Things to pack when packing your life (to move abroad)

I hate packing.

I could be going on the most glamorous vacation and when it comes down to the packing part, I’m miserable. I get stressed out simply thinking about what I need, and what if I forget something, and oh, now I’ve packed too much, and wait what if we do something fancy? What if it rains? What if it’s hotter/colder/wetter/dryer/weirder than I expected and I don’t have the right things?

I get all caught up in the possible eventualities. Ultimately it never really matters, but in the thick of it, it feels like it’s all so important.

And so, when you’re packing to move to France suddenly, and not just packing for vacation or a move down the street, inevitably it gets exponentially more complicated. And stressful. Did I mention I hate packing?

Here’s what to pack when you’re packing your life (to move abroad!)

Some of this is sensible. Some of this is silly. All of it was important in making me feel whole and human and helping me survive my arrival in France.

→ Pack your favorite things! Put your best foot (or sleeve) forward with things from your closet that make you feel confident and happy. On your worst day, you’ll feel just a smidge closer to home with things that are familiar and you know you love. When you’re feeling homesick or just experiencing an “I have nothing to wear!” day, pull those staples from your closet for instant comfort and feel at home in your favorite clothes.

My Frenchman has been insanely comforting on this front. Even though he was already back in France, he sat on video with me as I went sweater by sweater, dress by dress, trying to decide what was worthy of that precious suitcase space. And every time I got too overwhelmed, he said “Bring it! It makes you happy, bring it. We can use more suitcases.” While I’m tearing my hair out trying to take the fewest possible shirts, all he wants is for me to be happy when I get to France.

→ But don’t pack them all. Seriously, make some tough choices and leave a few things behind even though you love them. My all-time favorite things are my sweaters. My warmest, coziest sweaters. And they are all stuffed in a bin in storage, not coming with me to France. Because Paris does not get as cold as Boston does and it just doesn’t make sense to bring them. Second example of hard choices? I abandoned a shirt I had literally worn just 3 days before sending it to the “donate” pile. Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong – if you have a wardrobe piece that’s chic, functional, and makes you happy, by all means take it. But leave room for adding a little foreign flair to your closet once you get there. You’re sure to find that there are needs you didn’t realize you had before, or situational items that never came up at home. Bonus: shopping is a great way to explore your new home and test out your basic language skills! And, worst case? Have some things shipped from home later if you decide you really can’t live without them after all.

→ Popcorn. If you’re me, that is. If you’re not me and you’re not obsessed with popcorn to the extent that you eat it in ungodly volumes then consider this a metaphor for whatever it is that makes you happy. For that thing you love and need to be you. It’s a simple, silly little thing, really. Popcorn. Just corn kernels. But I’d feel a little less at home if I couldn’t throw a pan on the stove to make a bowl of popcorn to watch some tv, or toss a packet in the microwave for a quick snack in the evening. Also in this category for me is tea (packed flat and ready to go for my favorite, comforting brew!). What’s your popcorn? Pack whatever it is, if you can, to make your new house a little more like home.

→ Loads of extra tampons/pads. Trying to figure out how/where/which to purchase is the last thing you want to have to do when you’re still settling into a foreign country and struggling with daily life, let alone struggling with pms. Do yourself a favor and buy extra before you leave. Don’t bother with the boxes – just toss them throughout your stuff wherever there’s space, or try to pack them flat in big ziplocks. You’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to find a French pharmacy on a Sunday when everything’s closed. Cross that bridge once you’ve got things down a bit and are feeling more confident.

Obviously, this may not apply to all of you… so consider this one a metaphor as well. Medications, specific hair products, vitamins – think about the little things that will be stressful to figure out immediately, and stock up before you go to save yourself the trouble.

→ Small practical tools. On this side of the pond, we use cups and teaspoons rather than grams and liters. All of my recipes also use cups and teaspoons. Therefore, I packed my measuring cups and spoons. Weird? Maybe. But I love to cook and I don’t know what I’ll find in my furnished apartment, so I’m bringing the things that will allow me to make my familiar dishes. I’m also bringing my favorite mug (for the above-mentioned tea!). It’s a small thing that will make me feel at home (and it’s got Boston landmarks on it, so it even looks like home!). Bring small things that will make your life easier – they’re worth the extra corners of your luggage.

And that’s it. That’s all you get.

Just kidding.

When it comes to packing, whether you’re moving across the street or across an ocean, bring what you need and leave what you don’t. Obviously it makes things a whole lot simpler if you’re able to strip yourself of unnecessary weight (and saves on luggage fees and shipping costs…) but at the end of the day, if you’ll be happier with 12 skirts instead of 4, you do you. 

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