Packing for an international move: What I’m happy I packed and how I’ll do better next time
After three months In Bangkok, I’ve finally gotten word that my shipment has arrived at the Port of Bangkok and I should be getting my boxes any day now! I am very excited to get my stuff but at the same time not totally desperate. (My aunt just visited for the weekend and commented: “You haven’t gotten your shipment yet? But your apartment looks complete. Where will you put anything else?”) Part of the reason for that is that my apartment came pretty well equipped with basics, but I think my packing strategy was also good. I thought I’d make some notes here about what I’m happy I packed to get me through the first few months and what I wished I would have packed so that next time I make an international move I can be even more prepared.
First, some background info on my shipping situation. I was lucky to have two shipping allowances (one from my departing school and one from my new school), so I had plenty of money to ship and pay for overweight baggage. I flew to Bangkok with three suitcases and a carry-on bag and shipped the rest. I had also purchased a plastic heavy-duty tub from the hardware store to bring as checked baggage but didn’t end up having enough to fill it, so I left it behind. My packing strategy was to pack one suitcase for my summer trip to Italy (luckily that was the same wardrobe I would need in Bangkok) and then in the other suitcases, I would pack a work wardrobe, workout clothes, some personal items and photos, and a few essential kitchen items to get me started in my new Bangkok apartment. Everything else got shipped.
What I’m happy I packed
Spices. I had a very well-stocked pantry and spice cabinet in Budapest, and the thought of getting rid of everything and starting over hurt a bit. I wondered if it was crazy to pack some spices in my checked luggage but my friend encouraged me to pack it if I wanted it. I decided to fill one gallon-sized Ziplock baggie with spice jars and then quickly realized I would actually need two. I was so happy to get to my new apartment and have all of my essential spices with me.
Hangers. I put as many hangers into my suitcase as I could fit. It’s a great feeling to be able to unpack right away and have everything neat and organized. Plus, I am really particular about hangers and love the simple white plastic ones that I get in the U.S. Ever since I’ve lived abroad I have been packing these hangers. Another quirk of mine: all of my hangers have to match, so I don’t want to just go out and buy random ones to join the ones in my shipment.
Bedding and towels. It’s a well-known tip to pack a set of sheets for each bed when you make an overseas move. Familiar sheets and duvet covers made my place feel like home right away. I’m also glad that I remembered to pack a towel so that I wasn’t caught unprepared on my first night in my apartment.
Photos and art. This is another common tip and I had it on my “Bangkok Suitcase” packing list but in my mind, there was a caveat of “only if there’s enough space.” I managed to fit a few framed photographs and a watercolor of Budapest that I got as a departing gift from school. In those first few weeks, just seeing my new bookcase with pictures of friends and family made me so happy.
Coffee supplies. Of course, you can get everything related to coffee in Bangkok, but I knew I would want to be able to make my first cup of coffee right away and not have to go shopping for the right supplies. I packed my French press, a metal filter, a metal tumbler for iced coffee, and even my plastic ice cube trays (good ice is very important!). All I had to do was buy a bag of beans from Starbucks and I was good to go.
What I wish I would have packed
I got really lucky in finding an apartment that had nice looking furniture and a pretty decent starter set in the kitchen with plates, glasses, and a few essential cooking items. All of that combined with the stuff I’ve packed and the shopping trips I’ve done means I have been pretty comfortable for these first three months. Still, there are a few items that I would want to pack in my suitcases next time I make a move abroad.
More essential kitchen items. Seeing as I had the space and money to bring more with me on the plane, I’ve been wishing that I packed more kitchen items. In the last month or so as I’ve been cooking more, I’ve been struggling without some of the things I am used to in the kitchen and I don’t want to go out and buy them knowing that my shipment is on its way and I would then have doubles of a lot of things. Some things I would have added to my suitcase: a whisk, a microplane, a spatula, tongs, etc. These items don’t take up that much space but they would make a big difference in cooking comfortably. Basically, anything I would really need for my last weeks in my kitchen after my shipment was packed up are the same first things I will need while waiting for my shipment to arrive.
More towels. Yes, I remembered to pack that ONE bath towel, but why didn’t I think to bring at least two so they could be switched out and washed. Again, I could buy some new ones, but I have a set of nice Turkish towels that I love plus a few more from Ikea in my shipment, so I really don’t need to buy any more to have on hand. The same thing goes for hand towels. I didn’t pack any so I bought two to get me through, but I could have easily added a few to my suitcase.
More toiletry backups. I packed a regular TSA-sized kit for my summer trip to Italy and left some partial bottles in Budapest to refill them when I got back to Budapest before my flight to Bangkok. I shipped a big tub of my backup supplies (that I get in the US whenever I’m back). I wish I had put some of those extra supplies in my suitcase.
What I wish I would have shipped
I was really in a frenzy selling and downsizing when I was preparing to move, but now I’m thinking that I may have been too hasty in selling some things.
Small appliances. This I know was a mistake. When I looked up the voltage used in Thailand before deciding what to pack, I read that the voltage was the same as in Europe (good!) but the plugs were different (bad), so I thought about it and decided that it was not worth it to have to use plug adaptors for all of my small appliances if I was going to be in Bangkok for a while. When I got here I discovered that most of the outlets DO use European plugs. And not only that, but most of them have universal plugs where you can plug in all kinds of plugs- even ones from the US. I sold my coffee grinder, milk frother, immersion blender, and a few other small items that I liked having but may or may not replace at this point.
Blender/food processor combo. This is partly connected to the plug issue, but for a bigger item, I was more willing to use an adaptor. What I was thinking about more with this one was whether I could wait several months for it to come in my shipment or if I wanted to be able to go out and buy a new one so I could have it right away. I finally decided that since the machine was 8 years old (it was one of my first purchases in Budapest) and I would want to use it right away, I would sell mine and buy a new one. I did go out and shop for one right away, but I found that the models here were both more expensive and not as good as the one I had in Budapest. I ended up buying one from an unknown (to me) brand and it broke after one use. I had to take it back to the store and they sent it to the manufacturer for repair. It seems my shipment will now arrive before I get it back, so I went three months without it anyway!
Big screen TV. I’m not really sure why I didn’t even think to ship my TV. Too big? Too valuable? Easily replaceable? I had a TV that came with the apartment, but it was pretty small and old, so I went out and got a new one right away. Still, I was thinking how there was really no reason not to pack the one I had.
Winter clothes. People told me not to get rid of all of my winter things because I might want them for a vacation to a cold-weather spot, but knowing I would be based in SE Asia and going to Arizona for winter breaks, I didn’t think that would be likely. Sure enough, now I am considering a trip to Japan for skiing in February and wondering if I have the right clothes now! I actually couldn’t bear to part with some of my favorite winter items, so I know I have some things, but I did sell most (all?) of my coats. One cozy winter one, in particular, I am thinking about that maybe I should have held on to. BUT, it was a little small and I didn’t love the color, so maybe I will just replace it when I am home for Christmas. (It’s pretty much always available on Amazon and not too expensive.