This week, we’ve got a few tips on packing. (Don’t worry–there’ll be lots more to come.) When my family went over, I confess my 2 1/2-year-old maaaaaay have fallen over backwards after Mommy made his carry-on backpack a teensy bit full. It was amazing how many prayers of mine were offered on behalf of that poor British Airways attendant who would be checking in (and yes, offering a lot of grace toward) our family of six.
When going overseas, first realize that some airlines, like Delta and Emirates, have humanitarian fare options that also allow three (usually 23 kg) bags per person! For more information, contact a travel agent dealing with these fares, like Golden Rule Travel. (Non-baggage note when traveling on Emirates: Travelers can take advantage of their Dubai Connect program to spend the night for free…with food and free visas (for passengers from certain countries, like the U.S.)…with a layover of certain lengths in Dubai. This is a great help for jet lag, because you can actually sleep in a bed. Bonus: we loved the water taxi, souks, and an hour at the beach! Emirates is now our favorite airline. Grab details here.)
Every kilogram counts. So it’s likely worth your cash to invest in a baggage scale. Another option for accurate weight is to weigh yourself, then weigh yourself holding your bags. (Setting the bags on the scale might leave part of the bag flopping off the scale, and therefore not accurately weighed.) Do this serval times to ensure an accurate measurement. You might leave a pound or two of leeway in case your scale differs from the airport’s.
See if through email you can acquire a list compiled from others already serving in your host country of items challenging to purchase in your area (items of priority can differ vastly from family to family, so a cross-section of families helps). Medications are an obvious item to confirm.
You can also consider how often interns, relatives, short–termers, etc. may be coming over who are willing to bring an extra bag on your behalf (it’s easy to ship items directly to them online, as long as the site is still available in your country. Many sites are blocked, for example, in Africa). This is particularly helpful if you’re homeschooling or have special medication/food allergy needs in your area.
On your first trip over, prioritize items you absolutely cannot get in your host country, or that will be of considerably less quality.
Feel free to research creative ways to jury-rig your family favorites. Examples:
- copycat recipes of your favorite spice mixes (it’s super-easy to, say, make your own taco seasoning! But “chili powder” means something very different in some host countries, so I brought that one.)
- keeping your library card if you still own property in your home country, so you can check out (or alternatively buy) electronic forms of books rather than (heavy) paper copies. This was huge for us!
Make sure to check the baggage dimensions and weight limits on your particular carrier. Some airlines, like Turkish Airlines, do weigh carry-ons. If carry-ons will not be weighed, that’s a good place to transport books and other heavy (TSA-approved) items. Just make sure you can lift the carry-on above your head.
Consider packing “stuffable” items, like clothes, in extra-large duffels (my family found some very inexpensively in the camping section at Wal-Mart; they lasted our full 5.5 year tenure in Africa). Items requiring a little more protection fare better in large plastic (Rubbermaid-style) bins. (Heavy duty ones can be found at home improvement stores). You can drill holes along the lip and secure lids to their bins with cable (zip) ties. Just be sure to tape more ties underneath the lid for security officials; you might place a label on the outside stating there are more ties inside (…and prevent your undies from decorating the tarmac).
To keep your belongings organized, consider keeping a spreadsheet or list of the general items in each bag. (This can also aid in the event of lost luggage.) Stuff will inevitably be shifted in your last-minute efforts to get every…last…pound out of each bag. But at least when you arrive, jet-lagged and a teensy bit overwhelmed, you’ll know generally where more diapers/socks/medications are.
It’s uphill from here
The more we were overseas, the more we found ways to “make do” and not bring over as many items we were sure we needed. (Other global workers may be able to give you some ideas for your area.) But as you prioritize, do pack a few items that make your family feel at home. (Keep in mind that if the electrical current is different where you’re going, appliances that generate heat, like a slow cooker or waffle iron or curling iron, will likely not fare well. Purchase them in your host country.)
And a little perspective always helps: You’re not bringing over your coffins, like global workers who’ve gone before in other centuries. And the disciples were actually instructed to bring very little (Matthew 10:9-10). Thankfully, whatever you get “wrong” in your estimates to prepare and pack–it’s just stuff. And it’s often stuff that your host country is doing great without.
Despite the 51-lb. bags you’ll be weighing over…and over…selling the majority of your belongings can be an unspeakably light feeling of freedom: “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Simplifying is a beautiful spiritual discipline! And for everything to which you say sionara in the name of a bigger Kingdom, God richly plans to repay you a whole lot more (Mark 10:29-30).
Post-publication note: Don’t miss Good Neighbor Insurance’s invaluable and comprehensive Travel Checklist! They even include a Travel Medical Guide and a guide on preventing jet lag. What’s not to love?
Alright, overseas veterans. What packing strategies work for you?
Please comment below–and help us out!