The Things We Carried

Part of our daily staff meetings at your thirdlife (after feeding the cats) is to review questions and comments and respond when we can. One specific question we received asked what physical things did we bring with us in starting a new life abroad. Here is Jiab’s response (while Jim gets a performance review from the cats).

For people moving abroad, whether it’s for the first time like Jim or for the second time like me, deciding what to take can be overwhelming.

At one end of the spectrum is taking only what you absolutely can’t live without (for us, that would be our cats and that would be the end of our packing), while the other extreme is to transplant one’s entire life, shipping the whole houseful of stuff (an extremely expensive undertaking, not to mention the lack of space in most European homes). 

In my first overseas move, to the US for graduate school, I only brought two big suitcases. Like most twenty-two-year-old, I didn’t have much nor did I need much.

Fast forwarding thirty years later, I now had a fully-furnished home. I also had over thirty years’ worth of keepsakes, mementos, books, and other accumulated bits and pieces of my journey. Some things reminded me of great personal and family moments; others I was not sure why I had it, but kept it “just in case.”

Deciding what would make the trip with us was quite daunting. A more important and a more difficult task, perhaps, was what to leave behind. Because of huge shipping costs, Jim and I agreed to only take whatever we could fit into our four large suitcases (plus two cat carriers).

What we carried:

1) Cats – They were coming no matter the hassle.

2) Small things with sentimental value that would make our new place home, such as family pictures and a small elephant figurine with its trunk up to signify good luck and to remind me of Thailand.

3)Daily clothes, though we limited ourselves to about a week’s worth. All the “special occasion” clothes that we loved (like Jim’s vintage white “Humphrey Bogart” jacket) stayed. Many of our clothes were very similar or even repeats (once we liked a certain “style,” we tended to stick with it), or somehow no longer fit (how do clothes get smaller just sitting in a closet?), so we donated many of those. Then there were many pieces that had sentimental value, such as clothes and artifacts made by our boys or that had special memories. These we boxed up in storage. For now, just knowing we had them “somewhere” was enough; we didn’t need to physically take them.

4) Our tennis gear, as tennis is an important aspect of our lives. The time and trouble to take it was like restating our vows to commit to being players. Most of the other exercise equipment got donated.

5)Things that we would not be able to get there. This took some research and it is worth finding out what is and isn’t available in one’s new country. What products are part of your daily routine? Do you have to use a particular brand? For example, a lot of expats in Spain complain about the difficulty of finding stick deodorant or a particular brand of canned pumpkins during Thanksgiving. For me, I like to use the locally available products as much as possible. One exception is that I could not find Thai chili paste in Granada so I made sure to bring some.

6) Multi-vitamins and minerals, small supplies of over-the-counter medicine (Tylenol, Ibuprofen, cough and cold medicine) and prescriptions – just enough to last a few months to give us time to look around for Spanish products.

7) Essential electronics and work necessities. This included an iPad, 2 laptops, and reference books on media, retirement, and finance. Just because we were retired didn’t mean we would stop working (or learning!).

8) Assorted small “transitional” things. I still needed US measuring cups and spoons to match my recipes, while on the other hand we came loaded with adapters for European electrical outlets.

All told, it was not that much. It all came to less than 200 pounds (thanks to the Airline weight limit). It was agonizing, thinking “what if we need that?” but after eight months in Spain, we actually discovered that we had, probably accidentally, brought the most important thing…”enough.” Okay, maybe we bought a couple too many t-shirts and socks. But that was about it. We were glad we didn’t spend over thousands of dollars shipping any furniture or other belongings overseas. 

1 thought on “The Things We Carried”

  1. Thanks Jiab!
    While reading this just now, I got up and walked to my kitchen in Florida and packed collapsible measuring cups and spoons for our flight tomorrow. It got frustrating in Spain trying to cook or bake. I constantly had to convert metric to imperial or vice versa while trying to follow a recipe.

    Problem solved!


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