Packing for a new life

Packing up your entire life to go and live in another country can feel daunting (go figure!) As a self-proclaimed packing phobic it was always going to be particularly tough for me. My preferred style of packing is usually ignore, ignore, ignore until the last possible minute then spend the last 15 minutes before I leave for the airport screeching around the house like a tornado, throwing things forcefully and messily into a bag whilst snapping at anyone who dares to come within 10 feet of me. Fun and smart.

The thing is though, if you forget your toothbrush when you’re heading to Greece for a week it’s really not the end of the world. Most things are either easily replaceable or do-able without when you’re on a short break. The stakes change somewhat when you’re packing up for an expat adventure. There is NO GOING  BACK. (Well, not for a good while anyway.) Obviously having this looming over me while I packed for our move to Spain nine years ago did my mood no end of good.

At least the awareness made me abandon my usual haphazard approach and I did resort to a sensible check list (see here) and started the process with plenty of time to spare, for once. Even so, once we had loaded our crammed hire van in to the bowels of the ferry and were sat up on deck watching the sea walls of Portsmouth recede into the distance I couldn’t help but feel a tightness in my chest as I pondered what essential item I had left at home or vital task left undone.


Sailing off into the sunset....but did I leave the gas ring on?

Sailing off into the sunset….but did I leave the gas ring on?

And of course, there were a few. Fortunately I soon discovered that the most important thing to pack is your sense of adventure and adaptability. If you’ve forgotten something, maybe you can learn to do without it, find a local alternative or navigate a way round the problem. Having said that, I did have one or two heart-stopping moments that I really could have done without. Waking up at 2am in a panic because I hadn’t changed my postal address on my credit cards was one. For hours I lay awake visualizing my tenants living it up on my maxed out cards. Until, in the morning, I remembered that in addition to changing the address on individual items I had also put in place a general Post Office re-direct, meaning that anything that slipped through the net would still make its way to me. Phew.

The only other oversight that really caused me angst was also to do with managing my affairs back in the UK. Naturally, as soon as I was out of the country a garden wall at my now-rented house chose to fall down and I had the task of trying to find and manage a builder from a distance. Given the amount of maintenance issues that then cropped up on the house, I really wish I had put someone reliable in place to manage it all for me in the first place.

But enough about me. I’d love to hear what your experience has been. What things did you find you couldn’t live without? What mistakes did you make when preparing for a new life abroad? And if you didn’t make any – how the hell did you manage that?!




  1. Such a timely post! I’m currently rushing around like the proverbial fly trying to finish the packing, evict the (adult) children, sell the house, buy a place to rent out, book the dog on the ferry etc, etc, for our BIG move to Asturias which sees me leaving my home county for good on Sunday and I am sooooo excited, exhilarated and freaking scared! It’s not even as if living in Asturias is an unknown quantity given that we’ve been spending months at a time there getting used to a new country and its bureaucracy. BUT this is the BIG one and I know that as long as we are adaptable it will be fine….so, if you see a rather stressed ex-pat in Infiesto next week muttering about forgotten things just give me an understanding smile!

    • Oh wow, congratulations!! Hang on in there, all the frantic preparations will soon be over and I’m sure it will all be worth it. I’ll be sure and keep an eye out for you on the streets of Asturias in the coming weeks ;-)

  2. Loved this post, very wise. My main tip looking back would be to supervise the packing men. Unpacking a mouldy fruit bowl full of fruit on our arrival in Copenhagen, and oh yes, the full bin, wasn’t pleasant!! :D

  3. Birdoftroy says:

    For some reason I was really worried that I hadn’t packed any towels. I had. Even if I hadn’t they do sell towels in Spain! The Dutchy was less than impressed when he discovered a bag full of half empty toiletries and, um, some free weights. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I’d use the space for more adaptors and the massive, really comprehensive dictionary my Mum had to post two weeks after we’d moved.

    • Oh yes! The doorstop dictionary – I meant to mention that in my post actually. It is perhaps the one really essential piece of ex-pat kit that one should pack!! (Love that the half-used toiletries and free weights made it into the luggage though ;-) )

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