16 November 2012

5 Things to Pack When You Move Abroad

Our hotel room, 3 days in. Moving sucks.

Moving abroad is a whole host of things: exciting, terrifying, crazy-in-a-good-way, crazy-in-a-bad-way. Packing to move abroad, on the other hand, is just one thing: overwhelming. It's the physical manifestation of all the unexpected and unknowns that currently comprise your life. If you are anything like me, it's an exercise in frustration and fruitless google-ing. I had no idea what I would need, or want, or use.

We were advised to bring things that 'smelled' like home, so I packed months' worth of shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes, and deodorants. I have since come to realize that you can buy these types of things in Japan. (Forehead slap.) I don't feel too bad about it, though, because it's near impossible to precisely know what you need to pack.

The challenge is obviously dependent on where you move, or where you're moving from, and if you're bringing furniture over, or if you're going to purchase furniture when you arrive, or if you'll live in a furnished flat. It depends if you are going to ship things back home with you, or if you're going to sell them when you leave. Are you a committed minimalist moving just your bad self, or are you hauling the family-down-to-the-dog? There are VARIABLES, people. You meet five expats, you'll hear five Move Across the World Strategies.

Because I was so lost when I came over, here is my take of the 5 things to toss in your suitcase before you move across the world. It's my best effort for to quantify something that's pretty hard to pin down. I also want to something pop up for the next Type A lady who tries to google her way into Having All the Answers. (Good luck, my soul sister. I understand.)

1. A (Good) Workout Video
Amos and I were very committed to finding a gym when we moved to Nagoya. Physical fitness is important for both my mental and physical health and was an important part of my 'routine' in Seattle. However, Japan is not into gyms the way the US is into gyms, so it took us sometime to find one that worked for us... and then some more time to figure out how to sign up, the hours it was open, not to mention to get into a habit of going. (Another delay? Indoor shoes! For the gyms here, you need a pair of sneaks that have never been outside. It's not like the US where 'indoor shoes' simply means non-marking non-black soled sneakers. Add this requirement to the narrow selection of shoe sizes here, and you understand why it took us a couple months to get our act together.) It's nice to have something you can pop in and do in a hotel room or apartment. It's easy. If you're like me, getting the motivation to work out can be challenge enough; I need the actual working out part to be logistically simple. A good workout DVD can be just the ticket. Also, it'll be in your native langage, so even after you find a gym, it can be a nice break to following directions in Japanese / Spanish / German / et al. I like the Bar Method, Zumba, P90X, and Do Yoga With Me (online, so you don't even have to pack!)

2. A live concert DVD or a season of your favorite television show
When we moved, I was going from a very full, busy life to... well, I had no idea what my days would look like. I had a suspicion they would be less social than my days in Seattle. (I was right.) That's where Adele comes in. When I'm in my apartment and it's just too quiet, or when I'm lonely because all the daily chatter in my life is in a language I don't understand, I can toss in Adele and it feels like friends are hanging out in my living room; it's better than music because she talks and chats during the concert. It makes the day-to-day aloneness more survivable, especially in the beginning. Also: you get to pretend Adele is your BFF, which is a favorite fantasy of mine. I also watch old episodes of Parks and Rec like it's my job. You cannot be sad when you are in the company of Leslie Knope.

(When you're abroad, check out iTunes Season Pass to keep caught up on recent episodes. I do like DVDs, though, for when the internet invariably isn't cooperating, which always seem to coincide with the moments that I am about to lose. my. shit.)

A note about the two suggestions above: remember that DVDs (and players) are regionalized, so make sure your DVDs match your player's region. We brought over our computers and DVD player, but are now stuck having to purchase all DVDs from the US region and ship them over. A note to Those In Charge Of Such Things: this is really annoying.

3. Kindle / E-Reader
I know, bibliophiles: a real book just feels better in your hands. Blah-blah-non-English-speaking-country-blah. Get a Kindle (or other e-reader) before you move abroad. The ability to buy books in your native language is key, both for voracious readers like myself and for decidedly less enthusiastic readers like my husband. We use our Kindles more than we did back home. A big bonus is the e-edition of your favorite magazines, which is so much better than rerouted mail or paying the equivalent of $8 for a three month old copy of Vogue. (Careful which magazines you subscribe too... Sunset does nothing but make me pine for West Coast living, while Martha Stewart and Bon Appetit bring me quite a bit of joy. Maybe because the aren't so regionally focused?)

4. Month supply of toiletries... or whatever.
From experience, let me tell you that hauling over a year's supply of Aveda may not be worth it. In most places in the world, it's simple enough to buy necessary toiletries  That said, it's nice not to have to run out and find something important like toothpaste or tampons within a day of landing. Give yourself time to figure out which way is up and have a couple weeks' stock on hand. A small amount should do. That's also packing jeans, bras, coats with some life left in them. New shoes, plenty of socks. If you're really on top of things (or tend to get sick) throw in a box of cold medicine. Don't create more hurdles than you'll already have when you're FOB (or FOA... whatever). One note: if you're moving to a country of a predominately different race, you may want to stock up on hair and makeup supplies that are clutch. I've had great luck with mascaras, eyeshadows, and even blush in Japan, but for curly hair and pale skin? I bring that from home (or my very kind sister ships it over).

5. Tea or small candies... something edible from home.
This is silly, but I always throw a box of Yogi's Egyptian Licorice tea in my bag before I head to Japan. I know; this is the land of tea, and here I am, insisting on bringing it from home. But it takes up no space and when I sit on my couch after a day where I failed to communicate, where I got lost, where I missed my friends, where I yadda-yadda-yadda, the tea makes me feel all warm and cozy and home, even if I am living in a sometimes overwhelming country. If there is something small you can bring that takes you back to your comfort zone -- a small thing of good olive oil? A tin of cookies or candies? Pringles? Coconut flour? -- throw it in. Sure, you may be able to find it in your new country, but you may not, so it's nice to have. Word of the wise: double-bag that shiznit. It'd be so shameful to haul coconut flour across the Pacific, only to have it explode in your suitcase.

Eh? Maybe? Take this, along with all expat advice, with a grain of salt. I've learned that, on a certain level, we're all winging it. Best of luck.

All images above are mine, except for The Parks and Recreations header, via Kevin Levine, the Adele photo, via this site, and the E-Reader image, via Basehor Library.

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