Saturday, September 8, 2012

Moving Across the World: Packing

We have now arrived at the packing phase in this crazy journey of moving across the world.  Ya'll ready for this?  (Seriously, click on the link, you just might need that crazy music to pump you up this is phase.  Maybe Eye of the Tiger, or something silly like the Numa Numa kid?  Now I am just stalling.)  Remember back at the beginning when I said that you could watch our family move?  Well, the timing of this is just about perfect.  We are two weeks away from flying out to Costa Rica to settle in for real.  We spent a year in language school there, but now we are moving there for good.  So after I finish writing this post, I will be heading to the basement to do some more packing.  Seriously.  And I think I will be listening to Eye of the Tiger as I run down the stairs fist pumping the air. 

Now let's see...maybe a good place to start would be what to pack in.  And real quick here, I am going to tell you what we use, but there are other options, and no, I am not getting any free kickbacks from the companies that make these things, but if they want to help out, I am not going to complain.  We've known others to use a hogpodge of suitcase and handme down bags.  That's wonderful.  For us, we thought it made sense to buy what would work best for us, all new, because this is a way of life for us now.  We'll be using these bags from now until forever.  The OCD part of me likes that it all matches too.  Makes the luggage carousels so much easier.  I know I'm are looking for 12 green duffels and two trunks.

Alright, so we use Contico footlockers and Kelty basecamp large duffle bags.  Both of these are the maximum dimensions you can check for the airlines (62 inches).  The footlockers are a heavy duty plastic and weigh about 10 pounds (more on why that matters later).  The duffels are heavy duty and weight almost nothing.  You can get the footlockers online at Walmart, and we just discovered that Lowe's sells them in the stores.  The duffels we ordered online for about $25 with free shipping.

We have found that you really do need both.  Because of the insanely low weight limit of 50 pounds per bag now (oh for the days when they allowed you to pack them to 70 pounds!) giving up 10 pounds just for the container can seem a bit silly, but there are some things, like your sewing machine, that really need to be packed in something sturdier.  A sewing machine in a duffel wouldn't be a great idea.  Have you seen how they throw your luggage under the plane?  But there are many other things that the duffel bag will work just fine for, especially if you are packing clothes, sheets or towels around them.

Now, one addition to our collection that we just made was an Action Packer.  For some reason, these were recommended to me by all my African Missionary Friends, but none of my Latin American Missionary Friends.  Not sure why.  But the advantage the Action Packer has is that it is a couple inches taller than the trunks.  The reason we added it to our collection was I have this lovely stand mixer that is too tall for the trunk.  In fact, it was too tall for the Action Packer as well, but my plastics engineer friend who is a TCK took a butcher knife to the inside of the lid and with a little nipping here and there, created a custom lid for my mixer!!  I can't tell you how excited I was last night when he solved the problem that has been plaguing us for a year!

Ok, so you have your luggage, now comes time to pack. (Again cue the pump up pregame music, ok seriously, click on this one!  It will crack you up and you're kids will love it!)  The best way I have found to get all that stuff you have weeded through and made ruthless decisions about packed is to get it all in one central location.  The house we have been staying in this summer has an amazing basement and I all summer I just kept bringing stuff down there as we would buy it or acquire it.  And the beauty of this system is you can just leave it and it doesn't disrupt normal life.  Also, because it's in our basement, our kids don't usually go down there, which means they aren't pulling out this favorite toy, or that book and running off with it totally messing up your organization!

Next, grab a bag or trunk and start packing.  Here's the part that bothers me, you can't pack your like items together.  All your books in one bag makes for great organization, but you are going to be waaaaaaaaaaaay over your weight limit on that bag if you do it that way.  Over time, you'll get to know how much things weight and you'll figure out how to spread out the big things in and amongst the little things.  Oh, and this is a good time to talk about another amazing product, the digital luggage scale.  It's the best money we have spent! I start packing and after a few big things I'll weigh it to see where we're at. Weigh your bags as many times as you need to.  I also always pack to around 48 or 49 pounds, because giving yourself a little leeway is a good idea.  Who knows if the airline scales are going to be a bit off and you don't want to get charged for $50 or $100 for one extra pound.

We numbered all our trunks and bags.  I just took a Sharpie and wrote 1, 2, 3 etc somewhere on the bag.  Then in the moving note book, I have what is in each bag according to the number.  This is good for a couple of reasons.  1.  You know where your stuff is.  That way you don't have unpack everything to find your pots and pans, you just know they are in bag 4.  2.  For customs, you have a list, just in case.  and 3.  You have a list for the airline just in case that bag gets lost somewhere along the way.  I also have started putting the weight of each bag next to the list so I know if I can add a bit more to it or not later.

Here's a secret tip on packing duffels.  Once you get it stuffed full and you realize you still have 6 pounds you can use, zip that sucker up, grab the end and shake.  And then shake a little bit more.  Guess what?  You know have a couple of inches to shove stuff!  Hurray!

There is always the great fold or roll debate when it comes to clothes.  My advice?  Do both.  Start with laying things flat in the bag and then as you have nooks and crannies that need to be filled, roll.  With practice you will get really, really good at this.  I promise. 

Now, things are probably going to look a lot worse before they look better, and that's ok.  This is a process folks.  Here's how our basement looked just a few days ago.

Yikes!  But little by little, things start to get put into bags and trunks and you can see the progress!

 Look!  Two packed bags!!  Hurray!  Pat yourself on the back, and head upstairs and do something else for a little while.  And then come back and start again.

Now, something that I have struggled with this time has been how much we are taking.  As of today, we are taking 15 checked bags, 4 carryons and 4 backpacks.  That seems like a whole lot.  And yet, it seems to be what we need.  My dear, sweet, husband keeps reminding me that it is just fine.  We aren't being frivolous, we aren't extravagant, we have prayed over all the decisions in regards to what to give away, what to buy and what to take.  God has provided the money to transport all of these, and this is just the reality of moving a family across the world.  Someone else mentioned to me that most people move with a full truck, so 15 bags isn't bad.  Again, you aren't more spiritual or godly if you only bring 1 bag verses 15.  It's not about that.  It is about what does your family need to minister effectivly in the country you are headed.  So pray about it, be wise and then don't second guess yourself.  You got this! Because, you my friend, are a champion!

So, what is your best packing tip?

Want more?  Check out these other posts!
Want more MAW?  Check these out
Moving Across the World:  The Beginning
Moving Across the World:  Toys 
Moving Across the World:  Buying and Acquiring 
Moving Across the World:  The Big Day(s) 
Moving Across the World:  Helpful This and Thats


  1. oh liz, this cracked me up! such a familiar story.

    we're a family of 10 - so that means a minimum of 20 checked and 10 carry-ons and 10 backpacks. next summer might be the first time we travel with only one stroller, too! hubs always brings additional computer equipment for ministry purposes and i have home school materials, sothere's usually at least a few extra bags thrown in there. we usually divide and conquer. i do the packing - he makes the lists, #s, handles the weighing and securing/strapping. i'll never forget the time in an african airport where we had to claim all 20 pieces and then move them and recheck them - while keeping track of all the kids. good thing we had a long layover. it took something like 6 hours.

    we've done all the strategies you've listed - terrific suggestions! i'm really impressed with your strategic attack. one little trick we've found with books and heavy stuff - check out the thrift shops for old, unusually colored hard back smaller suitcases to put books in. they are usually pretty cheap. then, sometimes, you can mostly fill those up with books or heavy stuff, wrap one of those luggage security straps around them so the weight doesn't cause them to pop apart in transit, and save weight allowance in some of those other bags. that strategy has actually helped us cut down on bag # a few times, too - which is huge if you pay by the piece or if you go over your luggage allowance.

    also, i give myself about 6 weeks to pack - going both directions - and i don't hesitate to unpack and redo as needed. i like to think of it like a huge, real life tetris game! that sort of challenge helps with my attitude.

    1. Oh my!! That makes me weak in the knees just thinking about it!! Great idea about the books in smaller suitcases! And yes, 6 weeks is great!! I gave myself a month this time and I am soooo glad! You know how the last month is always so very crazy anyway with saying goodbye and finishing up last minute stuff...6 weeks would be even better!

  2. No, you are the champion! (And you, Richelle!) I am utterly in awe. When we first moved over, it was still 70 lbs. We had two lockers like you showed and two suitcases. I think we just kind of threw things into them. I know that's how we do it now.

    We have brought things over more gradually, so my best packing tip is to take some of those duffel bags folded up inside other luggage on the way over each time, and then use it on the way back. And make sure it gets lost on the way! (That's a link to a short post on my blog.) Hee hee. I wish there was a way to guarantee that part.

    Oh, and Richelle, my MIL takes six weeks to pack her one suitcase of clothes when she comes to visit us. We tease her about that. Your packing job is one that should take six weeks!

  3. This is such a fun post, Liz! I love it! When we moved overseas we were relatively newly-wed, so we hadn't acquired much (had bought many of our home furnishings second-hand knowing that they would soon be being gotten rid of), but even so, it was still a feat to try to pack and move across the globe! I am with you on the fold and roll combo. I also like to make sure to divide valuables between bags, as well as various categories of items just in case a bag gets lost. For example, I don't want my kids having to go naked because I packed all of their clothes in one bag and that one got lost. =) I love getting to share ideas on this topic!

  4. When I moved here, my husband had already been here for a few years. So it was just my stuff we were moving across. We have done some stuff gradually, but I also packed a few suitcases! One thing we have done is pack heavy things like books in our carry-on luggage. Our airline usually doesn't put a weight limit on carry-ons so we stuff them full of books and a few clothes in case of lost luggage! :)

  5. We moved to Ecuador in April, so we are just a few months ahead of you, Liz! We shipped a 40-foot container, though, so good for you for doing it in just luggage you check on the plane! We have been married 13 years and have 3 kids and we plan to be here indefinitely, so we just decided it would be nice to have all of our things. Why not be able to use my mother-in-law's nice china rather than paying for it to sit in storage for who knows how long? Our container just arrived about a month ago, and it's fun opening up boxes and seeing some of our things that we haven't used for several years (the story of how we got to Ecuador is long and convoluted, but suffice it to say that it's taken us years of globe trotting to get where we are). Anyway, if there's one thing that missionaries are good at, it's packing! You have lots of great tips.

    1. Laura, yeah for the container!! Funny you are in Ecuador, almost all our missionary connections in Ecuador have shipped a container! Just must be the thing to do in Ecuador. Where are you at specifically? And yes, things like nice china from family is such a boost isn't it?:)

    2. Really? We know of just one other family who has shipped a container. Most other expats just set up housekeeping all over again once they get here. There was one missionary family in Cuenca who tried to ship just four big boxes, and they dealt with over six months of hassles from customs. I think we dealt with less hassles getting our entire container than they did! One of the nice thing about Ecuador is that they run on 110 voltage, same as the U.S. We acquired gently used appliances from Craigslist (some were given to us) to put in the container and figure we saved quite a bit of money over purchasing brand new appliances here. We live in Quito, but my husband travels out to the jungle pretty frequently.

  6. It’s nice to hear about someone settling in a place for good. Being one who has moved countless times in the past, I’m just happy that there will be one less person or family less who would be upset, infuriated, and all the other emotions moving to a new place brings. Hope Costa Rica will be good to you. :)