One of the most exciting, and stressful, parts about preparing to move to a new country is packing. I’ve had to make moves like this nearly ten times in my life and can vividly remember the last time that I whittled all my worldly goods down to two suitcases. So, put on some of your favorite tunes, get a pen and paper and let me give you some pro tips on packing for your big adventure.
I’ve done the first part for you, click the button below to download a packing music playlist.
First off, you probably can’t pack everything that you own into your suitcase, so don’t even try. I find it best to make a list of what types of clothes I’m most going to need and packing appropriately. For example, seven pairs of socks and underwear is probably enough; no, you don’t need twenty different t-shirts no matter how cool they might be. Don’t forget that if you are going abroad to teach, you’ll need to have a decent selection of work clothes.
If you have a loved one (friend or relative) who is kind enough to store some of your clothing while you’re away, then I highly suggest that you invest in a vacuum sealer. This will keep the clothes you leave behind in good condition and will also help you compact the clothing you’re bringing with you. The other option, and a good one, is to donate clothing to your local charity shop. Part of the excitement of going abroad as an expat is to recreate yourself somewhat. Take the opportunity to change your style slightly.
Another clothing tip is to make sure that you check the year-long climate of the country you are moving to. I can’t tell you how many teachers that I know moved to Hanoi without any winter clothes. I understand the misconception that Vietnam is a tropical place and must always be hot. Winter there, especially if you travel by motorbike, requires a good jacket. Don’t make this mistake, pack to adapt to your new country.
If you’ve got the funds, this is a good time to get a few new useful travel gadgets. The key is to think compact. You’re going to be going on a lot of small excursions and aren’t necessarily going to want to drag a desktop replacement laptop around with you. When it comes to electronics and travel, I like to think of it according to need. Here’s all I personally really “need”:
- Something to listen to music on the go
- Something comfortable to write on
- Something to browse the web with on the go
- Something to watch movies on with at least one other person
- Something to comfortably read with (books, not just web)
- A computer with the ability to do some web development
- Something to charge my items on the go if I don’t have access to an outlet
- A good camera
These days, most things can be done if one only has a phone and/or tablet and a decent laptop. As an avid reader, I’d also strongly recommend an e-book reader of some sort. I used to travel with about 40-50 books that I thought of as essential parts of myself. This led to many comical moments with me shoving books into all of my pockets so that I would meet the luggage weight requirements of my airline. Once e-book readers hit the scene, it drastically changed my outlook. Now I’ve got all the books I want with me all of the time. A physical book is nice, but maybe one at a time is enough. Just something to think about; I’m not judging.
Make sure that you don’t pack your electronics in the stowed luggage as it might get stolen or damaged during transit. Make sure that all your valuable electronics are in a carry on and have some sort of protective case.
Sentimental objects and hobby items
If you’re moving to a new country by yourself, it’s inevitable that you’re going to feel lonely from time to time, and that the place is going to seem strange and alien. I find it essential to pack a few “totems” with me to keep me grounded. Little things that remind me of home and the people I love there. For example, I’m still traveling the world with a ping pong ball, a jade whale tail and a small rock. I’d tell you the story but…well, it’s none of your business. It’s personal. All I can say is that seeing them, no matter how crazy things get, keeps me grounded.
Not every country is going to have all of your specialized items for whatever your favorite hobby or sport might be. It’s worth looking into, but it might be worth making room in your suitcase for a few of these items. I like running, but can’t get shoes in my size in Vietnam. Packing a good pair of trainers was essential.
Hygienic products and medicine
Eventually you’ll get settled in and either find a suitable replacement for, or how to source, your hygiene projects. Until that time, I suggest bringing a small sample of each of them. At least enough to last the first week or two. First impressions are important, you don’t want to lack confidence in your smell and/or look.
Also, make sure to stock up on any hard to purchase medicinal products. Especially, things like antihistamine or prescription drugs. Bring enough for at least a few months. It might be more difficult to find these items initially than you think, especially if your health depends on it. I remember my wife discovering that she was allergic to a certain tropical fruit during the carnaval in Ororu, Bolivia. Finding a pharmacy was nothing short of a nightmare.
Alright, time for a few more quick packing tips that don’t necessarily fit into the sections above.
- Bring official documents with you for getting visas and work permits.
- Roll your clothes, don’t fold them. I find this saves room; my wife disagrees.
- If you have a large physique, your sizes might not be available in all countries. Check this out before packing as it will drastically affect your decision making regarding what clothes to pack.
- Use a scale to measure the weight of your luggage before the airport. It’s a lot easier to make decisions about what to bring in the privacy of your own room than it is in to do in front of a long line of impatient strangers. Trust me, this has happened to me more than once.
- Throw a change of clothes in your carry on. Sometimes luggage gets lost and it’s nice to at least have one set of clean clothes after a long haul flight.
- Make a music playlist and download a good store of podcasts for your journey. Especially when you are waiting in lines at the airport, a good podcast can save the day.
- A hard case is a lot more reliable than a soft case. Expensive, but worth it if you’re worried about the items you’re storing in them.
- Leave some space! You’ll be buying a lot of souvenirs and other new things. If you pack your bags full, you’ll have to throw things out when you go back home.
- If you can’t carry or navigate around with the luggage you have, maybe you’ve brought too much.
- You will forget to pack some things. It’s fine! It’s all part of the adventure.
Good luck on your adventure. Press the button below for my personal packing playlist.