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Expat Packing (Say That Six Times Quickly)

A recent article about smart packing got me thinking about my packing list for the annual, month-long trip to the motherland. With weight restrictions these days, any kind of packing requires some forethought but for many expats, staying with family for extended periods of time and often attending a variety of events, throwing items into a suitcase and hoping for the best doesn’t work.

In addition to the tips in the article, I would add the following gems –

Make a packing list – this is essential if you want to get as much packing bang for your buck. In the time leading up to your trip, make a note of garments that go well together, including shoes, so that you’re not staring at a rack of clothes when the time comes to pack. Think about what you’re going to be doing on your trip to avoid having to “panic shop” at the other end.Pack complete “outfits” – Every garment in your suitcase must be multi-functioned. By that I mean it must “go” with at least one other garment, preferably five. A great pair of trousers must have at least three tops and be suitable for day and evening occasions. When I make my packing list it’s more like a diagram than a true list; I’ll write down an item then have “branches” coming off it, listing what it will be paired with as well as any jewelry and shoes. If you’ll be traveling round and visiting different groups of people you can take fewer outfits since no one will see you wearing the same things over and over again, (not that it really matters – you are living out of a suitcase after all.)

Washing machines are your friends – Like many returning expats, I stay with friends and relatives more than I stay in hotels. I’ve yet to stay with anyone who minds me availing myself of the Tide and laundry facilities and your planning should take this into account. For example, you don’t need a clean pear of underwear for every day of your travels. The article suggests taking three pairs but I think this is pushing your luck – five to seven is more in my comfort zone Even if you are in a hotel room, you can always rinse a pair or two out in the bathroom sink. I would also suggest that any items you might want to launder are not 100% cotton unless you either don’t mind wearing extremely wrinkled clothing, or you will also have access to an iron.

Minimize accessories – Leave your extensive jewelry collection at home. If you have a couple of pairs of earrings that match everything, that will suffice. Ditto with the shoes – yes, it’s nice to have a different pair of shoes for each outfit, especially if you’re attending a wedding, a Silver Anniversary party, two hen/bachelorette parties and a wake, but the reality is shoes weight a ton. Find a pair (nude perhaps?) that will complement everything.

Think about the weather – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a hot and steamy Chicago only to land in a much cooler (and damper) England. You may not have worn socks or jackets for months where you live, but, unless you want to spend money on duplicate fleeces (as I have), read the long-range weather forecast. It’s really difficult when traveling to places like the UK in the summer because the weather can vary wildly, so plan your outfits in layers.

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Buy stuff at your destination – even better, have it sent. Since you can buy shampoo and moisturizer in every country these days, don’t weigh your suitcase down with bottles of the stuff. If you don’t want to go shopping the moment you land, go online and purchase items that can be shipped to your sister’s, friend’s or other host’s home. If they’re extra special hosts, they might even ask you what you want and get it for you in advance. Obviously, if you’re on a budget and the items in question are much cheaper where you live, you’ll have to make weight allowances for that. Sun cream comes to mind in my case as it’s hideously expensive in the UK compared to the US. Having said that, I rarely need it in the UK!

Bon voyage!

Toni Summers Hargis has a new book – “The Stress-Free Guide to Studying In the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students”. (Summertime). She is also the author of “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom” (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.

Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.

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