Worked for Me Wednesdays #WFMW: The Luggage Edition

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.Worked for Me Wednesdays

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.

The Ideas

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:┬áDon’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!

15 thoughts on “Worked for Me Wednesdays #WFMW: The Luggage Edition

  1. Rebecca says:

    Love this compilation of travel tips that apply to that big move overseas. Reading this brings back memories from my childhood and our first move overseas. Once we landed in our new home country it took us so long to gather all our luggage that we were the last ones to get to customs. Our carts piled high with all our possessions resembled a train as our family made our way through the airport. We were so relieved when the officials waved our weary family through customs without opening a single suitcase. God is good.

    • Janel says:

      Rebecca, thanks for sharing this memory! We, too, had quite a train, and our paranoia over customs for 18 bags was thankfully misplaced :). God is certainly the God of the details!

  2. dani says:

    This is so helpful. Especially to those going overseas the first time. I completely overpacked and my back gripped at me the whole time we ran from connection to connection. Many of my items for “what if” situations were really unnecessary! It is so helpful to talk to someone who has lived in residence in the place you are going.
    The rewarding thing about packing too much was I enjoyed the blessing of giving away much to people I got close to. In the end, I realized what I had wasn’t really what was important as what I used to value.

    • Janel says:

      Dani, thanks for this. I especially appreciated your last sentence: “In the end, I realized what I had wasn’t really what was important as what I used to value.” Such a great picture of what traveling overseas does for us!

  3. Andy says:

    Great article. Here are a couple of suggestions for those getting ready for the “big move.”

    1. Start downsizing early. Figure out what you will do will all the stuff you can’t take as soon as possible. There won’t be as much time at the end as you thought there would be.

    2. Bring plenty of power adaptors so you can use your US manufactured gadgets in your new country.

    3. Shop around for cheaper airfare with missionary discounts. You can save a ton of money doing this. Look for travel agencies that work with a lot of missionaries.

    4. Pray like crazy, but be sure you have people who are devoted to praying for you back home. You can really tell once you hit the field.

  4. Irida Morisseau says:

    Very helpfur article. Our family moved overseas a few months ago. We didn’t ship anything, but we were able to take 3 suitcases per person. I asked friends on facebook about old and big suitcases. I had 1 lady who provided most of them which was amazing. I had a few trips at the thrift store where i found the resr for really cheap. I ducktaped all tge syitcases and placed numbers on them to be able to make sure they all arrived. Because we had about 17 of them and they all looked different. I also taped a list of what was inside, ex: toys, baby bottles, kids clothes. We had a little over a year to prepare for our big move, so i started downsizing and minimizing. We donated most stuff and were able to sell a few things. It was a good practise knowing and accepting that all earthly treasures are temporary and it is ok to let go of it. We are not suffering without all the goods we had in the States. We are just more creative now. Thank you for the article again.

    • Janel says:

      Irida, this is really helpful! I really appreciate your thrifty, practical advice, like numbering the suitcases and getting them from friends. This is my favorite line: “It was a good practice knowing and accepting that all earthly treasures are temporary and it is ok to let go of it!”

      And to add to your wisdom for our readers–if you tape your list, readers, consider taping it to the *inside* of your suitcases. (I know may of you head to countries where crime might be an issue, and it’s not just electronics that are swiped.)

      Sounds like you might have a big family like we did! May God bless your work there, Irida! Grateful for your thoughts.

  5. Jan says:

    -We end up with unexpected embargoes going back and forth from Haiti. For us, having a plan B for that extra bag or bags has been a life saver. Finding someone in Florida who was willing to make a trip to our hotel as needed, pick up our extra bags and store them in their garage was gold. We have “used” our friend more than once. Then we have friends who pick that bag up when they are coming into the country and bring it to us. Or we have picked it up or even had to ditch it, worse case scenario. This may be something particular to Haiti. And it depends on which airline you use. And sometimes it’s mid trip that an embargo is imposed, which makes trips exciting to say the least!
    -If you book your own flight/s it’s usually cheaper to book individual legs separately. So, I may try to book a flight directly to my home state. But if I book from Haiti to Florida and then from Florida home, I can save a lot of money. Look at airlines you forget to consider, who fly only domestically, for that flight in the U.S. You can find deals that way.
    -I have found that after being home I come home to Haiti exhausted. We now try to give ourselves a few extra days in a cheap hotel type apartment, when we get to the east coast. Then we arrive back on the field relaxed and ready to jump back in. There are some great deals nowadays that you can find on the web, that were difficult to hunt down way back when. We now have our favorites a block from the beach, with a little kitchen to cook in, so we aren’t spending big bucks eating out.

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