Forget the Kitchen Sink!
Guest written by Beth Green
Strangely enough, the hardest thing about leaving your home country to work abroad as an English teacher for the first time isn’t getting a job overseas, saying goodbye to friends and family, or arranging transportation.
Usually, it’s figuring out what to pack to take with you.
Obviously, you’ll have a leg up on this situation if you’ve visited the country you’re moving to before. You’ll know what the climate is like, what standards of dress are expected by the locals, whether purchasing new things will be cheap enough that you can leave a lot at home.
So…what if you haven’t been to that particular place before?
Well, you’re not the first foreigner to ever venture there (unless you got an extraordinarily cool job posting, that is!), so it should be easy to find out the answers to the questions raised above. Do that first.
Packing So You Can Dress for Success
Once you know climate and standards of dress, you’ll know what clothes you need to take with you. Once you know relative prices, you’ll be able to make decisions about what can be bought there.
A word of advice, though—even if the country you’re moving to seems like it’s a pretty relaxed place to be, the school you’re working at may not think every day is Casual Friday. Also talk to your new employer and find out what their dress requirements are for foreign staff.
Once you know the guidelines, don’t pack more than two weeks’ worth of outfits. One week’s worth of daily wear plus one or two more formal outfits is better. And, remember, shoes are heavy.
Packing to a (Weight) Budget
Now that you have your clothing laid out and ready to be put in the suitcase, go online and find your airline company’s page about baggage requirements for international flights, if you’re flying to get to your destination. Also check domestic flight regulations if some of your flights are internal.
Write down the number of kilos or pounds you’re allowed, and the number of cases. Put this piece of paper somewhere prominent. This is your packing budget. Do not go over this amount, even if you think you can coerce the airline staff to overlook a smidge or more of overweight luggage by batting your eyes. Lots of times people moving overseas have to change from one airport to another, wade through throngs of confused air travelers, and lug their own bags up and down flights of stairs. Save your lumbar region and your wallet—pack to the budget limit! (Boy do I wish I heeded my own advice here!)
Now, weigh your suitcase with your clothing in it. How much more weight do you have left before you hit the limit?
What Can’t You Live Without?
Next, let’s think about things other than clothes. I find it helpful to make a list at this point, brainstorming the following topic:
• Essential medicines I know I can’t find overseas (enough for the duration of my working contract).
• Essential medicines I can find overseas (enough for two weeks to get you started).
• Essential cosmetics (if you use them), same rules as for medicine.
• An address book with friends’ and families’ real addresses so you can send them postcards/get a hold of them in emergencies.
• Whatever technology you can’t live without and don’t want to buy overseas, and its assorted cables and accessories (it’s often cheaper and easier to pick some stuff up—even computers—abroad, but this depends on your personal attachment to your gadgetry).
• At least one hard copy of a photo of your family.
• At least one hard copy of a photo of your best friend(s).
• Photocopies of all itineraries and plane and hotel reservations for your trip abroad.
• Photocopies of your passport, TEFL Certificate, university diploma and whatever other documentation your school will need to start your visa process going (you should also have high-resolution scanned copies of these documents with you overseas).
Note: Do not pack your passport, other identifying document originals, or valuables in your checked bags. Murphy’s law states the bag will get lost if it contains important things.
Put your essentials in your suitcase with the clothes and weigh the bag again. Are you over the weight goal? If so, go look at your clothes and remove two items (hint: shoes are heavy!). Did that help? Take a hard look at your technology gear too. You probably can replace some of it overseas, or get smaller, lighter versions of it, right? Keep taking stuff out until you are within the weight allowance.
And, if you do have room for more items, brainstorm the following list:
Things I Want to Bring But Maybe Don’t Need
• Teaching related books. (Limit yourself to two, soft-back. I have lugged my intermediate-level Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy around the world.) Before packing them, check if you can buy replacements in your destination country. Alternatively, if you have an ebook reader, it’s worth the expense of getting an ecopy and leaving the brick of bound paper at home.
• More photos of friends and family
• Small welcome gifts from your hometown for your new boss, landlord and co-workers.
• Small, light decorations that will make you smile and think of home. A pennant from your favorite sports team, a (very small) stuffed toy, (an extremely tiny) knick-knack. Limit yourself to only one.
• A guidebook for your new country (also available in ebook format, don’t forget).
• A pen for filling out customs forms and other paperwork, a permanent marker for labeling your luggage.
• A small utility knife always seems to come in handy when you get where you’re going (but don’t put this in carry-on luggage people!).
• Travel-sized toiletries. This is last because you can buy toiletries all over the world. Yes, people where you are going will need to brush their teeth and wash their hair too. If your online research (you did that, right?) shows that there is something you need and can’t buy in the country you’re going to, it doesn’t belong on this list, it belongs up with the essentials. Women who use certain kinds of, or specific brands of sanitary products, this advice is for you.
Now, the moment of truth–does it all fit? If your bag is overweight, use the two-things-out rule until your suitcase groans in delight.
And finally—congratulations! You’re on your way abroad.
TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t pack things you can easily buy anywhere. If you’re moving to a temperate climate, you can probably get socks there easily, for example. Toothpaste is everywhere, too.
TED’s Tips™ #2: If there is something you must have to be comfortable and happy, and you know you can’t get it overseas, then by all means bring it with you. If you have sensitive skin and your doctor says you must wear only one brand of socks, then, sure, pack enough socks for a year.