead buy a can of Dettol spray which you can spray on all of your boxes and let that settle for a little while. Then once again, wash your hands thoroughly with soap before and after ripping the tape off your boxes, before you handle your personal possessions.

Self-Isolate for Two Weeks After Moving House

This is for your own safety as much as that of your new neighbours and friends so be prepared to go into quarantine for two weeks after moving house. That means shopping for groceries before your move and ensuring that your landlord has everything in your new home connected and working, such as the electricity, gas, television, air conditioning, internet, and so on. And I won’t say any more than that as moving house during a pandemic is the last thing we want to have to do again.

Pour yourself a stiff drink or open a bottle of wine and promise yourself that you’ll never move during a global pandemic again. If you have any tips for moving house during a pandemic we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave advice in the comments below.

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