Fall in full swing

I’ve had so many things to say – and so little time to say them.

First and foremost… It’s my France-iversary!

Well, almost. Technically it was last week but I didn’t post about it here (just on Instagram). I’ve officially been living in France for a full year, minus those couple of months at the start of this year. But my stuff has been here for a full year and that’s what counts. Home is where the heart your stuff is.

It’s amazing to me that it has been a year already. This time last year, I was just moving into a freezing apartment with no heat, nervous to try the metro alone, and starting a long, strange few months working from home. I can’t believe how much has changed since then. Travel, engagement, married (twice), working, feeling settled… I couldn’t have asked for more.

As for recent events…

The last few months have been quite a blur. I know I managed to finally post something in early September after the summer, but I know I’ve been neglecting you all. It’s not like I haven’t been doing anything to write home about, I definitely have! But that’s exactly the problem.

Since the start of June I have:

  • Started a new job, that keeps me out of the house and busy from 9am-7pm at least
  • Flown to Boston and back for a dress fitting
  • Visited dozens of apartments to buy or rent
  • Got my Titre de Sejour! It only took 3 attempts to get into the Prefecture de Police to pick it up
  • Flown to Boston and back for our US wedding
  • Moved
  • Actually put pen to paper to buy an apartment
  • Spent half a day at the OFII (immigration office)
  • and tried to have some semblance of a life outside of paperwork and real estate

So you can see why it’s been tricky to squeeze in time to write about the various goings-on around Paris. I had hoped to write a post all about La Rentrée here in France, because it’s a really interesting phenomenon. After all the Parisians abandon the city in the month of August, everyone comes flooding back for September 1st in what has been aptly described as a sort of second New Year’s. Everything’s fresh, a new start after a healthy break from school, work, city life, and hustle and bustle. There’s just no equivalent in the US. We have “back to school” season, of course, but the world doesn’t stop turning during the summer quite the way it does here, so it’s not as much of a shock when it all starts up again.

But now, we’re officially into fall, and life and business is completely in full swing. I’ve even started seeing Christmas decorations in a few stores, but don’t get me started on that. We think it starts early in the US, but in my experience, countries that don’t really celebrate Halloween in the big way we do or have a fall holiday like Thanksgiving to take the edge off tend to dive head-first into Christmas wayyy too early. For us, we can look forward to Thanksgiving – the food, the fall colors and atmosphere – to dip our toes into the ‘holiday spirit’ before the full dive. Here, there’s no barrier. It’s holiday anarchy.

But, I digress.

The point is, I’ve neglected you all and had a lot of things going on and haven’t been sharing it all with you. Here’s my apology, in the form of a collage of delicious things:

If that doesn’t make up for it, here’s (as we say on the internet) a cat tax:

American in Paris Cat Tax.jpg

Next up: I’ll tell you all about my thrilling visits to the OFII – Office of Immigration and Integration – visits to the Prefecture de Police, and on a more exciting note, our upcoming trip to Barcelona! (Surprise, family! I don’t think I told you about this yet…)

Packed & Ready

I’m heading back to Paris!

I can finally say I’m going back – to Paris, to my apartment, to my cat, and of course to the fiancé I left behind for nearly 3 months to wallow through the winter without me.

For the entire time I’ve been home, there has been some measure of uncertainty. Not knowing when I could go back, not knowing if my paperwork was going through, not being able to tell anyone at work I was planning on going back… It has been exhausting. When the pieces finally all fell into place and I not only had solid plans but could share them? That was a big day. And once I was able to tell my team and give my notice a huge weight was lifted and I finally felt like I could enjoy this a little. Not that quitting my job didn’t come with its own set of stressors, but I wasn’t keeping secrets anymore and that was a relief.

Speaking of paperwork, I can also finally celebrate all of it going through! We got our marriage stuff in order… I got my visa application in order and received it… all that’s left is to get on a plane and go to the city hall!

Oh the stories I could tell of the highs and lows of international paperwork. And, believe me, I will certainly tell it all in good time. I just couldn’t bring myself to write about “How To Apply for a Visa” or “How to get married in France” in confident detail until I had the papers securely in hand myself. I was pretty sure that as soon as I wrote about it, something else would go haywire and the whole post would be a lie. So stay tuned for tales of visas and consulates and Paris Mairies in the near future.

After all, I’m soon to be unemployed in Paris. It seems only right that I should spend my days writing my life story in a cafe somewhere!

But for now, my flight leaves tonight. I’ve got my parents packed and ready to come with me, and I’m getting married on Monday! It has been a wild ride these past few months, full of lots of unknowns and confusion (and joys and excitement), and I’m happy to say it’s all coming to a happy close this very week.

A bientôt, Paris!

Paris Seine Eiffel Tower

My story on Inspirelle!

Hey friends – I have news!

I recently had the opportunity to write for Inspirelle.com, all about my move abroad to Paris and how it happened. And now… it’s published!

Paris Plunge: Leaving Job, Family and Country for French Love

If someone had told me a year ago that I would walk away from everything to move to Paris, I would have laughed. But here I am, just days away, about to move to THE city. PARIS!

And it all happened so quickly.

Suddenly, I had no reason not to go. What’s the worst that could happen?

…. and you’ll have to click on over to read the rest! Seriously, check it out. It’s a cool site and I’m so excited to have been able to write for them.

What is Inspirelle.com?

Inspirelle is a website for, by, and about expat women in France. Though it only launched at the beginning of September, it already plays host to tons of great content (ahem, yours truly) including fun things to do in and around Paris, helpful expat info like how to go to the doctor, and cool stories about life with the French.

So check me out on Inspirelle, and stay tuned because I’ll be writing a follow-up sometime soon about what happens next!

Week 1: A Recap

It has been an interesting, remarkably “normal” week, despite the fact that I up and moved across the Atlantic. I feel stuck between vacation and work, and each day has a little bit of both.

On one hand, I still get up every day and “go to work” – albeit digitally – and spend my day writing content and replying to emails and fielding the same issues I did a week or a month or a year ago. On the other hand, I am in freaking France. Signs are in French. It’s the Métro and not the T, and I’m in a strange new apartment with things that work differently that I need to figure out.

Rather than overload with every instance of something new every day this week, I’ve condensed it all into a Captain’s Log of my first week here in France.

Week 1 in Review:

Day 1: Landed at Charles de Gaulle at about 9:00am or so, also known as 3am to my poor Eastern Standard Time brain. Went for a walk, took a nap. 2 home cooked meals already. Language is escaping me. Unable to effectively communicate with les parents Français. Hoping this improves immediately. 

Day 2: Slept for 12 hours. Feeling surprisingly not jetlagged. Back to work as if it’s a normal Monday but it is not a normal Monday. Got the majority of my work done before anyone at home even woke up. The rest of the work is pending responses from my EST-delayed coworkers… I feel productive and also stalled.

Vitry Sur Seine

Not a bad view from work

Spoke French for 2 hours straight with Frenchman’s mother, flying solo while Frenchman & Frenchdad went to get the keys to our apartment. Struggles were had. Language is reappearing.

Day 3: Shower technique is improving. Feel marginally more clean this time, though still not enjoying sitting & one-handed hair rinsing. Looking forward to real shower at l’appartement. More delicious food.

French shower bath

My nemesis

Frenchman went to apartment to clean and get the place set up. Enjoying having temporary house-boyfriend to take care of housekeeping.

Day 4: I’m home! Achievement (apartment): Unlocked! Have home, can unpack. First impression: adorable street, good space. Small kitchen. Also, tons of shopping on the street between home and Métro. Dangerous.

Radiators not working. Didn’t know there was an Arctic Arrondissement. Forced to retreat to warmer climates (back to les parents).

Upside? Frenchmom received an entire shipment of cheese today.

French cheese

As big as my head – the small ones are as big as grapefruits!

 

Day 5: Attempt #2 at apartment. This time, brought electric space heater. Still cold, but tolerable. Went grocery shopping. Mostly the same but also different. Ate more cheese. Went outside!

Took a walk from the apartment. Saw Eiffel Tower. Had a glass of wine at cute cafe. Stereotypical French life improving. Actually slept at apartment, didn’t freeze.

Eiffel Tower

Basically my backyard

Day 6: Made coffee, ate normal breakfast. Starting to feel more like “home.”

Cannelle arrives! Is noisy. So. Noisy.

Exploring. And Crying.

Exploring. And Crying.

Afternoon appointment to set up bank account. Looking forward to having normal access to money. Fingers crossed. Tonight, dinner somewhere fun in the 15th arrondissement, to look for our favorite place in the neighborhood.

And that’s my week!

In case you were concerned, I do know there are 7 days in a week. I didn’t lose a day to jet lag. I figured that the weekend deserves its own post, as I’m sure we’ll get up to plenty more things, exploring the neighborhood and seeing more sights. So even though Day 7 is Saturday, you’ll have to wait til Monday to hear all about it!

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

I’m here!

I made it to France, more or less in one piece. Unfortunately, they switched the plane out on us so we had the tiniest seats in the world, but after a good meal and about 12 hours of sleep, I’m feeling good.

We’re chez les parents for now, which means not having to find our own food – a definite plus. Frenchman’s mother does not hold back when it comes to mealtime. A full meal for lunch after we arrived, a full meal for dinner last night, and croque monsieurs pre-made for us for lunch today. Not such a bad deal for temporary accommodations until we are able to get into our own apartment.

Speaking of which… we get our keys tonight! We can pick up the keys and check out the place this evening, but we won’t actually move all of our stuff in until tomorrow. One more day of free home-cooked food doesn’t sound so bad to me.

In the meantime, I’m back at work already which feels super weird. I took just a single day off (Friday) to pack and prepare. Technically that means I had a long weekend, but with so much to do (and 12+ hours of it lost to a flight plus a 6-hour time difference) it certainly didn’t feel long. So Monday morning rolled around real quick. Thankfully though, I got to enjoy a leisurely morning since I’m working a 10am-7pm schedule to be marginally closer to my office’s work hours. As the move date got closer, I was starting to regret only taking the one day off, but at this point it seems like an okay choice.

So far, though, the only sign of how jet-lagged I might really be is the fact that I seem to have misplaced most of my French. I’ve been smile-and-nodding a whole lot at Frenchman’s poor parents. I expected to be a bit out of practice, but I didn’t expect for the words to disappear from my brain completely. I think my vocab took the extra-long weekend off that I didn’t…

Stay tuned to learn whether my words make a dramatic re-appearance or if we’re faced with a new story: Mute in Paris.

French Cat Playing

The real reason I came to Paris… (shh! Don’t tell Frenchman!)

A Story of 3 Suitcases

Tomorrow, I leave for France.

Today, I pack.

I may have packed and moved out of my apartment by the end of August, but after living out of suitcases for the last 6 weeks, my belongings are – at best – scattered. I did my best to pack my things in such a way that I could access what I needed throughout these weeks without too much trouble, but inevitably there were things I needed that had to be dug out. Not to mention that when I was packing, it was 90° and humid. Not exactly in the proper mindset for thinking through what I would need when it dropped from 80° to 50° in just 24 hours. (#NewEnglandProblems)

The last few weeks have been an exercise in ingenuity, trying to figure out how to wear the same 2 reachable long-sleeve things on repeat without people at work noticing. Also, as a girl with an admitted shoe habit, wearing the same pairs over and over has been borderline cruel and unusual punishment.

Anyway, after 6 weeks of rummaging through my things (as carefully as possible) you can imagine that even the most meticulously packed suitcases became a bit disheveled. So today I re-pack.

Since I personally do not own multiple sets of luggage, thus far I’ve been occupying my parents’ large suitcase in addition to my own suitcases and other miscellaneous carrying vessels. Frenchman and his dad arrive tonight, bringing with them 2 empty suitcases for me to fill with all my crap. This also means that since there will be 3 of us, I can take 3* checked bags! Music to my fashionista-meets-hoarder ears.

When I tell people I’m taking 3 big suitcases, I get one of two very opposite reactions. One faction laughs and shakes their heads at me, clearly thinking I’m insane for having/bringing that much stuff. These people think I should have 1 bag and a carry-on and call it a day. After all, how much stuff could you really need? The other faction stares at me, jaw on floor, marveling at HOW in the WORLD could you move across an ocean with just suitcases of clothes?? I like these people better. They allow me a smug sense of betterness for “roughing it” with just 3 bags full of every possible type of article of clothing for any potential occasion, weather, or mood.

Personally, I’m torn in the middle somewhere. As someone who never checks a bag for any trip, the thought of bringing this much stuff overwhelms me and makes me feel guilty. Why guilty? Great question, I’m basically the only person judging me for it. On the other hand, as I packed the stuff that made the short list after the Great Purge of 2015, I realized I actively wear every single one of those pieces so I struggle to find what I would even do without. Ultimately, I’m moving, not going on vacation so I need to strike a balance between backpacking and Kardashian.

So now we come to Packing: The Sequel (Return of the Suitcases).

After packing it all the first time around, I learned some things.

  1. Don’t pack seasonally. I made this mistake. I started packing early and in the heat of summer, so the first case I packed started with jackets and heavy sweaters at the bottom. While logical at the time for trying to keep at least 1 suitcase sealed up and ready to go, it made the bag way too heavy. Winter stuff is heavier, kids. Must distribute weight.
  2. Add bags, not stuff. Beware the overweight fees. It’s actually cheaper to pay for an extra checked bag than to be fined for your one bag being over the weight limit. You’re better off packing slightly less in more suitcases than fitting all your stuff in as few bags as possible.
  3. Think about the weather. Be aware of the weather both at your destination and for whatever interim days you have between packing and leaving. You may be in flip flops now but when you arrive in Alaska you’ll want something a tad warmer somewhere on the top layer of your bag.
  4. Think about the weather – Part 2. Bringing 20 sweaters in various weights, colors, and shapes is probably not necessary for a country where winter is mild. As a New England girl, sweaters are my favorite things. I was packing all my most favorite ones when Frenchman reminded me that it just doesn’t get that cold in Paris. Out went a whole pile of my most beloved things because I just plain didn’t need them. Heartbreaking? Yes. But necessary.
  5. Don’t have a meltdown. I super hate packing, and this kind of packing adds a whole other dimension of pressure. Remain calm. Nothing’s going to get folded, rolled, and stuffed if you’re on the floor staring blankly at your mountains of belongings. Have a plan, and just keep going.

Hopefully I can take some of my own advice. Maybe I’ll even manage to make a few more practical decisions and leave unneeded things behind.

Stay tuned, and wish me luck!

Paris: Here I come!

woman too much luggage

Photo by nydailynews.com

Dramatization: Do not attempt

*Full disclosure: I technically am taking 3 suitcases plus carry-ons. I had a total of 3 people so it only made sense…

** Fun Fact: I didn’t spell “suitcases” correctly the first try the entire time I wrote this. Not once. What gives, fingers?

10 Things I Wish I had Known Before Moving to Paris

Despite what Hollywood might tell you, moving to Paris is unfortunately not as simple as walking into the airport, suitcase in hand, and hopping onto a plane to your happily ever after.

For months, I’ve been doing research on how to move abroad, from visas to arrondissements. With all the details of “how to get there” finally settled, I’ve moved on to “what to do when you get there.” I’ve been looking for any and all expat wisdom from those who’ve gone before me.

Lucky for me, British expat blogger extraordinaire Chloe Martin, over at mylifelivingabroad.com, was willing to dish some of her best advice for moving to Paris after 5 years living there herself…

10 Things I Wish I had Known Before Moving to Paris

Let’s be honest, there aren’t many people who would argue with you if you said Paris was the most beautiful city in the world. It’s charming, romantic and incredibly alluring, what could possibly go wrong when moving here?

Paris is very different to life in other big cities, and after living here for five years now I can honestly say there are plenty of things I wish I had known before I actually moved here. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Paris, but knowing these things would have just made my life a LOT easier. So here are my top ten.

  1. You can’t dress up in Paris like you dress up in England. Bare legs are a huge no no, as is fake tan and too much makeup. It’s impossible to even buy sun shimmer here (sorry girls, you better get used to it) and fake tan in general is just a foreign concept to the Parisians. I wish I knew that wearing a fairly short dress, fake tan and my ‘night out’ makeup in Paris would result in men thinking I was a lady of the night. French girls COVER UP! Listen and learn ladies.
  2. You need to bring photocopies of every semi-important document you have ever received. The French are absolutely OBSESSED with paperwork and a lot of places will ask you for copies of any number of documents. You also need a translated copy of your birth certificate, done by an authenticated French translator, so get this done once you arrive. Last of all, you need to keep copies of everything you EVER receive while in France. I guarantee you that you will need it one day.
  3. Photo courtesy of My Life Living Abroad

    Photo by My Life Living Abroad

    You can’t get a bank account without an apartment but you can’t get an apartment without a bank account. Sound confusing? It is. In Paris you need to prepare a ‘dossier’ before you are able to even attempt to find somewhere to live. The best thing to do when you first move here and have no French address (obviously), is to get a friend or someone you know living in Paris to write you an attestation d’habitation to say that you live with them. That way you can open a bank account and as soon as you find a flat (thanks to the bank account) you can change your address. Of course, choose someone you trust, as they will receive your letters from the bank!

  4. You need to start your Carte Vitale process as soon as you have an address and a job. The French healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but getting the card is about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. The process takes between 6 and 12 months so start it as soon as you arrive to be sure to receive it as quickly as possible.
  5. You should get a Navigo, never buy tickets.
    Photo Courtesy of https://instagram.com/mylifelivingabroad/

    Photo by My Life Living Abroad

    Compared to London the tickets aren’t actually expensive but it’s still cheaper to get a Navigo. For only 70 euros a month you can travel within ANY zones of Paris (1-5) on any day, at any time. All you need to do is go to a big station like Chatelet and they will help you create your card which you can then charge monthly or annually.

  6. You must learn how to say you are ill in French. Learn ALL the basics: I have a cold, I have the flu, my body aches, I have a fever, my throat is sore, my nose is blocked, etc. No matter what your French level is you need to know these basic expressions in French. In France the pharmacies are so efficient that you often don’t need to go and see the doctor. However if you can’t explain your symptoms clearly you will soon realise how much money you can waste on medicine that won’t cure your illness. Make sure you can tell the pharmacist exactly what is wrong. It will save your wallet from taking a beating.
  7. The Cinema is REALLY EXPENSIVE. Get the loyalty card. Cinema tickets are around 10 euros for most people and around 7 euros for students or people under 26. There are certain week days where it’s cheaper but it’s still a LOT more expensive than in the UK. However, the silver lining is that France does a loyalty card for big cinema companies like UGC or Gaumont. Pay 20 euros a month and see all the movies you want. Even several in one day. It’s a real money-saver.
  8. Photo courtesy of My Life Living Abroad

    Photo by My Life Living Abroad

    Getting a VELIB subscription is too cheap not to. A 1-year velib pass (the bicycles in Paris) costs 29 or 39 euros depending on if you want the first 30 minutes or the first 45 minutes free. Either way you look at it, it is such a BARGAIN and the velib stations are everywhere so you’re never short of a bike! It’s also amazing to rent a bike in the summer and avoid the non-air-conditioned metros.

  9. The Tax System is very different. The good news is that as a foreigner you don’t pay taxes during your first year in France so for the first year there’s nothing to worry about. However, if you arrive in 2015 and start working, you will pay taxes on your earnings the following year. Everything is paid the year after so make sure you put money aside to pay for your taxes when they come around. Taxes are very high in France so this is really important and if you pay late or not at all you can incur huge fines. Ask a friend or colleague who knows the system to help you out!
  10. French women not getting fat is a myth.
    Photo courtesy of My Life Living Abroad

    Photo by My Life Living Abroad

    French women eat more cheese than us, drink more wine than us and digest more baguette than us but miraculously they stay slim! So we will too, right?? Wrong…French women work really hard to maintain their figures. They work out several times a week, they eat bread and cheese and drink wine but all in moderation and they don’t binge drink or eat. They also order a burger and never touch the bread, so until you can learn this kind of discipline, you will not stay as slim as your French counterparts.

So there you have it, my top ten things I wish I had known before I dragged my Union Jack covered suitcase across the pond. If you are thinking about making the move to Paris, I hope these points will be helpful for you and will shed some light on la ville de la lumière!

With just a few days to go before I start my own Paris adventure, this is just the sort of advice I’m looking for. Don’t forget to check out Chloe’s work over at My Life Living Abroad! You can also find her (and other great info for and by expat women) on Inspirelle.com.

Homeless in Paris: the musical!

5 days and counting… and still no place to live.

That’s what I think about every day, since we learned the rug was pulled out from under us with our original apartment. I have to laugh. I knew this was all going too smoothly!

Back to the listings we went, looking at place after place online assessing whether it would be acceptable for us. Unfortunately, it seems we’re looking for a bit of a unicorn at this point, with mere days to go. Good area, decent size, real oven, place to put a desk… It wasn’t too much to ask a month or so ago, but it seems like it is now.

Over the weekend, Frenchman went to see 2 places. One was in a great location but is too small. The other was bigger, but not in a great location. When I learned he didn’t sign for either of them, I was a liiittle concerned. I might have cried. Maybe. He wants to keep looking at other options. I reminded him that we only have a couple of days left…

Stay tuned for Homeless in Paris (the hottest new musical, opening on a street corner in an arrondissement near you!)

Just kidding. It’s going to be fine.

Is it a bit stressful? Sure. But we won’t actually be homeless with his parents right there and we’ll find a place eventually. I just would really like to have a place to put my suitcases when I roll in after an overnight flight.

He says to trust him, and I do. But it’s really hard to not have any control over where I’m going to sleep in just a few short days.

It’s been an interesting week.

In lighter news, the secret’s totally out at work, which is nice. I met with my own team about 3 weeks ago to break the news and discuss how we would handle workflow. Last week I sent an announcement to a couple of other managers letting them know I would be remote and to inform their own teams as necessary as there would be no official announcement… and they immediately announced it. #ParisProblems

Slowly but surely the news has spread, and it feels nice to have it out in the open. Am I getting the same questions over and over? Totally. Do I mind? Not one bit! I get to talk about my plans on repeat, reliving it for each excited listener. It’s a narcissist’s dream.

I get to tell everyone that yes, I’m going to be living in Paris, yes in the center like actually in Paris. I get to talk about the things I want to do and all the places I plan to go.

I get to remind myself over and over that I’m really doing this and I’m about to do the coolest thing I’ve ever been crazy enough to do. I’m freaking moving to Paris!

An 18-pound cat

You know that feeling when your chest is constricted and you can’t breathe and it feels like an 18-pound cat is sitting on top of you and you can’t move it? No? Just me?

For those who need a visual aid:

Georgie, the 18-pound cat

Georgie, the 18-pound cat

An 18-pound cat is sitting on my chest, and I can’t breathe.

Our apartment fell through.

We got this apartment locked down weeks ago; I felt great. Flights? Check. Place to live? Check. We were all set and I felt confident that we were well-situated for my arrival so I didn’t have to stress.

The apartment was huge – way bigger than we needed – but we got a great deal. It was a temporary rental (Frenchman doesn’t want to pick anything permanent without me there to see it, too) but it had everything we needed. Furnished, 2 bedrooms, with a desk/office, great location – perfect. The only caveat was that the woman was trying to sell the place, so we signed on monthly with the risk of having to leave sooner than expected.

Way sooner than expected.

She sold it, and we got an email this morning that part of the agreement is that she cannot rent it. Apparently this is kosher in France despite us having signed a contract already.

Merde.

I arrive in just 2 weeks and we have nowhere to live. Juuuust great.

It was hard enough to find an apartment the first time around. There were a lot of things to consider: location, features, square footage (meterage), and all the tiny details to see whether we could see ourselves living there.

Apartment requirements:

  • Furnished
  • Close to a metro stop
  • Safe neighborhood
  • Cats allowed
  • Within our budget
  • 2 bedrooms (preferably – for guests!)
  • Workspace (I’m working remotely, indefinitely. I need a desk)
  • Real shower (no open bathtub with a shower head laying down)
  • All normal kitchen appliances

But, we had time to research and dig and find just the right place…

The apartment we had found had everything we needed. You’d be surprised how many listings we looked at that didn’t have an oven, or the second bedroom was through the first bedroom, so any guests would basically have to crawl over us to pee in the middle of the night. And I absolutely refuse to live in an apartment that doesn’t have a real shower. I 100% believe that I would have a complete nervous breakdown if, after a stressful or difficult day, I couldn’t just take a normal shower but instead struggle to hold the showerhead and soap myself and try not to soak the room. I could do it once, but every day?

Nightmare French Shower

My nightmare: no walls, loose shower head. HOW are you supposed to wash your hair?!

And now we’re homeless and need to start all over again… with just 2 weeks’ notice to our move-in deadline.

Breathe in… breathe out… move the 18-pound cat.

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.