Packing to live abroad: What NOT to do

This is a reader-requested post!  Someone said in a comment that they are applying for TAPIF for next year and were wondering how I packed to live here for eight months and what tips I had.  Unfortunately, most of the advice I have are things I did wrong and learned the hard way.  I guess I did do some things right:

  • I only checked one bag, which was my free allowance, and I made sure it was within the weight limit so I didn’t have to pay.  Tip #1
  • I asked a teacher from my school before I left what I was expected to wear to school.  Tip #2
  • Umm yeah that’s it.

Honestly, I did a ton more things wrong than I did right.  Don’t be like me.  First of all, I moved from the Chicago suburbs back in with my parents (three hours away) on Friday, September 21, then flew out of Chicago on Wednesday, September 26.  That meant I had to pack, move home, unpack in a room filled with my childhood crap and a whole apartment full of stuff, pack again, and drive back to Chicago in five days.  Not ideal.

I also pretty much left my packing to the day I left, which was a terrible idea (DUH).  I packed some the night before,  but did most of it the morning I left, since we didn’t have to leave till 2 PM or so for my 7:30 PM flight.  Well, trust me, a few hours + one morning = NOT ENOUGH TIME.  I ended up being super stressed about getting everything done and didn’t eat in favor of packing, so by the time we left in the early afternoon I had barely eaten anything all day.  The combination of stress, no food in my stomach, and traveling caused me to get sick and throw up ALL OVER the bathroom of the plane I was on.  If you’re the type of person who would like to read more about that: guess what, you can!  Check it out here.  So yeah.  Tip #3: Pack ahead of time as much as you can!

Another huge mistake I made was taking two rolling suitcases, as I’ve mentioned before.  I decided to visit Paris before heading down to Nice (another mistake, but not really having to do with packing), and it was INSANELY difficult to navigate the city with two big heavy suitcases that I couldn’t carry by hand- I had to roll them.  When I was walking down a sidewalk or around train station, I took up tons of room width-wise, I had zero hands free for anything else, and don’t even get me started on steps.  I even ended up getting a blister on one of my palms, since I couldn’t switch off pulling my suitcase between my two hands; each of my hands had to have a suitcase in it at all times.  Tip #4: Only bring one rolling suitcase!  Bring a duffel bag for one of your carryons if you need more room.  Something you can throw over your shoulder.

I’m pretty happy with the clothes and such that I decided to bring.  There are a few things I regretted not bringing, some of which I had my family mail to me, such as my favorite slippers and some things to use for class.  I also foolishly thought Nice would be warmer than it is, so I didn’t bring a winter coat; I ended up buying one in November (when I still didn’t really need one in Nice, but I definitely did in Germany and England) and have used it a lot since then.  There’s not much else that I wish I had brought though; in fact, when my parents came in December all I asked them to bring were a few things I bought on American Amazon and sent to their house, since I couldn’t find them on French Amazon!  Tip #5: Bring your favorite stuff, but not much else.  Fewer things to carry + chance you won’t need them + excuse to buy things in France = win/win/win!

There are a few things I did pack that I wish I hadn’t.  One is toiletries; I naively thought a WalMart-esque superstore would be hard to find here and buying my toiletries would be a challenge.  Oh silly me… a Carrefour (pretty much like a super WalMart) is located half a block from my apartment!  Basically everything I need can be found there.  And even if a Carrefour or Monoprix isn’t that close to where you live, it’s easy to get there occasionally to buy whatever you’re searching for.  I know, it’s silly, but I had in my mind that it was gonna be all small produce/butcher/bakery shops here and no superstores… those small shops do exist in great abundance, but happily, superstores have made their way across the pond as well.  Oh pre-Europe Kelsey, you had so much to learn.  I would suggest skipping big toiletries (shampoo/conditioner/body wash… yes, I brought all those things) and only packing stuff you REALLY like or can’t get here, like makeup or Venus razors (if you’re me).  Tip #6: Don’t stock up on heavy toiletries in your suitcase!

Other than my big bottle of body wash (I legitimately JUST ran out a few weeks ago.  After four months.  I’m ridiculous, I know.), the only things I regret bringing are a few items of clothing.  I wear jeans and a nice-ish top (read: solid color v-neck) to work every day…err, four days a week…and when I just hang out at home or do something with friends during the day I either wear sweats or jeans and a v-neck.  If I go out at night to a bar or something, I wear jeans and a v-neck (seeing a pattern here?) OR if I’m feeling particularly fancy I might throw on one of the few dresses I own and a pair of tights.  So basically 95% of my clothing worn is jeans and a v-neck.  I brought one pair of black pants “just in case” but have yet to wear them, and also brought some nice shirts that I generally avoid wearing, since they’re on that border of too-nice-for-jeans but I never wear black pants.  So I wish I had left those “nice” shirts at home, and also a pair of hiking tennis shoes that I have yet to wear.  When I spent five weeks in Quebec, which is my only other kinda-living-abroad experience, I did a ton of legit hiking and didn’t have the shoes for it so I bought them there.  I thought I would be doing comparable amounts of hiking here but nope, not the case.  I have yet to need them, and if I ever do go hiking, my regular running tennis shoes will suffice.  Tip #7: Think about WHEN you’ll wear the items you’re contemplating bringing.

So that’s what I learned after packing and moving abroad once!  Hopefully it helps anyone getting ready to move abroad for the first time.  If I could sum it all up, I would say if you’re debating whether you should bring it or not, don’t bring it.  If you REALLY need it, you can have someone mail it to you or you can buy a replacement here.  And if you can, wait to buy clothes until after Christmas- the January sales are TO DIE FOR!!  That’s right, month-long sales.  It happens again in July.  France has got it FIGURED OUT.

Questions??  Feel free to ask!

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Categories: Assistant Helpful Information | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Packing to live abroad: What NOT to do

  1. Jen

    This is fantastic! Thanks for sharing your experience; I think it’s going to be very helpful in the future (as long as I get accepted, of course). I’ve also been enjoying the previous posts (especially the one about cell phones–I had never thought of doing something like what you did), so keep ’em coming!

    • Glad you’re enjoying them and think they’ll be helpful! Come April, let me know if you’re accepted or not!! I’m sure it’ll be good news.

  2. Thanks for allowing others to learn from your experience!

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