Travel Tip Tuesday: Packing for an International Move

We’ve discussed tips for packing light, packing well and packing internationally, but packing for the long haul, such as an overseas move or a long-term extended stay is a different story. Where do you begin? What do you take? What do you leave?

Argh! Just thinking about it is enough to make you want to throw in the towel and abandon your move, isn’t it?

It isn’t?

Ok, then. Here are a few tips I’ve collected over the years that served me well when I moved both to Paris and to Calabria. Use the tips you like and toss the rest. You’ll be throwing away enough of your own things soon enough …

To start with, I divided the types of things I would need into four categories 1) Attire, 2) Health Care, 3) Home Items and 4) Personal Items and went from there. If it didn’t fit into one of these categories, I didn’t take it. (Although, Wise Gal that I am, I made those categories pretty darn flexible.)

Proponents of selling everything you own and replenishing your stock in your newly adopted country will tell you that you can buy new clothes when you arrive. While this is true, both of the international places I have moved to are much more expensive than Beaumont, Texas. Your personal circumstances, the weather, seasons and length of time you will be away will affect what you take with you, however I suggest you carry essentials, such as jeans and slacks, a few shirts, PJs and shoes. I am a recovering shoeaholic, so take that last piece of advice as needed and surge ahead.

I also brought accessories, such as handbags, jewelry, hats and scarves. For the most part they are small and can easily be tucked into empty spaces and well, heck, a girl’s gotta look cute in her new country … right?

Health Care
Before I moved to Paris, someone, who had supposedly lived there before, told me they couldn’t find American-quality tampons anywhere in the City of Lights. So I stocked up on a year’s supply of those babies and carried them with me in gallon-sized Ziploc bags. Ahem. You can imagine my surprise when I went on my first grocery run and found an entire aisle dedicated to Tampax.

The lesson here is to do your research. For people relocating to Italy, the forum at Expats in Italy is full of helpful advice and people willing to help you with your move or you can email me and I’ll help you out. And for what it is worth, finding tampons hasn’t really been an issue for me here in southern Italy, so save your suitcase space!

I do suggest, however that you pack any prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine you can’t live without. It can be difficult-if not impossible-to have them mailed to you.

Home Items
Many soon-to-be-expats are consumed with bringing necessities such as clothes and shoes and don’t have much leftover space for home items. This is really a personal choice but on both of my international moves I carried my comforter. In Paris it was the one thing that was really mine in that fully furnished apartment I shared with three strangers and seeing it every day made me smile. Here in Italy it was a reminder that I wasn’t “that far” from where I’d been and it was comforting to sleep in something that reminded me of home.

If you don’t have room for a comforter, consider packing something smaller, such as your favorite coffee mug, soup bowl or decorative pillow. You will be happy to have that little reminder when homesickness sets in.

Personal Items
Many expats will agree that we love to have our personal pictures and momentos with us in our new countries. I filled an envelope with the drawings my nephew had given me and brought my favorite family photes. I left all frames behind and bought new frames here. If I was  moving today, I would scan all of my pictures and put them on a flash drive or CD and reprint them here in Italy. It is a great way to maximize space and still have your favorite personal photos with you.

Packing for an international move is one of the most difficult things many of us have done. If time and space allow, consider creating a box of other items you would like to take with you at some point in the future or even packing an additional suitcase for your family members or friends to bring when they visit you.

What do you think are the first things you would pack if you moved overseas? For those of you who have moved, what did you bring and why?

Until next time … Buon Viaggio!

17 Responses
  1. Great tips Cherrye! I remember when I moved to Italy I carried a big heavy portable CD player in my hand luggage. Not so much fun dragging that around during my stopover! It was a 110 volt player but I just couldn’t live without it so I made my father buy me an adapter before I left. Once I got to Milan I plugged in my baby and all my musical hopes and dreams vanished in a puff of smoke. Short circuit!!!
    Oh no … I’m sorry. That stinks!

  2. joanne at frutto della passione

    When I first moved (’94) here I came with clothes and accessories and nothing else, after we were married (in Canada) my mom shipped all our wedding gifts and that was it. I didn’t take any of the above into consideration. The only personal things were photos that I brought and that my family mailed to me on a regular basis!!
    That pretty much summarizes what all I brought and how I brought it, as well, except I still have some wedding presents waiting in Texas!

  3. My husband’s company paid for the shipping on our stuff so, we’re pretty lucky that we got to bring everything of sentimental value to us. I love being able to decorate my new home with all of the things we brought from our “old” home. It’s made the move so much easier and I’m not homesick at all….except for the Tex-Mex food.. which will be coming in a suitcase that my parents will bring when they visit this summer.
    I hear ya on the Tex Mex!! Ha. I agree with you that it helps with the transition if you have a few things from “home.”
    Sonia P.’s last blog post..I love Italy..Reason #22: The Passagiatta

  4. I don’t count, thanks to the US Navy, I brought it all 😉

    But in other places I’ve lived (like Mexico) I didn’t bring anything but some clothes. I figure, what’s the point of going somewhere new if you’re hauling around all the stuff from before?

    Welcome back!!
    Lucky you with the Navy footin’ the bill. That helps!
    South of Rome’s last blog post..St. Patrick’s Day Winner

  5. Great tips. My situation was a little different in that I couldn’t store anything at my parents (they live overseas) or at my siblings who live on the east coasts. The cost to ship things from L.A. to the east coast wouldn’t have been that much cheaper than sending my items to Rome. I sold all furniture, and small appliances, donated, clothes, shoes, books etc. and really went through everything.

    In the end I had 4 suitcases I took on the plane. My things (books, clothes, dishes, pots/pans etc) in a crate were shipped over and arrived around 6 weeks later. The move went smoothly because I started downsizing two months before the movers arrived.

    Moving is a pain but it did force me to get rid of things I didn’t use or need.
    I know you shipped a lot of your stuff. I was so relieved when it all arrived for you!!
    nyc/carribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Okibà Mozzarella Bar Comes to Campo de Fiori.

  6. I am one that says she would pretty much just sell everything. They are only *things* and they can be replaced. Plus, I like the idea of furnishing a new home from flea market finds- and where better than Italy or Paris to do that??!!

    That would be part of the fun for me.

    I would take only the clothes I needed. Maybe a few cooking utensils, my dutch oven, a few pictures, my laptop, the dog and Chris.

    I know Chris and I would have heated discussions about his extensive CD and DVD collection and we won’t even get into the DRUMSET!!!

    I may store a few favorite pieces at my Mom’s…just in case:)
    Well, at least Chris’ DVDs won’t really work over here, so you should win that fight!
    My Melange’s last blog post..Travel Tip Tuesday – Travel Planning with Goggle Maps

  7. diana strinati baur

    I will start with the most stupid things.

    I brought a used VW Golf to Germany with me, like there are not enough of them already there. Plus I had to have all the lights changed on it to comply with German law.

    I brought too many small appliances, which all burned out, one by one, since the rpms of the motors still are not optimized even with an electrical converter. You name it, eventually some part of it started to burn. Usually in the middle of making curtains or baking bread.

    We did it on a company move, and I was not forced to make tough choices. Knowing what I know now? I would have just taken my clothes with me and a few sentimental items such as pictures and books. I did have a huge garage sale before i left, but I should have just had an auction and taken the proceeds to IKEA in Germany to rebuy the furniture.

    The smartest thing I brought along was my husband, since he spoke German. Plus he had a job.
    Ha! Good one. Definitely a wise choice to bring the marito! I brought my flat iron with me … burned it up first time I used it!
    diana strinati baur’s last blog post..Recuperando!

  8. We went with the bare minimum when we moved to Rome for a year – two suitcases each – one with clothes for winter, one for summer. What I really needed though was brought over by my Dad on a visit – a sound machine to drown out the noise from the bar beneath us. I still use it every night.
    Ha. That is funny. I am glad it is coming in handy for you guys!! I’m impressed with your two suitcases each!
    Ciaochowlinda’s last blog post..Spaghetti and Meatballs

  9. Great Post here Cherrye! I will be looking at this later this summer. This is the year! 🙂 Thanks for the helpful tips my dear!
    a presto 🙂
    Yea! Good for you, Katie!

  10. my company paid for our relocation, so we brought everything, but of course we did not want to bring anything in the general category of “things that plug in”, which when you separate it all out, is quite a lot of stuff to replace.

    When we relocated away from Italy it was painful to leave behind our stereo, TV, air conditioner, microwave and all the things we’d acquired! We did bring back a few things and buy transformers so they work in the US, and my husband reconfigured some of our favorite lamps so we still have them.

    I would also add for anyone moving specifically from the US to Italy – there is no better place to buy cheap clothing than the US, so stock up on white t-shirts etc from Old Navy or Target! This goes double for kids clothing – is there anywhere in Italy to get cute, cheap kids clothing?

    Also re shoes: this may just be me, but I bring only 1 pair of (walking) shoes with me every time I go to Italy because regardless of how good I tell myself I’m going to be, I come home with 10 pairs of fabulous, cute, shoes that I found at various saldi and markets!
    Ha, that is funny. I did that with the shoes when I visited here, but now that I live here, I prefer to buy them in the US. At least compared to here in Calabria, I think there is a better price/value match in the US than here. And I strongly ditto you on the cheap clothes thing.
    Madeline’s last blog post..In Search of Piazza Duomo

  11. I have already started purging and packing! I went through all of our clothing. Packed what we can live without right now. It was hard but I am only bringing a small TV/VCR combo so Little P can watch tapes and play games. No other appliances. We don’t have good furniture so that is not coming. But I cannot part with my yarn and fabrics and scrapbooking stuff!
    I have already gotten new t shirts for the future!
    Sounds like you are all set. It is hard, isn’t it? I wondered how I ever ended up with so much stuff!! In bocca al lupo!
    jmisgro’s last blog post..Spring is Coming!

  12. I totally concur on the comforter idea — “home” things to me are SO important in creating a sense of feeling at home in your new world. For me, that means my own kitchen towels and yes mugs!

    Of course I go overboard with the whole concept, as i am entirely too attached to “stuff” and its personal connotations.
    I am attached to stuff, too. Not so much because I can’t live without “these dessert dishes,” for example, but because I remember shopping for them with someone who is important to me, or I remember using them at a certain dinner party with neighbors or friends.
    Kim B.’s last blog post..A Funny Turn of Events

  13. Ciao Cherrye! What a helpful post! I am in the midst of a slow move from the States to the Amalfi Coast. When I go back to visit family, I take basically empty suitcases, fill them to the absolute max capacity (exactly 50 lbs!), and head back again. It is always hard to know what to take, but I have based my clothing on the upcoming seasons. Clothes can be more expensive here, but I have also found they serve as those personal items you mentioned. The clothes I have and like express my personality, and I want to bring those things here. It serves as a connection between who I was there and who I am here. And household items! When I first came here, I remember being frustrated baking and cooking with American recipes online and not having measuring spoons. Next time I brought my grandmother’s measuring spoons…both useful and a sentimental attachment. (Carry those sentimental items in your hand luggage though!) Next trip… summer clothes (& shoes!) and some sentimental prints for decorating the house. Thanks for the great post! I really enjoy your blog!
    Wonderful idea on the American measuring devices. I “forgot” those, at first, too and have since brought some over. GREAT TIP. I did like, as well. Go with empty suitcases, come back HEAVY!
    Laura at Ciao Amalfi’s last blog post..Hearing Ancient Birdsongs on the Amalfi Coast

  14. I forgot to mention that i have gotten those notebooks that you can store your cds and dvds in. So we did that and got rid of all of those cases. You would not believe how much room we saved! Plus you keep everything together and you are know where they are!
    I don’t think I have seen those. They sound great!
    jmisgro’s last blog post..Knitted Blanket

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