Packing Lists, Travel, USA

Packing for an (Eventual) International Move

I’ve just returned to Amman after four weeks of traveling in Germany and Turkey – mostly for grad school and work, with a few days of relaxation in between. I couldn’t wait to be unpacked and back home – and I did unpack very quickly – but now I’m continuing to pack for an eventual move back to the United States.

A few months ago I was interviewing for a job in New York that unfortunately didn’t work out. But at that time, I started getting ready to move by packing up all my winter clothes and trying to get more organized. Now I’m interviewing for two more jobs (and applying for more); I’m considering heading to the US in the near future, with or without a job, mostly due to some family concerns. So I’m again in the situation where I could be moving in three weeks, or waiting a bit longer.

Fortunately, last year I went through a major purge and got rid of probably 75 percent of my wardrobe. I’ve bought some things since then, but I expect I can fit all my clothes, shoes, bags, etc., into 1.5 large checked bags. Half of my wardrobe (winter clothes) is packed into one suitcase with room to spare. I’ve started packing up non-essentials like carpets, pillow cases, and a few decorative items that I don’t need everyday right now.

This is me with one of my best friends, loading up the car in January 2015 when I was moving from DC to Turkey. I traveled with one large Samsonite suitcase, an Osprey 65L backpack, and my carry-ons were a small blue suitcase and another smaller backpack.

Looking back, I’m not sure what all I came with, but I remember packing a fair amount of unnecessary things out of sheer panic. Almost four years later, I feel ok about moving with three checked bags – full of things I like, that have memories and will help me set up a new home – and with a carry-on suitcase with my camera gear. Going with only two bags would mean leaving behind a lot of stuff that I like, and four feels excessive. After all this time abroad, and perhaps with getting older, I feel like I have clothes that suit me in either environment (when I moved to the Middle East, I came with lots of outdoor clothes/gear that for some reason I thought I needed) and that are better quality and worth moving halfway around the world. So far, I don’t think it will be necessary or worth it to ship anything, but obviously some people choose to do that. Lots of stuff is just easier to buy once you land, especially if you’re moving to the US, where clothes and household goods are cheaper than the Middle East (I’ve brought bedsheets from the US, but I’ll never understand people who fill an entire suitcase with just a duvet). Basically, I’ll be moving with the same amount of suitcases an Emirati lady takes on a weekend trip to Beirut!

I started making a list that turned into a Google Sheets/Excel document, creating a detailed inventory of exactly what is going in each bag.

In case you’re wondering, here’s how a year’s worth of clothes break down for me. I could certainly do with less if I had to.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so organized with a move – and it might look crazy, but this already makes a huge difference. First of all, if a suitcase gets lost in transit, you know exactly what’s in there for insurance claim purposes. Second, I’ve definitely had moments as I’m midway through unpacking, where I think “Oh, I’m pretty sure that sweater is in here,” and an hour later I’ve torn apart three suitcases searching for it. Third, as I continue packing, I can go back to this list as my space constraints become more realistic, and decide – you know what, maybe I should just donate that dress, or maybe I should leave those shoes in storage here. This way, I know exactly which suitcase they’re in, and which compression sack or packing cube within that suitcase. All told, I have about 80 items in my wardrobe (not including pajamas, underwear, athletic wear, all of which I’ve also culled) which still sounds like a lot, but is small enough to picture the exact item with a short descriptor.

As a Mediterranean-looking photojournalist with a lot of Middle East stamps in my passport, I spend a lot of time trying to look as unsuspicious as possible in airports (so far lightening my hair color hasn’t helped). The other night my checked bag got held up in security screening because of my video monopod. And apparently having photo equipment, olive skin, a western passport, and the ability to speak Arabic is extremely suspicious in Jordan. Last time I flew with an Arabic-language book in my checked luggage, TSA left a “we searched your bag” notice in the middle of that book. Sigh. So I’m not really willing to put my camera and expensive lenses into checked luggage, but I divide up my hard drive backups into different bags, along with tripods and stuff that’s not so fragile. Not as suspicious-looking as having most of that with me in carry-on luggage, and if something gets lost, I hopefully won’t lose everything if it’s divided up.

I’m also working on doing the same thing for the stuff I’m going to leave behind in storage. Since we live in a family-owned apartment building, I don’t have to worry so much about selling furniture and totally emptying out our flat. It’ll probably be rented out once we leave. But, since there’s the possibility of us living here again, there’s stuff that’s too heavy for me to take with me this time, and stuff I don’t want random renters using – like the nice silverware and skillets my mom gave us as wedding gifts (the Ikea dishes I don’t care so much about). I don’t anticipate leaving behind more than five big plastic totes in our building’s storage space, but I am labeling all of them and keeping an inventory, just in case I ask Layth to bring something from them, or someone else needs something out of it – it’ll be easy to find.

But in addition to packing inventories, there are a million other things to keep track of with an international move – like important documents, logistics once you land, medical concerns, moving pets, and more.

I started using Microsoft OneNote because you can add in attachments (plane ticket PDFs, pictures, etc.) and it syncs to the cloud so you can update it on your phone or whatever. And you can add to your #ListsonLists by having multiple checklists under the same section, so you can divide up your move as you see fit, but still have it all in one place. And of course this will all get much more detailed as things progress. One last thing I use is labels in Gmail – any time I have a trip, I create a label and nest all the related emails under that (plane tickets, hotels, etc.) – and be sure to make them available offline on my phone so that I can access this if the airport wifi doesn’t work.

Here’s hoping the rest of this will go smoothly – and that soon I’ll know where I’m going to end up.

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